Tag Archives: Column

Emerald Specter 107: The ESCC and Chess Basho

I like chess. I know other people like chess, too. I’ve attempted to combine chess with a couple other aspects of sports or presentation to make them more appealing to an audience. That all actually begins with getting players involved, regular players, and making sure that there are firm ground rules for how to do things in these scenarios.

One of those is the Chess Basho experiment. 

I was originally going to write about how this is mostly a failure but things have perked up a bit and I wanted to begin looking back, then coming forward, to see where we’re at and perhaps drum up some consistency that has been sorely lacking.

I am going to go all the way back and look at Chess Basho I (for ease of explanation, I’m just going to use the numbering rather than try to parse out what each event was actually called). Who played, who won, and where did we end up?

Without running down all the particulars, the four Sapphire Adepts were the winner Alexin2, Nikbasketball12, Sim_zama, and dukenukem123. None of them returned for the following tournament and I did invite them.

The tournament was well received, filled up very quickly, and play was fun. I participated in the tournament and finished a dismal 11th out of 12.

The next tournament was Chess Basho II, with almost an entirely new crew of players who joined the system (me being the only returning player from Chess Basho I). With no returning players, the aforementioned Sapphire Adepts were changed being “kyujo” (or absent) in this tournament. The new SAs were winner ArturFaust, homozzapien, anujvaniya78692, and biraandrada. This was also the first tournament I established being a member of the club to be technically promoted. I finished 9th.

In Chess Basho III, I returned again as well as King_of_Not. Mmuse would also first appear here and become part of the returning membership. The SAs were once again brand new as none of the Adepts returned for this basho. The new ones were winner FlashyFerrari, syibil, Pauliow1967, and mapru. I finished 10th.

Chess Basho IV had none of the Sapphire Adepts returning again, so we had a whole new slate of them for this one. They were winner miki1701, PRIMAT_RU, King_of_Not, and EmeraldSpecter (me). This tournament is also a catastrophic failure as the tournament started abruptly, while not being full (there were only 4 players), and was generally thrown out. Technically, though, I am including it as we did have a definitive ending.

Chess Basho V saw myself and Mmuse return but no King_of_Not. None of the Sapphire Adepts returned and that left yet another new slate: winner mrstasky, DarrylAG, DalkyiAK, and Goridulich_Evgeniy. I finished 10th… I also decided that this was going to be my last Basho as a participant because of my other project, SpecterChess, being my focus for the future. (Side Note: SpecterChess will be getting some alterations in the very near future due to my writing of a story that had things going in interesting directions)

Chess Basho VI is the one currently running as I write these words (though it should be over by the time this column is released). Currently, both Mmuse and King_of_Not are participating, and though Mmuse has currently attained the Sapphire Adept threshold, they’ll be too far down the rankings to actually be granted the title. 

This leads me to why I’m writing this big column.

As of about 45 minutes ago (as I write this), I announced and posted on Chess.com the new Chess Basho VII event. This will introduce a few changes to the basho system in the hopes that things start moving forward and people start coming back into the fold… here’s the nifty new logo, too, which will be part of the trophies on the website (and hopefully entire players to keep coming back to earn more of them):

Unlike the logo I had been using, this one is more compact. The trophies simply have a “1st, 2nd, and 3rd” in the bottom right corner of the logo.

What are the changes, though? 

First and foremost, the membership requirement for the ESCC is out the window. No one is joining and the only real reason to have the ESCC as part of chess basho now is to alert those players when another tournament is announced. Players can come and go as they please but the new trophies I’m hoping will start drawing in more returning players (enough to launch a second, invite only, division).

Second, there will be expanded numbers of titled players to allow for those who return to actually achieve what they came to achieve without always being pushed down by much higher rated players that pop in and never return. The new number of combined Sapphire and Ruby Adepts will now be six and that applies to the new Chess Basho VII event forward.

Third, players will be able to earn points based on their returning statuses. So, for example, since Mmuse and King_of_Not keep coming back AND they seem to achieve the Sapphire Adept title thresholds, they won’t lose their titles to players who haven’t returned to other tournaments. Using King_of_Not as my primary example, they have participated in 3 tournaments and will have 3 points over players who have not returned in the past. Mmuse also has 3 for returning. If they both achieve the Sapphire Adept threshold in Chess Basho VI then they’ll both be given the Sapphire Adept title, which they will continue to hold as long as they return for Chess Basho IX.

