Monday, October 31, 2005


We put our eldest cat, Emily, to sleep this afternoon. She was 18 years old, and the last of the cats that came with us from Lake Geneva. A temperamental calico, she was noted in her youth for both her hunting abilities (both mice and birds) and her mercurial moods (she came with a warning sticker). Starting last year, age began to catch up with her, and she eventually confined herself to the upper bedroom. She had many illnesses, setbacks and recoveries over the past year, but in the past week deteriorated quickly, to the point that the Lovely Bride and I made the horrible and hard decision.

This afternoon we planted a flowering cherry tree under grey skies, and on Halloween laid to rest an orange and black friend. She is survived by two much younger cats, Harlequin and Victoria. The former of the two is sitting at my door with a leather bootlace in her mouth, waiting for me to drag it around the room.

Those who wish to honor Emily's memory should play with their pets this evening, and give them a treat. Emily would note that the smoked salmon is excellent.

More later,

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Movie: A Silent Call

Call of Cthulhu: adapted from the H.P. Lovecraft story by Sean Branney, Produced by Sean Branney and Andrew Leman, Starring Matt Foyer, Noah Wagner and Ralph Lucas.

It is a small surprise that I don't talk about Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos more than I do in these entries. I'm a fan of Lovecraft's eldritch horror, as are many other game designers (and I would go so far as to say that the RPG version of the mythos is most game designer's second-favorite game, right after the one they are currently working on). Lovecraft is the creator of one of the most enduring shared universes, where numerous creatives have put in their two-cents worth during his lifetime and in the decades following his death.

However, Lovecraft is notoriously hard to film, and most cinemagraphic treatments I have seen over the years appropriate his trappings but then tries to harness them to the requirements of modern cinema, producing mutilated abominations that work best when you try to forget the Lovecraftian elements and take them as the slasher/chiller/scary monster picture that they were intended to be by their producers.

This is because that Lovecraft's horror is subtle, evoking from the page and curling around like a miasma in the mind. His universe is one of inhuman, uncaring gods and a sense of ultimate futility, incurring the sense of dread and fright in the reader that does not translate well to the screen. Lovecraft's cornerstone of his mythos, Call of Cthulhu is more problematic than most. In this tale the protagonist does little more than investigate the papers of his later uncle, uncovering through widely-separated instances a cult devoted to a sleeping octopoid deity who will return to destroy the world "when the stars of right". In learning of it, he realizes both he and humanity are doomed, and sadly accepts his fate. This is not an action movie plot, and difficult to pull off.

Branney and Leman do it through a wonderful conceit. They make a movie that would be shown in 1925, the year the story is set. This means that it is in black and white, and is a silent film, with dialog boxes. As opposed to being hokey, this is perfect for the story, and brings out the flavor of Lovecraft's time. Instead of bending or breaking Lovecraft's story to fit the movie, they pretty much film the story, modifying it slightly in its plot to give it a self-contained resolution, but otherwise remaining amazingly true to its source.

The use of silent black and white film allows them to use both modern movie techniques (green-screening) and old traditional movie tricks (forced perspective, stop-motion animation) to create a movie from the 1920s. The acting is a synthesis of both modern tropes and traditional film language - the actors avoid the overblown gestures of what you is normally thought of a "silent movie acting", and create a subtle, engaging narative. The movie is silent, but is supported by a musical score, which does a fantastic job carrying the weight of the haunting, brooding story. In places the movie reminds me of King Kong and in others The Cabinet of Dr. Caligara.

The film is an independent production, which means you might see it at a local show (Fellow Alliterate Steve Sullivan got permission for it to be shown in its Wisconsin debut), or more likely, on the tube as a DVD (where I saw with fellow Lovecraft fans). Its definately worth seeking out. Here's the web site for more information.

Cthulhu Fta'ghn!

More later

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Keith Parkinson

It has been reported elsewhere of the passing of artist Keith Parkinson from complications from leukemia.

Keith was one of the on-staff artists at old TSR when I was there, and was instrumental in the creation of the look and feel of such lines as the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. The TSR operations were a bullpen operation at that time, in a room at the end of a vaultlike floor with glass block windows for natural light. Keith's compatriots at various times were Larry Elmore, Jeff Easley, Clyde Caldwell, and Jeff Butler. The artist shared space, traded quips, and worked together on creating the art for much of the classic TSR product of the mid-eighties.

