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Monday, October 5, 2015

Doctor Who: That's One Big Lake We're Under

You guys are killing me with these cliffhangers

I'm torn on the subject of Toby Whithouse. I'm really never sure if I'm going to enjoy his episodes or not. School Reunion was all terribly cheesy, but it did give us Sarah Jane and K9 and Mickey's realization that he was the tin dog and Giles acting very menacing. Vampires of Venice was fairly dull, but it did give us Amy's scarf and leggings. The God Complex was delightfully weird but terribly unfocused, leaving too many questions unanswered. A Town Called Mercy was pushing the boundaries of cheese, but lots of fun, and Farscape fans got to see Chrichton again.

Oh, and he wrote an episode of Torchwood. One of the better ones, but that's not saying much.

Under The Lake is very old school. Very, very old school. This episode very well could have been a Troughton-era, base-under-siege episode if you'd just stripped away the budget and used an old black and white camera. And like the last few weeks (and pretty much the entire year), it's a two-part story, but while the last two-parter had a weak and unfocused part one, the pacing in this part one is absolutely breakneck. And running. Lots and lots of running. There are so many people running from one place to another that it had me wondering where Clara buys her boots.
But the Sonic Sunglasses still just make me sigh and feel old.
The concept of Chekhov's Gun returns here as well, with the markings on the inside of the alien shuttle being burned into the minds of everyone except Lunn, the sign language translator. I'm fairly certain that this, and Cass's insistence Lunn not look inside the shuttle, are going to pay off next week -- moreso than how it's already paid off with the ghost's reluctance to kill him. And I'm expecting an explanation for how Cass knew not to let him go in the shuttle that doesn't involve her getting splashed with radioactive chemicals and developing superpowers.

This may be my favourite guest cast, as well, with Colin McFarlane playing the recently deceased base commander (he's been in an episode of almost all of my favourite British shows), Future Sheldon Cooper in the form of a greedy corporate rep, and actual deaf actress, Sophie Stone, playing Cass. I especially adore O'Donnel, the resident Doctor fangirl, introduced in a scene where the psychic paper actually tells the truth for once identifying the Doctor as being from UNIT.

My personal favourite scene has to be the Doctor's excitement over ghosts. Previously, ghosts have been a number of different things: gaseous alien beings; stranded, out-of-phase time travelers; Cybermen crossing over from other dimensions; or alien demigods. Granted, there's still a scientific explanation here (focused electromagnetic fields being used to broadcast a distress signal), but this is the closest to a proper ghost we've seen in the new series, and his excitement over actual, proper ghosts put a smile on my face, followed up quickly by Clara's empathy flashcards. Including the “It was my fault, I should have known you didn't live in Aberdeen.” Poor Sarah Jane...

It's the little things that make this relationship work.
While I still enjoy Clara and Jenna Coleman, I can tell her time (as has been rumoured) is drawing to an end, as she was bordering on insufferable smugness in this episode. Not quite Series 2 Rose Tyler, but close. Granted, it's a different Doctor, companion, and creative team, but the last time we had a crossover companion was Rose Tyler, and she spent an entire year being insufferably smug before her gobby face got chucked into another dimension. Don't get me wrong -- I still fell to pieces watching that epilogue -- but I was glad to see the back of her by that point. 

I didn't think they'd top the visual of The Doctor with a Dalek firearm threatening to exterminate young Davros, but the slow zoom on undersea ghost Doctor with Clara's shoulders nearly caving in on themselves just about did it. Here's fingers crossed that Part 2 can keep up the pace of Part 1, giving us an even better two-part story than The Magician's Apprentice/ The Witch's Familiar did.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #59

Adam had a previous engagement, but Erin Palette stepped in and handled the back up co-host duties.
  • Erin also talked about morse code.
  • Nicki Kenyon is still insisting (maybe not unreasonably) that the Russian incursion into Syria is not a proxy war.
  • Our Special Guest this week is Paul Lathrop of The Polite Society Podcast. Paul just came back from the annual Gun Rights Policy Conference and he's going to tell you why you should go.
  • Barron B gives us some insight about cleaning up your old computer rather than upgrading.
  • And Weer'd does another patented Weer'd Audio Fisk, this time on the Democrat presidential nomination heir apparent, Hillary Clinton. 

Thanks for downloading, listening, and subscribing. Don't forget to share with a friend. Please like and share The GunBlog VarietyCast on Facebook, and if you use iTunes, give us a review!
Listen to the podcast here.
Show notes may be found here.
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Friday, October 2, 2015

SHTFriday: Some People Just Want to be Afraid

There's a lot going on in my head today and I tried to tie together the Oregon shooting with the Ebola panic from last year. I'm not sure how good a job I did, but I tried. 

