So the Pillars of Pentegarn have been busy lately, but unfortunately not with D&D matters.

I still have an older blog about our tenth session to put up and will get around to it soon. But that's from back in January. Real Life(tm) has intruded on our D&D sessions horribly. Doug (Lardli) couldn't make the last couple of sessions, so we swapped things around and I DM'ed an adventure for the rest of the group over two sessions. It was the Free RPG Day Dark Sun adventure that's floating around on theĀ inter-webs.

It was a lot of fun switching to the DM role for a bit, though I'm nowhere near ready to trade in the joy of playing Toby for a regular tour of duty behind the screen. Dark Sun is kind of interesting, but I don't think it's really a fit with us long-term; the bone and stone, sword and sandals vibe would be rather oppressive before long with this group. We have more of an Eberron vibe.

Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun. It was kind of liberating for the PCs to use pre-rolled characters and not fuss about rolling up. The adventure was very well written, with a nice combination of dramatically different skill challenges and combat encounters. Two arena-based encounters were part of it, and we especially enjoyed the first arena encounter, which used combat skills but prohibited direct combat and involved using terrain and bull rushes in a Capture the Flag-ish encounter. A particular highlight for me was the second skill challenge, which was basically "CSI: Altaruk", involving the use of skills to investigate a murder scene.

All told, a really enjoyable diversion in our D&D world, but after doing two sessions in Dark Sun, and then missing a couple weekends due to RL(tm) commitments, I'm absolutely dying to inhabit Toby's sneaky shoes and get back to the Keep on the Shadowfell next weekend.

Readers of this blog well know I’ve been having problems getting my Telus internet hookup up and running since I moved a few weeks ago. Frustrated by the many false promises I got from Telus, I posted this tweet a few days ago; shortly after I posted this blog.

So right about 24 hours after I posted these, my wife gets a phone call, from someone identifying themselves as an executive with Telus in Alberta. They said they’d seen “Chris” on Twitter post about Telus problems and wanted to get it resolved as quickly as possible.

Telus then did so; not long after my wife getting this phone call, a Telus technician was at our house, and he got my internet up and working as quickly as possible.

The power of Twitter can be quite amazing. Note that I’m anonymous enough on my Twitter and blog that they only had a very common first name to go by; they must’ve correlated this with the dates and service problems I mentioned in the blog in order to contact my wife about our account. That accounts for the 24 hour delay in response, and I’m quite surprised it took less than 24 hours for them to figure out which one of their customers was “harrysaxon23”. I’m duly impressed, though it’s weird that some foul-mouthed Twitter/blog ranting got a much better response than the traditional channel we explored, of 5+ hours spent on the phone with various Telus employees.

While I’ve been angry with Telus about these problems, I’m very happy with my service now that it’s up and running. I’m very impressed with the way they got things working so quickly, as it turned out there were several fairly intricate problems with DSL service to my address that all got fixed very quickly.

I’m only sorry that it took so long to receive the attention any paying customer deserves when trying to get service hooked up in their home, and that our time – and their employees’ time – was wasted with hours on the phone trying to receive the results that 140 characters on the right social networking site delivered.

I just need to rant about this piece of shit fucking company.

Three weeks ago we contacted Telus – western Canada’s telephone monopoly – to get our phone line and DSL service switched off at the old house and turned on in the new house. After just under an hour spent on hold, we finally get through to someone. They’re useless, and it takes another 20 minutes before they can connect us to someone who knows or can do anything. They said no problem, and they’d have it switched over by the 20th of November.

Of course, the 20th came and went, no internet. So we phone them (45 minutes on hold) and bitch. So sorry, the work order didn’t go through. It’ll be switched on by the 24th. Plus, they’ll give us a free month. OK, not happy, but fine.

The 24th comes and goes. We call. Oops, the work order STILL didn’t go through. Now we’re seriously pissed. Lisa gets scary mad at times like this, and after another interminable session spent on hold, she lets them have it in a calm, reasonable, furious way. We come out of this with an absolute promise to have the internet turned on by the 29th. Plus, they’re giving us three free months internet and three free months Telus TV if we’d like to sign up with it. Also, they’re sending us a new router/modem because I hated the old one. Still mad, but placated, we await internet hookup.

You guessed it, the 29th comes and goes, still no internet. We get in touch with them yet again (no long wait this time, someone finally gave us a direct number). Apparently, the internet has been turned on, but our old modem/router doesn’t work with it. Fortunately, they sent us a new router the week before, it’s arriving on Dec. 3rd, and we’ll be good to go.

