"Now witness the firepower..."

...  of this fully armed and operational battlemage! [1]

Yeah, I am a grown man - married, with children, as the saying goes - and I spent this morning playing dress-up with my imaginary friends.

Meet Aetherna, my main character in WoW.  She's an arcane mage.  Has been since the very beginning mumble years ago, and aside from a (very brief) switch to fire once for a particularly nasty boss, arcane she's stayed.

Now, normally in WoW, mages are limited to cloth armor.  However... with the latest Warlords of Draenor expansion came the ability to buy cosmetic armor sets using captured Iron Horde scrap. These are armor pieces that you can use to make whatever you are currently wearing look like something else entirely.  As it turns out, one of those sets is a replica of the armor worn by guards in Stormwind, the human city in WoW.

So a few weeks worth of collecting various pieces of scrap, and now Aeth can finally look less like a soft, squishy Orcish chew toy and more like someone ready to wade into the middle of a fight!

I mean, she always did that anyways... but now she at least looks the part.

[1] Though, as Richard pointed out, "Battlemage?  That's not a profession.  It barely qualifies as a hobby."  So, yeah, ok.  Her hobby is battlemage.  Her profession is using arcane power ripped from the twisting nether to make people's heads explode, usually in return for inadequate footwear.

The Battle of Five Armies

Just returned from taking da goils to see the third installment of the extended film that that the lovely Mrs. Robb refers to as "That Middle-Earth Movie".

Overall, I thought it was the second best in the series - not nearly as good as the first installment, but much better than the second.  I have a new love for Dain of the Iron Hills, and a newfound respect for Galadriel, who shows that she can indeed be as "beautiful and terrible as the Morn!".  The scenes of the dwarven infantry also warmed my heart.  Dwarven shield walls?  Yes, please!

I will also admit to blubbering like a kid when Thorin died. [1] 

What can I say?  I love me some dwarves.

There were a number of ways that the movie could have been improved.  Cutting out the extended "amazing action" sequences, for example.  A couple of quick scenes of awesomeness would have worked much better, IMHO.  John C. Wright will be happy to know that there was at least one point where I was thinking "SHOOT HIM WITH AN ELF ARROW!" - and, wouldn't you know it, he did.  Ah, some common sense at last!

More exposition about how Beorn and the Eagles show up to save the day would have been nice as well.  As, maybe, a mention of why it was the "battle of five armies"?  Just sayin'.  I am eagerly anticipating the director's cut (or, more likely, the fan cut) that turns this movie trilogy into the the two movies that it should have been from the beginning.

Finally, I was surprised to find myself thinking that the love interest between Kili and Tauriel actually worked fairly well, in the context of the movie.  No, it's not canonical... but it was a side plot, not a major part of the film; and it provided some context for character development that was otherwise quite logically lacking in a movie about Guys Hitting Other Guys With Pointy Bits of Metal.

If you've seen the first two, you will definitely want to see the third, if just to come to a sense of closure.  If you're like the lovely Mrs. Robb, though, and think that Elves showing up at Helm's Deep was a grave error, then you'll probably be happiest either catching it as a matinee showing, or waiting to see it on DVD.

[1] Spoilers?  For one of the modern classics of Western literature?  Are you serious?


What follows is an account from a French ISAF soldier that was stationed with American Warfighters in Afghanistan sometime in the past 4 years.  This was copied and translated from an editorial French newspaper.
We have shared our daily life with two US units for quite a while - they are the first and fourth companies of a prestigious infantry battalion whose name I will withhold for the sake of military secrecy. To the common man it is a unit just like any other. But we live with them and got to know them, and we henceforth know that we have the honor to live with one of the most renowned units of the US Army - one that the movies brought to the public as series showing "ordinary soldiers thrust into extraordinary events"...
On the one square meter wooden tower above the perimeter wall they stand the five consecutive hours in full battle rattle and night vision goggles on top, their sight unmoving in the directions of likely danger. No distractions, no pauses, they are like statues nights and days. At night, all movements are performed in the dark - only a handful of subdued red lights indicate the occasional presence of a soldier on the move. Same with the vehicles whose lights are covered - everything happens in pitch dark even filling the fuel tanks with the Japy pump. Here we discover America as it is often depicted: their values are taken to their paroxysm, often amplified by promiscuity and the loneliness of this outpost in the middle of that Afghan valley.
To get the full impact, you will definitely need to RTWT.

Feeling exceptionally proud of our men & women in uniform right about now.

And Now I Feel Old

When did J-Pop and Metal get hitched?  And why wasn't I invited to the wedding?

Hold on.  I have some kids on my lawn that I need to go yell at now.