Read the article and tell me what you think?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Serious and Personal Take On The Voice Actors Strike

Brace yourselves, this will contain an appeal to emotion.

There looms upon the horizon of the video game development world a strike amongst the voice actors. Negotiations between the union that represents them and the various powerhouse publishers seems to have stalled, and it's starting to look like some of the biggest names in the voice business are going to down tools shortly. What impact this is going to have on upcoming releases is unknown, but in my own selfish indulgence, at least it means Fallout 4 won't be delayed as that game is now little more than a month away.

I find myself strongly supporting this strike. I'm going to set aside the issue of unions as I'm sure I can find a dozen differing opinions on that topic (which have been discussed by some more knowledgeable than I), and it's not what I want to discuss here. In my years of gaming, I've seen the medium grow from little more than crude platform jumping with the barest of excuses being transmitted through text on-screen (if you were even that lucky – I used to play the hell out of Jumpman and I still don't know what the story behind that game was) to a point where games are rivaling – and even surpassing – film and television in their ability to keep you in suspense, touch your heart, scare you, and leave you in tears. I wouldn't have such a wistful smile when remembering my relationship with a cat-bird-lizard-alien if it weren't for Jennifer Hale and Brandon Keener. I wouldn't have sobbed my eyes out at the pain of realization of the real relationship if it weren't for Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper.

Voice acting in games has become such an amazingly versatile and essential storytelling tool, and it has to be done right. Professional voice actors are considered professional for a reason: you can't just slot someone in there who can't do the job properly. This was recently demonstrated with Peter Dinklage in the gloriously overbudgeted Destiny. Dinklage is not a voice actor

Don't get me wrong, Dinklage is amazing on-screen. He gesticulates and articulates and gives facial expressions that work absolute magic. His portrayal of Tyrion Lannister will be remembered for years to come, but acting isn't voice acting. You've got to carry everything in your voice, even if you've got a rendered face on-screen, and he just wasn't capable of doing that in Destiny. I liken voice acting in games to old-fashioned radio drama. Big Finish, for example, was the first light that Doctor Who fans had since the oft-derided Paul McGann movie, and they were audio-only stories that still managed to convey a sense of scale and wonder that even the show has trouble matching at times, with scenes carried by often naught more than the voices of the characters.

Game voice work has to be even harder, especially if you're doing a Mass Effect, a Dragon Age, or a Witcher where there's potentially hundreds of hours of content and a ton of storytelling that will depend on player choice, variable genders or species of characters, or simply where you walk in a world.

So, personally, I support this. Even if it brings the industry to a grinding halt until its resolved. They games industry can take a year off if it has to. We can live without next year's Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty if it means that the people providing the heart of the story don't work their voices into early failure to get there.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

WNW: Ice Cream

I felt crappy yesterday after getting a flu shot, so I forgot to post something.

Enjoy this back-dated video showing a Turkish ice cream vendor trolling his customer.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Traveller Tuesday: Datacasters

Unlike last week's offerings, datacasters are perfectly legal for player characters to own and operate. This is mainly because they're a specialty weapon that takes up valuable turret space.

The original concept of the datacaster comes from Marc Miller's Traveller5 (credit where due). It was initially Mongoose-ized by Dragoner, but I wasn't 100% happy with that version.
My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.
Put simply, a datacaster is a means of weaponizing a ship's computer, comms, and sensors.

In the Rules as Written (core rules 1e, p. 150), it is already possible to perform electronic warfare to disable smart missiles, jam communications and break sensor locks. However, this is limited to one action per combat round; the assumption is that the SensComms officer is using the ship's avionics to perform these actions, which prevents them from being used in their traditional manner. 

Datacasters simply make this procedure more efficient by giving SensComm a dedicated, positionable targeting system, allowing them to engage multiple targets at once. While multiple datacasters may be mounted in a turret, this is of limited utility given the distances involved in space combat. It is generally more useful to mount datacasters on separate turrets; those used offensively pair well with long-range weapons, and those used to spoof missiles should be placed in point-defense turrets. 

Datacasters mounted alongside weapons may only target ships that those weapons are engaging. Those mounted in single turrets have no such restrictions.

Each datacaster requires a separate operator. Datacasters may be operated remotely, even those mounted alongside weapons that are controlled by a turret gunner. 

TL:  10
Optimum Range:  Medium
Damage:  Special (see below)
Cost:  1MCr
Note:  Datacasters require Basic Military electronics (or greater) to function.

