Thursday, December 18, 2008

Warning: Religious Ranting

Good o'l PZ's blog, Pharyngula, led me to this wonderful little tidbit: A church in Jacksonville is threatening to air a member's private sex life (a divorced person having sex with a new boyfriend, btw) in the middle of church services in punishment for her 'sins'.

What is telling isn't that a religious organization is blackmailing a member to control their actions, nor that it sees nothing wrong with this kind of bullying, nor that the victim sees the particular church, not the insipid ideas that drive it, as the source of the problem and is ready to move on to a new church in response.

What is telling is responses to the story, in which the misanthropes that support branding a woman who is not married as an adulterer (gotta love that Bible-logic) claim that this news story is a plot to paint all Christians as lunatics and whack-jobs.

Attn Churchy-Type Folks: You believe in an all-powerful voyeur who manipulates your life and simultaneously hides from all scrutiny. If you didn't have thousands of people who share this 'belief' you would be in a sanitarium. There aren't 'crazy' and 'normal' religious beliefs. There's only moderately harmless and less-than-moderately harmless variations on the crazy.


On a second note, George Bush recently hacked off his religious base by stating that he wasn't a biblical literalist, even though that's what got them on his side. Now they feel all betrayed and tricked.

Man, what sort of religious figure would lie about religious belief to cultivate power, money and influence from the gullible?

Before we delve too deeply into that, maybe we should work on a more simple problem. Perhaps this: What sort of fish would stoop to obtaining its oxygen from water?


Friday, December 12, 2008

Attention: Your insipid giggling demeans us both

I'm accustomed to people not knowing obvious things when they call in for tech support. Typically, when someone calls in, they're aware of their own level of titanic ignorance and there are three common reactions. The first, and most common, is hostility. Confronted with his or her own lack of knowledge, the caller reacts with unveiled hostility and defensiveness. The second, and least common, is to simply accept the lack of knowledge and attempt to move forward. The third is to be apologetic and submissive.

You would think the third option would be the most pleasant for the person providing assistance. It is not. The apologetic ones tend to overlap the "I'm computer illiterate" group. These are the people who have no trouble admitting that they're cretins because they don't want to change. They're proud of it, because it means someone else can do the work. They keep tech support in business, but they also keep the techie's cardiologists and psychoanalysts in business.

Yesterday, I met a new subset of this group. I had several calls that all went the same. The caller, by the sound of her voice, was in all cases a woman in her late twenties to early thirties. In all cases she was utterly ignorant of basic computer processes (the star of this had her computer for eight months and just found out how to turn it off from the start menu last week. Yes, it was vista, but all it takes is one web search to find it out. For emphasis: Eight months.)

And in all cases, they'd make the statement of ignorance, and then they'd giggle. "Oh, I'm pretty much computer illiterate. Tee-hee-hee."

I didn't notice it much the first time but it kept on happening. It dawned on me that this person wasn't giggling nervously. They were attempting to be cute to compensate for being uninformed. I don't know that she was doing it on purpose and I suspect it was simply habit. The sheer gall of the tactic, however, was demeaning in a way the caller did not realize (or at least, I hope she didn't realize). The assumption was that I, as a man, would be lured into a more helpful position if she came across as a helpless twittering little girl. A secondary assumption was that acting like/being a bimbo would cause her mistakes to be more easily forgiven.

Sorry, you're just a user, I assume you know nothing and are are undeserving of both a computer and a share of the planet's precious supply of oxygen. You don't need to be forgiven, because I expect so very little of you.

This person, were I to guess, went through life using a tittering, vapid persona to avoid responsibility and to dodge expectations of competence. People were fooled by this. They were more than willing to let her play the airhead. After a time, this became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Denied avenues of self improvement by her giggling faux anti-intellectualism, reasonable human expectation far outpaced her dazzlingly stagnant mental abilities. In short, pretending to be a bimbo has made this woman into a bimbo.

So I say to my small audience, please, when something makes you feel unprepared or ignorant, don't try to brush it off with a giggle. It demeans the whole species. Instead, accept the situation and take the time to learn and overcome. You'll find it is far more rewarding.


Monday, December 1, 2008

A New Winner

I normally reserve the 'new winner' posts for truly idiotic calls, brand new levels of stupidity that defy belief. Well, today, the level of moronic failure is defined not by the crime, but by the context.

Most people who have a business should have a backup for any system they can't do without. Typically, they don't. Their fax machine is the core of their communication with the outside world but they only have one and they can't comprehend that a warranty replacement process might take time. despite the warnings in the freakin' warranty documents.

So "but our fax is our lifeline! We don't have another!" isn't epic stupidity.

Unless you're Barney Frank's Campaign Headquarters.



Friday, November 21, 2008

Spam Header Deconstruction Theatre: Be a Hero In Bed!

We all get spam, and a lot of it is puzzling.

For about a year, I got Spam, in Russian, trying to sell me graphic design services (thankfully, Google Translator let me know, with reasonable assurances, that I wasn't being targeted by the Russian Mob). But that was relatively normal.

No longer content to promise me enhancements for my junk in a polite terms, the spammers gave gone to promising me superhuman powers to boot.

Recent Spam Headers in my Inbox:

"Want to be a hero in bed?" - From: Brent Larson
Normally, I leap at the chance to be a hero anyplace: At home, at work, in the park, at Dairy Queen, you name it. However, there has only been one hero who was a hero 'in bed'. And that was the Sleepwalker. His power was that when he was asleep, his mind manifested a dream-superhero that went around fighting a crime in various surreal ways.
What's that, you've never heard of the Sleepwalker?
Congratulations, you are what most people would call 'normal'. He's one of about six heroes who would regularly get made fun of by Aquaman. Rocket-Frikkin'-Raccoon has more fans than this guy. Same with Squirrel Girl (No, not making that one up). That gives me pause, even without bringing the skeezy single entendres into play.

