flail doyou ?

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Monday, July 28, 2003

I've been playing Star Wars Galaxies since it came out. I've got to admit, I'm really impressed with the efforts of the team - they've been patching nearly daily since launch, and amazingly enough this is reducing the bug count, not raising it. It's pretty impressive. Not saying it makes for a great game, and everyone seems to have their pet bug that isn't getting fixed (mine, for instance, is that I crash to desktop every 5-15 minutes after this last patch. I can still play on my laptop, though.) Deploying an effective patch daily is an accomplishment in itself, though.

One gameplay thing I am impressed with, though, is the skill system. It uses an artificial limit to enforce it, but it does a good job of representing that it's not (normally) possible to be the best in multiple disciplines simultaneously. AC1 is a good example of a game that didn't hit this aspect of skills at all - because of the exponential curve of skill costs, every character that has a given skill is going to have (very roughly) the same level of ability in that skill as every other character at the same level. There's no such thing as a master swordsman who can just barely pick an elementary lock - either he can't pick locks at all, or his skill is not much different from a dedicated thief of the same level. (bad example for AC, since there are no dedicated thieves, but...)

In SWG, each character has a finite number of skill points, and that number never increases. Skill points are required to advance in skills, not just to use them at all. Thus, one's ability as a marksman is in direct conflict with one's ability as a dancer - you may be inable to master both.

It's interesting, because the reason real humans can't master all available skills isn't a finite number of credits - being among the best in a field requires maintenance. Playing guitar a couple of hours a week isn't going to keep you from being a good accountant, but it might keep you from becoming the best accountant in the world. So, like I said, it's a totally artificial mechanism for representing a real world effect.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Thursday, July 24, 2003

So. I may as well come clean. I'm seriously considering replacing my current car. It's a really stupid thing to do - my RAV4 will be paid off the month before the Elise hits the states, and it will probably continue to be a fine car for at least another 5 years. The Elise is a high-maintenance toy, and I'll have to give up the RAV4 for it if I do manage to swing it.

It's like in the Simpsons, when Homer gets to design his dream car. The Elise is in every way the car I would make if I could have a car custom built for me. There's a lot of Homer Simpson in my response to the car, as well - if I wasn't supposed to buy it, why would I want it so much?

The MR2 Spyder was my dream car before I found out about the Elise. So, I mean, it's like when you're thinking, "Man, pizza would be nice," and a guy walks buy and says, "Hey, did you hear about that new place that has pizza and beer?" and you say "Well, that settles it, I guess I'm having pizza and beer tonight!" and that's it for AA and Atkins, all at once. They took the car of my dreams, made it smaller, faster, more attractive, and gave it better brakes. That's pretty much the same thing as removing my brain and replacing it with a giant organ that knows only how to consume. (I think that might be called a "stomach", actually.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

From this article:
"Texas Democrats for so long didn't seem to know what they stood for. They were too busy being `Republican Lite,' " Bentsen said. "These Democrats have done their job by letting people know what they stand for, what they believe in."

Am I missing something, or is this quote totally insane? The Democrats in question "did their job" of "letting people know... what they believe in" by blocking a redistricting attempt that would likely have cost them some elections. Is that incorrect? I thought that's what they were doing. I think it was the right thing to do, but that's not exactly the sort of inspired ideology I was looking for out of the Democratic party.
The New Texas Democratic Platform
Retain what little grasp we still have on any sort of power at all costs.

Is that about right?

Again - I tend to think they did the right thing, given my limited understanding of what was going on. But I really hope I'm missing something in the above quote, or in my grasp of events. (What I'm not missing is the spin that "they blocked the redistricting because they wanted to focus on issues that are important to Democrats." Whether or not that's what they wanted to do, they were saving their own hides.)
So Bryant posts his Gencon manifest to his blog, as an easy place to be reminded of it. Convenient and clever. (If you misread that as manifesto, it's probably a good thing if you go back and click the link so the rest of this post stands a chance of making sense.)

