Monday, December 30, 2013


Well I'm back. I never bothered to mention it here, but our family was out camping all last week. We were staying at Agua Caliente, a little patch of desert nestled at the base of a hot spring near San Diego. It's a great, desolate environment that I hadn't had the chance to visit for several years. Besides the trees at the base of the hills, it's completely flat, with nothing but cacti and desert shrubs for miles around. The air was very clear, which let one see as far as the other side of the valley. If the hills weren't there, I'd imagine it would be possible to see all the way to the Salton Sea.

But more than anything, I was surprised by how quiet it was there. If one is standing on a hiking trail far from camp, it's completely dead silent. Several times when I was out walking, I would go a little off the trails, sit on a boulder and listen to the sound of blood in my own ears. I don't think I have ever encountered such perfect, deafening silence before.

I had a great time there; the silence, isolation, the sheer asceticism, it was all wonderful. It's why I've always liked the desert. It's such a strange, otherworldly place.

And speaking of strange, otherworldly places. Today is the Fourth Annual PARANOIA DAY!

Paranoia was released four years ago today and each year we have commemorated it with a special holiday that I hope will eventually replace Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and even Festivus as the holiday of the holiday season. Paranoia Day is a special time of year where your entire family forms elaborate, disturbing conspiracies against you. It's the time to quietly rearrange furniture and personal items, then pretend it's always been like that so your loved ones start to question their perception of reality. Paranoia Day is, of course, also a time to make cakes in the shape of doors.

Sadly, we didn't have anything planned for Paranoia Day this year. Everyone was too partied out already from camping, it seems. But next year! Ho boy. We'll have triangular cakes. And we'll build staircases that don't lead anywhere. And send each other vaguely threatening letters. And there will be cosmic despair and existential dread for everyone.

That's what the holidays are really about.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Thrash Jazz Assassin

Picture it: I'm sitting in my living room. I'm watching Star Trek, eating a sandwich. I think everything is fine and good when suddenly there's a knock on the door. My grandpa gets up to see who it is and we all stop what we're doing to listen in. Because, hey, it might be more relatives. And suddenly I hear the voice on the other side of the door:

"Hi, I was wondering if we could speak to Tyler." And suddenly, my blood runs cold.

"...Chapman." I mutter as I get up to go to the door. Everyone watches as I get up and start muttering some excuse for what's happening.. I suddenly remember, he was in town that day. He made the drive here, I should have expected this.

He's standing outside, talking to his friend and I realize I'm in for a terrible time. They notice me and start spouting gibberish but I don't have any of it. I go back inside and try to explain to my grandparents. But somehow, they accept what's happening. They're not outraged. They're not mortified. So, with nothing else to do to save myself, I get my car keys and head out.

Basically, Haydn drove down here from LA and demanded I co-star in a movie he was making. And really, I had no choice:

Keep in mind, I had no idea he was going to do this. I knew he would be in town, sure. But there was no script, no plan. I never even saw that violin until a few seconds before filming began. And everyone's lines were made up on the spot too. All in all, it was actually a really neat improve exercise.

But then again, I feel like I could have given a better performance if I had a script. Or, you know, if anyone bothered to tell me I was going to be in a movie that day. But no one ever tells me anything, so I guess that wasn't going to happen. What surprised me was how okay my grandparents were with it. I'm not sure I like the idea of people trusting me enough to run out of the house late in the day and filming avant-garde movies whenever I like.

This wasn't the first time I've been a part of one of his projects though. We filmed a tense police drama at the library once. But unfortunately, that plan fell through. I played a tough-as-nails police chief chewing out the main character, McLonewolf for botching a case. I feel like I did a better job that time because, let's face it, I just have the right face for a police chief.

Well, that's all for now. I'll be sure to write about it next time my acting career creeps up on me.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bunny Money Part II

I did it again! I almost forgot today was...


But seriously you guys, I'm going to try and get back to a more regular posting schedule; album covers, disgusting food, that sort of thing.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

No One Ever Tells Me Anything

Wow. It's taken me a long time to get around to writing this. I'm sorry about that, but I do have an excuse.

It starts Thursday, about two weeks ago. Thursday is laundry day, when I clean my collection of drab grey shirts. It was a rainy morning and I was angrily scribbling in one of my notebooks. I was watching an episode of The Prisoner at the same time, So I was already in a distrustful mood.

There was a knock on the door as my grandma sorted groceries in the kitchen since Thursday is also grocery day. At first I thought it was a salesman, but suddenly I heard her screaming. There was another scream and before I knew it the whole house is echoing with shrill voices.

I thought we were being robbed.

I remember peaking out of the hallway and watching my grandma jumping up and down, unable to process what I was seeing. There were two other people with her, a blur of color from where I was standing. But slowly I started to piece together the familiar shapes. And almost immediately I found myself thinking "Oh my god, what is Mom doing here?" Mom and Lou were standing in the doorway. And suddenly, everything started to make sense. My sister staying home that day. My grandpa insisting on vacuuming the house without any explanation. The evasive glances. The phony headache used as an excuse to stay home. It all made sense.

They knew. They knew this would happen and they kept this secret from me for weeks. Months even.

I spent the next several minutes in a daze as everyone greeted each other. Apparently, they had been planning this surprise visit for three months and had driven all the way here from Texas. Only my sister and grandpa knew and had been instrumental in making sure no one found out. Luggage was already making it's way through the door as I slowly started to grasp the sheer scale of what was happening here. My mind was already running through all the things they successfully kept secret from me.

What else were people not tell me about? Suddenly I became very aware of how easy it would be for my family to poison food I was about to eat.

But I started to get over it when I realized, 'Hey, Mom and Lou are here'. They started telling us about what a huge ordeal it was planning this trip and the difficulty of keeping it secret. My sister was gloating, because she was able to keep this information from me for so long. More luggage made it's way inside. Lou's collection of remote-controlled helicopters passes by me. But suddenly, everyone's ushered outside to see an "early graduation present" for my sister.