Keith defined the Forgotten Realms with the unamed horseman on the cover of the original grey box. We (the authors) didn't know who this guy was - there was nothing in the text about him, but he was evocative as the nature of the Realms as we saw it - grittier than worlds previous, and more realistic. His mysterious nature and fog-swept background was a bonus. I think we gave him a name later, but it honestly never stuck in-house - he was always the FR Horseman or Keith's Horseman.

My favorite piece was not that one, though, but rather the cover of Waterdeep and the North, which showed the beholder crime-lord Xanathar and his court - A female drow assistant, mercenary captain, accountant, and a pair of brain-headed intellect devourers. What I liked about that piece was something that Keith brought a new concept to the beholder itself - previously it was this ball with eyes. He armored it up with plate-like scales and gave it jointed, anthropod-like eyestalks. The myriad subspecies of beholders from Spelljammer started with that piece.

Keith had both a sense of epic scope and detail. One of his great Dragonlance pieces was a flying citadel, with riders fleeing ahead of it. The sense of motion and weight of this huge flying rock studded with citadels was amazing (in the pitch documents, the flying citadels were on big flat plates). And on the original (gods know where it is now), you can see that on one of the ledges, Keith had painted in a TARDIS, Doctor Who, and K-9.

The TSR bullpen evolved and changed and eventually broke up. Keith and Larry formed their own art studio, the Art Dogs, and Keith went on to covers for other fiction houses and game companies. We saw each other on occasion, usually at conventions. He would be working on concepting new video games (and is probably best-known these days for his Everquest art). Yet his art continued to evolve, gaining depth and life and an inner fire that was uniquely its own.

And now he has passed on, but his art remains. Go take a look at it here.

More later,

Thursday, October 27, 2005

This is My Life!

Pulled from Hygelak the Dread with profuse apologies for being so didley-idley cheerful!

This Is My Life, Rated
Take the Rate My Life Quiz

I-912: The Pony Initiative

Hey, kid, wanna get a free pony?

Every election there is what I call a "pony initiative". It's usually some faux-populist claptrap pushed by a special interest with deep pockets that proposes to give you the voter something for nothing, and to rescue you from the horrible duties of citizenship (usually taxes). It's a promise of free lunch. It's your shot at rebellion at the fat cats who supposedly run things. It's a free pony.

Sometimes these Pony Initiatives succeed (car-tabs) and sometimes people see through them to grok what's really going on (slot machines). This year's Pony Initiative is I-912, which will roll back gas taxes.

Sounds good on the surface? Sure. That's why it's a pony initiative. You vote for it, you get a pony. Just ignore the rabid flecks of foam around the muzzle.

Here's the deal. In a suprising act of actual governance, State Democrats and Republicans put together a bi-partisan highway bill that addressed some of the most serious highway problems in the state. It includes stuff all over the state but also the precarious Alaskan Way Viaduct. There was a price tag on this - a raise in gas taxes of 9 cents.

That's a hefty price jump, though mild compared to the ratcheting up of prices over the past couple years. But the bill dictates exactly where the money was going to be spent, and the Department of Transportation has shown itself to be very good of late at bringing projects in on time and under budget.

OK, it's the price of getting good roads - someone has to pay for them, right?

Wrong. A pair of local talk show hosts, already incensed over the fact that GOP candidate Rossi lost the governor's race simply because he got less votes, switched that anger (and that of their listeners) over to this obvious horrible excess on the part of State Government. Its an outrage to pay high gas prices (though the bulk of those recent raises have been going, uncommented upon, into the oil companies' pockets). All the money is going to King County projects (no it isn't). You don't know where it's going (yes you do). They campaigned hard for the initiative (so much so that a judge declared them an in-kind political contribution), and got a massive outpouring to get this measure on the ballot.

Its an "I Wanna Pony" initiative - I want my roads, but I don't want to pay for them.

And it stands a pretty decent chance of passing. Never mind that the corporations, labor,liberals, conservatives, and major Seattle media have all pointed out how utterly boneheaded this tax revolt is. Never mind that even the GOP candidate for King County Executive thinks its a bad idea. Never mind that the information is out there that shows were the money is going to be spent, and what the track record is. Never mind that doing this will make some of the most dangerous highways in the state even more dangerous while we scramble to find out out to fix them.

It stands a decent chance because, at the end of the day, it's going to be you, and you alone, in the voting booth, with the question in front of you. And you're going to hear a small voice, whispering . . .

"Hey, kid, wanna get a free pony?"

