Infernal gear

I’m going out for a drink now. I spent much of this afternoon and evening trying to install Linux on a PowerPC iBook G4. The only reason I’m doing this is that I thought it might be nimbler than mac os 10.4. We use this iBook purely for watching movies (it’s plugged into the tv) and playing music, but recently its been struggling with streamed stuff, and I thought a non-mac OS might work. Linux is supposed to be speedier. So I tried installing it.

I have previously managed to install windows 7 on two iMacs, one of which is depicted here. I got this done with the help of Apple’s bootcamp, which sorts out the boot sector of the mac so you don’t have any really painful problems. I found a couple of sites online – here and here – which claim to have installed ubuntu on an ibook, so I thought I’d try it.

Of course it was impossible. Just like the last two times I’ve tried to install linux on anything. What a useless piece of shit linux is. Here is why:

  1. For a start, the installation disc randomly crashes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Brilliant.
  2. Secondly, the installation disc runs into some kind of problem with the file system and, instead of throwing up an error saying “encountered a file system problem, you really should try using a decent computer” or some such, it produces an incomprehensible and meaningless “ubi-partman crashed with exit code 141.” Now, correct me if I’m wrong but “exit code” sounds suspiciously like a euphemism for “error code.” Could it be the linux community are so up themselves now that they don’t want to refer to errors as errors?[1]. Anyway, I looked up “exit code 141” on the internet and it has multiple possible causes. This is singularly unhelpful. This is a microsoft or SPSS level of debugging power[3a]. I want to know what causes my error, so I can work around it[4], not just get pointed to a series of websites full of people with diverse OSs and hardware talking about a meaningless error code. So I had to go back online looking for oblique solutions to the problem. This is nothing compared to the last time I had to solve a Linux problem, but we’ll get to that
  3. Thirdly, the available information about how to proceed to a successful implementation has no relation to the way that the Ubuntu installer works. For example, one of those sites says “Choose all default options but when it comes to partitioning, dlete the Ubuntu partition you created earlier. go back and choose to use maximum free space”. None of these processes or options existed in my installer. So there’s no way for legacy information to be used to inform current installations. I’ve never seen a “use maximum free space” option in any partition software. But I get three completely different options I can choose from. I think it’s probably a mark of an amateur software project to have completely different installation processes at every release. The basic processes of installation are the same in every iteration, surely?
  4. WTF is it with the verbose way that Linux starts up and shuts down? I know that there are a couple of hundred people in the world who think it’s cool how the computer tells you that “random process A” is “doing incomprehensible shit B”, and there might be another 10 people in the world who actually know what it’s doing, but it really looks juvenile. It’s like the BSOD – nobody understands that crap, so why bother? The shutdown process in Ubuntu is particularly pratty. Why on God’s green earth should I have to hit return halfway through the process after the CD spits out? There’s no going back from here, why bother?

Anyway, so the basic problem seems to be this: Apple mangles the boot sector, and you need to somehow come up with a set of partitions that the linux installer can read in order to use it. The installer is supposed to be able to preserve the Apple bootsector, so it just becomes a straight dual boot, but in fact no matter how I contort the installation process I end up fucking the apple boot sector 8 ways to Sunday (take that, Steve!) and then it can’t reboot. Following the information in the few websites by people who’ve done it is just impossible, largely because I don’t understand the process of setting up Linux drives[5] but possibly also because Apple mangled the boot sector, and maybe also because I’m profoundly stupid when it comes to linux[8].

So I tried setting up an ext4 partition on top of the Mac OS one. My Hard Drive is 30g, so I had:

  • 32 kb boot sector[9]
  • 132 Mb of nothing
  • 6 Gb of MacOS
  • 132Mb of nothing
  • 21Gb of ext4, the standard linux file format (apparently)

Then I start the Ubuntu installer (after several tries, of course) and it offers me three partitioning choices: install side by side, use the whole disc, or custom format. The first choice doesn’t “install side by side at all” but instead splits my 21gb partition into two chunks of ext4. The second choice does what is expected, but that will probably shaft the bootsector so it was out; the third choice demanded to know “where is the root mount” and since this is my partner’s computer I’m not going to root mount it; I left this well alone. Choosing option a), I proceeded with an installation that just stopped 75% of the way through, and somehow managed to shaft the bootsector, because when I gave up on the process and restarted I had lost the mac os boot as well.