My first thought is to bookmark the comments section for that page, and use it to post my packing list, next time I go somewhere. I don't think Bryant would much appreciate that, though. I could put my grocery lists up on Atrios, except there's no good way to get to his comments on my Sidekick.

There's really a lot of possibilities. You could (in)effectively host your own blog in other blogs' comments sections - although it would be a bit more challenging to make it readable forward as well as backward. Unfortunately, I'm neither sufficiently antisocial nor sufficiently interesting to be able to justify doing something like that myself. But I'd like to see someone do it.

That's one thing I don't like about the internet+Google. There's a diminished sense of accomplishment when you find items. (What's a good word that encompasses "a piece of information" and "a work of art"?) Now that I have my Sidekick, there's virtually no reason for me to remember trivia. The ability to go directly to what you want diminishes somewhat the possibility of stumbling across something you didn't realize you wanted, too.

I'd like to pretend I was going somewhere when I started writing this, but I don't think I was.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Sometimes, you'll find a work that you only see once, be it a movie or book or what-have-you, and you realize later that you have no idea what it was called, and it bothers you for years.

I've had three of them; yesterday one was eliminated. It was
Gondomania. Surprisingly enough, it was as good as I remembered it. It's a top-scrolling shooter that has a lot of depth to it. You have two attacks - one from your vehicle that's forward-facing only, another from the rider that can fire in any of 8 directions. In the arcade, it was controlled with an Ikari Warriors style stick, I'm settling for using the shoulder buttons on my Sidewinder; mostly I shoot forward. The real innovation, though, is in the powerups. Powerups spawn at fixed locations on the map - instead of blowing up creatures to get at the luscious goodies inside, you blow up creatures to get cash to buy powerups. If you fly over a powerup you can afford, you buy it and the cash goes away. It's a really satisfying system, one I wish had caught on.

The other two are movies. One was a black and white film about a circus, I think there may have been a murder involved, and one of the characters (the strongman?) was a mute. The other fell somewhere in between The Game and Mazes and Monsters, I guess. It was basically about a LARP that turns deadly - maybe. It was a kind of hard move to follow. The title, I think, was one word, and I could swear it started with S. There was a character in the movie, a janitor, who stood in the background and had a tic-tac-toe game play out on his back through the movie. That is to say, every scene he appeared in, another move would have been made. It was a really awful movie, but not being able to remember the title drives me absolutely nuts.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Bryant corrected some usability issues with the Monday Mashup, so here goes. (For the sake of reference, I have less than a passing familiarity with either CSI or Greyhawk. My television watching has declined sharply in the past few years.)

Monday Mashup #2
This week, your mashup subject is Invasion of the Body Snatchers. (The 1978 remake is also valid fodder.)

My first thought was that it would be really interesting to do this in VtM, with the hook being the misdirection - everyone expects NPCs in VtM to be subject to mind control, so play it along as if it's mind control in the beginning. I kind of lost interest in that when I concluded that it would only get really interesting if vampires themselves were being replaced, and I couldn't find a plausible way for aliens to *ahem* masquerade as vampires, with all the attendant powers.

I'm fairly illiterate in systems/settings that focus purely on psychic abilities, but I think that's where I'd go. A near-future setting, in the midst of a proliferation of psychic abilities. Few psychics admit their abilities to the world; those that do are generally shunned or destroyed. The media plays up the psychic menace in response to a few who clumsily exploit their powers, but has no idea of its scope - perhaps one person in a thousand has been or will be awakened within the next few years. A few governments are struggling to write laws to apply to a threat they don't understand - the members of government who have themselves have gained psychic abilities use them only to their own advantage, and are some of the most strident voices calling for the containment and perhaps destruction of this new breed. Only a few rare psychics have the ability to discern between those who have been awakened and those who never will be.

The new psychics are mostly empaths and mind-readers, with a few developing the ability to control as well as sense the thoughts and emotions of others. All of these quickly discover, however, that most people are aware whenever their minds are probed. Some psychics can trace the probing back to its source, but most everyone just experiences a feeling of unease and suspicion. It's enough of a deterrent that most psychics only use their abilities when they're desperate, for fear that the suspicion will gradually find its way back to them with overuse.

