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From the very opening scene, Rafe Judkins seems unapologetically focused on turning The Wheel of Time into The Wheel of Thrones. Unfortunately for Judkins – and for everyone involved – everything about The Wheel of Time is diametrically opposed to GRR Martin’s vision and tone. Jordan and Martin were friends, yes – but they have very different ideas about what fantasy should look like. The chief and most glaring problem with this series is that they already had a story – set in successive stages – and they are ignoring it, almost completely. Instead, they have changed major plot points with implications for the eventual end of the series, and have seemingly no plausible reason for doing so, aside from pure expediency.

I’ll go into the individual issues shortly, but let me give you an overview of the problems they have created. This will be done by spoilers, sorry. The book series has been done for nearly 10 years. Whatever the plot of this series is, it isn’t the Wheel of Time’s – so I’m not interested in spoilers for that, either. This is a review, from a longtime reader, so if you don’t want book (or series) spoilers – you probably want a different review. There have been major changes to the characters, geography, magic system, and various setting elements introduced which cause significant plot issues for the story down the line.

Let’s begin with Episode 1. The story goes off the rails almost immediately when, in the opening scene with the Reds, Liandrin says to the unnamed channeler; “this power – it’s meant for women, and women alone. When you touch it, you make it filthy.” The male half and the female half are separate. What men touch is not Saidar – it is Saidin. Only Saidin is tainted. The women’s half of the source, Saidar, is untainted by the Dark One. I noticed this mistake instantly. Most other readers of the series will, as well. It is the Dark One who tainted Saidin – and it is the Source which taints men, not the men who taint the source. Next, in Lan and Moraine’s conversation that I’ll refer more to later, she says that there are “rumors of four ta’veren there” in the Two Rivers. This is a particularly egregious line, as ta’veren are exceptionally rare – and the Two Rivers are exceptionally isolated. For someplace so isolated – where not even an Andoran tax collector has gone in generations, and whose only ties to the outside world are the occasional peddler – how would “rumors” get out, let alone rumors of 4 ta’veren in one small settlement? The reason Moraine goes there in EotW is because the Karatheon Cycle says that the Dragon “…will be of the ancient blood, and raised by the old blood.” It isn’t clear (even to Moraine) which “ancient blood” is being referred to, but the blood of Manetheren is old blood indeed. Indeed, Moraine is shocked to discover later (as she gets to know the Two Rivers folk) that she has multiple ta’veren on her hands. Many readers seem to be shocked to discover that four of them are ta’veren – and rightly so – because they aren’t.

ROBERT JORDAN – For ben, of course women can be ta’veren. None of the major female characters in the books is ta’veren, though. The Wheel doesn’t cast ta’veren around indiscriminately. There has to be a specific reason or need.

BRANDON SANDERSON – I’ve often gotten questions from people asking if Egwene was ta’veren. Obviously not, as Siuan would have seen the glow of it.

The current Amyrlin Seat, Siuan Sanche, has the ability to “see” ta’veren – and she doesn’t “see” Egwene or Nynaeve as such – or Elayne, for that matter. Ta’veren are made, not born, as the quote above shows. Only three ta’veren came out of the Two Rivers.

On to the opening scene in the Two Rivers; Egwene’s induction into adulthood is a mere mention in the books – she has been permitted to wear her her hair braided for the first time – and this seems to be permitted by her mother. In the series, she is being inducted into “The Women’s Circle” – which in the books, is the circle of women leaders of the village – and is a very select company of gray-haired women. That membership (at this point of time) consisted of Nynaeve al’Meara, Daise Congar, Alsbet Luhhan, Marin al’Vere, Natti Cauthon, and Neysa Ayellin – by no means a large company. Nynaeve is impossibly young, for a Wisdom – and even younger to be on the Women’s Circle, even by dint of being Wisdom. Having an even younger not-quite-apprentice Wisdom on the Women’s Circle beggars belief – or, alternatively, the show doesn’t know what the Women’s Circle is. The entire “mystical” induction sequence – the dialogue, the ceremony, being pushed off the rocks into the river, “trust the river”, the grotto (and all that seems to entail) is completely fabricated for the show and has no basis anywhere in the books. Next, there’s a line Perrin drops about Taren Ferry being full of soldiers and mercenaries headed south. Geographically, this is nonsense. The Two Rivers is isolated by terrain, as the conversation with Padan Fain and the Village Council in the books bears out. They are hemmed in by mountains, a mire, and the eponymous two rivers. The only supposed access to Ghealdan (which the panicky, uneducated villagers are afraid of providing a path through the Two Rivers) would be through an exceptionally dense (and most importantly, pathless) forest, the Forest of Shadows, that has grown up between the two mountain ranges that almost meet in the south. Taren Ferry is on the opposite side of the Two Rivers from Ghealdan, and might with great justice be called the gateway to the end of nowhere. There would be absolutely no reason for soldiers to be gathering there – and where, precisely, would they be gathering from? Taren Ferry (and even Baerlon) is 500+ miles from anywhere accessible to soldiers from even Andor – who would have no reason to head in the direction of Whitebridge, let alone into the hinterlands near Baerlon. While we’re on geography, too – there is no river through Emond’s Field. There is a small springfed creek, called the Winespring Water, which starts just outside town, is bridged by the Winespring Bridge near the Inn, and which feeds into the Mire in the southeast – but that is easily crossed. Putting a river through the middle of, or just outside of town is problematic. The Two Rivers after which the area is named are dozens of miles off in either direction – the Taren to the north, and the White River, aka the Manetherendrelle, to the south. The villagers would have to go quite a bit past Deven Ride to the south, or to Taren’s Ferry in the north to reach either of the rivers forming a natural boundary to the area – and they are quite large rivers – unforded and formidable. The geographical problems the show poses are legion, as we will soon discover.

Now we come to Moraine’s entrance. Instead of arriving during the day, and instead of claiming to be a noblewoman asking for stories, she is instantly recognized (and named) as Aes Sedai by Marin Al’Vere. The Two Rivers is exceptionally isolated. Far more isolated than the show seems to want to admit. In the books, they don’t recognize her as Aes Sedai until she and Lan are actually fighting Trollocs, and she channels in their defense -calling down lightning is pretty unmistakable. The series also completely skips over her engagement of the three young men (along with a couple others of similar age) as gophers, and her giving them small coins as payment – which, later on, allows her to track them. Egregiously missing, and egregiously replaced by Moraine in a dramatic evening entrance to the inn, is Thom Merrilin – a gleeman who was contracted by the village council to tell tales and perform for Winternight.

Other changes: Perrin is unaccountably (and seemingly unhappily) married to Laila Dearn, a possible love interest he mentioned – once – in later books. Abell Cauthon, horseman, master archer and farmer, is (for whatever reason) a womanizer and drunk – while his wife, Natti, is a drunken slattern who neglects her children and lashes out at her son – instead of solid and levelhead members of the Women’s Circle and Village Council, respectively. Also unaccountably missing are Haral Luhhan, Perrin’s blacksmith Master (Perrin is rather young at 20 to be the village’s blacksmith, although about to become a journeyman) and his wife Alsbet – also members of the Village Council and Women’s Circle, respectively. Why a random wife and drunkard parents were added to the show completely escapes me – and will cause multiple plot issues later – assuming the show lasts that long. Another thing that was added was a sexual relationship between Rand and Egwene. Now, I know that later on in the series, there is some extensive hanky panky in all directions – however, it’s pretty well established that such hanky panky would have been severely punished by pretty much everyone in the Two Rivers. In fact, there’s a story told about a similar situation in which the two participants were both treated as children for a significant time – well, here, let me quote it – and this occurs in book Five.

For that matter, he remembered when Nynaeve caught Kimry Lewin and Bar Dowtry in Bar’s father’s hayloft. Kimry had had her hair braided for five years, but when Nynaeve was through with her, Mistress Lewin had taken over. The Women’s Circle had nearly skinned poor Bar alive, and that was nothing to what they had done to Kimry over the month they thought was the shortest decent time to wait for a wedding. The joke told quietly, where it would not get to the Women’s Circle, had been that neither Bar nor Kimry had been able to sit down the whole first week they were married. Rand supposed Kimry had failed to ask permission.

The Fires of Heaven, pg. 53 – emphasis mine

Again, I’m well aware that later on in the books, there are great varieties of hanky panky going on. In the Two Rivers, however, this sort of thing is unacceptable. Adding it is gratuitous – not to mention the fact that they are depicted as getting it on in… the middle of the tavern’s common room, in front of the fire (where Moraine had just warmed her hands earlier), where literally all the guests upstairs could walk in at any time. Why? Also, the Al’Veres should have a cozy little inn, not a boisterous tavern. It’s just… perplexing? We won’t even get into the Voldemort-looking Myrddraal.

Cue the next day. There are a variety of things to hate here, too. As many, many others have mentioned – the match. Guys, there are no matches in this world – they haven’t been invented yet. In fact, a significant plot point later is the invention of matches by an “Illuminator” (Calling Aludra!)- one of a guild who have the secret to fireworks and their manufacture – whom we don’t meet until the next book, and who doesn’t create matches until a significant amount of time passes. Little details like this are what make or break adaptations of existing source material. It points to the people writing this show not actually knowing said material. Tam (and Rand) using matches here is just flat out stupid. We won’t even get into the completely inserted nonsense about Bel Tine lanterns and “guiding spirits back to us”. Also, just because it annoyed me as well – Winternight is the night before Bel Tine. It is the last night of winter, while Bel Tine heralds the coming of spring. Winternight is the celebration that the Trollocs interrupt. Fain arrives on the morning of Bel Tine in the series – while Rand and his father discuss whether they should “be there for Bel Tine tonight”. In the show, they had stayed the night in town (which they don’t typically do, being farmers) over Winternight, but had left the next morning to return to their farm. Bel Tine was a day of festival, with contests and dances and the like. Tam and Rand avoid those entirely (and they are not pictured in the show) and return to their farm. The Trolloc attack therefore occurs on Bel Tine itself.

On to Moraine and Nynaeve’s made-up conversation. The stupid “sacred grotto” makes yet another appearance – and Nynaeve’s parents are thrown under a bus to create unnecessary drama. Her mother does die when she is young – not a baby – but her father is alive well into her teens, and teaches her woodcraft – which, in addition to her link (through Saidar) to the young people, is how she tracks and finds the party after they leave the Two Rivers. There was no reason to delete her parents here – and this part of the story seems even more contrived and hackneyed as a result. We know who her parents are from the books – and she is too old to be the Dragon, and female besides – so why are we bothering with this? Maybe the showrunner is too source deaf to figure out that the Dragon is male for a reason, and we get these idiotic red herrings about female Dragons – but there is a reason in the material that the Dragon has to be male. Not to mention that the Karatheon Cycle straight up says he is. Plus, there is a made up story about Doral Barran – with the even more unbelievable accusation that Aes Sedai care about whether someone is a peasant or not. The current Amrylin seat grew up a fisherman’s daughter – and most, not few, Aes Sedai are of peasant origin. We move on to a scene with Mat and Fain. Mat is now depicted as a thief pawning stolen jewelry, in addition to the rest of his newly terrible family life. Fain is probably less creepy than he should be, although he couldn’t very well be more creepy. The following scene with the boys at their table is awkward and unnatural – as most of their scenes are. Instead of being generally happy folks, Mat and Perrin have an uncharacteristic brooding pathos that has been entirely fabricated by adding in these new elements. It completely changes the character of their interactions – and thereby, their characters. Rand is the least changed – although the decision to change around Thom and Min’s meetings with the group, to escalate the encounter with the ferryman to cause his death, and to put the army of trollocs right on their heels, instead of having the Draghkar in the skies ramp up Rand’s aggression toward Moraine and make it look unreasoning – when in the books, there is a general progression which brings him to that pass – one which takes days, even weeks, of events to bring about.

The Trollocs all look like Steppenwolf from Justice League, honestly. Not a terrible decision, but I can’t get it out of my head. When they attack, the body count seems a bit higher than in the books, but they’ve expanded Emond’s Field somewhat from the size in the books, as well. Moraine and Lan carving through the Trollocs is a pretty righteous scene, I have to admit (although a trifle extended from what it should be); it omits Lan warning the village of the impending attack – and results in Moraine tearing down the Winespring (the only brick building in the village, incidentally) to wipe out this newly beefed up attack on the village the show incorporates. There is an entire fist of Trollocs present here. Even a Halfman will retreat from an Aes Sedai and Warder (and a roused township) – and that’s what is supposed to happen at Winternight. In this version, though, at least 25 (and possibly more) villagers die, the fight goes on much longer, Moraine is randomly pegged by a thrown dagger and destroys half the village by herself, and Nynaeve is carried off by the braid in a scene right out of the Battle of Emond’s Field 10 books later – by a Trolloc who has a throwdown with Nynaeve (again with the stupid grotto!) doing her best Birgitte impression (which she seems to have been doing all along). Here I was thinking that Nynaeve would call that man-brained idiocy, and thinking with your muscles – right? Well, apparently not. There’s also Daise Congar being… whatever it is when she tells the Trolloc “you want a real feast”. Look, Congars and Coplins… they’re special – but that’s special, even for them, okay? Since Moraine destroyed the inn, now we have the conversation where we decide to leave in the middle of the village green; all in the space of 2 minutes from Rand’s entrance into town, and Perrin carting his wife’s body to the corpse piles. One thing I did appreciate, however – Moraine’s exposition at the end with the iconic “…but it was a beginning”.

So, on to Episode 2. We open with the Tide Poster Children (of the Light) – who instead of wearing just white cloaks, apparently wear all white, all the time, even in the field – and we are treated to another… fascinating departure from the source material in the form of Eamon Valda, of all people, privately burning a Tar Valon “witch” for his own amusement, and collecting her ring to add to his collection – after he cuts off her hands, of course. We then cut back to the Emond’s Fielders, who are fleeing along a riverbank. Which river? I have no idea. there are no rivers heading north and south anywhere in the middle of the Two Rivers. Both of these rivers run east and west, and bound the area in from the north and south.

From https://wot.fandom.com/wiki/Two_Rivers?file=Two_Rivers.jpg

The North Road doesn’t run along a river toward Watch Hill and Taren Ferry. The Winespring isn’t large enough for this scene to make any sense, either – and where would you go down it, anyway? It is sloppy errors like this – for purely aesthetic reasons, apparently – that make this show so maddening.

Instead of Dragkhar pressing them from above to Taren Ferry – we go directly to Shadar Logoth. For a bit about why this is extraordinary, we have to talk about distances. It is 171 miles (150 WL miles) from Emond’s Field to Baerlon – which the show completely skips past. Taren Ferry is just slightly less than halfway to Baerlon from Emond’s Field (assuming the scale in the maps are correct – and I suspect it isn’t, quite) – say, 65 WL miles or so. In Ch11, they reach Watch Hill at a gallop. It is slightly less than halfway to Taren Ferry on the map – say, 30 miles. They are about at the limit of horses (30-35 miles) at a sustained speed (which, by the way, isn’t a gallop) – therefore Moraine’s ministrations to the horses at this point makes sense. They reach Taren’s Ferry before morning (but to be fair, 60+ miles in a night isn’t exactly realistic, but we’re dealing with magic users and the first book in a series, so we’ll wing it) and the ferryman brings them across (and doesn’t die, by the way – his ferry does get sunk, but they just give him more gold). At this point in the show, Moraine should have created the fog to misdirect the Draghkar, et al – and they camp for the night, before heading for Baerlon the next morning – which seems to take a total of six days in the books. She doesn’t do that in the series. Instead, they press on for a while more, then rest at some undisclosed location – presumably in the woods northeast of Taren Ferry, approximately 15 miles away, which is the closest wooded area in the direction of Shadar Logoth. See the map of the wooded area in roughly the shape of Africa below – that’s where they’d have to get to before camping in old forest, instead of camping in the convenient wood just west of the road north of the Taren.

Western Andor, from The Great Blight

At this point in the show, they’ve covered 80 miles in a single night – and still have time to rest until morning, apparently.

