Saturday, February 28, 2009

Secession

Today we celebrated the Monkey King's birthday at Salty's at Alki, which lays out a good buffet spread that negates the need to nosh for the rest of the day. After dropping the Lovely Bride of at home, I headed for the Frye Museum, which I have mentioned before, in usually positive terms.

The museum's core collection is German-American art, and bridges the growing gap between the traditional art of mid-century Europe and the growing independent art movement, now called secessionist. The Munich Secession was the first of these, but followed by similar movements in the other major cities.

It sounds similar to (and slightly after) the rise of the Impressionist movement in France. But while Monet and his mob were rebelling against a hidebound salon system, the Salon de Paris and the the Academie De Beux-Arts, the Munich Secessionists were fighting against a slightly different animal. The Secessionist's foe was the Kunstgenossenschaf (nearest translation I've gotten - "Art Cooperative"), which was the officially approved art system instituted by Ludwig II of Bavaria (also called Ludwig the Swan King or Ludwig the Mad - yeah he's the one who was a patron of Wagner and built all those cool castles).

What the Secessionists railed against was a format and rules set that favored fairness and diversity over (what they thought was) artistic brilliance. The rules prevented back-to-back winners, no more than three awards to an artist in a single category, and awards given once per fifty entries, regardless of the quality of those entries. Worse yet, the Kunstgenossenschaf sold beer at the shows and encouraged the lower classes to engage with art.

The Secessionists, far from pioneers seeking to expand the definitions of their craft, come off more as elitists who were trying to put some distance between themselves and the hoi-paloi. By the same token, the Kunstgenossenschaf sounds a bit like self-esteem camp for artists, pushing a populist and big-tent approach to social interaction with art.

Anyway, the Munich Secession is a mixed bag of styles, varying according the nature of the artists themselves. Franz von Stuck, Fritz Von Uhde, Richard Riemerschmid, Max Liebermann, and a lot of other names you haven't heard of unless you make put ponts into you Knowledge (German Artists) Skill. Part of the reason was that the Impressionists got better press, and sadly part of it is noted that many of the artists bios contain the lines "and then WWI broke out" or "had to flee Germany when his art was declared decadent in the '30s"). These were the artists that occupied the space between the state serving art (with Ludwig's attempts to culturally educate the masses) and art serving the state (with the rise of National Socialism).

The painting are laid out "modern style" as opposed to traditional "salon style", which means a walk between considering each art piece. Von Stuck's "Sin" is there, which I suppose is the prize of the Frye collection, because it is ALWAYS turning up (when they were talking Napoleon, she was used as an example of Orientalist themes in 19th century art). The piece itself is to me almost Lovecraftian - a blue-white nude with long hair and a steely glare regarding the viewer, a python draped across her shoulders, the python ALSO regarding the viewer with a particularly Innsmouthian look.

I digress. Despite the unity of origins, you can see a diversity of artists as fractured as pre-Bismark Germany. Also included are smaller exhibits of non-Germans invited to exhibit with the Secessionists (who were by the time treated on an equal footing with the Kunstgenossenschaf)and of Americans who studied in Germany. All in all, a nice trip through the end of the 19th Century, and pointing up the Frye's strong points. It is a small museum, but well worth the time. Check it out.

More later,

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Philip Jose Farmer

Long before Alan Moore gathered his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or recast the Charleton Heroes as Watchmen, Philip Jose Farmer was mining the rich vein of the deceased and the public domain and forging weird tales from the foaming broth produced..

The first PJF book I ever read was The Other Log of Phineas Fogg, which posited the Verne hero of Around the World in 80 Days as an alien agent fighting for an ancient artifact against another alien agent, who was Captain Nemo AND Moriarty, and ending up on the deck of the Mary Celeste. High weirdness indeed.

And the epic strangeness continued with the discovery of Tarzan Alive! and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, which tied bevies of Pulp and Victorian characters together under a single continuity (and a single group of families). And of course Riverworld, in which the dead of thousands of earth years (with a few interesting exceptions) were all recreated on an alien planet consisting of one great river valley. Mark Twain and Sir Richard Burton (the explorer, not the actor) and Alice (the one who inspired Wonderland) were the heroes.

Weird stuff indeed, even for the early 70s, and it made for one of the not-sucky SciFi Channel movies from back in the day when they made movies based on real ideas as opposed to a title and a bit of monster animation.

Oh, and he was Kilgore Trout, too, Kurt Vonnegut's fictional SF author that sounded suspiciously like Theodore Sturgeon.

He passed on at age 91, peacefully, in his sleep.

Good luck on the Big River, sir.

More later,

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Inevitable Oscar Post

So for the past 15 years or so, Brian Thomsen and I would get together and dissect the Oscar telecast, sort of cross between old biddies gossiping and a forensic autopsy. Brian would know all the films and and actor and the rumors surrounding them – I’d be lucky to have caught one of the movies nominated for Best Song. We tended to talk about the show, its production values, what worked, and what didn’t.

With Brian’s passing, such discussions are no longer an option for me, and after a day or so of cogitation, I’ve chosen to unload on you guys. Don’t know if I’ll make a habit, but here goes:

The opening felt like the Hugh Jackman audition reel (He sings! He dances! He tells jokes! He shmoozes!), and I had that pit of the stomach worry that it was all going to go horribly wrong with the “recession review” started up. But Anne Hathaway, playing the part of hapless actress pulled from the audience, just won me over. All I can say is Best. Nixon. Ever.

