Saturday, May 31, 2008

Old Friends

So last night Troy Denning was in town for an appearance at the University Bookstore for his most recent Star Wars novel, Invincible. Troy's a fellow Allit with thirty books under his belt, and, once upon a time, was my boss at TSR back in Lake Geneva. At the appearance, he was flanked by members of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion. Fellow gaming dinos like Steve Winter and Martin Stever showed up as well to show support, and afterwards the four of us, joined by Duane and Arthur from the bookstore, went down to Big Time for beer and pizza.

Six people, four pitchers, two large pizzas. Yeah, I have a bit of hangover this morning.

And this afternoon at 5 EDT, the latest shuttle is going up, carrying a Japanese science lab called Kibo. The Assistant Flight Surgeon for the mission was an member of my D&D group from college. Col Keith Brandt is the Assistant Flight Surgeon for the mission, but we know him better as Demerol the Fighter, a loyal member of Broadswords, Inc. He's staying groundside, but we probably shouldn't mention his adventuresome past to the crew, who have complete faith in Dr Brandt's abilities.

More later,

Friday, May 30, 2008

National Desk

Haven't blogged much on national politics recently, and in part its because of the evolution of the blogosphere. Last big election, there was a lot more activity on the low-end personal blogs because it was hot and new and people seemed really interested in your opinion. But in the past few years, there has been a shake-out, and strong, dedicated, all-politics blogs have emerged. And there has been a self-selection among the readers as well - people with progressive politics drift towards the progressive blogs, while those with move conservative views tend towards the conservative. The cycle of information firmly in place, you get an echo chamber effect similar to talk radio, where very little new information gets out.

But there are some things I've noticed that have been unreported or undereported, so I'm throwing them in here:

Obama: There was that big thing about "elitism" back in the PA primary, and most of the libs took the view that it was weird that the guy with the private plane or the woman who spent eight years in the White House weren't elitist. But that's not what they meant by "elitist".

They meant "Smart", and Americans are pretty damned wary of voting for smart people.

No, really. Go back through our elections and pick the smart one, at the time of the election, and you'll pick the loser. Democrats are notable for picking the smart guy, but they've succeeded at the polls when they've managed to hide that (Think about it, it was "Jimmy Carter, Peanut Farmer", not "Jimmy Carter, Nuclear Engineer", and "Bill Clinton, Arkansas Governor", nor "Bill Clinton, Rhodes Scholar").

And I think this is the hardest thing that the Obama candidacy has to fight - Americans really don't want smart people in government. We say we do but we don't. Sort of like we say we want safe and sane cab drivers, right up to the point we need to get to the airport Right Now Dammit. As a result we're punished by getting the leaders we deserve.

Clinton: I really don't have a problem with the fact that the campaign has gone on this long - it has kept the candidates in front of the people and kept strong positive cash flow into the campaigns (the GOP, with their winner-take-all primaries, got their choice, and what coverage he has been getting has been along the lines of "So why isn't he doing better?"). And you can no longer say that Obama hasn't been blooded by a tough campaign.

No, what is interesting is the transmogrification of the Clinton image from screaming lib to working class campaigner. Despite the huggamugga from the press for the past few years, Clinton was not the most liberal senator, nor even the most liberal senator from New York. Regardless the vilification from the conservative side was relentless. Now, suddenly, the usual conservepundits have spun around and grounded her firmly in the middle - much, much preferable to Obama (who is now, somehow, the NEW most liberal senator). The capping moment of this happened in PA, again, where she sat down with Richard Mellon Scaife, who from his position as owner of the Pittsburgh Trib-Review has made it his crusade for a decade to bring Clinton down. It was a moment worthy of the last lines of Animal Farm.

So regardless of the result, Clinton has attained a long-held goal - she is now considered a moderate by the Mainstream Media.

McCain: OK, I can understand the conservative wing's problems with McCain. He's a Senator with nuanced views. He was for things he is now against, and against things that he is now for. He was a medal-earning Vietnam Vet. Hell, he didn't just serve, he did hard time for country as a POW. He has a very wealthy second wife who is both outspoken and unwilling to share personal information.