But what if they don’t place in the top 6? Not placing in the top 6 would be unfortunate, but will not disqualify them. Players in the top 6 who haven’t participated in more than one tournament will not earn the Sapphire Adept title. If more players start returning more often, this point system will be reevaluated.

Finally, the tournaments will no longer begin on the same days as actual sumo tournaments. The tournaments (starting with Chess Basho VII) will begin on the first non-holiday day of the month. If participation starts ramping up, there will be a consideration for 12 tournaments a year rather than just the 6.

This is still an experiment and I’m hoping that something comes of it sooner rather than later. I’m willing to run this tournament schedule for up to three years (we’re already done with year one) to see if this is worth continuing afterwards. The concept is solid, the participation just needs to be ramped up.

Emerald Specter 106: The Haunting of Hill House

If you have been under a rock or haven’t decided to jump in on the Netflix train ride to glory, then you might have missed one of the best series to be produced in the last decade.

I’m talking about The Haunting of Hill House, an original series produced by Netflix that is gloriously eerie where it needs to be and is generally a spooky experience.

I guess if you’re not into horror, then maybe the series isn’t for you but overall, I’d say you should still give the series a shot because I’ve heard it described as “This is Us, but horror.”

Warning, there is no non-spoiler section in this one. Sorry.

The Haunting of Hill House, which is apparently based off of the novel by Shirley Jackson, is the story of the Crain family and their experience with Hill House. There are a ton of layers to what is going on and this review isn’t going to do the series justice but should be enough to get you interested in checking it out.

Just like This is Us, the story jumps around between the present and the past. The past is around when the Crains bought Hill House to flip it, with five kids to live while the process was going on. There are things that don’t make a lot of sense at first when you’re watching early on but will make you go “I didn’t see that coming” as the season wraps up. 

Again, I said that there are many layers to this show.

The present is about everyone all grown up and how they have developed over the years having experienced the house and are dealing with the consequences of what they’ve experienced.

Here’s where the spoilers come in.

The oldest son has written a book about their experiences and no one else in the family is real happy with that.During the flashbacks we learn that the mother has died, and you find out why in the last few episodes, but you also come to understand that the House is really the main reason why things are happening.

Each of the kids is dealing with the loss of the mother, dealing with how their dad has turned out, and is coping with the whole experience in their own little ways.

Needless to say, everyone is severely screwed up.

We, along with the family, start piecing together what actually happened in the house as the series progresses, learning about the history and events that have taken place in the past from both the past and the future perspectives.

A careful eye will find all the hidden ghosts in the series, too, though I haven’t rewatched the series yet to find them for myself.

Yes, this is something you’re going to want to rewatch at least a couple times because there is so much going on!

When my wife and I were watching, we made some guesses about some things and got just as many right as we got wrong. There are layers to this story and I’m so glad Netflix poured cash into this project.

This review isn’t as long as the last one because, though I have not bothered hiding spoilers, I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds here. Go watch the series.

I’m also excited for season 2, which I’m hoping will explore more of the past BEFORE the Crains get to Hill House!

Emerald Specter 105: Black Sails

Starz has had a stellar TV series that I happened across about four years ago and the show was Black Sails. If you like pirates and are interested in HBO level quality of a show about them, then you are in luck.

This is my review of the entire series (as the fourth and final season has long since ended). We (my wife and I) just finished watching the last episode a night or two ago (as you read this).

Black Sails is the story of how Long John Silver got to the point where he’s at in Treasure Island, along with a good mix of actual historical events as well as actual historical pirates.

Yes, Black Sails is a prequel to Treasure Island.

The non-spoiler review is actually pretty short. You get introduced to all of the “main players” right off the bat and some new ones straggle in after a season or two, then you see where the background of Treasure Island gets built, and finally we end up in a place that (for those who have read the book) is more familiar to us.

Starz, as an HBO-like channel, also went and added all the wonderfully adult language as well as plenty of nudity just like one would come to expect from a big budget production like this.

And now, I should move forward into the spoiler review.


