Archive for April, 2007

Kieron: Episode 0

April 30, 2007 2 comments

Over the weekend, at a GNO shindig there was some ridicule about the overwhelming length of my posts, as well as a comment made about how it had been over 24 hours since my last one. To this I replied, “Fine, I’ll post some of my Sailor Moon Fanfic.” This is not entirely true, but here is some Eberron fiction, it’s long, and there’s more where it came from.

“Okay, today I want you to bring me that man’s purse.”
“But he’s already half way down the street.”
“Better get going.”

I knew there were folks that wanted me. Not the kind of folks I wish, the kinds with large assets and tasks for me. No, the wrong kind of people want me. The god-fearing kind. The kind that could kill me at a tick and not flinch, because I’m evil, they’re good, and the Flame was all that mattered.

And I wanted people. Certain people. My mother, for purely sentimental value. And Jaddo, my father of sorts when the streets orphaned me; the Boromar Clan wasn’t kind to him, but he knew enough to teach me the ways of the thief and enough sense to swear no allegiance in the criminal underworld he’d lived in. I wanted Andra, my on-again-off-again girlfriend who I had to abandon when we left the city with no warning. I didn’t have any loyalty to her, but there are times when I sure miss her. I wanted Magda, too. She was my mother’s closest semblance to a friend and my closest semblance to a mother after …

Well, I did have Magda. And she had something for me; that look she was giving me told me as much. She had something she wanted from me that I probably didn’t have: a nice shirt, contacts with good quality meat, fresh vegetables. Motherly things. I caught my dagger from it’s midair flip and gave her a chance to talk.

“Kieron, you know that you and your friends are welcome as long as you like at my inn, but you’re at least going to have to pay for meals. I spent enough feeding you when you was a boy. You can make my fortune for me now, and I’ll be needing it.”

“Who’s that?” I said, flicking my eyes over to a halfling on the other side of the room, and flicking the knife into the air.

“What’s that?” Magda boomed. I caught the dagger and repeated.

“Who’s that?” I gestured towards a fellow by the door. He was Boromar, in his dress, in his actions, in his sneer.

“Oh, he’s just one of your type. Don’t know his name, but there’s bound to be a hundred of him around. Don’t you worry, he’s payed his bill.”

“I think I stole his purse once.”

“Now why would you do a stupid thing like that?”

“Well, I needed the money,” I shrugged. The Halfling’s eyes rested for a second on me, the lanky Human in the corner, who was asking to lose a finger by tossing around sharp blades. I doubt he liked me.
With a hearty laugh, Magda knew, “You didn’t need money. You needed the fun. It was always about the thrill for you. Now why don’t you make the thrilling trip upstairs and get me my due, eh boy?”

“You don’t get it, eh? I stole from a Boromar Clansman. That’s a no-no. They’re the biggest organized crime gang in the whole city. If my dumb twelve-year old ass had gotten caught, there wouldn’t have been a body to find. The Boromar work hard for their stealings and don’t take kindly to having it passed down the chain.”

“Wonderful. How’s about you pass it one link farther down into my meager coffer?”

“How’s it you’ve stayed in business this long? Bugging customers and serving extra portions withal. I’ve seen some magic in my days, but you’re the real sorceress.” Read more…

Categories: Kieron

Through the spying glass

April 27, 2007 2 comments

Bob, my uncle, recently wrote about a reflection in a journal of his from twenty years ago, in which he reflects on the future as he sees it from his apartment two months away from getting his undergrad degree. It’s an interesting piece for me, not only because it was written long before I was born, but also because I’ve already noticed the kind of shift in planning that brought him from where he predicted he’d be in that post to where he is now.

I’ve noticed this in my own journal, which I’ve been keeping diligently for over a year now, because I find it very fascinating to read my own timeshifted reflections on happenings. I actually started the journal during the course of a very rough break-up, because I knew that I was in a mental state that I’d never been in before and would be interested in studying later. As it happened, I did some of my most poetic writing during that time, but the subject was somewhat repetitive and dull.