More later (oh, yeah, vote No on I-912)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Taking the Initiatives

Though I regularly skew into the political, I don't particularly think of this as a political blog. Most of the ones I know, regardless of their place on the left/right, blue/red, up/down scales, just require too much care and feeding. You have to be upset about something ALL the TIME. It's a hungry beast to feed - we've seen it happen on talk radio and 24/7 punditry, where the players are reduced to drug addiction and sexual perversion. We can keep it from happening here.

But we do have an election coming up, and, like many in Washington State, I got an absentee ballot (I'm a big proponent of going to the polls, but I know I'm one of a dying breed in that regard). I won't be here on election day, for reasons that I will eventually make clear.

So I grit my teeth and with grim determination steer this fragile craft into the storm-tossed waves that are local politics.

The big heat, of course, is on the Initiatives. Originally an attempt to put "the people" more in charge of the system by allowing them to influence law directly, it has, as with all things that touch the grimy surface that is politics, become overrun with special interests, pet causes, and pundits intent on "delivering a message".

A lot of that message consists of "Who do you hate?" Here's the short form:

I-330 - We hate Lawyers!
I-336 - We hate Insurance Companies!
I-900 - We hate the Government!
I-901 - We hate Smokers!
I-912 - We hate Ourselves!

A little more detail, please? Sure, step into the funhouse. . . .

I-330 and I-336 are twisted, cojoined, mutant siblings, both intend on addressing high malpractice insurance costs. I-330 wants to do it with caps on damage awards, and is supported by insurance companies (who have been using some of their doctors as sock puppets) I-336 wants to put more scrutiny on insurance rate increases, create supplemental malpractice insurance, and put a few more teeth into the idea of bouncing bad doctor. This one is being heavily financed by the lawyers, as the pro-I-330 ads keep drilling home (It's GOT to be bad - Lawyers want it! Booo, Hiss!).

Actually, the pair of initiatives are massive tomes of fine print, even by initiative standards. I-330 runs 7.5 pages and reads like its been written by your insurance company. I-336 runs 12 pages in the Voter's booklet and reads like its been written by your lawyer. These are presented to a voting public that has trouble understanding its home heating bills, and you're expecting rational thought. Yeah, that's going to work. Isn't this why we have elected officials?

Here's the part neither side tells you - It's not an either/or. You can support both of these ideas (and I'm partial towards the ideas of I-336, though I'd rather see it as a law as opposed to a initiative). Or you can vote them both down. I'm really for the later. NO on both of this beastly pair.

I-900, on the other hand, is a pretty neatly written initiative, and I've been looking for the trap door in it, and I can't find it. It calls for the setup of a performance audits in state government (actually, we have them, but this calls for stronger ones, with some teeth). Its pretty clear. It tells how much money we should spend on it, and where the money comes from. The guys putting this one together have a track record (much of it bad) on populist initiatives, but I can't find the flaw in this one - it just reeks of good government. I'm saying YES on this one.

I-901 sends all smokers to Yakima. OK, no it doesn't, but it does prohibit smoking in buildings and vehicles open to the public and places of employment, including areas within 25 feet of doorways and ventilation. As someone who smoked the occasional cigar in the nineties (but, to use the common excuse, I didn't inhale), I'm pretty tolerant of smokers, as long as I'm upwind of them, and for the most part the smokers I've encountered have been pretty considerate (Have I ever mentioned that the Dog & Pony, our usual Alliterate hangout, is non-smoking?). While the opposition to this initiative has been pretty bizaare (the anti- I-901 yard signs announce that this would mean New Taxes, which I can't see - it makes me wonder if the signs were left over from a previous campaign), I think its that type of overdoing it that Initiatives are notable for. I say vote NO (and watch, I'll be caught in the elevator with a heavy smoker tomorrow).

And finally there is I-912. Sigh. I-912 has a history that sounds like a Marvel Comic Book, and deserves its own writeup. For the moment, let's just say NO and I'll go into the tale of woe and intrigue with its own separate posting.

More later,

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Local Menaces

So the past week's Seattle Weekly talks about the potential lahars coming off Mt. Rainier. These massive mudslides could shrug off the shoulder of the mountain and come barrelling down the valleys, including that of the Green River, burying everything in its path. A similar article in the Seattle Times when we first moved out here was one of the leading reasons the Lovely Bride decided we needed to get a house up on a hill.

We could move to a safer locality, of course, but even my home town of Pittsburgh has its endemic problems.

More later,

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Additional Linkage

I was originally going to name this post "housekeeping", but that carries with it at least the tacit promise that I've thrown something out. Instead, I've expanded the listing to the right of this Journal, adding more friends that I check, as well as some sites that I'm aways looking at (and to be frank, you should be too).

