Thursday, February 27, 2020

Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human CadaversStiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I may now be regretting asking FaceBook friends for book suggestions. When I started Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers I hated the book by about page 40. The subject matter does not bother me, but the writing style terrible and the author is so flippant it is really annoying me. Think about that for a second, I am a who considers flippant to be a positive lifestyle choice and I am finding it annoying.

The writing style of this book reminds me of another book I read several years ago, Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress by Shelly Mazzanoble, which did not particularly amuse me either. The book is written like a human interest story in Cosmopolitan magazine, which is fine for Cosmo, but is not fine for a lengthy book on a macabre subject. I get it, she was trying to add some humor and brevity to a serious subject, the problem is, she was not particularly funny and this was magnified by the grim subject matter. Don't get me wrong here, I do not object to being flippant about sensitive subjects, not at all, but rather, I did not care for her style of writing or sense of humor.

Unfortunately, the sorority girl humor detracted from what I would have otherwise considered a fairly interesting subject matter. I have seen some documentaries on the discussion of how cadavers have been used throughout history, in both ethical and unethical ways, for the betterment of humanity and the not so much, which I have found fascinating and informative. This book did provide some of that, but not enough to convince me it was worth reading.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Review: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish (The Witcher, #0.5)The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Okay, I am going to be honest here and it is probably going to make some people gasp, but I liked the NetFlix series better. The NetFlix Series was pretty close to this book, except for the Ciri parts, which were not in the book and with the exception of one single story. Normally, I much prefer the books to the movies, mainly because we get better characterizations and with a book, we are getting only one persons vision of the story, where are in movies we are seeing the vision of the screenwriter, director, the producer, the actors, etc. In this case, having seen the show first, I noticed the flaws in the book, that were not there in the story.

First off, this is a good, almost great fantasy novel, Geralt is not a pretty man, but truly a world weary soldier who does what he does simply because he knows no other way, Yennifer verges on being a villain in her own right and Dandelion is the best best friend Geralt could ask for. These characters are intense, well written and play off of each other masterfully. The book itself is more of a series of loosely told short stories, basically giving us the backstory for the later series. It is well put together and entertaining.

My problem with the book is more technical than anything else. As I read the book, I had this feeling that something was lost in translation, that it would have somehow been much better had I read it in its original Klingon. The translation was not perfect, there seemed to be places where the sentences were not quit right, odd words being used slightly out of context, minor things like that. I think some people would tell me this was just his writing style or a way to differ speech in this fantasy world, but it really did not feel that way to me.

Overall, a good read, if you liked the show, you will like this book. If you hated the show, you will hate this book. I suggest reading the book before before seeing the show. I would definitely suggest this book to any who like high fantasy stories.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Review: All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1) Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)All Systems Red by Martha Wells
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a really fun read. The main character, Murderbot, is a true slacker in all the best ways and I identified with him almost immediately. His character development was brilliant and subtle, the story was fun and sublimely funny. Though I do not like all of her stuff, Martha Wells is a really great writer, with a smooth and almost lyrical writing style, not quite on Ursula Le Guin's level, but close. I recommend this one for anyone who is looking for a fun and intelligent romp. My only complaint with this book was it is WAY too short, I immediately bought and downloaded the sequel.

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Sunday, February 16, 2020

Review: Crusade by David Weber

Crusade (Starfire)Crusade by David Weber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author, David Weber is also the author of the Honor Harrington series of books. If you are familiar with those books, the writing style will be instantly recognizable. He is also the author of the Safehold series. The Safehold series is by far Weber's best work and unfortunately this story does not live up to the Safehold series and is more at the level of the Harrington books.

So don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this book just fine, I also enjoyed the Harrington books I read as well. However, this book is simply not Weber's best work. I am not sure which book was written first, this one or Off Armageddon Reef, the first book of the Safehold series. The plot of the two books are very much the same, although the characters involved are different and handle the events differently. This is a solid book, with good writing and decent characterizations, it flows well from scene to scene, giving a good view of both sides of the conflict.

I liked the book, but I did not love it. While it is a decent enough book, it is standard fair military scifi, and does not do anything new nor does it stretch any tropes into interesting shapes. If you like military scifi, then yeah, go a head and have a read, you will not hate it and if you really like the Honor Harrington books, you will probably really like these as well.

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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Strike on Castle Strahd

So this is my plan for the incursion on Strahd's castle. Now all I need to do is convince everyone to take the Shield Master Feat and the Acrobatics skill.

Dual Weapon Fighting vs Great Weapon Fighting

Over the last few years there has been a debate in the D&D community about which is better, using two weapons and getting an extra attack or using a single two handed weapon with greater damage dice. On the surface, it appears that in the early development of the character when the fighter has only 1 attack per action, the dual weapon fighter does better overall damage using his bonus action as an attack as well. However at 5th level when fighters get 2 attacks per action, with the dual weapon fighter getting a 3rd attack, the great weapon fighter reaches parity in damage with just 2 attacks. Finally at 11th level when both fighter have 3 attacks per action, the great weapon fighter will produce more damage than the dual weapon fighter. even with the extra attack.