Hell, no wonder the right-wing is up in arms - the GOP has nominated John Kerry as their candidate. Heck, there are guys caucusing with the Democrats that are more conservative than he is.

McCain's big problem seems to be that the right doesn't believe his new-found conservatism, which the moderates that have supported him in the past DO believe. That's a nasty place to be in at the moment.

Then there is something else I picked up when I was Pgh, reading the Trib Review, a meme that MCain should be a one-term president from the outset. I think part of this is one more olive branch for the right - vote for me and I'll give you a candidate you'd really life next time. But installing a lame duck president sounds like a recipe for (further) disaster.

Barr: Who? Bob Barr, former GOP candidate, has had his own revelation on the road to Damascus and went Libertarian. The Libertarians, on the other hand, aren't sure they want him, though he got the official nomination in a rather stormy session. So the Liberts may be fractured as well, but by the same token, they actually have a candidate that has been on television before.

That's about it. A lot of the rest of the stuff is a rehash of other stuff from the net, contributing to the echo chamber thing. When I come up with more stuff, I'll pass it along, but for the moment, I think I'll pay attention to the local races.

More later,

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Five by Five

So I've been playing 4E, and yeah, it has more of a reliance on miniatures than version 3.5 and much more than 3.0. And part of this is represented in powers, exploits, and spells which facilitate movement and make combat much more fluid. There are things like Slide 1 and Push 2 and Teleport 5. And the number is supposed to represent a five foot by five foot square, but that just doesn't seem "fantasy" enough.

So in the Keep on the Shadowfell adventure we came up with the name "Krel" for a five by five square. From my Thursday night game, we have the counter-argument "Grick" which also has some appeal.

So, "Krel" or "Grick"? Discuss among yourselves.

More later,

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Indy Flick

So the Lovely Bride and I went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And it was OK.

And just OK. It moved smoothly through its high adventure stations of the cross, touching all the right buttons, making all the expected remarks. But at the end of it, it was just OK for me. And for the Lovely Bride as well, though she is a big fan of what she calls "D&D Movies" like National Treasure and Sahara.

Oh, some minor spoilers come up here, so be warned.

I don't think we can get another Indiana Jones picture as good as the first, because the thrill of discovery and surprise is a big attraction. The first time with the bullwhip, the importance of the hat, the thing with the snakes, all are part of learning the character. Now, after three previous films and a TV series (tapped into continuity here), we know the character. He has moved as a character to a James Bond status - he is moving us through the plot, with just a hint of character development along the way.

We know the pacing - Action-oriented start, back to the school, several chase scenes, dire perils, amazing discoveries, mystical deus ex machina ending. Oh, and massive destruction of archaeological sites in passing. And it all comes together, along with a deep sigh of "I'm getting too old for this" resignation. But when it is all said and done, it is the same frame with a new skin stretched over it.

In previous versions, we have a lot of Indy discovering stuff, and being an independent operator. Here, there was a lot more of "follow the madman around". It reduces the character a bit. Indy also has a bunch of support characters here, where he generally just needs one to banter with. He and the kid, Mutt, have great banter, until Marion shows up, then Marion gets to banter, and the kid takes a backseat.

So here's the point that I think it lost me - the three waterfalls. Watching it, I thought of an amusement park ride, and with it, the interminable roller coaster/mine car from Temple of Doom. And its not as much the cartoon level of violence and indestructibility of the lead (Heck, we blew him up with an A-bomb earlier, and he survived a flight inside a flying refrigerator). Its the idea that his invulnerability now extended to the rest of the team as they all go over Victoria Falls. The snapping sound you hear is the strands of the sense of disbelief separating.

But in general, it was OK. Harrison Ford is comfortable, and he delivers the character well (high point - ending a chase scene through a college library with pedantic advice to a student). Karen Allen is the delight of the film - Marion steals her scenes and she is infectiously happy to there. Cate Blanchet makes a good bad girl, but this is an Indy film, so you know she's going to end up in a bad way. Shia LaBoef is the kid and not annoying (though I like the whole Wild One riff).