I should go through the steely implement of editorial death and get rid of those links that update once per lunar rotation (Colin and Phil are both guilty), or who have gone mostly private (Dave). But I'm not at that stage yet, and so I'm keeping everyone. Your first warning that they're off the list is when they're off the list.

First off, I've updated the Alliterates section. The big news is the creation of Popcorn Press, a small e-book operation put together by Lester, Sully, and Rob. I've read Rob's "Humors" and think it is both scary and hilarious. I have also added the two most recent additions to the West Coast Alliterates - Lorelei Shannon and Scott Hungerford. Go check 'em out.

I've also put a few additional links to the Cool Journals list - James Wyatt is one of the WotC-era "young turk" D&D designers who has done incredible things with the game, including most recently the Eberron Game setting. Go check him out. In addition, my old comic book artist from the days of the Forgotten Realms book, Rags Morales, now has a blog. Rags has gone on to bigger and better, and shows off a lot of his work. Check it out.

I'm also adding Making Light. This is an exception in that, unlike everyone else on the list, I don't know these people personally ("These people" being Theresa and Patrick Hayden, aided by Jim Macdonald). However, I like what they say about writing, and I keep tuning in. You should, too.

I'm also adding a new area for comics I keep checking daily, so I can pull them from a particular page.PVP is a daily dose of geek humor focusing around the employees of a gaming magazine, but taking loops out into personal lives, MMORGs, and D&D. Penny Arcade is thrice-weekly, color, much edgier, and often incomprehensible without a native guide (the link I provided goes to a text page that in turn links up with the cartoon. Warning - these guys cannot get out of the strip without using the word "penis". No, I correct that - they often cannot get out of the FIRST PANEL without using the word "penis". PVP and PA are kinda-sorta rivals, kinda-sorta allies, two sides of the same gaming coin.

For the pure D&D Geek, go with Order of the Stick, which is a D&D strip in which a party of D&D characters (who look like Playmobil "Little People") know the D&D rules and act accordingly. Three times a week and color, they have deep archives to plunge through. If you're playing 3.5 (and even if you're not), you should check this out.

Finally there is Girl Genius, from Phil and Kaja Foglio, which has some of the most luscious, luxurious, downright animated art in an online comic book. Phil's been at his craft for nigh-on aeons, and it shows in his work. They've gotten the early stuff online too, so you can follow the adventure from the start.

OK, that's it. I'm doing this because things are going to get strange here fast, and I've been meaning to update the links for a while. No, I'm not saying what's going on. Yet.

More later,

Friday, October 21, 2005

Galactus Loves Gumbo!

Yes, it has been nearly a week since the last update, and I have stuff to tell you about. But I've been very busy, and I'll tell you why in the next couple days.

In the mean time, I need to tell you that Wizkids is auctioning off a Heroclix Galactus figure, signed by myself and Jon (Nothing Good) Leitheusser, with the entire proceeds going to hurricane relief from Katrina and Rita. Auction runs until October 26. If you wanted one of these babies, here's an autographed one.

More later,

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Play: Hey Joad

The Grapes of Wrath: By John Steinbeck, Adapted by Frank Balati, Directed by Lina Hartzell, Intiman Theatre.

The Lovely Bride wanted to see this one, so we headed out yesterday for the Intiman, located a scant fifty feet from the Rep. The Initiman has more of a theater-in-the-round setting with a projected stage, and has a lot of that intimacy (yeah, I see the pun) between actors and audience.

The play itself I don't have to explain, since you read the book in high school. What, you didn't? Well, at least you saw the movie with Henry Fonda. No? Not even on cable? Well, at least you know about the Okies, the Dust Bowl, and Route 66 before it became "The Midlife Crisis Highway". What's that?


OK, here's the short form. Back in the early thirties a good chunk of the Great Plains dried up and blew away. Farm families couldn't raise anything on their dust-choked land and the banks foreclosed. A lot of them, being told about new opportunities in California, headed west on the Mother Road, Rte. 66. A lot of them were from Oklahoma, hence the name Okies.

The Joad family was one of those families. Tom Joad, newly released from prison, finds his family about to pull up stakes and head west. He and a former preacher Jim Casey go with them. The large family sheds both members and beliefs as they head westward, dealing with death, desertion, and diappointment. And when they get to California, they find that there is no work there, either, because everyone has moved west and the landowners can choose the hungriest for the least amount of pay.