And I can go either way on Hugh Jackman as an actor or a host. He seemed to do a good job. I bear him no ill will for being taller than Wolverine really should be, but then, I thought Michael Keaton did a good job as Batman.

(I have, unfortunately, decided that I am officially too old to win an Oscar in best original screenplay. Looking at winner Dustin Lance Black, all I could wonder was if he was contemporaneous with Harvey Milk. Let my bitterness flow).

On the subject of writing, the whole presentation bit with Tina Fey and Steve Martin? Really looked better on the page than it performed. No, I read the jokes on the page, and it was hilarious. Killer stuff. In realtime it was a little off-putting. Steve Martin is a brilliant comedian, but his current character of a pompous old guy at the award ceremony is not a winner.

However, it did work better than Ben Stiller’s ambling, rambling performance. Yeah, it was later explained to me as being a Joaquin Phoenix riff, but yaknow, it STILL wasn’t funny. I felt sorry for the winners on that one. And whatever karmic debt Natalie Portman has run up from the Clone Wars movies? That’s been paid off by appearing with him. And she should take an indy film out of petty cash.

About the venue – it was smaller and more intimate than previous, which was a good thing. Yeah, you realized that the only stars showing up were those presenting and accepting, but you know, what’s the problem with that? It has been that way for years.

And the multiple presenters for the major acting awards was a great experiment, and let’s not do it again. Here’s why. Some of the presenting performers did cold reads, pretty much what you expect of an awards show, while others seemed to speak from the heart and evoke real emotion. On the other hand, these men and women are the BEST ACTORS AND ACTRESSES in the business - that’s why they’re there in the first place! Of COURSE they would look like they were speaking from the heart. If they do this next year, you will see some competition between the presenters.

Though on the other hand, I really liked Cuba Gooding finally calling out Robert Downey Junior over his role in Tropic Thunder. Downey will be back next year, without a doubt, so him not getting the statue is not a bad thing.

The comedy gods hate Bill Maher. After a tearful celebration of Heath Ledger’s passing, he gets the next gig. I’d say that was proof in the existence of a supreme being.

Loved the music. The musical tribute made no sense whatsoever but Beyonce was wonderful. Ditto Queen Latifah for the tombstone reel. I was called away for the medley of the best songs, and it doesn’t sound like I missed much, there, but the two women were standout performances.

Oh, and the videos of for Animation/ Romance/ Comedy/ Action in 2008? Don’t do that again. Man, I’m watching the set and saying Space Chimps! How the heck did Space Chimps get into the mix?”

And while I’m on the subject of computer animated animals, the idea of surrounding the clips they were showing with blue-ed out clips of other movies would have worked if one of those smaller clips were NOT distracting. You know what I’m talking about, Kung Fu Panda leaping into the air in slow-mo.

And Slumdog Millionaire? Great, go nuts. Out of the collected award winners, I was more charged up for Milk and Frost/Nixon (Ah, Anne Hathaway). And maybe finding out more about The Duchess.

Oh, and one last bit of head-smacking obvious goodness? Ending the show with clips of upcoming films was brilliant. Previous years, they would run clips of the show itself, which was self-congratulatory and reminded you that you’ve lost three hours plus of your life on this. There were actually movies I had not heard about that might ACTUALLY go see this year.

So GG, Oscars.

More later,

Monday, February 23, 2009

Your Technology Meme of the Day

So this week is going to involve a lot of stuff, so I'm quickly reaching into the meme mailbag for content. This one - When did you get the following tech?

0. Wrist watch: First one I remember was in late grade school (60s). Black plastic strap and it had glow-in-the-dark numbers and hands. Went for several years, then had a spate of smashing watches inadvertently. Current wear my watch on my belt.

1. Record player (mono, 16/33/45/78 rpm): Never had one of these. Probably a reason I never worried much about records.

2. Cassette recorder (mono): There was one bouncing around the house. Recorded some songs on it back in Jr. High. I live in feat that the tape will someday be discovered.

3. Record player (stereo): This is interesting - I won this. Big cabinet version. Won it at a home show at the Civic Arena when I was, like 12.

4. Typewriter: My first was an old Royal portable from the 50s owned by my folks. A beautiful machine that I miss to this day. My first "own" Typewriter was a Smith-Corona Selectric with those plug-in correction cartridges and a rumble that sounded like a jet taking off. Because I learned on a manual, I type heavy, and have destroyed three keyboards so far at ArenaNet.

5. Stereo radio-cassette recorder (ghetto blaster): Never.

6. Computer: Atari 800 borrowed from TSR for a project. First one I purchased was an Atari ST. Early 80s.

7. Hi-Fi separates: I think I got these in marriage. The bride came with Hi-Fi. Still have them and occasionally get needles for the records (yes, we still have vinyl).

8. Cassette Walkman: Had it, wore it, broke it. I think it was also TSR era, so that made in mid-80s.

9. Color TV: I remember when all the shows went color (Bewitched, F-troop, Gilligan's Island), so it was about that time.

10: Real computer: Mac SE, a "portable" only by the fact you could lift it.

11. Compact Disk player: Another purchase in Wisconsin. Had some, but none of them were memorable.

12. Car: My parents gave me the family car when they bought a new one - a powder blue Cutlass Supreme (License plate" LEETAH") which I ran into the ground. My brother got the next family car, which was a Dodge Omni. There has been some friction between us ever since ... First car I purchased was a tan Cutlass Sierra, which I ALSO ran into the ground, such that when we traded it in, I could only get it to the dealership by driving in second gear.