"Explode her mind with pleasure" - From: Lucinda Colossus Cope
I'm not going to ruin this by actually opening the message, but apparently, Lucidna "Colossus" Cope (a halfway point between Charles Atlas and Dr. Ruth, no doubt) is offering me an opportunity to gain the ability to actually broadcast pleasure into the minds of others. This power is also, potentially lethal (though one assumes its a good way to go). Now, I'm sure someone out there has a Scanners fetish, but its not me, and if I'm going to make a person's head explode, its probably going to be with rage, not pleasure.
I apologize, Lucinda, but I will have to pass on your sinister psychic serum or whatnot. Your pretend name is, however, awesome.

"Power up your package" - From: Rebekah Kent Lay
Rebekah takes a different track. Rather than suggesting that I gain psychic powers of pleasure projection (Say that three times fast), she prefers the "Akira Toriyama" school of sexual mightification. In other words, I will be training in high gravity in order to 'power up' my package, which will no doubt involve a lot of standing around yelling while light flares up from unseemly places and rocks float slowly up into space.
Gratuitous reaction shots and eye-twitching are sure to follow.
This is a double-edged sword. This kind of Dragonball Z approach to power is more or less just a 'big overture, little symphony' kinda deal, but on the other hand, if everything goes all DBZ, then 15 minutes of action can be stretched across six episodes.

"Gain the monstrous dimensions" - From Joyce Hartley
Dear Mrs. Hartley,
I have recently received your offer to grant me dominion over monstrous dimensions. While I'm certainly tempted by the opportunity to breach the thin walls of reality and bring forth cephalopodian horrors from realms of mad angles to bring ruination on all mankind, I must decline, as I am currently forbidden by court order to come within 300 feet of any book with a title ending in 'omicon'. I wish you all luck in your quest to find a mortal dupe to liberate the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young from its eternal prison.
Ftag'n always,
Trent Troop

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hindsight is a Three-Act Play

I don't remember events, I remember stories.

I find that the past, as represented through my retellings, becomes increasingly altered over time. I have a strong sense of the narrative. I am a story-teller at heart and my world view 'digests' (for lack of a better term) life into narrative. Real life has no narrative structure. It is a random series of chaotic events stemming from billions of independent causes. Beginnings, middles and ends are all defined in hindsight and are relative to the person or persons experiencing them. There are no morals, few soliloquys, and far too little ironic resolution.

But that's not how I remember things.

Warped by my writing bug and a cavalcade of fiction, I don't remember disconnected events. I remember stories. The involved persons become the character cast. The events become the major plot points and challenges, and different events are emphasized or ignored to form the traditional western narrative skeleton: prologue - introduction - buildup - conflict - climax - resolution - afterward. Lessons to learn are introduced and literary themes expanded on.

And I do this without intending to.

I wonder, are there painters who see their own pasts in terms of a gallery of finished and unfinished paintings? Sculptors with memories in clay and marble? Do senators see their own childhood in terms of politics? Are programmers even today shuffling high school recollections into organized lines with hosts of if/then statements and commentary hidden by brackets?

Or do we all just turn our history into stories?

Whatever the answer, I intend to embrace this process. When I rewrite my teenage years it will be a truly epic tale. I strongly encourage the supporting cast to simply enjoy their new history, as it is going to be much more interesting the second time through.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I've joined the 21st century.

I've joined facebook. Search me out and add me if you so desire.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

And with that out of the way.

Now that I've given the Republicans the Nelson Muntz laugh, I'd like to be serious for a moment.

I'm not certain where we're going from here. Politicians on the national stage don't like to talk about pride in their country as being conditional, but I'm not bound by that limitation. Pride is like forgiveness. If given out universally, without regard to to circumstance or reality, it has no meaning and it loses its value.

I haven't been proud of my country for the past eight years. Horrible things have been done in our names by worse people and the populace has stood idly by as the very foundations of our Democracy have been eroded. The United States has embraced fear. It has embraced mindless faith. It has embraced anti-intellectual thuggery. It has embraced torture, preemptive war, internal espionage, loyalty oaths and countless other terrors. And along those lines it has embraced the most shallow and subservient form of patriotism.

It is this patriotism that demands we 'support the troops' by not questioning their orders. It is this patriotism that says that the US is the Greatest Country On Earth(TM) regardless of its many failings. And it is this patriotism that finally failed.

I don't know what the future holds, but I know this: For the first time in a long time I am proud of my country because for the first time in a long time my country has done something to be proud of.

There is going to be a long road ahead. We have to rebuild and repair the damage done. There are criminals who need to be captured and punished and I hope that there is a will do so. President Elect Obama is not a perfect man or a perfect candidate but he strikes me as the right man for this time. It is cliche to evoke Kennedy here but I can't help but do so, perhaps in the vain hope that my generation will mean something the way the youth of that age did. If I even qualify as youth anymore.

True patriotism is bittersweet because for all of the swell of pride, it doesn't allow you to succumb to the easy high of tribalism and exclusion. There is responsibility there and the knowledge that maintaining this pride is not an easy path. I know now, however, that there will be millions on that same path with me.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Suck it!

A message to all Republicans.

Suck it.

Suck it hard, bitches.

A new age of justice and vengence is upon us. Even Fox has called it for Obama. Hagan just beat Dole, proving that you don't diss the godless without invoking the wrath of nothing-at-frikkin-all. Weep, gnash your teeth and curl up in Ayn Rand's dresser drawer, 'pubs!

I invite any interested to embrace their failure through the time-honored tradition of ritual suicide.


Friday, October 31, 2008

The Merits of the 10, er... 3 Commandments

Recently, in the midst of a theological debate, a friend of mine asked me the following question:

"Trent, tell me honestly, do you think the world would be a better or worse place if everyone followed the Ten Commandments."