Your warning is now, this is the SPOILER section.

Captain Flint (fictional, from Treasure Island), Billy Bones (fictional, from Treasure Island), and the crew of the Walrus (fictional, Treasure Island) end up with a passenger named John Silver (fictional, Treasure Island) who ends up becoming part of the crew.

They are all pirates from Nassau, a city in the Bahamas where the pirates have built their Republic (this is fact). In charge of the island is Eleanor Guthrie, the daughter of a man who organized the pirates into something less random and something more civil. Eleanor, as well as her unseen father, are real.

Among the other pirates that hang out in and around Nassau are Charles Vane (real life pirate) of the Ranger (his real ship was called Lark), Jack Rackham (real life pirate, known as Calico Jack), Anne Bonny (real life pirate), and Benjamin Hornigold (real life pirate and mentor to Edward Teach… Blackbeard).

Nassau has a brothel where a lot of scenes happen (both for the gratuitous nudity and the story development for meetings between characters) and Fort Nassau is under the control of Hornigold, who uses it to fend off ships who aren’t welcome on the island.

There’s a Spanish ship carrying a lot of gold, known as the Urca de Lima (real ship), which is discovered by the pirates and becomes the focus of their attention… because they’re pirates.

While the pirates feud amongst one another, there is an understanding that they are strongest when they are together, so don’t think that feuds will cause irreparable rifts between anyone. That mirrors real life… for more, you may want to read The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down.

The whole while, John Silver is slowly becoming the scary and powerful pirate we know he is in Treasure Island, which is a transformation worth watching as the series goes on.

There are spectacular naval battles, political intrigue, examples of what kinds of things people at sea faced in the 18th century, and for those who need a little nudity, there is some in every season (though, as is typical with HBO shows, the amount decreases as the seasons progress, giving way to the actual story).

As a series, this was surprisingly excellent in a way that I hadn’t expected Starz to produce. HBO has a track record of producing content like this, and I’m sure if I subscribed to Starz I would find more interesting content there (I watched Black Sails through my Hulu subscription). 

If I had to give the series as a whole a star rating, I’d give the series a 5 out of 5. Sure, there were some slow parts and drawn out pieces that took away from the spectacle. Some of the historical stuff isn’t accurate, either (like Blackbeard’s final appearance didn’t actually happen the way they showed us), some of the integral pirates necessary to be more historically based were missing entirely, and after we’re given some examples of what pirates dealt with we’re pushed into pure story instead of noting how those things didn’t go away. Overall, though, I’m still giving the series a 5.

There is so much awesome packed into this series that I can’t even contain my enthusiasm. I wanted more than 4 seasons but I understand that the story didn’t have more story in it… I would have been less happy if there was a season 7 that just sort of padded itself to last to get to the “good stuff” in a finale. 

That’s the one thing I wasn’t disappointed in at all: there is very little stretching of the story for the sake of stretching the story.

Emerald Specter 100: Finally

Who would have thought I’d get all the way to 100 with a column that is basically about nothing? Sure, I talk about things that are involving my life, projects, and it provides me with a place for some personal commentary, but #100?

I’m going to talk about a variety of topics, so buckle up, folks… we’re going on a ride.

If you haven’t figured out that I’m a giant Doctor Who fan by now, then you must have been visiting the wrong website for years because I loves me some Doctor Who. 

Since we are about to experience our first female Doctor in the series, there has been a bit of a divide among fans. Everyone who is an actual fan is willing to watch the show and see if Jodie Whittaker is interesting in the role (like I want to see) is in one camp… and the rest are misogynists.

Why does the Doctor have to be a man? When Tom Baker was getting ready to leave the role, he said (during an interview) that his successor could very well be a woman. That was in the late 70s/early 80s. Here we are over 30 years later and people are out there complaining about something they haven’t even seen yet.

The concept of judging something before you know what it is baffles me. Completely. It’s akin to a four year old complaining that broccoli tastes terrible when that four year old has never had broccoli.

Back to the fun stuff… 

Materializing a new season on October 7.

On October 7, 2018, Jodie Whittaker’s era of Doctor Who begins and I am so excited… more for the fact that Steven Moffat is no longer in charge than anything else, but I am genuinely interested to check out what’s in store for the new season.