So it was OK. It was a good cheeseburger. It was good. And it was a cheeseburger.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Decoration Day

If you want to do Memorial Day in the traditional fashion, wait four days, then go down to the local cemetery and chase off the goth kids. Oh, and bring your weedwhacker.

Memorial Day has its official story and its hidden history. I've mentioned this in an earlier entry, but here's the summary: Originally known as Decoration Day, the holiday came out of individuals who would tidy up the graves of the fallen from the Civil War. With over 600k fatalities, there was no shortage of graves deserving attention. The holiday got its jump-off in Boalsburg, PA, where a celebration got the attention of the Col General John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, which sounds like a paramilitary organization but was really a vets group. However, the even official origin notes that it was based on previous celebrations in the south.

So as a result, there are a plethora of previous contenders, such that anyone who has done some yardwork seems to have a valid claim on the premiere position, including one southern story that runs the practice back to the Mexican American War. There are in addition a variety of Confederate Memorial Days (the original Decoration Day was Union-only), of various histories and backgrounds, some of which are still on the books (though many in the south don't know about them).

But back to Decoration Day itself. It became started morphing into the non-sectarian Memorial Day in 1882, and was only officially recognized as Memorail Day in 1967. In the great holiday reorg of 1968, it moved to the last Monday of May as opposed to its original date. President's Day and Veteran's Day also moved, though the Vets got their day back. The pressure for the three-day weekend (and the uninterrupted flow of work around that weekend) was one of the main reasons for the move, but turning Memorial Day into a movable feast sort of breaks the rhythm of passing of the years, and has helped turn the holiday from one of our (many) days of remembrance to the starting gun on summer and the excuse for innumerable Folk Life festivals across the country.

More later,

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Book of Hezekiah

"Jesus said," spake a co-worker, "God helps those that help themselves."

And overhering this, and being of both a theological and intellectually curious mind (and armed with the power of the Internet), I choose to find out where Jesus said this.

And found nothing. More interestingly, I found nothing in the Bible at all about that bit of advice (it exists in several proverbial forms, and was echoed by Ben Franklin in Poor Richard's Almanac). But most interesting of all, I found the Book of Hezekiah, from which this quote and similar imaginary quotes come from.

Proverbial biblical wisdom that is anything but biblical is attributed to the Book of Hezekiah, a Biblical tome which is the jackalope of religious texts, a left handed smokeshifter of the seminary, the inside joke among divinity students. There is no such book (kinda), but quotes that should be in the bible, but aren't (like "The Good Lord moves in mysterious ways" or "Cleanliness is next to godliness") are sent there, along with such near-misses as "Money is the root of all evil" (closer is the version "The love of money is the root of all evil").

Now I say the book of Hezekiah is "kinda" imaginary, because Hezekiah IS in the Bible as one of the Kings of Judah, and his story is told in Isaiah, Kings, and Chronicles - the Isaiah version could be a "book of Hezekiah", or at least a "pamphlet of Hezekiah".

But if someone is quoting chapter and verse from the Book of Hezekiah, they are bluffing you. Similarly, test out your Bible lore against an opponent by trotting out the book in a quote. If they smile and laugh, then you know that they know their Biblical chops.

More later,

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Punk

I've mentioned Spy Comics before in these pages as my friendly neighborhood comic shop. And the usual helpful staff there are Rick and Paula. Rick is my age group, with a strong knowledge of the Golden Age. Paula is younger and is strong on the modern forms of the art, like manga. He's Classic Comics, she's Hello Kitty - together, they fight crime!(oh, sorry).

Anyway, when they work together, they "share" the radio, and their tastes are very different. Rick favors big band, swing, and blues. Paula is more progressive and listens to punk. Now punk is pretty much "after my time". I bear it no ill will, but leave the genre to younger, more hardier souls (such as Freeport Pirate). But one of the things I like about having a local shop is exposure to things that I would normally not encounter, be it a new collection of Popeye strips or the musical stylings of Jello Biafra.

