Sunday, November 29, 2015

13 Worldbuilding Questions

I'm working on stories again.  This is not just an idle threat, in fact I have written all 13 posts in this series before I posted this one, so you can tell I'm writing ahead and I'm serious.

I recently found Veronica Sicoe's article called "13 Worldbuilding Questions."  This is quite a bit shorter than the 30 Days of Worldbuilding I've done before (for Howlina), but I hope it's just as interesting.

The questions are grouped, and they are:

  1.  Where are we?
  2.  What's the natural environment like?
  3.  What happened here before?
  4.  How does its history influence the present?
  5.  What's the linguistic situation on this world?
  6.  What's the primary means of communication?
  7.  What's the predominant culture?
  8.  What's the current form of societal normalcy
  9.  What are some core moral values of this society?
  10.  How do their values affect their mentality on a personal level?
  11.  What is this society's most ardent need?
  12.  How does it go about satisfying this need?
  13.  What would it take to disrupt normalcy on this world?

Confused?  Intrigued?

Me too.  Stay tuned for my first set of answers.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Cthulhu-ween!!!

No sooner had I posted that I didn't want to do any derivative Cthulhu pictures, and therefore I would not be doing Cthulhu month, the next morning I came downstairs to the family room to find this:
My lovely and talented youngest did this.  I asked her why and she said she drew a crazy eye and then this face just sort of happened to go along with it.  "Just happened" eh?  I'll bet not, but I won't disturb her with what might be the real inspiration.

I asked her if she couldn't have done that earlier, and suggested a few others to help me with my writing.  She is 14 so she laughed at me and took a nap.

Anyway, thank you SEL!

I was looking back at last year and I found that I had published two posts last Halloween.  In one I said I had made a mistake in putting Cthulhu pictures on Flowers Of Mundelein.  Indeed that was a mistake that wouldn't be repeated because I shut that blog down.

In the other I reported that I had submitted a story for publication.  It is a long time in reporting here partially because it took a long time to hear back from the e-magazine I had sent it to.  It was rejected. They suggested some other publishers, but they are no longer taking submissions.

The story is called, "Figurine in the Box."  I don't have plans to publish here because I still want to get it to a publisher, but I will let you know how that goes.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2015


I don't know if anyone out there was anxiously awaiting and bitterly disappointed at the absence of Cthluhu Month here on Illini6.

The past few years I've tried to post a daily Lovecraftian picture or photograph.  I realized that was almost entirely derivative.  Since others were doing better, or at least more original work I decided not to do that this year,

I thought about trying to write a scary fiction story to post each day, or maybe spread out one story over several days, but sadly my production is not up to speed, at least not at a "live" pace.  I should have started months ago.

Finally I thought about how I intended to mix in my Afghan stories on this blog.  I could tell scary Afghan stories, but really nothing got me as frightened as I had expected to be.  I had been attacked, many times actually.  We heard and felt explosions intending to do us harm, and we did take causalities on our base which was only about one and a half miles East to West and no more than half a mile North to South.

I've decided to tell you the story of the first time we got attacked.  It was our very first night at FOB Salerno, Afghanistan.  You can decide for yourself how scary it is, and how scared we should have been.

I was sent to Salerno to be the Base Operations Commander.  That's similar to a hotel manager, except you are supposed to make sure the hotel perimeter is safe as well.   The base had been the home of an Infantry Battalion and a regional hospital, with about 800 soldiers and contractors stationed there.  They had plans to expand.  They expected to get to 1500 - 2000 occupants during our tenure there.  So they sent me (the most junior Major in the unit) with a staff of six others to oversee, coordinate, and control the buildup.

Normally a Base Operations staff is Company sized, and in Afghanistan all the other Base Ops were 25 soldiers or more (Kandahar, Kabul, Bagram and one in Uzbekistan) all run by Lieutenant Colonels (LTC or O5).  They had all been culled from our Area Support Group (ASG) Headquarters Company.

Our staff was so small that we couldn't "charter" a separate flight for just us and out gear.  We had to wait until there were enough slots available.  Finally after waiting a week we flew out on the first week of April.

The day we arrived at FOB Salerno they were having a USO show.  The camp was very bare bones, with no PX, a ratty tent for a gym, and another for a chapel.  For mail and banking service all the smaller bases (of which Salerno was one) had to wait until once a month the Finance and Postal people to fly in and set up a table to take care of these things for them.

There were 4 computers available on the camp for soldiers to connect to the web.  There were only 6 more that were for official business.  They were all located at one end of the base.