13. VCR: Wedding present from friends - a Betamax and a box full of Doctor Who tapes taken off of WTTW in Chicago.

14. Laptop: Hmmm. A Mac portable, probably late TSR period.

15. Modem: Old fashioned version with clown-anvil logon noises, sucking up the phone lines. Yeah, that was mid 80s as well.

16. PDA: Never. Friend bought one of the first ones, spent a full day loading info into it, put it in his back pocket, and sat on it, destroying it utterly.

17. Mobile Phone: Less than ten years ago. I just got a new one, and the dealership asked if they could keep my original, since it was such an heirloom.

18. MP3 player: Don't have one yet.Lovely bride loves her iPod and uses it when she goes walking.

19. eBook reader: I've mentioned the Kindle, but now I've left Anathem alone for a few weeks, and now will need to recharge before I start reading again. One downside for electronic media.

More later,

Sunday, February 22, 2009

No Quarter (Part XI of X)

You think you get out, but they pull you back in.

Long-term readers know about my long-standing obsession with the Fifty State Quarters program, where each state has gotten the back of a quarter to extol their virtues. Ten years, five states a year. Ending, eventually, with Hawaii (A quarter that makes me smile, because we put a KING on the coin), and we’re done.

Not so fast. NOW we have the DC and US Territory Quarters. A set of six more coins for locations that most Americans are unaware we even own, much less know that our money is still good there. So, with a heavy heart, I return to the subject of savaging our coinage, in the desperate hope that these lesser lights, these territories that are the AAA baseball of the US, have learned from their big-league mentors.

Here are the rules, from previous years -

So as a reminder, here are the rules that you may have a lame quarter:
If you have to remind people what your state looks like, you may have a lame quarter.
If you use a variety of different-sized objects, you may have a lame quarter.
If one of those objects is produce, you may have a lame quarter,
If you have to label the illustration, you may have a lame quarter.
If, after you label the illustration, people still think it is something else, you DEFINITELY have a lame quarter (I'm looking at YOU, Delaware!).

The rating system will be, from top to bottom
Cool = A
Not Bad = B
Kinda Lame = C
Very Lame = D

As usual, betting on the results is discouraged but not prohibited.

District of Columbia
DCQ
The DC coin is already out, and is not a bad coin. And I’m willing to give DC a break, because most of the cool buildings they could put on the coins are ALREADY on our currency, like Lincoln Memorial and the White House. Instead they chose to honor native son Edward Kennedy (Duke) Ellington, who is well known for telling people how to get OUT of DC and get to Harlem ("Take the A Train"). The only sad thing is that the natives of DC were forbidden to put on the coin the slogan they chose for their license plates "No Taxation Without Representation"), and instead had to go for the (highly ironic) "Justice for All". Big words for the only part of the continental US that doesn't get to vote in Congress.

Still, Duke Ellington. High marks for that.

Rating - A - Cool

Puerto Rico
PRQ
This is a pretty coins that reads “Isla Del Encanto”, which means “Island of Enchantment” and reinforces that motto by displaying a wizard's tower and the deadly carnivorous plants that Prospero first created there in his exile there during the reign of Elizabeth R.

Supposedly this coin was to be used a material component for a 6th level wizard spell in D&D, but 4E got rid of all that stuff and Puerto Rico just didn't get the memo in time.

Rating - B - Not Bad

Guam
GUQ
At this point we’re getting into the realm of “Excuse me, sir. Is THIS your island?” This is the kitchen drawer of American possessions, back past the spatulas and whisks. Guam, like Puerto Rico, was one of the territories we grabbed from the Spanish the last time we got all frisky and Imperialist. It shows the shape of the island (usually a bad sign in a coin, but let’s be honest – did YOU know what Guam looked like? Its not like its Colorado or anything). Also shown is a boat, the only way of reaching Guam, and a model of the Super Bowl trophy to congratulate the Pittsburgh Steelers over their defeat of the Seattle Seahawks a few years back.

Rating - C - Kinda Lame

American Samoa
ASQ
American Samoa is so named so there is no confusion with any OTHER Samoa you happen to be dating at the moment. As with Guam, it too shows the Samoan’s dedication to the NFL by displaying its local stadium and traditional cheerleader pompoms. It has the words SAMOA MUAMUA LE ATUA on it, quoting Margaret Meade’s immortal words “Those Samoans are a surly bunch”.

Rating - C - Kinda Lame

US Virgin Islands
VIQ
We’re going to avoid the obvious cheap shot here over the name and just point out that this commits all the crimes of state coinage – the official bird (the Banana Quit), the official flower (The Yellow Elder), the official tree (The Tyre Palm) and the official Diseased Whales that have washed up on the beach (Huey, Dewey, and Fidel), who apparently met their demise through eating Tyre Palms, Yellow Elders, and Banana Quits.

Rating - D - Very Lame

Northern Marina Islands
MIQ
One of our most recent acquisitions, the Northern Marina Islands attained commonwealth status in 1975, making it one of the triumphs of the Ford Administration. And actually, its not that horrible of a coin, with a sea shore, a traditional craft, seabirds, and um an, well, a ... Well they call that large upright structure a latte, but it looks like someone wanted to compete with Utah for most inadvertent sexual image in the collection.

Though it may be that coin collectors just need to get out more.

Rating - B, but only because I keep giggling when I look at it.

And that does it. No, really, this time. Though I hear that the NFL, delighted by all the football imagery in this set, is going to sponsor a set of quarters, one for each of its teams - the only sticking point is whether to do it in order of admission to the league, or number of Super Bowl wins (either puts Seattle near the end of the order).