During the discussion with Egwene (at which point she, too, questions the Aes Sedai overly aggressively – since the ferryman just died to no apparent purpose for additional drama) Moraine relates The Three Oaths – but with a startling omission, given what she just did in Emond’s Field; she omits the clause(s) “against Darkfriends or Shadowspawn, or” prior to “the last extreme defense of her life”, etc. If words are so important, why does she leave that part out? Again, if words are so important – why do we add the line “it’s the wind that listens to you?” You do not control the One Power. You channel the One Power – you are a conduit – you surrender. Practically all of the high drama in the next morning’s conversation is entirely fabricated – as is the Whitecloak encounter they have, instead of the one they should have had in Baerlon. There is also at least one strange issue with this encounter. Bornhald tells Moraine to see a sister at Whitebridge to heal her wound. It is hedged about, to be sure, but hardly something a Lord Captain would say in front of a Questioner – or at all. Something else worth mentioning is that Whitecloaks, on the main, wouldn’t believe in Trollocs out of the Borderlands or the Blight itself.

Now we’re into geography problems again. Whitebridge is 588 WL miles from Baerlon – as the crow flies. We do get a sort of limited travel montage, so it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it was on the first watchthrough – but the terrain involved is not nearly as varied as it appears from that montage. There are no significant bodies or water or wastelands between the wood northeast of Taren Ferry and Hills of Absher – north of the Caemlyn road. The road itself isn’t nearly well defined enough, either, if that’s what they are traveling on several days later. It is used for a significant amount of overland traffic between Whitebridge and the mining town of Baerlon – which means wagons laden with metal and rock. As such, it’s almost certainly paved, and definitely kept in good order. Further, the huge overlook Rand is standing on, depicted in the group scene, isn’t a terrain feature anywhere between Baerlon/Taren Ferry and Whitebridge. Anyway, it’s roughly 60-65 WL miles to Taren Ferry from Emond’s Field. It’s an additional 85 WL miles to Baerlon – but approximately 120 WL miles overland to Shadar Logoth from Taren Ferry – 15 of which they covered the day after their flight from Emond’s Field to Taren Ferry. In the books, they took 6 days from the river crossing to reach Baerlon to recover the horses – but the trip down the Caemlyn road took only 3 as far as Shadar Logoth (due to the better road, and the horses having rested again). They reach Shadar Logoth on the 11th day after they leave the Two Rivers, I believe, since they spend a day in Baerlon before being chased out by a Fade. Going overland for most of that route would cut their pace significantly. We’re probably looking at well over a fortnight in that case. An overland trek to the road, and then on to Whitebridge, makes significantly less sense – and would take even more time than otherwise, not less, as the series depicts; but more about that in a minute.

The single most significant moment in the series so far (lore wise) occurs on the ride when they begin to sing a peculiar song they don’t seem to really understand – and Moraine delivers a stripped-down version of the Fall of Manetheren – the story she should have told to unite the villagers when they angrily confront Moraine about the Trollocs, instead of Rand making that confrontation alone. I must admit, that song (and the story to follow) was pretty cool – probably the coolest thing in the series for me so far. At least I get *one* thing that’s even remotely close to the story out of all this. Sadly, it may be the only thing. We are then told that they are headed for the road (east to Whitebridge, we are told, which means that they’re headed overland toward the Caemlyn road – the small track they are on can’t possibly be the Caemlyn road, as they haven’t gone nearly far enough yet, and the path isn’t nearly well-defined enough). We are not told why they would be “skirting Shadar Logoth” – it is miles north, across the Caemlyn Road. (Shadar Logoth is another 100 WL miles or so from their initial camping spot out of Taren Ferry, as the crow flies, and significantly out of the way if they are truly headed for Whitebridge.) Why they would be tooling around north of the Caemlyn road, and trapping themselves against a navigable river like the Arinelle beggars belief. Where they are supposed to “find a sister who can heal” Moraine, as Lan says, in a wilderness as complete as that which obtains near Shadar Logoth, is a complete mystery. They are above the Hills of Asbher, and hundreds of miles from any settlements whatsoever, at this point – which, I might add, makes their meetings with both the Whitecloaks and later, the sisters with Logain, that much more unlikely – vanishingly unlikely, given the geography, which we will further address shortly. When Moraine falters at last, due to the randomly added dagger wound she received Emond’s Field, a Fade catches up with them, and they ride to the city. East to the city. If you look at the map above, that means that they have passed the road, nearly hit the river, and are actually skirting around that significant bend somewhat south, in order to hit the city. They arrive at Shadar Logoth as it is turning light. The horses stop dead and refuse to go on as soon as they get a certain distance away from the walls – but just as suddenly are willing to go again when the group finishes their conversation. Convenient. The hundred foot wall has a similarly convenient narrow crack in it right where they arrive. At this point, they have covered 180 WL miles, with 350 or more to go just to Whitebridge – and are driven out of Shadar Logoth at nightfall, instead of in the middle of the night (and incidentally, Lan and Moraine leave via yet *another* conveniently narrow crack in the hundred foot walls) – and by Mashadar, not by a combination of Trollocs and Mashadar – which is the crucial combination.

Rand and Mat get out of the grating just in the nick of time, chased by Mashadar’s oil slick instead of being driven out by Trollocs on the one hand, and the tendrils of Mashadar on the other. Mashadar is a black creeping film in the show, rather than a darkly luminous mist. They push a fallen log across the river (which is unaccountably narrow, considering that this is the Arinelle – a river that is navigable by coastal vessels all the way to the Borderlands in Saldea) and make their way to a mining town in… uh, a mountainous gorge. Of which there aren’t any, to my knowledge – especially not between Shadar Logoth and Whitebridge. There aren’t any mountains between the Mountains of Mist and Kinslayer’s Dagger – not unless you’re going down to Garen’s Wall, which separates Ghealdan from Andor. I’ll be honest with you here – from this point, the show doesn’t even pretend to be The Eye of the World. It sort of pretended at the beginning, but now it doesn’t even pretend. It just throws characters in and out, topsy turvy, doing whatever they want to whomever they want, wherever they want – with no order, rhyme or reason. For example, Lan, of all people, gives a lengthy treatise on Shadar Logoth – which should be Moraine’s – because they’ve given Moraine a random dagger wound that prevents her from giving it – and is the new pretext for them having gone to the city in the first place, rather than three fists of Trollocs each ahead and behind giving them no other choice but north or south of the road. While I’m sure the conversation between Mat and Perrin is touching – it’s yet another fabrication, about a situation they contrived exclusively for the show. There are only two things that happen in Shadar Logoth that happened in the books. Mashadar spreads, and Mat takes a dagger without telling anyone. Everything else is fabrication. There is one interesting item I hadn’t noticed, however – albeit yet another fabrication. There is a whistling heard in the streets prior to Mat’s trip out to get the dagger. Fain’s whistling. In the books, you see, the Trollocs drive Fain with them as their hunter – it is he who tracks them from Emond’s Field. He doesn’t, however, run into Mordeth until after the escape of the Two Rivers folk – where Fain also makes his escape from his masters. When he encounters Mordeth, Mordeth tries to subsume him, but is unable to do so, since Fain has been changed by what was done to him to make him the hound of the shadow. In the show, Mat (alone) follows a shadowy figure to the building where he finds the chest containing the dagger – instead of surreptitiously acquiring it from Mordeth’s treasure hoard during the encounter.

From here, we meet a randomly fabricated darkfriend barkeep, an Aiel in a cage that Mat, not Perrin meets – and who is dead, not alive. We meet Thom in a nonexistent bar in a non-existent town, playing a guitar, not a harp. We skip the river passage, we skipped Moraine’s money which pays for it, we skip Thom’s involvement in the trip – in the escape, he’s the one who gets them better conditions on the boat; and we have skipped any necessity for them to be in Caemlyn ahead of the rest of the group. We’ve skipped Elyas, we’ve skipped Lan and Moraine’s involvement in Perrin and Egwene’s rescue from the Whitecloaks; we’ve skipped Mat’s defense of Rand from Shaine, Rand’s defense of Mat as he deteriorates (not to mention his actual channeling to escape Gode, which has the side effect of partially blinding Mat). We’ve added Tinker non-violent confrontation with Whitecloaks, and Valda in this stage of the story at all, let alone setting him up as an Aes Sedai-burning torturer. Valda is not even a Questioner, people. He is a blademaster, and a combat veteran. Jaicham Carridin is the Questioner and Inquisitor of the tale – and it is he who has the hatred of Tinkers, not Valda. Last, but certainly not least, we’ve added Logain at least 700 miles north of anywhere he could possibly be. We’ve already spoken of the fact that the Two Rivers is isolated – Ghealdan’s northern border is Garen’s Wall – a craggy mountain range (with no passes) that stretches nearly the entirety of the way from Altara to the Mountains of Mist. There are zero ways to get to Andor from Ghealdan that don’t go through Altara and Murandy. We’re talking well over a thousand miles around the mountains, and through two countries – just to get into Andor via Whitebridge, the only crossing into Western Andor. Just for giggles, too – Andor has more soldiers posted at the border to Murandy than anywhere else – perhaps excepting Cairhein, but probably not at this time of the story. Now, how are we supposed to believe that Logain got there – or that a picked guard of the King of Ghealdan, including the King himself, got there, in the hinterlands of Western Andor where there is literally nothing of interest whatsoever? Nobody has rediscovered traveling yet, my dudes. Further, while we’re on the subject of Logain – men cannot see women’s weaves. He couldn’t see Nynaeve “shining like the sun” if he were referring to her channeling. Men can tell that women are channeling. It is very subtle – they get gooseflesh when it happens- that is all. It is not a matter of degree, either. Women have to use a special sort of ter’angreal to accomplish the same thing – but they still can’t see the men’s weaves, and neither can men, with women. This may be a reference to Logain’s ability to see ta’veren – but Nynaeve is explicitly not ta’veren, per RJ, as we explained previously. It could also be a reference to Moraine telling Logain that the true Dragon will be “like the raging sun.” These attempts at misdirection harm the story, not help it. Again, Logain cannot see women channeling, so no matter how powerful she is, it is irrelevant as to what Logain sees. In addition, she is not ta’veren – so his ability to see ta’veren is not applicable either. Therefore, neither suggestion makes this encounter explainable – assuming, of course, that it is either sensical or possible for him to be in Western Andor in the first place – which it isn’t.

As to the Crown and Lion being in.. Tar Valon… which crown could that refer to? Which Lion? The White Lion is the symbol of Andor, and the proprietor of that inn, Basel Gill, is a firm supporter of the Queen of Andor – and figures very heavily in the remainder of the story – he is also the source of information about Thom Merrilin’s past, for that matter. We are then embroiled in an entirely fictitious drama concerning the Warder, Stepin, of the slain Aes Sedai Kerene (a former Captain General of the Green, and we’d assume current Captain General) – who actually died at the hands of Black Ajah while searching for the newly born Dragon 20 years earlier. The drama is high, and it shows the Warder bond clearly – but again, it is entirely fictitious, and creates a number of continuity issues – not least with the current Captain General, Adelorna Bastine, figuring so prominently in the later story.

Before I get to the character arc issues, I want to make a serious note – many folks, including the showrunner, seem to have the mistaken idea that the main characters needed to be “aged up”; but he has internal consistencies even there.

We aged up the Emond’s Field Five from the books because sometimes TV shows with a bunch of 17 year olds as leads feel more like YA and Wheel of Time isn’t YA— Rafe Judkins (@rafejudkins) August 18, 2021

Moraine, when viewing the capturing of the channeler in the opening moments of the series, says “it isn’t him” – and is chided by Lan, who says “He was born 20 years ago.” The Emond’s Field trio are all within a few weeks of 20 in either direction (all born in 978 NE)- with Nynaeve only four years older (974 NE), and Egwene two years and change behind them at 17 (981 NE) – at which age she begins to braid her hair, and is considered a woman. The prophecy referred to demands that the Dragon be born at a certain time – a time 20 years previously. While the actors look older, the characters are apparently the age they are supposed to be, given Moraine and Lan’s exposition in the series. They don’t need to be “aged up” – they are all supposed to be 20, not 17; and although Egwene is younger, she is still an adult. They all begin as adults in the novel Eye of the World – braiding her hair means that she is considered an adult by all and sundry – and she is the youngest of the group by a comfortable margin. The idea that the writers and the showrunner seem to have that they should include the female characters as possibly the Dragon seems to be the only reason for ignoring the actual ages of the main characters – which are well-documented. Any reader of the series could have told them that the three boys were very close in age – and all roughly 20 years old. The strange relationship tensions that are introduced by the changes to Egwene’s relationship with Rand and the marriage of Perrin don’t “age up” the characters – they just introduce juvenile, badly-written drama that adds nothing to the story, and remove significant elements of it.

Firstly, Perrin’s story arc will now necessarily be almost completely different from the actual plot. By giving him a wife, who he immediately kills, you now have a serious problem on a variety of levels. Most importantly, the issue with the slaying of Whitecloaks no longer has primacy as the first and most important act of violence in his young life. This act defines him throughout the entire series of books. It occurs only after he has been formally introduced to wolves as companions, to Elyas, to the Tinkers, to the concept of ravens as the Dark One’s eyes (and killers!) – to Stedding – and finally, to the Whitecloaks. Perrin slaying the Whitecloaks (and Hopper’s sacrificial defense of Perrin) is integral to his self-image throughout. It affects literally everything Perrin does throughout the books – and drives practically everything about the events which drive him, as well. Further, the decision to exclude the Luhhans from the story has significant consequences later on – notably concerning them being his hostages to the Whitecloaks, as well as once Perrin returns to the Two Rivers – but especially when Haral saves Perrin’s life in AMoL. Two very large-looming figures are gone from his life, and the substitute we are given (and who is immediately taken away) is not going to compensate. There is now no Whitecloak slaying. In fact, it is Egwene, not Perrin, who commits the only act of violence, and stabs Valda in their escape – and given his importance later on, I highly doubt his demise is imminent. Further, practically everything about Perrin’s character (as we’ve seen thus far) is going to be about Laila, not his self-horror at the connection with the wolves, and his self-image as a bestial murderer that comes from that connection.

Secondly, Mat’s story arc now revolves around a bad family life, not his own character. Abell Cauthon is now a womanizer and drunk; which I would imagine precludes him as Tam’s second-in-command from the Two Rivers, and from various other heroic exploits he performs throughout. There is also no character buildup of Mat (or Rand!) as gleeman’s apprentices – skills which figure prominently throughout the rest of the books. Mat’s juggling, sleight of hand, and knife skills come from this period – and Rand’s flute playing does as well. Compressing their interactions with Thom into a single song, a theft or two, one heart to heart talk with Rand and Mat each, and two fights gives us very little tie between these characters. Mat’s unexpected facility with the old tongue in moments of stress has also been elided – which will have consequences later as well. We’ve also completely skipped Bayle Domon, which has additional plot consequences – not least in the Last Battle. Not least, playing Mat up as the Dragon is completely, utterly, unbelievable. Even given the fact that they’ve done their absolute dead-level best to remove each and every single thing about Rand which would have given a single clue that he was the Dragon (you have noticed that, haven’t you?) – Rand’s still the Dragon. Mat has just been made pitiful, and all of the unique elements of his character have been stripped of him for expedience’s sake, and to make bloody room for all of the utter sweep swallop they’ve replaced the story with.

Thirdly, since Rand’s character arc has Mat seemingly introduced (quite ham-handedly, I might add) as the obvious choice for the Dragon – despite the fact that Rand alone looks foreign – and that we know who Mat’s parents are. Using him as the stalking horse for all of the early distrust of Moraine is problematic, as well. Look, the only reason you don’t suspect Rand to be the Dragon by now is because they’ve gone out of their way to replace each and every thing in the story that tells us he is the Dragon. When they unveil him, it’ll be a complete non-sequitur. Think about it. There’s nothing about him getting goosebumps as Moraine channels, nothing about Bela, nothing about his feverish encounter with the Whitecloaks as he deals with the consequences of channeling, no lightning bolt to escape Howal Gode. The deletion of Thom’s companionship (and Baerlon entirely) removes several important plot elements, and the fabricated element of Nynaeve’s capture by Trollocs introduces still more issues.