What kind of installation software is that? I just downloaded a “disc” that is designed to fuck my machine. And on top of that, when I repeated the process – same partition in mac os, same install disc – the following happened:

  • The first time I insert the install disc, it just fails, out of hand
  • second time, the install disc works but I get the stupid “ubipartman” error, i.e. the partition software can’t handle the ext4 file system (???!!!???)

So, I don’t really even know if this ubipartman error has anything to do with apple’s shenanigans with the boot sector, or if it’s just a bodgy piece of software. Someone else I spoke to said all knowingly “ah, yes, getting the partition software to work is always the trick.”

You know your software is shit when people are saying things like that about it. Let’s try similar phrases with some other software shall we?

  • Stats software: “ah yes, getting the mathematics engine to work is always the trick”
  • Graphics software: “ah yes, getting the colour palette to work can be a tad fiendish”
  • Nuclear powerplant software: “oh yes, we always take the radioactivity meters with a grain of salt, it’s the software don’t you know old chap?”

So, this is my third time attempting to install linux and my first time on a laptop. Let’s review our results:

  • First time: nothing, the installer just died in the arse
  • Second time: I installed it fine but X Window didn’t work. Who wants linux without x window? It’s a glorified telex machine. So I hunted around on the internet and it turned out that there’s no standard drivers for the i810 chipset, but someone had written one. I downloaded it and installed it but it didn’t work, and another day of hunting on the internet enabled me to discover that a couple of lines of code in the driver had typos in them. Fucking typos. So I hunted out other drivers with similar code and worked out how to correct the typos, and X Window worked. Oh my god! This is the computing equivalent of making fire. A fucking GUI, man! What next – object oriented programming?!! Anyway, so then when I invoke my beautiful X Window[10], there is no networking. I try invoking the control panel thingy to work out what the next driver problem is and… nothing. No functioning control panel. Two days of struggle to get X Window to work, and I still have to work out the control panel?!! Fuck that. I wiped it
  • Third time: Who knows what mysteries can be produced with the arcane combination of Steve Jobs ratfucking your boot sector and linux trying to clean it up?

So I think I just need to give up. But I just want to point out that EVERY TIME I have spoken to someone about installing Linux they have said to me “oh, it used to be really hard, but now it’s trivial, point and click, out of the box baby.”

Well, I beg to differ.

None of this would be an issue of course, except that there’s an army of linux nerds out there carefully watching the progress of linux, calculating every 10th of a percentage point increase in its market share, claiming it’s the best thing ever and wondering why it isn’t more popular. If any of you are reading this, perhaps there is a hint of why contained in my struggles[11].

And don’t even get me started on my attempts to get hold of a decent, working 64 bit windows package!!!!

fn1: Many years ago I had cause to call a Microsoft helpdesk[2] and the guy on the other end of the phone referred to a clear bug as an “oversight.” I challenged him about this and he told me that it was official policy that bugs were “oversights.” Windows NT was great at the time[3], but jesus christ…

fn2: Hey, don’t criticise me! I was at work, it was Windows NT, I was desperate!

fn3: This is where Apple screwed the pooch. Windows were floating around with the shittest software on the planet (windows 3.1), but it was tied to the best productivity software (MS Office). Apple had a chance here to come up with a killer OS that would take market share, provided that a) it worked and b) they used MS Office. Unfortunately, they gave us Mac OS 8, and they were too arrogant to respond to complaints of “my computer freezes” with “we’ll fix that” before Windows NT came out. I don’t know what happened to b), but jesus Mac OS 8 was shit.

fn3a: not as bad as SPSS. Until their most recent incarnation, when SPSS syntax ran into an error it told you the column number rather than the line number[3b]

fn3b: Possibly not as bad as R, either, another piece of open source joy. When I was working with R in Japan, I actually had a piece of code that worked on one computer but not another, until we removed the comments[3c].

fn3c: which is almost as bad as my friend’s experience of an electronics lab in our undergrad physics days, when his experiment worked using wires with blue insulation plastic but not red.

fn4: Witness here the soft bigotry of low expectations. I’m so used to Microsoft and Apple (and SPSS) that instead of saying “I want to know what the problem is so I can get someone to fix it” I say “If I know what it is I can find a way around it!”