I was already stunned by this point and thought I couldn't be surprised by anything else. I go out into the rain and see a large, silvery grey shape waiting in the driveway.

A 2001 Jeep Cherokee. They bought her an entire car.

The smug expression left her face and she immediately ran inside the car to cry. It turns out they didn't tell her that little part of their plan, so she was surprised by at least one thing that day.

Almost immediately after that, they piled into the Jeep and sped away to the mall, leaving Lou, my grandpa and myself to try and make sense of what had just happened. We talked about antique trucks to try and lull ourselves back into a sense of normalcy and my thoughts drifted back to my laundry.

When everyone came back in the Jeep we spent the rest of the day exchanging news and recovering from the shock. But mostly, we all trying to wrap our heads around the fact that oh man, my sister suddenly has a car.

Mom and Lou spent a week here, which we used to go shopping and driving around town. Part of the reason why they kept their trip a secret was because they didn't want it dragged down by overly-ambitious plans like going to Disneyland. By surprising us, they ensured we had nothing planned to keep them occupied, which means most of their time was spent here at home. This is good, because we all had a considerably better time going out to breakfast and coming home to watch movies than we would making huge plans.

This brings me back to why I haven't written in so long; practically 83% of my family was staying here last week and that's practically my entire readership. I figured if I wanted to tell them about rabbits or foreign cuisine it would be easier to just walk into the other room and tell them. So that's why there haven't been any posts lately.

But anyway, by the end of the week my sister had amassed a huge collection of tapes for her car. It doesn't have a CD player you see. And that's just fine because we were able to find some of The Cure, Depeche Mode, Love and Rockets and even The Art of Noise. True, we had to scour every local antique store to find even these, but that doesn't make it any less impressive. Mom was especially pleased by what we were able to find, because it's exactly the sort of thing she would listen to in high school (with the exception of The Art of Noise). So of course she started having flash backs to when she first started driving, realizing it's now my sister's turn to face that part of her life.

Later that week, my aunt came to visit. Like my grandma and myself, she had no idea Mom or Lou was here, so she was surprised too. She was only able to stay for the afternoon though, so the full brunt of this conspiracy probably didn't hit her. Although she was here long enough to give her own seal of approval to my sister's growing tape collection.

All in all, it was a nice, unexpected visit and I was happy to see them again after so much time away.

And yet, I'm still very upset.

This is because 2013 has seen a huge dip in the number of blog posts I've made, a measly 30 entries as of this writing. I have no idea why this has happened. I still like blogging. I think the quality of my writing has greatly benefited from it. And yet there it is, a huge gap where there normally wouldn't be. Is it because I'm not writing about maps anymore? Is it because Lost Highways has been so obviously postponed and I'm avoiding writing about it?

That might be it. There's a void that map-related posts have left behind that no amount of nasty exotic delicacies will be able to fill, which means I need to find more subjects to write about before I start losing readers.

Things like celebrity gossip.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Night Of The Lepus II

Just a short Bunday post today. And nothing but videos at that:

Bunnies on a desk!

Bunnies eating your lawn!

Bunnies sneaking into your pantry and eating all your food!


Thursday, October 31, 2013


You're having another dinner party. Who knows, maybe this one will be normal? Maybe it's been long enough that people have forgotten that horrible incident with the jell-o salad. As you make small talk around the hors d'oeuvre you start to feel confident. Yes. This party will be normal. This time, your guests won't leave in horror and disgust. This time you won't be ostracized by the home owner's association.

But suddenly, your dear grandmama comes out of the kitchen carrying something she says is "from old country".

It looks like cheese. But it's altogether worse than cheese.

It's squirming. It can't be. It is.




And it's probably one of the most formidable cheeses in the world. Casu Marzu is native to the island of Sardinia, off the coast of Italy and is described as having an extremely potent ammoniated taste that lingers for several hours after eating. Such is the power of Casu Marzu that the European Union has tried to ban it's sale at least once. And why is that?

Because it's filled with live maggots, that's why.

You see, Casu Marzu starts life as comparatively innocuous Percorino cheese made from sheep's milk. The hard outer rind is cut open and the cheese is left in a cool, dark place. This allows swarms of cheese flies to come and lay eggs in the cheese's saucy depths. Because a female cheese fly can lay upward of five hundred eggs at a time, the Casu Marzu is likey to have several thousand maggots living in it by the time it's ready to eat.

The maggots actually eat the cheese from the inside out. The digestion of these thousands and thousands of maggots breaks down the fat in the Casu Marzu, resulting in the cheese's pungent flavor and aroma. It also results in a runny liquid called lagrima. This means that the sheep's milk is fermented once to make cheese then fermented again with the help of maggots. At this point, the cheese is basically decomposing.

And in spite of all this, people still have the audacity to call Casu Marzu an aphrodisiac.

It's considered unsafe to eat once the maggots have died (Because who wants to eat dead maggots? That'd be gross.). But the cheese can be refrigerated, which will kill them prematurely if you like. Or you can place a piece of cheese in a sealed paper bag. This will deprive the maggots of oxygen, which will then leap from the cheese to find air, which creates a popping sound. When the sound subsides, it means the maggots have died and you can eat your smelly cheese without worrying about maggots jumping at your face. And they certainly do jump, because if you prefer to eat the cheese with the maggots still inside they've been known to jump over fifteen centimeters when disturbed. So it's best to shield your face with your hand when taking a bite.

But either with or without maggots, Casu Marzu is typically served on flatbread with a glass of strong red wine, preferably at large family gatherings with lots of people egging you on.

Finally, like so many other hideous foods, Simian Mobile Disco has given Casu Marzu it's own theme song. Give it a listen.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Get In The Car

Flopsy? What are you doing? How did you find the car keys?

Important bunny conference? No you can't go! It's illegal for you to drive!