The math is pretty simple, 1d8 of damage averages 4.5 per roll, the dual weapon fighter getting 2 attacks will average 9 points of damage.  A great sword does 2d6 damage, which averages out to 7 (3.5x2=7) points of damage per attack. At 5th level the dual weapon fighters average damage becomes 13.5, the great weapon fighters average damage becomes 14 points of damage, pretty close to even. At 11th level the dual weapon fighter's average damage becomes 18. while the great weapon fighters average damage becomes 21 points of damage.

The problem with looking at at like this, is it does not take into account the dual wielder will have more opportunities to do damage over the long term of the game. It is ridiculous to assume both fighters will hit 100% of the time. Just for the sake of argument and to keep the math simple, we assume both fighters are going to hit 75% of the time over 100 rounds of combat and both are 5th level, receiving 2 attacks per action.

Dual Wielding Fighter
3 attacks = 300 Opportunities to do damage
He hits 75% of the time = 225 hits
Each hit is doing 4.5 damage
225 x 4.5 = 1012.5 average damage

Great Weapon Fighter
2 Attacks = 200 Opportunities to do damage
 He hits 75% of the time =150 hits
Each hit doing 7 damage
150 x 7 = 1050

Still pretty even, with the great weapon fighter slightly edging out the dual wielding fighter. But lets see what happens when you add in Strength bonus for for each attack. Assuming a Strength of 16 for each fighter, this is an additional +3 damage per hit, this increases the average damage output for the dual wielding fighter from 1012.5 to 1687.5 and increases the great weapon fighter from 1050 to 1500. Now the dual wielding fighter is edging out the great weapon fighter by 187.5 points of damage.

I can hear everyone screaming now, that in order to achieve the dual wielding fighter must take the Dual Weider feat in order to use 2 long swords and if this is the case, the great weapon fighter should get the Great Weapon Master feat, which allows him to take a -5 penalty to hit to gain a +10 to damage, which would be an overwhelming advantage. Except not necessarily, taking a -5 to hit, means the great weapon fighter is reducing the number of times he hits by 25%, so in our scenario, he is going to hit 50% of the time, or 100 times over 100 turns.  17 damage over 100 turns would be 1700 points of damage, only 12.5 more points than the dual wielder. So even under these circumstance, they are still pretty much in parity.

Now lets look at 11th level, when both fighters have 3 attacks per action. The dual wielder will hit 300 out of 400 attacks will produce 2250 points of damage over 100 turns. The great weapon fighter will hit 150 times out of 300 attacks and will produce 2475 points of damage, at this point he is exceeding the dual wielding fighter by 225 points on the average.

So yes, at lower levels, dual wielding is better than great weapon fighting. In the mid levels, both styles are in parity. However at high levels, the great weapon fighter takes the lead by about 10%.

So would this stop me from playing a dual wielding fighter? Fuck no, dual wielding is cool and sometimes cool is better than munchkin. Is a 10% advantage in damage output really a huge advantage, well yes it is, when you consider that you will probably be playing more games getting from 11th level to 20 level than you will getting from 1st level to 11th and really, there is not much stopping you from doing both when it suits you.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

DC Heroes RPG

Way back in 1985 Mayfair Games published DC Heroes, a Roleplaying Game based on the DC Comic Books. I absolutely loved this idea, unfortunately my game group was not really into the super hero genre so we never played it, although we did play the Marvel Superhero game once or twice. I still have a copy of this on my game shelf. Apparently Freddie Prinze Jr. did actually play the game back in the day and now he is producing and starring in a an unscripted streaming show where he and some others will be playing the game. The show will be streaming on DC Universes, which is fine, once Picard is over, I will cancel CBS All Access and sign up for DC Universes and catch this, Teen Titans and the Doom Patrol. Once I am finished with that, I can drop it and get Disney+ to watch the Mandalorian.

DC Universe All Star Games

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day I think gets a bum rap. Lots of people don't like it because it is a greeting card holiday, meaning it was created as a way to sell greeting cards and it is a total commercial fabrication. Others do not like it because it is only for women and men are not into it. I disagree with both of these opinions.

Now don't get me wrong, my wife and i do not celebrate Valentine's Day in any significant way, but I do go out of my way each year to specifically tell her that I will love her until the day I die and this will be true unless I receive a brain injury that erases the last 40 years of my life.

My thing is, Valentine's Day is a holiday meant to celebrate love and friendship and yes, I think little kids in school should be expected to give those cheap little cards to each other and even as adults we should give them to the people we love and even our friends to remind them that we care. Love and friendship is something we should celebrate, especially when you consider how many holidays we have to commemorate various wars and don't even get me started on Columbus day and Thanksgiving.