More later,

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Signing - Spy Comics

That which I tell you three times is true. This is your final note.

I will be making a personal appearance at Spy Comics in Federal Way this coming Saturday, February 21, from 1 to 3.

I've written about Spy, which is my local shop. Rick and Paula run the joint, and are good people. They've never done a signing before, so I get to be the guinea pig/test case here.

In any event, come and check out the store (1500 South 336th Street, Federal Way) and say hi!

More later,

Update: And it was a very pleasant signing, and those of you who missed it are still encouraged to drop in for a shop that has good selection, good service, and nice people behind the counter.

Friday, February 20, 2009

David Byrne's Electronic Ghosts

Weird. Over the past few days, I've been visited by the phantoms of former Talking Heads front man David Byrne.

Mind you, I haven't encountered the man himself, but rather a variety of his electronic avatars. Sort of like things happen in threes? From random corners of communication, David Byrne suddenly appeared in my life. And it wasn't David Byrne, but rather a host of phantasms of Byrnes past and present, a bow wave of his presence. All occurring without any direct action from the singer himself.

First off there was a bit in BoingBoing about his latest album, which is not out of the question since they cover that kind of stuff. Then, while I'm working at home, the Lovely Bride is watching a tape of "Heroes" where there is a snatch of "Psycho Killer". Then the meatspace Byrne is in town, and the local weekly's blog talks about him as a celebrity spotting.

And then two friends from work had tickets to his show at Benaroya downtown. Great seats, an energized performance, and those in charge weren't particularly fussy about people taping, so as a result, she posted her experiences on youtube.

All of this without any additional effort on Mr. Byrne's part other than just doing his (normal, superlative) job.

I seem to be living in David Byrne's world. I'm just passing through.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Signing - Spy Comics

What I tell you three times is true. This is your second warning.

I will be making a personal appearance at Spy Comics in Federal Way this coming Saturday, February 21, from 1 to 3.

I've written about Spy, which is my local shop. Rick and Paula run the joint, and are good people. They've never done a signing before, so I get to be the guinea pig/test case here.

In any event, come and check out the store (1500 South 336th Street, Federal Way) and say hi!

More later,

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Guild Wars Two

I've gotten a number of private messages from fans over the past few weeks about the current status of the Guild Wars 2 project. We announced the existence of this game a while back, but have been quiet about its current status, in particular as to a firm release date. Into this vacuum has spilled a mass of concern and speculation. While attention is always appreciated, it has reached a fever pitch of late.

In response to these concerns, I want to point those interested to this message from our head honcho, Mike O'Brien.

In addition, I just like to add - no, actually I have nothing much at all to add. Mo lays everything out, and is being straight with you guys. We're fans too, fans of our own games, and want to make GW2 the best possible experience. All I can advise is patience, and do not let anticipation turn to worry.

More later.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Facebookery

It's been about a month since I lost my mind and started a Facebook page. So how do I like it?

It's been pretty interesting, but definitely a mixed bag. It is a living example of Your Mileage May Vary. But it is very effective because it understands the simple fact that not everyone communicates the same way.

And this last bit, I think, is the reason for Facebook's "overnight" popularity. People communicate differently, using different tools, and FB tries to get as many of those tools into play all at once.

Me? I tend to feed my blog over into the notes section from RSS. It's not a bad little method of using my FB page as a relay transmitter, picking up people who might not otherwise link to my blog (slackers). I'm comfortable with that. In addition, FB gives me a bit of control in allowing comments to friends (now that you know, don't abuse the privilege).

I also tend to use the "status" section, laying out whatever is on my mind at the moment (which is usually a song fragment or a movie quote). It is actually kind of fun just throw out a line and see how many people respond to it (if any - I'm not particularly vain about it). And it is fun to see the streams cross of acquaintances. One thread was responded to by a younger friend in Chicago, followed by a former co-worker from WotC, followed by a former editor from DC, followed by a current RPG-playing friend, followed by a former co-worker at Pokemon, USA. I think #2 and #5 know each other, but otherwise we're all over the place.

That said, there are features I do not use much. Email I am comfortable with, and see other long-time friends on. IM? Not so much, and I don't respond unless I am comfortable talking to you in person (IM is a "cold" medium which does not allow much in the way of emotional subtext - while in these entries I can consider and revise a bit, the time pressure of IM does not allow it).

The apps? I was buried initially in Monte Pythons gifts, free drinks, offers to join knighthood or a mafia gang or whatever. After thinking about it long and hard, I chose to ignore these. Dond't be offended - I don't dislike anyone who sent one (and do pick up the occasional Cthulhu Mythos bit), but I don't communicate that way. But its cool if that's the way YOU communicate. It is good to hear from you, even if I say no.

Similarly pictures. I have one. I really should get around to a Flickr account, but that picture is just about all I need. Until I get bored with it.

I like the "Home" and "Friends" pages because it gives me a way of casually stalking my friends without being intrusive. What, you don't do that as well? Again, it's a different way of communicating, and potentially one of the creepier ones.

Anyway, the numbers are probably topping out from the "new friends" list, and while I will probably keep monitoring it, I will concentrate on this blog. So I would say that it is a case of so far, so good.

Oh, and of course while I was working on all this, it comes down that Facebook has unilaterally changed its terms of service, to the tune that ANYTHING posted on the page, regardless of origin, becomes theirs. It sounds like someone was sleeping while the lawyers were making their last presentation to the board. There is a massive push-back at the moment, with people cutting accounts left and right. The brass is assuring that despite this language, they would NEVER use that information for badthings. It's just a legal thing.