Now, I thought about this for a bit. I didn't want to answer one way just to be contrary, but I find that my knee-jerk reaction and my pondered reaction were similar. My answer was "worse."

I feel, however, that this requires explanation. The common man is accustomed to think of the 10 Commandments as some sort of codex of essential morality, a sort of fundamental quanta of humanness that proves that its authors were, if not divine, at least nigh-infinitely wise. Never mind that the commandments are just a portion of the law laid down in the old Testament and that, if the Leviticus apologists (who are thick as flies and twice as irritating) are right, would be just as essentially eliminated by a wave of Jesus hand along with the rest of the old law. The people on the submissive end of the victim/victimizer religious dichotomy seem to think that the Ten Commandments are all you'd need to live well, and, to be honest, I find this is not the case.

So let us dissect the 10 Commandments as ethical laws, divorced of the idea of a supernatural lawgiver to give them extra weight. Of course if Yahweh was real we'd want to follow these rules (or at least we should invest in iron chariots, Judges 1:19) but that isn't ethics, that's fear of an omnipotent dictator.

Commandment the First: Do not have any other gods before me.

Inherently meaningless without a 'me' to serve as the God. Also, religious pluralism is ultimately ethically harmless. The only advantage of universal monotheism is an unopposed Priest Caste and, arguably, a bit more societal homogeny. This gives us some wiggle room in regard to the value of cultural diversity but ultimately, this is irrelevant authoritarianism by the Great and Powerful Oz and, in my option, would simply make the world worse off.

Commandment the Second: You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

Often summarized as the 'no graven images' clause, this is again, just religious powerbroking. On one end, yes, it would free up a lot of resources and man-hours currently spent churning out Mary Merch, Plastic Jesuses and Smiling Portraits of Saint Reagan of the Republican party. And if universally applied, then anything that reduces religiosity would be considered a good rule of thumb, but just as you can't legislate morality you can't legislate rationality. This fails as well, stop trying to sabotage the competition and show me some product, Jahova!

Commandment the Third: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

I'm sorry, but at no point has "all must love and speak respectfully of the leader" been a positive social rule. Controlling speech and expression, sweet batter-fried baby Jesus on a spit, that's definitely going to make things worse. What's next? Thought crime?

Commandment the Forth: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

We're four in, and not a single one that controls anything except the means by which one must prostate themselves before supernatural authority and, by extension, its earthly representatives.

Commandment the Fifth: Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Ok, now we're to something resembling ethics. "Be nice to mom and dad". It only took us halfway to the list to hit something of social significance and yet its still pro-authoritarian jackbootery. I love my mother and my father. But they screwed up a lot, and they weren't even that bad as parents go. Should all people honor their parents, no matter how irresponsible, abusive, idiotic, neglectful or criminal they happen to be? Authority that isn't earned isn't ethical, its an open door to abuse and irrational control. So I toss #5 on the chopping block and head into the 'meat' of the commandments.

Commandment the Sixth: You shall not murder.

Sometimes rendered "Thou shalt not kill." Finally, an ethical rule, and one that is nigh-universal in societies the world over. This one gets the thumbs up, and would get a bigger thumbs up if it weren't for the fact that it specifies murder. "Thou shalt not Kill" is a bad translation, since there are plenty of acceptable means of dealing death according to the Bible, they're just not considered murder.

Commandment the Seventh: You shall not commit adultery.

Adultery is a betrayal of one's wife or husband or hufe or wisband or whatnot. Presuming, of course, that's the agreement. I'd say that betraying one's spouse by cheating is bad. It hurts feelings, causes conflicts and can cause issues with children and (other) STDs. But not everyone is in a monogamous relationship. I don't do the 'open relationship' thing personally, but some folks do. And if that's the agreement both spouses aspire to, then considering what they do criminal, not just a bad idea, but criminal, is silly and authoritarian. Can't support it without a lot more clauses, and this is one of the short ones, in both Exodus and Deuteronomy.

Commandment the Eighth: You shall not steal.

The theft of property is all but universally considered a bad idea in terms of societal norms. Gotta agree with that. For those keeping track, that's two.

Commandment the Ninth: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Well, this is often simplified, rather stupidly, to "Thou shalt not Lie". Actually, its an admonition against perjury, or, at the most expansive, lying about one of your own. For the sake of being generous, we'll ignore the 'your neighbor' clauses and assume that everyone, not just the persons in your own particular tribe of G-d fearing shepherds is to be given the benefit of these rules. Defaming others and lying in court are harmful, we have our third rule that yes, would probably make things better if universally applied, provided, of course, the subtle push for tribalism is ignored.

Commandment the Tenth: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Well, I was wrong. Thought Crime wasn't next, it was just coming. Wanting things other people have is a crime. Fantastic.

This sounds like a good idea on the surface. If you don't desire other people's things (insultingly enough wives and slaves are considered things one can own), then you're not going to be tempted to take them by force or trickery. This is often seen as the linchpin of the whole ethos. Don't want, and you won't be tempted to bad action to get. Too bad there are several flaws here. There are so many flaws, in fact, that this, the most unassuming of commandments, requires the largest rebuttal.

Firstly, this rule is impossible to follow. Desire is not something one controls, it happens, and a reasonable approach to modern psychology indicates that this isn't because we're morally corrupt or we're all evil misers waiting to happen. It is because we're wired that way. We want things that will give us advantage. Its our choice what we do with those impulses. This is, in essence, thought crime, and I can't support it solely on that level. Moreover, its presence is used, more often than the monstrous concept of 'original sin' (inherited criminality, would we tolerate that, even for a second, from a mortal authority? Or, more accurately, a mortal authority that doesn't claim to be speaking on the behalf of an immortal authority?) to ensure that everyone is guilty of something all the time. One cannot prove oneself innocent of thought crime, and thus the Church-Complex has something on you all the time. They need only have the will to act on your invisible and intangible wickedness.

