Monday, April 30, 2007

After Action Report

I stayed up way too late on both Friday and Saturday, though I managed to get to bed a little bit early on Sunday, so I'm not too bad off today. Friday was the family campaign, we didn't get quite as far as I wanted, but we did managed to cover some pretty significant territory. We're actually planning on playing again on Saturday (mostly because the weekend of the 12th and the 19th are out) so that will be three weekends in a row. At the same time as the family campaign one of my friends was having a bbq for all of his employees, a group I am nominally a member of, so at 10:00 when the family campaign ended I called him up to see if it was still going on. As it turned out it was, and before I knew it was 1:30 before I dragged myself back home.

I tried to sleep in Saturday, but a combination of the kids, the light and my sense of responsibility got me up by 8:00. I had quite a bit on my to-do list on Saturday, but near the top of the list was seeing "Hot Fuzz". I already had dinner plans up in Ogden, so the only showing I would be around for was the 10:30 pm showing. So once again it was after 1:00 am before I got to bed, and once again responsibility, light and kids kept me from realizing my dreams of a nice "lie in".

As far as a review of "Hot Fuzz"... Everyone I talked to said that it was better than "Shaun of the Dead" (the other movie by this writing/directing/acting team). I would disagree, I'd call it a tie. Which is still an awful lot of praise for "Hot Fuzz", I really have only one reservation that keeps me, from well, unreservedly recommending it. It's pretty heavy on the gore. Other than that if you want to see a really funny movie, definitely go see "Hot Fuzz".

Well, I wouldn't argue that that was a no-holds-barred, adrenalin fuelled thrill ride, but there is no way you can perpetrate that amount of carnage and mayhem and not incur a considerable amount of paperwork.

I think you would have made a great Muppet...

Friday, April 27, 2007


Well I ended up donating platelets today. I watched "The Pursuit of Happyness" with Will Smith. It was fairly predictable but not too bad. It's based on a true story and considering how badly things like that generally get managed in the translation, they did a pretty good job with this one. It got 66% on RottenTomatoes, which sounds about right.

While I was watching the movie I tried to do a little bit of prep for tonights D&D session (family campaign). I'm running one of DUNGEON's adventure paths, but there's always a little bit of work as you try and mold things to fit the characters in your campaign. Plus I'm giving out special powers every five levels and since they'll hopefully hit level five sometime tonight I need to make sure I have all new powers waiting for them.

In any case I can tell that I'm scraping the bottom already so I'd better wrap things up.

Have a good weekend

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Discovery Channel

I stayed up too late again last night, it's that damn Discovery Channel. All of their good programs come on between 10 and 11 pm. Sunday night it was "Planet Earth", Tuesday night it was "The Deadliest Catch" and last night it was "Mythbusters". Though I really shouldn't take out my anger on the Discovery Channel since they re-broadcast everything multiple times, and if I just wanted to wait a week, generally whatever new show I stayed up until 11 watching would be rebroadcast from 9-10 the next week, right before the new one (and that's how the whole viscious cycle starts).

It's not so much that going to bed at 11:00 is really all that bad for someone who wakes up at 7:00. Many if not most people would be happy to get 8 hours a night, but of course it's not like I go to bed right at 11:00, I have to check on all my kids, Open/Close windwos, get undressed, and all the other nightly rituals. And then of course I never sleep straight through to 7:00 either, that's just when the alarm is set, I generally wake up about 5:30 or 6:00 and have to go to the bathroom and from that point out I may get a little more sleep but nothing one would brag about.

One night of this is not so bad, but if I'm already sleep deprived, say from overdoing it on the weekend say (Warning: try not to picture it), then that little bit of missing sleep really lends a bite to the sleep deficit I'm already carrying. Caffeine helps, but there's only so much you can do with that before you're going to bed even later, and waking up to pee even earlier. Just like the Discovery Channel it's a vicious cycle.