Flopsy, turn this car around. We're not stopping to pick up your friends.

Flopsy, why wasn't I invited to the secret bunny conference? Flopsy, let me out of this car! I want to go home!

Monday, October 14, 2013


Picture it, you're at your first dinner party in months. You feel like you've finally gotten over the trauma of trying kefir for the first time and you're finally able to repress the memories of chugging down snake wine at that keg party in college. You're surrounded by familiar sights and smells; steak, potatoes even ambrosia salad. For once, it seems like everything's going to be normal. But then, your dear grandmama comes in, carrying a tray of what looks like Jell-o. She sets it on the table, saying it's something "from old country". You take one look and suddenly...

...your life is in shambles. I'm sorry to say; but you my friend have just experienced Aspic.

Basically, aspic is meat-flavored gelatin. Presumably, at some point in the Middle Ages people realized that if broth was left to cool for long enough, it would become a jelly. Things snowballed from there, until you had people tossing vegetables, meat and even boiled eggs in, creating aspic as we know it today.The basic procedure is to make a stock or consommé and let it cool. The gelatin naturally found in meat will start to congeal, resulting in a nice jelly. Before it sets it's possible to add any savory ingredient the cook can think of. I say savory because if sweet ingredients like fruit are used it would be more like a gelatin salad. After, aspic is typically served on cold plates to prevent it from melting.

For those who don't know, stock is made by simmering various ingredients in water, typically meat, bones or vegetables. Consommé is stock that has been clarified, which is a process that uses egg whites to remove fat and other unwanted particles.

Since stock can be made from basically any meat, it's theoretically possible to make aspic from virtually any animal; from beef, pork, chicken, turkey or even fish. Think about it, you could be enjoying salmon gelatin right now. However, stock alone might not provide enough gelatin to make a stable enough aspic and vegetable stock certainly won't provide enough to maintain a mold. So it's common to supplement it with additional gelatin from a mix.

Honestly, everyone I've tried to talk to about this has responded with utter horror. I'm sure it doesn't help that there's frequently entire fish encased in this stuff. But as far as weird food goes, aspic is potentially the least hideous. At least as long as the cook uses typical ingredients people would be comfortable with eating outside of a gelatin, like carrots or asparagus, it might actually be pleasant to eat.

But on the other hand, well...

Finally, like so many other hideous foods, aspic has it's own theme song by Simian Mobile Disco. Give it a listen:

Monday, September 30, 2013


I can't even remember what it was like when I first started playing Dwarf Fortress, it was so long ago. I've gotten so used to it's Byzantine interface and mind-boggling complexity of it all it almost feels like second nature to play. Where there were once indecipherable symbols and headaches from watching hours and hours of tutorial videos, there are now flowing rivers of magma, hoards of goblin raiders and enormous, sprawling fortresses carved deep in the heart of soaring mountains.

Feeling confident, I decided it was time to put my most ambitious plan into action; to create the greatest fortress possible, more secure and productive than any other I have ever built. It was time to create...


Obviously, we couldn't embark on the first mountain that struck our fancy. We needed to scour the globe for the perfect place to found our new Dwarven culture. Realizing nothing else would do, we decided to settle at the lip of an active volcano. This would give our future metal industry an edge over our neighbors; with an inexhaustible supply of fuel, our magma forges could process a hitherto undreamed of quantity of ore at an incredible rate. Besides that, Beebane would have an enormous farm and irrigation system, larger than any previous fortress (including it's original namesake).

But the magma wasn't just used for smelting and blacksmithing, it was vital to the defense of Beebane itself. Once we gathered the necessary materials, we immediately went to work building the M.A.G.M.A. Cannon, or Magnanimous Anti-Goblin Magma Artillery; a system of heat-resistant screw pumps designed to pull a flow of molten rock up to the surface and drown whatever fool dared attack us, choking the hallway in smoke and carrying the stench of burning flesh out the same way they came.

I've lost count of how many monsters we immolated with the M.A.G.M.A. Cannon. While it as a undoubtedly a shocking number the death toll would probably have been even higher if visiting merchants didn't have to use that same hallway for access to our trade depot. We can't risk foreign diplomats being burnt to death you understand.

The Cannon's effects on flesh where horrifying of course. Because of a quirk of the game's physics, fat would boil off the body the instant it came in contact with the intense heat. With nothing left to keep it all inside, the creature would immediately bleed from every available surface. After they inevitably collapse, the victim is burnt to a cinder, with nothing left but a cloud of smoke. Keep in mind that this would all happen over the course of a single second, so the Cannon could potentially decimate an entire army the instant they came within range.

I say potentially, because we never got the chance to use it on a proper goblin siege. For whatever reason they stopped attacking Beebane very early in our development and weren't seen nor heard from for nearly twenty years. My guess is that they must have heard rumors about our super weapon when it was still in development and decided to call it quits.

But besides that, we had a gladiatorial arena we never got to use (again, not enough goblins). Next to it was the Captain of the Guard's office and dungeon were we kept our single, solitary goblin prisoner from one of the very earliest attacks, back before the Cannon was built. She's the little letter 'g' at the bottom of the screen, wallowing in a pool of her own blood. More on her later.

Besides the fact that we built the fortress like a donut around the volcano, it was a fairly typical design for me. A layer was devoted to housing, built with my typical "pinwheel" design, below that were a few statue gardens and mausoleums, as well as a high quality dining room just for the mayor and their spouse. Even further below that were a series of staircases that probed the depths for hidden caverns.

All in all, Beebane was a normal fortress if you ignore the Cannon. But more importantly, it was safe. Assuming a mechanic couldn't get to the screw pumps in time, they had three sets of cage traps blocking their entrance to the fortress. If they somehow managed to dodge all of those they still had to get past three more rows of saw blade traps. I've already mentioned what saw blades do to people elsewhere on the blog, but I'll say it again: it mulches them, leaving nothing but a smear of blood on the walls.