In any event, the last time I was in the shop, Paula had dibs on the sound system, and I recognized the tune. Styx. "Come sail away with me". Done in a thrash punk version. Paula, knowledgeable in such things, informed me that it was by Me First and the Gimmie-Gimmies, a punk band made up of members of other punk bands that did nothing but covers. But not covers of punk bands, rather covers of non-punk artists, like Bob Dylan, the Eagles, Sesame Street, and John Denver. And of course Over the Rainbow.

So I found that interesting, and so I drop it on you guys as well.

More later,

Thursday, May 22, 2008

No Quarter (Redux)

So when something is successful, you do a sequel. Its the American Way.

And the fifty-states quarters have been a success, despite my attempts to mock them and everything. But what do you do for a sequel? Let in more states?

Would you believe The District of Columbia and United States Territories Quarter Program? Some of which are still Colonies in the old school definition?

DC, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Marianas. Gee, I wonder how we'll show a sweat shop on the back of a coin.

You think you've escaped, and they just suck you back in.

More later,

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cool Exec

You'd think with all the vacation I've had, I would have seen Iron Man back when it first came out three weeks ago. But you'd be wrong, so despite a raging head cold, the Lovely Bride and I went today down in the new AMC down in Kent (nice digs, plenty of parking).

Yeah, I loved it. The film grounds itself both in character and its technology - the sequences of building and testing the armor worked for me, even though they were mostly setup for punchlines. The overall theme - responsibility for one's creations, also resonates.

But what really worked for me was the fact that the script itself, realistically executed by gifted actors, made the impossible seem not only possible but likely. The movie audience is not dumb, and everything fits together in the script like a well-crafted watch. Or as the Lovely Bride, butchering Chekhov" "If you mention the mechanical heart in the first act, you have to bring it back in the third act."

But the thing that impressed me was the fact it worked both as a larger popular movie as well as staying true to the nature of the character, who over his career has been a bit problematic. His original origin was deeply embedded both in the Cold War and the Yellow Peril, but the script lifts him out of that to make it more about American technological hubris. It also plays to one of the strengths of the Marvel Universe over its Distinguished Competition - it has extremely mortal heroes, full of quirks and bad habits and poor choices. Back in the 60s, when the big problems for the DC heroes was what fish Aquaman would summon to beat the bad guys, it was a breath of fresh air, and continues to work well for the entire franchise.

OK, if you haven't seen it, go see it. And stay through the credits because there is candy at the end.

More later,

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Back from Vacation

Back in Seattle after almost two weeks in the Eastern Part of this country. Only three days were spent in Washington DC (of which I have a few more, last posts), while the bulk of it was with family in Pittsburgh (and included 3 birthdays plus Mother's Day). The collected family (both mine and the Lovely Bride's) is doing well, thank you.

But this is about the trip back home, done on an infinitesimal amount of sleep, and getting up at 4 AM Pgh time (1 AM Seattle Time) to return. And though you might expect one of the traditional horror stories of missed connections and lost luggage, everything went as smooth as silk, even given tight connections in Cincinnati. We got to Seattle. Our luggage got to Seattle. And I have to say Delta did a darn fine job, even if they have been reduced to selling sandwiches on the plane.

Just as good, the cabbie we took turns out to live the next block over, so he understood what the Lovely Bride meant when she said "Take the windy road up the hill". The Cabbie mentioned that he often saw a county trooper's car in our driveway. We explained that the trooper was a friend who would come over for dinner before starting his shift. He was amused by that.

But the nicest thing was that, since I was back before noon, I went to work, and was greeted like Norm from Cheers. I had only been gone ten days, and there were enough things that I needed to catch up on, but everyone was genuinely happy to see me back (before asking a host of questions).

And that met me feel particularly happy. I work with a great team.

I have a few more Washington stories, but they will wait for later. I really should go to sleep, now.

More later,

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Secrets Revealed

Colin has noted this.

WotC has published a list of the playtesters for 4th Edition D&D.

I am there. Between Jeff Clare and Jeff Quick.

Yes, I have stories. Buy me a beer sometime.