Great White Sharks are scary

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Erratic and mostly incoherent

As you may have noticed my blogging has been erratic, and mostly incoherent. I blame "The Man", though as a white male who is over 30 I guess I'm as much "The Man" as anyone. It's not as enjoyable as you might think, mostly it seems like a bunch of tedious work (for example, the gender wage gap is harder to maintain than you might imagine). In any case the big work project I mentioned a few weeks ago is basically done (though you know what they say the first 90% of a project takes 90% of the effort and the last 10% takes the other 90%), so I should have a bit more time during lunch to squeeze something in. I may even have some exciting news here in the not to distant future, though after aozora blew off the offer I made in response to one of his comments I'm not sure I should bother... ;)

Perhaps I'm more of "The Boy"

Monday, April 23, 2007

Speed vs. Realism

Well we had the "Family Campaign" on Saturday, and it went pretty well. D&D (and role-playing games in general) take a long time to play. If you consider taking characters from levels 1-20 to be a single game, then you have something that could last years. Which means that its important to keep "things" moving. "Things" have been going slow for the last little while, mostly because we haven't been playing that often (the holidays slowed everything down) but I came up with a few ideas to speed things up (on top of meeting more often):

1- When the players ends up in a complex situation (like choosing how best to infiltrate a castle or defend a villate), rather than just saying "What do you want to do?" I will give them a set of choices (bluff the guard, climb the wall, sneak in through the sewers, or none of the above). They can always choose to do something other than one of options I've offered, but hopefully it will reduce the time it takes to discuss the problem.

2- Supply the monster's Armor Class and Hit Points when they're in combat. That way they don't have to wait for me to tell them if they hit, or whether the monster is dead they have that information right in front of them, thus speeding up combat.

3- Don't roll for damage any more. All weapons, and spells, etc. would just do average damage. Obviously eliminating half of the die rolls would speed things up as well.

In the end they opted to only do option 1, and only after making sure that there was a none of the above option. In essence each of the options traded some of the D&D-ness of the experience for speed of play. So for them to choose only option 1, means that they really do like the D&D-ness, enough so that even though it's going slow they would rather continue that way then sacrifice any of the experience. To be honest I'm kind of proud of them. Plus I think I must have scared them because we really tore threw things that night. I think we ended up getting in 6 combats, which I believe is a record...

Also, if anyone has any ideas on speeding things up with minimal impact on the D&D-ness of the experience let me know.

8 months down, 3 and a half years to go

Friday, April 20, 2007

Dungeon and Dragon

No not Dungeons and Dragons, Dungeon and Dragon.

In 1975, TSR, Inc. began publishing The Strategic Review. At the time, roleplaying games were still seen as a sub-genre of the wargaming industry, and the magazine was designed not only to support Dungeons & Dragons and TSR's other games, but also to cover wargaming in general. In short order, however, the popularity and growth of Dungeons & Dragons made it clear that the game had not only separated itself from its wargaming origins, but had launched an entirely new industry unto itself. The following year, after only seven issues, TSR cancelled The Strategic Review and replaced it with The Dragon which later became Dragon Magazine and then Dragon.

I took that paragraph from the Wikipedia on Dragon (the magazine). Well that's all over. Yesterday it was announced that Wizards of the Coast is not going to renew Paizo's license to publish Dragon (or Dungeon) magazine. WotC is going to move it all online. In general I'm not a Luddite (or neo-luddite, or post-neo-anarcho-primitive) I'll read something off of the computer without any problem, but there's something about a book or a magazine, that still makes them pretty good vectors for information. They're durable, portable, tactilly satisfying, pretty, nice-smelling, arousing... okay I better stop, but the point is that electronic distribution is not the same.

Even more than Dragon I'm going to miss Dungeon (first published in 1986). My relationship with that magazine is complicated. My own little company, currently in a coma, DireKobold was initially set up as a direct competitor to Dungeon, later when I realized that wasn't going to work, I made a valient attempt to get them to use my software with their adventures, there's still a little flicker of hope there so I won't go into enormous detail, suffice it to say, that I could not imagine anything cooler in the world than picking up a Dungeon magazine and finding a paragraph instructing people on how to order an enhanced PDF version of the adventure (wired up with my software). And it wasn't just that they'd be using my software the magazine itself was that amazing, just about all by itself.