Uh-huh.

Here's a little Terms of Service of my own. Feel free to attach it to your facebook notes as well.

"The information within this post, including the content, phrasing, spelling, alphabet letters used, and font choice is the sole ownership of the original poster. Reposting for any reason the original poster does not like (as determined by the original poster) can result in any and all recourse, not limited to Big Louie and Knuckles coming over and having a friendly chat with you in the dead of the night."

Not that I would EVER use this type of unilateral power. It's just a legal thing.

More later,

Update: in the face of a massive user uprising, Facebook has declared it all a misunderstanding, declared they never intended to do what they were doing, and shelved any changes until they decide how to sugarcoat it better. Yeah, the lawyers who pushed this through probably have some 'splaining to do.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Signing - Spy Comics

What I tell you three times is true. This is the first time.

I will be making a personal appearance at Spy Comics in Federal Way this coming Saturday, February 21, from 1 to 3.

I've written about Spy, which is my local shop. Rick and Paula run the joint, and are good people. They've never done a signing before, so I get to be the guinea pig/test case here.

In any event, come and check out the store (1500 South 336th Street, Federal Way)and say hi!

More later,

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Everyone Says I Love You

So my Encyclopedia of the Saints lists three St. Valentines, but one has a feast day in January so we can dump him right off the bat. Valentine of Rome was supposedly beheaded by Claudius in 269, while Valentine of Tierni was beheaded somewhere in the same temporal neighborhood, during the persecutions of the Emperor Aurellian (who ruled 270-275), indicating that the two may be the same guy. Neither would be particularly pleased to discover that their feast day is embodied by the pagan Greek deity of erotic love and beauty (who, per wikipedia, is either the son of Mars and Venus and known for his pranks and spreading love, or the child of Nyx (night) and Erebus (shadows) and known for his debauchery, or possibly both).

And we wonder why our holidays are so screwed up.

But that's nothing more than an excuse to embed this video of the four Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo) from their movie "Horse Feathers". The reed-thin plot of the movie is that Groucho is head of the college. Zeppo, his son (let us pause for a moment to reflect on the innate weirdness of that statement. OK, moving on), is on the football team, and they recruit icemen Harpo and Zeppo on football scholarships to win the big game. All four brothers romance the "college widow", Thelma Todd, over the course of the movie.

Anyway, each of the brothers in turn perform the song "Everyone Says I Love You", and it tells you about the brothers screen personas. Romantic lead Zeppo gets the straight version of the ballad, undercut by Harpo whistling to his beloved, followed by comical Chico (pronounced Chikk-o) using it to flirt, then a long beautiful harp solo by Harpo (that's what movies need these days - more harp solos). And finally sarcastic Groucho finishes it up with a caustic reflection on romance.

Here, enjoy. And happy Valentine's Day, whoever that is.

More later,

Friday, February 13, 2009

Drachenwurst

Many years ago, I attended a talk by Ursula K. Le Guin, whose work I respect, most of all because Earthsea bucked the trends of what was then traditional fantasy. And in the talk, she refers to the depths (well, I guess, shallows) of current traditional fantasy, in particular that of shared-world, serialized genre fiction. She called it "The Bologna Factory", where each new story is just another slice.

Now, this is MY job description she's talking about, but I take the hit manfully, honestly, and with respect. I am proud of what I have written over the years, but I understand that I am in the depths of genre. One of the reason I LIKE her fantasy is that it rejected genre trends, though I recognize that I myself am part of the genre she has identified and lambasted. And I'm cool with it.

What reminded me of that long-ago statement was THIS article in the Stranger blog, which talks about artwork that is sausage, with a the dead tree text of a book used instead of meat, and the cover transformed into the label. It is, by its own name, Literaturwurst.

Now, I would love to hang a sausage made of the Bruderkrieg hanging in my office, for oh, so many reasons.

More later,

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Your Economic Links For The Day

From over at Kobold Quarterly, there has been a wonderful series by Greg Oppedisano and Clinton Boomer on the economics of the typical D&D world.

But wait, you say the economics of the typical D&D world make no sense? Exactly.

Here's Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. Enjoy.

More later,

Update: Annnnnnd..... One More.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Your SF Link For The Day

I know that there is a lot of concern about the future of the printed word in this troubled market. Realms of Fantasy is going by the wayside, and apparently HarperCollins has been forced to lay off Collins.

Things are so dire that we must turn to The New Yorker for our Science Fiction fix.

I know you're expecting a punchline here, but there isn't one. Just go enjoy the story. I thought it was delightful.

More later,

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Roper

A few weeks back my regular Thursday Night D&D Group fought a roper and had a real good time in a very old school style battle. In fact, it was more old school than the old school was.

I should mention our Thursday group – I’ve been a part of it for over ten years now, since moving out here. We are all present or former members of WotC, and more than a few of us date back to employment at TSR. Because of who we are, we’re usually playing stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day yet, and playtested mechanics ranging from Star Wars to D20 Modern to Eberron. Our playing style is pretty relaxed – we kill monsters, tell bad jokes (until the GM reigns us in), and relish a good fight.

Anyway, the roper fight was a small bit within a larger adventure against trolls (we use official adventures because, well, we write them), so this would be a “minor” encounter, an amuse bouche, something to cleanse the palate. The roper was backed up by some trogs, who were keeping at a distance but chucking spears at the party members, sometimes pinning our people to the ground. We triumphed (hey, we’re heroes), but I came away feeling that this felt like a “classic” encounter – very appealing and reminding me of the "good old days" of the game. And I’ve been trying to figure out why.

