Kevin C. Wong

Book - The Nightmare Stacks (2016) [+]

The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross is the seventh Laundry Files novel and centers on a new character so it's a jumping in point for new readers.

The Laundry Files is a modern-day vs occult horrors, very much like Delta Green RPG (US Spec Ops vs Mythos) except this is a British Civil Service department vs Mythos. It's overworked and underpaid people having to battle the occult, monsters, and the UK civil service bureaucracy. The first six novels center on Bob Howard (correction, the first five are Bob, number six is Bob's wife Dr Dominique O'Brien but still very much in Bob's sphere) who goes starts as a new Laundry recruit with some occult abilities and steadily gains powers until he replaces one of the big wigs in the department.

Nightmare Stacks focuses on Alex Schwartz who in the last novel was an antagonist new vampire who has a change of heart, survives the carnage, and is mandatorily recruited into The Laundry. While Alex has quite a bit more power than Bob had when he started, Alex still has this new bureaucracy to navigate and a bunch of lingo to learn which is great for new readers. There's a huge amount of references to previous novels and some is never fully explained but enough is that I think it's readable for new readers.

Anyway, Alex is sent to Leeds to help set up a new Laundry HQ which is unfortunate for him as he grew up in Leeds and spent his life trying to get away from it. Now he's back and has the addition of parents and a sister to deal with who can't be told what he really does. Meanwhile he finally meets a girl, Cassie, who unfortunately is an elven spy from another world scouting out Earth for an invasion. They meet, fall in love, and now Alex and Cassie have to stop the invasion before too many people die (and there's a lot of dying in this one).

On the one hand, having read six novels already this one is kind of same old same old even with a new main character. The romance story does really hook me in though and the story gets more and more exciting. The ending arrives rapidly without a denouement so not sure what happens to Alex and Cassie afterwards.

Reading the descriptions of the next few novels looks like the series turns kind of dark and then Stross decides to start a trilogy with new characters in the middle of the Laundry Files series. I guess maybe there's no reason to keep reading this series.

Spot Reviews 10/28/22

Apple Arcade - Neo Cab (2019) [/] Set a bit in the future Lina is one of the last human Uber drivers, recently arrived in the south-western city of Los Ojos to reconcile with her old girlfriend. As she drives people around town she has conversations with them and your reactions affect your mood (split into three attributes) which in turn can drive the conversation and main story... I played this game for about an hour but it's not a game with a constant saved state so when I kept returning and having to repeat minutes-long conversations and that wasn't fun.

Apple Arcade - Mutazione (2019) [/] A side-view point and click adventure where you play Kai, a young woman visiting her dying grandfather who lives on an island where mutants live peacefully. I also played this for about an hour so really didn't get into the plot. You can talk to lost of characters and the dialogs are conversational but everyone talks in short sentences and you're constantly tapping continue so that's a drag. Seems more like a social interactions story than a do things kill stuff story and that's fine.

Movie - The Transporter Refueled (2015) [/] An attempted reboot of The Transporter franchise with Ed Skrein taking over the role of Frank Martin Jr, for spec ops and now a highly paid package delivery driver where usually lots of people with guns want the package. Frank is hired by four beautiful women who want to do a heist on their former pimp employer who heads a sizable organized crime gang... It's got that European look with stylish locations and clothing but also feels a little stale.

Disney Series - Moon Knight s1 (2022) [+]

Moon Knight season one is a six-episode origin and story arc. Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac) is a museum assistant archaeologist who has been suffering from strange sleep-walking dreams for months. But the dreams become all too real when he realizes that he becomes a different persona, the mercenary Marc Spector, who goes on missions and kills people for the monstrous Egyptian god Khonshu (voiced by F Murray Abraham).

Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) and his followers are trying to free the goddess Ammit who will cleanse the world of evil (perhaps not in itself a bad thing except the evil deed can be in the future and Ammit is big into pre-crime). Khonshu wants Marc to stop it but Steven wants nothing to do with this. That is until Marc's wife Layla (May Calamawy) shows up wondering what kind of dangerous mission Marc is involved in...

Moon Knight is not a hero I'm that familiar with and from a distance he looked like an Egyptian mythology-themed Batman. But as presented in this series he is more of a vengeance killer/assassin type with various mystical powers.

Isaac's acting is really good, making both Steven and Marc come alive. The main story is pretty engaging and Harrow is a good sinister non-action villain. The Steven/Marc subplot is even better and the plot twists there are kind of cool. Layla is a suitably impressive character and action hero enough to protect Steven while being a useful sidekick to Marc.

This is a much better series than I expected.