fn5: why does it have to be so fucking difficult? Why can’t they just have one drive with a sensible name (i.e. not “root”, which is a well-known Australian euphemism for fucking and just sounds stupid, I don’t ever want to be a “root user” in any situation which involves a hairy nerdy guy who keeps his dog in his office[6]) and why do they have to have a separate swap space etc? This software has been around for 20 fucking years, can’t they find a solution to the omfg-so-hard problem of swap space?

fn6: I once worked in a place whose network support guy, the classic bearded neckbreather, actually kept his dog in the office – in a tiny cage – and fancied himself an ubernerd. Like most neck-breathers, he was incompetent. When you went into his office, if he wasn’t there the dog would bark and snarl at you from in its cage. Need I add that it was a chihuahua? Need I also add that he stuck to Novel Netware 5.1[7] long after Windows 2000 Server was out?

fn7: If anyone thinks that Windows 95 is a product of Cthulhu, they should try trouble-shooting a Novell Netware Server, as I once had to do. Truly there are heirarchies of evil.

fn8: and, you may have noticed, just a tiny bit antsy.

fn9: Actually I reckon this is just a 32kb file with “Steve Jobs is GOD” written in it over and over.

fn10: Did I mention that Linux/Unix is beautiful when it works? This is the real shit about all of this.

fn11: I know, I know, you’re going to say “It’s Apple’s fault.” But in my experience, the person who glibly states “it’s because it’s an apple” is always wrong. How come I can install windows on my unix-based apples, but I can’t install linux, even though linux is supposedly infinitely more amenable to hacking, and flexible, than windows or apple? Because it’s too fucking hard is why.

No keel-hauling for these sea dogs...The only significant enhancement on the tall ship in 200 years, the Spindrift Clipper represents a considerable performance improvement over standard seaborne vessels for a limited additional cost. Behaving in every way like a normal vessel, the Spindrift Clipper has had low-power levitation magic added to its hull so that it can become airborne when needed. This has considerable advantages, enabling the ship to move much faster in fine weather and to avoid the risk of running aground or being damaged by reefs or wrecks. It also enables the ship to avoid being swamped in storms, though in instances it may be driven significantly off course. Many advanced Spindrift Clippers come with a special “storm anchor”, an emergency flight device which forces the ship to ride against strong winds, keeping it from being blown off course. Most Clipper pilots prefer to use their levitation to their advantage, rising from the water and riding ahead of stormclouds in the hope of regaining their course when the clouds have gone – better to survive at sea than to risk all for a few days lost journeying, after all. The Spindrift Clipper has made long-distance trading and exploration much easier and cheaper due to faster trips with lower risks of shipwreck or mutiny. Spindrift Clippers do not fly high, however, as their levitation magic is always weak and the ship is not designed to survive the stresses of such heights.

The characters themselves stole a small spindrift clipper, the Unfortunate Lapse of Discipline, from the Iron House, and renamed it the Inappropriate Response. It took them to Greenland and Ireland and back to America during the final stages of adventuring to date, and although it did not protect them from some of the less pleasant monsters of the Atlantic, it at least gave them some advantage in battle against the forces laying siege to New York. The Inappropriate Response relies for its levitation magic on a weak antipathic magic, cheap to install but requiring large bodies of water to move over. Later models of the Spindrift Clipper, particularly those designed for river travel, would have true levitation magic built in, so that they could act essentially as hovercraft or helicopters. These innovations would be another 100 years in development, however.

The Reverend Mike (whose site burns my eyes with its insane redness) is hosting this month’s RPG blog carnival on War (my, how topical!), and I want to contribute with a selection of the types of nasties which are used in the world of the Essential Compromise for the prosecution of that most loved of infernal activities, slaughter. We have already seen the Battle Thumb and the Autonomous Sentinel Cannon, but below are a few of the other toys which a good Infernalist can play with when it comes time to terrorise the locals.

Cancer Labora Host Armour

cancer-labora1Host armours are designed from a semi-living infernal construct as a heavy-duty harsh-environment armour shell, within which a human soldier can safely nestle. Like all Host Armours, the Cancer Labora enhances the physical and sensory capabilities of its occupant, as well as providing some environmental control and heavy armour. It is intended primarily as a heavy attack unit for dealing with infantry, with its armour thick enough to provide protection against all but the heaviest of infernal weaponry or cannons. The Cancer Labora is made of a type of thick hide modelled on the crab shell, with the plates connected to one another by a special fireproof Infernal material. The human occupant climbs in through the back and operates the various arms using his own hands, and fingers for the smaller arms. The largest arms are weapons in their own right, but can extend small gripping devices to hold additional weapons. The armour shell can also have Infernal weapons embedded, though they must have no recoil. The Cancer Labora is the only Host Armour with an environmental seal suitable for operation underwater, though even then the seal is not perfect and the Labora must return to land within a few hours. In addition to enhanced strength, armour and weapons powers, the Cancer Labora offers nightsight and enhanced hearing magic.