The story is about promise, of dreams dashed and reborn, and the unkillable nature of human hope. The entire first act is about the heading west - burying the old and embracing the new, despite numerous warnings that things are not as rosey as promised. The second act is the crushing reality and growth of a new hope, of organization and gathering together. And though that is crippled as well, still there remains hope, where there remains life.

The play is presented by an ensemble, with most of the huge cast taking numerous parts. Erick Kastel creates a flinty, wind-blasted Tom Joad, returning to a world changed beyond his remembrance. Todd Jefferson Moore breaths life into Jim Casy, the former preacher who finds the need to still help others. The rest of the cast is excellent as well, and while some of the lines are familiar (Hank Fonda's "I'll be there" speech in the movie) they given new life in their presentation.

One challenge to the play is that the original Grapes of Wrath was a book, and a fair-sized one at that, and shrinking it down into two hours and change of acting is a task. This adaption was made in 1988 by Frank Galati, and took the 1990 Tony for Best Play. Yep, a lot of parts of truncated (the salting of the pig, the time spent in the Weedpatch camp), but in general Galati has cored down to the nub of Steinbeck's writing And when he used Steinbeck's language (through narrators), you get the feeling of power of the original work.

The other challenge is that the original Grapes of Wrath was also as big as all outdoors. It is a book about the open country, whether it was the blasted lands of Oklahoma or the road west or the migrant orchards of California. Very little of the action takes place in enclosed spaces, and though the staging struggles with conveying that openess with sparse, wide staging, it is still clear that it is something outdoors moved inside, and constrained by limitations of the media. This also goes for the fact that despite the huge cast and number of changing rolls, the book deals with a multitude on the road, of an entire nation pulling up stakes and moving elsewhere.

And hanging over the proceedings are the spectres of Katrina and Rita (and Wilma - we've finally reached the end of the huricaine alphabet - if there is another storm, we go back to the "A's). The play takes on an added importance as the travails of the Joad clan are mirrored in the uprooted peoples of the Gulf Coast, of struggling to stay human as a world turns against them. There is one sequence where a pair of gas station attendants are talking down on the Okies passing through - saying that the travelers are foolish, they're stupid, they're subhuman, they're gorillas. If it were happening today, the gas jockeys would be pundits on the 24-hour talk channels. No, the situation hasn't changed all that much.

We just don't have a Steinbeck to spare at the moment.

More later,

Friday, October 14, 2005

He Who Steals My Trash, Steals Garbage

Someone stole my trash. Actually, someone stole my trash can, and the trash that was in it.

I'm serious. I put out the trash yesterday for pickup and today it's gone, can and all. And it wasn't the garbage men who took it - they were outside when the Lovely Bride came out (the recyling bin was also overturned, but still there).

And I'll be frank, it's weirding me out just a little. I mean, who would take it? Identity thieves? (And LEAVE the recycling, which would be mostly PAPER right beside it?) The Government? (Why not take the garbage and leave the can to avoid suspicion?) Fanciers of stylish metal garbage cans? (Then why not wait for the garbage guys to pass by and THEN take it?). Pranksters? A private investigator for a major corporation looking to hire me? Investigators for a telemarketer I yelled at? Martians?

Yeah, nothing really makes a whole bunch of sense, and it leaves me with this weird, unsettled feeling.

The Thieves/Investigators/Government Agents/Martians got away with a steel garbage can, mostly loaded down with kitchen waste and cat poop. We empty the litters into a bag in a laundry pail, and from there into the garbage can. I can't think of anything of value we have thrown away recently, or any information that would be valuable enough to justify the late-night theft of my garbage (and yeah, we also shred all personal documents before tossing them in the recycling, too).

It's weird, I tell you. Very, very weird. And of course, I would want the can back. Minus, of course, the cat poop. You can keep that. No, it's no trouble at all.

More later,

Dyvil Take The Hindmost!

OK, here's the last reminder - We're giving away Dyvil; First Edition for the low, low price of FREE! In fact, I'm kicking into the Red Cross a buck for every copy that you take (According to Steve, we're over $200, so I'm going to have to write another check). Yes, it's been a month, and a big chunk of the Gulf Coast is STILL not there and a big chunk of its population is STILL in need of support, so this is your chance to get a simple RPG AND know that somewhere, someone is doing something for the good of humanity.

So write to Steve Miller at and put "Dyvil: First Edition" in the header (Sorry to those readers in Israel and Japan, but Steve reads neither Hebrew or Kanji, but he got the gist of your messages because you used the words in the title bar - Thank you!)