There was only one real building the Army was using on the base.  Worst of all, there were only enough bunkers for less than 400 soldiers.  There were about 800 people living on the base, and Base Ops and the civilian contractors were on the opposite end of the base from all the bunkers.

The whole camp was surrounded by fencing and concertina wire.  There were six guard towers build out of three steel connexes each.  Within the wire was a ring road and within that were about half dozen large square sections surrounded and divided by Hesco walls.

Hesco is a metal mesh, lined with burlap that folds flat.  When you fold it out they come in blocks 8' x 8' x 8'.  These get filled with dirt and rocks to form walls.  There was at least one layer of these walls around most of the camp.

Our staff was replacing a one man show, Major O'Boyle.  O'Boyle had done a great job in the six months he had been assigned there, finding replacements for almost all the tents, getting a new Dining Facility, (DFac), he got two new latrines and contracting for four more.

Major O'Boyle showed us around the base and got us settled in our two tents.  One was an office and directly adjacent was our sleeping tent.  These were GP mediums, enough to sleep a dozen so we weren't cramped, but having us all in one tent was a bit, conservative.

We noticed there was a large open area filled with concrete barriers and preformed bunker sections.  We asked about that and they had been arriving for a couple of weeks, but there weren't enough forklift drivers to emplace them around the tents and set up the bunker sections to form bunkers.

We had two forklift drivers so that was priority number one the next morning.  For the time being we were told that at our end of the base when we got attacked the procedure was to get our gear on and stand next to a Hesco wall.  This would provide protection from at least one side.

That first night we all went to bed in our sleeping bags, on our cots.  We had our body armor and helmets hanging off the end of our cots.

The night was full of strange, new noises.  There were explosions; helicopters taking off and flying overhead, testing their weapons as they went; aircraft flying off in the distance; intermittent fire missions from the mortars and the 105 mm howitzers; and sporadic gunfire off in the distance.

It probably wasn't quite as noisy as my description indicates.  It was quiet enough to sleep, but those noises were there, sometimes louder and sometimes there was a break with silence.

Then a particularly loud sound made us all sit up in our cots, in the dark.

"Was that incoming?"  Someone asked.  We had been told that you can hear the difference between incoming and outgoing, but we hadn't been sure of any of the noises that night.

"I don't think so," I think I said, and we agreed to lay back down.

There was another similar noise a few moments later.

"I think that may have actually been incoming," someone said in the dark.

"You may be right," someone agreed.

"How will we know for sure?"  another person asked.

Suddenly someone stuck their head in the front flap of the tent.  They had a headlight on their helmet.

"What are you guys still doing in here?  We're getting attacked!"

We scrambled into our gear and got out of the tent.  The Hesco wall was only about twenty or thirty yards from the tent.  It was a clear night with a full moon.  We ran over to the wall and stood with our backs up against it.

The civilian contractors were there against the wall as well.  We stood there, looking up into the night and wondering about the continuing noises.

The attack was several 105 mm rockets launched from the hills surrounding the base.  They called for helicopter support and the attack helicopters flew off in the direction the rockets seemed to be coming from.

I called the combat headquarters and told them we were all accounted for and fine.  After a while the noises died down and we got an all clear.

I don't know if it was just our ignorance, but it didn't seem all that scary.  I think some of the rockets did land inside the base, but they didn't hit any of the tents, equipment or people.

This was our first night of the better part of a year we spent in FOB Salerno.  In the end our first night and last day we got attacked, as well as many other attacks throughout the year.  They would get more scary as we went along.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Επέτειος του όχι!

Happy Oxi Day!

The title of this post is actually translated, "Anniversary of The No."  It's the annual celebration of the defiance the Greeks showed the invading Italians in 1940.  When the Italian ambassador told the Greek Prime Minister, Metaxas if Greece didn't allow Italy to occupy portions of Greece it would mean an invasion and war.  Would he allow the occupation?  He said, "No!"

This was certainly a proud day for Greece, for standing up in that moment and for backing it up with more resistance than Italy could handle.  Italy got so deep in trouble that they needed to be bailed out by Germany.

Germany found Greece no easy task either.  Hitler said, "For the sake of historical truth I must verify that only the Greeks, of all the adversaries who confronted us, fought with bold courage and highest disregard of death.. "

Churchill said, "Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks."

I won't quote that rat bastard Stalin.

Georgy Constantinovich Zhoucov, Marshal of the Soviet Army said, "If the Russian people managed to raise resistance at the doors of Moscow, to halt and reverse the German torrent, they owe it to the Greek People, who delayed the German divisions during the time they could bring us to our knees."