Once again, no router on the 3rd, so no internet for the weekend – again. Annoying, but that’s how the mail goes sometimes. It arrived today.

Yup, it is exactly the same piece of shit Siemens fucking router that I already had. And it still doesn’t work with the fucking internet.

Those of you in the US who bitch about your internet providers – you have no fucking idea. I only have one other option for high-speed internet, and it comes from a crappy little local cable company who offer a whopping 5 megabit connection for the same price as Telus’s 25 megabit connection.

Fuck you, Telus. I hope your shareholders give thanks every day this company gets to operate in a country where they don’t have to actually compete in the free market, because this company would go down faster than their incompetent employees’ moms.

I’m feeling done with social networks even before I feel I’ve really started.

Facebook… I just don’t care anymore. I’m tired of net-illiterate friends and relatives commenting and posting. Most of it is 1980s Fidonet lame. A month of people thinking “LOL” means “Lots Of Love” is one month too many.

Twitter is better, but only barely. I’m starting to feel like I’m swapping a few SMS messages with friends while spammers assault me. It’s just not enjoyable anymore.

Anyone else getting as disillusioned with the big social networking sites?

Ok, I just have to rant a bit about this to get it out of my system. A group on Facebook pointed me to an anti-evolution group. Bored and tipsy, I went over to it to have a look. It was pretty depressing, but this post at the top really got to me. It’s a 4-minute video about the recent discovery about a 100 million year old strand of mammalian hair found in a chunk of amber.

What bothers me is that the narrator clearly has no idea about what evolution by natural selection is or how it works. They make two particular attacks that bother me:

1) “How do they know it’s 100 million years old.” Um. I don’t know exactly. At 100 MYA, it’s not carbon-dating. It was probably found in a geological strata that has been reliably dated using potassium-argon dating or just plain strata dating that reliably places it. Or maybe it’s well established that it takes at least that long to turn tree sap into amber. Not my field, but this stuff is as well-tested and reliable as any process in science. If you deny this you deny electromagnetism.

2) Their real issue is the quote in which one of the scientists involved in the paper says that it demonstrates that mammal hair was established a very long time ago, it worked as well as it needs to, so it hasn’t really evolved since then. They laugh at this – “the mammal hair is so perfect that it doesn’t need to evolve, but the mammal itself needs to evolve from rat to lemur to whatever? As dumb as evolution is, it just keeps getting dumber.”

This demonstrates such a lack of knowledge that a first-year biology student would burst out laughing. Evolution isn’t about “perfection”; it’s about sexual selection. It’s simple. Some genetic differences provide a survival advantage to a creature. This survival advantage lets them live longer and produce more offspring. More individuals in the next generation have this survival advantage, and they in turn live longer and produce more offspring. Eventually, nearly all members of the species will have this advantage.

What’s clear with this discovery is that mammal hair, 100 MYA, had reached a point where the actual structure of the hair didn’t provide any survival advantage to one generation. No mutation of the structure of the hair provided a competitive advantage to the generation which had the mutation, so the minor mutations stayed minor. This, bear in mind, is just the structure of the individual hair itself, not how the hair is grown on the skin or other minor changes.

For example, many cat species have thicker, longer and denser hair on their skin than other species, because they evolved in colder climates where keeping warm provided a survival advantage. Thus, Maine Coons have long, thick, dense fur that kept them warm in a way that Siamese cats didn’t need in their warmer climate. Nonetheless, both an individual Siamese hair strand and a Maine Coon hair strand, under a microscope, have most things in common, as well as in common with all other mammals. One just grew more of them (or thicker, thinner, etc.) on their skin than the other.

Look at the well-known evolutionary example of the gypsy moth, whose natural habitat are white-barked trees. When the air was clean, the white ones dominated and the odd mutated black moth was easily spotted by predators and eaten early in its life, producing less offspring. When the Industrial Revolution blackened the trees of their habitat, the white ones became easier to spot to predators, the black ones were better camouflaged, so after time the black moths dominated the species. Once the air got cleaner, the trees got whiter again, so the white moths eventually became dominant again.

Most of the rest of the moth other than their wing colour – the wing shape, the body shape, the number of legs and antennae of the moths, etc. – are the same, because their antennae and leg configuration provided no survival advantage to either colour of moth. There were probably mutations of these as well during that time – moths born with an extra set of legs – but they didn’t either hurt or favour the lifespans of the moths with these mutations, so they didn’t really change from generation to generation.

This is first-year college stuff. This isn’t a complicated or difficult concept to get around. It’s something that is observable all around the world, like the small population somewhere in South America whose males mostly have blue penises, just because chicks a few thousand years ago thought blue penises were hot so they hooked up with those dudes more often.