Ever since, I’ve been keeping a private collection of thoughts and impressions, which change only gradually. The ability to compare two starkly different statements on the same topic is a very enlightening experience of self-discovery. The prospect of keeping a non-fiction reference document has caused me to do weird things with my journals, such as the last few having their final page dedicated to an index on which names and places are written along with the entries in which they are mentioned. I’ve also gotten into the habit of dating important papers and sticking them in between the pages so that there will be some primary sources for the information in my journals.

But years before I started writing that, I had my first blog which is a similarly interesting read for much the same reason: it is clearly my writing, but it isn’t me. It is some other me, a me from a more dramatic and alien world that I’d mostly forgotten. When I took it down because I stopped writing anything on it, I made sure to archive the whole thing to my hard drive, so I could poke around and read some old writings at any time I feel compelled to do so. Once again, there are mentions of the future contained therein that are varying degrees of wrong.

And the common theme between those flawed views of the future is that, like Bob in his journal writing, I didn’t really have any clear idea of what I wanted to do or where I was heading. But now, with college looming and the prospect of a career heading my way, I’ve actually formulated something approaching a solid plan. But I have to wonder if this too will be scuttled on the shores of fate when some unexpected even transpires.

Even now, remote eventualities that could impede my planning spring to mind, but they seem so impossible, that I’m forced to admit that I just plain have no idea. Which, when you’re attempting to plan out the next four years of your life, can get really annoying.

Then again, I could just follow in my father’s and uncle’s footsteps and just go to college and figure out a career from there.


Categories: Metablog, Real Life

Job: Technical Intern

April 25, 2007 1 comment

A few years ago, say, fiveish, my sister got involved over at Raleigh Little Theatre as a part of their Teens On Stage program, a summer day camp where all the “campers” are the cast and crew of a show that is performed at the end of the summer. It works something like school, with the day divided into periods, the largest two being abstract acting classes and actual rehearsals for the show.

At any rate, before long the whole family was doing something or other to help out at RLT. My contribution, for example, largely consisted of all calls and strikes. But after a few years of this, I was presented with the option of volunteering for class credit as an intern through my high school. I, of course seized upon this. Instead of another filler period to complete my schedule, I got possibly one of the best classes I’ve taken in all of school. (The only ones that come close are my Computer Science classes, for obvious reasons.)

So starting on the first day of school for my Senior year, every day, at the beginning of the last period of the day, I would get in my car and drive over to RLT and put in a few hours each day helping out. There were some days better than others, and the lesson I had learned with the Library job about not letting yourself hate your job came in handy. By the terms of the internship, I had to do 180 hours of work over the semester, which worked out to about 2 hours per day with a bit of change. So each day, I had to do 2 hours worth of work, which was not always readily available. The stand-by activity when there was nothing else to do or I just hadn’t been given anything to do was to clean the shop. This is about as exciting as it sounds, but that’s the price that comes with the job; it was also rather helpful because I can now find more or less whatever I need from the shop without having to think for a while about it, which is obvious a useful skill.

But there were also the fun days. The days when we would load up the truck, roll down the windows and go for a drive over to the warehouse. There was some hauling to be done at both ends of the trip, usually, but the trip itself was always a a good chill out time to just let the day kind of roll off. So in the end, it was immensely enjoyable, not only because the work was — for the most part — fun, but because the guy I was working closely with, Roger, RLT’s Technical Director, is a generally funny guy. Plus he knows his stuff.

But come December, the first semester ended, and I didn’t have room in my schedule for another internship since I had to take German II in the last period of the day to graduate. I was very bummed out by this for a while until I realized that I don’t need a timesheet and a grade to go over to RLT and volunteer after school, as I had had with the internship class. And so, starting after Christmas break, every day after the end of school, I get in my car and drive over to RLT and put in a few hours of work. Well, sometimes.

See, one of the nice things about not working for a grade is that some days, when there is really nothing to do, I can just go home. And I get “my” afternoon back, except it isn’t really mine, because I’ve come to consider my work at RLT as another job. I have a boss, I’m expected to do a good job, and I have more or less set hours, although with variation as noted as above. And even though I’m still in high school, I feel like I work full time hours, which I basically do. I leave home at 7am and don’t get home until 6pm, usually. With about 7 hours at school and 2 at the theatre, I’m working more than the standard 40-hour work week.