In any case I'm going to miss them. Count me among those that are not ready just yet to damn WotC's online versions, but they're going to have to do something pretty cool to capture that magic that was those two venerable magazines...

The end of the third era...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Order of the Stick Adventure Game

So I played the Order of the Stick Adventure Game (hereafter referred to as OotS:AG) last Saturday. In preperation for playing I spent quite a bit of time on the forums reading up on the game. The general consensus was that it's long... To this I can attest, I even took some preemptive measures to shorten it and it still was after 1 am when we finished (we started slightly after 6:00 pm). Still it was a lot of fun, but at 6+ hours in length a lot of people have asked me if I would play it again. And the answer to that is....

Definitely. In fact experiencing the flaws of OotS:AG has made me even more eager to play it. A great game is merely enjoyable to play, a good game is only slightly less enjoyable to play with the added enjoyment of triggering my inner game designer. "There's a great game inside OotS:AG waiting to be let out, and I'm the one to do it." In particular I like the idea of shticks (a great play on words). Shticks represent the basic abilities, weapons, and special qualities of each character. They also represent the characters leveling up. So you might have a shtick for a sword, or for diplomacy, or for armor, or one that allows you to do special things with the loot (Haley in particular.)

Shticks are so cool in fact that it makes me want to create an actual RPG system based on shticks. I don't think I will have too much else to do, but my experience, particularly playing in the family campaign is that the world could use a really simple RPG system and yes I know there are some out there, (and if anyone says Amber:Diceless I'll rip out your spleen) the point I'm trying to make is that it's rare to come across a simple system that is really compelling, mostly you focus on the features you've given up for the sake of simplicity, but that wasn't how I felt about OotS:AG.

In any case I will be playing again, though obviously with some modifications. I already made the modification of starting characters out with more shticks (4) and loot (6). In addition I think I might fool around with the number of rooms in a level, and the number of levels. Also I think having a big enough surface to lay out everything all at once will really help (we ended up playing from a table while constructing the dungeon on the floor.) As my house rules develop I'll keep you posted.

In a life or death situation never trust a raven

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Grand Unified Theory of the Decline of the West

I'm always on the lookout for theories with broad application. And in that sense I suppose I'm a little bit like the conspiracy theorists I occasionally mock. I want there to be one elegant explanation for everything. When of course, in reality, the world is a pretty chaotic place. In any case lately I've been looking for a grand theory for the decline of the West. Now of course that presupposes that the West is in decline which could obviously be debated, but for the moment we'll assume that it is...

On Saturday some of the thoughts I'd been having coalesced into grand statement:

It used to be that we were trying to create heroes, now we're trying to avoid victims.

(This was before the Virginia Tech Massacre, and I'm not even going to try and fit it to that story, it's too early and the details are still a little bit sketchy. I don't want to make some lofty pronouncement, only to find out that the details were different than initially reported, but suffice it to say I'm horrified by what happened.)

To give you an example of exactly what I'm talking about I refer you to this story in the Denver Post. A statue honoring a fallen Navy Seal is going to erected adjacent to some schools and close to Columbine, so some parents are objecting. In particular they think the statue is too focused around the gun. I'm not even sure where to start with that, it's mis-guided on so many levels.

There's a lot more I could say on this subject, too much in fact for the time I have. But if you've got a second tell me what you think.

Rather than being told to be brave we're told to be afraid

Friday, April 13, 2007

Fred's Theory of Homeostasis

Occasionally despite my pessimism and general bleakness I'm forced to admit that things are going pretty well. This is one of those times, mark it on your calender, call your friends and remember where you were when it happened so you can tell your grandkids. And this even comes despite the fact that I've been sick the last couple of days (with a condition not suitable for discussion among polite company). Of course that does give you a clue as to one of the factors in my good mood, Fred's Theory of Homeostasis (sorry that's an inside joke between my wife and I).