So basically, we were impervious to attack. Those who dodged the lava flows would be caught in a cage and sent to the dungeon or sacrificed to the volcano. Those who dodged those would have to get past the blades. None ever did. But assuming they had they still had our highly trained and well armored military waiting for them on the other side. What all this means is an entire generation was able to be born and grow up in Beebane without ever seeing a goblin or kobold. In fact, we were well protected against even Daleks.

And because I didn't want to have to deal with extra animals or unskilled laborers, I set the population cap to the absolute minimum, so we didn't even get migrants. Beebane was it's own hermetically sealed city in a bottle, no one gets in, no one cares enough to leave. But just because no one ever migrated, doesn't mean Beebane's population didn't explode. What few Dwarves I had started to marry each other and raise families. Huge ones. Most notable were a couple of engravers, who had over thirty kids by the end.

This created a problem though. Because only a small fraction of the population were working adults, completely outnumbered by the endless sea of their own children, there were very few people to do work around the fortress, but more than enough to eat all the food and drink all the booze without contributing anything of value. Thankfully, dwarves are considered adults at only sixteen years old, so after a few difficult years we had a growing army of farmers and mechanics necessary to the survival of Beebane.

That's how it went for a long time. More children would be born, some would grow up and life went on as we dug deeper and deeper. Craftsdwarves would carve figurines and other trinkets to sell to the passing caravans, trading them for precious booze. Eventually, the outpost liaison came and told us we were being promoted to a barony. It was official: Beebane was on the map. Of course there was the question of who would actually become the baron. At the time it only felt natural to pick one of the engraver's countless children. Because why not, it's not like they were doing anything important.

This would prove to be a terrible mistake later.

The outpost liaison came each year after that, each time promoting Tulon Degëlaval to a higher position in our civilization's nobility. Over the course of three years, he became a baron, then a count then a duke. Each time he was promoted he demanded more and more extravagant furniture in his private palace. The power must have gone to his head, because he didn't waste any time making bizarre demands of the workforce, mandating the construction of an almost never ending stream of backpacks. Tulon just could not get enough backpacks, and kept making demands to create them. By the time we finished one mandate, he had another ready. It got so bad that the leatherworker's shop was almost constantly occupied by some poor hollow-eyed dwarf, no doubt exhausted after countless sleepless nights spent stitching backpacks together for His Majesty.

At a certain point, he imprisoned one of his own countless brothers for a whole year, for the unspeakable crime of not making backpacks fast enough.

Eventually, we (and by that I mean I) had had it with the snooty bourgeois parasite and his demands and arranged for him to be murdered check to see if the Magma Cannon's run off channels had been clogged. The safety grate was removed, a special staircase was built and a wooden screw pump was built in the run off channel. I had to painstakingly disable the pumping labor on everyone in the fortress (all 105 of them) and gave the order to start pumping. After all, it simply would not do to have just any dwarf ensure the safe operation of such a vital component of Beebane's defense. Only the best and brightest could be trusted with this mission.

After making sure Tulon was trapped in inspecting the run off channel, we removed the staircase and put the floor grate back in place. After all, we simply could not allow any smelly peasant wander in and disturb His Highness while he was doing such delicate work.

So, the all clear was given. Confident in their leader's technical skill, the Dwarves decided to test the Magma Cannon. To everyone's relief, a huge tidal wave of boiling hot rock poured out and down the hallway to the surface, with almost half of it spilling into the run off channel and back into the volcano, burning Tulon to death and freeing us all from his tyranny. The duke was never seen nor heard from again. Some say he left Beebane to wander the globe looking for more Dwarves in need of his help. Others say he went on a quest to find the perfect backpack, never to return.

In any case, we decided to engrave a memorial slab in his honor, seeing as how there was no body left to put in his tomb. Carved from gabbro, it read:

"In memory of Tulon Degëlaval / Born 92 / Went missing in the year 121 / Duke of the Anguish of Fragrances, 111 to 121 / Lover of backpacks"

Incidentally, it was his own father who engraved that. Even he had to acknowledge his son's sick backpack fetish.

Nothing of note happened after Tulon's brutal murder Unfortunate Accident, unless you count the sudden outbreak of a mysterious eye melting disease one year. Everything was going fine, then all of a sudden, a dozen dwarves claw their way upstairs, spewing huge torrents of vomit in every direction, their eyes rotting out of their sockets. I never found out why this started happening either, my only clue being a single line in their profiles saying they "choked on dust underground recently". It didn't affect them too adversely after that though, it's just that their eyes were reduced to puddles of slime is all.

But throughout all this drama, our craftsdwarves and blacksmiths were busy harvesting Beebane's greatest treasure, a rare, mystical metal found in our deepest mines: Adamantine.

Adamantine is without a doubt the most valuable metal in the game. It's extremely strong and light. Weapons made from the stuff are absurdly sharp, armor is nigh-unbreakable. It's also extremely rare, a fortress will only encounter a single vein of adamantine, maybe two, in it's lifetime. Not even dalekanium is as outrageously valuable as adamantine. We went to work obsessively digging it out. Every last scrap was mined and smelted. Over the course of nearly twenty years, we crafted the finest weapons and armor the world had ever seen.

Try to imagine the craftsdwarfship, the intricate designs, the exhaustive attention to detail. Perfectly balanced swords, axes honed to such a fine point they could split a hair dropped on their edge, ornately crafted suits of armor, scenes of our greatest triumphs etched into the shining blue metal. We had gone from a few settlers with nothing but their pickaxes and a barrel full of rum to artisans creating the most spectacular artifacts the world would ever see.

We kept digging, kept smelting, kept smithing. More and more. Every last piece of the precious metal was used. Further and further down we dug...

Until at last we struck...nothing. A black pit was all we found at the bottom.