I really don't think it is too much to ask to have one day a year where love is celebrated and we show appreciation for the people who loved us throughout our lives. So the next time someone complains about having to buy some chocolate and flowers for his wife, remind him that she is the mother of his children, remind him she has been there for him through the hard times and even the times when he was not a very nice person to be around.  If you hear a woman complaining that her husband never does anything for her on Valentine's Day, ask her if she is making worth his while to celebrate it, remind her that it is not just a day for her, but it is a day for him as well. Believe me ladies, if you give him a blowjob on Valentine's Day, he will have flowers in hand the next Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The UCMJ vs Donald Trump

A journalist today asked President Trump if LTC Alexander Vindman should face disciplinary action for testifying before Congress. President Trump of course indicated that might be a possibility. This would be a two fold problem for the President, neither of which I am sure the President would want to deal with.

First off, Federal law protects whistle blowers from retaliation. If LTC Vindman's lawyer can show that he testified in good faith, court martialing him would be against the law and would likely never go to trial. This would be the likely outcome as there is ample evidence corroborating LTC Vindman's testimony.

Second, even if through pressure from the White House he was court maritaled, this would open up a whole new can of worms for the President. In this case, it would be up to the prosecution to prove that LTC Vindman lied under oath. During the impeachment hearings, the White House defense team did not produce a single shred of evidence to the contrary. In fact several Republican Senator's said they believed the President committed the crime he was accused of, that the House Managers had proven their case, but they did not believe this rose to the level of an impeachable offense.

So the problem facing the prosecution would be how to prove LTC Vindman lied under oath if no one who could say otherwise would be willing to testify under oath themselves. Nor would the White House be willing to release any documents that could prove the case one way or the other. It would also be very likely that the defense would call sitting members of the House of Representatives to testify on his behalf. This would be a very ugly situation for the AG and any Army lawyer designated to prosecute the case.

On top of that, it would be a near guarantee that LTC Vindman would have a very high profile and expensive lawyer defending him. The first thing this team would do is subpoena the real transcript and every person who was on the call. The President could of course fight this, but he would not be fighting it in a civilian court where it might take years to make it way to the supreme court. In the military court system there is the "Intermediate service courts of criminal appeals" and the "Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces", both of which can be convened very quickly and would not take months to make a decision. The case could be appealed to appellate courts, but the civilian judiciary has very rarely accepted cases coming out of the Military and it is very unlikely they would be willing to take this case on themselves. However I suspect the case would be thrown out before it got to this point for lack of evidence that LTC Vindman did anything but testify in good faith and fighting it would in and of it self be evidence that the White House did not want to incriminate itself.

The best thing the White House can do is let this die down and let LTC Vindman quietly retire in a couple of years.

Edit: I would also point out that in all likely hood LTC Vindman considered the order from the President to defy subpoenas issued by Congress was an illegal order. Considering that the order was issued to cover up a probable crime by the president, he was correct in disobeying the order, in fact it was his duty to disobey that order. For those of you who do not understand this, here is a pretty good article discussing the topic.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Review: Duma Key by Stephen King

Duma KeyDuma Key by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I do not hate Stephen King, I am also not a big fan either. I have read some of his early work; Carrie, Salem's Lot, Christine, etc. However, he does not as a rule excite me as a writer. Duma Key definitely falls under the category of books I would never have read if left to my own devices, which was one of the reasons I put out a call on FaceBook for my friends to suggest books to me.

My expectation for this book were somewhat low, for reasons mentioned above. I was however pleasantly surprised. The book starts out as a journey back from darkness for Edgar Freemantle after a near fatal accident. It takes until almost the middle of the book for it to start solidifying as a psychic drama and does not become a horror novel until the very end. The progression of the story is smooth and well written. King's descriptions of Edgar's injuries and depression are interesting and will be hauntingly familar to anyone who has suffered from depression. I especially enjoyed the slow discovery of the menace, mixed with the history of Duma Key and the Eastlake family who have owned the key since before World War I.

My only contention with King's writing here was, he seemed to setup Edgar for a fall by building up his life to almost literally having the best day of his life, before King starts to kill off those that Edgar loves. I really feel the buildup felt artificial and took a bit too long to setup. While I liked the characters of Edgar, Wireman and Jack, as an unlikely trio, I kind of feel like King could have taken a bit more time at the end to show how these characters were affected by their experience. As it was, it felt like they were all in the same place emotionally as they were shortly before the menace presented itself.

Overall, a decent book, if you like Stephen King, I suspect you will enjoy this book, while not one of his all time greats, it is none the less a good story. If you are not a King fan or have not read much of his stuff, I am inclined to send you to his more well known works before reading this one. I am glad I read it though, it is certainly outside of my normal reading pattern.

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