Impulsion Field Rod


The Impulsion Field Rod does not do damage per se; rather, it throws its target back a distance of tens of feet, knocking them off their feet in the process.  The Impulsion Field Rod is particularly frightening in combat on rooftops or alpine terrain, though in the latter case it has been known to cause avalanches. The Impulsion Rod usually has between 10 and 50 charges and must be recharged at a specified camp or location, though occasionally essence packs can be used to recharge it in the field, if it is needed for an extended campaign or mission. Some soldiers learn to use the Impulsion Rod in their off hand during melee combat, gaining two attacks (though the Impulsion Rod attack may be at a penalty). Frequently they use the Rod to repulse a charge or in the first moments of combat before engaging in melee. Impulsion rods, unlike the more horrifying brands of field rod (ennervators, confustors or quickeners, which are made of bone and wood) are usually made of beautifully crafted mixtures of wood and iron, not unlike rifles. Wizards sometimes use impulsion field rods, in which case they are usually enchanted to be lighter than their appearance would suggest.

Of course, all field rods are infernally crafted, using infernal essences bound to a manual trigger to enable even the most magically ignorant of soldiers to use them.

The Death Suit

The Death Suit is in every sense a normal suit of armour; however, it is imbued with a sacrificial Demon which is invoked on the first occasion that the wearer suffers a mortal blow. The Demon leaches from the Death Suit directly into the body of the wearer, absorbing most of the damage of the mortal blow (which is reduced to a serious wound). The armour is ruined and the wearer experiences certain immediate effects – the wearers eyes go very pale (permanently) and he or she suffers the immediate loss of 1 point of constitution. This effect is instantaneous (some scholars even believe the Demon in the suit has the ability to sense a moment ahead in time) and applies to most mortal injuries. Those which  would completely destroy the body, or which involve massive damage to the head, are not covered by the Suit, though it is rumoured one can purchase a helmet with the same qualities. The Suit works for anyone who wears it, but before the effects can be applied to that person they must rub the armour completely with a salve made of a combination of rose water and their own blood. This process is usually draining for the person who performs it, requiring several hours of work and making them so weak that they cannot perform strenuous activity for a period of time far in excess of that expected given the amount of blood lost.  The benefits, however, are obvious. The suit usually comes as leather or chain, though it can come in the form of an undergarment (at considerable extra cost). The suits can often be identified by their odour of roses.


An autonomous cannon, and a French Harlequin Mercenary

An autonomous cannon, and a French Harlequin Mercenary

The most grotesque gun available in Europe, the Autonomous Sentinel Cannon (or Infernal Sentinel) is actually a semi-intelligent construct, consisting (in crude terms) of a gun built into a thinking, perceptory demon construct on stilt-like legs. The gun cannot move much under its own volition, but is capable of swivelling and stepping in place to aim at targets. In the picture here the Gun is seen in the foreground, with a mercenary wielding an Infernal Cannon to the rear. The gun can see, and has limited target selection abilities (though it is easily confused). It can be stunned by Confustor Field Rods. The most alarming aspect of the Infernal Sentinel, however, is its fuel source – regardless of who builds them, Infernal Sentinels are always powered by human blood, usually a quart per 50 shots. Their handlers are also called corpse grinders for their habit of draining the blood of their victims to fuel their gun.


So called because of its bizarre resemblance to an enormous thumb, the Battle Thumb is the Chimaeric creation which elevated York Constructs, Inc. to greatness. Bought in bulk by the armies of several nations, the Battle Thumb is much respected for its endurance, great strength and reliability. Though not easy to armour, its hide is naturally thick and it has some resilience against extremes of temperature. It is not agile but is highly mobile, requiring little space to turn and capable of reversing as well as walking forward. It is not capable of high speeds but its cunning physiognomy makes it a stable combat platform in any situation – mounted archers can fire from its back even when it is at full sprint. It is also capable of carrying quite heavy weights, though it is not efficient given its overall size and its speed and mobility decline rapidly as the weights increase.  It is, however, an excellent scouting and light combat mount, especially useful for archers, scouts and skirmishers, and useful for adventurers who need to move over rough or mountainous terrain. It has one other admirable trait which makes it much desired by military planners – it can eat anything. This beast is rather uncharitably referred to as “the Duke of Yorks Cock” by many soldiers.

