Friday, January 30, 2004

Game Product: Character Study

Deluxe Character Sheets Dungeons & Dragons, developed and assembled by Christopher Perkins and Ed Stark, aided by Kim Mohan and Michael Donais, $14.95, Wizards of the Coast, 2004,

This is another D&D entry, so its heavy in jargon. If you're looking for political rants or local history, check elsewhere on the page

This particular product appeared on my chair at work two days ago. At WotC, the designers, developers, and editors get new product from the company (though it often takes a long and sometimes tortuous path to get here) so we have the latest tools. So I got one as well (thanks, guys!). Having just rejoined, I was unaware that this was in the pipeline until it showed up. So note that it was free, and not something I would normally go looking for.

That's because character sheets are in the "nice-but-not-necessary" category of game product. Some people swear by them. Others get by with normal paper (we have an editor in Bill's gaming group who regularly keeps his massively multiclaseed characters on 3 by 5 cards - he also keeps the record of all the facts in the campaign so this trait is overlooked by all). Others photocopy the generic sheet in the book and write very, very small (that would be me). Still others have such specialized needs for their characters that they end up creating their own. And why purchase a book of character sheets when you can download them off the net?

So it was with no little apathy that I unsealed the shrinkwrap and took a look at our latest attempt at character sheets. I mean, we've done this a bajillion times in all the years I've been at TSR, and later WotC. Its going to be a bunch of loose pages, right?

Well, yes and no. Pulling off the paper cover, I note immediately that this is a notebook-style cover with interior pockets. Immediately this is better than most of the similar product I've seen. I'm one of those people that jams my character sheet into the rulebook I happen to be using at the moment. This is . . . nice. Sturdy stock, shots of the 3.5 iconic characters.

And inside, on the pockets, the two tables I'm always checking when I level up - Base Save/Base attack bonus and Experience/Level Dependent Benefits. This is . . . very nice.

The sheets themselves are 4-pagers, which allows enough room to really write on them (most two-page sheets result in a lot of cramped, crabbed handwriting, particularly in the equipment section). Each 4-pager is customized for its particular character - lots of Feat entries for the Barbarians and Fighters, turning rules for the Clerics and Paladins, and the lot. This is . . . really nice.

And the Skill listings have check-marks for which skills are Class Skills. This sounds like a small thing, but it always bothered me on earlier versions that they checked the Skills that your character DIDN'T have. Its a small thing, but I'm pretty pleased they addressed it.

And there's permission to photocopy (I remember incarnations back in the 70s where the company went to great lengths to try to prevent this). And there are d20Modern character sheets as well (and if you play D20 Modern only and eschew D&D, well, deal with it). And there is a generic sheet as well. I actually am excited by all this, and hunt down my friends in the office responsible to congratulate them. This is very, very good.

Is there a downside to these sheets? Sure. Even with the 4-page character sheets, some player characters need more space. Spellcasters in particular need more, and the additional space requirements vary widely according to the class. The Wizard/Sorcerer gets a full additional 4-page signature, whereas the Cleric gets three pages for spells and two pages for domain abilities.The last page of its spell signature is used for Ranger spells, and it shares its domain abilities sheets with Bard spells. Similarly, the Paladin spells shares the same signature with the spells of the Druid, Assassin, and Blackguard. Its a bit of a muddle, but is pretty easy to sort out.

So now I'm bringing over Relique, my Warforged Paladin, to this new setup, since he just leveled up. So I think these sheets are a good thing. And the editor that keeps his characters on 3 by 5 cards? He likes the new sheets such that HE is transposing his current character over. Of course in his case, he's cutting them up and re-photo-copying them, since he double-classes regularly and is just moving into his first Prestige Class..

Anyway, this is one of those products that's worth checking out. Its probably the best set of character sheets since the ancient gold-paper ones done back at the dawn of gaming history. And its a real good DM-to-Gaming-Group gift - one that pays back when the players can find their stuff easily.

More later,

Thursday, January 29, 2004

I Win A Million Dollars!

In my dreams. And in this week's Friday Five.

You have just won one million dollars:

1. Who do you call first? Kate, if she's not within shouting distance. Then my folks.

2. What is the first thing you buy for yourself? That laptop I have been promising to get for the past two years. Then pay off the house.

3. What is the first thing you buy for someone else? First I put away college funds for the nieces and nephews. Then I take Kate back to the Kona Village Resort on the big island of Hawai'i to plan world conquest.