The options available to datacaster operators are as follows:
  • Sensor Lock. A datacaster mounted alongside weapons may only lock upon those targets that the turret is able to engage; an independent datacaster may paint any available targets.
  • Break Sensor Locks. As above. 
  • Jamming. One target may be jammed per datacaster. The above restrictions about targets apply. 
  • Attack Smart Missiles.  Per core rules. A turret that is attacking a target cannot use the datacaster to disable incoming smart missiles; however, a point defense turret (sandcaster and/or lasers for shooting missiles) may do so. 
  • Sensor Overload. The datacaster operator makes a Comms roll to hit. If successful, damage is rolled as (1d6 + Electronics DM + Effect)-target ship's Electronics TL and applied to the ship's sensors. Sensors cannot be destroyed in this way, only disabled. 
    • Example: Karr Tsonka, SensComm aboard the Big Macintosh, is trying to disable a Zhodani SDB's sensors. The Big Mac has a TL 13 Countermeasure suite which gives it a +4 DM; the Zhodani SDB has similar TL13 electronics. 
    • Karr's total is a 9; the attack hits with an Effect value of 1. 
    • 1d6 is rolled; a 5 results.  
    • 5+4+1=10. 
    • The SDB's TL is 13; no damage results. 
    • The SDB retaliates. The Zhodani SensComm's total is a 12; an Effect value of 4. 
    • 1d6 is rolled; a 6 results. 
    • 6+4+4=14
    • The Big Mac's electronics TL is 13. It suffers one hit to its sensors. 
  • Damage to sensors is not permanent and may be easily repaired out of combat (the equivalent of replacing some fuses), but during combat still requires a damage control roll to repair. 
  • Computer Warfare. A datacaster operator may attempt to hijack or disable a ship's computer by making a Computer roll vs a difficulty of 12 to hit. If successful, roll (1d6 + attacking ship's Computer TL + Effect + Intrusion software rating) - (target ship's Computer TL + Security software rating). The effect of this roll indicates whether or not the hacking attempt succeeded. If successful, the operator now has access to the ship's computer* and may perform the following actions:
    1. Override systems as per Spacecraft Security (core rules 1e, p. 107-108). This will likely be countered by the targeted ship's computer officer or an Intrusion Countermeasure program, which can attempt to kick out the intruder; the difficulty for this is the effect number of the roll. 
      • Example: Doc CJ attempts computer warfare upon the Zhodani SDB. His total is a 15.
      • A 6 is rolled. 
      • 6 + Big Mac's computer TL of 12 + Intrusion/3 software gives a total of  21. 
      • 21 - (SDB's computer TL of 14 + Security/3 software (-6 DM) = 21 - 20 = 1. 
      • The hacking attempt succeeded, but with an effect of 1. The Zhodani computer officer can automatically kick Doc CJ out next turn, so Doc had best be quick about his business.
    2. Insert a computer virus. If the virus has already been created, it is a simple action to upload it; programming one on the fly in the space of one Space Combat Turn is a Formidable action. 
  • Note that Computer Warfare is only possible if the ship's sensors are still functional. Turning off a ship's sensors is therefore an absolute defense against this tactic. 

Making a Virus
A virus must be engineered for a specific tech level of computer, and can only be built on a computer of that TL or higher. 

A virus may be made ahead of time by rolling Education + Computer vs. a difficulty of 10 and an increment of 4 hours. (Viruses designed to perform multiple actions increase their Difficulty one category for each additional task.) The Effect of this roll is known as the virus' Strength. 

Viruses may do any number of things, such as turning off systems, stealing information and transmitting it, or destroying information or equipment (by altering the code running the equipment and causing catastrophic failure).  The success of a virus doing this is measured by having it roll 2d6 + Strength + TL vs. the target computer's Security rating + TL. If successful, the program executes. 

A virus set to damage a ship in combat does damage each turn until the targeted component is destroyed, the virus is removed, or the computer system is shut down. 
  • Damage to a component is rolled as above, then using the Effect on the starship damage table. (Location is not rolled unless the virus is designed to affect multiple systems.) Subsequent hits do NOT count as Hull or Structure hits. 
  • The virus may be removed if the computer operator or ICE beats the effect of its to-hit roll. 
  • A computer may be shut down during the Ship Action phase. However, it remains shut down until the next Ship Action phase. A computer that reboots in such a manner gets a +6 DM to remove viruses. 