"You have discovered an eerie cavern. The air above the dark stone floor is alive with vortices of purple light and dark, boiling clouds. Seemingly bottomless glowing pits mark the surface."

"Horrifying screams come from the darkness below!"

And in an instant, all our work was destroyed. We had dug too deep and in our greed, released something horrible into this world, something best left forgotten in the murky depths. Indescribable things clawed their way out of the pit and slaughtered our miners. Not creatures, not in any sense of the word as we understand it but abominations from before time began, from the primordial chaos when the world first formed. Screaming whirlpools of mismatched, squirming limbs. What we found was never meant to walk this world, but to gnash it's teeth and squirm in the dark depths under the magma sea. We found something ancient and godless. We found Demons.

We had dug into Hell.

Despite all our best efforts, there was nothing we could do. Against earthly foes, our armor could protect us, but nothing could save us from what came screaming from the depths of the fortress. Everyone was slaughtered, Beebane became a tomb overnight, haunted by the cries of it's unburied dead and the blasphemous chanting of the things they let loose from the mines.

...Well, almost everyone was slaughtered. This is a page from the units list, here you can see all the Stygian horrors we let out. But see the very bottom of the page? The one labelled "chained prisoner"? Yeah, that's the goblin from earlier!

Surprising as it might be, the dungeon was the safest place to be once the clowns were let out of the circus. Stâsost Spugomosp was the only survivor once they made their way up to the main fortress, safely hidden behind the dungeon's doors, alone in her little cell.

See, the Dwarves were still pretty mad about the whole baby snatching thing a few years ago. Goblin thieves had managed to make off with someone's child back when Beebane was first founded, hauling them off in a big sack presumably to become a slave toiling away in their dark fortress. A few years later, one of their last sieges was waged against us, ending with a hasty retreat as the dying and dismembered goblins hobbled off, back to the surface where they knew we wouldn't follow them; forced to leave behind their allies who got caught in the cage traps.

Well, when the opportunity for revenge presented itself, we didn't waste any time. The males were stripped of all their armor and weapons and thrown into the volcano. The sole female was chained up in the dungeon and used as target practice for the military. I would order them to kill her and they would all come running from all corners of the fortress. They would charge through the door and just beat the tar out of her. But then, just before she actually keeled over, I would withdraw the order and the military would wander off like nothing happened, leaving the broken and bloody goblin in a heap on the floor.

Then, I would wait. I would wait for her bones to mend themselves, wait for scars to form where they slashed at her with shining blue swords. And all the while I would watch as she crawled around her tiny cell.

When she was better, I would give the order again. And again they would run charging into the dungeon and beat her within an inch of her life. Over and over I did this, year after year. The fortress was mercifully ignorant of the battered goblin archer trapped in the dungeon, only the guards knew the ugly secret. As time went by and life in Beebane settled into a comfortable rhythm, Stâsost sat in her cell, huddled in the corner, trembling and waiting for the next attack. Her body was covered in scars, her bones had broken and healed so many times we both lost count.

By the time Beebane had fallen, she had lost both arms and, I would like to imagine, was pushed over the brink of insanity from so many years spent in the dark. Seriously, try to imagine what it's like: her friends abandon her to be tortured by little bearded men. She's never given any food or water and probably has to eat whatever roaches she finds crawling around her tiny, filthy cell. Plus, Goblins are immortal in Dwarf Fortress, so entire generations could have lived and died, making a sick sort of tradition passed down from father to son to beat her senseless year after year and there's nothing she could do to escape.

But one day the beatings stop and she hears the most horrible sound coming from outside the door. Screaming. The fortress being torn apart; she certainly has no idea what's going on out there. In fact, she probably doesn't even remember what it looks like outside the dungeon. All she hears are awful, indescribable sounds coming from the other side of the door. And then...silence. The guards never come back. No one comes to smash her face in. All she can do is sit...and listen to the unearthly growling on the other side of the damp wooden door.

After Beebane was decimated, I sent the Dalek adventurer Dale Hatespeech in to investigate and carry off whatever loot he could. For reasons that would take too long to explain here, I had to give up on those plans. But for the brief time he spent there, he actually met Stâsost in the ruins, just as mentally damaged as could be expected. Not only did she manage to escape the dungeon despite having no arms, she somehow snuck her way past the horde of demons that had taken up residence near the surface. How, I will never know. But I am legitimately glad she managed to do that. I'd like to imagine her finally escaping into the jungle and finding civilization, trying to convince the world that she's telling the truth, that the horrors she experienced as a prisoner of the dwarves is beyond mortal comprehension.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

White Rabbit

And when you least expect it...




Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I've Got The Power

Ray guns. Blasters. Death rays. Directed-Energy Weapons...

Call them whatever you like, one thing remains the same: pure destruction. I've devoted plenty of thought to death rays of all shapes and sizes and I think it's high time to paint a clear picture of the different kinds of energy weapons there are and what they're capable of.


As seen in: Basically Everything

Lasers have been a ubiquitous staple of science fiction since the 60's. Before the invention of lasers, fictional death rays were starting to fall out of fashion with the pulp magazines. Most writers saw them as a technical infeasibility that couldn't be built with then-current technology. But once lasers hit the market death rays of all sorts saw a huge surge in popularity as it was made a viable technology again.

Since then, there's been plenty of research done to make lasers a weapon of war. But even so, a lot of misconceptions about lasers persist. For one thing, a laser blast would not cauterize any wound they make. Surprising as it may be, getting shot with an intense laser would result in a shower of gore like something out of Scanners. First, your blood would boil, then explode as it's turned to steam. This would cause the surrounding muscle and organs to rip apart with the force of the blast. A real laser wound would look like someone popped a balloon filled with beef stew.

Ironically, this means that real lasers more dangerous than most fictional lasers.

Another thing is that movies like Star Wars depict laser blasts as a visible bolt of energy traveling to their target at speeds that are clearly below that of actual light, looking more like a tracer round than a light beam. This is not the case of course, lasers only have two speeds: Off and light speed.