But this exercise, which is the idea of everyone, universally, following these rules, actually allows for this prohibition to work, no matter how ridiculous it is in reality. To explain why, even in this scenario, the 10th Commandment is a hideous thing requires a little setup.

There's a lot of talk of why the Soviet Union failed. The most plausible reason, on a fundamental (and probably over-simplified level), that I have heard, however, is that it failed because of a crisis of motivation. With everything under state control, and everyone equal (except for the more-equal party leaders), there was no competition. No reason to stand out and do better than others because the rewards are all equal.

The story goes that a Russian Diplomat was amazed when his lodgings in the US had to be repainted. The painters did the whole place in a day. He marveled that the painters were so quick, since in Russia it would have taken a week or more. He was then informed that, since the painters were paid by the job, they had good reason to get to the next one. Their quality was due to the need to ensure that if their services were ever needed again, they'd be called back. This is the so-called 'enlightened self interest' that the MegaCapitalists like to shout about while they fight over the opportunity to sniff Ayn Rand's panties. Allowed to flourish unchecked, it is just as bad as the extreme in the opposite direction, but as a fundamental human motivation, self-interest and localized group interest (my friends, my spouse, my children, my family, my tribe) cannot be denied except by the most dewy-eyed Pollyanna.

The 10th Commandment takes the Communist system up a notch. It doesn't eliminate rewards and thus undermine the desire to achieve. It instead goes straight to the root of the problem and rips out the very desire to have nice things. What this Commandment dictates is not a sense of security with one's own possessions and position, but a lobotomized lack of desire for anything better. Enacted to its fullest, this Commandment, more than any other, would grind human progress to a halt. Thus, it can't be considered a good or positive thing in my eyes.

If I see my neighbor's car, and its a very nice one, I will want something like it. This doesn't mean I'm going to steal his car. Even without legal ramifications I wouldn't do that, as my ethics are derived from empathy. But wanting that car would, however, make me do what I could, legally, to buy one of my own. Or perhaps a better one, or even a less nice one that is more suited to my needs. This applies to all material goods: houses, livestock and other belongings all in sum total.

I don't count wives or slaves, because ownership of human chattel in any form is fiendish. Once a being reaches a certain point of mental development (I may address this point in a future essay on what it is to be human in regard to abortion rights and transhumanist definitions) a person owns oneself, according to my moral estimation. One needs only the most basic shreds of empathy to come to that sort of conclusion. That said, anyone with the Internet, eyes and at least one functional limb has likely coveted more than a few wives.


What I find most telling is what isn't in the Ten Commandments. Where is "Thou Shaft Not Rape?", "Thou Shaft not Vandalize" or "Thou Shaft Respect Thin Neighbor's Privacy"? Nearly half of the Commandments exist purely to put the Almighty Alcoholic in the tops position with his Codepedendant Mortal spouses. From there we have three universally good ideas (one with qualifications that makes it far less ethically useful) and three ideas that sound sort good on the surface until you really start thinking about them.

The world might yet be a nicer place if everyone followed the Three Commandments (No murder, no stealing and no perjury), but those aren't unique ideas by a long shot.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Spore or Less

Everytime I want to post about Spore, the temptation to do a bad pun for the post title is too much and I back down. But not this time.

I won't go into a big time review of Spore. Its simplistic in some ways, but is really fun in others. I've started a 80's Nostalgia Sporecast, which should surprise all of nobody. Its big, but it still needs expanding. He-Man has helped, what with the swarm of monsters and vehicles, but there's still more to do. Some stuff, the Popples, the Carebears, the Gremlins, I'm holding out on until the Creepy and Cute parts pack hits, but other stuff is just dependent on me getting around to it. I'm debating whether I want to go with Thundercats or MASK for my next big update push. The goal is that, eventually you could theme a game after my Sporecast and encounter nothing but a hallucinatory swarm of mis-matched 1980s cartoon strangeness.

In the meantime, look upon my works, ye normal, and despair:

Friday, October 17, 2008

A minor thought.

I promise to fall in love with the girl that sings to me the way Natalie Merchant sings.

There is a 70% chance of similar results when one substitutes Stevie Nicks for Natalie Merchant.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

October in Essence

Today, I walked out of work and felt the first blast of cold wind of the year. The sky was shrouded with clouds and all my senses were overwhelmed by a vague sense of nostalgia. I touched something deeply beautiful and infinitely bittersweet, a comforting swirl of sadness and contentment. In a brief moment I touched thirty Octobers that preceded this one, and felt a sensation that might well have been a rapturous religious experience in another context.

I stood for a brief moment and absorbed what I know as October, a sensation and an experience that is more than a point in the annual marking of time.

My only regret is that you weren't there.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Vote Your Subconscious!

or... Obama / Troop '08 - Change Like You Wouldn't Believe!

A man once said that there's nothing more boring than another man's dreams. To that man I say... Havesomeathis!

Last night I dreamed that something had happened to Joe Biden. I'm not sure what, exactly, but Joe was gone and there was a spot open for the Democratic vice-presidential nominee. All this had gone down in the middle of a debate with Sarah Palin and a series of very odd events then followed.

First off, the ghost of my father apparently has great pull with the Democrats, and I was, thanks to his intervention, vetted within a few minutes and made the new vice presidential nominee, and ushered on stage. I was worried about the debate, but since Palin didn't answer any questions and couldn't question my credentials because she was trained to debate Biden, I coasted through pretty well. As if this were not strange enough, I then went to the white house hangers-on area. This was a massive sprawl of TVs, secret service agents and politically minded people wandering around the White House lawn.