Expanded Intrusion, Security and ICE Programs
(extrapolating from Software, p.179, Central Supply Catalog)

Security/1 - TL 10, Cr. 200, Difficulty 8 to hack 
Security/2 - TL 11, Cr. 1,000, Difficulty 12 to hack 
Security/3 - TL 12, Cr. 20,000, Difficulty 14 to hack 
Security/4 - TL 13, Cr. 200,000, Difficulty 16 to hack 
Security/5 - TL 14, Cr. 1,000,000, Difficulty 18 to hack
Security/6 - TL 15, Cr. 20,000,000, Difficulty 20 to hack

Intrusion/1 - TL 10, Cr. 1,000, +1 DM to hack 
Intrusion/2 - TL 11, Cr. 10,000, +2 DM to hack 
Intrusion/3 - TL 12, Cr. 100,000, +3 DM to hack 
Intrusion/4 - TL 13, Cr. 1,000,000, +4 DM to hack 
Intrusion/5 - TL 14, Cr. 10,000,000, +5 DM to hack 
Intrusion/6 - TL 15, Cr. 10,000,000, +6 DM to hack 

Intrusion Counter Measures/1 - TL 11, Cr. 75,000, same as Security/1 but automated response
Intrusion Counter Measures/2 - TL 12, Cr. 150,000, same as Security/2 but automated response
Intrusion Counter Measures/3 - TL 13, Cr. 300,000, same as Security/3 but automated response
Intrusion Counter Measures/4 - TL 14, Cr. 600,000, same as Security/4 but automated response
Intrusion Counter Measures/5 - TL 15, Cr. 1,20,000, same as Security/5 but automated response

ICE programs may make Computer skill rolls at their rating against an intruder. They are essentially specialized Agent programs. 

*  Referees with an interest in computer science may insert additional layers of protection; perhaps the computer running sensors and comms is isolated by a firewall from the rest of the ship, and requires another Computer roll to circumvent. Alas, 57th century computer architecture** is beyond the scope of this article.
**   It is assumed, for purposes of fun, that datacasters can affect alien technology due to familiarity either through trade or warfare along their borders. A custom-built computer with an unknown operating system, or one from an hitherto un-encountered alien race, may present an increased difficulty to hijacking. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Erin FINALLY Assembles an AR

I am proud to announce that, after three years, my journey to assemble an AR-15 is finally complete. This is noteworthy, because it represents a triumph of patience and stinginess over commercialism. 

After being burned twice when trying to purchase a complete upper, I finally gave up and bought an SKS instead, because a gun I could actually shoot was more useful than half a gun I might be able to shoot one day. With that purchase, I completed all of the major gun "food groups"  (.22 pistol and rifle, shotgun, semi-auto pistol, bolt-action rifle and finally semi-auto rifle), which meant that getting an AR-15 went from "must get" to "it would be nice but I don't really need one."

And because I didn't need one, and because I'd had bad experiences with an upper, I set for myself an additional condition:  I wouldn't buy an AR upper unless it was 1) complete (because I didn't want the extra trouble of putting it together) and 2) cost $300 or less (the same price I paid for my SKS).

So essentially, I resigned myself to the fact that I would only get an AR upper if I got it secondhand, at a gun show, or both. And I was fine with this because it was a target of opportunity, not necessity.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I stumbled upon a complete AR upper that not only cost less than $300, but also had free shipping courtesy of Palmetto State Armory:


  • Barrel Length 16" 
  • 5.56 Nato Chamber
  • 1 in 7" twist 
  • Mid-length Gas 
  • Phosphate Finish
  • .750" Gas Block Diameter 
  • M4 Feedramps 
  • Forged Upper 
  • M-16 Profile Bolt Carrier
  • Carpenter 158 Bolt
  • Charging Handle

Upper is expected to group within the mil-spec.

I will be the first to admit that I know very little about the AR-15 platform. Twist rates and the like mean very little to me; I only knew that I wanted a 16" barrel, a 5.56 chamber, a chromed bore and for the whole thing to be under $300.

Well, I got three out of the four, and the chromed bore wasn't a dealbreaker for me, so I gathered up my "emergency gun money" cobbled together from gifts and savings and bought the sucker.

I am told that the middy length and 1:7 twist is really good, in which case I can only say that I stumbled onto a better deal than I deserve.

So without further ado, meet Frank:

Whoops, sorry. That's my dog investigating the rifle.



Ladies and gentlemen, my dog Heath. He's part Shepherd, part Labrador, and part Pug (no, we don't know how either), and he's very curious and needy and blonde.

All right, here's Frank, short for Frankenstein as well as Francisco Stein -- he's a Florida rifle, after all, so he's part Hispanic and part Jewish.

Spike's Tactical lower, PTAC upper.

And now begins the fun of accessorizing him and finding out what brand and grain weight works best!

Having come off ComBloc ammo (You have one choice of bullet, comrade) and 9mm (115gr for practice, 124gr for self-defense), the sheer variety of choice available to me is rather staggering.

Fortunately for me, I have a Lucky Gunner gift card burning a hole in my pocket, so that takes care of the first hundred or so rounds. I'm leaning towards 55gr .223 in various brands for my first block of testing.

Wish me luck, and don't be afraid to leave suggestions in the comments below!

The Fine Print

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