The great thing about lasers is the amazing variety of colors they can come in. And not just the visual spectrum either; you can have a laser emit microwaves, infrared or even ultraviolet waves. Maybe someday, we'll be able to build lasers sophisticated enough to emit extremely high frequency waves like X-rays.

Although there's a practical limit to how high-frequency the beam can be. For instance, we'll probably never be able to build a laser that can emit gamma rays because it vibrates at such a high frequency. Gamma rays are so energetic that their wavelengths are actually smaller than hydrogen atoms. Because of this, we can't build a mirror smooth enough to reflect them, the bumpiness of its microscopic surface means it's impossible to focus them with any reliability.

Besides, if it was emitting harsh radiation like gamma rays you'd need to encase the whole thing in lead to have a hope of standing within a few miles of it. And with that in mind, is it really worth it?

And as a final note, lasers and sharks don't mix.

Lightning Guns

As seen in: Return to Castle Wolfenstein

It's a simple enough idea; a big electric coil with a handle, using thousands of volts of electricity to fry someone to death with. We already have big electric coils, so why isn't anyone using Tesla guns in real life?

Well, for a multitude of practical reasons, lightning guns would be basically worthless in real life. In order for an electric current to flow, there needs to be a difference in electric potential between the source and where you want the electricity to go. Basically, you need to have a positive and negative terminal for it to flow between. This is a problem of course, because barring a few unlikely circumstances, your enemy will probably be electrically neutral. Really, a Tesla weapon would only be usable in a very specific (very conductive) environment.

Still...a man can dream.

Plasma Guns

As seen in: Warhammer 40,000, Doom, Halo, Star Wars

As you know, plasma is the so-called fourth state of matter. One step above gas, plasma is gas so hot and energetic that the electron shell gets stripped off it's constitute atoms, resulting in a boiling mass of free electrons and atomic nuclei. Plasma makes up the interior of stars, it's what you get when you set off a nuclear bomb, so it was only a matter of time before someone suggested trying to shoot a glob of the stuff out a gun. And why not? We're talking megajoules of energy here, in the form of a gas so hot it's very atoms break down into a subatomic slurry of death.

But here's the thing to remember, it's still gas. A plasma gun is basically designed to shoot steam. Sure, it's extremely hot and conductive steam, but it's still going to dissipate the instant it leaves the barrel. It's even worse if you're trying to fire this in space where the plasma would try to fill up the surrounding vacuum.

But I know, what if we encased the plasma in a force field? That way we can ensure our little glob of star matter gets to the target without cooling down or dispersing. Alright cool, but if you can do that why not cut out the middle man and use your force field generator to rip the ship apart? If it can safely contain plasma at a distance, I think its safe to assume you can use your force field generator to tear hull plating like tissue paper.

Well, we don't have force fields in real life. And the more we try to justify a hypothetical plasma gun, the more we're forced to confront the fact that plasma, by it's very nature, is unsuitable for a weapon. A real plasma gun would have more in common with a blow torch than an assault rifle. Sure, there's been talk of using magnetic toroids to condense plasma enough to fire, but if you really need a huge room-sized collection of electromagnets to shoot your fancy gas I think it's time to rethink your priorities.

Sonic Weapons

As seen in: Warhammer 40,000

We've seen light, electricity and even hot gas used as a weapon. But what about sound?

This isn't as ridiculous an idea as it may seem. Plenty of experiments have been done to prove the deadly capabilities of potential sonic weapons, especially those that utilize infrasound. An infrasound gun would cause severe discomfort and anxiety at it's lowest setting, at it's highest it would probably cause internal hemorrhaging, or crush bones, sending vast blooms of energy flowing through the air. Imagine the loudest concert you've ever been to. Now imagine that several orders of magnitude louder. Sounds so loud they can kill.

About the only series I've seen that's seriously considered the idea is Warhammer, specifically the Slaaneshi Noise Marines. Using a weapon that looks like a futuristic electric guitar, they blast horrible distorted noise at the enemy, mulching their internal organs and shredding them with intense sound.

Honestly, the whole thing is so goofy it goes back around to being cool. What would be great is if your sonic weapon doubles as a boom box so you can kill people with specific songs, turning your face melters into literal face melters. Imagine what it would be like to listen to Fleetwood Mac at such high volumes that your head explodes.

Particle Beams

As seen in: Ghostbusters, Half-Life

Lasers are great and all, but photons have no mass and therefore no stopping power. What if we need a projectile with a little more oomph? Well, there's always subatomic particles and all the death and despair they can cause. Especially the more massive particles like protons, neutrons or tau leptons, dump them in a particle accelerator, point the exit port at the enemy and Zap: they're reduced to charcoal briquettes.

There are a couple downsides of course. For one, most particles you'll be working with are electrically charged, so the beam will dissipate the further it travels due to magnetic repulsion. The energy requirements are pretty extreme too, but given a few years and I think we'll sort out the problems with micro-accelerators. Really, it's a small price to pay for subatomic death rays.

There is one last little problem though, just a tiny one. You know, the fact that you're exposing yourself to ionizing radiation.

Yes, surprising as it might seem, holding an unshielded radiation source in front of your face isn't a good idea. The backwash from such a weapon could cause all sorts of nasty side effects; radiation sickness, cancer, genetic damage and sterility to name a few. And it's effects are just compounded the more you fire it, thereby exposing yourself to more gonad-searing radiation.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I didn't even consider this problem until Atomic Rocket pointed it out. But besides that, the matter of scaling down a particle accelerator is not as simple as it seems. You can't just spin them around like they're on a carousel. Keep in mind that this doesn't mean it's impossible to make a particle beam weapon, you just can't fire them without irradiating yourself. Maybe a sort of remote-controlled particle artillery cannon would make more sense, though you'd have to have a hazmat team on standby to move the stupid thing.