  • He no longer meets Min at Baerlon – or her prophetic words.
  • He no longer runs afoul of the Whitecloaks, and one Whitecloak personally and in particular, at Baerlon.
  • He no longer suffers, at Baerlon, the side effects of his first use of the One Power when he refreshes Bela to save Egwene, as he believes.
  • Nynaeve doesn’t meet up with the party at Baerlon, so doesn’t encounter Shadar Logoth – which will have plot consequences at a later date.
  • He no longer encounters a Fade at close quarters for the first time, to learn that “the look of the Eyeless is fear” – and to mark him out as one the Dark One wants especially.

The exclusion of the encounter with Mordeth (and the exclusion of Rand and Perrin from the excursion) does two things with the Shadar Logoth plotline; there is now no reason for Padan Fain/Mordeth to be able to resist the Dark One – and no specific reason for him to hate Rand and Perrin in particular. Further, there is also no longer a specific tie-in to Rand’s eventual wound with the dagger by Fain/Mordeth – or Fain/Mordeth’s eventual death at Mat’s hands.

Fourthly, Nynaeve’s capture and escape introduces issues; the rivalry with Moraine for the Two Rivers folk (and for Lan himself) is practically gutted. Lan’s reasons for helping Rand – and his vulnerability to Nynaeve in the place he most considers home, Fal Dara – are shattered by these story changes, and replaced by a completely fabricated story involving an Aes Sedai who no longer dies at the hands of Darkfriends in New Spring, but at the hands of Logain in a place he never was. Nynaeve no longer tracks the Two Rivers folk to Baerlon, but instead tracks Lan all the way past Shadar Logoth – presumably to make her more impressive – despite the show’s having killed her parents off, especially the father who taught her to do the tracking she’s supposedly doing. Yeah, we didn’t think about that one, did we. Look, I just don’t think that the writers and showrunner are being very smart about this. You already have an entire host of strong female leads. You already have a female-controlled society, for the most part. Instead of following the story you already have, you turn Nynaeve into the same sort of “man-brained idiot” she decries through the entire book series. There is already a “hoorah Nynaeve” moment when they break out Perrin and Egwene. The sort of “mass healing” that she performs in the cave is… not a thing, either.

Egwene’s arc is in a similar mess to Rand’s. The inexplicable addition of Nynaeve’s capture and escape have introduced a weird tension over her place in life that shouldn’t exist – and the deletion of Thom and Nynaeve from the group have put several uncharacteristic outbursts in her mouth, instead of others, much like with Rand. The incident with the Whitecloaks is now all about her ability to channel, instead of Perrin’s slaying of the Whitecloaks – and the flensing scene seems far more gratuitous than the horrific bruising that occurs in the books as a result of Byar’s ministrations and Bornhald’s cold-blooded pronouncements of execution. As with the other main characters, we are being presented with an entirely different person, created by entirely different experiences. The more it continues, the more it will necessarily depart from the actual Egwene. Even the incident with breakbone fever is reharnessed from Nynaeve’s healing what she believes to be a fatal childhood disease (but which is actually a painful, but relatively harmless disease) into a pronouncement that Egwene is “unbreakable”. While this may be true, it is of a piece with the wholesale changes made to the characters.

Here’s something to think about – out of the 5 episodes I’ve watched thus far, at least 4 episodes worth of run time has been spent on sheer fabrication. If they had followed the actual story at the same pace, they could be in Caemlyn right now. They’d have 3 episodes to spend – one on the Ways, one on Fal Dara and Borderlands in general, and one on the confrontation at the Eye. What in the world are they thinking? If I was writing this show, I would have stuck to the story – introduced Moraine, Thom, and Winternight in the first episode. Moraine’s story, the leavetaking, the events of the run to Taren Ferry (and the events immediately following) the second episode. The third episode would be in Baerlon, and introduce Min, Thom as a working gleeman, the Whitecloaks as involving Rand’s post-channeling sickness, Nynaeve catching up, the encounter with the Fade and their escape. The fourth episode would be travel to Shadar Logoth, the encounter with Mordeth, the escape; their meetings with Elyas and the Tuatha’an on the one hand, then the run from the ravens to the stedding; the escapades of Thom and the boys on board Domon’s ship on the other, and Moraine’s choice – ending with Perrin’s slaying of the Whitecloaks and the boys’ escape from Whitebridge and Thom’s battle with the Fade. The fifth episode (with, I might add, a similar ‘one month later’) would bring half the party to Caemlyn – make sure you do a short madcap scene of the encounters with Gode and Shaine, interspersed with them playing/juggling for their suppers – but that’s it – the boys arrive at Basel Gill’s Crown and Lion – resulting in the meetings with Loial, Logain, and Elayne – and the rescue of Perrin and Egwene by Moraine and Lan. The sixth episode would begin with Moraine sweeping into the Crown and Lion, to be told Loial’s story, and off into the Ways… Now, did we skip over some parts of the story? Yes. Did we add in random nonsense? No. We could have met Elayne Trakand and Min, had dealings with Bayle Domon, actual character progression with Thom, no idiotic false trails with Mat’s sickness, Nynaeve’s mass healing, or bad geography with Logain et al.

Instead of this ridiculously hackneyed, trope-laden soap opera, we could have had a sweeping epic. It was already written for them. All they had to do was adapt it. Not replace it. Not re-imagine it. This isn’t Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. This is The Wheel of Thrones – and it is vastly poorer for it.

Announcement

As of today, 6/13/2021, I am disqualifying myself from public ministry, in keeping with the advice of a number of my fellow elders, and in keeping with the standards set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. In the matter of purchasing decisions for the ministry I was set as overseer, my church’s leadership has deemed my conduct reproachable – therefore I no longer can meet the qualifications of eldership. Any church has the authority to call their pastors to account – and the decision to do so was made by our only other elder, as well as our deacons. I accept their authority to do so, while acknowledging that their theological stance doesn’t consider the reproach thus proffered sufficient reason for disqualification. However, I was brought on with their full knowledge of my own confessional adherence – and under those terms, and with the advice of my fellow pastors with whom I sought counsel, I must consider myself disqualified for cause – whether my church does or not. I will be continuing in attendance at my church, and would welcome prayers for us all during a decidedly awkward transition. I love my church, and the people in it.

I will no longer be teaching in a pastoral or lay capacity, and my disqualification extends to other sorts of public ministry, including music ministry. ChoosingHats can, for the time being, be considered an archived site (as it has been in practice for some time). I will continue to manage RefChat and its associated projects, as well as the technical aspects of my church’s web presence.

~ Joshua Whipps

Outsourcing Privacy

In some ways, globalization isn’t a bad thing. One of my favorite experiences thus far in life has been running IRC channels/networks with a global population. On the other hand, the globalization – especially corporatization – of online social life has been a decided negative experience. Having to deal with behemoths like Google, Amazon, and Facebook just to socialize with dispersed family isn’t anything to write home about. The cognitive dissonance of massive corporations whose sole purpose is to surveil you in order to sell the products of that surveillance to advertisers also being the ones who have come to define the meaning of privacy online to an entire generation (and redefine it, for my generation backwards) is truly something to behold. I used to volunteer for an organization which sought to protect the vulnerable from cyberstalking in the earlier days of the internet. These days, the ability to stalk people has grown exponentially – and usually on the backs of platforms which have grown around the express purpose of tracking their users everywhere they go.

How did we get here? The same way we’ve arrived at most of the places we’re currently at, as Western consumers – by way of convenience. One-stop-shopping has been a plague on our habits since it was introduced, and the more it has invaded our social lives, the worse it has become. We’ve centralized everything because it is most convenient. With this centralization has come a relinquishment of control – of myriad aspects of our lives. What else we need to realize, though, is that while these corporations are indeed creepy – they aren’t the real problem. The real problem is us. We are the ones who made them behemoths. We are the ones who sacrificed quality, locality, privacy and personality on the altar of convenience. We have no one to blame but ourselves. Just like the problem came from us, the solution comes from us as well. We have to choose to act differently.

Instead of ordering from a company’s Amazon storefront – order from the company itself. Instead of looking globally for things you need – look locally. It takes more work to find, sometimes, yes – but it also provides more work to people who live near you. I just planted 4 fruit trees in my front yard. I have a paper route, where I deliver a secondhand goods paper to a variety of local businesses. While on that route, I bought the trees from a local feed store, a rake from a hardware store – and since I was delivering papers to a different hardware store at the time, picked up some gravel to fill in holes in my driveway. If you’re going for convenience, go to places that are actually convenient to you. Local places, that are on your way to wherever you are going. On the other hand, sometimes what you need is only available at big box stores – or if you order it. I broke down and went to Home Depot to get some foldable sawhorses yesterday. Where they get you is when you see that they also have red mulch on sale for 5/10$… but I digress 🙂 What I should have done was find a small business that sells foldable sawhorses – but I didn’t think of it at the time – because I’d already looked at all the hardware stores on my route, and none of them sold what I wanted. The other thing I could have done was buy the lumber and make my own sawhorses… but I’ve made a good half dozen sets over the years, and they never last – and they’re a pain to store.

In my Mancave post, I talk about how I’ve shopped local for the building supplies I needed for this project. What I haven’t done as well with is shopping specialty for my equipment. It was so much easier to just make a wishlist on Amazon, populate it, and pick up practically everything for the project from there. I’ve decided that this is the last project I’m doing that way. I’m proud that I’ve been able to support my local businesses (like Jack’s Hardware and Alexander Hardware and Supply) with the building materials, but I really could have done better with the equipment. This is getting a bit afield of the point, though. Where Home Depot is better, marginally, than Amazon, is that they rely (primarily) on having a large stock of items in a central location that you can actually look at and go to. The same thing goes for an Auto Zone, or a Harbor Freight, or other “chain” stores of that magnitude. That is supply chain thinking. Amazon has taken “supply chain thinking” and made it gargantuan – and has mostly eliminated the local option. They are supply chain in the cloud.

With places like Amazon, though, we have outsourced our privacy to gain convenience. Amazon “knows” what we want, and can “suggest” things we might also want by means of number-crunching comparisons to both our purchase history, and that of millions of other people. Facebook and Google do the same thing with our browsing history – and sell the results of that number-crunching to advertisers, to better “target” us. They’re so good at surveilling us that their platforms are also outsourced by government agencies for surveillance tasks. Not only that, they have created “sweetheart deals” with other large corporations to circumvent things like DMCA laws through AI-driven content managers like YouTube’s ContentID. ContentID scans every video uploaded to YouTube, and scans it for copyrighted content. When that content is “flagged” as something a corporation has copyrighted, YouTube forces the uploader to prove that it isn’t copyrighted – to prove a negative. The corporation on whose behalf it was “flagged” is the only court of appeal for that content. Tell me that isn’t backwards! As a church tech/sound guy, I’m in charge of our service recordings. At least two hours of my week, every week, is spent appealing obviously public domain songs that were flagged as copyrighted – because some company, somewhere, has a performance of said song copyrighted. As a result, and after spending some time talking with some others at my church, I’m working on a way to move us off of YouTube – because it has crossed the line into harassment – into cyber-stalking. Big Tech’s relentless drive to know everything about us – the price for using their “free” services – has got us almost convinced that this is normal.

This is not normal. This is not right. I’d much rather go to the expense and trouble of hosting my church’s videos myself, rather than fighting with a Google subsidiary (and her music industry sweethearts) over whether public domain music is actually in the public domain. Outsourcing privacy to Google costs too much. They don’t actually offer privacy – just a fig leaf. The prospect of ads (over which we have no control) during a church service is appalling – and that is the consequence of losing an in-house appeal to a company who has a vested interest(!) in saying that public domain music is not public domain – and there are zero legal consequences for doing so, since Google has circumvented the legal process in place for companies to enforce copyright(s) by using this system. Your privacy has been outsourced in a similar fashion to a variety of companies who have a vested interest in seeing that your private affairs don’t stay private. They have a vested interest in knowing everything about you. Not only that, but they have a vested interest in telling other companies everything they know about you – in fact, that’s their business model. Not only that – but we’ve handed these companies everything about us – because they have told us “we care about your privacy.” They do care – just not in the way we take it to mean. We trust them with our outsourced privacy – and they violate that trust each and every day.

We have nobody to blame but ourselves. Do you want your privacy back? You have to change your behavior. Stop using Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Twitter. As far as you can, use less Microsoft & Apple products. If we want the status quo to change, we have to change – because the status quo follows our behavior.

Locality – Virtually

Look, we all have told ourselves to “shop local”. We mean to do it, we really do. We don’t like how massive corporations have taken over practically every facet of our lives. We like the helpfulness of local business owners, and the idea of supporting our friends and neighbors. Then we’re on the lookout for something specialized, and… our local businesses don’t have it. This isn’t specific to small town life, either. Sometimes, we have very specific needs, and nobody even remotely nearby has what we’re looking for. So, where do we go? Amazon.

Why do we go there now? First and foremost, because Amazon has worked very hard to become uniquely ubiquitous. They have rolled a fairly large percentage of their profits, for a great many years, into diversifying – and cornering the market on online shopping. They are a video provider, book publisher, and also provide the hardware to support their various endeavors. They not only have Amazon Prime, but Prime Video, Prime Wardrobe, and Prime Music. They not only have FireTV, but the FireTV stick. They not only have Kindle, but the family of Kindle readers. They have Whole Foods, Twitch, IMdB, Amazon Music, Audible, Goodreads, Kuiper Systems, Alexa, Echo, Ring – their own appstore to compete with Google Play and Apple – and their Basics brand offers cheap(er) knockoffs of just about anything you could want – along with the real thing, of course. They also have their own logistics tail (including Maritime shipping!), warehousing, and of course, their massive online storefront – which has proceeded to incorporate a massive amount of third-party sellers. This doesn’t even count Amazon Web Services, which power a significant portion of the cloud market – about a third of it. In short, they have become ubiquitous – and not in a good way.

Nobody needs a history lesson about how Amazon came to dominate the online market – and thence the brick and mortar market – but it is illustrative of just how much convenience trumps sanity in today’s world. The fact that Amazon keeps buying subsidiaries and capitalizing them isn’t the issue – the issue is that we are the reason Amazon is what it is. They keep steamrolling businesses – large as well as small – because we’ve enabled them to. Whenever we use Amazon because it is easier, we’re giving Amazon business at the expense of local companies – or even other, larger corporations. Now, this isn’t a fault of Amazon – it’s our fault. Don’t get me wrong – it’d be great if other companies invested in infrastructure proportionally – but one business advantage Amazon has is, quite simply, the fact that it doesn’t have to duplicate their logistics tail for each of its subsidiaries. The other is that we have traded convenience and price for control of the markets. It is entirely behavior driven – by our behavior. I confess that I am guilty of this as well.

Amazon does what it does well – practically unexceptionally. That isn’t the problem. That is a feature of the business model they use. Efficiency as the means of cornering the market. Of course they are efficient – and usually cheaper, to boot. The problem is that when they do so, they intentionally drive their competitors into the ground as a feature of their business model. This is free-market capitalism, true – but it only works if we are willing to assist them in so doing. We don’t have to min-max our lives like an MMO raiding guild does with their characters. No matter what the markets say, if we choose to use something a little slower, a little more expensive, and local – we should – because those local businesses are run by people with families, and employ people with families we know. We should, because we want people to work for places other than, well, Amazon – who are famously terrible employers in order to make their business model work. In other words – whenever and wherever you have a choice, choose the option that doesn’t intentionally undercut your friends and neighbors’ ability to do business. If you need hardware, wood, or tools – go to your locally owned and operated hardware store instead of a box store – or Amazon. If you need specialty goods – find a supplier that *isn’t* a box store – or Amazon. It might be someone *else’s* local business – but that’s fine! It might even be a bigger business that caters to that particular specialty – but if it keeps that business from being eaten by the Amazon machine, isn’t that all to the good?