Chris Chibnall, the new show runner (known previously for Broadchurch), said that there won’t be any returning villains this first season. None. There has been a heavy reliance on them over the course of this New Who and even though they seemed heavily involved in Classic Who, there is so much Classic Who it’s difficult to understand that there were many appearances because the Classic Who stuff ran for over 25 years.

I’m excited that there won’t be any Daleks.

The Daleks are, arguably, the reason that Doctor Who wasn’t cancelled way back in the 60s. They took the UK by storm and have allowed Doctor Who to develop into something we all understand today. The Daleks, however, are so over used. There have been WAY too many Dalek stories in New Who… and I’m not even talking about the ones where they make an oblique or cameo appearance, I mean Dalek stories proper.

That being said, I’m hoping Chibnall does what Moffat was incapable of doing: bringing back some of the villains that deserve some more development. I’m talking about villains like the Rani, Omega, the Black Guardian, the Meddling Monk, and Salamander.

If you don’t know who those characters are, then you have allowed Moffat to dictate to you what matters to Whovians. Let’s not forget those that had so much potential and weren’t used again because the show was cancelled (or actors died).

I’m also excited for some new monsters. So far, we’ve gotten some greats in the Gelth, the Silence, Weeping Angels, and the Vashta Nerada. There have also been some epic misses under Moffat and Davies, like the Slitheen.

We need new monsters and villains, especially some good ones. I wouldn’t even mind a couple seasons without seeing classic monsters, even though that means I’ll miss my favorite Cybermen.

I decided to make a more inclusive “sports” category than one for each of the sports I enjoy (football, soccer, sumo, MMA, racing, etc). This one will also be about more than one sport, so I’m killing a couple birds with the same stone on this one.

There is a Sumo Game that I play online every other month when the Basho is taking place. I’ve participated in 6 events, with my last two being less than desirable results. I’m hoping to get better at this and return to winning ways, because I like the way things are run there and the game is generally fun.

I have also witnessed a fair amount of change since I’ve been watching sumo again. While I was paying attention way back (when ESPN was running it), you’d see nearly all the same people at all their same ranks time and time again. It was good but there wasn’t much movement (or at least that is what I perceived at the time). Now? I’ve gotten to see someone become a Yokozuna, seen at least two new Ozekis, and there is massive movement in the top division.

Having access to someone posting the events on YouTube (Kintamayama) is also a huge help, because I get to see every day and all the events in their entirety rather than only catching a broad recap from a major network.

On the soccer front, I’ve been watching more Manchester United on the NBC Sports app (at least until this weekend, when they’ve started peddling their overpriced “Gold” garbage). The last time I got to watch this much Manchester United they were flying high under Sir Alex Ferguson… my, how we’ve fallen.

I also have the look like I don’t understand the hype of Mourinho, too.

Manchester United has gone from a “score when it counts” type of team to a “score once and hope the other team doesn’t score” mentality. Jose Mourinho is no Sir Alex and I’m worried that the club is going to falter for another decade before figuring out what to do in his wake.

I’ll keep watching and hoping they finish with a Premiership Championship again soon but I’m realistic enough to understand that probably isn’t going to happen for at least another two or three years.

The 25th Anniversary marks a rough patch for the UFC as well as a milestone.

I’ve been watching more UFC lately, as well as more One Championship and more Invicta FC. In a bizarre sequence of events, my interest in each company has taken some weird turns to return me to a place where I thought things might not work out so well for the UFC… but they will… ish.

There is a column on this site about the UFC seeing a loss in interest coming on the horizon. While I still feel strongly about the ESPN deal being terrible for the UFC, I don’t really think they have the competition that I thought they did only a couple of months ago.

In a bizarre turn, the One Championship organization has started doing some really weird things with their events. They are, for Western audiences, essentially the UFC of the east. One is WAY more popular in Asia than UFC, to the point that some Asian Continent residents don’t even know what the UFC is… 

What weird things, you ask? How about scheduling a headlining fight containing the WBC Super Flyweight Champion Srisasket Sor Rungvasai battling Iran Diaz. Regular, boring ass boxing as the MAIN EVENT of an MMA organization card? What the actual fuck is going on? Am I in bizarro world?