Part of it is the roper, which is an old familiar monster. The creature didn’t appear in the original little books, but rather in The Strategic Review #2, and has over the years remained pretty stable in concept. It is a dungeon-dweller that looks like a stalagmite, shoots strands out at its enemies that weaken them, and then bites them when they get close. There have been some cosmetic changes -the first illo of one was in the 1E AD&D Monster manual, and it looks blobby but had evolved over time into a more formidable looking rocky form, with a weird side-trip through a Michael Kaluta version that looked like a frozen wave. But the concept was pretty stable, all these years.

But I never liked the roper, either as a DM or player. I don’t think it was what the monster did but as much as the fact that it ran afoul of a lot of what D&D did in that era (this was Greyhawk/Blackmoor pamphlet era) – it moved out into areas that the game didn’t quite cover well, yet.

Part of that was the whole grabbing mechanic – you hit, you’re grabbed, you stay grabbed until you make an open doors roll (that was very OD&D – pressing mechanics from one situation into service for another (not to mention it was a reminder that in the “good old days” we could actually be defeated by a door. Any door.)). And the weakening (originally halving one’s strength, cumulative, per hit) was a pain requiring recalculating to hit bonuses (and penalties) on the fly.

And of course the entire “hit you up to fifty feet away and drag you 10 feet per round” mechanic was a bit of a pain for those of us who were positioning figures in rough approximation, and even an irritant to those of us true gaming grognards that were armed with our tape measures.

Oh, and then there was the Magic Resistance, 80% for the original, which sidelined the wizards. And that was back when we just assumed that this meant that 80% of the time any spell failed, which was later replaced by the official explanation which was 80% against a spellcaster of the same level, which left the whole mechanic a smudgy mess.

The roper was a great monster in concept, but in delivery was a mish-mash of special requirements that the game was not sufficiently developed enough to handle. A lot of corner cases, kludgy rules, and a combat profile that took out both the fighters through ability drain (and a high AC) and wizards with high MR. A monster used once or twice, then abandoned forever with a shudder.

So why was THIS encounter so good? Well, it evoked what the monster was supposed to do without having to deal with all its powers as exceptions. We’re on a grid now, so distances are pretty clear, with all the pull and push and shift mechanics. You get weakened? That’s a status. Here’s what the status does. You want to escape? Here’s the mechanic – same as other escapes. Any hit on the roper’s tendril will cause it to let go, not just X amount of damage (that’s unique to the roper, but it is minor and handled without requiring any additional tracking). All the experimental bits of original roper were handled under a system that fit together well. All the mechanics actually felt like they were part of the same game, and one that moved smoothly, allowing more time for tactics and bad jokes.

Oh, and add that bunch of trogs, highlighting a secondary power of theirs, without even making the DM break a sweat. It was a pretty sweet encounter, and showed that old school sensibilities can be brought into play in a new system.

So yeah, 4E is a worthy component of the continuing evolution of D&D.

More later,

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Anniversary

So last night the Lovely Bride and I went out to celebrate our Anniversary. In numbers, we have exceeded the yearly scale that can be found at Wikipedia, but one site I tracked down calls it the "Original Pictures" anniversary. You may take that as you see fit (My first reaction was - watch Star Wars when Han shoots first).

Last year we went to Hawaii for a major number anniversary, and while this year was smaller, it was no less impressive. We went to Canlis for dinner. Now Canlis is the best (and I believe priciest) restaurant in Seattle. It is perched at the south end of the Aurora bridge such that, unless you are looking for it, you shoot right past it heading north. It has a great view out on Gasworks Park and Lake Union. It has a dress code (I know, shock). It is very, very expensive.

And it is worth it. The Lovely Bride and I took the tasting menu, which I have recommended before in these pages. The tasting menu is an ever-changing selection of many smaller courses, each one paired with a suitable wine. I like it because it gets me out of my comfort zone into foods and preparations that I would otherwise shy away from.

Last night we started with steelhead roe served on a smoked potato panna cotta and baked potato gélee. Now as an appetizer this might send one back to safer choices (a smoked potato panna cotta? What the heck is that? Very delicious, is the answer). A yellow fin tuna, with satsuma mandarins, fennel and taggiasca olives. A dorade (its a fish - I didn't know), served with sunchokes, bouillabaisse and chorizo (and tapioca pearls). A beef tenderloin with truffles, the beef cooked in the sous vide style (meaning the meat appeared rare but tasted medium, and melted in the mouth), a chaser of a fromage blanc sorbet before finishing with milk chocolate mousse, espresso caramel and mascarpone sorbet.

This is serious food, to be savored, not shoveled. Small portions that inspire small bites. Excellent presentation. Food as art form, to be appreciated. You shouldn't barrel through the Louvre (though there are those that do), and this is a meal that you linger over. The pacing from the staff is perfectly meshed, so the wine pairings, the courses, and the clearing all moved with a sense of sorcerous mystery.

And yes, the wine pairings. The idea that wine goes with food is a bit of a mystery to many of us, and indeed, I am often drinking what is available/what the Lovely Bride ordered. But this meal makes the case that wine pairings are not an urban legend. The wines matched each course perfectly. And yeah, the sommelier's task is made tougher by the fact that the Lovely Bride's allergies forced a substitution on the desert course, and getting a wine to pair with grapefruit sorbet is a challenge (On the other hand, I had tawny port for the first time last night. Hmmmmm port...)