4. Do you give any away? If yes, to whom? After making sure family is secure, we've got a large number of causes that get a little boost - Sierra Club, Seattle Rep, Girl Scouts of America - Kate's got a list, of that I have no doubt.

5. Do you invest any? If so, how? Small local businesses - surprisingly staying away from game companies (sorry, guys). I'd like to buy my own Senator, but a million dollars doesn't go as far as it used to, anymore. :(

Coal Mine, Part II

Its interesting what you come up with when you start researching.

On the entry just below, I should note that William Renton was never a resident of Renton, since he died ten years before the town was named, and wouldn't have lived down here anyway, with all the noise and pollution created by his mines.

I also reported the impression that the Renton Coal Company was in operation the full time of its listed life, actually, it was closed for labor troubles for about ten years starting in the 1870's, reopening in 1886 as the Renton Cooperative Coal Company, owned by the workers.

The Black River has an interesting history to it, all its own. In short, it was the original outflow to Lake Washington. Flowing south, and then into the Duwamish river, then out to the sound. Early settlers came up the Black River. When they finished the Montlake Cut and put the Ship Canal in in 1916, the new water level was lower than the Black River, so the river died. I'll have more on this later.

And the town of Slaughter (later renamed Auburn) was originally named for a hero of the Indian War. Yep, the Seattle area had its own Indian War in 1856 or so. I'll have to find out more on this one as well.

Labor troubles, environmental disaster, and a Native American uprising. And I always thought this was just a sleepy suburb.

More later,

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Working in a Coal Mine

Nope, this one isn't about the current job. Its about the city of Renton, just north of here.

Benson Avenue, the main artery along the East Hill, starts in the city of Renton itself, right behind the Renton City Hall and the new SAM's Club. It occupies a sliver of land right alongside I-405 at that point, and you head up the hill, there's what looks like the an old bridge support or a gun emplacement along the side of the road - moss-covered concrete with stumps of rebar sticking out of the top.

And there's a plaque mounted to the side of the concrete, and I just can't resist a historical marker. So I pulled over.

The pile of concrete and rebar turns out to be a foundation of a mine car hoist for the Renton Coal Mine. The mine itself operated between 1873 and 1920. The hoist was used to haul coal out of the East Hill, the original entrance now buried under the highway. Mules were used originally. This particular mine ran over a mile into the hill, and branched some 22 times. In its lifetime it took out 1.3 million tons of coal (according to the plaque).

The Renton Coal Mine predates Renton itself. Back then area was known as Black Bridge, for the crossing of the Black River (which as far as I know, is no longer a going concern either, but that may be another story). William Renton was a lumberman who moved up to this neck of the woods in 1850, seeing a need for lumber in Seattle, since the city regularly caught fire in those days (and was rebuilt in wood, so it could burn again - this is what they call today a "repeat purchase model"). Renton did well in lumber, and expanded into rail in order to carry the wood. And when running a planned rail line out to some virgin timber, his associates found coal in the local hills near Black Bridge and William Renton went into the coal business.

(As a digression, there are other coal towns in the area, including Newcastle and Black Diamond. Never thought of them as such, but once you realize it, its kind of obvious from the names).

Anyway, it was the Renton Coal Company until 1886, then became the Renton Cooperative Coal Company until 1907, then was part of Seatle Electic until 1920, when it shut down. Hydro and natural gas replaced coal as an energy source, but the last coal mine (out in Black Diamond) in the area closed in the 1970's.

(This is of particular interest to me, since my home town of Mt. Lebanon, PA - indeed most of southern Allegheny County - was undercut by old mines. My father said that in the 50s you could hear the picks and shovels from the basement of the schools (Which in turn leads to old European stories of Mine Spirits - Knockers and Kobolds, but I'm digressing more than usual)).

Now rural Black Bridge gave way to a larger community of immigrants that came in to mine the coal. And when the town finally incorporated in 1901 (it just celebrated its centennial a few years back), it took as its name that of its leading citizen and its biggest industry - Renton. So the town was named after the business, not the other way around. Which makes sense, because after the whole coal thing went away, the area was primed for ANOTHER company to come in and dominate the landscape - That would be Boeing.

There's more data than you need on coal mining in Renton here. And from the maps it doesn't look like there are any mines directly under this property. But all this is just an interesting exploration that started out with checking out a plaque at the side of the road.