Some psychics manage to find and support each other. Most of these bonds were formed of mutual trust before the media coverage began, when confused new psychics quietly confided in their closest friends that they were discovering new abilities and found a shared experience. Now, fear keeps everyone quiet. Networks of known psychics are slowly growing, however.

One of these networks in a small town begins stumbling across a group of people whose minds are absolutely impenetrable. The natural suspicion is that a powerful psychic or group of psychics is imprisoning the minds of ordinary folks somehow, but who could it possibly be?

Of course, it's not mind control at all - it's an infestation of pod-grown doppelgangers, quietly infiltrating themselves into human society. The aliens actually had a hand in accelerating the psychic development of the humans, both to provide a better cover as they insinuate themselves into human society, and because their plan once they enslave humanity depends on a large psychic potential.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

So, via TBOGG I see that a family is suing the Archdiocese of Santa Fe for comments made by one of its priests during a funeral. He allegedly said "clearly, loudly and without hesitation that the Lord vomited people like [the deceased] out of his mouth to hell."

So, it's a horrible thing to say, and according to the family of the deceased, the priest was only upset because the deceased hadn't been able to go to church for the past year of his life due to emphysema. The church says the comments were protected "because they were made by a priest during a religious ceremony." As repugnant as I find the priest's behavior, I do think I side with the church on this issue. I mean, the Catholic church is in the business of causing "nightmares, depression, anxiety attacks and the need for psychological counseling." The Constitution seems to protect their right to continue to do so. The determination of the eternal fate of the deceased by a priest of the Catholic church is certainly subject to review, but I don't think the courts have jurisdiction.
Well, so much for my ability to predict the future - referring specifically to the comment about convection keeping any blog from having only 1 hit/day. Two things I failed to account for - first, I now realize that they're probably filtering blogs that are showing 0 hits/day. This combines with blogs that are entirely dead but still have their sitemeter up to produce a fairly large market of blogs that will appear out of nowhere one day at 1 hit/day. I'm actually thinking it would be worthwhile to save off the chart from time to time, just to compare. I do wish I had the tenacity to find out how SiteMeter meters.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Hey, looky here. I'm not the only one to draw the connection between alienation of affection and sodomy. Of course, while Nadler and I both want to lump the two issues together, we each come down on opposite sides.

The "loss of consortium" comparison says interesting things about what the marriage relationship really is. "My husband _would_ have sex with me if I were the last woman on earth. Since I'm not, it's up to the rest of the women on earth to make themselves unavailable to him, to preserve our sexual relationship."

Monday, July 14, 2003

Friday, July 11, 2003

Wish 55: What's in a Name?
How do you choose character names? What makes a good or bad name for a character? What are three examples of really good (or really bad) character names, and why are they so good or bad?

I name characters the same way I name pets - whatever their full name is, there's got to be something in there that's easy to say. Three syllables at most if it's a familiar name, one or two at most if not. "Theresa" is fine, but I'm going to get tired of listening to people say "Margamur." "Marga Muriphlensis" is fine, though, as long as he doesn't mind being called "Marga." That's really my only metric for naming characters. In fantasy settings, I mostly cast about for syllables that work well togethre, within any appropriate language guidelines. In modern settings, I just go with whatever inspires me. I've named a werewolf "Aston Martin," I really have no shame.

As for what makes a good name for a character, pretty much anything that doesn't bring gameplay to a halt whenever someone tries to say the name is fine. "Cthulhu" is an awful name for a character, because anytime someone says it, they'll be thinking about what they're saying. "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" is also awful, because anytime someone says it, they're going to start giggling. Of course, if you're playing Toon, then names that inspire giggling are fine. "Jannifer" is going to be pretty frustrating, because people are always going to be concentrating on not saying "Jennifer." "Pickup" is going to be bad, because you have to put a little pause on either side to indicate that you're using a name, not talking about a truck. All of these issues go away after a session or two, of course - so it's not like a "bad" name is a serious problem. But names that work from the start are better than names that take training. I don't have anything against "clever" names, either - just ones that are outright goofy.