The end result was a perfect evening that completely worked, melting away a stressful day and creating a perfect evening. The morning, after all the variety of wines, both LB and I are paying a bit of the price. But like the meal itself, it was worth it.

More later,

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Election Results

So the numbers poured in soon after the non-polls officially closed, and the post-marked ballots still coming in are nudging the results only slightly. With currently about 20% of the eligible voters casting votes, the clear winner is Sherril Huff, the incumbent, with strong plurality (45% of the vote) among the six candidates, and more than the second and third place candidates (Irons and Roach) combined. It is a pretty strong statement the folk think you're doing an OK job.

A nice touch was that political neophyte Bill Anderson, who was the sort of candidate this type of election was supposed to attract, got a good showing at fourth with 8% of the vote, ahead of the former director of elections, and the guy who called everybody else a bunch of crooks.

So its a test run, and nothing seems to have blown up. I'm still going to miss going to the polls.

More later.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

American Pie

Fifty years ago this morning, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and JP Richardson, better known as “The Big Bopper” bundled into a chartered single-engine plane and flew into eternity. Their plane crashed five minutes after takeoff due to pilot error and horrible weather. All were slain in the crash.

The tragedy left a gaping wound in American Music at a critical time. Ten-plus years after the event, Don McLean wrote about it in one of the classic songs of my generation – “American Pie”. I loved this song and empathized with it as a young teen, and much of what I saw around myself in the early 70s seemed to echo his words. Heck, I even named my first D&D city after it.

But now, years later, I have to admit that the song was not about what I thought it was. It was not about the battle of the sixties, about the loss of JFK and RFK, about Kent State and Vietnam and civil rights. Instead, it was about a generational change in popular music in the late 50s/early 60s, and how McLean , who would these days be stacked near the folk-rock end of the spectrum, didn’t like it one bit.

It is, in effect, McLean was telling people to get off his lawn.

People pore over the lyrics looking for deeper meaning, and part of its longstanding popularity is that his words express themselves in unlooked-for ways. Yet it is to my surprise that I am standing with the “bad guys” that McLean is opining about. I'm standing with the good guys, too, because it was a musical divide that I was not aware of.

The good guys (in the song) were Buddy, Ritchie, the Bopper, and Dylan (the jester). The bad guys are the Beatles (the sergeants played a marching tune), the Byrds (eight miles high) and the Stones (Jagger = Satan laughing with delight?). I loved what we now early rock, and was a big Arlo Guthrie fan. But I also loved the Beatles, Stones, and what we call “classic rock” in these lesser days.

I also realize now that both groups played out this part of the story before I had my musical tastes fully downloaded. I was a toddler when that plane went down. I was 12 in the year of Woodstock and Altamont. If McLean was bemoaning the fall of American music since the passing of three important icons, how would he feel about its stunned-falcon plummet of later decades. His song belongs to a generation that felt betrayed when Dylan went electric. It's important, but to evoke Dylan, that ain’t me, babe.

And part of what bothers me about such nostalgia is that artists evolve. The loss of Holly and the others have frozen them in time, their music in amber. The tragedy is not just that their voices were silenced, but their potential was cut short. McLean seems to feel that, had the three men he admired most not passed into the west from the Grey Havens, they would continue to produce the same danceable folk rock. I’d like to imagine that other, alternate world, where Buddy Holly wrote the “Dukes of Hazzard” theme song (performed by Waylon Jennings, who missed that fateful flight) and the Big Bopper delivered the baseline for a rap version of Chantilly Lace.

More later,

Election Central

This is a message to inhabitants of King County, in the state of Washington. The rest of you, go over and read Sinfest, which panel-for-panel is funnier than anything you'll find in the Seattle Times.

OK, Kingsters, here's the deal: Today is election day. I don't want to hear you kvetch about it, you brought this one upon yourselves. So we're electing a Director of Elections (yeah, its called irony), and we're doing it in a vote by mail.

Here's what you need to do. Go dig out that mail-in ballot you got a while back. It's by the front door, in the pile of mail that contains those late Christmas Cards and unopened bank balance statements. Go get it, I'll wait.

Back? OK. Now take a bloody pen and vote. One vote. That's it. Fold it up. Put it in the security envelope. Put the security envelope in the regular envelope (Democracy - some assembly required). Sign and date the outer envelope. Seal the security flaps. Then either slap a stamp on it and mail the dratted thing, or drop it off at one of ten locations in the county. If it is posted today, it counts.

Got it? Good. Oh, OK, recommendations. If you take recommendations from bloggers (a dicey proposition at best), I would say Sherril Huff is doing the job well and deserves to keep it. Just about everybody else who has actual throw weight (Times, P-I, Stranger agrees. The rest of the pack, with the exception of newcomer Bill Anderson (who actually is running on qualifications, such a novel idea) have so much political baggage they would be charged extra to get on the plane.

This ain't jury duty, but it is a civil obligation. You guys wanted to vote - now go vote.

More later,

Monday, February 02, 2009

Are You Ready To Roomba?

We have a new member of the household - small, red, noisy, and random its movements. Oddly, it is not a child, but rather one of those robot vacuum cleaners. Looking like a small footstool, it coasts randomly around the room, cleaning as it goes. Its predecessor was the “Mouse droid” from Star Wars, and I can only assume that if a Wookiee growls at it, it will run away.

One of my co-workers is moving to heavier carpeting in his house and wanted to get rid of his roomba, which was about three or four years old and picked up at a discount anyway. We had long ago moved back to hardwood floors , and I said yeah, I’d be glad to take it, if the Lovely Bride and the cats could put up with it.

