Monthly Archives: August 2018

Journal of the Emerald Specter 98: Social Statuses

This might be a weird column title and I’m not really sure how long this one is going to be… I had a plan to write something that wasn’t necessarily geeky but was related to something I’ve seen a lot of in the media, as well as had a fairly recent live interaction with: teens not quite having a grasp on what really matters.

Having been, at one time, in a high school and vying for that ever important “social status” in a somewhat controlled environment, I have an important point to make about that search for status: it means literally nothing.

That isn’t entirely true.

The only people to whom a social status from high school are people who never intend to leave the place where they attended said high school. In small towns, I’d even extend that to include moving to anywhere within a 100 mile radius. In North Dakota, that applies to the entire state… because, having formerly lived there, there isn’t much there.

Have you ever looked at someone who has lived in a small town all their life and thought they were cool? I’m not talking about the guy who is a good father (or mother), who attends PTA meetings, who does what they need to do in order make it through life because they didn’t have the option to leave… I’m talking about that guy who still has the mullet, who drives the pickup truck he had in high school because he thinks it still is a status symbol, the guy who is working construction around town because that’s the best job he could find, and he’s still hanging out with high schoolers (or at least keeps showing up at a lot of the parties they’re at).

Teens believe high school is the end all be all of everything. If they have lots of friends, they’re winning. If they are considered popular, they’re winning. If they have a successful academic score, they’re winning. None of these things affects your life outside of high school.

Sure, an argument can be made for friends sticking with you afterwards, making you happier. An argument can be made for academic success leading to bigger or better paying jobs. You don’t need either of those things to achieve those ends, though, because high school doesn’t matter.

Let me tell you a tale.

I grew up in a small town, a little place where “small town” actually means small. My graduating class was 63 people. I first tried my hand at academic excellence but had pressure beyond my control (bullies), so I shifted gears and started hanging out with the… infamous crowd. While none of those friends were largely desirable in social circles, they were my people because they alleviated the pressure.

During the “era” I grew up in, there were three basic social groups: jocks, preps, and the loads. Jocks were what you’d expect: sports players who were adored by the community for their participation. Preps were more or less what you’d expect: the social standing masters, the academic successes, and they held all the “political” sway (Valedictorian, class president, event organizers, etc). The loads were the ones that need the most explanation, because they encompassed a large portion of the rest of us: some where drug users, some were drinkers (most, actually), legal troubles often plagued them, and they didn’t spend tons of time in school.

I hung out with the loads and traded some of the “social capital” I had for some awesome results. First, the bullies all but dried up… because why would you antagonize the guy with the undesirable friends? Second, I ended up learning a lot of stuff about life I wouldn’t have gotten from either of the other two groups (things too numerous to list here). Third, I have more friends from that group to this day than I have from my actual graduating class.

There are a good number of classmates I won’t ever talk to again… because they’re assholes. There are a good number of classmates I won’t be talking to anymore, ones that I have given a chance on Facebook (for example), because they’re close-minded assholes. There aren’t more than a handful of former classmates that I actively have any contact with, and some of them are just giving me the “pity friending” on Facebook because they might think I need it. I don’t.

I have a job that I enjoy and have been doing for over a decade now, in spite of my academic history. My college education, which I took in order to just use the money from my GI Bill before it ran out, has absolutely no bearing on any job I’ve had since getting the degree.

What I’m saying is that high school doesn’t matter, socially speaking. The cheerleaders having a beef with you and being bitchy at you constantly isn’t going to have any bearing on your life, unless you remain in that place where you grew up. Which actually leads me to the most important part of what I’ve talked about so far: staying at home.

When I graduated from high school, I joined the Navy. It got me the hell out of my hometown and gave me a great experience meeting vastly different personalities, going to places I never would have thought to go, and I didn’t need to associate with any of the “poisonous” relationships from high school. Life got better. WAY better.

While it took me 15 years to accomplish the goal of leaving North Dakota (convincing my wife), I succeeded in leaving North Dakota forever. The place, from my point of view, is just now entering the 19th century (yes, 19th), they’re closed-minded, and opinions (if they didn’t match everyone else’s) didn’t matter.

You know what? I don’t care. I live in Oregon now, Portland to be specific, and I’ve never been happier.

High school had no bearing on anything that I’m enjoying, or dealing with, today.

So, when you think high school is the most important thing in the world, socially speaking, think again. It’s only important “right now,” it won’t matter in a decade… or two… unless you never go anywhere after you graduate.