Squishable [+]

Squishable makes these fairly big stuffies.

Steph gave me a squishable tortoise for Christmas 2009. Discontinued now but my favorite because it looks good and he's soft and warm. I don't use him as a pillow, more like a huggable sleeping companion.

I bought this other squishable turtle which is also discontinued. It's a bit too cartoony and still very round since I don't use it much (my main turtle is a bit flatter but still not flat; still good after almost 13 years).

I also have a mini squishable sea turtle which are more hand-sized. I don't particularly like the spots -- a bit creepy sometimes.

Anyway, these are great gift items or for your own use.

Spot Reviews 10/21/22

Movie - Moonfall (2022) [/] The moon turns out to be an alien-made megastructure that is failing and falling towards the Earth causing devastation. NASA acting director Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) puts together a last minute desperate mission to travel into the moon and destroy the creature inside. Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) is the mission pilot, who saw the creature in his last, disastrous, mission 15 years ago. KC Houseman (John Bradley) rounds out the unusual crew, an amateur astronomer who was the first to espouse that the moon was a megastructure years ago... At first it seems like a silly sci-fi film but once they get into the moon and discover the background of how and why it was built it's more interesting. Meanwhile it's also like 1/3rd disaster movie as our protagonists' families deal and try to survive the havoc on Earth.

Kirkland Organic Diced Tomatoes [-] Freshly diced tomatoes that you use to make salsa is so good. This is not it. Machine-sliced diced tomatoes with a lot of juice. Canned so that the tomatoes come out less diced and more blob-like. I guess more appropriate for cooking than for eating straight out of the can.

Podcast - The Tracy Sandler Show (2021) [/] Professional fan girl Tracy Sandler talks about the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Dodgers and sometimes other teams but the previous two are her favorites. She has a variety of guests with a good number of women. Still, a bit too varied a show for my tastes -- I love the 49ers and SF Giants so don't really want to hear about the Dodgers.

TV Series - Severance s1 (2022) [/]

Severance is a modern-day drama from Apple TV+ about four co-workers who work in the severed floor of Lumon Industries. Lumon developed the severance program where they implant a device in your brain that severs your work and non-work personas -- the Innie (work) has no memories outside work and the Outies have no memories of their work.

Mark Scout (Adam Scott) - the main character of the show, newly promoted to the head of Macrodata Refinement

Helena Riggs (Britt Lower) - a new employee so we get to see how a recruit intake occurs (you wake up in a room with no memories and a voice tells you this is your new life)

Dylan George (Zach Cherry) and Irving Bailiff (John Torturro) - two veteran Macrodata Refinement workers (there are only four people in the group)

The series starts out in the work environment showing the severed floor as a maze with big white rooms that have a few cubicles. Each division is kept isolated and the work environment is kept very bland with no stimulus other than company-approved cupcake parties and such.

Later on we get to see Mark's real life and how it's basically a night-time life. He underwent severance so he could work without having to think about his recently deceased wife. We get to see how the outside world sees the severance procedure. And we get to see that maybe Lumon Industries and severance is not as benign when Mark's Lumon co-workers shows up with some of his severed work memories and maybe a bit psychotic because of that.

Meanwhile back at work Helena really hates the job and her rebellious acts gets Mark into thinking more about what is their actual jobs and what Is Lumon Industries up to and also that work conditions are pretty barbaric. For example the Innie leave for home and in the elevator but the next thing they know they're arriving at work the next day so there is no break for them. An Innie can be physically rested but not mentally and I guess maybe that eventually drives them insane -- although there are older workers it's unclear if anybody has been working in the severed floor for years.

The MDRs discover that security can activate their work personas at any time so come up with a plan to free themselves long enough to expose Lumon Industries...

A lot of people love this show. It's interesting but a bit too dystopian for me.

Apple Books app (for audio books) [-]

macOS/iOS - Apple Books app for audio books [-]

I'm using macOS 11 Big Sur. Apple Books does an ok job for books. For audio books:

* Audio books are not synced via iCloud, though that makes sense since audio books can be 1 GB by themselves.
* Unlike for regular books, audio book info cannot be edited in Books app. (On iOS you can't list and see metadata which means also can't edit it.)
* It shows current chapter and chapter timings (time since start, time to end) but not timings for the whole book. On iOS each part is a file (Audible books can be downloaded as 2 to 4 parts or 1 complete file) which makes it easier for coarse navigation.
* Speaking of which, on Books app you can forward/back per chapter which is tedious if you want to go from the end to the beginning.