Don’t just shop local, either – live locally. Those ties to small businesses are part of what make communities. The more we live globally, the less ties we have to where we live, and who lives there. It creates an artificial distance between people. It’s fine to have communities where you unite around a common interest – that isn’t the point. The point is that those should be ancillary to communities in your locality. Churches, schools, sports all create local communities within the places where we live. Divorcing our purchasing from those communities drives much of the reasons for living in a particular place, having common interests, and common places of employment into the background – and denudes our lives of an ontology of place. Consumerism can’t provide much in the way of commonalities. Service employers and food service are important, but manufacturing and distribution are also key elements of creating communities that aren’t migratory. If our only choices for employment boil down to which chain of big box, global franchise, or behemoth online megalith we can work for – how much stability and sense of permanence does that offer?

In a similar fashion, outsourcing our communal lives to social media corporations is a bad idea. For the same reason we should stop feeding the Amazon machine so much of our money, we should stop feeding the Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter machines our social lives. Yes, COVID-19 was bad, and the ability to use the ephemeral imitation of society that Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, and Twitch offers was a virtual lifeline – but we mustn’t forget that they are ephemeral imitations – and ephemeral imitations that are only there to provide advertisers with targeted data about us, so that they can more efficiently sell us things. That is the precise and specific purpose for the existence of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn, and a host of similar corporate networking and social platforms. They take what you share about yourself – and sell it to advertisers – full stop.

Here’s something else to think about. Do you remember when “cyberstalking” was a big issue? I do. I used to volunteer with a group who addressed cyberstalking (CyberAngels)- especially of women and children. Online privacy was a very big deal for a decade or more. Once all of these big corporate social media companies got into the mix, however – most of that buzz just… disappeared. The big tech empires basically do everything we used to tell people was cyberstalking. They encourage all of the behaviors we discouraged in people’s online habits. Sharing personal information, photos with clear location data, photos of children… practically every single thing we advised that people stop doing – they want you to keep doing – and use their services to do them. They then have the audacity to ask you to trust them.

How the Internet is Supposed to Be

For those of you old enough to remember when there wasn’t an internet – you probably also remember its infancy. Back in BBS days where you had to dial in to someone’s computer, or to a usenet service – then later to providers like AOL, Prodigy, or Compuserve. As the internet grew older, there were always a couple of competing philosophies – whatever the most insistent FOSS advocates remember.

There have always been the decentralized, individualist proponents – and have always been the corporations trying to centralize as much as humanly possible under their brand. AOL was a giant, comparable to Facebook today for the time and then-current userbase. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and its war with Netscape (which was often bundled with dialup giant software!) was a fascinating struggle – comparable to the modern corporate throwdowns today.

It’s no accident that Apple and Microsoft are still players. Their forays into the incipient internet were largely due to the fact that their products ran a sizable portion of the computers that all the corporations vied to capture as customers. The corporate opportunism displayed by Google, Twitter, and Amazon is nothing new. In fact, it seems to be part and parcel of internet history for companies to repeatedly (serially and in parallel) attempt to capture large swathes of the internet. The argument for distributed and decentralized internet is not that corporations shouldn’t do what corporations do – but that the construction of the internet ensures that corporate entities can’t take it over, and definitely not for long – unless we give it to them wholesale.

There might well be a danger, currently, of large corporations “owning” large channels of distribution. However, that danger is largely due to our own complaisance – and complacence. Nobody made us sign everything over to Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon. We did it ourselves. I’ll offer up a reason for this: we’ve become accustomed to handing over large chunks of our lives to big companies for convenience’s sake. We did this in the 90s, the 00s, the 10s, and we continue to do it today. The same thing happens on a smaller scale, with companies like Steam, Epic, Spotify, Adobe, or a host of others like them. Companies always try to get you into their walled gardens. That’s what they do. The cool thing about the internet is that those walled gardens last only as long as we decide to put up with them. AOL, for example, crashed and burned precisely because we were done putting up with their walled garden. Their DSL offerings had nothing to recommend them over other ISPs – and in fact, charged for services they overlaid that other ISPs offered for free. Other companies had similar problems. Where is Yahoo! these days? Compuserve?

Look familiar? It should. Facebook can buy up WhatsApp and Instagram – AOL could buy Time Warner. They’re making the same mistake, and setting up the same sort of walled garden. The CEOs of these bright new internet startups that seem to have taken over the internet are suffering from the same caretaker syndrome that the second generation of CEOs of the original startups suffered – for much the same reasons. Why did AOL crash and burn? They crashed and burned because people realized that they were paying to be manipulated and advertised to. These companies create problems that they try to sell themselves as the solution to.

We’ve never needed them. We all know that. It’s just easier to let someone else do the work, give up a little bit of privacy and control – and “use it for free”. It’s easier to use the all-in-one shop than it is to do the traveling and research things for yourself. The “swiss army knife” operating system is a lot easier to work with than any of the specialty jobs that the Linux community offers. There’s a reason that Ubuntu is the only one of them with any sort of significant market share – and even that is infinitesimal in comparison. Ubuntu can’t do everything that Windows or Apple does – and we’ve become used to the idea that it should. Some of the things that are done by Windows or MacOS aren’t things they should be doing.

That is neither here nor there – just offered as a comparison. There are, I think, three (somewhat) separate issues with the tech giants that need to be addressed. 1) Ease of use/familiarity 2) Ubiquity 3) Privacy. I’ll use Facebook as an example here.

Ease of use

While nobody will call Facebook’s interface truly user friendly, it is easy to use – and easy to seamlessly plug things into. Like any CMS, it is purposely modular, and meant to give the administrators a myriad of ways to plug in content in discrete blocks. This modular design is well-suited to Facebook’s swiss-army-knife philosophy. Grandma both can and does use this platform – and so do her grandkids. Hate it or not, it *is* easy – but no more so than any CMS.

Ubiquity

Again, hate them or not – everyone and their Grandma uses Facebook. Pretty much literally. It is the very definition of ubiquitous. It doesn’t have to be good – it just has to be everywhere. Since it is everywhere, it has what Facebook (the business, remember!) really wants – reams of data, to sell to advertisers – and an absolutely killer market share. They are, by any measure, the largest and most popular social network in the world, with over 2.7 billion users.

Privacy

We’ve grown used to everything happening “in public”. Everything. This was not always the case. Every thing in your life is now fair game for sharing. Our lives are content. We are all part of The Everscroll. Our digital lives are primarily composed of scrolling, endlessly, through other people’s lives. What they choose to share of them. What they – and we – choose to share, though, is practically everything. Why do we do this? We do this because we are incentivized to – through notifications, likes, comments – the entire social media ecosystem hamster wheel. We can talk about dopamine, about habit-forming, about a large number of things – but it all boils down to “they designed it that way, and we’re eating it up just like we eat up tabloids and reality tv.” If you didn’t eat up tabloids and reality tv before – you do now. It just comes in your endless scroll.

The Real Problem, Summarized

I remember what things were like before there was social media. Before Amazon. Before Google. It was a lot like it is now, just without nearly as many people on the internet – and way more glued to their network TVs. Soon after, Cable (and syndicated programming, let’s not forget) blew open the TV biz – and internet streaming has blown it up even more. Since that is true – why did we once again have Netflix owning practically all the streaming content? Well, we didn’t have all the other networks opening their own shops. Now that they have, what do we see now? Streaming everywhere. All the things. Streaming. Constantly. Netflix is still a powerhouse, but it doesn’t own streaming anymore. iTunes owned music content for a while. Not anymore. Why? Competition. Alternatives.

While it’s annoying that streaming is fragmented over a bunch of networks – much of the annoyance is over the fact that we have to choose now. Everyone has streaming. Everyone has platform-exclusive shows or movies. Remember what we said earlier about walled gardens? Companies always try to get you into their walled gardens. That’s what they do. While it is annoying, the fact that there is is competition is a good sign – that the corporations are going to be busy fighting each other like monsters in a Kaiju movie. In the space that leaves for thinking things over – there’s an opportunity for reflection.

What if your choice was not between which corporate behemoths to give all your personal data to – but between telling the corporate behemoths to go take a long walk with their creepy corporate surveillance culture and using community-or-family sized alternatives with a vested interest in your interest? Like I said at the beginning – there have always been two simultaneous internet cultures. Somebody made all the cool alternative stuff you used to think was cool, back before social media. Newgrounds, Strongbad, all those awesome (but mostly stupid) flash games… most of those were made by random dudes and dudettes – and were posted to communities. Those guys that used to host BBSs started making their own websites, and hosting IRC servers, building community forums. The internet of the 90s and 00s was weird – but there were so many quirky things that would get lost in today’s mindless everscroll. Virality is fleeting – and monetizing virality, more fleeting still.

We can do a bit better than IRC servers, a forum, and a website now. Of course, we can still do all of those – and many do. I’m an IRC server admin myself. You’re reading this on my personal website that I’ve maintained since 2003 – using the internet handle that I’ve used since the early-to-mid 90s. This website has changed software at least 4 times, and themes a dozen or more times – but it is just as recognizably “mine” as it was back then. If you want to grasp how identity and privacy should work – that’s a start. Further, the internet itself should work similarly. Your primary identity service should be yours. If anyone wants to know who you are, they should ask your stuff (your personal identity server) – which shares precisely as much as you wish to share, and no more. Not Facebook, not Twitter, not Amazon – and certainly not Google – you. Any “central” datastore about you should be in your hands, and no one else’s. Using other people’s services should be a matter of verification with you of your identity – just like any other identification is – not a carte blanche to share whatever they feel like with whoever they feel like – about you. No service is worth that.

Ubiquity should devolve to how ubiquitous you choose to be, not how promiscuous your social media platform chooses to be with your identity. Ease of use is no excuse for being creepy. Google, Facebook, Amazon and their ilk know too much about us, and we give it all to them by our behavior – because we do too much stuff on their sites. If you want things to change, you have to change. You have to change your behavior, your habits, and where you do things. We all whine about Walmart and Target, and talk about how we should “shop local” – but it is our shopping behavior that drove their competition into the ground – drove our neighbors into the ground, because that is who runs those local businesses competing with the big box stores. Amazon is driving all the specialty box stores into the ground – and all the specialty shops too – unless they bite the bullet and become part of “the ecosystem”.

There is a problem – we’re too centralized. It’s our problem. We created it, we perpetuate it, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves for how much of our lives Big Tech has taken over. Once we recognize that here is a problem, we have to commit to change. Pick one Big Tech company to wean off of – and start moving. There are alternatives for each and every service we have learned to not live without in these all-in-one companies. You can start somewhere.

There are alternatives.

Sometimes, however, you don’t want an alternative.

I’ll be honest with you. There’s nothing else quite like Facebook. That’s not really a bad thing, in my estimation. Facebook shouldn’t be a thing. At least not in sense of the ginormous everything-to-everyone behemoth that it has become. Facebook still has your grandma, or your kids, or your best friend from 4th grade. If you want to move off Facebook, you’re going to have to get together with those people and start making plans on how to continue keeping in contact – and having this same conversation with each of them, to fill the specific needs for your friends & family list. You might need something for birthdays and events. You might need something for groups. You might need some sort of social media hub that you can all keep in contact with. You might need chat. You might need video calling. All of those exist, all can be done – but only at the cost of work, and possibly expense on the part of your group. If you’re already doing that sort of thing, like I am, you probably have the infrastructure for doing a good portion of the above. You probably also have the know-how to help others learn how to manage their own identities, away from Big Tech. If you don’t, and you’re reading this entire article with a bit of alarm about how scathing I am about Big Tech in general, and you trusted these big companies – be aware that I am actually understating how bad the situation is, for the most part. Ask your techie family member or friend about those companies, and see what they tell you. You might be surprised to learn that the only reason they are still on Facebook is because of you – and people like you. Don’t take that the wrong way – it shows they care about you enough to use something they hate – just for you. Let it be a wake-up call for you – all of these companies are using your relationships as fodder for selling information to advertisers – and tracking your every move from the epicenter of your usage of their services. It’s what they do. The reason they exist is to target you as accurately as possible, so that someone can sell you exactly what you want.

That might be convenient – I won’t say it isn’t – but it is also dystopian to an extreme usually seen only in scifi until recently. What price does that sort of convenience actually have? If you want things to change, you have to change. You have to use these companies’ stuff less – and because they have also sucked all of your friends and family into the same black hole’s gravity well that you’re circling, you’ll have to convince them of the same thing. Not only that, but you’ll have to use the same thing(s). Preferably something that isn’t a walled garden just like the one you’re leaving – only not quite as big. How you build your communities is up to you – but build them you must – unless you want some big company to continue doing it for you – and vacuuming everything about you into their big server farms.

You can do it – but you’ll have to give up some familiar things – our goal, though, is to keep the familiar people. I’ll post more about ways to detox from surveillance capitalism and the Big Tech ecosystem next time. In conclusion: The internet has always been corporate and individual – but in structure, it has always been decentralized – no matter how many walled gardens are constructed. Those walled gardens last only as long as we decide to put up with them. Decentralized is how the internet is supposed to be.

I’m old enough to remember the text-only internet, as well as some of the initial forays into media. Advertising has been ubiquitous from almost the beginning of the mass market adoption of internet as a service – but I remember the days when it was generally banned! I was still a kid then, but it was a thing for a good while.

Nowadays, advertising really is ubiquitous! In the larger sense, even I engage in a mild form of advertising, by linking to sites I enjoy, or to my webhost -although, now that I mention it, my affiliate link is so far expired that it wouldn’t get me anything if someone clicked it… I digress.

We all know the sorts of things that chap our hide. Adwalls on websites, with those little shamey messages that try to justify their business model by attempting to make you ashamed for using an adblocker. I mean, it’s not like their ads have tracking enabled in them or anything… right? If you believe that, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona… but let’s just be honest here. If your business model requires ad clicks, that business model is not stable. We’ve known that for a very long time now. We knew it within a year or two of the introduction of online ads. The reason that we still have ads, even though they are very low percentage, is because those ads are more and more targeted. How do they get targeted? By mining data. Where is that data mined from? The gigantic corporate sites, with millions, even billions, of users.

That data is mined from the users of Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon, and a selection of other sites – and their penumbra of tools, integrated with other websites all over the world, contribute to that data mining. Why can you “log in with Facebook”, Google, or a variety of other corporate accounts? You can do so because when you do, you contribute to those data mines, maintained by those companies. That data is sold to other businesses, or used by the corporate giants, for a fee, to target you, the user, with ads “relevant to you”.

Ad-driven consumption models, which use those large data stores to build algorithmic targeting, are what drive the corporate internet. The corporate internet includes the social media giants – Facebook and Twitter. The news sites are all dialed into these monoliths, and all of the legacy media has been essentially tamed to work in tandem with the social giants to target you. Why? Well, to rephrase the old saying – if you’re not paying for it, you’re probably the product. Open Source software doesn’t necessitate you being the product, after all! However, here’s a good rule of thumb to follow:

If the service or software you are using does at least two of the following:

  • Operates as a for-profit entity
  • Sells user data
  • Makes money by selling advertisements

Then you’re probably the product. On Facebook and Twitter, you are definitely the product, as an end user. On some of the adwall-enabled sites mentioned earlier, you are the product – unless you buy a premium subscription, at which point you revert to being a normal paying customer. They are a sort of hybrid model. That doesn’t make ad content any less annoying if you aren’t a paying customer, however.

Here’s a couple more examples. On network, over-the-air television and radio, you are also the product. Television delivers people. They use the content to draw your eyes and ears – because the real customers are the advertisers. You, on the other hand, are the product being sold. Why don’t radio stations play uninterrupted music? They have to make money. Why do TV stations have commercials? They have to make money. How do they make money? They sell you to advertisers. Free tiers of streaming services do the same thing – they sell you in exchange for the advertisers having access to you. The content you watch is what you are selling yourself in exchange for. This happens on Spotify, Hulu, and YouTube, to give a few examples.