Chimaere are artificial life forms, built in a laboratory by magicians and quickened with magical and Demonic forces. They could be built in almost any form, and were used in circumstances where a conveyance more specialised than the simple horse was required. They are correspondingly more expensive, and are mostly the province of large companies, the military and wealthy landowners. Although common varieties are described here, many companies and landowners have their own specially developed “signature” chimaerae, which can take on almost any form available in the imagination of a mage. 

Some companies specialise in the creation of Chimaerics, and many run bespoke departments which can build chimaerics upon request. Chimaerae are not usually under the scrutiny of the government, so people requesting a specially designed creature need not have much fear of their plans being interfered with by the security apparatus. However, construction of specialised chimaerae is a very expensive and time-consuming task.

The Royal Mail Swift Delivery Raptor, commonly known as the Postal Falcon, was used exclusively by the Royal Mail service to deliver urgent or important documents to distant locations. About 5’ in length and 11’ from wingtip to wingtip, the Postal Falcon was characterised by a ferocious temperament, fast flight and great endurance. It was designed with claws, wing redundancy, sharp teeth and a venomous tail to make it a difficult target for thieves and wild animals, endowments which also made it rather troublesome to keep. Special handlers called peregriners had to look after these birds, and they were an expensive investment for the Royal Mail indeed. A Postal Falcon can deliver a maximum of 11 lbs of weight over a range of 250 miles, at an average speed of 40 miles per hour. The creature is quite intelligent and can be trained to fly between a maximum of 4 different locations (usually Royal Mail stations). All have inbuilt passive detection systems, so those which fail to reach their destination can be tracked and retrieved. The Postal Falcon  became less useful as a delivery animal, and more useful to the military, as the railway lines expanded in the late 19th century, and was slowly phased out of normal service. It was one of the first Chimaerae to be built and used extensively, entering service first in the late 18th century. 

(Note: obviously the idea of chimaerae owes something to China Mieville, who wrote about them in Perdido Street Station. My Victorian Infernal world owes a lot to China Mieville, which fact will be mentioned again in future).

The equipment and weapons of the Victorian Era were either simplistic mechanical constructions or complicated magical devices. By this time the peoples of the Old World had become so enamoured of magical and Infernal technology that investigation of the natural sciences was seen as a second-rate hobby, interesting in its own right for those with enough time and money to devote to it but of limited use when compared to the great achievements of the magical arts. 


Scientific discovery ended with the discovery of the gas lamp and the steam engine, and since then Architecture and mathematics were the only fields to continue to develop, both being intricately connected with the Infernal and magical arts respectively. Even medicine ceased to be a viable field of study with the development of the Healing Arts and the return of Witchcraft to rural communities. Europe entered the Victorian Era without electricity or medicine, and with no chance of developing them.  


The Europeans also found little use for Gunpowder. Muskets had fallen out of favour with the military after the development of Demon Weapons, and although cannon retained some usefulness in fortifications, especially as magical and infernal arts made them bigger and more powerful, it was generally believed that any weapon devised using gunpowder could be made more portable, more ferocious and more reliable using magic. So the military returned to the Demon Bow, with elite units using rarer and more powerful weapons and officers carrying old pistols only for show and duelling. Some few gunpowder weapons were developed to a better standard but they always remained cumbersome, inconvenient and ineffective. The Victorians also distrusted gunpowder as an Oriental invention, which the Chinese especially seemed to be far better at turning into a weapon than the Europeans. 


Posts on this topic describe some of the common mundane and magical weapons and equipment of the Essential Compromise Victorian era. The era was full of innovation and individualism in the Infernal Sciences, and so there are many other items than these available in the larger cities of England and Europe; but these posts should suffice to display the common themes in adventuring goods of the time. 

The chief means of getting about Europe remained the Steam Train, the Horse and Carriage, and the Steamer. By 1875 England was well-served by an extensive network of railways; prior to this more extensive use needed to be made of the horse and Carriage. International trade and travel was made possible by the Steamer and (until the very late 19th Century) the Tall Ship. Various magical and Infernal improvements on these standard designs will also be described in the posts to follow.

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