The offer ends tomorrow night (the 15th) at Midnight, Seattle Time. After that, we do the Dyvil: First Edition Deluxe Version (Now with a price tag!) This is your chance - don't be kicking yourself when this sweeps the Origins Awards with its hip sensibilities and indy cred!

More later,

Thursday, October 13, 2005

What I Do For A Living

So, this morning, 1 AM (local time)/10 AM (in Germany), at the Essen toy fair, Pokemon-USA announced that it was releasing a new Pokemon Trading Figure Game in Europe and Australia (Not America, yet). At that time, we also announced the web site for the game, at

Did I create this game? No, it was the work of Pokemon TCG creators. Did I do the graphics? Nay, they were the work of Rick, our graphics designer. Did I do the writing? No, that was done through the Marketing Department and edited ably by Mike. Well, how about uploading the entire beast? No, that was done by Eric, our Web Tech Guru.

So what the heck did I do? Monitoring everything that happened, tracking down resources, making corrections, keeping people updated, talking to people, and keeping folk from jumping out of windows as we kept adding features. You know, that management thing.

And I feel pretty accomplished by it all.

More later,

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Leave Your Meme at the Sound of the Tone.

So there's a meme spreading through the blogosphere like bird flu. It is called "Needs". You put your name and and the word needs in the Google search engine ("Jeff needs") and then write down the first fifteen things it comes up with.

Instead, I decided to got with "Jeff Knows". Then I rearranged them into found verse:

Jeff Knows about tapping.
Jeff Knows what to do.
Jeff Knows it isn't for a visit.
Jeff Knows All.

Jeff Knows her.
Jeff Knows Everyone.
Jeff Knows Chris's death still haunts him.
Jeff Knows that we are trying to develop Joey.

Jeff Knows this:
Jeff Knows that.
Jeff Knows he is innocent.
Jeff Knows he is in a trap.

Jeff Knows government is a public business, and the public has a right to know.
Jeff Knows and understands the issues.
Jeff Knows something else that is cool, too.
Jeff Knows All.

I'm thinking it would be something Tom Petty could wrap his throaty voice around.

More later,

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Play: Terms of En-Deer-Ment

The King Stag by Shelly Berc & Andrei Belgrader, from the Original Play by Carlo Gozzi, Directed by Andrei Belgrader, Seattle Repetory Theatre, September 24-October 22, 2005

Weird season at the Rep so far - the first production was a puppet show, which puts a distance between actor and viewer, while the second is commedia dell'arte, another old form - one which brings audience and actors together closer, but which comes with its own requirements and limitations.

And it's an odd venue for what should be a sprawling, engaging form of humor - the Bagley Wright theater is a volumous space, and despite putting audience members on stage and sending cast members into the audience, it is a tough distance to bridge. Add to that that it has a cold opening (a man-servant pulls the huge parrot cage of his transformed magical master, and then "wams up" the audience), makes it a tough climb upward. And add to that the fact the play itself is a 21st century adaption of an 18th century play of a 16th century artform. And lets not start on the plethora of Italian names. The play already has a number of hurdles to vault.

And the play itself is an odd duck, such that you're not sure what parts belong to which era. There is broad humor, and some of the language is questionable for younger viewers, while the action takes place in wide strokes that is more direct and kid-oriented. The villain is abusive in ways that are uncomfortable, and his stutter, while important part of the plot, encourages guilty laughter from the audience (though never sympathy).

The plot is this - The evil chancellor sets up for the good king to marry the chancellor's daughter, who in turn loves another. The King is wise and good, in part due to two magical gifts given him by the wizard (now turned into a parrot). One gift is a lie detector, the other a spell that lets the user's spirit posess the body of a dead creature. Using the first, the King knows that the Chancellor's daughter is in love with another, and that the daughter of another advisor is his true love. The Chancellor uses the second gift to trap the King's spirit in a deer, and then take up residence in the King's body, claiming the other advisor's daughter, who realizes that not all is right. The plot resolves with a complete magus ex machina ending in which the true lovers are reunited, evil is punished, and the audience is sent out with something weirdly appropriate by Neil Diamond.

The posession is handled very nimbly with masks. When I saw the masks, I winced in that this was one more element between the actor and the viewer, but like the stuttering villain, it proves to be needed, and pulls off very neatly the switching identities. Much of the rest of the stagecraft is spinning building elements, overdone in places, and the costuming is two parts Dr. Seuss, and two parts raided from the alien species on the original Star Trek series.