And some days, it really kills me. But because it’s doing what I enjoy so thoroughly, it’s worth it to be terribly overworked, by modern standards. Which is why that, with graduation looming, I will be very sad to lose my daily time working with Roger, for two reasons. Obviously, the first is that I’ll be graduating and going off to college, where I likely won’t be able to dedicate 10 hours a week to RLT. The second is that Roger is getting married and moving to Washington D.C.. It’s a great move for him, and I know he’ll be happy there, but the fact remains that he won’t be working at RLT any more.

And so, like my final days working the Library job, I’m now finding myself wishing that this didn’t have to end. But it’s going to happen, so I just have to do my best while I still can.

And I know that’s a terrible ending to this little post, but I’m dead tired, so I’m just going to give up and call this done.

Categories: Jobs

Calculated Response

April 23, 2007 2 comments

Preface: I am pride myself on being a logical and methodical analytic thinker. I think that’s why I enjoy programming so much: computers think something like I do. (On a side note that’s wholly inappropriate to the tone of this piece, has anyone else considered how incredibly poorly implemented the brain’s data types and pointer references are? Forget RAM, real memory is the most volatile storage imaginable.) I also have come to acknowledge something that others have pointed out, which is that I can be coldly unemotional. For better or worse, in many situations, I find that emotions are just plain impractical.

Part I

One lone nut can change the world. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. The latest manifestation, is, of course, Cho Seung-Hui’s killing spree at Virginia Tech this past week. Initially, as natural, I felt revulsion and horror at the idea that one person could do such things. But it is real, and it happened. Which means that something will happen because of it. So the question is, what? The obvious answers are that those connected to the victims should certainly be given honor and time to grieve, as is their prerogative.

But should the rest of us be forced to? On Friday, at my school, students were encouraged to wear VT’s colors and forced to observe a moment of silence at noon EST (By which time everything was already over?) to “honor the victims.” I must admit, I don’t get it. Perhaps I’m overly pragmatic, but I honestly do not see what will be accomplished by not talking. If anything, time should be taken in class to talk about the events, where relevant, and discuss what could be done to change what happened. Talk about what happened. Learn. Because there really is nothing more useless than mandatory emotion: stopping our day en masse and pretending to feel something on command. I’d be willing to wager that during “the Moment” more than half of the students at this school were contemplating their lunch, their afternoon plans, how long one “moment” seemed to be or anything else not related to VT.

What I support instead would be to have an informed discussion on what happened and what counter-measures there are against it reoccurring. This, of course, is predicated on school even requiring time spent on the topic instead of each individual learning for himself. But this will not happen in any widespread fashion for a number of reasons. I say “widespread” because there may be a few teachers who dedicate time to informed debate, but these will be isolated and small compared to the school-wide moment of silence.

The first of these reasons is the fact that I attend a public school, which is steeped in feelgood political correctness. The idea that you can not always stop a determined person from killing others flies in the face of the warm and fuzzy idea that there’s always something we could have preemptively done to stop him. Some have said that based on his attitudes and writings that the killer was clearly mentally disturbed and needed psychological help. However, since someone in his mental state is unlikely to seek help on his own, to get him this would require some remarkable Nanny-statism to have him committed. This is, obviously, unacceptable.

Another point that would contradict the public school ideology of political correctness is that of an armed citizenry and the removal of the gun ban and “Gun Free Zones” could have stopped what happened in progress. That is to say, if someone had had a gun aside from the killer, it is entirely possible that fewer people would be on the list of the dead. But, of course, the Second Amendment and political correctness dine at separate tables.

Philosophical discussions aside, there is the simple matter that what happened at VT is outside the scope of the majority of the classes being taught at school. It would also just be a lot more trouble to become informed and dedicate class periods to discussion than to simply bring the school to a halt for a grand total of maybe thirty seconds.

So what we end up with is an empty and meaningless, politically correct lip service memorial to those killed.