Stretch your legs, grow a little, and get away from home. You might just understand that there is a better “home” out there for you with less toxic people and all of them don’t care about high school social structures either.

Live a little.

Journal of the Emerald Specter 97: The Bullet Journal RPG Updates

There are a great many out there that are going to read that title and breathe a sigh of relief that something is coming. Well, I’m here to lay down a little bit of information and let you know that “winter is coming” and that may throw a wrench into the works. 

Without further ado, let’s get into the meat of what we need to discuss as far as BuJoRPG, BuJourneyRPG, and what the future of updates look like from this point on.

At least you can be happy that I haven’t forgotten about you all. 

I introduced BuJoRPG early last year with a promise to expand it as I had time to do so. That has proven to be a bigger task than I realized and some things have obviously gone awry in the attempt. The big push for me is still BuJourneyRPG and that’s probably where the focus is going to be for the foreseeable future.

The problem is that I haven’t gotten much of a chance to work on it in the past three months. That is a quarter of a year gone without hardly opening the document that I am writing the instructions in.

Complaining that work is taking up all my time isn’t even much of a problem. I have limited hours at work now due to an injury and the rest of my “work time” is helping out MadeByTricia.com produce her stuff. Life is pretty full because business is picking up.

Anyone who has ever worked on anything worthwhile understands that everyone needs some downtime, too. I am no exception. I’ve gotten back into playing No Man’s Sky (they just released a new update called NEXT) and I’ve been playing that now and then.

I’d also like to be playing some UFC 3, but I haven’t really gotten the chance to learn how to play in order to actually play the game. That is a big want for me as well.

But that has nothing to do with Bullet Journal RPGs… at all. Just me needing a little space to breathe.

I’ve been trying to make time to work on both BuJoRPG and BuJourneyRPG and because I’m stretching myself thin in trying to do that, I need to make a decision. BuJourneyRPG will be completed before I do anything else with BuJoRPG at this point, and there is another little caveat in there that you weren’t even aware was a thing until now: digital journal creation.

I’m making custom digital bullet journals, or rather I will be doing so. Both my wife and I have my first two that I made and I’m going to make that a thing that will be released on this website for the future as a possibility for you to purchase. The process takes a lot of time (links, creating or manipulating the graphics, deciding on the design elements, including everything that needs to be included, etc) but once I get a template set up, changing out the “pretty bits” should be easier. This means that I probably have to start working on this now.

While I’m watching TV before bed with my wife or have a lot of time to sit in front of a computer watching whichever sport is on TV at the moment (soccer, NFL, sumo, UFC, ONE, NASCAR, etc), I can be making the framework of the digital bullet journals. When the framework is done, then I’ll be able to sub in graphics to make a few options for you all to decide what you’d like.

In between that and 2019, I will be getting two weeks of vacation from work. Undoubtedly, my wife will occupy a chunk of those weeks doing stuff for her business, which is completely fine. I am, however, setting aside a single 24 period each of those two weeks (they aren’t connected, so one 24 period per week) to finish up the BuJourneyRPG sourcebook. That means that I’m hopefully actually going to be releasing BuJourneyRPG by Christmas (what a present, right?).

Stepping back a bit, I mentioned the digital bullet journals for two reasons: 1, they are a thing now and can actually be taken anywhere without any worries of messing up a physical journal and 2, I can include my BuJoRPG and BuJourneyRPG special releases in them… so if you use the system and you want access to the rules (sourcebook) or one of the expansions, you’ll be able to get those in the digital bullet journals. They won’t JUST be in them, but they’ll probably be in them.

Time management is something that is supposed to be a big part of the Bullet Journal experience. I haven’t even gotten a chance to use my digital journal a whole lot yet and that is because I have no damn time to do it. I need a chance to step back and work at what I need to get myself back in line.

If you took notice, I used my new graphics package for the headers on this column. I was going to “boom!” introduce them all at once but I’d rather roll them out in little bits as I start migrating towards the site refresh. Some things won’t get updated yet (like the comic book cover) but they’ll be updated soon enough.

First, though, I need to work on producing what I said I’d produce.

Journal of the Emerald Specter 96: The MMA Battle

If you’re looking for some pithy commentary on an upcoming UFC event, you’re looking in the wrong place. Well, you’re probably looking in the wrong place.

What I’ll be talking about today is actually about how the UFC will be up against in the coming years. This is the battle between the UFC and ONE Championship.

Many, almost universally in the western world, consider the UFC the best MMA organization in the world. There are plenty of outliers, though, many of them also in the western world… but the biggest organization in the eastern world is actually ONE Championship.