I can't come up with any examples of particularly good names - I really divide names into "bad" and "acceptable." The two worst names I've ever seen were "The Unstoppable Cat Basket" - as I mentioned earlier, it wasn't a superhero named "Katrina Basket" who happened to be unstoppable, it really was just "The Unstoppable Cat Basket." Fails the giggle test, and fails the "Can I use it in a sentence without pausing to make it clear that I'm not talking about cats or baskets" test - and "Sexton Furnal," which would have been just fine, really, except the player mumbled too much when he was announcing the name, and I had to look at his character sheet to learn that the character was not named "Sex Inferno." And in retrospect, if he had intentionally named his character something that sounded like "Sex Inferno," I probably would have been able to say it without giggling.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Wish 54: Background Hooks
Do you like to have bits and pieces from your characters’ backgrounds appear in the game? Do you write hooks into your character background for the GM to use in the campaign for your character? Do you like it when the GM gives you a background hook into an adventure or scenario with a previously unknown hook, such as creating an old friend of your character’s who is somehow involved? What are some examples of cases where hooks have worked or not worked for you?

Late responding to this one, so I've already seen a number of the responses; all that I've seen crave background hooks with an undying passion. I have a really strong history of wanting to start characters (as a player) or stories (as a GM) at the point where the character's life becomes interesting. Something of a rut, I suppose, but most of the time I wind up with characters who have no real chance to interact with their past - outcasts, runaways, orphans. Well, and never the kind of orphans whose parents were killed on the orders of a crime boss against whom I've now sworn revenge. But that gets back to the "start when things get interesting" bit - if I were going to play Daredevil, my inclination would be for the game to start at the time of the accident. I'm more invested in details that have actually been played out, I suppose.

I see from the other responses, though, that as a GM I've been fortunate to have not worked with the sort of player who has more text on the back of their character sheet than on the front. I say fortunate because I probably would have overlooked that player's desire to see elements of their past reappear. Maybe some of my players have been that way, and I did overlook it. Oops.

Maybe it's partly that I'm not comfortable, as a GM, playing characters that the player has written ("My character's mother was a saint!") or as a player, asking GMs to play characters that I've written. Certainly something I could overcome, but it's been just as easy to avoid. It gets back to a division-of-labor question, doesn't it? How much say do the players have in the course of events their characters don't directly control? My natural style has always been to limit that involvement, from both sides.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Tom Tomorrow makes some good points about the newly unveiled blog Homecoming Queen-O-Meter. To start with, I'm gratified that, even though I'm not SiteMetered, comparing my statistics shows that there are some 19 blogs that receive less traffic than I do. Actually, the number might be as high as 53 - I'm not sure how to compare my numbers to SiteMeters. Of course, it's safe to say that at least one person is going to start reading the blog that comes in last, and assuming they're not last because their SiteMeter is misconfigured, convection is going to drive them up the list pretty fast.

Interestingly, though, although Tom makes a point about ranking blogs via incoming links, he doesn't carry that point through to the rest of his discussion. Here's an interesting number - 46. That's the number of SiteMetered blogs who receive more hits daily than there are SiteMetered blogs. Certainly I'm not claiming that every blogger on that list reads every blog on that list. I feel confident saying that bloggers are much more likely to read blogs than non-bloggers. 738 of the blogs on that list would improve their traffic by dumping all their current readers and getting the authors of all the other blogs on the list to read them. It's not a real strong statement, but... It's like the flipside of Sonic Youth influencing more bands than they've sold albums. Well, not the flipside, really - it's being lower in the barrel than even that. There's the superstars, there's the "artist's artists", and then there's the people who have to knock 1 off their album sales because they're ashamed to count their mom as a sale. (Well, and then there's me, I'm below even that, but yeah.)