Part II

I must admit that the prospect of an informed debate in school tickles my fancy, but I know that such a thing would be largely unattainable given that a depressingly few of my peers are actually informed on the topic. The comparison between the liberal feelgood mindset and the teenage mindset have been made before: they are both more based on feelings than facts and the self instead of reality.

Take, for example, the moment of silence itself. Once it was concluded, my teacher expressed the view, which I concur with, that the “moment” seemed more than a single moment. He was admonished for this in shocked voices calling his name from my classmates, to which he responded quite correctly that the moment would do absolutely nothing because, “it’s not like the VT students will know that we did it or anything.”

The class nearly exploded. A number of different voices objected to this, all expressing the view summed up by two objectors’ statement, “It’s the idea!”

Thus, lacking in intelligent and reasoned logical capacity, I am forced to write off my classmates on the whole and hope they learn those skills elsewhere. This is not to say that I don’t do my part to help educate my peers, but there are really only two out of two thousand SRHS students that I’ve attempted to enlighten, as it were.

So then, what is the rest of America that has passed high school to do? Well, since this wouldn’t be a proper blog essay without hammering on the mainstream media (MSM), here goes. It’s clear what they’d like us to think, or at least how they’d like you to react; namely, scared out of your pants. Labeling the killing of thirty-two people as the the largest mass murder in US history (how about that September 11th?) and publishing frightening headlines, the MSM are doing an excellent job of selling papers, but not much else. Heck, they’re even having a whack at the old video game anvil.

Personally, this is where I begin to read from the Second Amendment playbook. We remove the ridiculous “Gun Free Zones” which act as a magnet to violence. How many killers would attempt a spree like what we saw at VT in a police station where they know the occupants are armed, for example? We also allow concealed carry license holders (i.e. responsible and trained adults) to keep their sidearms with them.

But the bigger solution is to convince Fred Thompson to run for President and then elect him:

When people capable of performing acts of heroism are discouraged or denied the opportunity, our society is all the poorer. And from the selfless examples of the passengers on Flight 93 on 9/11 to Virginia Tech professor Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor who sacrificed himself to save his students earlier this week, we know what extraordinary acts of heroism ordinary citizens are capable of.

The Cliff’s Notes on Mr. Thompson are that he was an attorney who became a Tennessee senator, and later an actor, gaining public exposure as the DA on Law and Order. Some people are convinced that he will make an excellent President, far better than the current crop of contenders. Initially, I was dumbstruck by the idea, but as I read more and more about it, he seems a better and better candidate.

The biggest solution, however, is to do our best to convince the rest of the nation, the sector that believes that we can legislate mass murderers with things like “Gun Free Zones,” that any attempts thusly will fail. Murderers are, by default, already breaking the law. This is a perfect example of a threat that the government can not protect us from. We must do the job ourselves. And this is the toughest battle of all: the battle for hearts and minds.

Oh, and by the way, my school is a gun free zone.

Postscript: I do not write this to discourage feeling bad about the VT killings. We should all feel something about what happened. I am simply encouraging that a logical and reasoned approach must be taken in matters as serious as this. Measures such as Yale’s ban on fake weapons onstage accomplish nothing, while allowing people to protect themselves does. We would all like to never see events like last Monday happen again. It all comes down to how to accomplish that.

Categories: Real Life

Job: Live-In System Administrator

April 20, 2007 2 comments

Once upon a time, in my household, there was one computer. And it was good. Each family member took their turn and shared equally. But then, the wicked son began to take and take and take, consuming every moment with his use of the computer. Thus the benevolent and kind King Patrick decreed that there should be a network of computers, so that the entire thralldom need not depend on a single one.

And this, kids, is where the fairy tale ends. As anyone who’s ever done IT work knows, as soon as you start hooking up computers, problems start springing out of the air. With a network of computers that consist, in part or in whole, of tech thrown away by other IT departments, it gets even hairier.

In time, with my knowledge from various computing and networking classes taken at school, I ended up doing the vast majority of the networking installation and maintenance. This was mostly my decision: I did the jobs for the same reason I fiddle with programming outside of class: the hack value. It was fun to figure out how to do something either a) productive and practical or b) useless but elegant.