Heat Rays

As seen in: The War of the Worlds

This is the classic death ray; a continous beam of energy that burns, cracks, melts or vaporizes anything caught in it's path. The earliest example would of course be from The War of the Worlds where it was used to conquer the Earth and destroy it's puny Human natives. In the book, it's described as "a generator of intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose, by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the parabolic mirror of a lighthouse projects a beam of light."

While this sounds good on paper it's a little difficult to justify the engineering side of it. For one thing, heat is not light and can't be expected to behave like it, so no bouncing heat off mirrors like a big tanning reflector. In fact, how do you even generate a "beam" of heat? Heat is energy radiated from atoms vibrating. So in the most literal sense, a heat ray would be more like a giant hair dryer blowing hot air on its victims.

It is possible to generate extreme heat at a distance though. To do this, we need a laser. Specifically, we need a laser that emits in the near infrared. The beam would be invisible, but would transfer vast quantities of energy to whatever it hits in the form of heat. Terrible, skin-peeling heat.

The great thing about lasers is their efficiency. A laser beam can carry energy over a huge distance and lose only a very small fraction of it as radiated heat, so you can expect the payload to arrive to the target with almost no loss of power. That all changes when it reaches a solid target of course, when all those photons slam into a solid mass and instantly convert to heat, melting anything in their path.

The Electrolaser

As seen in: Nothing, as far as I can tell.

This is a fairly new idea that hasn't seen any use in fiction. Basically, it's an intense laser beam that ionizes the air around it, turning it into a sheath of plasma around the beam. An enormous electric current is then sent down this plasma channel, using it like a giant lightning rod to blast whatever unfortunate rube is at the end of the beam with thousands of volts of electricity, frying him to a crisp.

An electrolaser is basically a giant overpowered taser. Or better yet, a lightning bolt you can aim.

There's been very little written on the subject of laser induced plasma channels so a lot of the mechanical details elude me. Does the target have to be conductive? What if I want to kill someone made of rubber? One thing's for certain, it needs air in order to create the plasma channel, so an electrolaser would be useless in space, much like a potential sonic weapon.

Still, it gets a ten out of ten for style.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Why Did It Have To Be Snakes?

Sometimes a Mai Tai just isn't exotic enough. Sometimes, you need a drink to show how hard core you are when you're traveling abroad.

Really, there is only one answer: a tall glass of snake wine.

For such a bizarre beverage, it's actually pretty simple; it's rice or grain alcohol, with the added benefit a snake or two in the bottle, typically highly venomous snakes like cobras.

This concoction is common in Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam and is frequently sold as a cure-all. The snake venom and assorted juices mingle with the liquor, which is drunk in shot glasses due to its high alcohol content. Though it should be pointed out that the venom is presumably neutralized by the alcohol, making it safe to drink. Also, the snake inside is rarely eaten, unlike the mythical tequila worm.

Snake wine is used to cure everything from hair lose to poor eyesight and is even said to improve virility. Comparisons to snake oil are presumably unwelcome.

Generally, there are two ways to produce a bottle of the stuff. The most obvious method is take a whole snake and drop it in whatever bottle of rice liquor you have handy, with garnishes like medicinal herbs or other, smaller snakes. But some prefer to include just a select few bodily fluids like blood or the contents of a gall bladder. In any case it doesn't change the fact that you're basically drinking fermented snake juice.

Of course it's not just snakes. There's a wonderful variety of venomous animals you can buy immersed in their own brine (though you can't export them to most countries). Besides snakes there's tarantulas, scorpions, seahorses and even pangolins; all of them staring at you from the other side of the bottle. Judging you.

With that in mind I don't think anyone would judge you if you stuck with a Mai Tai.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Reason For The Season

In the distance comes the Stygian cries of unnameable things; the sky blackens, the rivers boil. All around me the land becomes parched and barren, the birds of the sky and beasts of the land flee as all is enveloped in primordial darkness. As I hear the mournful cries of the sea itself and gaze on those in the city, who groan and ache in despair I realize what has come to sow it's terrible benediction...

It can't be... is...

...album covers.

Marry Xmas by Korla Pandit

I guess Jambi had trouble finding work after Pee-Wee's Playhouse went off the air.

Tormato by Yes

You know things have gone bad when the band is throwing tomatoes at themselves. Oh, sorry; tormatoes.

The Fury by Gary Numan

Yeah Gary, I can really feel the rage. Nice bow tie.

Keep The Fire by Kenny Loggins

Kenny Loggins died for your sins.

Stay Hungry by Twisted Sister

Dee Snider has a very different idea of what "baby back ribs" entails than most.

Stronger Than Evil by Heavy Load

Featuring artwork by the Winchester Middle School Dungeons and Dragons Club.

Cool As Ice

Vanilla Ice won't let something as minor as a crayon factory explosion get between him and his artistic vision.

From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots by dälek

If you liked this, you should take a look at the artist's other works; Rememberence of the dälek, Planet of the dälek, Revelation of the dälek...

Return to Pooh Corner by Kenny Loggins

Kenny Loggins is back! this what the Danger Zone is supposed to look like?


Heino has come to spread yuletide merriment and to destroy all who oppose him. None can resist his death-ray tree.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Beware Of The Blob

I'm very picky when it comes to what I'm willing to eat. Most people I know have no problem eating cheese or oysters, but I'm put off by the strange methods that go into their production, or in the case of shellfish, their lifestyles. They're bottom-feeders you guys. They eat the dendrites of the ocean floor, that can't be good for you.

But reading about nasty food is a whole other thing entirely. I love delving into the horrifying mysteries of foreign cuisine; cataloging a growing menagerie of terrible, nigh-inedible monstrosities from around the world. To me, these delicacies aren't meant to be eaten. They're meant to be studied, kept in a glass jar and put on a shelf. Then you can safely watch them as they squirm inside their prisons, trying to escape.