It gets even more ludicrous when you look at some more comprehensive statistics. 6,065 blogger blogs have updated in the past 3 hours, as I write this. Only 6 of the top SiteMetered blogs have had that many hits today. Technorati claims to index 658,089 blogs. LiveJournal claims they have 548,718 active journals. Suddenly, even 40,000 doesn't seem like much.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Wish 53: Schtick
What are three examples of physical or verbal schtick that you’ve used to develop your characters? Schtick means trademark gestures or phrases that identify your character uniquely. It’s about showing, not telling.

I've got one good answer right off the bat, but I'm kind of stuck for more. I don't think about schtick much while I'm playing; sometimes a schtick will arise, but at the moment I'm having a hard time nailing down particular examples. I think it's partly because I don't ever think of them as schticks, it's just who the character is. It's been a while since I've played anything at all, so vague examples have all been lost to time.

The one good answer is Byr, the aforementioned kobold shaman. He had a very high-pitched, grating voice. It was a ton of fun to do. I'm generally not very good at doing voices or accents, so most of the time I don't even try - I just can't get anything close to what the character should sound like. Somewhere hiding inside me, though, is the ability to do a voice that just seems perfect for a kobold shaman that holds himself in much too high esteem. Sort of a harsher skekSil the Chamberlain. He was also constantly trying to assert himself - I know he said, "You mock my power!" more than once, enough to become something of a trademark line - not because he said it that much, but because he was always saying things like it, and that was the most memorable.

I think that's part of why I don't have more good examples, and part of why Byr remains my favorite character - I would dearly like to be able to do my characters in their own voice, but most of the time I just can't hack it, and don't have the chutzpah to punish people with failed attempts.
Hey! It's a blogging topic that's not from livejournal! (I don't know why, but I can't bring myself to call these "memes". I think I still like "icebreaker" best.)

I'm a huge fan of covers, myself. I almost wonder if it's because I'm not very good at remembering lyrics, so I practice some economy when adopting new songs to enjoy. Broken down into two categories, here are some of my favorites:

I don't like the original, but I love the cover
Tanya Donnely - Are You Experienced?
Jane's Addiction - Sympathy for the Devil
Tricky - Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos
Tricky - Something in the Way

I like the cover and the original
Goldfinger - 99 Red Balloons
Social Distortion - Under my Thumb
Second Skin - Let's Dance
Tom Jones and The Cardigans - Burning Down the House

Two other things I want to mention - The Covers Project is a great resource for people who love covers, and "Downtown Train" is a cover of a Tom Waits song, one case where I like the original much, much better than the cover, despite the cover being far more popular.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Best Picture 1944: Going My Way

I didn't have the stomach to finish watching it, and I'm not sure I have the stomach to talk about it. It's totally possible that this movie turned itself around in the last 30 minutes and I'll never know. In fact, at least one reviewer feels that the final scene is the best in the movie. I just couldn't sit through it. Every single character is a grotesque parody of humanity. I almost switched the movie off when the beleaguered elder priest is driven to ask that Bing Crosby be removed to another parish for the mortal sin of Three Blind Mice. It was at that point that I realized the movie simply didn't care about cause and effect. I sturdied myself and made it further into the film, and I'm kind of glad for that, because "Would You Like To Swing On a Star" is better in the movie than wherever else I've heard it. Still, the whole thing just reeks. It was crisply done, sure, and Crosby can definitely sing, but...

Ok, so here's the real problem with the movie. Crosby is cast in the mold of Superman. He's supposed to be the guy who always does the right thing, and thereby brings a greater good. The problem is, he simply doesn't sell it. There's no explanation for why he can get the results he gets - results no sane human would expect for trying the same things he does. It's not because of his faith - at least, I didn't notice that he was particularly more faithful than Father Fitzgibbon. The movie seems to want us to think that he gets results by not being as rigid in his thinking as those around him. Sure, Father Fitzgibbon tried to turn the parish around, but he doesn't like baseball or golf - of course he's doomed to failure! He wants the runaway to return home to her parents - there's no way he'll get record company executives to donate to the church with that attitude! The problem isn't that Father O'Malley is outrageously successful - it's that there's no explanation for why he succeeds where others plainly fail. O'Malley's success with the youthful thugs is the most bizarre of them all - neither priest confronts the gang about their wrongdoings, but O'Malley takes them to a baseball game, and that's what really matters when you're trying to turn some thugs to the path of good.