Sometime after I got my two other real jobs, this came to be jokingly referred to as a third such form of employment, where instead of wages, I get room and board provided, and occasional bonuses, such as a new 19″ LCD monitor or some new sticks of RAM. But, while these help, the real rewards aren’t material.

The first real payment, as mentioned earlier, is the pure hacker joy of getting the computers to work together just right. It’s just plain good fun. Now, this is usually disproportionately imbalanced by the overwhelming frustration that can come from a given problem, but that’s just part of the process, I suppose. And it makes the lightbulb moment of success all the more rewarding.

The other return on these investments that I’ve found is that it sounds good in an interview. I actually ran into exactly this a week ago today when I had a job interview over at SAS for one of their various summer positions. When asked questions about what sort of networking experience I have, I was able to, for example, easily prattle on about the headless Linux print server that I’ve set up to serve our home network. Later in the interview, when I was asked how I would troubleshoot network problems, I was able to generalize and summarize exactly what I’d done the previous week when I worked through the night to track down why the print server stopped printing after a power failure.

This is, of course, a potential career option for me, and one that I’ve not shut the door on by any means. However, solving these kinds of problems for a living, as well as having to solve the mundane ones (“I think I crashed the Internet.”) seems like it could be taxing on one’s sanity. But it also could be very rewarding, when your job every day is put things together and make them work.

There’s just something about that that’s somehow appealing.

Categories: Jobs, Real Life

Good Point: 19 April 2007

April 19, 2007 Leave a comment

If you want to see why I started this whole blog, read Bill Whittle’s latest essay. This is the sort of thing I wish I could write. A treatise so full of amazing and irrefutable truth. In a way, it’s the inverse of the fear he describes in that essay. It’s admiration for the idea that one person, armed with facts, can change the world. Especially a bunch of them together.

But I’ll settle for booger jokes for now.

Which Con are you going to this year? GenCon? Origins? Dundracon? How about Ziggurat Con? The latter is brand new this year, and is being held at Camp Adder/Tallil Airbase on June 9. In Iraq.

No, seriously.

Continuing from last week, it would seem that although Macs are not known for “going bleep-bleep”, but they also are somewhat lacking when it comes to gaming. In the end, you could always just move to Iceland.

Categories: Good Point

Sometimes I just feel so old

April 18, 2007 1 comment

Every day, after school, I go over to Raleigh Little Theatre to help out, and do any number of things spanning the spectrum from building to sewing. Really. Anyways, today, I was helping Roger, RLT’s Technical Director, to install a CCD surveilance camera pointed at the stage hooked up to a TV in the lobby, to show what’s currently going on onstage. So while we’re in the lobby looking at this picture and debating options about how to focus it and such, two other folks come in, looking to use the lobby to hold an improv class. As it ended up, Roger and I got roped into playing the opening “improv” game, which consisted of attempting to keep a kid’s ball in the air for as long as possible by bouncing it from one person to another, each person only hitting it once.

Originally, when entreated to join in while I was fiddling with the TV, I laconically responded, “I never have fun,” as a way to avoid playing. The obvious response was made (“All you have to do is play. You don’t have to have fun.”) and I realized that, for some reason, I believed what I said. I honestly was reluctant to play. But, of course, once we started and that ball got going around, I was having a blast. I actually found my body remembering old 8th grade dodgeball moves, ike how to dive and catch a ball while going into a roll so you don’t get hurt at all. (Contrary to just about any other opinion I’ve ever heard on the topic, I enjoyed middle school dodgeball, but that’s probably because we were using foam balls and not kick balls.) It was amazing to me that I didn’t want to do this for some reason.

In the end, I had to leave to get home around the time they chose to stop, but it was amazing. I skinned my knees for the first time in … years? And I can’t help but be reminded of one of the final lines from Star Trek: Insurrection when Artim, a twelve year old boy, reminds Data, a forty-five year old android, that he must have some fun each and every day.

Good advice.

Categories: Real Life