"No. There is another."

From a friend of a friend on the Book of Faces: "Non-European Country"
I'm afraid that one of the reasons there are problems of communication and diplomacy right now across the Atlantic is the incorrect European assumption that "the US is essentially a European country". It's true that America is more like Europe than anywhere else on the planet, but it would perhaps be more accurate to say that the US is less unlike Europe than anywhere else on the planet. 
Someone pointed out a critical difference: European "nations" are based on ethnicity, language or geography. The American nation is based on an idea, and those who voluntarily came here to join the American experiment were dedicated to that idea...
Indeed, it seems to bind us much more strongly than most nations...
You're French if you're born in France, of French parents. You're English if you're born to English parents (and Welsh if your parents were Welsh). But you're American if you think you're American, and are willing to give up what you used to be in order to be one of us. That's all it takes. But that's a lot, because "thinking you're American" requires you to comprehend that idea we all share. 
Not really a new idea, but an articulate expression nonetheless.

He does mention one country whose people "are not confused by us".  Go, read the whole thing - but I think you can guess who he's talking about without too much effort.

Look To Detroit

Sarah Hoyt wrote last year about Going Down Easy:
The slide goes like this – it begins with mail distribution twice a day six days a week, and the mail fairly reliable in the sense that yes, you do get human error and things delayed a bit.  Then it goes to once daily...
Then slowly the mail becomes more unreliable.  Then one day is cut out.  Then delivery is every other day...
But along that slide comes the time when the mail is COMPLETELY unreliable. Anything you entrust to them has a fifty/fifty chance of arriving, and anything even vaguely useful/valuable WILL get stolen, unless you’re very, very crafty.
Federal authorities say a Detroit-area postal employee accused of stealing as  between 1600-2,000 pieces of mail said she did so out of boredom. 
Sharon Berrien is accused of pocketing any cash from the mail and dumping the leftovers along Interstate 94. Most of the items were greeting cards.

Just an isolated incident.  Nothing to see here, citizen.  Move along.

Life Imitates Star Trek

Engineers at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) have used nanotechnology to increase the toughness of the transparent spinel armor it currently uses on optics, sensors, and windows on ships and other vehicles. The new nanocrystalline spinel is made of the same materials, magnesium aluminate (MgAl2O4), but the grain size has been reduced to 28 nm.
So... yeah. Transparent aluminum!

Well, aluminate.  Close enough!

Now get crackin' on that warp drive, sonny boys.  The clock's a tickin'... we've got less than 50 years to meet the Vulcans.

Rough Language, For A Reason

Professor Mondo (who is, indeed, mondo) relates a story from Daniel Knauf about meeting Nichelle Nichols in a TSA line...
So I’m standing in the b***s*** “security theater” line at LAX (does anybody else think the dumbest, most dangerous place an a****** terrorist would try anything is a commercial flight full of people like me who are just itching to legally kick anyone to death who tries anything?) behind the incredibly beautiful Nichelle Nichols, who played Ulhura on the original Star Trek. 
At 81, she’s still as gracious, classy and lovely as ever. 
Unfortunately, as is the case for many people her age, she has some mobility problems and was seated in a wheelchair as we approached the metal detector. 
I am sure you can imagine how this might have gone... know that, thanks to Mr. Knauf, it did not.  There is a bit of (IMHO, deservedly) rough language, but go ahead, RTWT

Filthy Capitalists

They're at it again:
Did you know you can fit a whole cellphone network in a box the size of a small carry-on suitcase? That’s what a tiny startup called Endaga is doing, to bring mobile phone services to remote villages in Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Philippines. It may not be legal, but it’s working.
Endaga, based out of Oakland, Calif., sells its boxes for $6,000. Local operators use them to connect to backhaul, or underlying wired or wireless networks — in Indonesia, it’s satellite Internet; in Pakistan, long-distance Wi-Fi — then install the boxes on trees, set their pricing and hand out SIM cards. Customers bring their own regular phones. They don’t need to invest in expensive satellite phones.
In a 1,500-person town in Papua, where the very first box was installed in February 2013, the school with the box is bringing in $2,000 in revenue per month, with 400 subscribers.
The school is now having an easier time retaining teachers, in part because they’re able to communicate with friends and family back home without driving four hours to get cellphone reception. Two-thirds of texts and calls are outbound.
Disgusting, is what it is.  How dare they work hard to produce something that improves the lives of people?  Especially without making the appropriate obeisances to the UN and various NGOs who have had so many "working conferences" in Switzerland to discuss how hard the problem is!  You know, the conferences about how much they need more funding so that they can have more conferences to establish the need for more funding...