I know that my own definition of homeostatis is somewhat like my definition of salubrious, in the ballpark but not exactly playing the same game. Homeostatis eventually refers to the propensity of a system to maintain an equilibrium despite influences which may seem to push it one way or the other. I use it more as a short hand to refer to the idea that your mood is based more on the distance travelled then objective factors. So if just yesterday I was spending most of the day in the bathroom, in no small amount of distress, then it doesn't take much for today to seem much improved.

This isn't the only reason I'm happy but the others are somewhat homeostatic as well. For a long time I haven't given my yard a lot of love, and it has in the past look pretty bedraggled, but last year I had a nice parking strip put in, and last Saturday I pruned the Hell out of the bushes in front, I moved it and fertilized it, plus it's spring so everything is still pretty green. So my yard went from being a continual thorn in my side to being something that doesn't look half bad. There are other examples of this (like home teaching) but I'm out of time, so I guess I'll just have to wish you all a great weekend (I'm getting with the guys to play The Order of the Stick Adventure Game on Saturday, so I'm pretty stoked).

It's not where you are but how you got there

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tiny and unremarkable

Well I have seven minutes to kill while some files copy over. Despite the massive project I foreshadowed yesterday, that's not what I'm working on. I have yet to be able to aquire the new version of Linux I need, so I haven't even started on that yet. Which I guess is good since my wife is pretty sick, so I have to leave work early and take my number two son to a birthday party.

I was watching the Deadliest Catch last night on the Discovery Channel. On last nights episode a fishing boat sunk killing three out of the four people on board. It wasn't a boat they were following so they didn't have cameras on it, but even so it was pretty dramatic. What's interesting about the show (particularly considering last nights episode) is that it looks one of the hardest and most frightening things one could ever do, and yet I find that on some deep atavistic level I long to be out there with those guys.

Anyway my seven minutes is up, till tomorrow...

Feeling the need to ring up Death and see how he's been doing

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

My Geek Notes

Recently a couple of people have inquired about using my blog as a force of good rather than evil. The first is a secret, a secret so dark that most people who know it are eventually driven insane. As long as your definition of insanity includes a complete rejection of the status quo coupled with a desire to skip down the gum-drop path towards the lolli-pop woods. The second group, headed by potato wedge bil, is For a while I considered moving my entire blog over to there, but I decided that the restrictions (perceived or otherwise) on the content would be too onerous.

Instead I decided that if there was a post which seemed to fit the theme, that I would crosspost it to mygeeknotes. I also added them to my links section on the right hand side of my blog. So far I've only cross-posted once. It was the blog entry about the gaming dilemma I was suffering from, along with the list of games I'm interested in, that seemed geeky enough.

So in other news I was told this morning that the complete upgrade of the environment I was planning on getting done sometime in the next few months has to be done yesterday. After convincing them that a lifetime of TV viewing had given them an unrealistic impression of the ease of time travel they gave me a deadline of two weeks from yesterday. So things are going to be... interesting for the next little while. I may be skipping some lunches which means the blogging may be a little bit sparser, but we'll have to see.

Deer in the headlights, and the car's not swerving

Monday, April 09, 2007


I managed to get through not one, but two of our Netflix movies over the weekend. The first was "A Prairie Home Companion", which I thoroughly enjoyed. I confess to some trepidation in viewing another Altman film after being pummeled and left for dead by "Short Cuts". But this was more of a Keillor movie than an Altman movie and as such it oozed a nostalgic charm which despite getting into everything was nevertheless impossible to resist.