The whole reason I enjoy MMA is because it isn’t boring ass boxing. Boxing, where the waistline has crept up to just under the nipples, is sluggish and very awkward to watch. There is a lot of hugging that happens and not in the fun, punch someone in the face kind of way like MMA.

Why would you schedule a boxing main event on an MMA card?

One has also been doing kickboxing on a regular basis lately, too… as well as Muy Thai, and other fringe (I use that to mean not large scale) style fights. I was okay with a little kickboxing, but if One is going to turn into a “we are just combat sports, not MMA” then I’m probably going to start watching more UFC… 

Until the ESPN, that is… because I’m not paying ESPN to watch UFC.

I will be posting the Chess Basho VI: November Basho in the next few days, which will mark the first basho where I’m not going to be participating. As I write this, I am in dead last of the Chess Basho V event and I’ve decided that maybe it’s time for me to let the others go… and maybe, hopefully, get some advancements through the system as a result.

There is an ulterior motive in this “retirement,” too.

Last column I mentioned that I’d like to start reviewing ALL of my chess games, and that means I’m hoping to go for events and opponents that will help me improve. As of last night (the day I am writing this), I beat a 1400+ player in an event because I decided to try something different (rather than going with the knee jerk reaction move). Look, I’m already learning.

The idea of reviewing every rated Chess.com game is to see, in real time, my advancement through the ratings and how I am either getting better or worse… because, I am currently “better” but I expect a dip in the near future.

I am also (already) looking at dropping the SpecterChess events from weekly to bi-monthly (every other week). If I’m reviewing every single one of my games (single, one off games as well as tournament play), then I can probably keep up the pace… but with the current mode of how I’m doing things, I am having issues finding similarly rated opponents.

Time will tell.

The Greatest Show will be returning. This week, not next week or the week after, is when I’m going to start recruiting guests. I’ve got Kirby Krackle interested in joining me, Dan Berry (the creator of Verdacomb and TOFUzilla), and possibly even Dirk Manning. These may be at the “normal” Saturday evening time, or in the case of Dirk (for example), I’ll be having it whenever I can.

As far as whether the other hosts will be joining me for these is entirely up to their availability. In a similar vein, I’ll also be bringing back the shows WITHOUT special guests because I want to get back to talking geeky with other folks on a semi-regular basis.

The Specter Show has not been recorded in a few weeks, again… I’m getting ready to put out episodes of other things in that feed, so there will be content coming. I have some prep to do before that happens, though.

Once again, I’m going into a holiday season without an idea of how things are going to work out. I’m in a new office at work, on a new route, and unfamiliar with the “holiday season” of my new route, I’m expecting to be overwhelmed.

I’m retiring from this new office, in 15 or so years, so I’ll get a feeling for how the holiday will work out in the future. Knowing that after this year, I’m hopeful that planning can be done for the things I like to do.

See you all for #101!

Journal of the Emerald Specter 99: Getting Back in the Groove

You were all beginning to wonder if this column was coming, weren’t you? There is a milestone coming up and I wanted to make sure that I pushed myself to get back to writing at least once a week, as well as other things.

Why don’t we get things started?

The time of year when packages start flowing like water is fast approaching and that normally means my time is going to start shrinking for other things. Work is work but that doesn’t mean I can’t be doing things outside of that.

I had popped back in to podcast about a week or two ago for the first time in months. There hasn’t been another show, as this column has been written, but I’m going to be recording a few of them in the next week or two.

Why? Well, I need to start the Specter Show back up full time and I also need to start banking the SpecterChess episodes so that I’m ahead of the game. Speaking of chess…

The Emerald Specter Chess Club is about to start moving along without me actively playing. All ESCC events, at present, are set up like sumo basho events and I’m personally finding it hard to keep competing with the wide variety of different playing strengths that tend to sign up for these things.

I’m going to keep running the events, but I’ll be essentially “retiring” from the ESCC basho play. As of this writing, Chess Basho V: September 2018 is currently running, with only two more banners created for the future… I do plan on continuing to run the bashos until it catches on. The next one is already on the horizon:

Most of the reason I’m going to “retire” from the ESCC active play is SpecterChess. I’ve stated that the rating is only a number but rather than have my own rating fluctuate all over the place between SpecterChess events, I’m going to start reviewing all opponents… and that means I’m also going to be needing to not play so many “non-reviewed” games.