When you pay for the service directly, those ads magically disappear. What’s the difference? You’re the customer now, not the advertisers. The service itself has changed. You no longer have to listen to advertisements, because you’re the one paying – not the advertisers. If you’re not paying, you’re probably the product.

So, let’s get to the reason I brought all this up. With alt-tech popping up to compete with these business models, you have a wide variety of choices. There are pluses and minuses to all of the various platforms – but there are, in general, several choices available to you.

  • A centralized (usually corporate) subscription service model
  • A decentralized (usually community-managed) federated model
  • A decentralized (usually individually managed) peer-to-peer model

Gab, Parler, and MeWe are variants of the first model – which is usually a business model. Additionally, most of the legacy media sites and networks use this model. They are often referred to as “walled gardens”. They use proprietary software to “lock you in” to their platform, and you are allowed to interact only with the content generated on their platform. You may or may not be able to view the content – or there may be limits on the amount that you can view – but there will be some limitation on your interactions, as a non-paying customer – and there will be limitations on functionality for non-paying customers, even if they allow most functions as a “free” tier subscriber. Once you’re a “premium” member, you unlock additional functionality. See: Spotify Premium, Gab Pro, MeWe Premium, Newspaper subscriptions, Hulu (NoAds), etc.

Mastodon, Pleroma, Pixelfed, Matrix, IRC, and PeerTube are variants of the second model – which is usually a community-managed, voluntarily supported non-profit model. There might be a “main branch” for the code contributors that is supporting employees, but the project itself is FOSS (Free Open Source Software). Typically, individual server operators host their own servers because they like to, or with the support of voluntary contributions from the community served by that host. They tend to be nerdy folks, and are not in it for the money – or your data. They tend to know the members of their community, and their community members are there specifically because those server admins are known quantities.

Peer-to-Peer networks are probably most widely known from filesharing – things like Napster, Limewire, or Bittorrent (Or Gnutella, Kazaa) – other famous current examples of peer-to-peer networking are Bitcoin and Tor. However, there are a number of social protocols built using similar means. PeerSocial, Aether, and WeYouMe are examples of this.

The route I’ve chosen is option 2 – primarily because I am a longtime web selfhoster (usually by means of commercial hosting companies that I pay to rent space/bandwidth from).

I’m a server host for an IRC and Pleroma server and the accompanying website. Our network also runs a Matrix server, as well as another IRC server linked to mine. In all, we use 4 servers in total, between us, as volunteer hosts. I also host a group theology/apologetics website, a church site, a game project site, and my own personal site(s). I do so, in all of these cases, because I feel like it, and I enjoy doing so.

The flipside to this coin, of course, is that anytime I don’t feel like it, I can click a button and anything I want to purge is gone. This is always the problem with community hosted projects. What mitigates this risk is the very thing I mentioned earlier, however – knowing your admin(s). My personal website has been up, without much downtime to speak of, since 2003. The apologetics and gaming project sites, since 2006. That’s a very long time, when it comes to the internet! When your community manager/host has a track record of commitment and stability, there’s a lot higher than normal chance of that community being technically stable. Both of those websites, for example, are as old as Twitter. My personal site is older than Facebook! However, I have never had to advertise to make money, and have kept them up and viable for well over a decade now. I don’t say this to toot my own horn – just to offer an example.

While you might not be able to find a community admin you trust, or a community with similar interests, you can always roll your own – at a very reasonable price! Many server hosts offer very inexpensive VPS packages that are capable of running small, or single-person federated instances, or P2P servers. Further, if you have a spare computer at home, you can often run something via one of a number of dynamic dns services – some of which may be packaged in your router right now! Whatever you choose, you don’t have to be the product, or stuck in a walled garden. It might be fun to learn something new while you’re at it, no matter which solution you go for.

One thing is for sure, though – unless you like being a commodity for some big tech company, why wouldn’t you switch to something that doesn’t sell you to advertisers? I’m not a fan of walled gardens, but the tech barriers to using federated social media aren’t all that high. If you’d like to talk it over, hit me up via any of the means listed to the right, and I’d be happy to talk options with you. I don’t have anything to sell, I just don’t like the way big tech commodifies us, and would be happy to help you make a change in your online behavior.

Social Media Should Be Social

I probably don’t need to tell you all of the things that are wrong with corporate social media. I probably should point out a few things about it that aren’t pointed out as often, however.

Whatever we may think about the politics of their founders, there is little functional difference between a walled garden maintained by Twitter, and one maintained by Gab. To interact with Twitter users, you have to be logged in to Twitter. To interact with Gab users, you have to be logged in to Gab. This is what a “walled garden” is. While Gab does, of course, have a “groups” function – so do Facebook, and MeWe. You have to be logged in to their respective services to use these features.

I have been hosting my own sites for far too long to have ever really liked corporate social media. Those of you who have only ever used corporate platforms for things like chat, forums, blogging, and the like may have some difficulty seeing the difference here – but there is a significant difference in using FOSS programs you spin up yourself, vs. those owned by a corporation, and subject to their whims – and let’s be clear about this – their rules are whimsical.

There’s another aspect of freedom to be evaluated, though. If we believe that corporate solutions are the only solutions in town, we’re stuck with whatever they decide, right? Our only freedom of choice is between which corporations we choose to give our laughable expectations of privacy to – and whose company store we prefer. In any given town, should we merely expect a choice between national (or international!) chain business locations?

Of course not. Further, when we can, we shop local too, don’t we? After all, it’s our neighbor that owns that business, and it’s their kids who go to school with ours! Why does it have to be different with social media?

Structurally, the Fediverse is exactly the solution to corporate social media saturation. Culturally, the members of the Fediverse aren’t, so much. Let me explain, because it might be a bit confusing.

Many of the pioneers of these platforms are megageeks. This should not surprise anyone. Their politics can vary, wildly – from raging anarcho-libertarianism to raving eco-socialism. There are no-rules instances, lots-of-rules instances, instances for geeks, unix, individual flavors of linux, Raspberry Pis – all sorts of geeky things. These are what makes those communities, communities.

Some of the biggest communities on the fediverse are Japanese art and anime (along with less… savory types of media) sharing groups. The largest single fediverse server is actually run by a Japanese DeviantArt-type site – pixiv – with much the same sort of culture that DA has. Other large communities revolve around LGBTQ+ causes and groups, furries, sex workers… you get the idea. What they have in common are not, on the main, things that we, as Christians, would approve of. Most of the larger “general” servers tend to lean either heavily radical, or heavily reactionary. Not conservative – I meant what I said above. Most of the social right on the fediverse is composed of reactionaries, not conservatives. Most of the social left on the fediverse is composed of radicals, not liberals.

Thus, what I say next shouldn’t be a surprise: The Fediverse is a wild place at the moment. There are a few Christians around, but they are exceptionally few. In the last week, I’ve only been able to find a few dozen currently active users – and I’m pretty good with this here interwebz. Since this is so, why am I still writing about it?

I’m writing about it because, structurally, it is still vastly superior to the current paradigm. I’m Reformed, and a Reformed Baptist – so being a small minority in the greater stream doesn’t bother me much. I help run the only Reformed chat network there is, to the best of my knowledge.

Here’s why it is superior, structurally – since I’ve mentioned it twice, now. While it uses a familiar server>client paradigm, the servers can all federate. What this means is that any user on any server can interact, fairly seamlessly, with another user on another server. Those servers are called instances. Not only that, but there are a great many different platforms, with different capabilities and specialties, that can all interact with each other.

For instance – on the Fediverse, you can follow a video creator on Peertube, a platform comparable to Youtube, follow and comment on status from a friend on friendi.ca, a Facebook-type site with groups and forums; you can interact with microbloggers on Pleroma, Mastodon, Misskey, GNU Social or diaspora; check out a CMS-type setup on Hubzilla, look at pictures on Pixelfed, or jam out to tunes from Funkwhale.

They are all small, and are all generally in their infancy. Their dev cycles are longer, because they are typically community projects. Let me put it to you this way; would you rather be someone’s product and comfortable, or help with an experiment in a global project that needs a Christian influence?

The only “Christians” most of the Fediverse ever see (there are exceptions) are extremely political, extremely reactionary people, to whom their faith comes a distant second, at best. If you don’t believe me, look around the Fediverse. Then look through Facebook outside of your curated, comfortable friends feeds. Facebook and Twitter have much the same paradigms going on – you just don’t see them for the most part, because you’re not into sadomasochism 🙂

While I encourage you to at least start moving your way to the Fediverse, I want you to keep several things in mind.

  1. Do I need social media at all?
  2. How much value is there in leaving all of my friends behind?
  3. How much value am I providing others within the current paradigm?

If all you do is post political stuff, I think that the answer to 1 is “no”, 2 is “for them, a lot”, and 3 is “absolutely zero”. That’s just my opinion, but you’re welcome to take it or leave it 🙂

If you want to talk about theology, your hobbies, professional esoterica, there may be a different set of answers. You don’t have to just up and leave your old social media. You can ease your way from one to the other. You could also repost from one to the other.

There are differences in the Fediverse, however.

One way that the Fediverse differs is the “Content warning”. This doesn’t have to be “nsfw” images, and it is often not. These content warnings, often called “subjects”, are tags that tell others what you’re posting. A *lot* of instances don’t want political or “culture war” content in their timelines without a way to let people choose whether they want to read it or not. So, they use a mechanism similar to spoiler tags to hide that content as an opt-in measure. On my instance, all posts with subject lines are collapsed by default. If it’s tagged, you choose whether or not you want to read it.

Another difference is that there is no quote-tweeting (boosting, or repeating in other parlances). This cuts down significantly on dunking/brigading.

Yet another is that your timeline (especially on the microblogger platforms) is divided, from the beginning. You have your own follows in a timeline, then all of the content posted from your own instance, then a timeline of all of the content from all of the people that people from your instance have followed or interacted with.

On the instance itself, admins have a range of options available to them for interacting with other instances. They can block entire servers (I mentioned one earlier that is often entirely blocked), filter images from, or accept only public posts from (to disallow DMs from bad actors), along with several other choices.

On the client side, you can filter bad words, images, as well as the usual block or mute.

Finally, discovery is harder – on purpose. You aren’t given suggested lists of people to follow. You aren’t profiled by sophisticated software to find who you might know. You compile your follows list as you go – and your network of friends of friends grows as you, and they, interact. It is an organic process, not mechanical.

What you should remember is that the Fediverse is very Wild West. However, the setup for individual instances being able to federate means that we can set up a large number of small communities that can federate with each other, to provide each community access to the larger community, which in turn has access to the worldwide fediverse – while every user can pursue his own interests at whichever level of community he desires. The culture of the fediverse is the Wild West. The structure of the Fediverse is exceptionally elegant.

If we want social media to be social, we’re more than capable of bringing our own societies. Not Twitter societies – but Christian societies, where we can cooperate, debate, and even squabble – but do so not as data points on a corporate spreadsheet, but on instances run by friends or neighbors, who enjoy doing this sort of thing, and have our best interests at heart. That’s what I think is great about the potential here.

RefChat’s instance is still in alpha, and will probably be limited to people we know, for a while – but how about you send your geekiest friend this article? I’d be happy to talk to them, or you, about what it takes to roll your own instance.

Introduction

Nearly a decade and a half ago, when we moved into this house, I had one of the carport’s add-on rooms earmarked for myself.

We have a large, 4-car carport, where the previous owners built two rooms in the rear, which returned it to a “normal” 2-car size. These rooms are both 9.5×8.5×15.5 feet. The second room has been a spare bedroom for a couple of our boys now – but will eventually be my wife’s room to do with as she wills.

Previously, I had built an L shaped plywood desk, but had never finished the project. The room had become a bit of a storage room – because I went on the road as a truck driver for 6+ years. I didn’t even have a desktop for most of that time, and my plans for building a workbench for my PC repair side job went by the wayside.

I returned home in 2018, but the room had decayed so much in that period that the desk was no longer salvageable, and I was going to have to start over. The room continued in its role as storage catch-all, and it was basically ignored. I have a rather nice study with 3 workstation areas, after all – and I still didn’t have a desktop.

Disaster

In May of 2019, the creeks that bracket our property (and much of the county) flooded catastrophically. We had 28 inches of water in our house (I kayaked through my front door at one point, in the process of trying to salvage additional items and place them upstairs in our 2nd story bedroom), and practically everything downstairs suffered water damage.

The water is almost to the top of the porch rail, and to the bottom of the windows.

The carport rooms were hit just as hard. I lost my entire collection of discs, all my parts computers, most of my spare and specialty cables, all my specialty tools and instruments, and practically all of my peripherals.

Inside, the kids lost two laptops that were getting old, and typically stored in the bottom study cabinets. I lost two older laptops I was working on, a nearly new Saitek X52 I got for the previous Christmas. We simply forgot they were there in the rush. We were trying to save furniture, packing up clothes, bedding, toys, – and not least, making sure the babies got to the vehicles and stayed there while we hurriedly salvaged as much as we could.

All we lost was stuff when you come down to it. That can be replaced – and much of it had to be. Initially, only the smaller creek flooded – that only put about 18 inches of water in the house. Overnight, however, the larger creek flooded, to a degree that hasn’t been seen in a century. When I got to the house the next morning, the water was above my waist while wading down the road. I retrieved our kayaks on that trip, and we made a couple of trips that day, seeing what else we could salvage, or move out of danger.

Cleanup

Once the water receded, we had to do a very fast job of gutting the downstairs. We knew, from the cleanup work everyone in this area did after Hurricane Katrina, that once things get wet, if you don’t dry them out, you grow mold in a wet climate like ours – and you will never get that stuff out. We had to chuck everything out of the downstairs part of the house, triage whatever was salvageable – then gut everything. In the mancave, we basically had to shovel it all out. The cheap MDF that used to be a partially completed desk had become sludge.

After cleanup, we had an entire summer, and into the fall, of putting it all back together. Everything except the studs, the polyurethaned hardwood study shelves, our stained and polyurethaned furniture items that survived, and our treated wood bathroom cabinets had to go. The lower kitchen cabinets didn’t make it. The floor tiles were damaged by water undermining them, and large objects being repeatedly smashed into them as they floated. Practically everything, from 32 inches and below, was torn out and replaced.

After that all hands on deck renovation project was done, and we took a bit of a breather, it came to me: What better time would there be for me to re-do my mancave? It was already down to bare studs, I still had leftover paneling – why not? So, in the aftermath of a disaster, I took my room back. This is going to be my way to document that project for anyone that wants to do something similar with a space in their house.

Starting from Scratch: Phase 1

Starting this project, all I had left was bare studs and a door, up to about 32″. The whole room was previously paneled in bare plywood by the previous occupant – it was intended as a workroom/workout area. As such, all the outlets were installed around 48″ (they were not all installed at the same time, and they weren’t put at the same height, either – they vary from 45″ to 50″), presumably for use at workbenches. It has a single 32″ wide window, directly opposite the door. I’d bought a window A/C unit for it 10 years before – and I put the same one right back in now after I’d moved it upstairs to a bedroom for a time. I had replaced it the year before, but it was still operational, just not as good as its replacement. It had yellowed with age (and smoke damage – I used to be a smoker, I admit) – so I used some white appliance paint leftover from a refrigerator makeover to freshen it up.

The outside siding was still (mostly) good, except for one large hole near the front left corner where the siding had been damaged. It had two salvaged cabinets near the rear left corner that had held the previous occupant’s junk for the last 15 years, because I always planned on junking the cabinets, but hadn’t gotten around to it. I had what amounted to a blank slate – but a limited budget: I only had about 100-150$ per month that I could allot to it.

The primary concern I had was weatherproofing the room, at least on a macro level. It wouldn’t be airtight for quite some time, but it was actually letting rain in, in the one corner! We had just finished up replacing the front porch siding, and all the front windows – it had taken a beating from things floating into and battering the house – so I took one of the better scraps from the demolition, and patched that hole.