The second movie was "An Inconvenient Truth". I had watched the trailer back when the movie was first released, and the chief complaint I came away with was his (seeming) assertion that rising sea levels would create millions of refugees. Now I mentioned this point before, but let me tell you a story which might help illustarte how silly this concern is. Between 1982 and 1986 the Great Salt Lake rose nearly 12 feet. During that time My father worked for a solar pond company at the edge of the lake (you pump the lake water into shallow pools, wait for the water to evaporate and harvest what's left). Obviously if these ponds flooded that would be a bad thing so they built a dike. Yes a dike, an invention that the people worried about rising sea levels have apparently never heard of...

Now the point about a dike is that it obviously has to cost less than then land it's protecting, now I don't know if you're familiar with the smelly, salty, largely dead areas around a inland salt sea but in terms of value it's some of the cheapest real estate in the world and yet it was still economically justified to build a dike that kept the waters at bay for most of the raise in water level. The dike did eventually break, but not until 1985 I believe. Now imagine the economic justification for building a dike around downtown Manhattan, now further imagine that you're not talking about 12 feet in 4-5 years, but rather 2.5 feet in 100 years (and that's the high estimate).

Look I'm not saying that's dikes don't have some issues, like keeping you from seeing the ocean from the center of town, or reconstructing ports and docks, but the Dutch seem to do just fine with them and Rotterdam is the (or at least used to be) the biggest port in the world. And I'm not saying that there aren't other issues, not so easily superable, associated with global warming, but to go on and on about the horrible refugee problem is just, well retarded.

And no Al never mentioned Nuclear Power

Friday, April 06, 2007

British Humor

Like many people I'm a big fan of British Humor, from Monty Python to Red Dwarf and points in between. Even The Economist has a sense of humor, as illustrated by this opening paragraph of the article on the evolution of mammals:

As with other fields of human endeavour science has its myths. One of the best known goes like this. Once upon a time, the world was dominated by dinosaurs. Mammals were tiny, nocturnal and crept around minding their own business. Then one day a big, bad asteroid came along and wiped out all the dinosaurs. The mammals shouted "Yipee", lept out of their burrows and took over. In the end, therefore, Homo sapiens rather than Tyrannosaurus rex became top animal.

Anyway that's all I have for today. I'm looking forward to getting a lot done over the weekend. Perhaps I'll tell you about it some time.

A bad case of the Fridays

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Gaming Priorities

I have a problem. I'm not sure if you would call it ADD, or excessive curiousity, or recurring ennui, or just Ross-ness (I just watched Me, You and Dupree you'd have to have seen it to get that joke.) It's this condition, whatever you choose to call it, that causes my problem. The concise way of putting would be, "Everything interests me but nothing interests me for long." Obviously the length of time I remain interested varies quite a bit, with particularly interesting and enjoyable things holding my attention for quite awhile, but even my interest in something as interesting and enjoyable as D&D goes through a sin wave of passion to apathy.

Part of the problem is the opportunity cost, or the competition for my time. If D&D was the only thing around to do with my buddies on a Saturday night then I doubt my recurring ennui would manifest with anywhere near the frequency and severity, but there are so many cool and interesting things to do. To just give you a partial list of games I would really like to play:

Midnight D20
Order of the Stick Adventure Game
Illuminati CCG
Shadows Over Camelot
Savage Tide Adventure Path
Puerto Rico
Shadowrun 4E
Samurai Swords (Shogun)

These are just the games I own. So as you can well imagine if "the gang" only gets together once a month that it's going to take quite awhile to get around to all those games, particularly since any kind of RPG (of which there are three on that list) takes years to play from start to finish.

At the moment I'm the DM for two different D&D campaigns, after reflecting on the points I just made (I didn't just reflect on them, this happened over the course of the last few weeks) I've basically decided that one ought to be enough, so I'm going to turn the other one into a general game night where I can play the other seven things on my list (and probably a lot more).

Recurring, excessive, attentively deficit, curiously ennui-esque disorder

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Vacation Recap

Sorry I didn't post yesterday, I spent the entire day shadowing a vendor consultant as we tried to trouble shoot the problems we were having with their product, so I barely got lunch.