If you’re not familiar with them, ONE Championship started as ONE Fighting Championship… which they changed due to linguistic reasons (since English isn’t the dominant language in Asia).  ONE has a stranglehold on the east, much like the UFC does on the west, and there may be a time coming soon where ONE actually starts pushing into the UFC’s market.

I mentioned the biggest reason in the UFC-ESPN column I wrote a couple weeks ago. With the ESPN deal for the UFC includes removing them from a more mainstream audience, ONE Championship has done something remarkable… and just the opposite:

ALL the events and ALL the fights will be free on their app.

The barrier, as one could imagine, is that some of the names won’t be immediately familiar with American audiences. I was tempted to say “western audiences,” but only those who are wearing blinders don’t realize some of the best fighters are actually in ONE.

Ben Askren, whom I do not personally enjoy watching fight due to his style, is one of the top 5 welterweights in the world and is the current ONE Welterweight Champion. Martin Nguyen is their version of Conor McGregor, he’s the ONE Featherweight and Lightweight Champion. Aung La N Sang is also a two division champion, holding both ONE’s Light Heavyweight and Middleweight Champion. Angela Lee is the ONE Women’s Atomweight Champion (for those wondering, that is the next division lighter than Strawweight).

I could certainly list a lot of fighters and all of their champions, but I won’t keep going on that one. The “octagon” is more of a circle and you’re going to see all kinds of talent from the newest of new to the most experienced of fighters.

Some people like watching Bellator or Invicta, as well as Professional Fighters League (formerly World Series of Fighting). They’re all big organizations, they all have their own niches for fans, and they all have great fighters. There aren’t a lot of them that are paying top dollar for their fighters, though, which is why the better ones tend to end up in the UFC.

ONE is paying top dollar AND they are the “go to” organization for most Asian countries. China, for instance, is having many of their up and coming fighters go straight into ONE. With China having been cut off from the world so long, there are a ton of athletes that will be joining the rest of the world’s biggest organizations and making waves (like Yao Ming).

Let me stop trying to sell you if you’re not interested in anything outside the UFC on the fighters. The events are free, literally free. If you like fighting, why not give some of them a shot? It’s not going to cost you anything. I’m pretty sure all the previous fights (or at least the more recent ones) are also free. Free. You can watch people punch each other in the face for free.

Give it a shot.

I think that the UFC’s ESPN deal may end up having a few people go on over to check out ONE, since they’re free, and maybe ONE can start getting a bigger foothold in the western world.

Having seen many of the events in the past, I’m a fan of MMA in general and want to see great fights. I like Invicta, I like ONE, I like UFC, and I like watching good fights.

Does ONE have duds? Absolutely. Is the whole event worth checking out? Sometimes, but normally you’re going to be interested in the last four or five fights, just like UFC.

Give is a shot. It’ll be worth a little bit of your time.

Testing the New WordPress Editor: Gutenberg

Since this is going to be the future, I decided to drop in with a little bit of content… well, random and perhaps sporadic content.

A prototype website image… that I’m probably not going to use.

There are a great many things that I think will be beneficial using the new post publishing things. That isn’t too terrible… I won’t mind giving this a little more time to get used to, though… 

The next installment of the Journal of the Emerald Specter (that comes out tomorrow) will be the last one written with the old WordPress editor… if Gutenberg is the future, then I guess I should start working towards that end.

Maybe a theme change would be in order now that the future is here… maybe I can get a website to lay out like the new post editor? We shall see… 

Journal of the Emerald Specter 95: Starship Design

This seems like a weird title, right? A topic that one wouldn’t necessarily see in a column about geeky stuff… right?

Wrong. Starships and their designs are as geeky as all get out and I’m going to say that there is probably going to be more images than any other column on the site, so sorry about the bandwidth usage on this one.

I didn’t want to make a brand new header for this one, so I’m tossing it under the Emerald Specter banner.

Starship design is a thing that has been around as long as the idea of starships has, and science fiction starship design is what I’ll be talking about (not the real space craft). The classic design of what people thought we’d get to space in looked a lot like the missiles we had been launching at each other on the Earth:

Your “rocket” is showing.

This is the “Buck Rogers” and corny B-movie science fiction space technology that people thought would take us to the stars. They had a weird failure to see some of the dangers that this type of vessel would pose but they also didn’t understand a lot about space at the time. Barbarella, for example, used liquids on a dark background as space and there is no liquid in space.

We did get better looking ships when Gene Roddenberry came onto the scene with the now infamous Star Trek. The Enterprise was a great design and an entire galaxy worth of ships came out of the design.