There, I met Penn Jillette. He was performing death-defying magic for a pair of Japanese tourists (I think it was Hiro and Ando from Heroes) but I got his attention. He was reluctant to talk to me but I insisted that he was one of the few people who actually cared what the Constitution said, so I wanted his opinion. "According to the Constitution, do you have to be 35 to be President or just to RUN for President?" I asked. Apparently, my ghost-vetting had not brought up the age issue. His response was bizarrely philosophical and out of character. "Well, you're forgetting the much overlooked 12th Amendment, which states that all rights held by one citizen are held by all. As long as there is at least one person over 35 in the country, you can run."

When awake, I know that the 12th amendment actually has to deal with the election, but states quite plainly that I would not be eligible until the 2012 election.

He then continued: "Sometimes we are individual people living our lives, sometimes we are our entire species, a mass of apes, dying all at once. Sometimes we are both and sometimes we are neither."

At this point, I informed him that I was now in the running for vice president. He said he would not vote for me and left. I spent the remainder of the dream wandering around the sprawl around the White House, wondering how to adjust my wardrobe to fit my new role.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


At long last I have found it... The perfect blue-line pencil!

I like sketching in blue-line. Its easy to drop out during scanning and you don't notice the pencil lines as much so there's no ink/pencil confusion during the inking process. But the problem is that most blue pencils are terrible.

Prismacolor makes almost all of them. Oh, they work, in that they are blue and they are pencils, but the leads are, for lack of a better term, greasy. They're soft, lay on thick, smear easy, and worse: they repel water, and thus, ink. So you go through the process of inking something, but the ink doesn't stick. It fades when you go in to erase something or it just beads up.

I found a better blue-line pencil, though it took buying one each of all the blue line pencils offered by an online art supply store (it wasn't that extravagant, they cost about 50 cents each and there were only three varieties). Of the three pencils I obtained:

Pencil 1 is a Prismacolor Verithin 761 1/2 Non-Photo Blue/Bleu Inactinique. Same old story. Greasy, thick, soft as my midsection. Practically worthless!

Pencil 2 is a Prismacolor Copy-Not 1298 Non-Photo Blue. Getting warmer... this is an actual hard-lead blue-line pencil! The telltale sign is that this pencil has a real eraser on the end... one of the crappy pink ones. This pencil was made for architects rather than artistes (in my experience the architects get all the coolest supplies). On normal paper, this thing would rock. Sadly, I don't use normal paper for most of my sketching. I've fallen in love with a #234 Paris Bleedproof pad from Borden & Riley... the pages are like velvet and ink doesn't bleed on them, at all... but our Copy-Not's lead is too hard to leave much of a mark at all on the almost tractionless surface of the page...

Pencil 3 is our winner. It is a Staedtler Non-Photo-Blue 108 30 / 0 31901 10551 8. First off, its from Austria... which means it was made with that sort of Schwartzineggerian Knockoff of German efficiency. Its sales barcode is printed right onto the pencil in negative space between white lines for Genius' sake! No crappy sticker wrapped around the haft for this pencil! Moreover, the lead is the perfect balance of tone and hardness. No greasiness, not to light, not too dark and the line quality is beautiful.

All hail the new king of blue pencils!

As an aside, I've been considering posting art to the blog. Would anybody want to see that?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Text Story Online

Members of The Official Transformers Collector's Club can now read I, Lowtech, the latest TF story from myself and Greg Sepelak, in the members portion of the website. Here's the official Blurb:

The Official Transformers Collectors Club is excited to present the final installment from its trilogy of TransTech illustrated short stories by Greg Sepelak and S.Trent Troop. Noted Transformers comic artist Nick Roche illustrates this members-only tale with colors by Winston Bolen. I, Lowtech is the third text story set in the teeming TransTech Metropolis known as Axiom Nexus and serves as a follow-up to the previous two stories: Gone Too Far and Withered Hope. I, Lowtech also offers a glimpse into the final hours of the current Transcendent storyline which concludes this November.

Something horrible has happened in the depths of Axiom Nexus. Bulletbike, a member of the TransTech elite, has had his life stolen from him. His fevered climb to regain his position will take him from the lowest of the Offworld Zones to the heights of TransTech society amid mystery, madness and murder. You will see the rise and fall through his optics as his one-Transformer struggle against his faceless enemy brings him into contact with beggars, thieves, smugglers and a seemingly unstoppable killer.

All this and three, count them, three Swindles!


Hyperlinks have been added for the Transformers impaired.

Breaking the Chains of User-Created Content Exploitation

Ok, I believe strongly in user created content. Heck, its the best way to get a lot of things done. Seriously, look at Spore!

But sometimes user-created content gets exploited. And that's the situation with Wikia, a wiki-hosting company that, up until now, hosted the Transformers Wiki. In short, because their advertising system was made to support a lowest-common denominator system, they began imposing increasingly limiting rules on how people ran their wikis, to the point that those hideous animated, noise-making ads started being put within the body of the wiki entries themselves.

That's right. You go to read about, say, Blitzwing, or, say, me, and there would be a two-inch square screeching monstrosity howling at you to buy Pringles like some rabid baboon. And this would be displacing, and in some cases, covering up content.

Well, it was Wikia's servers, so one might argue that they were within rights (though not ethics) to change their rules constantly and outright mislead their contributors (who, BTW, make their money for them.) But it was also within the rights of those contributors to beat feet outta there. And they did. The whole thing is now located at, thanks to bold culture heroes like David Willis (the Shortpacked dude, as some know him). The wiki has taken control of its own destiny, and that to me is what the internet experience is all about.