I can deal with movies about people who are superhumanly successful despite, or even because of, their unorthodox methods. I even managed to enjoy Erin Brockovich. But Going My Way isn't a movie about a priest with unorthodox methods brought in to turn things around so much as it's a movie about a priest who does things mostly the same way, but happens to be the star of the movie, so everything turns out right for him.
Best Picture 1943: Casablanca

Casablanca swept me away. I think Rebecca came closest to that effect, of the Best Pictures I've seen so far. I can begin to understand why Casablanca is so respected as a movie - it's so finely crafted that, even after all these years, even watching it for the first time after seeing it echoed throughout the history of film, I can lose track of the seems and get lost in the story. That's especially impressive considering the soft-focus close-ups of Bergman we're constantly "treated" to. I wonder if it's because I've worn glasses most of my life that soft focus irritates me so much - it has me instantly reaching for something to wipe the dirt off. A few of the shots seemed forced, as well - I recall not liking the way the "If she can stand it, I can" scene was framed at all. But those were the only things that brought me back into "I am watching a movie"-land.

I don't have much more to say, I don't think. Casablanca must be one of the most analyzed films ever, and I don't feel like I maintained a critical eye at all while watching it. It was just a treat.
Before I get to Casablanca, I want to note that the Academy Awards website now features access to their database of nominees and winners. Maybe they had this last time I visited the site, and it was just much harder to find, but I'm glad to see them making this data easily available in the place you'd expect to find it. It's slick.
So Freebirds has opened a restaurant in Dallas, now. Of course, I'm a huge fan of cylindrical food, so I had to give it a shot. And as far as cylinders go, Freebirds is amazingly regular, more so than Chipotle, with its rounded ends, and far more so than Taco Bell, for instance, which often produces what might be more accuratley described as wedges.

Moving beyond the shape, I don't think Freebird's can really stand up to Chipotle. The steak deinitely smelled better, and I think a steak and cheese and nothing else from Freebirds would probably be muh better than from Chipotle. Freebirds gets the cheese involved earlier on in the burrito formation, giving it a chance to melt, which is cool. Other than that, everything just seemed less flavorful. Chipotle's rice is incredible, where Freebirds' is run-of-the-mill red "Spanish rice." It's the same with the salsas. It makes sense, since Chipotle's stated goal is to combine the best ingredients to make the best food. Freebirds offers more variety, but you wouldn't want to eat their salsa all by itself.

Freebirds does offer flavored tortillas - I tried the cayenne, which has a much stronger flavor than I had expected. I really enjoyed it as a change of pace, but it wasn't any better than Chipotle's plain tortilla, just a change of pace.

All in all, I'll probably go back to Freebirds, but probably not with any regularity - certainly not with the frequency I go to Chipotle. I think the operating difference - and moreover, what has me completely hooked on Chipotle - is that Chipotle is not just convenient, it tastes better than anything similar I could produce myself.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Best Picture 1941: How Green Was My Valley

How Green Was My Valley betrays more of the perils of watching such old movies and holding them up to the "Best Picture" yardstick. We've seen so many stern fathers trying to hold the family together through trying times by now, it's easy to write off one of the original stern fathers as trite repetition. Still more difficult to face is a micronized Roddy McDowall. At the time, it was a stunning performance by a child actor, but now, he looks less transported back in time and more shrunk, especially when delivering his crisp, "youth grown up too soon" lines. The other reason I had a very hard time watching this movie was a problem with the volume - for some reason, my DVD player was decoding the volume far too low, and I couldn't understand many of the lines the first time around. Frustrating.

As for the movie itself, it was pleasant and visually appealling, if not always very interesting. I found it hard to get too involved with any of the acting or the characters. The scenes with the boxer stood out more than any other, a welcome bit of comic relief.

Young Huw's big fight scene was really impressive. Of all the movies from that time period, I think that stands out as one of the best fight scenes, and it concerned 12 year old children.
copyright 2003

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