I just have to believe that these anti-evolutionists need to completely ignore the facts and the way evolution works in order to push a faith-based belief system. It’s depressing and upsetting, and I’ll be trying to not click on those kinds of links anymore to spare myself from a half-hour lost preaching to a choir of people who most likely aren’t nutbags.

My obsession with Doctor Who goes back to well before the days of the rebooted series. I’d had bits and pieces of computer hardware named in Doctor Who themed ways for years, but lately, the proliferation of great tech peripherals has made my tech life Doctor Who themed to a very geeky level. I mean, I didn’t just think of any name from the Doctor Who universe I could think of, but put thought into how they are appropriately used. I just thought I’d share.

Obviously I use “harrysaxon” as a pseudonym on the internet. This is a reference to a character in the third season of the rebooted Doctor Who. (I usually tack the number 23 after it if “harrysaxon” is unavailable, which is an Illumanitus! Trilogy thing, not a Doctor Who thing).

I extend this into a lot of my gaming and internet life – for instance, my Rock Band band is “The Gallifreyans” (the Doctor’s home planet), and the band members all have Doctor Who themed-names – Harry Saxon (me), Sally Sparrow (my wife’s character and the star of “Blink”), and Rose Tyler (my sister’s character and 9th/10th Doctor’s companion). Our band’s stand-ins are Jack Harkness (9th Doctor companion and star of Torchwood) and Martha Jones (10th Doctor companion). Even my “secondary” band has a Doctor Who themed name – “The Raxicoricofallipatorians”, an alien race from the rebooted series.

On to the computer names…

My principle computer – The TARDIS. The Doctor’s time machine and chief residence. Pretty obvious.
My netbook – The Whomobile. Named after the Third Doctor’s fan-nicknamed car, which he used in the years his TARDIS was unavailable.
My iPhone – Sonic Screwdriver. The ultimate all-purpose device.
My iPod nano – K9. Small, slightly annoying sidekick.

Now going deeper…

“The TARDIS”‘s hard drive – Heart of the TARDIS. The… heart of the TARDIS. Also obvious.
“The TARDIS”‘s external hard drive – Eye of Harmony. In brief, the external power source of Time Lord civilization and TARDISes.
“The TARDIS”‘s backup hard drive – Zero Room. The room in the TARDIS where the Fifth Doctor went to recuperate after his regeneration.
“The Whomobile”‘s hard drive – Whomobile’s Engine. Not very imaginative but best I could think of.
My USB keys – Psychic Paper. An instantly rewrite-able and portable information storage medium.

Using the theme of the space-time continuum as something the TARDIS accesses…

My principle wifi network – Time Vortex. The external medium which the TARDIS moves through. More a nickname for the internet.
My secondary wifi network – Untempered Schism. The flaw in the Time Vortex that young Time Lords must gaze into. Used for my ISP-provided router, which is flaky.
My PS3 access point – Torchwood. A totally secondary and separate access hub to the “Time Vortex” like Torchwood‘s rift.

And, for the final geek-out…

My house on Foursquare: The Citadel of the Time Lords.

Is there anyone else out there who gets into theming these names in some way like this? Or am I just nuts?

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So I’m watching the 14th episode of the 6th season of “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”, and I notice a really funny thing. See, back in the early aughts when this episode first broadcast, I didn’t know Rilo Kiley’s music at all. Now I’m a huge fan of Rilo Kiley and Jenny Lewis, and was very happy to hear a track from their first album, Take-Offs and Landings, playing on the soundtrack of the episode. Then I start to realize that the song is “Pictures of Success”. I listen closely, and…

interlude; one of the things Jenny is particularly famous for, at least on older recordings, is a sweetly cadenced potty mouth. “Pictures of Success” has a fan favourite. Berating a pretentious boyfriend in the song, she intones, “I’ve had it with you, and Mexico can fucking wait… and all of those, French films about trains.”

Yeah, that’s right, 13:59 into the episode, “… and Mexico can fucking wait” can be heard clearly – just after Buffy says “No problem” to Sophie’s list of food allergies. It’s easily missed unless you’re familiar with the song. I’m certain it has never been censored in the network broadcasts, as it simply wouldn’t have been allowed if the network had noticed. The “fucking” is during a moment of no dialogue, and an edit would be very blatant and noticeable at that moment, and would have drawn attention at the time to the sequence.