I don't do much contributing to the wiki, since I currently have a hand in producing TF fiction. But I did write their press release for the move, I support their move and the motivations and principles behind it, and I encourage everyone to check them out. This isn't your standard dry wiki: its informative and irreverent, the way the internets/interweb/tubes/webway/snarkzone/that Tron Place ought to be. After all, nothing that considers me worthy of an encyclopedic profile probably shouldn't take itself seriously.

Really, check it out:

Trent Troop @

And no, I didn't create my own page.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Weight Loss Update

310.8 pounds, as of Friday.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The New New Winner

Today, I had a fellow, both hard of hearing and somewhat belligerent, call in for service. He had paid for the online services because of problems with his keyboard. Apparently, it would not make the special symbols at the top of the keyboard (! @ # $ % ^ & * and so forth). Fully expecting this to be a problem with stickykeys, I walked him through the excruciatingly long process of linking his system to mine through screen sharing.

Sure enough, my input goes through fine to his notepad. Though he did have trouble finding the number 2 when he typed it into notepad, and when I highlighted it and waved the cursor around it to show him where it was. Then he tried to type an @ symbol. It came up a two.

"Ok, press the shift key and hit the two."
"That's the one that says caps lock, right?"
"No, its the one that says shift."
Another two crops up.
"Sir, are you holding it down?"
"No, should I be?"

Yes, friends, I have found a human being who both owns a computer and claims to have used it for stock trading online, who was unaware of how to use the shift key. For reference, the shift key was invented as an innovation to the mechanical typewriter by 1910, which predates ENIAC, generally considered the first general-purpose electronic computer, by 37 years. Being unapologetically 'not an expert' and having 'no intention of becoming one' is not an excuse here.

So we have a new winner. I can only imagine that he is a retiree, most likely from the upper class, who dictated his letters to some hapless, brow-beaten secretary for his entire career and is likely to kill himself through comical incompetence the moment he has to, say, do his laundry or cook a meal.

Well, he did pay $50 to have someone tell him what a shift key is, so maybe there is some justice in the world.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Well, it took some doing, but now I own a car. And what a car! Its a 2005 Jetta with all the bells and whistles. A silver dynamo with decent gas mileage, leather seats, a six-disk changer, and one of those remote-entry click-gadgets. More than one person has commented that it has room for no less than two corpses in the trunk. The whole thing is a triumph of free-spirited German engineering, and the giant Volkswagen logo on the grill makes it easy to find in parking lots.

Also, I just got back from the nation's capital, as I'd gone to visit Leigh Ann. We had tons of fun, I walked way more than I was accustomed to, and I got to see the National Gallery, the Spy Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Air & Space Museum, among others. It has to be one of the most inspiring things I've done in some time. Faced with the noble endeavors and the greatness that this country once had when it had an ounce of vision, side-by-side with the accomplishments of science and art on an unrivaled scale, I felt myself re-energized. I've started laying back into the Adventures of Upgrade & Beatnik Baby and I may have a few other art-type projects bubbling in my brain.

On another life-related note, I spent seven hours playing Rock Band this weekend. It was amazingly fun. I'm tempted to buy it for the Wii, but I've decided to hold out for Rock Band II. Video games have always been about wish fulfillment and fantasy. Interesting that it has grown out of fueling our fantasies of heroism and adventure to give us the simulated life of a rock star. I personally think once someone invents Pornography Hero, society will grind to a halt as no one will leave the house ever again.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

We all make cars turn into robots... can you help me turn robots into a car?

All things must come to an end, and that includes my car.

The old girl is a 1994 Kia Sophia who finally sputtered her last last week. As of right now it is in the shop, where mechanics will surely attempt to raise it briefly in some sort of zombie-like state. This won't last long, however. I need to get a new car, and that means money for a down payment. I was gearing up for this anyhow, but this has hit earlier than expected.

Here's the deal, I'm out to raise some cash to get this taken care of, and I'm looking for your help. I've got several ways to get this cash together, and here they are:

Step 1: You Buy My Robots, I do not Drink Your Milkshake

Here's the situation: I've got lots of Transformers. This is a seriously large collection and I'm looking to trim it anyway. I'm going to be starting off with the 'premium' stuff and will move down to the more mundane offerings as time goes by. My goal? Reduce my collection by 50% and raise enough money to get a new car.

You get robots for your own collections or for your kids, and you also get my solumn promise that I will not, literally or metaphorically, drink your milkshake from a distance with a room-length straw. Quality merchandise and security against milkshake theft. What more can you ask for?

Click here to see the currently-for-sale list.

Step 2: Gaming for Wheels

"But Trent!", you say, "I'm not that into giant robots!" Well, I've got you covered if your geekdom runs a different way. All Octavirate Gaming PDFs sold through RPGNow are 25% off! This includes ExorSystems, Inc and our Stock Art Collections for game publishers. Half of each purchase goes to my car, while the other half goes towards the general wellbeing of Ron Smith. Both of these are important things in the grand scheme of things. Once the car is purchased, this money will return to its original purpose: paying freelancers to do art for future gaming products.

If you prefer your books in a printed format, we've got you covered over at

Step 3: Wear your support.

We've got plenty of T-shirts for sale. I'm working on a special one for promoting this project, but in the meantime, enjoy:

So there you have it, three ways you can help me help you help me get a car while simultaneously putting awesome swag in your hands. If you need to contact me regarding a purchase or with general questions, you can email me at trenttroop (at) octavirate (dot) com. Convert that into the standard email format to send it over.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

We have a winner, ladies and gentlemen!

My best tech support story ever is now this:

A guy calls in with a laptop problem. Now, this is how about 18%* of my calls in a given day start. So I ask the gentleman to tell me what's happening with the machine. To my surprise, he asks me a question:

"Where are you guys from?"

I answer "Oklahoma", as that's as detailed as we're allowed to get.

"Well, then you wouldn't know much about what we've got here in Virginia..."