Looks pretty, but the bridge is an obvious target.

Another leap forward was made when George Lucas came out with everyone’s favorite Star Wars, changing up the starship looks from a template (like Star Trek) to just a free for all. The Millennium Falcon was the ship that everyone latched on to as a great look, and it is, but there are so many others that people tend to forget are great looking ships.

A small sampling of Star Wars ships.

There were X-Wings, TIE Fighters, Star Destroyers, Slave I, and a whole lot more. Each one unique, each one with a glorious look, and all of them fit together in the same universe because that’s just how things went.

Several other science fictions IPs have also got great ship designs and have taken those in their own directions. Babylon 5, Andromeda, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century are just a few of the options that popped up over the years. They each also had their own designs, flaws and successes alike.

Every single one of these has a good look for space and every single one of them has the same flaw (at least the larger, capital ships): they are laid out horizontally as if they were in constant gravity.

This brings me to the Expanse.

We understand a lot about space, though there is still tons more to learn. We understand how gravity in space actually works, and though the “artificial gravity” excuse works in the universes I’ve already listed, I’m old enough to appreciate the need to experience something a little more realistic.

I really wanted to call this column “How the Expanse Changed the Way Starships Are Designed” but went with a more generic title instead.

The Rocinante (originally the Tachi), is the perfect example of how starships would actually be laid out. Writers Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham wanted to have a more “hard sci fi” feel to the Expanse universe and making sure things worked the way they were supposed to was a start.Click the image to see it full size.

In the Expanse, all the ships are laid out like office buildings (tall) instead of like aircraft carriers (long). When you are under thrust you have gravity, thus you would need to be flying sideways if you were in the Enterprise, unlike the Rocinante that has decks designed for thrust gravity.

Does the Expanse take some liberties with some of the hard sci fi elements? Sure, like the Epstein Drive doesn’t exist but would need to in order for the story to be what it has to instead of a story about people constantly floating around looking for more fuel.

I’ve long tried to design a “cool” looking starship. I have made more than a few attempts at actually figuring out the ins and outs of accomplishing the milestone of having that “one awesome ship” that I can then design an entire fleet around. All of those attempts have been with the horizontal deck layout in mind.

Until now.

Some time ago, I came up with the concept of a “space submarine.” There is no wind resistance in space, so having all the winged looks, fancy domes, and swooping lines of most starship designs would be a waste of time and effort (considering how space is an extremely harsh place to operate in). So, I thought “why wouldn’t we just build a submarine in space and tool around in that?” I had the right idea, just not the right reasons.

When I ran this space submarine idea by a hard sci fi friend, they commented that the ship wouldn’t need to be aerodynamic in space. Well, sure, the space sub is aerodynamic to reduce drag in the water, but we also wouldn’t want to waste a lot of time making the thing look pretty because we need the utility to matter. Function over form, shall we say?

Then the Expanse hit the airwaves and I realized that there can be some extraneous elements on the ship itself but my biggest design flaw was the horizontal nature of the ship. Simple fix: all the decks now go from “port to starboard” rather than “bow to stern.” Throw some shielding elements on the outside (where the unique looks would start to come in), along with some weapons, and the space sub is now a space office tower that uses gravity realistically.

If you think about all the ships used on the Expanse TV show, every single one of them has this same basic layout. So, for example, the Donnager looks like it would be of the “horizontal deck” ilk but is actually just a much larger version of the Rocinante.

Click the image for a larger version, and the Tachi can also be seen in the pic.

The “top” of the Donnager isn’t the dorsal side not visible in that picture, it’s the tip of the ship launching the blue bolts. Everyone on board would have the tops of their heads facing the tip and that is how gravity would work without coming up with an “artificial gravity” excuse to make the pretty ship look the way you want it to… and if you look back up at the cutaway I posted, you’ll also notice the ships are modular!

I’m not saying that the other franchises are bad, I’m just saying that the way I’ll be designing starships from now on is more like the Expanse. I stopped reading way ahead on the books so I can experience the show (which is better than the source material) as the show is released.

There is another book series I read that utilizes realistic and hard sci fi elements into it: Ian Douglas’s Star Carrier. I would love to see this adapted to the screen but I’m guessing the sci fi is a little too hard in that one.

With this new design philosophy I’ve also started rejiggering an old project to utilize the new design process instead of trying to come up with reasons to use the horizontal layout. This has actually affected the “pre-space” history of the story a little, too, which is exciting. Hopefully I can have something written sooner rather than later.