46 stories

2018 Spring Super Sale!!

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I am now running a big sale on the first 2 books. Buy Vol 2 (in either paperback or hardcover) and get Vol 1 FOR FREE!! I’m hoping to draw in some new readers before RUNNERS Vol 3 launches here later this year. Very excited to be finally returning to this series with Vol 3 and for the long haul! Please share this deal with anyone you think would enjoy the series. Now would be a great time to give it a try. Get the deal at my runnersuniverse.com Store!

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7 days ago
This is a fun SF comic with serious alien form diversity.
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Open letter: Slack should not discontinue its gateways

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I sent this message to feedback@slack.com today.

I saw yesterday that you are planning to discontinue your IRC and XMPP gateways. You are making a mistake. You should keep supporting the gateways.
That's the one-line summary. You want to keep reading?
The gateways are a valuable feature and they make Slack more valuable to users. Yes, I'm sure you have charts showing how few users connect through the gateways. And yes, the gateways can't keep up with your shiny new Slack features. But those of us who use the gateways, use them because we like them! They let us Slack in the ways that we get work done. If they vanish, Slack turns into a second-best service.
I don't despise the Mac Slack app. I have it running right now. But -- sometimes I shut it down. This is how I use Slack: a few high-priority channels in my XMPP client, and the Slack app for everything else. The XMPP client is always running; it has my most important chats ganged together in one tidy window. The Slack app is different; it's a busy free-for-all that I peek at when I have a few free minutes.
Today, Slack supports this. I can direct channels where I want them on my screen. It's flexible and it fits me. But you're telling me that in two months, I lose that flexibility. I won't lose access to my chats, but I'll lose the ability to read them how I want.
That's bad. It is a mistake.
Flexibility isn't the only issue. On your explanation page, you say you are "focused on making Slack accessible to all people". Good! Please keep working on that. But then you admit "these changes are just the beginning of our accessibility journey." Doesn't that mean you should keep supporting the mature technologies that people already use?
Similarly, the "creative integrations" you mention. It's great that your APIs support some users' needs. Probably even most users' needs. But that's not an argument for cutting off the standardized mechanisms that people are already using.
Honestly, I think you know this. Your explanation page is written with a tinge of defensiveness. "We're hopeful that [tech] will meet the majority of your needs..." ...but you know it won't meet all of them. Yeah. Your only actual argument for removing the gateways -- as opposed to apologies -- is "to provide a secure and high-quality experience across all platforms." Look: taking away a user's current platform doesn't improve their experience. It is a removal. It takes away the experience they want.
At this point you maybe want to bargain with me (and people like me). You want to say "We'll keep running the gateways for another six months -- or another twelve months -- until Slack's accessibility and APIs are good enough. Then we'll shut them down for real."
No. Still wrong.
There are plenty of web services which demand total control over how users use them. (Think of a little blue bird.) That's their brand; they protect it fiercely.
(Twitter may not block third-party clients, but it sure wants to discourage people from using them.)
I would like Slack to not be that way.
I would like to be able to use Slack however I need. No offense to the emoji, but I don't need emoji to get work done. Slack was valuable before the reaction tags, before the threads, before the shared channels. (I haven't even looked to see what "shared channels" are.) Slack was valuable because it was a simple stream of text messages shared between people. I still use it that way. And that's exactly the format that fits into the XMPP/IRC model!
It's also, by no coincidence, the format which is maximally accessible. A simple linear stream of text messages can be translated into any user interface and any platform -- mobile, audio, you name it. Morse Code if that's your kick. You can pile on all the extra features you like, and yes, a lot of people will use them. Sometimes I will use them. But some people -- maybe, now and then, a lot of people -- will stick to the simple linear stream, because it suits their technology and their needs.
Slack has to keep supporting that simple use pattern. For accessibility, for portability, for flexibility. And if it supports that pattern, it can support IRC/XMPP without much hassle.
That's my argument. Thanks for reading.
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11 days ago
Some true words for Slack.
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This Fucking Town

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I live in downtown Los Angeles and this is all true.