At this point, my curiosity is piqued. What could they have in Virginia that would cause specific computer problems? Roving bands of New England hackers? The Wild Virginian plastic-eating marmot? Ol' Qwerty, a civil-war era ghost that steals any object that bears his name? Some sort of chaotic magnetic distrubance eminating from Mount Rogers, the tallest point in all Virginia?

"Ok, well, I was at this scenic overlook..." Oh, I see. When he speaks of 'what they've got in Virginia' he means 'hills.'

Around this time the tale goes from surreal to dumfounding and back again. Long story short, this fellow as at a scenic overlook in Virginia. Taken in by the wonder and majesty of the great outdoors he felt compelled to capture it in an image frozen in time. As a man of the modern age he didn't carry anything so mundane as a 'camera' on his person. Alas, his plans would be scuttled and he would be forced to pay the fifteen dollars for a pack of photographic post cards at the Park Services Gift Shop.

But wait! He had his laptop computer with him! His computer had a webcam! Salvation was at hand!

Perching precariously close to the railing (Or perhaps on top of/over it? Sadly, I was not there.) he leaned in to take the shot. Just as his finger came down upon the 'capture' option, some uncouth fellow bumped him from behind. Our hero's grip failed him and his laptop slipped from his fingers and tumbled, end over end, to the chasm's rocky bottom. There the rocks scattered the fragments of his difference engine into a shower of metallic debris and plastic shards.

Mind you, at this point our photographic McGuyver has failed to procure even his purchase reciept. Thankfully, with or without the receipt, he is up the same creek. I inform him, quite solumnly, that some of the warranties cover accidental damage. How cruel fate and the terms and conditions of the warranty, are! For without the remains of the mechanism, this is categorized as loss, not accidental damage. This was, of course, not what our tepid explorer wanted to hear and shortly after the fifth or sixth explanation he resolved to call back.

It isn't often that one encounters something that can be described as truly amazing. Today, however, we have a new winner and I have been witness to something that boarders on the supernatural.

*Percentage is a total guess and is based on no scientific evidence, whatsoever.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Weight Loss Update - Pride Trounces Gluttony and Sloth

I'm a chunky dude.

I've been working on it, though. Since November I've lost between 45 and 60 lbs, but since my scale wasn't able to measure above 300, I have no idea where I started. My only scale was one at the gym at work, which is the old style sliding-weight design that I can never get an accurate bead on.

Well, I have a new digital scale. Huzzah. And because you may or may not be reading this, my ongoing self improvement is now your business.

Last week, I took my first Friday measurement: 318.2 lbs. More than I had thought (the scale at work had finally put me under 300, good gravy, where did I start at?) but still, a definate improvement.

As of Friday, 7/4/08 - 315.2 pounds. Three pounds lost in seven days. Not bad and well worth sacrificing my precious gummies. Oh gummies, how I miss you. Everything else that's bad for ya? Bah! screw it!

This has also come with a vast improvement in my general physical health. I've got more energy, more endurance, and my upper body strength (which I've been working on for reasons of proportion. My legs? Frikkin' tree trunks. My arms? Noodly.) has, if one takes into account what one does on a bench press machine, doubled since November.

It all goes to show you. If you pit your deadly sins against one another, you can come out ahead. Pride proved to be a major motivating force, being out Gluttony and Sloth.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reaping the Conservative Whirlwind (Warning: Politics)

Forewarning: If you think this blog entry doesn't apply to your brand of Christendom-and/or-Right-Wing-Politics, then it probably doesn't, unless, of course, it does. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

I believe there's a bit in the Bible about 'sowing chaos and reaping the whirlwind?' It is surprising to me that this is not more frequently brought up in regard to American Christian politics in the past three decades. For years the religious have produced and backed numerous na'er do wells and have pushed to marginalize and punish those who do not cede to their will.

Now, after almost a full decade of having everything they've asked for, the conservative Christians are worried. Their zealotry has cost them their financial security, their dignity and whatever scraps of respectability they had. The free-thinkers and secularists, once scattered, are now uniting to defend themselves from theocratic skullduggery. Religious affiliations now have the average lifespan of cell phone contracts and the populace at large is beginning to see hypocrites and thieves behind every Jesus-fish bumper sticker, and rightly so.

Caught with their pants down (like so many in their leadership, zing!) they turn into a horde of Lady MacBeths, washing their hands to remove the bloodstains and denying their part in things. "We were tricked! The Republicans said they were like us!" they cry. But they weren't tricked. The right-wing philosophy was theirs from the start and still is. They just failed. They had their way and they failed and they got caught. It is the same pattern they have always followed: they prop up the bigot, the liar, the thief and the lynch mob. They cheer these villains on, sometimes loudly, sometimes silently, and when the monsters are caught, defeated and dragged into the light, they shout "PRETENDER! You are not truely one of us!" With the Judas goat duly sacrificed their sins are cleansed and they can find a new avatar to help them get what they want.

Sorry folks, you reap what you sow. Its just a pity that the punishment you brought down on yourselves affects the rest of us, too.


Friday, June 20, 2008

The Dungeons and Dragons in my Garage

The 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons just came out. It looks like a good system and has a lot of unique and interesting elements to it. Eventually, I'll review it. That, however, will require playing it and since I haven't got a group together, I'll have to settle for a more generalized examination of D&D as it pertains to my own life.

My parents weren't the most objecting parents around on average, but they had their things they didn't like. Mom rejected G.I.Joe as a pro-war cartoon avatar of the military industrial complex and forbade He-Man for its 'occultism' and, I expect, for its rampant commercialism. I recall several times when dad would throw what can only be described as a 'fit' over the costumes of female comic book characters. Still, I had my childhood obsessions: Star Wars, dinosaurs, Transformers, the X-Men and the various 8-bit heroes of the NES... because seriously, the Genesis? Every kid in the neighborhood with a Genesis was a dick. Don't ask me to explain it, that's just how I recall things.