So there you have it – to this day in syndication, most likely, there’s an episode of Buffy out there which drops a background F-bomb to the ignorance of Big Brother. Buffy was already so awesome in so many ways. Here’s yet another.

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The latest episode of Doctor Who is the first episode of the new season that really shows the new direction of the series. Stephen Moffat took over this season, and while he wrote the pilot, there is a certain formula to the first episode of a new Doctor and new Companion that constrains the writer to a degree.

We’ve gotten past the introductions of the new Doctor and his companion; we’ve had the first future and historical episodes. The stage is set to really let this new series carve its interpretation into the world of the Doctor. Moffat doesn’t disappoint.

Two of Moffat’s most celebrated episodes were “Blink”, the one-off episode that introduced the Weeping Angels, one of the most frightening Doctor Who villains of all time. Another was last season’s “Library” 2-episode arc, which introduced Professor River Song, someone who has a massive influence in the Doctor’s life in the future but whom he keeps meeting out of order so is always at a disadvantage.

This is one of the best aspects to the River/Doctor dynamic; he doesn’t really know her (in the viewer’s timeline), but must trust her since he knows (since she knows his true name, something few people have ever known) his future incarnations will. It allows the Doctor to get ordered around while not entirely understanding why, which is good for humour’s sake, and is a dynamic not often seen in the Doctor’s world.

I don’t want to go into details about the episode since it’s the first half of a 2-parter. Suffice to say that if you were a fan of “Blink”, you will be even more frightened by the Weeping Angels in this episode. And if you’re a fan of great Moffat dialogue and soliloquies you won’t be disappointed. I just can’t wait for next week to see how it turns out.

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I’m going to assume that you’ve seen tonight’s kick-ass episode; stop here if you haven’t.

Pieces are starting to snap into place. Desmond’s Billy Pilgrimage has been the longest, strangest trip of the people whose destinies are entwined with the island’s, yet they don’t understand how or why. I won’t bother recapping the episode. Just want to note some of the things that I think were important and sink my teeth into some new questions which may point to the direction, at long last, the ending of the series will take.

I’ll start with the wilder speculations. Desmond’s unique ability to withstand “electro-magnetic” events is the key to all this, obviously. I was deeply gratified to have some good, geeky sci-fi stuff since going in a much more mystical direction for the majority of the season. Cuse and Lindelof once promised that everything on their show would be explicable by science. I always believed that their statement was sometimes taken too literally to mean “modern or near-modern science” as opposed to radically advanced science of the sort that Arthur C. Clarke famously described – that any sufficiently advanced technology will appear as magic to a less advanced society.

This approach, which Doctor Who uses, might give them the ability to fulfil this claim. The Doctor is a purely science fiction creation; an alien member of an incredibly advanced race, able to see and do things that seem magical through science too advanced for human brains to even comprehend. This is why the show uses the mechanic of the human companion. They often face classic horror and supernatural villains (like werewolves, witches and vampires) that are given alien or technological origin stories in response to questions from the companion.

I always thought that the show’s mentions of the Cassimir effect and super-massive objects pointed to this; it’s radically speculative in actual physics, but these are effects that could be used to create an object that is bigger on the inside, like the TARDIS. This precisely explains the difficulty of getting to the island; they’re effectively looking for the small door into the TARDIS, only it’s an unmarked spot on the ocean, not a police box door. Science this speculative (and even more so) is fair game, in my opinion. On this track, I’m not sure if Cuse & Lindelof ever directly stated that aliens won’t be involved. Let’s assume they didn’t so we can have some fun with it.

Former Lostie Elizabeth Mitchell used the incredibly loaded Lost catchphrase “Don’t tell me what I can’t do” on this week’s V, a major event series on the same network that had an unusual airing schedule which happens to overlap Lost’s final episodes. Interesting if aliens are involved, but if you want to get really deep into the conspiracy theory, I just read Stephen King’s latest, Under the Dome, which is set in the very near future – late 2010. He casually mentions a character who’s looking forward to The Forgotten Ones, a “clever follow-up to Lost“. Did the Lost-obsessed and J.J. Abrams-friendly author get a tip for his new book, and V is the way it will manifest?

Enough with the extravagant Time Lord speculations and bringing it back down to mere speculation: it appears that Eloise Widmore – and most likely her husband – have some knowledge of both timelines, though not necessarily both versions of the characters at the same time. I can’t remember if we’ve ever seen original-timeline Charles do anything bad, because he sure seems on the side of the angels. I think our dislike was just built on his treatment of Desmond, and it’s becoming clear that he was probably doing it for a good reason. The sailing race he manipulated him into attempting was probably the major reason, in order to get him to the island at the right time. He possibly even understood Penny’s destiny as Desmond’s constant and had to keep them apart until the timing was right.