With so many challenges, the play rests heavily on its actors, and after a slow start, they perform incredibly well. As the evil, stuttering, abusive chancellor, R. Hamilton Wright commands the stage and makes the play his character's story, relishing in his evil and eventually taking the fall for it. Micheal Urie and Sarah Rudinoff also get high marks for their work. Urie is both the manservant/clown charged with flirting with the audience at the start, as well as the advisor (beneath another mask) whose daughter marries the king. Rudinoff takes a secondary role (as another of the candidates for marriage), and delivers a Bette-Midleresque performance.

So, does the play succeed? The first act is overly long, leading up to the posession, while the second, resolving the situation, feels truncated, too short for the questions and opportunities that come out of the first act. The actors are up to the task of the script, but the script feels like an odd hybrid of different centuries, a theatrical chimera. The house was light (another problem with the huge theater), so go for the actors and don't sweat too much about the plot.

More later,

Friday, October 07, 2005

True Confession

I like to present myself as a cool, calm, polite individual, moderate and thoughtful in all things. But such is not always the situation, I'm afraid.

Case in point, this evening. I'm working on a short story I promised a friend and a telemarketer calls. Nothing out of the ordinary. She slurs the name of the company she's representing. She gets my name wrong (as I noted below, I use that as a way of getting up the defenses in time). She says that someone at the household has answered a phone questionaire. I tell her that this is highly unlikely (The Lovely Bride is even more unwilling to deal with telemarketers than I am). She tells me that this is what their records indicate, and I must be wrong. I tell her in a forceful voice to put us their do-not-call list.

She pleads that she did not understand because I was shouting.

I explain that what she heard was not shouting.

Then I demonstrate for her what shouting was, and hung up in a righteous fury.

And I immediately think, "Where the heck did THAT come from?" I tried to remember the last time I was that loud and unpleasant on the phone (I think it was another telemarketer, many years ago, who called looking for donations for a no-name Veterans group, and when I demurred, snarled "Whaddaya got against Veterans?"). I felt a little sheepish - I had been raised to treat people politely, regardless of how boneheaded they were.

And then she called back.

I know what you're thinking - a chance of redemption, of making nice. Of at least finding out how she was so badly trained.

Such was not to be. As soon as she identified herself, she was greeted with requests of "Do not call back" and "Put us on your do not call list" in ever-increasing volume, until she finally said, "Yes, sir, I will, if only you'd. . ." The rest of her words were cut off as I said "Thank you" cheerfully and hung up on her.

And so I still felt guilty, and after staring at the story for ten more minutes, feeling bad about myself, I abandoned my work and fired up World of Warcraft. And though I proceeded to cast Power Word: Fortitudes and Heal spells on needy travelers, it did little to abate my guilt.

Yet I will provide the following free advice for the poor slugs who have to call people like me to sell filtration systems, screen doors, and gutters:

1) Get my name right on the first bounce.
2) Don't disagree with me or disrepect me.
and 3) Never, EVER wear a headset.

More later,

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Dyvil (Is that still around?)

The Dyvil requests topped out just shy of 200, so I wrote a check for $200 to the Red Cross (well, the Lovely Bride phoned in the donation, but you get the gist). I’m really impressed with the response, and thank everyone who wrote in for a copy. We’ve got ten days to go (The offer ends on October 15), and if things kick up again, I will be glad to write another check. Well, have the Lovely Bride make another phone call. (For some reason I’m not to be trusted with pens. You know how banks chain their pens up? I’m the reason for that. Yeah, me.).

For those that tuned in late and don’t follow links to the original article, here’s the deal. – Write to Steve Miller at, and he will send you a copy of Dyvil: First Edition (The words "First Edition" is a threat, not a promise). Then I kick in a buck to the Red Cross for Hurricane Relief. That simple. You get at 30-Minute RPG (meaning it took thirty minutes to write, not thirty minutes to play), and I give money. What do you have to lose?

Now, if you prefer more of a “real” gaming/fiction/art product (by, you know, people who thought about it), I will direct you to the Beyond the Storm Project that Jason Mical and other noble worthies have been putting together. This is a REAL purchase, $10.00 pdf (Print on Demand coming), with the proceeds going to Katrina relief.

More later,

Monday, October 03, 2005

Cooper's Sparkling Ale

So this weekend, Stan returned from San Diego to the wilds of Puget Sound for the weekend. There were dinners and discussions and cool stuff about the Serenity movie. In honor of his return, I hosted a irregular meeting of the Alliterates, our irregular writing group.