But there was one thing that terrified them both. And that was Dungeons and Dragons.

Mom had an easy excuse... her church said it was of the devil (literally) and at the time she didn't question that sort of thing (she's gotten better.) Dad claimed that they both knew people who had 'taken it too far', but neither of them, when pressed, could sum up details or even names. The latter claim was rather scurrilous, given that I was born in the same year as D&D, and the supposed friends were typically 'from college' in the stories... which would date them before my birth and thus, before the invention of the game they took too far.

All this from parents who informed me, quite matter-of-factly, that the Easter Bunny and Santa were imaginary, but that I shouldn't tell my cousins because it would ruin it for them. Go figure. Like all kids with overzealous religious parenting, I was surrounded by wonderful ironies. Santa, the Easter Bunny and leprechauns (which I found more compelling than the other two put together, for some reason) were stupid fairy-tales... but Jesus, the devil, the angels and demons were all real (if you asked mom. Dad, who didn't buy into any of it outside of a Jeffersonian deist perspective, avoided such talk to avoid hacking off mom.) D&D and He-Man were evil, but Thundercats, the Hobbit and Greek Myth got a pass.

Oh yeah, Gary Gygax was peddling 'taken from real magic', soul-damning, demon-summoning, satan-worshipping darkness and that wouldn't be in the house. Of course, that didn't stop me. It made it all the more tantalizing. Anything I was explicitly denied I sneaked, and I was involved in D&D and other roleplaying games since Middle School. Heck, we even played a second edition campaign on the bus on a church field trip. We got caught, the stuff got confiscated, and the other kids, after getting the 'demon talk' wouldn't resume play, but we did it. I got the lowdown on episodes of the D&D cartoon and He-Man that I couldn't sneak from my friends at school. And I had a stash of roleplaying games as a young teen that I hid with more cunning than my collection of skin mags and racy catalogs.

After awhile, D&D became a point of natural rebellion for me. On my last church-based trip (a trip to Russia I undertook because it was a good opportunity, long after I had learned to become a 'stealth atheist' and before I shifted to 'militant agnostic') I toted around a D&D novel, for which I was proclaimed, by my fellow travelers, 'ballsy'. Eventually, I won my youthful rebellion, by no fault of my own. Mom's church, a nationally-recognized-as-a-cult assemblage called the World Wide Church of God, fell upon itself when the founder's incest, embezzlement and general malevolencies came to light. The D&D players were still standing and the paranoid, apocalypse-loving cross wavers were KO'ed.

The ultimate irony is that role-playing has benefited me greatly. My first published bit of writing was for Dragon Magazine, Octavirate draws in decent sales on our old 3.0/3.5 d20 gaming library, and I'm gearing up to write some new 4th edition stuff. The irony is furthered by more upcoming projects pertaining to other forbidden elements of childhood. I'm going to break down and review D&D 4th edition but the lesson of this article is clear:

The things I was most forbidden as a child have become what I am doing for fun and profit as an adult. Parents, let your kids play D&D and forbid them from experimenting with Pulitzer-prize winning journalism and best-selling adult fiction. That's the kind of rebellion that pays well.

Friday, May 30, 2008

It is well known that my day job is a Sisyphean nightmare of legendary proportions. I provide phone support to the customers of several major retailers. In the process, I've witnessed every mauling of the English language anyone could reasonably expect. Sorry human dignity, you've just gotten 20 years with no parole and people too dim to realize that extended warranties are a scam are your new bunkmate.

Over time, you become desensitized to the normal abominations. The various lazy drawls and hyper active dialects stop impressing you.

It is the cartoon characters that you never get used to. I've had all kinds. People with voices that make Mike Tyson sound like Barry White. People who talk seventy-miles-per-hour. People who pronounce "Baton Rouge" as "Belange'" Heck, I had a guy from Brooklyn call once who literally reversed what words would and wouldn't be plural, just like Sal on Futurama.

And a few moments ago, I had a woman who started every answer to every inquiry with 'uh-huh?' and appended it to the front of random sentences and paragraphs. Every question: What is your name? What is your phone number? What are the numbers at the bottom of your receipt? All answered, yes, but with a vapid "uh-huh" coming beforehand. If the call hadn't mercifully dropped I might well have been driven mad.

I'm not sure what this really means but I will say this: if the whole world is a twisted simulation of a long-dead reality I really hope it is more like Dark City and less like the Matrix.


Addendum: Someone just called in with a warranty on a cassette walkman. Purchased in 2008. I'm amazed.

Monday, May 26, 2008

UT:APfEE Chapter 1: The Dragon in my Garage

Understanding Trent: A Primer for Everyone Else
Chapter 1: The Dragon in my Garage

I've decided that, in order to have something to blog about frequently, I will be peroidically attempting to reveal the depths of my existence to my minute readership. I fancy myself an emperical-sort, but while I revile arguement from authority in terms of facts, sometimes philosophy is best taken from the source.

If anyone wants to understand my skeptical nature, read on. Also, this will explain the meaning of my blog's title.

This is the best sum-up of my view on the whole skeptical worldview, as originally stated by Carl Sagan in The Demon Haunted World. I find it more diplomatic than the Flying Spagetti Monster and more educational than the Curch of the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

Go here to read: The Dragon in My Garage by Carl Sagan

Consolidation and Mass Distribution

I know I've said this before, but seriously, this time I mean it. I'm going to blog more frequently, and this is how I'm going to get it done. I'm going to try to at least update this thing weekly (other goals include doing the same for and still keeping up with my TFCC duties.) and I'm going to be providing more substance than previous blogs, many of which were largely shilling for my projects.

Not to say that I won't be shilling. I will be. A lot.

But it will be more balanced from here on out.