The siding around the carport wasn’t slated for replacement anytime soon. The first thing I bought for this project was insulation, from Jack’s locally. I had put in insulation previously, but obviously, it had all been dunked. I bought two rolls, and replaced everything up to 32″. The second thing I bought was several sheets of plywood. The plywood used in here was of varying thicknesses and types – which left the walls a bit of a patchwork. Further, at one point, some rodents had got into the walls and shredded the insulation at several places. I removed each and every panel, checked all my wiring, and replaced bad insulation out of the remainder of those two rolls, then replaced the odd-sized plywood sections, also with sheets from Jack’s. I left the right rear panels down, however. I had some wires to run in the walls first.

Cable Runs

Because this room is on the carport, I had to run some cables to get internet access out here. I had done that previously, with Cat-5 – but I really don’t want to run wires again anytime soon. This time, I ran Cat-7, which can run at multi-gigabit speeds (10gb). I could have gone with Cat-8 – but the price difference is significant – and there are length considerations. The run from the carport to the attic above the living room is just under 100 ft – I used this cable for that run. That’s close to the limit for Cat-8 (or Cat-6) – but that’s just fine for 7. From the attic, there is another 50 foot run (using this cable) to the modem & router in the study. For these runs, I tried to keep them especially neat, both while they were in the walls, and while running rafters; I stapled each cable to every other stud (using plastic d-clamp single-nail staples, which came with the cable sets I ordered). At the carport transition to the covered walkway (where I grommeted both sides of the hole through the header with these), I put both cables into a raceway, which terminates in another grommet, inserted into the hole I drilled into the siding, and into the attic space. The cables are again stapled in the attic and go to a switch that I installed in a weatherproofed utility box. I used the box simply because I don’t trust a vented attic to keep the switch dry enough. From the switch, I made another run to the top of the nearest study wall, where my old cable drop had likewise gone, and then down through several shelves to the new raceway I had built (out of trim) into my replacement wall panels behind the study shelves – and thence to the modem & router. One other thing to note is that I utilized keystone connectors (and plate) so that I could run pre-terminated cables. Cat-7 cables are a pain to terminate yourself, IMHO. Plus, it makes everything modular; everything in the system is easily replaceable.

Why two cables? Well, first, for redundancy’s sake. These were very time-consuming to do. It never hurts to have a backup. Second, I only have DSL internet, and no prospect of getting anything faster, anytime soon, as we’re fairly rural. So, if I end up getting satellite ‘net as secondary, or mobile broadband, I have an xmit as well as rcvr line, which can both be routed through the switch in the attic, as needed. I plan on at least a 16-port switch in here, and I plan on running the network for the whole house from this room if I can. The other use for the attic switch is to send Cat-7 runs to my upstairs bedroom and the living room – so that my wife’s desk in our bedroom (that doubles as a TV, with a monitor able to swivel around to be viewable from bed) and our multimedia center in the living room are both on a wired connection. We have a large house, and WiFi just doesn’t seem to cut it when sharing a DSL line while streaming. Wired seems to be much better in that regard.

The Walls

Once I had the cables run, I replaced the panels. At some point while I was working on those runs, I installed tongue-in-groove beadboard wainscoting panels (the same ones we used inside our house, during the renovation) in the bottom 32″ from the floor. These are painted in Glidden Pure White (also matching the inside of the house). As the slab in this room is not quite level, I had to do a bit of cheating at places, to get them all to fit together. White silicone is your friend, ladies and gents. They were all hand-nailed with 4d 11/4” finish nails, 3 per stud. I don’t have a nailer and didn’t feel like buying one. I was a carpenter as a young man, and I’m still decent with a hammer. I also just like the feel of hammering nails in by hand.

Once those were all up, I purchased some 1/8″ smooth finish paneling, and installed that (this time, with 1″ wire nails) over the plywood, from the wainscoting join to the ceiling. The plywood was perfectly serviceable; this paneling is purely aesthetic. I wanted a smooth, semi-gloss painted surface.

The upper panels are painted in a Glidden Slate Grey Semi-Gloss.

Once those were finished, I installed some new electrical outlets and covers. The idea was always to have all of those black – and they were – but the previous outlets were well over a decade old, and had been altogether too closely adjacent to water recently – so I changed all of the “desk” receptacles and covers to glossy black TRR models, and the two closest to the door (which would have the highest loads, due to use by sound equipment and appliances) to 20A receptacles.

The Desk: Construction

Okay, this part is pure overkill; but it’s my desk, so I can overkill it if I want to! The main desk is 91/2x2 feet wide. The wraparound wings on either side are another 6×2 feet wide. The inside corners are both cut in at 45-degree angles for a more convenient desk area. It features a drop-down fixed tray sized for an extra-large keyboard/mouse pad at 36″x14″. It has one “command” station, with two smaller stations at each inside corner, all reachable from a center chair – and 2 additional workstations down each side of the desk “wings”.

It has a built-in multi-tier cable management system (J-channel on the desktop, two sets of cable loops below – top and bottom), pass-through cable ports, integrated USB ports for each auxiliary station (2 for the command station), and adjustable monitors pre-positioned at each (3 at the command station). Each auxiliary station will also have it’s own combination under-desk wall-mounted UPS/powerstrip, and its own slide-out keyboard/mouse tray.

The desktop itself is constructed of two full sheets of 3/4 plywood. The center of the desk and the drop tray are made of one sheet, the two wings of the other.

To support the desktop, I screwed 2x4s end on to the wall studs all along the rear of the desk (which I refer to as backrails, throughout), on all 3 sides, and support the desktop underneath with solid legs at various points along the desk’s run. In both corners, there are 2x4s fastened face on beneath the primary backrails, meeting at the corner, for additional support. This was a solution which provided me uninterrupted “storage corners” – shelving areas beneath the desk for items I wasn’t planning on using frequently, but would like stored close to hand.

While the legs are constructed of solid 2x4s, I subsequently paneled them with beadboard (from Jack’s) as wainscoting, to avoid an unfinished look. Each leg assembly is anchored to the concrete with hammer-in extension wedge anchors and attached to the respective wall’s anchor base by additional deck screws, toed in on each side. Each leg is constructed with a large gap between it and the wall, for ease of cable management.

Leg Construction

I sketched out a plan for the legs that would allow cable pass-through and easy access. (Notice on my drawing that I forgot to move the rear leg out from the wall for both the backrail and the rear of the top vertical to split – don’t be like me. The rear vertical should be set out 23/4” from the wall along the bottom horizontal.) The front vertical is set flush between both horizontals, with the bottom horizontal terminating at the paneling covering the walls’ anchor plates. The rear vertical is placed so that the top horizontal lands halfway, and the rear of the vertical can be secured to the backrail, which lands on the other half of each rear vertical support. This design allows for about a 23/4” gap behind each leg – but still gives the desk surface the full support of the vertical members. As you can see, I had originally intended to add an additional vertical in the center, but once I had the primary structure put together, I realized that I just didn’t need them. The measurements for each piece are as follows:

  • Bottom horizontal: Cut to 231/2
  • Top horizontal: Cut to 20″
  • Both verticals: Cut to 261/4
  • Rear backrail: Longer cut to butt against left side backrail, and land on center of right rear leg; shorter section cut from same center to right side backrail
  • Side backrails: Full 8ft boards
  • Corner supports: 2ft sections, meeting in corner on each side.

With 3/4″ plywood for the desktop, this design puts the desktop level at 30″. Corner supports are attached with their top faces at the level of 273/4“, which will provide a support in each corner at the same height as the rear backrail notch of each leg section.

All told, it features 3 legs to each “wing”, 2 in the center section, supports under each corner’s backrail. The end product framing looks like this:

The Desktop

To make the “two wings” – just cut a full sheet of plywood exactly in half. End of line. For the center… a bit more complicated. I had to measure the entire center section out precisely, to fit as closely as possible to the two wings. The 45 degree flyouts that meet the wings gave me the most trouble. Once I drew it out on the plywood, and verified all the measurements, I cut the excess off the sheet in two chunks, then used a jigsaw to carefully cut this section out to my specifications, then cut the tray out, which was drawn out in the same process. The desktop itself is fastened to the backrail, and to each leg assembly, with countersunk deck screws, which I then filled in with wood putty.

The center desk 45s were clamped to either wing for about 24 hours after attachment, joined to the wings as outlined below, then smoothed together cosmetically with more wood putty.

You can stand (or even jump) on this desk, with no problems whatsoever. It’s very solid. The only places where that might not be advisable are the joins between the three pieces, but to counter any structural weaknesses, I have 1) an additional 2×4 support centered underneath each join, butted into the backplates, as well as the closest leg, and toed in to both with deck screws. 2) Small steel join plates about 2 inches from the end of each 45-degree join. 3) Small 90-degree supports that are attached from the front of the appropriate legs to the underside of the desktop. As an example, I did much of the later ceiling work from on top of the desk, rather than a ladder. I step a mite gingerly at those two points, but I don’t worry too much about it. I’m more worried about the paint job than any structural failure, in any case.

Note, for those wanting to duplicate this project: Unless you have a good sized space, this desk size and shape may not work for you. For any other size space, you’re going to have to modify the plans to fit. It is very custom, (it is built into the walls, anchored to the floor) very overkill – and admittedly, very cool – but I have a wall to wall U-shaped desk that takes up over half of a 9.5×15.5 ft. room. This desk dominates the room. Much wider, and I’d have too much room in the center for a convenient “swivel to station”; much narrower, and it’d be cramped quarters. Think about what you want your desk to do. I’ve been planning this redux project for about a decade, with all the features I might want in a blue sky project. I designed it for my side work as a PC builder, light network admin, and repair tech – but with the added bonus of doubling as a killer LAN party hangout. You might want other things – build accordingly.

Keyboard Tray

One feature that I really liked about my previous custom desk, and had to retain, was the drop-down keyboard tray. I had built it to a scale slightly less ambitious last time, and used cheap MDF; but that feel of solidity – and fixed location – was a decided preference. The arms of my chair are precisely at the level of the keyboard tray. It is set at 33/8” below the main desktop level, at 265/8“, for no better reason than that I like it there. The side and backplates for the keyboard tray are 1×4, with scraps from the wall paneling covering the side plates, and filling in the slight gap left by the saw width difference, allowing a more secure attachment of the side plates, flush with the desktop edges. The keyboard tray is cut directly out of the same piece of wood the center of the desktop was constructed of. The legs to either side were placed so that the tray could be fastened directly to them, as well as to the backplate. I have an additional 2×4 running from leg to leg (and toed into each side) beneath the center of the tray, for further support. It measures 3’x14”, and comfortably fits a (very) large keyboard/mousepad.

The Paint Job

Not gonna lie, this is the part that made me the most excited about this space. The functionality is awesome, it is entirely my design, and I did it all myself – but this is the one place where I can let my love of the color red go wild. We’ll come back to this in a bit, but as you can see, it simply dominates the space.

It’s painted in Behr Ultra Dark Crimson Semi-Gloss Enamel. The enamel paint is fantastic, and can be applied by a roller with no problems. The desk also has my logo applied to it in vinyl, and is then coated with about 4 layers of high-gloss clear polycrylic for protection.

Incidentally, polycrylic is suitable for use over vinyl, and over painted surfaces. It doesn’t yellow the paint, and it won’t affect the vinyl. I used to work at a sign shop, so a word of advice – if you apply vinyl, make sure there are absolutely no air bubbles underneath. Use a scalpel or pin and poke pinholes at points to help you get air out, and smooth it down repeatedly with a plastic ruler or another straight edge. I used a new plastic scraper of a type that we usually use for dishes. On this rough plywood surface, I had to do a good bit of that before I was satisfied. Once the poly is applied, you cannot access the vinyl again. If you left the air, it’s there forever, and you will have a gap underneath your protective coating due to slack in the vinyl. So, don’t leave any. Also, another tip – DO NOT use a roller of any kind to apply polycrylic. I did that on one coat, and regretted it, immensely. Took forever to sand a myriad of tiny bubbles back out of coat #2 with ultra-fine grit sandpaper – and I basically wasted that entire coat.

The Ceiling

Once the desk structure was done, I moved on to the ceiling. Like the walls, it was simply covered with plywood, as you could see in previous photos. While perfectly serviceable, it just didn’t have the look I was going for. So, I bought some more paneling. Home Depot sells a variety of decorative paneling, typically used for walls. I wanted it for my ceiling when I saw it.

It is a printed faux-pallet wood panel, mostly greys. It has fairly realistic (if you aren’t looking too closely) nail holes, a variety of “wood” types, and an interesting variation in color. The only problem is, the room wasn’t exactly square – so I had to fudge it a little bit, as you can see in the final picture. There’s a solution for fudging – other than silicone.

Trimwork

The desk itself is the major eye-catcher, as was intended. The trim work, however, is what sets it off. Every bit of trim in this room is a glossy onyx black. The desk, while great on its own, needed some contrasts. The ceiling, while fun, needed something to draw eyes away from flaws and irregularities. There are several elements of trim that I used to make this room stand out.

First, the “chair rail” was expanded, using 1×4 composite boards, into a combination backsplash for the desk as well as chair rail for the rest of the room. A typical chair rail would have left an awkward gap between the desktop and the bottom of the chair rail. Using these boards gave me a nice clean “cut” between wall sections, as well as a nice finishing touch to the desk.

On top and bottom of the rail, (not counting the desk area, where it is mounted flush on bottom) I installed some shoe molding, to round them both over, and make it look more organic.

To avoid joining issues at the corners, I put in corner blocks on top of the rails, and at the floor.

Second, in the corners, I have 1/4 round molding.

Third, the desk itself is trimmed on the outer edges in a purely ornamental 3/4 molding that happened to catch my fancy. The drop tray is backed by a 1×4. The legs are trimmed with 1×1 outside corner. Shoe molding is used for base all the way around the walls and desk legs.

Fourth, the ceiling trim is made of 1×2 furring strips, and the center pieces are 1/4″x11/2” lattice molding. These cover all the joins, and mask any pattern inconsistencies; while providing a gridwork to enhance the look of the ceiling. Instead of replacing the overhead light socket, I boxed it in, painted it black – then installed a special light.

Fifth, the door is similarly trimmed in black, and painted red – the only other element painted to match the desk.

The window originally had no sill. I put one in, and cased the window’s interior and frame in 1×4 boards.

Floor, Desk Legs and Base Trim

For the floor, I just went with a slate grey that matches the walls. This may change to a darker shade later.

I was going to do this earlier, but I ended up putting it off for quite a while, due to the purely cosmetic nature of this step. This is what the leg paneling looks like when completed. All that remains is to trim them out to match the rest.

Other Desk Features

Initial Command Station Rollout

I won’t lie – I got to the point where I could move the computers in, and just… did. It has made the rest of the work slightly more awkward, but it is worth it, to enjoy the fruits of my labors in the meantime.

Cabinets, Storage and Shelving

As I mentioned, there were two salvaged cabinets still in the room when we began this project. Before I started, I removed them both. One was made of an MDF or something similar and was falling apart. The only solid wood in it was the two shelves. Those were salvaged and will be used for shelving beneath the desk. The other cabinet was mostly solid wood, save for the backing, which was still serviceable, nonetheless. I sanded the cabinet down and repainted it the same color as the wainscoting. The cabinet is now mounted against the ceiling to the right of the door. Currently, that space is being utilized for two chest freezers. I will add a narrow standing storage cabinet to the left of those freezers, about their same height.

The underdesk shelving in the other stations is the only major thing I’ve added to the original plan, as I realized that I don’t need more legroom, and to do otherwise was a waste of space. The two back corner areas were always supposed to get shelves. Funnily enough, those are the ones I haven’t installed yet, as I want to make sure everything else is accommodated correctly, first.

Eventually, I will build a workbench to replace my (salvaged kitchen countertop) workbench outside, once there is sufficient space elsewhere to move the freezers. In the meantime, I’ve begun to install a pegboard in the space between the cabinet and the desk area, to hang my cords, tools, and toolbelt. This will probably get expanded soon, as it is already crowded.