The LB loves the idea of anything that will vacuum so she doesn’t have to, be it a smaller disk-shaped dalek or her understanding mate. There is a problem, though - Our architecture in the house is fairly open, so she has been setting up barriers at the doorways to keep it in the kitchen, or the dining room, or whatever. Since I walk through those rooms, sometimes without turning on lights, I can predict this new behavior will end in tears. This is a Dick Van Dyke show opening credits sequence just waiting to happen.

The cats have yet to determine if the rolling disk is predator or prey, and have by turns hunted it, then, when it turns and charges them, fleeing in terror. They have taken to following it and watching it from the high ground, like Comanches watching a cavalry detachment from the canyon walls, planning an eventual ambush.

As for me, I find it noisy and underfoot. It has decided the perfect place to power down is right under my chair at the dinner table, so I have tripped over it once alrady. I think the next generation of this things should be made of kickable plastic. Or at least it should run away when I growl at it.

More later,

Sunday, February 01, 2009

XLIII, Um, Also

In well over a thousand posts here, I have never been as tempted to retract an entry as I am for the one just down the page, in which I intimated that this year's Super Bowl would be a slaughter and, as so many before them, a snooze.

Instead, it proved to be the most watchable game I've seen in years, from start to finish. And this is the Super Bowl, mind you, where usually the results are obvious before the end of the first quarter and those of you with picture-in-picture channel surf during the game, coming back only for the commercials (if that).

All my hopes and fears about the Steelers, emotions I thought in abeyance, came back in full force as I watched them dominate in the first quarter and completely evaporate in the early fourth. The great moves were there, in amazing play after amazing play on both sides, along with the amazing bonehead move (Ah - the Steeler center is named Justin Hartwig, though he probably would have had to change his name after that holding penalty in the end zone that gave Arizona the safety.

Even the halftime show of Bruce Springsteen and the Half-of-Jersey band was brilliant, as if the NFL has once and for all shaken the curse of the obviously-sucky-half-time-show.

Oh, and the commercials? A lot of people got pushed in front of buses this year. The Budweiser Clydesdales should get their own show on NBC, and Pepsi will never be the choice of a new generation if they keep insisting on claiming that it was the choice of every previous generation. Just saying. There were even movies I will want to watch this year. Oh, and the worst of the lot was a tie between the GoDaddy hey-we're-still-around commercials and the Cash4Gold people who reminded us that MCHammer was still alive.

Though I liked the Ivar's commercial on the local. So, why a duck?

The game was officiated well, if a little over-officiated, but some of those calls you just have to make (come on, punching out an opponent?). Yeah, I can't argue with the calls (OK, there was that one Arizona TD, but...)

More later,

Comics: DC’s Finals Days

Ever stand outside an art cinema where some foreign film is being played? And there are people coming out who are excited about what they just saw, really charged up by the raw artistic brilliance. And there are people with these stunned looks on their faces, like they have been intellectually mugged and are not quite sure what they should do about it?

That seems to be the reaction to DC’s big event, Final Crisis, which finally wrapped up last week, but apparently has some straggling pieces coming along later. You either got it and enjoyed it, or you feel like you’ve been hit with a two-by-four.

Put me in the two-by-four group. Stuff HAPPENS and things RESOLVE but I’m quite sure about all the hows and whys. Given that much of this particular issue is told second-hand after the event by various narrators, all with the same voice, contributes. As does the fact that it deals with the multiple earths of the DC universe as well as time travel, two concepts to make even the hardiest brains ache. And that the ultimate bad guy is not the ultimate bad guy as promised early in the book, but ANOTHER ultimate bad guy that was over in another book.

And the resolutions, for a universe-shaking epic, are also strange. So is Batman dead here, or dead in his own series, which was titled “Batman RIP”, or is he still alive as some eternal entity and if so, on which earth? And are the Hawks (Hawkman and Hawkgirl) dead? Why not the Atoms (original Palmer and new guy Choi), who seemed to be in a much more dire situation? Is the Barry Allen Flash back, and if so, what about the Wally West Flash, one of the few real superhero replacement successes? At least they brought back Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew into the continuity. And what about the (New) New Gods? Does that have meaning for anyone who didn’t follow the Kirby DC comics in the early 70s?

I think that may be ultimately the problem – so much of this pulls from that part of a golden age – new gods and Kamandi and Anthro and all that, which requires previous knowledge, but then that knowledge is not particularly clove to tightly, with the result that it is impenetrable to the newcomer and confusing the old guy.

And if there’s a metastatement about comics, I’m a bit lost, and I really like this kind of stuff. Are the Monitors (watching from above the worlds) comic fans? Comic creators? Fallen angels? Is Life diagram against Anti-Life equation about creativity against conformity? Imagination against science? Realism against wonder? Art against words?

I dunno. It used to be that after the movie, you could hang out at the local coffee shop and listen to the one guy who gets it try to explain it to his friends, or watch the stresses of couples where she is explaining the symbolism of the white daffodils while he is just shaking his head. And you’re seeing it instead in the blogosphere. Oh joy.

Here’s where I, monitor of my own universe, pass judgment – DC needs to take a break from this sort of crisis for a good year or more. Figure out how their universe/multiverse/omniverse really works. Decide if their stories are on New Earth or Earth-0 or Earth-1 or whatever. Who their characters are. Their original Crisis on Infinite Earths closed the door on the Silver Age, but I don’t know what this does, for the continuity or the characters or the company itself. And once they have figured all that out, move forward from there.

More later,