Downtown LA is literal Raymond Chandler territory. A sign over a urinal near here says "Charles Bukowski pissed here". Mickey Cohen, too. Blade Runner is supposed to be set in downtown LA.

A place of desperate souls, inches from Skid Row. On weekends the sidewalks are a 4d maze of taco trucks and people trying to get into nightclubs. Hipster clothing stores arrive and die like mice in the cages at the CDC. Grown men commute on skateboards past fashion models heading up to the big agencies on 5th street. Sirens constantly. The easiest way to avoid getting stared at by security is to get them to stare at the guy with the MS13 face tattoo instead.

Last week I headed to the bar for a stiff drink.

"Say are you Zak Sabbath?" said the barman. A porn fan, I figured. I allowed that I was and began arranging the paragraphs in the How do you get in to porn? speech in my head. "I love I Hit It With My Axe!" he said.

"Oh yeah?" I asked "Are you rolling?"

"Yeah, 5e!" he said "I just got a group together!"

That's not so weird. It takes all kinds.

Then last night I'm in a whole other bar down here.

This bar is one of the oldest in the city, but also a Pokemon gym. The kid behind the bar is the champion, he takes out customers left and right--they have no idea it's their bartender kicking their asses.

"How's your game going?" he says. He's talking about Demon City. I show him some of the art on my phone.

"What's that?" says the other bartender.

"He's making a game! Like a tabletop game!"

This was not the conversation I had intended to have with my bartenders.

"Oh yeah?" says the second bartender "Me and my dad are working on an RPG! A kinda Bronze Age thing!"

He tells me about the dice mechanics. I tell him I got the idea for my game working on the new edition of Vampire, he tells me he was really into Werewolf.

At this point the stripper I'm waiting for comes in.

"Good luck with your game, dude!" says the bartender as she rolls up. Very loud.

"Oh your working on a game?" she says, "I have a friend who's trying to get me to play....Pathfinder?--is it good?"

Jesus, I think, can't a man have a drink in this town without having to talk about goddamn Dungeons & Dragons?
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76 days ago
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Who's your all-time favorite Star Wars character? Doesn't have to be from the movies.

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If we were just talking about the movies, it would obviously be Lando, but all-time favorite? Hera Syndulla, the original Space Mom.

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80 days ago
Hell yes.
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A History Of The Silmarils In The Fifth Age

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[Spoiler warning for The Silmarillion]


The Silmarillion describes the fate of the three Silmarils. Earendil kept one, and traveled with it through the sky, where it became the planet Venus. Maedhros stole another, but regretted his deed and jumped into a fiery chasm. And Maglor took the last one, but threw it into the sea in despair.

Well, Venus is still around. But what happened to the latter two? Surely over all the intervening millennia, with so many people wanting a Silmaril, they haven’t just hung around in the earth and ocean?

After some research, I’ve developed a couple of promising leads for the location of the Silmarils in the Fifth Age.


I previously sketched out the argument that Maglor’s Silmaril probably belongs to a Los Angeles crime lord.

The movie Pulp Fiction centers around a mysterious briefcase. We’re never told exactly what’s inside, but we get some clues:

1. It’s described as “so beautiful” and captivates anyone who looks at it
2. It shines with an inner light
3. When Jules and Vincent are trying to get it, all the shots aimed at them miss, implying they’re miraculously immune to bullets, implying that they’re on some kind of divine quest.
4. Marsellus Wallace really wants to get it, and keeps killing anyone else who has it

So far this is only suggestive, but there’s more. While searching for the briefcase, Jules (!) keeps quoting a verse:

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers.

They describe this as Ezekiel 25:17, but it isn’t. In fact, it isn’t anywhere in the Bible, and it doesn’t match any Biblical story. This isn’t from the Old Testament at all. It’s a description of the life of Maglor in the Silmarillion!