In terms of playing experience in both you can skip forward/back 15 seconds, scrub within a chapter, or go forward/back a chapter (or book part in iOS). You can change playback speed from x0.75 to x2 in 0.25 increments. You can set a sleep timer so that it will stop playing after a while.

For me editing info is the big problem. Without it it's hard to organize audio books. For Audible books I ended up:

1. Record to GarageBand (you need loopback software since GarageBand doesn't record system audio).
2. Export to Music app (which no longer reads Audible files natively)
3. Edit metada in Music including adding cover art.
4. Go to Finder and drag Music files to Books app (you lose chapter info this way)

And if I need to re-edit metadata I can show Books files in Finder then drag to Music for editing.

Spot Reviews 10/14/22

iOS App - Portal, Immersive Escapes [+] This is a background sounds app using real recordings from around the world. There are six included locations everything else requires a subscription ($10 per month, $50 per year, or $250 lifetime). But the starting locations are good enough for me and have been helpful listening on my Airpods Max trying to sleep while construction noises are prevalent.

Book - Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It (2013) [/] The author's history with RPGs and research into the history of D&D and then retelling it to us. It's very conversational and meandering and very personal POV. I should have gotten the hint from the title: it's told as a story not as history. I do not like that style but the writing seems fine so I think this book could be entertaining for others.

Anime - Drifting Dragons #1.1/#1.2 (2020) [/] This anime is about the crew of a whaler. But since this is a fantasy setting the ship is an airship and the whales are dragons. I watched a couple of episodes and it didn't grab me as interesting. Animation and voice acting are good.

Riddick Films (2000-2013) [/]

I recently watched pretty all the Riddick movies, not in order. There will be spoilers.

Pitch Black (2000) [+] Still a classic sci fi thriller movie. Vin Diesel as Riddick steals the show. I remember reading how they did the special effects on a low budget and it looks better than you'd think.

A freighter with passengers in cryogenic sleep crashes on a remote planet orbited by three suns. The survivors discover an old research station and the fact that there is an imminent triple-eclipse that will awaken a mass of predators that wiped out life on the planet. All the while the survivors have to ally with Riddick, a multiple killer on his way to prison and who has special abilities that can save everyone, or maybe just himself.

Dark Fury (2004) [/] A half hour animated film set right after Pitch Black. Riddick and the two other survivors Imam (Keith David) and Jack (Rhiana Griffith) are captured by a mercenary ship where ship master Antonia (Tress MacNeille) wants to make Riddick into a human trophy and prize of her collection of killers.

The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) [/] A few years later Riddick comes out of hiding at the request of Imam who wants his help in stopping the Necromongers threatening his world. Imam is killed but before Riddick can exact revenge he is captured and sent to Crematoria, a prison world, where he has to escape with the help of a now grown-up Jack (Alexa Davalos). Riddick then returns to the Necromonger fleet to enact his vengeance on the Lord Marshal (Colm Feore).

Riddick (2013) [/] A few months later Riddick finds himself marooned on a hostile world where he makes adopts an alien dog and in flashback we see how he got there since he became Lord Marshal of the Necromongers. Riddick finds a mercenary depot and calls out a distress beacon. Two mercenary teams arrive to capture him but all must ally when a storm and it's drenching waters awakens a landscape full of deadly creatures... In the final short scene Riddick returns to the Necromonger capital ship and we get a bit of setup for the next film.

Pitch Black is still a good film. Dark Fury was ok but only half an hour in any case. Chronicles suffers from having all the Crematoria stuff, which is cool but could be its own movie. Riddick has the same issue in that the first third of the film (all the survival stuff) can be cut out and the story wouldn't suffer a bit.

The next sequel is in pre-production I'd still watch it even if it meanders like the last two films because Riddick is a pretty cool character.

GURPS Bunnies & Burrows (1992) [+]

GURPS Bunnies & Burrows was an adaptation of FGU's Bunnies & Burrows RPG to GURPS 3E, though without conversion rules. Like all supplements it requires GURPS 3E rules but no other books are required.


1. What Every Bunny Should Know - Information on rpg-style rabbits combining real-world rabbit facts with more fictional elements where rabbits are intelligent and form societies.

2. Characters - GURPS character generation modifications. The big change is that rabbits have stats at 10 and everything else is scaled around that so normal predator animals have quite high stats and humans are forces of nature. For weights 1 pound = 40 R-pound (rabbit pound). It can be a bit weird but once you've scaled to rabbits all other GURPS rules are the same.

3. Bunnies Beyond - Psionics (ESP, Telepathy, Empathic Healing), Herb Lore (fairly detailed since it's also important in B&B RPG), Storytelling (bard type put audiences in trance), Martial Arts (Bun Fu).