FDR said, "On the 28th of October 1940 Greece was given a deadline of three hours to decide on war or peace but even if a three day or three week or three year were given, the response would have been the same."

The Greeks resisted for 219 days against Italy and then Germany.  That's longer than Poland and France combined.  I will admit that Germany was kind of concentrating on Poland and France a bit more, but still.

Greeks should be proud of this historical day and use that pride and spirit to guide and embolden them in the future!

Friday, June 26, 2015

War Stories

I realized today that I have Papa Stories to tell my father's stories, an effort to ensure they are not lost in the mists of time.  I have been very negligent, however in relating my tales, as they may be.  I'm not sure why; I mean this blog is called Illini6 because of my deployment, and it was previously named "Major Thomas and the KBR Fairies."

I checked and I have less than 10 posts on the military and/or deployment; and half of those were from when I was supporting the 108th Sustainment Bde's deployment to Iraq as a member of the Family Readiness Group (FRG).

Did I ever tell you about the largest
Green Bean coffee shop in "The Stan?"
I looked back through those posts and I see that my very first poll resulted in several readers wanting to see more "war stories"  but I have only ever related one here.

I think it might be time to change that.  I still want this blog to be about my writing, but it is also time to share some of my stories.  It's been over ten years since I returned from "The 'Stan" and I've been telling my stories since then, but not writing them down.

I lost my journal early in country and never picked it back up, so my memory is almost all I have, and that's been growing, let's call it embellished over the years.  Please forgive me if any facts are corrupted, changed or forgotten.  I assure you it is all in the name of improving, "The Story."  Feel free to chime in if you were there and remember it differently.  I may not amend my story, but I will acknowledge you and have a scoop of ice cream in your honor.

I'm not going to add a tag for, "War Stories" because I don't want to pigeonhole myself; some of these stories may technically be training stories or humanitarian deployment stories.  I am going to change my background image however.

You know the difference between a fairy tale and a war story?  Fairy tales begin, "Once upon a time" and war stories begin, "I shit you not."

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Singular Gender Neutral Pronoun for English

Wow, that's a long post title, but I wanted to be specific.  This is a fairly hot topic lately and somewhat charged with emotion.

I know there are many people who are struggling with societal gender and sexual roles; descriptions; and labels.  I had been thinking about this for a while and I had originally gone to the Wikipedia page for it.  I recently found an old blog called The Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog.  From there I found there are several facebook pages (here, here and here for instance).  This issue is very hotly debated, deeply personal and potentially a raw nerve glaringly exposed by the ubiquitousness of social media and the internet.


I had originally come up with three reasons I wanted to decide on what singular gender neutral pronoun I wanted to use:

  1. Spiritual discussions and my search for a definition for; as well as a convincing argument for the existence of a GOD.
  2. For use in my Science Fiction and Horror writing
  3. To use on the internet when I'm unsure of a person's gender or they have identified themselves as non-binary in their own gender.
I've decided, based on visiting the facebook sites above, that I will leave off #3 entirely.  A particular post caught my attention and I realized that a person should be able to choose their own pronoun.  When I am out and about on the net I should stick to what I've always done, use their web ID as a proper name and make no other assumptions.

My search for a word for GOD that neither diminishes what I hope is the Ultimate Consciousness was what originally made me think of this.  The decision process was fairly long and specific for this particular application so I won't go into it here (maybe a future blog post).  Suffice to say I decided on "GOD" as the spelling of the name and "G" as the pronoun.

Neither of these is appropriate for self-aware artificial intelligence, aliens that don't fall into our gender structure, or genetically modified humans that would populate my stories and need pronouns.  I went back to the drawing board.

Am I overthinking this?  Of course I don't think so, but additionally, seeing all the talk on-line regarding this subject I thought I could make available a detailed explanation of my decision that others could use when making their own decision.  Or not, it's completely up to them.

Possible Letters

In building this pronoun I want to use letters that evoke the other pronouns, are unambiguous when sight-read, and are more rare (because I want to balance out the letter use).

Candidates consonants based on letter frequency are:  Z (0.074%), Q (0.095%), X (0.150%), J (0.153%), K (0.772%), and V (0.978%).

Z has an advantage in my mind because "she" and "they" both begin with a digraph, which Z can be pronounced as well. 

The two least used vowels are U and I.  Unfortunately I is ambiguous to the extreme, being pronounced like |ee| or |i| or |I|.