It was pretty nice - Steve, Wolf, and Jess showed up, brats were boiled, hamburgers broiled, and we engaged in gossip and witty banter that would put the Algonquin Roundtable to shame. However, the Patented Alliterate Zone of Silence prevents me from sharing any of this. Instead, I will merely speak well of Wolf, better know as the Monkey King and his choice of beers.

I was cooking the meal, and asked the others to bring drinkables. Wolf asked me what beer I would prefer, and I retorted immediately "Cooper's Sparkling Ale". Now, this is my standard response, since Cooper's is one of the rarer beers I know of, and I never expect anyone to have it.

Its a rare beer because it's an Australian beer - more importantly, a South Australian beer that I discovered when the Lovely Bride and I were in Adelaide, South Australia, on an Earthwatch mission, many (many) years ago. Many things still stick in my memory of that trip, but one was the hot, dry heat of Kangaroo island, and the other was the fact that we broke for tea in the middle of the afternoon. And by "tea" I mean that beer was served. And the beer was Cooper's Sparkling Ale, the local brew, which was always served with the remark "It's better than Foster's".

I would call Cooper's a blonde beer, similar to Red Hook, with a nice sweet taste and not too much in the hops. So for years afterwards I have kept an eye out for the beer. And in places that brag "560 Beers on tap" I would order it, and always be disappointed.

Well, Wolf found it. He found it at Larry's Market (no, I'm not saying which one). It's not on display, but is kept in the back for special requests. Yep, it's a secret beer. And I insisted on sharing it with the others when he brought it in.

How was it? I think it is best drunk in the arid warmth of a South Australian January, with wallabies bouncing around, and it had almost a slight gritty aftertaste, perhaps the result of settling. But it was the brew that I remember, and I appreciate it.

And I squirreled away the last bottle for after work today.

More later,

Saturday, October 01, 2005


So one of the many advantages that I have in life is that I go professionally and personally by my middle name (Jeff). The reason for this is I share my first name with my father, and growing up it avoided confusion as to which one of us was in trouble with my mother (note that when we were in real trouble, she would use the full names anyway). But the result of this was that when someone calls to sell me gutters or insurance or asks me for help with a political campaign, I already have my shields up when they ask for me by my first name.

Not so in this case. The caller from the Sierra Club (who will remain nameless) recognized my last name, and the first question on the phone was "Is this Jeff?". So I was blindsided and easily manipulated into volunteering to help the Sierra Club do some door-to-doot Get Out The Vote (GOTV) work this weekend. Just so you know, the Lovely Bride already edits the local Sierra Club newsletter calender, and today was down at Soos Creek, helping with some new plantings.

So I, Jorgen (who was our team leader) and a woman named Eleanor were covering the Hilltop neighborhood of south Bellevue. Our task was to contact possible voters (culled from the election rolls) with the message to vote this November 8th, and to think about the environment when making their choices. We were handing out fliers comparing the records and statements of the two candidates from King County Executive - Ron Sims and Dave Irons. Ron Sims has been a supporter for open spaces, clean air and water, and hybrid busses. Irons? Not so much. We are not allowed to campaign for one candidate, thought the fact of it was that if you're interested in the Environment (and its a safe bet to say that if you're canvassing for the Sierra Club, you are), its likely that you're probably leaning towards Ron in the first place.

In general, it was pretty nice. It was a pleasant neighborhood of nice homes with largish yards, and the trees have had a chance to grow up around the houses. I didn't run into anyone who was hostile, though more than a few were abrupt or impatient (as I would be if I was hauled off the sofa for a political message). I found that I was reading my subjects and changing my patter, shortening it up if they were in the "Get on with it" mode, and smiling and thanking them if they said they weren't interested. I've had to deal with enough idiot cold-callers over the years to know that when someone says no, its 95% likely that they mean "please go away", and the cause is better served by being "that nice young man" than being "that jerk who argued his points".

I had only one talker, and very nice man who had alder tree blown down in his back yard in the rains yesterday, and would rather talk to an activist (or even, I suspect, have major dental surgery) go back to the woodchipper he had rented. And one house had a very detailed and amusing "no solicitor" sign that I thought was amusing, however, it was mounted so I had to get up to the porch itself to read it, which sort of defeated the purpose of the sign.

So my feet hurt, but I've done a good thing for the day. Now I have to catch up on the other things that I put aside to do this.


More later,