The space beneath the desk will have 1×12 shelving from rear wall towards the front leg(s). Above the desk, there will be 8 foot of 1×12 shelving approximately 18 inches above the desktop on the east side, but only 6 feet on the west side, to accommodate the server rack that will be in the west rear corner. I will also have (at least) 2 rolling cabinets that fit beneath the desk.

I prefer my computer towers off the desk when possible. My main computer’s tower is in a sliding under-desk mount in the niche between legs to the right of the drop tray. I have a garbage can beneath the desk in the matching niche to the left.

Phases 2 and 3

Phase 2: Server Station

As I mentioned in passing earlier, I plan to install a 12u rackmount system to the right of the command station. The pass-through cable port was installed with that in mind and will sit at the rear of the rack That wall also has the keystone LAN ports and the power outlets. It has a 1500 VA UPS, 8-outlet power conditioner/surge protector, 16-port gigabit switch, HP Proliant rack server, and secondary NAS system (tbd).

3/7/21

(New!) I’ve since started Phase 2. Unfortunately, Phase 2 got somewhat delayed by my own mistake. You see, I failed to do my due diligence when it came to the size of the server I bought. As I’m primarily familiar with rackmounted music equipment, I didn’t research the depth of the 1u server I picked. It comes in at a whopping 28 1/4″ deep. My rack is 16″ deep. So, what that means is that I’m going to build a custom server rack – and now I also have the Phase 3 rack early! I ordered front rails from Reliable Hardware along with some blanks for top and bottom – and I will build the rack’s body out of wood. It’s going to take up essentially the entire rear right corner of the desk now, but I can match all the colors and trim this way. That corner was always intended to house the rack anyway, so I’m not really losing anything – and it illustrates how overbuilding sometimes isn’t a bad thing!

The Server:

HP Proliant DL360 G7 – with 2×Quad-Core X5677 Xeon 3.46GHz CPUs + 72GB PC3-10600R RAM + 4×900GB 10K SAS SFF HDD, P410i RAID, 4×GigaBit NIC, 2×Power Supplies, NO OS. Bought the accompanying rails as well.

Mounted a surplus Acer 24″ LCD as a dedicated monitor for the rack, and have a kb/mouse in the slideout keyboard tray for workstation 3 that I use for the server when I am not simply using ssh from my primary desktop.

The Stack:

  • Pyle PCO800 15Amp, 1800W power conditioner/surge protector/suppressor
  • Tripp Lite 1500VA, 900W rackmount UPS
  • Netgear 16-port gigabit unmanaged switch (mounted rear) (this is why I ran all cat-7 – also note that the server NICs are all gigabit as well)
  • CyberPower CPS-1215 12-outlet, surge suppressor power strip with 6 exterior, 6 interior outlets
  • ProCool SX340 1u Fan – intake (mounted rear)
  • ProCool SX340E 1u Fan – exhaust
  • Raising Electronics 2u lockable drawer
  • NavePoint 1u cable management raceway duct panel (mounted rear)

Custom Rack:

Initially, there was a snafu or two when it came to the hardware to build this. I ordered a set of rails for the server when I ordered the server – but they were missing the interior sections which attached to the server body. The folks at Info-Tech were quick to respond after I explained the issue – but Amazon was entirely unhelpful in that process. Apparently, Amazon has a policy which deletes every image, url and even email address from conversations between buyers and sellers. So, when the seller asked me to provide pictures of the item as it was received – I could not do via Amazon’s messaging system. That policy made the replacement process take nearly a week, as various exchanges fell victim to their stealth edits. I finally contacted the seller’s company via phone, got a valid email address, and exchanged the necessary information outside Amazon entirely – which begs the question of why we were using Amazon in the first place. This reminds me why I’ve been seriously thinking of getting rid of Amazon as a service provider – and also encourages me to do so in the future. The second issue happened when my rack screw package mysteriously disappeared in a hand-off between Amazon and the USPS – with Amazon saying they handed it over, and the USPS saying they hadn’t received it. Between you and me, I believe the USPS. I canceled and reordered, and the second package arrived promptly. Those are actually the only shipping issues I’ve had with this entire project – and they happened within days of each other.

When I surmised that it would take up that entire corner, I wasn’t kidding! The rack’s frame measures out to 34 3/4″ deep x 22 1/4″ wide x 22 3/4″ high. It has now been enclosed, and fans are installed. All the blanks, a wire management panel, and a drawer have been ordered, received, and installed. The server is on bottom, above a rear-mounted 1u Procool intake fan panel, with the 30lb Tripp-Lite UPS above it in front. The power conditioner is on top, below another 1u Procool exhaust fan panel, a CyberPower power strip/suppressor mounted below the power conditioner, and above the drawer – with the Netgear switch mounted in the rear, above a NavePoint cable management raceway. I also have cable management in the box now, and everything is routed. The trim is complete!

Usage:

Currently, the rackserver primarily manages my Jellyfin home media server, and was revamped to run proxmox as the base OS, with my main server OS in the primary VM. I will add additional VMs as test environments for my active VPS setups as needed.

Phase 3: Music Corner

Currently, I have this area to the left of the door set up to accommodate small kids. Indoor/outdoor carpet, beanbags, a small wall-mounted TV with a FireStick. It has messy cable management currently, but it is a temporary setup.

Once they’re a bit older, however, I’ll expand this section to include a rolling rackmount for music equipment that will double as a gig system. In the meantime, I have a static rack for equipment as I acquire it.

I already have my primary guitar hanging on the wall, an amp (Peavey Minx 110) on the floor beneath the last desk station on that side, and space for my pedalboard – but I have plans for that to be a mini-stage area with a playing stool, I/O for computer interfaces, wall space for a half dozen guitars, and easy workbench access for guitar repairs and mods.

Current Amenities

I have a color-matched coffee maker and microwave, a mini-fridge with freezer compartment (New!), a weight-activated coffee warmer for my oversized mug, a cupholder mounted to the desk for when a cold drink is preferable; a bottle rack for when I just need a splash of something, a headphone holder, a controller rack, deformable 8,000 lumen 3-panel LED overhead lighting, color-matched leather gaming chair, adjustable footrest, 7.1 sound system, Thrustmaster HOTAS for flight simulators, display hangers for 3 swords, 2 bows, a rifle, and my trusty hockey stick. (I used to play. Don’t judge.) I also have lots of room for posters and other media – which I’m sure I will add to in time.

Command Computer Specs

As I’ve alluded to, the command station is served by a 32″ LED monitor (LG 32QK500-C, QHD, IPS, 75Hz, DP, mDP, 2xHDMI) flanked by 2×24″ LED monitors (Asus VA24EHE 23.8”, 1080P, IPS, 75Hz, HDMI D-Sub DVI-D) – all on North Bayou F425 wall-mounted full-motion hydraulic monitor arms. (New!) The computer itself is in an Antec GX202 case with twin front led fans, currently utilizing an MSI B450 Tomahawk Max mobo, AMD Ryzen 3 3200G CPU, 32GB (New!) G.SKILL Ripjaws V DDR4 3200 RAM, 1TB PNY NVMe drive (New!), MSI GeForce GTX 1050Ti 4GB GDDR5 OC GPU (New!), powered by a Corsair VS650 PSU.

Objections to the Potter

We have all probably encountered objections to the doctrine of Divine sovereignty that show a genuine lack of understanding – not in a mean or callous fashion, but that simply don’t understand how God’s freedom works. Most of those objections will be prefaced with “but it doesn’t make sense!” These might even be accompanied with tears, or with all the signs of genuine incomprehension. We don’t serve these churchgoers well by giving them a good lambasting. It’s all well and good when a militant Arminian, out to “take down” Calvinism is in view, or when an arrogant atheist places us in his sights – but when it comes to those inside the church, to who we are accountable as teachers, or within our own family – those to whom we have bonds of affection, it doesn’t behoove us to go nuclear – or to act like a cage-stager on a rampage.

Gentleness is something we often forget. Do we forget that before talking about casting down fortresses, destroying speculations – Paul urges his readers by the gentleness of Christ to take heed? Do we forget that we are to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” with all humility and gentleness? Before the injunction to Timothy to “fight the good fight”, he is enjoined to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” We are all about being wise, yes? Then, do as James says – “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.” You don’t need to be a pushover – but you don’t need to be a jerk, either. Sometimes people struggle to understand. Gently correct, guide, and teach. Even with our opponents we are to be gentle in correction – with the hope of repentance foremost in our minds. (2 Tim 2:25) That’s probably just an intro, though.

So, what about when someone just doesn’t understand the relationship between God, freedom, and evil? When the Confessions say that God is not the author of evil, but “common sense” (whatever that is) tells you “well, He has to be! I don’t want Him to be, but I don’t understand how that can’t be true!” Common sense is a bit of an urban legend. There’s a kernel of truth to it, in one sense. We are all created in the image of God, and in Him we all live, move, and have our being. We have minds, we live in His world, and we have to deal with His creation on His terms. Still, those of us who have taken a few more trips around the sun than some know that “common sense” is neither common, nor as sensical as we sometimes imagine, when we’re younger. People have discussed the relationship between God, freedom, and evil for a very long time. Yes, there are solid answers to be found, but we often forget, especially in this faux-literate age, that what people read is very, very rarely suitable for training them how to think. What to think – possibly – but how to think? We expect the schools to teach them that – but they don’t. Those of us who teach in the church need to recall that God uses means – and that “being transformed by the renewing of your mind” also involves means – and training in righteousness. Where does that training in righteousness primarily take place? In the home, and at our churches. If we don’t take the time to do so in either place, we cripple those for whom we will have to give an account.

With all that being said, what is the answer? In one sense, it is complicated. It isn’t a simplistic notion, or a simplistic answer – because it requires a variety of categories to be properly understood, and placed in the proper context. It requires a systematic theology. On the other hand, with the proper categories in place, and understood – it actually *is* simple – but only in a sense. Simply, when asked “is God the author of sin?,” the answer is “No.” The whyfores of that are what makes it complicated. When asked “does man have free will” – we can answer “yes and no” – in two different senses. Yes, man is free to do precisely what he desires – but those desires are enslaved to his nature – which means he isn’t free! What helped me, however, is asking the corollary to that – “Is God free?” Yes, of course He is. When the follow-up question “is God free to sin?” is asked, that often clarifies matters – because then you have to define sin. It’s where we have to define things, and be precise, that clarity begins.

When you ask “is God free to sin?”, you have to ask several things: “what is sin?”, “what is freedom?” and “what (and who) is God?” The answers to those questions should, if you do so carefully and precisely, bring you directly to the correct answer. Freedom in English, has a few meanings – primary is this:

The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.

One Greek term for “freedom” is ἐλευθερία (eleutheria) – derived from ἐλεύθερος. It has the connotation of “one who is not a slave”, or, on the other hand, “free, exempt, unrestrained, not bound by an obligation”.

Secondarily, the English term is defined as follows:

the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.

Thus, we can see that “freedom” has a duality of meaning, in either language. It can mean “without restraint” – but it can also mean “not a slave.” When we speak of being a “slave to sin”, we refer to the latter – but someone who is a “slave to sin” will also be doing precisely as he desires – because what is enslaved are those desires.

What is sin? Sin, at bottom, is “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.” Etymologically, it typically carries the connotation of “falling short” or “missing the mark” – which speaks to the nature of the thing itself. What I mean by that is that sin is a lack – something which is lacking, or missing, in comparison to perfection or completion. Any shot at a target which misses the bullseye is lacking, in comparison to the perfect shot.

The question of “Who is God?” is an enormous one – but if we take it in a limited sense, and contextually, we can answer from our Confession, and note that God is a) “most holy” and b) “most free”, c) “abundant in goodness”, d) “infinite in being and perfection”. God is holy – set apart. God is without constraint – limitless. God is good – and, we are also told, has a “most righteous” will. God is infinitely perfect. Since God is these things, he cannot be “like us” – sinful. He cannot be limited by the chains of slavery to sin. Those chains are, indeed, limitations.

So, if we examine this question, we find the answer lies in the question itself. If “sin” is a lack of perfection – a transgression of God’s own law – and is slavery – then God, by being God, cannot be subject to sin, and “free” thereby. “To sin” is the opposite of freedom – so “free to sin” is an oxymoron – the question is self-refuting.

The “bigger” question to follow, though, is this: “How can we be said to be free, if God ordains all things whatsoever that come to pass?” The Confession once again answers this question.

God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass;

LBCF III.1

We usually grasp that intellectually. What is often harder to grasp is how, given that to be the case, the following is also true:

yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.

LBCF III.1

We can grasp that others believe this – it is often harder to grasp (and hold!) that belief ourselves – especially on an emotional level. Many never grasp it – and instead turn to poor alternatives that give a more superficially acceptable answer – and that causes even more issues. This doesn’t mean it is impossible to grasp – it just means that it is difficult. Most things worth understanding are difficult.

There are several avenues of argument to which we have recourse, at this point. There is the argument from the nature of man and the nature of God. There is the argument from first and second causes. There is the argument from prescriptive and descriptive will. There is, further, the argument from purpose. Lastly, there is the argument from mystery.

Argument from Mystery

Many simply resort to the last – and there is a point at which all argument, when it relates to the infinite God, has to rest there. After a certain point, we just don’t know, and will either have to await further insight, in sanctification, into what Scripture already reveals – or wait until we see Him face to face, and understand all clearly. It really is okay if we just don’t understand, but trust God in faithful obedience. We might come to understand more – and it’s perfectly acceptable to do this in lieu of speculation. I do think, however, that there is a bit of ground to travel before we have to resort to mystery simpliciter.

Argument from Natures

The nature of man, as created, was very good. Man was free to act as he willed, and his will remained un-enslaved. Man, however, chose to be less than he was initially. When he first sinned, he chose slavery to sin. While this corresponds to the nature of finite man, it cannot correspond to the nature of the infinite God. There is no attribute of God which allows God to be less than He is. God cannot be less transcendent, less simple, less righteous, less infinite, less powerful, less wise, etc – and sin doesn’t affect merely parts of a person – but the entirety of a person. As such, God being sinful, or the author of sin, is impossible, in every respect. It is possible, however, and actual, in the case of man, who is finite, and who is not simple, but composed of parts. All of man’s parts are affected by sin, while none of God, who is One, and not composed of parts, can be.

Bavinck has some interesting insight for us, as to what is the nature of man’s first fall, and the subsequent change of his nature thereby. We often view the “knowledge of good and evil” as if it is “additional” information. What it actually is, is a corruption of information by an illegitimate categorization.

“In Genesis 3, the issue is not primarily the content of the knowledge that humans would appropriate by disobedience but the manner in which they would obtain it. The nature of the knowledge of good and evil in view here is characterized by the fact that humans would be like God as a result of it (Gen. 3:5, 22). By violating the command of God and eating of the tree, they would make themselves like God in the sense that they would position themselves outside and above the law and, like God, determine and judge for themselves what good and evil was. The knowledge of good and evil is not the knowledge of the useful and the harmful, of the world and how to control it, but (as in 2 Sam. 19:36; Isa. 7:16) the right and capacity to distinguish good and evil on one’s own. The issue in Genesis is indeed whether humanity will want to develop in dependence on God, whether it will want to have dominion over the earth and seek its salvation in submission to God’s commandment; or whether, violating that commandment and withdrawing from God’s authority and law, it will want to stand on its own feet, go its own way, and try its own “luck.” When humanity fell, it got what it wanted; it made itself like God, “knowing good and evil” by its own insight and judgment. Genesis 3:22 is in dead earnest. This emancipation from God, however, did not lead and cannot lead to true happiness. For that reason, God by the probationary command forbade this drive to freedom, this thirst for independence. But humanity voluntarily and deliberately opted for its own way, thereby failing the test.

Bavinck, The Origin of Sin, Reformed Dogmatics – Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Chris

That “freedom” the serpent promises is enslavement. Independence is chains, and self-rule is self-abasement.