I don't know how much I'll be able to cover. My son actually kept a journal of the vacation for school (I guess they wanted to make sure he wasn't entirely goofing off, I mean how would that be if an 8 year old just had fun for a week...) so perhaps I should transcribe it and post it.

Saturday (3/24): This was the drive down. We pulled out of the driveway just before 6:00 am and made it to California (Costa Mesa) by 4:00 their time. By the end the kids had definitely cracked. I tried telling them they didn't know how good they had it, with a DVD player and all. When I was young... It quieted them down a little bit, but I think it just took them from boiling to simmering. The evening was spent recovering.

Sunday (3/25): We went to church with my brother-in-law and his family, walked around the grounds of the new Newport Beach Temple, napped a little, and had dinner with the BIL (a very yummy beef stroganoff). It should have been a pretty peaceful day, but instead I sent a large portion of it text-messaging and calling the guy who was backing me up. There was suppossed to be a big publish on that day, but the Marketing guy who was suppossed to do the initial activation was much later than he should have been, in fact he was about 9 hours later than I thought he would be. It turned out his hard drive had died. Which is obviously the sort of thing that will only happen while you're hundreds of miles away...

Monday (3/26): More time on the phone, but things calmed down by the afternoon. We once again spent the bulk of the day visiting the BIL and his family. Much of it at the park, where the kids got soaked. We went to In-and-Out Burger for lunch, which was quite good, and that night we had a very salubrious bacon-wrapped chicken dinner.

Tuesday (3/27): The main event, Legoland. I loved Miniland, the roller coasters were perfect for the kids. The giant robotic arm was cool, if somewhat nauseating, and the lines were just about non-existant. Overall it was quite a bit of fun, and we basically did the whole park in one day. In particular, if you have kids, I would recommend the driving class, my kids really liked that, even if I did have to lie a little bit to get my number 2 son onto the big kids course. That night we went to the claim jumper. My friend Tyson and his lovely girlfriend Adriane(sp?) came up from San Diego. It was nice to see him, particularly since he's not coming to GenCon this year, which is where I normally see him.

Wednesday (3/28): Another driving day, though not nearly as long (only ~6 hours), from California to Arizona. We were staying with one of my wife's cousins, who has a pool, so as soon as we got there we jumped in. It was a little cool, but not too bad.

Thursday (3/29): We went swimming again in my wife's Grandmother's pool (the retirement community, she's in has a heated pool). Then we went to lunch with grandma and one of my wife's aunts. That night we went to the Annual Easter Pageant put on by the Mesa Arizona Temple. It was quite good. Only a church pageant can pull in a cast of probably over 300. On the way out I was joking with some of the performers, telling them that I was hoping to be called on to play the part of Jesus (my beard hadn't been trimmed in awhile and my hair, which hasn't been cut since I shaved my head, is quite long.) They said well just keep growing it out and maybe you'll have better luck next year. I told them I would tell that to my wife.

Friday (3/30): The longest drive of the trip, from Arizona to Utah. Since we'd had a lot of late nights we decided not to leave outrageously early. So we pulled out of the driveway at 8:00 am and pulled in to our driveway right around 8:00 pm (we lost an hour since AZ doesn't do DST). I think the kids may have actually done better on that drive, though it's hard to say, I think their spirits were broken.

Just a few miles short of 2000 and I drove every last one of them

Monday, April 02, 2007


Well after being gone for a week I'm pretty much buried in work, so I don't have the time to give a complete vacation recap. We did just shy of 2000 miles of driving without any problems, so that maybe the most miraculous aspect of the trip. I think the fact that I rubbed the dashboard and the hood soothingly everytime I had a chance may have been a key factor in that. Legoland was really cool, though I'm still having nightmares about the ride which consisted of a giant robotic arm which reached out and seized you before tossing you back and forth like a rag doll, with spinning, and I only did level 2 out of 5 possible levels...

Caged and grumpy