SpecterChess 1 has been announced formally, and you’ll start seeing each event from here on out announced weekly. I’ve got a format for how I’m releasing all these and I need to stick to it in order to be ahead of the game. Honestly, if I don’t get ahead of this, the SpecterChess events will probably go from weekly to monthly and that with slow things down too much, in my opinion.

There haven’t been anymore sign ups for this, yet, but I’m confident that I’ll get the audience I’m looking for by perseverance.

Ah, the thing that most people come to this site for: BuJoRPG. I’ve made a little progress on things but I want to take a step back and talk about a recent email that really made me think.

Someone who lives fairly close to me, generally speaking, asked if there would be anything BuJoRPG related that wouldn’t involve combat. She asked for, literally, a “female version of BuJoRPG.”

I had to take a step back to look at things before I answered.

RPGs, roleplaying games, are generally “armor up and physically combat” enemies. The BuJoRPG is less about outside sources of combat but still involves a sort of combat. The original version is more about self improvement and is really about conquering your personal hangups, but BuJourneyRPG was going to be more story driven.

It was also going to involve various amounts of combat.

Thinking about the process, the “lady BuJoRPG” for the original would be dropping a template for it that didn’t involve the standard RPG tropes. That is easy enough and has now become the number one next release for BuJoRPG (version 1). But I didn’t want to limit myself there… 

BuJourneyRPG has always been envisioned as being a “go here, fight that” type thing. I’m in the process of writing up the combat rules and combat will definitely be a heavy component of making successes. So, to “girl-ify” BuJourneyRPG, what would I need to do?

Looking at the situation as a whole, I really had to put thought into what I’d need to do to remove combat. It’s essential in BuJourneyRPG. I did come up with a theory, though, and that is a simple modification… to the definition.

Combat is actually a conflict towards a resolution. So, essentially, combat doesn’t need to be physical.

In BuJourneyRPG, you have four attributes that you’ll need to work on in order to balance out your life. Those are Physical, Mental, Social, and Emotional attributes. Each one of them can be involved in combat… and now combat is expanded a little.

With the first attribute, Physical can still include actual standard RPG combat. Swords, shields, battling opponents, and winning the day. In the case of the other three attributes, though, combat is completely different. Mental combat can be working out puzzles, Social combat can be conversational in nature (rather than physical), and Emotional combat can be things like meditation. Combat doesn’t need to be the default thought when someone says “combat.”

The request adds another dimension to the BuJoRPG situation that I think will make things far more interesting for those using the system. I’m really glad I got that email.

The Specter Show will be getting back into full swing soon… and I’m going to be doing all those things that I said I would be doing before, meaning that the Specter Show is going to largely become an eclectic collection of audio experiments and may even form into some sort of narrative as things go on.

One thing I’m not going to change until I reach the end, though, is naming the shows after Nine Inch Nails songs.

SpecterChess has taken over the old PRO Chess League podcast feed and won’t stop until they need to in order to reach a proper end (or, I hope, someone else will pick up the flag and run with it when I’m done). Once I get closer to the event narrowcasts, I’ll remove the old PRO Chess League shows and it’ll only be SpecterChess. I might be inclined to include ESCC reviews in the feed, too, but that isn’t going to be anytime soon.

The return of the Greatest Show is on the horizon, kids. After having attended Rose City Comic Con a little over a week ago, I’ve got a few people I’ll be hitting up to come on the show, as well as getting the crew together more often for shows. There is a caveat with this, though… we won’t have a solid recording time again.

Way back when Bob and I launched the Greatest Show, we literally just recorded when we had time and posted the shows. Fast forward five years and we’ve been stuck in a rut with only appearing live on Saturday nights… that used to happen weekly but we’ve lapsed because lives have gotten in the way. We are going to be returning to the “recording when it works” model.

Live viewership will probably be next to nothing, which is what needs to happen to make this work. I’ll entice the listening and viewing of the show, though, by returning to the giveaways again. I have given away a free box of stuff to Tab from Ohio and I’d like to give away more.