During the First Age, Maglor ruled “Maglor’s Gap”, a valley which connected the lands of the Elves and the lands of Morgoth. Maglor held Maglor’s Gap for 450 years until Morgoth finally conquered the valley; Maglor led the retreat of his people, thus “shepherding the weak through the valley of darkness”.

He fled to the fortress of his brother, Maedhros, in Himling, where he helped defend Maedhros’ lands and people in battle – making him “his brother’s keeper”.

In the ensuing battles, he captured the young Elrond and Elros, who had been orphaned after their parents fled across the sea, and adopted them – making him “the finder of lost children”.

As for “striking down with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers”, that’s about as Noldor as it gets.

What is going on here, and why do we keep finding these connections to Maglor?

Maglor is unique as possibly the only Noldo still remaining in the world. According to Wikipedia:

Maglor, along with Galadriel and Gil-galad, was the greatest surviving Noldo at the beginning of the Second Age. There is speculation that he remained even after the Third Age in Middle-earth, forbidden forever from returning to Valinor.

If he were still alive in our times, he would remain bound by his oath and be hunting the Silmaril. So: could Marsellus Wallace, the mysterious gang boss who wants the briefcase so badly, be Maglor himself? Given that the name “Maglor” is a Sindarinization of his birth name “Makalaure”, “Marsellus” doesn’t even sound like much of a pseudonym.

The main argument against this point is that Tolkien’s elves are usually depicted as fair-skinned and lithe, but Marsellus Wallace is shown in the movie as a big black guy. Does this disprove the theory?

It would, unless Marsellus were under some kind of magical glamor to hide his true appearance. And there’s actually some evidence for this.

There’s one character in Pulp Fiction who is clearly able to cast illusion-related magic: Mia Wallace. In the parking lot of the restaurant, she tells Vinnie “Don’t be a…”. Then she traces a square in the air with her finger, and the square appears in glittering light. Marsellus Wallace is married to someone who can cast visual illusions.

But why should we believe Marsellus’ appearance is itself such an illusion? Well, in the scene with Jules and Brett, Jules puts a gun to Brett’s head and asks him what Marsellus looks like. Brett says he looks like a tall bald black guy, which seems to satisfy Jules.

The hit men try to play this off as some kind of intimidation thing, but they’re just going to shoot Brett anyway – there’s no need to intimidate him. It would only make sense if they’re actually checking how Marsellus appears to Brett – ie whether a certain illusion he’s projecting is working. When they follow up with “Does he look like a bitch?“, this is their foul-mouthed way of asking whether he looks androgynous. When Brett confirms that he looks masculine, this seems to satisfy the hit men, who then go ahead and shoot him. Unclear why they’re expecting the illusion to fail in Brett’s case, but it seems like if it has they’ll need to interrogate him further and maybe track down anybody else who might have learned too much.

How is Mia Wallace able to cast these illusions?

I would guess that “Mia” is actually Maia, ie one of the Maiar who is sent from Valinor to guide Elves and Men with their good counsel and magic powers. There’s a previous example of a female Maia marrying an elflord to guide him: Melian and Thingol. Mia is following in this tradition, and just as Melian granted Thingol’s kingdom invulnerability to attack, so Mia grants Maglor/Marsellus the ability to look like a big muscular black guy.

We actually have further proof of this in the movie. Mia overdoses on heroin and goes unconscious. It looks like she goes a really long time without breathing. You get anoxic brain injury in like four or five minutes; Mia was out way longer than that. But once they give her adrenaline, she instantly and completely recuperates in a medically implausible way. Suffice it to say that she’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that she doesn’t have a human circulatory system, and given us at least strong evidence that she is literally immortal.

I would guess that Maglor survived, found his Silmaril, lost his Silmaril again, and that Pulp Fiction is an account of him getting it back. “Quentin Tarantino” is probably a made-up pen name for a group of elvish historians – the name “Quentin” obviously deriving from “Quendi”, the elvish word for elves. “Tarantino” is more obscure, but it may be a reference to Tar-Atanamir, the Numenorean king who refused to die when his time came – which must bear a lot of relevant metaphorical associations for any elves remaining on Earth.