More later,

DC: Museums

As tough as the memorials were, the museums were tougher. When I was young, I wanted to "finish" any museum I was in - after all, everyone put so much effort into the work, who was I not to read every plaque, study every exhibit, and search for every hidden gem? In truth, the feet gave out sooner than anticipated and the eyes got that "museum glare" that you see parents get as their kids pinball from display to display. Probably, there has been a study about how much information a museum can contain before the patron's head explodes, but I feel I am below that national average.

The National Air and Space museum was a great example, jam-packed with original equipment and reproductions, packed into a series of huge hangers. Paul Allen's spaceplane it up among the rafters, right next to the Spirit of St. Louis. Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules. The Wright Flyer. The helicopter Ross Perot took non-stop around the world (no, I didn't know he had done that). The original model of the Enterprise (tucked in the toy section of the gift shop - the Lovely Bride had to ask to find it). Interesting, interesting stuff, but by the time I had hit the exhibit on modern aerospace design, I was lagging, and we missed the carrier operations hall entirely. Literally too much stuff, but a harbinger of the future.

It is up in the air which is more depressing, the US Memorial Holocaust Museum or the Museum of the American Indian. The Holocaust museum is still as real and as tangible and as stark as the Vietnam War memorial, and you can see it on the faces of those going through its austre, stark, dramatic halls. A special exhibit on the Munich 1936 Olympics echoes modern situations (I did not know that the Olympic Torch was started for those games, a trek from Greece through territories that would soon be occupied by the Third Reich). The LB and I got into a discussion about whether Olympic boycotts work as far as reducing the evil of hosting countries, or if the Jesse Owens solution (go and beat them) was preferable.

The National Museum of the American Indian is one of the most beautiful buildings on the Mall, but brings with it a different sense of sadness, of the great and diverse cultures that have been lost over the past few centuries. Direct, honest, and up to date (the section on treaties includes the recent Makah whale hunt) it is overwhelming in its force of presenting both an ancient and a modern people.

A small gem was the US Botanical Garden, a small conservatory to one side of the Capitol. They were preparing for a larger show on the ground, but the conservatory itself was a nice stopping point, but I spent way too much time on the benches, resting my aching feet.

Finally, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which shares a building with the National Portrait Gallery. The LB and I, now knowing our limits, chose to eschew the portraits, and even then we were dragging by the time we hit the contemporary phase. A beautiful overview of the American art experience, punctuated by brilliant special shows (Harlem Jazz Era artist Aaron Douglas and a display of movie posters as portraits in particular).

And the frustrating thing in all this is that we had barely scratched the surface, avoiding the Natural History museum and dealing with the American History museum being closed. I suppose there is a next time, but even since one museum may be too much for a day, the host of mall museums may be too much for a typical tourist.

More later,

Sunday, May 11, 2008

DC: Mall, Monuments and Memorials

So the last time I was in Washington DC, it was the Johnson Administration (Lyndon, not Andrew, so keep the smart-alec remarks to yourselves). And the city has changed since then, in that all the buildings are now shorter than they were when I was eight. The Lovely Bride got us a hotel in the Embassy District among the upper letters of the alphabet, and we took the Metro to the mall and walked. A lot.

We did the ever-popular Lincoln and orbitted the queues lines up for the Washington. The Viet Nam memorial, the "Wall" was beautiful and wistful now that all the trees have come in, the depressed pathway cutting off all the street noise. It was also the most packed, a living memorial of school groups and vets and people searching for names. The last is becoming a smaller group over time - the LB and I are 50 and we missed the closing moments of that war.

The Korean War memorial across the way, picks up some of the reflective motifs of the earlier-built Viet Nam, with the reflective wall, this one not filled with names, but with faces. It overlooks a field of ponchoed troops on patrol, silver ghosts moving through the far-off battlefield. It was much less populated, and as a result, more reflective.

The WWII memorial, situated at the feet of the Washington, was grand and expressive, concentrating on the contribution of the states to the larger effort. Open, dramatic, and solid, it was a more triumphant commemoration than either of the walls. It was here that we saw our only protest on the Mall - a group of Filipino WWII Vets seeking their government benefits and pensions.