I have written exactly nothing since the last Specter Show. My ability to sit down and write has been replaced by sitting and doing things to help my wife fill orders for her business.

Honestly, money making projects come first, so I don’t actually mind too much. If you want me to put more effort into this site’s output, I have a Patreon link to the right you can click on… which means I’ll need to start posting the content there (I’ve been a little lax).

I’ve been thinking of my serial fiction that will be released as a “series,” in the vein of a TV show. There are serial works I’m simmering on the back burner that I’ve termed “one shots,” like movies, and while I was cleaning up something on my computer the other day, it dawned on me that all my serial fiction projects are one shots.

See if you follow me.

If I am writing an urban fantasy serial fiction (I’ll call it Street Wizards for this example) with the idea that it’s a TV show, I’m inclined to think of the project as open ended and more “episodic.” Sure, things can stitch together and there is probably a larger arc going on, but it’s really being less cohesive and digestible in smaller chunks.

If I am writing Street Wizards as a one shot and releasing it, still, as serial fiction, then there is a bigger plan at work. The one shot means there is one large and cohesive story running through the whole project without the consideration for whether or not there will be a sequel. 

I’d started writing my first work as a one shot and the second one as a series. I like the first one a whole lot better so far.

On the Specter Show, and in a past column, I mentioned that I was writing the fiction in solid 1,000 word chunks with the intent of writing to 80,000 words. Well, folks, that isn’t a good way to format this (seeing as the first story has progressed to about 1/3 of the way into the story and is sitting at around 6,000 words).

The first story isn’t going to have an 80,000 word run. I know that now.

My first serial fiction story is called “Revelation,” which will be released in larger chunks than 1,000 words and will run as long as it needs to in order to finish telling the story.

Now that I’ve announced it and released the cover image, maybe I’ll get back into this thing and do it up right.

First things first, I need to go back and add in more context and content to what I’ve written, because 6,000 words and being a 1/3 of the way through the story isn’t quite what I was looking to do. There was a lot of descriptiveness that I skipped over in order to get to that point and I’d like to go back and add in that descriptiveness.

My goal with Revelation is to release between 2,000 and 5,000 words at a time. That isn’t too long, it isn’t too short, and should be interesting enough to keep people coming back to check out the next segment. Revelation is a literal one shot, as in when the story is over there isn’t anything else to tell. There is a beginning, a middle, and a solid end. Once you read the whole thing you’ll understand why that is a thing.

Once that is finished (the writing), I’ll read through and make sure I have no spelling errors and grammar makes complete sense. After that, I’ll start releasing the fiction weekly in as many parts as is necessary. Once the release schedule is set up, then I’ll start writing the second serial fiction, which may allow for sequels… unlike Revelation.

This is the last “Journal” entry. The column, as announced on the last Specter Show, will return to just being called “Emerald Specter.” I’m going to be moving to making an individual cover image for each edition, and I started with this one. I liked the comic book theme and decided to shrink it to fit the dimensions of the website more.

Sitting down and writing these columns is cathartic. I get tings in order, I get enthusiastic about doing the things I say I’m going to do, and I an motivated to get things moving right away.

I’ve been dragging my feet a little on the digital journal and that is going to be worked on heavily over the next couple of weeks. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but I should be a lot further along than I am.

For now, thanks for reading.

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.

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.

Journal of the Emerald Specter 94: The UFC-ESPN Deal

The UFC has signed a five year television rights deal beginning in 2019 with ESPN, the quote/unquote “sports leader.”

I’m here to look at what was, look at what is to come, and let you know what I think of the deal.

I’m not going to look all the way back at the UFC before Fox. That is unnecessary and would only pad the word count of this article that I’d like to keep concentrated on what will be coming. I do need to go over the Fox deal, though. Just the “outside perspective” of the deal, not the meat and potatoes.

Fox and the UFC helped to bring a lot of MMA to people who probably wouldn’t have watched any otherwise. There is a reason why the UFC has continued to grow over the past few years, seeing larger audiences on television than they used to get (which were, technically, barely any before Fox). There were lots of Fight Nights on Fox, FS1, and a good chunk of the prelims would also be televised. Exposure was given to a lot of fighters that wouldn’t normally see exposure because they wouldn’t normally be on TV.