I’m beginning to believe the mirror imagery we’ve seen so much of may not be a plot point, but rather a stylistic device. Did you get the impression Sideways Desmond has complete memories of the original Desmond’s timeline, but the original Desmond’s memories of Sideways World cut off at the moment he shakes Penny’s hand? This seems indicated by original Desmond waking up at that moment, along with the absence when he got zapped  at the beginning of the episode of the familiar whooshy “timeshift” sound effect they used before his last Sideways appearance asking for the 815 manifest.

On that topic, I’m not sure how Desmond is going to go about restoring the 815ers memories. For the characters we met tonight, Desmond’s flashes were triggered by Charlie re-enacting his death. Did Charlie know he was doing this? It appears not, since that would assume he had a memory of it himself, and he didn’t recognize Penny’s name. Both Charlie and Faraday appeared to have their memories triggered by seeing the woman they love, but it’s possible that Charlie’s was also linked to the drowning sensation he had when choking. Meeting and knowing people in both timelines is clearly not enough, as many of the characters have met and talked with each other in Sideways World – even had close relationships, like Ben and Alex and Jin and Sun, or physical contact after new introductions, like Kate and Claire.

What of the sacrifice that Desmond will need to make (and which he appears to not even be concerned about)? That’s where I see a possible ending for the show. Let’s start with some assumptions.

In Sideways World, where the plane didn’t crash, the island is underwater. Let’s assume that Jacob’s metaphor and facts are correct – the island is like a plug in the Hellmouth and Smokey needs to remain on the island for it to continue this job, or the world ends. Let’s also assume that being sunk underwater in the 1970s will kill or contain Smokey and the island will continue to work just fine. Since the Sideways World hasn’t gone to hell, it seems a pretty safe assumption.

This leaves alive the very real possibility that the ending for the show is that our familiar timeline has to be the one that’s wiped out, and the Sideways World needs to become the only world. This implies that Desmond’s sacrifice won’t be too bad; that it’ll be the wife and child he already has vs. the wife and child he could have.

This also provides a happy ending for most/many characters. Countless characters that were killed off are alive. Locke is happy, Ben is a good person. Possible reunions of Charlie/Claire, Jack/Kate, Juliet/Sawyer, Daniel/Charlotte, Hurley/Libby, and Sun/Jin (if she survives Keamy shooting her). I could go on – the Sideways World in general is a happier place for most of the characters, or appears to be anyway.

This, of course, is built on yet another assumption; that it’ll have a happy ending, and I’m by no means ruling a dark ending out. What I find more likely is that it will be dark for some characters and happy for a lot more, and that meshes fine with my proposal. The method of doing this will probably still involve needing to stop Smokey Locke in the original timeline, so perhaps some noble character (Jack seems a likely candidate) has to forfeit his happy Sideways existence to stay on the island and be the new Jacob in an isolated, never-ending pocket of time.

Sayid, for a long time, has just had the vibe to me of a character who’s going to have a bad ending. A big part is that while others on the island did bad things in the original timeline, none did it with his brutality and scale, and he appears to have a dark history in Sideways World too. A bad ending for him, in both worlds even, seems possible, and I’m sure they’ll throw a few shockers at us in this respect.

At any rate, we’re in the final chapter now, and the shape of things to come is starting to come into focus, albeit still hazy through the cloud of black smoke. Can’t wait for next week.

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I just finished watching the new Doctor Who episode – the first new regular-season episode in nearly two years. My first impression – through a haze of liquor from a great dinner party, admittedly – is insane excitement for the new season.

Matt Smith, filling massive shoes after David Tennant’s departure, impressed me much more than I expected. And his new companion – Amy or Amelia Pond is the character’s name, not sure the actress’s name yet – was a fantastic choice. I’ve already developed a crush. A sweet, wide-eyed ginger who’s as ready for anything as Rose was is a great start. The maddenly cute Scottish accent just cements the deal.

Stephen Moffat, taking the helm from Russell Davies, started things off with an episode of the quality I expect from him after the first-class episodes he’s written over the last several seasons. Most of the best DW episodes since the reboot have been his writing, and he doesn’t disappoint in the slightest for his debut as show-runner.

While the new Doctor and his companion have some character development to come, this is what I was hoping for – Matt Smith was fantastic. So was his companion. I’m extremely excited for the new Doctor’s adventures and look forward to a dozen weeks of the greatest and most enduring show in English-langugage television of all time.

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