4. Bunny Battles - Clarifications, modifications and additions to regular GURPS combat.

5. GM-ing Those Wascally Wabbits - What can be done without an opposable thumb; rabbit physical feats; rabbit engineering; food and physical energy; traps and pests.

6. Friends and Foes - Bestiary with stats scaled to rabbits.

7. Adventures - Two adventures (rescue rabbit from a farm, investigate a monster terrorizing the warren) plus 15 1/3rd-page to 1-page adventure seeds.

For my purposes chapters 1 and 5 are good for getting a handle of what rabbits can do and how they think. Chapter 7 adventure seeds are pretty awesome because I really have no idea of what rabbit adventures are and the adventure seeds have a lot of variety.

I think overall I prefer this book to B&B 3E (I haven't read B&B 1E nor 2E). B&B 3E has too much detail and too many systems. I guess GURPS is also a fairly complicated rule set but since I know GURPS that's not a problem and GURPS B&B can concentrate on world building, GM-ing advice and adventures without another hundred pages of rules to get in the way.

So if I restarted my campaign I'd use GURPS 4E + GURPS B&B for base and use B&B 3E to supplement with it's random tables and battle maps.

Spot Reviews 10/07/22

Book - The Soviet Navy Today (1975) [-] Captain John E Moore, RN (ret) served on the Defense Intelligence Staff studying the Soviets and at the time of writing the book he was an editor of Jane's Fighting Ships. In this book he covers: a history of the Soviet Navy, current organization and structure, and mostly a discussion of each ship type and the constituent classes with ship class stat blocks. I found the writing kind of superficial and the stat blocks really pad the book without being all that informative though I guess back then not as much public info on Soviet ships.

Anime - Last Hope #1.1/#1.2 (2018) [-] I watched two episodes a couple of months ago and don't remember anything, that's how uninterested I was. Anyway, after a disaster turns all animals into human-eating animal-mecha civilized humanity is confined to one fortified city. Humans fight back with their own gunships and mecha. The scientist who inadvertently caused the disaster five years ago returns with what he thinks is a new weapon to subdue the animal-mecha but can he be trusted?

Movie - Flashdance (1983) [/] Back in the day this was a meme movie and I never bothered to watch it. Alex (Jennifer Beals) is a welder by day and dancer by night (exotic dancing might have been the term back then but without nudity implications) who dreams of attending a prestigious performing arts school. Meanwhile she catches the eye of steel mill owner Nick (Michael Nouri) who romantically pursues her (yeah, romantic in the 80's, a bit stalker-ish and inappropriate when the boss makes advances on one of his employees) and they start dating. I guess a slice of life film, Alex becoming confident enough to actually apply to the school, and some good song and dance numbers. With an 80's mindset it's a perfectly fine romance/drama film.

Documentary - Long Way Down (2007) [+]

Long Way Down is a sequel to Long Way Round. Ewan McGregor and his best friend Charley Boorman ride motorcycles from Scotland to Italy/Tunisia then down Africa to Cape Town, South Africa. Much like the last time they have the same cameraman on a motorcycle and a support team on two SUVs, though the SUVs are usually sort of nearby and not with them.

Like the first trip this is a way to meet people, experience cultures and sights. They tour a pyramid and the president of Rwanda. Africa is actually quite nice and very varied terrain and climates. In some countries recent wars have marked the people, who are slowly reconciling. Overall a fairly pleasant watch and I quite enjoyed it.

Herman Miller Embody Gaming Chair [/]

I bought an Herman Miller Embody Gaming Chair, regular $1800 on sale 15% off so with tax came to $1575. It comes in a big box pre-assembled. I had a bit of trouble getting it to initially rise and fall because you have to do something the first time (it's shipped in a "safe" mode). Been using it for about 5 months.

A lot of controls to adjust the chair. The seat is contoured for a human butt which I guess is a bit more comfortable but you can't sit cross legged. I still find the chair cuts off a bit of circulation to my legs so maybe I don't have it adjusted right. Also maybe I'm a bit too heavy for the chair because the wheels have a funny squeak if I roll the chair with me sitting in it but don't have my weight evenly distributed. The chair cover is this cloth or fake cloth which may be more comfortable than regular office chairs but not sure if it's a long lasting material.

Overall it's a nice chair. Better than the office chair that my sister hand-me-downed a decade ago and which is starting to fall apart a bit. Still, $1600 for a chair is hard to swallow but Herman Miller is supposed top end. Would I buy another one if I need to replace this one? Probably I would not.