The UFC produces about 12 pay per views annually, with another 38 shows on Fox or FS1. The preliminary bouts on the PPVs normally air on FS1 and the main Fox channel has seen bigger headline events as time progressed forward.

Apparently the Fox deal ran out last year, though, and that meant they have just been cruising on autopilot for about a year.

The ESPN deal will have 30 events per year on their platforms, with 10 being on the main “ESPN network” channels and the other 20 being on the new ESPN+ app. This will obviously not affect the PPVs as they will still be “pay per view.” The key to this deal is that 20 events will be on an APP, a streaming service ESPN is attempting to launch with the UFC as it’s big draw.

Here’s where my issue comes in.

I don’t subscribe to cable. I have watched the UFC events on Fox, prelims and full events on FS1, and looked forward to getting more into the UFC over the course of the next couple of years. Since I don’t subscribe to cable, I do not get any ESPN channels… nor am I going to sign up for the ESPN+ app.

How many other people out there are going to do the same?

I think that the ESPN deal will hurt the UFC viewership overall. People aren’t streaming content in the numbers that ESPN would need to really shove home calling their app a success. CBS All Access launched as their guiding light (an unconnected company launching an app primarily showcasing their biggest property, Star Trek: Discovery) and will look at that as what to shoot for in measuring success.

The problem is that CBS All Access isn’t doing as well as they’d hoped, it’s going to miss their subscriber goal, and most of their biggest surge of subscribers came from Trek watchers who unsubscribed after the season was over. Hell, some people are actively signing up for the one week free, binging the whole season and then dumping the service before they have to pay.

I know this because I have friends who have done this.

So, why does ESPN think their endeavor will by any different?

ESPN has largely had their successes tied to the cable model. A chunk, and that is more than a little, of everyone’s cable payment goes to ESPN, a deal I’m not sure how they scored but have been reaping the rewards of for decades. They do have a few sports which they have rights to broadcast, but the largest chunk of ESPN programming are talk shows.

Sports Center is easily their most popular show that isn’t actual sports and it is also the one thing most people can live without. Nothing on ESPN’s list of shows (to include College GameDay, Outside the Lines, E:60, Around the Horn, and Sunday NFL Countdown) is really all that interesting. Bringing those shows to the ESPN+ app will do little to draw anyone to watch it in great numbers.

It’s LITERALLY filler.

Putting the UFC on ESPN+ will draw in a few more people that might not have subscribed otherwise. The large majority of UFC fans, though, are probably going to be doing what I’m going to be doing: not watching those events that aren’t on ESPN proper.

My prediction is that the UFC will take a serious hit in streaming viewership. Sure, ESPN is paying the UFC a lot of money and they may not mind, but after five years of seeing no viewing growth through streaming, the UFC is going to have some serious repair work to do.

Right now, I probably watch 60% of the UFC events on Fox. Some of these are due to when they’re on (early events I tend not to be able to watch) with some of these not being interesting enough for me to watch (I have fighters I’ll go out of my way to watch but don’t necessarily do that just because of the UFC hype machine). I catch about 25% of the UFC PPVs annually, either paying for them myself, which is about 10% of that 25%, and watching at sports bars for the 15%. My viewership, personally, is going to drop with the UFC events not on mainstream ESPN and I’ll probably continue with the same rate of PPVs that I currently do, assuming they are interesting enough for me to keep up my pace.

Am I the only one that is going to be doing this?

I’m friends with a few fans that don’t go out to watch OR pay for any of the PPVs. They ONLY watch the Fox and FS1 events. Those people are going to almost completely stop watching the UFC because none of them will pay for an ESPN app. Will ESPN+ get rights to other sports that can drive up their numbers? Who can say until they announce something?

My thoughts are that the UFC will get out of the ESPN deal when they feel that there is more money to be made with a more mainstream broadcaster. Hell, they may even go with a streaming option of their own, which would still perpetuate their lost viewing numbers, but at least I’d pay for a UFC streaming service that carried most of the events.

The UFC is going to lose fans because of ESPN. They’re going to have to rebuild some of their base once the ESPN deal ends. I just wish they’d seen the longer term effects of this move rather than simply looking at the amount written on the check that ESPN handed them.

No final thoughts today… just disappointment.