But of all the food I've researched (and subsequently refused to eat), none seem as unappetizing, or as potentially dangerous as Kefir.

To understand Kefir, one must first understand it's more docile relative: Yogurt. Yogurt of course is fermented milk, using colonies of bacteria to convert lactose into lactic acid and other helpful byproducts. Now this is a fairly normal process in itself; fermentation is just a fact of life. After all, it's how you make cheese and beer. But like so many of life's little blessings, you can take this too far and start creating monsters.

See, yogurt is typically fermented with a single microbial species, almost always some variety of Lactobacillus. This isn't the case with Kefir, which is fermented with a venerable microcosm of bacteria and yeast, drawing from a multitude of diverse species across a variety of phyla. There's so many microbes living in any given Kefir colony that it's almost impossible to keep track of them all. Really, the only criteria for what goes into making the stuff is that it be a probiotic or a variety of yeast. That's it.

The result of all this is the Kefir grain: a gelatinous slurry of bacteria and yeast suspended in a matrix of proteins, lipids and sugar. It's essentially a community of living, growing microbes held together with stretchy goo, expanding to truly enormous proportions and becoming something not unlike a Portuguese Man O'War or The Blob.

Once a sizable colony has been cultivated, the grain is dropped in milk in a loosely-covered glass jar or other suitable container. With some periodic agitation, the milk is allowed to ferment over the next twenty-four hours, the grain acting like some sort of gene-seed. The container has to be loosely covered to allow built up Kefiran gases to be released. It should also be kept in a dark cupboard, as sunlight can break down the vitamins and kill bacteria.

After about a day, the liquid is run through a sieve and the grains are recovered, what you're left with is a thick, milky liquid absolutely filled with microflora. At this point you can drink it, pour it on cereal or let it continue to ferment, at which point it will only become thicker and more sour as more and more bacteria continue to grow in the liquid's saucy depths. But regardless of when you decide to drink it, expect Kefir to have a sour, tangy taste.

Kefir is most common in East Europe, including Russia, but it can be found all over the world from the Middle East to Chile. Perhaps this has to do with how easy it is to make; just take a grain and plop it in the milk of whatever animal is close by. You could make Kefir from cows, goats, yaks, even camels. And since there's no set limit on how long it can ferment for, there's a lot of room for experimentation.

That's all fine and good, but what happens to the grains afterwards? My sources tell me they're used to grow more colonies and ferment more of the drink. Good, but where did it come from in the first place? Somewhat suspiciously, Wikipedia points out that you cannot make your own grains from scratch, that you need to get them from someone who already has some stewing in their cupboard. Why is this? Is it unsafe to make your own? Who made the first Kefir grains and how long ago was it?

Apparently, no one actually knows where Kefir grains first came from. We as a species have been cultivating them for so long that their origin has been lost in time. For all we know these things could have arrived in a meteor. Although some claim they were extracted from the intestinal tracts of sheep. But I'm not convinced.

Especially not after reading about what they do when they're not immersed in milk. Since the grains are colonies of living bacteria, they themselves are arguably alive, showing traits more common to slime molds than any mere dairy, going so far as to move on their own accord and even split like giant amoebae. It can't be any coincidence that they look like tiny albino Hortas.

I'm not trying to alarm anyone out there. After all, there's plenty of evidence pointing to Kefir's health benefits. It's just...

...I don't know, I guess there's no such thing as being too careful.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


You're an English architect and it's up to you to design a new public library. Do you make plans for something that will fit in with the older, more well established buildings nearby? Something made of nice sturdy brick and cobblestone? Or are you a little more bold and have something more geometric in mind? Something with glass and concrete, plenty of artificial, prefabricated materials. After all, Modernism is the prevailing style right now.

No, something tells me the answer is really neither of those, because it's the 1950's and you're barely suppressing those totalitarian urges bubbling up to the surface. Seething under your well groomed exterior is a power mad lunatic waiting to get out. You need an architectural style that speaks your language; something cold, impassive, and inhuman. Something strong and unfriendly, made of raw concrete, which does nothing to suggest a Human inhabitant. This needs to be a style that emphasizes function and little else, something as uninviting and strict as you are. What you need is Brutalism.

Brutalist architecture was at it's peak of popularity between the 50's and late 70's. The depressed post-war economy meant architects needed inexpensive materials to work with. So bare concrete immediately became associated with the style. Brutalism emphasized bold, sharp angles and tried to evoke a protective atmosphere. As a result, the buildings made in this style are fortress-like and almost uncompromising, even claustrophobic. But at the time the style was praised for it's socially progressive attitude and simplicity of forms. Brutalism's proponents praised it's "honesty".

But naturally, cold unsympathetic concrete has it's host of problems. For one thing, this style is very harsh and well...brutal. It clashes with every other architectural aesthetic in comes in contact with. Plus, all those vast blank walls are like lightning rods for vandalism. Combine this with the fact that concrete stains and fades in damp climates and you suddenly have a breeding ground for urban decay. Imagine what it would be like to live in a crumbling, rusting cube covered in graffiti and you get a sense of what it would be like.

Brutalism has attracted plenty of critics over the years. Many have come to see it as an ugly reminder of Fascist philosophy. Some like Theodore Dalrymple have gone so far as to say that these buildings are cold-hearted, inhuman, hideous and even monstrous.

I think this is part of the reason why I like it so much, specifically because it's such an evil looking style. The Brutalist style meshes so perfectly with my angry, futurist outlook and my love of all things Dalek. Some of these buildings even look like they borrow some of the visual cues from their iconic metal skirts.

It doesn't look like I'm alone on this one either. Alien conquerors the world over agree; if you want to properly oppress a civilization, you need to do it with an enormous triangular tower. Just look at the Combine Citadel...

Look at those bold angles, that scale, the way it clashes with the crumbling Soviet era housing. That is a statement in Brutalism if I've ever seen one.