U is too guttural, making it sound masculine to me.  It's also too big sounding for what I want to be a short word.  O has this problem too.

I'm leaning toward E over A only because it is more recognizable as part of a pronoun (he, she, they, we).


I'm going to rule out the use of "they." I already feel that English is at a disadvantage because we use, "you" for both the singular and plural second person pronoun.  I don't want to see, "they" end up this way also.  I believe in maximizing the information communicated efficiently.  I think we are missing out on an opportunity if we use, "they" this way.

If I may digress slightly; I'm certainly not a grammar nazi, but I am a communication nazi.  I don't mind when words are added or changed; or when definitions are stretched.  I do mind if they become more confusing, more redundant and/or convey less information because of the change.

I know language changes, especially English; but I want that change to be for the better, to grow the communication or clarify it.  Not all change is good.

That's also why I'm ruling out, "Xe" pronounced as |zee|.

Using a table based off the one in Wikipedia and The Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog:
He called him on his phone, which is his.  He likes himself
She called her on her phone, which is hersShe likes herself
It called it on its phone, which is itsIt likes itself.
They called them on their phone, which is theirs.  They like themselves.
Suggested Gender Neutral Singular Pronouns
(Sasha Newborn 1982)
Hu called hum on hus phone, which is hus. Hu likes humself
Ne called nem on nir phone, which is nirs.  Ne likes nemself.
Ey called em on eir phone, which is eirs.  Ey likes emself.
Ve called ver on vis phone, which is vis.  Ve likes verself.
(German based)
Ze called zem on zir phone, which is zirsZe likes zemself
(Foldvary, Fred (2000))
Zhe called zhim on zher phone, which is zhersZhe likes zhimself
My Suggestions
(replace he with ze)
Ze called zim on zis phone, which is zisZe likes zimself
(replace she with ze)
Ze called zer on zer phone, which is zersZe likes zerself
(like a noun)
Ze called ze on ze's phone, which is ze's.  Ze likes zeself.
Iz (or Iq or Ix)
Iz called iz on iz's phone, which is Iz'sIz likes izself [it breaks down with the possessive for any of them]

Gender-Neutral Pronoun Blog had a good rating system based on three criteria graded on a five point scale: 
  • Ease of pronunciation
  • Distinction from other pronouns
  •  Gender neutrality

Based on this rating system the blog rated Ne/nem/nir/nirs/nemself as the best.

I'd like to do the same, however my criteria are a bit different (I will rank each candidate against each other, except Short):
  • Ease of pronunciation (actually pronouncing the word)
  • Distinction from other pronouns
  • Gender neutrality
  •  Ease of sight-reading (guessing the correct pronunciation and ease of identifying as a pronoun)
  •  Letter usage (use of rarely used letters and or phonemes)
  •  Easy rules to remember
  • Short (graded by total number of letters used in all forms)
    Green are the top, or "best" grades and red are the bottom or "worst" grades. 
As you can see, my own invention had the lowest score, and lowest was graded as best.  I was probably biased, of course.  I don't see that as a problem, since there is no convention and it is a personal choice.

The numbers and my rationale are there so anyone can use it and make their own decision.

Based on this, I'll be using "Ze" as a singular gender neutral pronoun in my fiction writing.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Just What Did Indy Jones Accomplish in Raiders?

I've seen it argued in two very different places that Indiana Jones was completely ineffectual in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Had he not been involved the outcome would have been the exact same.

But this was predated by What Are you Doing Movie (formerly Down in Front):

"Once the Nazis get the Ark, if Indy went home, it would turn out the same way. … Now, if this was a Vin Diesel movie, he would kill all the Nazis and then he would punch God back into the box."
— Down in Front,
Raiders of the Lost Ark @0:04:40

So here is my take on the concept.  I agree that Indy did not affect the action surrounding the Ark (other than killing and maiming many people, who I am sure felt that he was quite influential in the movie of their lives).

But actually, what he changed was himself, and his relationship with Marion.  He had a character arch in which he changed.  The Ark didn't change, the fate of the world didn't change, but there was a personal level of change.  This isn't what we expected and maybe it's not what some wanted, but I do think it was worth the movie, and better than Amy's dismissal.  What do you think?

Also, this was one of the experiences that influenced who Indy was when he searched for his father in Last Crusade.  Did he affect the world in that one?

Let's talk about it.

BTW:  I remember my Dad loved two specific parts, first was when he complained that he hurt everywhere and Marion could only kiss him on the forehead (just before he fell asleep), and the second one was when he put on a stolen Nazi uniform and it didn't fit.