We also found the Grant memorial, mostly forgotten though it is situated between the Capitol building and the mall itself. At least it is hidden in plain sight, as opposed to the Garfield Memorial (The president, not the cat), which dominates one of the traffic triangles to one side.

We took the long walk around the (overflowing) tidal pool to the Jefferson, a beautiful memorial in my mind in that it is a low dome from a distance, but once you arive it is filled with sweeping, vertical space for the Statue and the man's words. We continued around to find a true gem in the FDR memorial, a series of stone enclaves tracking FDR's terms. The use of stone, water, and bronzes we amazingly effective to make FDR the most humanized of the men honored. His initial bronze was life-sized and shows him in his chair, and at the end has the Yalta-shawled president, larger-than-life, with Fala at his feet worn shiny from the hands. I was impressed deeply by how moving the monument was.

The other thing that dominated the mall was people playing games. We have old pictures of sheep grazing in front of Grant's White House. Now the mall is filled with kickball and fastpitch softball teams from every department and company. That may be the best memorial to modern America, a living one that is always moving, always active.

More later,

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Friday, May 02, 2008

Cleaning Out the Archive

Natives of Seattle do not have basements. As a result we store all the stuff we would usually keep in a basement in the garage. That's why you pass these homes with three car garages, and the cars are parked in the driveway.

We have a small, narrow, one-car garage that we use primarily for power tools. In addition, we have "The Archive Room" on the first floor. Described in the original brief as a "Mother-In-Law" apartment, it is just a first floor room that we use for storage. Which means old copies of our books. Christmas ornaments. A LOT of comic books. and boxes upon boxes of games.

I'm a packrat and an accumulator, and in the course of 25+ years in the industry, I've glommed onto a lot of stuff. Old autographed gaming modules, small press games that saw small distribution, classics and a lot of general STUFF that I was sure, at one time, I would need.

Now? I'm not so sure, so I'm clearing out the Archive. I am admittedly slow on the technological update and unwilling to deal with the responsibility of sending product out to people, so I've made a deal with my friendly local comic shop, SPY Comics and Cards. THEY are doing the selling, and are a lot more responsible than I am.

Here is the link for the gaming section of their Ebay store. Scan through it to see if you need anything to fill out your collection, or that game you've always been meaning to check out. If this works out, I'll pack up ANOTHER six boxes of old games and we'll do another pass. And since I'm digging down through the files, the games are just going to get older and rarer as I go along.

More later,

Update: And if you have more of a comics interest, or have been reading comics and stopped, or its been a while since you've visited your local comic shop, tomorrow, 3 May, is the day to pay your local shop a visit. It is Free Comic Book Day, so its a chance to see what publishers are doing. Wherever you are, check it out.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

DOW Breaks 13000!

Well, SOMEBODY is doing OK in the today's economy, at least.

Actually, the current numbers have reflected a slow but steady build over the past few weeks as it has become clear that you can screw up beyond all human recognition and STILL get the government to cover your backside. If you're a large investment firm, of course.

The rest of you, you're on your own.

Actually, the R-Word is coming up more and more in the media - Recession. Often it is in the form of a question (Are we sliding into a Recession?) or as an assurance (We are as a Nation facing a Recession, but locally we are still strong) or as an accusation (those people over there? THEY'RE in a recession. Have been for years, but we've just been to polite mention it before).

A present general definition is two quarters of negative growth. When I was in High School back in the Nixon years, I thought it was three quarters, but maybe they lost a quarter in a cost-cutting measure.

Recessions are usually defined after the fact, so that if you're asking "Are we in a recession?", the answer is probably - yes, we are. Also, those pants DO make you look fat.

In the meantime, the low-level bribe (sorry, stimulus checks) have gone out, just to show we're even-handed in the favoritism. Sort of like suddenly getting a ocean-view suite on the luxury liner, which suddenly has become available due to the previous occupants taking to the lifeboats. Never mind the ever-increasing slope of the decks, and just enjoy the remainder of the voyage.

Oh, and if you need ice, we have a lot of it up on the deck!

More later,