If all of this is true, Maglor’s Silmaril probably remains with Maglor in his Los Angeles mansion.


The fate of Maedhros’ Silmaril is less clear, but one promising possibility is linked with the fate of Utumno.

Utumno was the fortress of the dark god Melkor during the First Age. It was built in the far north of Middle-Earth, “upon the borders of the regions of everlasting cold”. Tolkien Gateway writes that “the frigid temperatures of the northern regions were thought to originate from the evil of [Melkor’s] realm”.

What was Utumno like? Like most of Tolkien’s villains, Melkor was at least partly a technologist; his realm was one of forges and smithies ceaselessly building weapons for his war against the gods. This page describes it as “a fortress for war, with many armories, forges, dungeons and breeding pits.” Some of the descriptions sound like it was emitting pollution, destroying the land around it: “The lands of the far north were all made desolate in those days; for there Utumno was delved exceeding deep, and its pits were filled with fires and with great hosts of the servants of Melkor.”

Who manned these factories? Enslaved elves. As per the book, “All those of the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved”.

Eventually the gods decided enough was enough and marched against Utumno with a mighty host led by Tulkas, God of War. He wrestled with Melkor, defeated him, and bound him with a mighty chain.

What happened to Utumno after this? The Silmarillion is vague, but in retrospect it’s super obvious. What happened to the magical factory at the North Pole run by elves? Everyone knows the answer to that one!

Presumably Tulkas and the other gods, after defeating Melkor, decided it was poetically appropriate to turn Utumno from a place of darkness to a wonderland of holiday cheer. The elves agreed to stay on to help, and they repurposed Melkor’s forges to create toys for children around the world.

“Santa Claus” supposedly derives from St. Nicholas, on the grounds that “Santa” means “saint” and “Claus” is short for “Nicholas”. But “Santa” means a female saint; a male saint is “San”. Santa is male, so a more reasonable derivation would be “San Tulkas”. Once a year, Tulkas goes forth and distributes the toys created by the elves of Utumno.

(remember, the Silmarillion describes Tulkas as a huge bearded man who “laughs ever, in sport or in war, and even in the face of Melkor he laughed in battles before the Elves were born”. And remember, of his wife Nessa, it says “Deer she loves, and they follow her train whenever she goes in the wild”. Having deer follow your family around everywhere seems sounds pretty annoying, but at least it gives you a ready-made supply of draft animals.)

Since we never see Santa’s workshop, it must be hidden from the world in the same manner as the Undying Lands. How does Tulkas cross back into the mortal world to deliver gifts?

The only successful example of such a journey we have from Tolkien is that of Earendil, who travels from Middle-Earth to the Undying Lands using a Silmaril worn on his brow. Later, even after the two worlds are separated entirely, he is able use the same Silmaril to voyage through the sky in his flying boat. “The wise have said that it was by reason of the power of that holy jewel that they came in time to waters that no vessels save those of the Teleri had known”. So presumably any living being with a Silmaril upon their head can fly through the gulfs between the worlds safely.

Tulkas is a god and should have no trouble finding the only unclaimed Silmaril, the one Maedhros dropped into a chasm in the earth. His main issue would be preventing the surviving Noldor from learning what he has and invoking their vendetta. He would have to disguise it as something else, something so ridiculous that the stick-up-their-ass Noldor would never think to identify it with their holy jewels.


Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows…

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84 days ago
You may have seen the first half of this before. The second half is as excellent.
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83 days ago
Tolken, Pulp Fiction, and Santa crossover
Lafayette, LA, USA

A Completely Accurate Map With No Distortion At All

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Does something seem off about this map? Maybe Amsterdam is a little too far inland? Maybe the coastline is a bit too squashed, or the sea a bit too narrow?

No. This map is fine. The problem is with you. Think of it as a riddle: what mistake are you making in reading this map?

Hints (after a fashion) here and here.

If you give up, the answer to the riddle is here.

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112 days ago
Totally fair and I was totally baffled.
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