Argument from First and Second Causes

“For the man who honestly and soberly reflects on these things, there can be no doubt that the will of God is the chief and principal cause of all things.”

Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 177.

“But of all the things which happen, the first cause is to be understood to be His will, because He so governs the natures created by Him, as to determine all the counsels and the actions of men to the end decreed by Him.”

Calvin, Ibid, 17

Calvin, rightly, distinguishes (and defines) the “first cause” as the will of God. What is often trickier, however, is the definition of “second cause.” God indeed determines all the counsels and actions of men – but does so by means of second causes.

“The question of God’s will in relation to sin is vexing. Those who speak of God’s permission with respect to sin rightly seek to avoid making him the author of sin. However, because this formulation risks denying God’s full sovereignty, Reformed theology, following Augustine, was never satisfied with the idea of permission. At the risk of using “hard sayings,” Reformed theologians insist that while God does not sin or cause sin, sin is yet not outside his will. In addition, God created human beings holy and without sin; sin’s origin is in the will of the rational creature.

Bavinck, The Origin of Sin, Reformed Dogmatics – Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ

What else is interesting is that this doesn’t try to “soften” the blow by affirming one bit less than God’s sovereignty over all things whatsoever. What it does do, however, is place the onus for sin squarely in the camp of those capable of it. To be less, one must be capable of less. Only the finite can be less than they should be. To be the author, one must have the capability for it. God does not.

As Edwards puts it:

“If by ‘the author of sin,’ be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing . . . it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin.”

A “second cause” can be defined as Robert Shaw does here:

“Since all things were known to God from the beginning of the world, and come to pass according to the immutable counsel of his will, it necessarily follows that, in respect of the foreknowledge and decree of God, all things come to pass infallibly. But, by his providence, he orders them to fall out according to the nature of second causes. Every part of the material world has an immediate dependence on the will and power of God, in respect of every motion and operation, as well as in respect of continued existence; but he governs the material world by certain physical laws,—commonly called the laws of nature, and in Scripture the ordinances of Heaven,—and agreeably to these laws, so far as relates to second causes, certain effects uniformly and necessarily follow certain causes. The providence of God is also concerned about the volitions and actions of intelligent creatures; but his providential influence is not destructive of their rational liberty, for they are under no compulsion, but act freely; and all the liberty which can belong to rational creatures is that of acting according to their inclinations. Though there is no event contingent with respect to God, ‘who declareth the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things which are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure;’ yet many events are contingent or accidental with regard to us, and also with respect to second causes.”

Robert Shaw, The Reformed Faith: An Exposition Of The Westminster Confession Of Faith

In other words, second causes are those things which follow by necessary consequence – in the material world – in creation. They are not identical to the infinite will of God, but necessarily occur within creation as a result of the exercise of His will. The particular thing about sin, however, is that, along with Augustine, we confess that “all sin is voluntary.” All sin is a defect in righteousness, not something in and of itself, which exists and survives independently of righteousness. Will is necessary for sin to be defective in its righteousness. Since God’s will is infinite, eternal, simple, and unchanging, the only will in which sin can be said to exist is in that of rational creatures, as only such creatures can be said to have a will which is either more or less righteous, instead of infinitely so – thus, we can also pair this argument with the Argument from Natures above.

Argument from Prescriptive and Descriptive Will

“The decretive will of God concerns his purposes, and relates to the futurition of events. The preceptive will relates to the rule of duty for his rational creatures. He decrees whatever he purposes to effect or to permit. He prescribes, according to his own will, what his creatures should do, or abstain from doing. The decretive and preceptive will of God can never be in conflict. God never decrees to do, or to cause others to do, what He forbids. He may, as we see He does, decree to permit what He forbids. He permits men to sin, although sin is forbidden. This is more scholastically expressed by the theologians by saying, A positive decretive will cannot consist with a negative preceptive will; i. e., God cannot decree to make men sin. But a negative decretive will may consist with an affirmative preceptive will; e. g., God may command men to repent and believe, and yet, for wise reasons, abstain from giving them repentance.”

Charles Hodge, The Will of God, Systematic Theology

As we have already seen, we don’t see “permission” as bare permission. When God decrees something – ordains what comes to pass – this is not the same as decreeing what men should do. This is, in my estimation, the weakest argument, however. It tends to rely heavily on a distinction between “allow” and “command” – which, considered properly, is fine, as far as it goes – but it doesn’t explain. If it helps you, that’s fine – but it is not a distinction on which I rely overmuch.

The Argument from Purpose

This argument is primarily exegetical – and as such, perhaps the strongest. It seeks to answer why sin is in the world. To sum this argument up, we should make three statements. 1) Sin showcases God’s glory in His Justice toward sin and sinners 2) Sin is the backdrop against which righteousness is most evident 3) Christ’s substitutionary death is only substitutionary if man is not righteous.

Genesis 50 has one of the strongest examples we can make. Joseph’s brothers are called before him, after the death of their father, Israel. The brothers were understandably afraid, because they had sold Joseph into slavery – after contemplating simply murdering him.

They send Joseph a message, after speaking amongst themselves:

So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.

Genesis 50:16-17

When they stand before him, Joseph immediately assures them:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?

Genesis 50:19

What he says next is the kicker, however.

“’As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

Genesis 50:20-21

Note several things about this passage. Why does Joseph weep? First, they had lived with the consequences of their actions for many years now. Second, they still showed very little understanding of the God their father claimed that they served. They knew even less of their brother.

Joseph’s response is a masterpiece of compassionate theology. He does not excuse their action, or the consequences of it. What he does is explain about God – and that while their intentions were evil, God’s were not. He forgives them, promises his own protection to them, and to their families, and speaks kindly to them.

They meant evil toward Joseph. This is not in any way diminished by Joseph’s response. His initial answer underscores that they are responsible to God for their actions, despite the fact that Joseph has no intention of judging them for those actions. Joseph is not in God’s place. The very fact that they are standing before him does nothing but underscore the fact that without their actions, a) they would not be standing before Joseph now at his mercy b) they wouldn’t even be alive to stand before Joseph now at his mercy. Joseph’s response underscores something else, however. While their intentions were for evil – God’s intentions were for good. God turned a heinous evil into an indescribable good. It doesn’t make their evil any less evil. It doesn’t excuse his brothers. It doesn’t excuse Potiphar’s wife, or the injustice of his imprisonment, which provided him an opportunity to come before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. It doesn’t even excuse his father for letting those sons of his run wild and commit all the heinous acts that hardened them to the point that they were willing to kill their own brother, and the best they could manage was to “merely” sell him into slavery, and convince their elderly father that he had been killed by beasts, to cover up their crime. Their purpose was to get rid of their insufferable, righteous younger brother who told them they would bow to him, as his vision from God attested. Bowing in front of him now was not their intention – but it was God’s. God brought them out of the wilderness alive – as a result of their own actions – but not in accordance with their own intentions. God’s purposes, as Scripture repeatedly attests, are always good – and even evil can be suborned to God’s good purposes – contrary to the intentions of those who commit those evils.

How about Assyria? Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom, and was, by any objective standard, an evil empire. Yet in Isa. 10, they are said to be the rod of God’s anger. Even more interestingly – a woe is pronounced on them – for their actions in being the rod of God’s anger!

Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger
And the staff in whose hands is My indignation,

I send it against a godless nation
And commission it against the people of My fury
To capture booty and to seize plunder,
And to trample them down like mud in the streets.

Yet it does not so intend,
Nor does it plan so in its heart,
But rather it is its purpose to destroy
And to cut off many nations.

Isaiah 10:5-7

See, Assyria is being used as the instrument of God’s punishment – but it has no intention of being used as such. Assyria will, in turn, be judged and punished – as we see in the same chapter, in verses 12-17.

“So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, [He will say,] “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.” For he has said, “By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did [this,] For I have understanding; And I removed the boundaries of the peoples And plundered their treasures, And like a mighty man I brought down [their] inhabitants, And my hand reached to the riches of the peoples like a nest, And as one gathers abandoned eggs, I gathered all the earth; And there was not one that flapped its wing or opened [its] beak or chirped.” Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it? [That would be] like a club wielding those who lift it, [Or] like a rod lifting [him who] is not wood. Therefore the Lord, the GOD of hosts, will send a wasting disease among his stout warriors; And under his glory a fire will be kindled like a burning flame. And the light of Israel will become a fire and his Holy One a flame, And it will burn and devour his thorns and his briars in a single day.”

Isaiah 10:12-17

When the Lord has completed His work in Mount Zion and Jerusalem, He will punish the Assyrians for their intentions. He will first afflict the King’s warriors – but then He will “burn and devour his thorns and briars in a single day.” What day is that?

1 And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard [it], that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD. 2 And he sent Eliakim, who [was] over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. 3 And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day [is] a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and [there is] not strength to bring forth. 4 It may be the LORD thy God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God, and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up [thy] prayer for the remnant that is left. 5 So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah. 6 And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. 7 Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land. 8 So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish. 9 And he heard say concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, He is come forth to make war with thee. And when he heard [it], he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, 10 Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God, in whom thou trustest, deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by destroying them utterly; and shalt thou be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed, [as] Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden which [were] in Telassar? 13 Where [is] the king of Hamath, and the king of Arphad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? 14 And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed unto the LORD, saying, 16 O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest [between] the cherubims, thou [art] the God, [even] thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth. 17 Incline thine ear, O LORD, and hear; open thine eyes, O LORD, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God. 18 Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries, 19 And have cast their gods into the fire: for they [were] no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them. 20 Now therefore, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou [art] the LORD, [even] thou only. 21 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent unto Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria: 22 This [is] the word which the LORD hath spoken concerning him; The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, [and] laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. 23 Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted [thy] voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? [even] against the Holy One of Israel. 24 By thy servants hast thou reproached the Lord, and hast said, By the multitude of my chariots am I come up to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon; and I will cut down the tall cedars thereof, [and] the choice fir trees thereof: and I will enter into the height of his border, [and] the forest of his Carmel. 25 I have digged, and drunk water; and with the sole of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of the besieged places. 26 Hast thou not heard long ago, [how] I have done it; [and] of ancient times, that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest be to lay waste defenced cities [into] ruinous heaps. 27 Therefore their inhabitants [were] of small power, they were dismayed and confounded: they were [as] the grass of the field, and [as] the green herb, [as] the grass on the housetops, and [as corn] blasted before it be grown up. 28 But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me. 29 Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest. 30 And this [shall be] a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat [this] year such as groweth of itself; and the second year that which springeth of the same: and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof. 31 And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward: 32 For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this. 33 Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it. 34 By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the LORD. 35 For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake. 36 Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they [were] all dead corpses. 37 So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. 38 And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Armenia: and Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.

Isaiah 37:1-38

Assyria destroyed the Northern Kingdom, as God decreed – but when they came against the South, and against Jerusalem, they were destroyed – by the Angel of the Lord, no less – and the woe came to pass, recorded by the same prophet. The same kingdom which, by its own intentions, came to devour and destroy, was used as a punishment for Israel’s unfaithfulness, and wiped out the Northern Kingdom. However, as a judgement on its arrogance, God Himself destroyed the great army of Sennacherib outside the walls of Jerusalem – and he was murdered by his own sons upon his return. They meant it for evil – but God meant it for good.

Lastly, there is the case of the crucifixion itself. Acts records a prayer, presumably by Peter or John, which says the following:

27 “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29 “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”

Act 4:27-30

In this prayer, we are told that the Father predestined the crucifixion – as well as all the actions of Herod, Pontius Pilate, the other Gentiles, as well as the peoples of Israel. The most heinous act in the history of the world – the murder of the Messiah – was committed exactly as God predestined it to be. Every single one of the parties named meant it for evil. God meant it for good – to bring many out alive, with a deliberate nod to the foreshadowing of Joseph. Rome’s conquest of Israel brought about the conditions that made the crucifixion – a Roman practice – possible. What they meant for evil, God meant for good – and the greatest good in the history of the world was brought about by the commission of the greatest evil in its history. Man’s purposes are brought to naught by the purposes of God. The Savior rose from the grave, conquering death and sin – because death and sin were decreed by God. Israel was judged. Rome was judged. Herod was judged – and all of them received their woes in full measure – as Christ prophesied they would. Nonetheless, God brought good out of their evil – and it shone all the more brightly against their evil. We can only go so far with this explanation of why evil happens – but isn’t that far enough to go on with? We can finish up with Romans’ explanation of this same issue.

16 So then it [does] not [depend] on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And [He did so] to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 [even] us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’ AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.'” 26 “AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’ THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.”

Rom 9:16-26

Author’s Note: MadeOfLions and ThePinion from SSG’s Dev team have addressed the Calaquendi issue – the current prologue text identifying the player character as having dwelt in Valinor is incorrect. Their quotes will follow the text of this post.

To preface this post, I’ve been playing LOTRO since 2008. I’m a massive LOTR fan – enough so that our Rebekah’s middle name is Luthien. One aspect of LOTRO’s IP that can sometimes be frustrating is the fact that they can only use The Hobbit and the LOTR Trilogy – not the Silmarillion, or the other entries into the posthumous Tolkien canon. That being said, Standing Stone Games, the successor to Turbine, decided to add the “High Elf” race to the available choices, coinciding with the release of the upcoming Mordor expansion. The announcement was greeted with excitement, as well as some trepidation in some quarters. Here’s an interview snippet I want to share, to start with.

Pay close attention to it, because it will be important.

MMO-C: All righty. Let’s turn back to happy fun Made of Lions. We want to talk High Elves. You guys have already said there won’t be a new class coming out like what happened with Beornings. And Professor Olsen, of course people are going to ask him what he thought about it on his livestream on the official last week or the week before. He said the High Elves would by lore default be Noldorin like Galadriel or Sindar like Thranduil rather than Vanyar cos they never came back from Valinor. So if this happens, will we be getting a new starting instance for them to explain how they’re coming back to Middle earth because High Elves are the ones who went to Valinor and came back.

Libby: Well, that’s primarily the case but for our interpretation, one of the things that we’re thinking of going with is that it’s not only Elves who went to Valinor and came back, it’s also their descendants. We’re going with the concept of… and this is one of those things I think is sort of necessary in our game, in that you’ll need to be… you may have some proportion of High Elf in your blood, for instance, in order to in a way power you down slightly, so that you’re not Galadriel running around, because that’s not really the power level I think we can suspend disbelief on all that well in there are hundreds of High Elves running around and they’re all Galadriel-level people. I think that’s not a realistic way to present it, so we’re going more with the concept that there are people and characters of High Elf ancestry in addition to the sort of straight-up High Elves that we know from the book like Galadriel and in that way, we could have High Elf adventurers that weren’t mentioned, for example, like we traditionally have done with several of our other races and classes. I’m not sure that Grimbeorn had hundreds of kids running around, but for our game, you can make a Beorning and have Beorning adventures. So for the High Elf, you would be a High Elf in that you still have the benefits of being a High Elf and maybe some of the drawbacks that there might also be, like still working out gameplay concept for all of this obviously, but Sauron is going to be especially unhappy about High Elves and that might cause some difficulties for you. You’re going to be feeling the call of Valinor more strongly than other people, than other Elves even. And, as for the original question, we will probably have some starting instance of some stripe, but I don’t want to get into what that will entail at the moment.

Snook: I would say that, and Professor Olsen will probably appreciate this, we do have a fairly large what you might call a lore-doc in how High Elves would fit into Lord of the Rings Online, and that’s something we’ve been looking at, and a lot of it is a little behind the scenes kind of documentation, but we’re looking at a way to perhaps distill that for community read to help kind of place where they will fit into the game.

Ciccolini: Yes. I would love to see the community sort of have more insight into the gratuitous amounts of lore documentation that we generate.

Snook: (laughter) It’s a massive document.

Ciccolini: The community just doesn’t see some of this fantastic stuff.

Snook: I was like, ‘why is this PDF so large?’
(laughter)

So, with that in mind – spoilers incoming. Seriously. Lots of spoilers.

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