(And there are worse things than living in the town named after a lumber/coal/rail baron. Two communities south, the community was originally named Slaughter. But that's another story).

More later,

Monday, January 26, 2004

I Question the Candidates

So after writing the last entry, I decided to take matters further. Below is an email I have fired off to the various Washington State campaigns asking about their candidates stand on the Open Primary. I will keep you posted on any/all response I get from them.

Dear General/Congressman/Senator/Governor*

On February 7th, Democrats of Washington State will be holding their caucus for nominee for President. Between then and now, I expect to hear a great deal about your positions and those of the other candidates. However, one issue that may be ignored is your stand on Washington's Open Primary.

Washington State is a rarity in this country in that it holds truly open primaries, where anyone can vote for anyone, regardless of political affiliation. The major political parties, both Democrat and Republican, have sensed the potential for mischief, and challenged the legality of this law, which has been on the books since the 1920's. The 9th Circuit Court has agreed with them, and demanded that Washington State abandon its current open primary. The state is appealing the ruling, and the general feeling of the voting population, regardless of political affiliation, is that this ruling is ill-considered and should be overturned.

What is your position on the Open Primary? Should we abandon it, should the court rule in the favor of the political parties, or should we seek an "Louisiana-style" primary (which a few leaders of the state party have already rejected in advance)?

All politics is local, and your opinion on this local issue is important to me and others in Washington State. I will share your response with others at the caucus and on-line. Thank you for your time and effort in this matter.


Jeff Grubb

*I would have added Dear Reverend, but Sharpton doesn't have an email contact (his website has probably the most beatific campaign photo ever taken.)

More later

Raucous Caucus

So those readers who have been here a while have noted my discussion of the Primary, or lack thereof, in Washington State this year, and my approval of the fact that the State Legislature had decided to do without it, pocketing nine megabucks in the process.

The reason, for me, is very simple. The Republicans don't need a primary, and the National Democrats announced that they would ignore the primary in favor of a state caucus. (State Democrats pitched the idea that the delegates would be chosen by a combination of caucus and primary, but that idea didn't fly at the National Level. Thanks, guys.)

So the Democratic Caucuses are being held on Saturday morning, February 7th, at a host of locations around the state. If you want to find out where in your area you'd go for this, you can check it out here. If you have your voter-registration card, you can find out where to meet. Otherwise, you can give general location and congressperson and work your want down to it.

Here's what to expect. When you get there, they'll ask you up front that you're a Democrat, and who you're initially supporting. This is no heads-down-on-the-desk secret ballot sort of thing, but democracy red in tooth and claw - you're there because you want someone to win, so you have to say it up front. You don't have to hold to it, but you have to say it up front. You also have to declare you're a Democrat, because, of course, no Republican double-agents would think of infiltrating a caucus to support the weaker candidate.

Next, they get rid of the Dennis Kucinich supporters - I'm sorry, I'm meant to say, candidates that poll less that 15% are deemed "not viable" and their supporters are asked to choose another candidate. Also, if you change your mind, you are allowed to choose another candidate as well. So it goes, until it firms up with percentages for each candidate, and then everyone goes home.

I'm a little fuzzy on this next part, so I have to do my homework, but a percentage of the total carries forward from the local caucuses to the state level, and then to the national convention. Not sure who gets chosen to Boston for the big convention, elected caucus voters, or individuals with orders from the state-level. I'm going to have to do my homework on this.

This sounds like a political rugby scrum, and though I would have to wave my official "Independent" status in order to attend, I find it interesting. For those who would never-in-a-million-years vote Republican, I recommend they find out where their local caucus is, and attend. Weirdly, this type of democracy ensures a greater voice for the individual that shows up than a primary (or, worse still as far as the parties are concerned, an "open primary"). It looks like there will be a lot of new kids at the party, and the worst that happens is that you'll be on a Democrat mailing list.

Yeah, Democrat junk mail. Like I don't get THAT already.

More later,

The Truth? I can't handle The Truth!

So I'm watching the Food Network the other day, and between shows, they switch to local advertisers. And one of them is for a future appearance of Noam Chomsky in the area. It shows a microphone, and has Chomsky's distinctive voice railing against the spineless corporate media and the "conservatives, with their me-first, hypocritical, hate-Everybody attitude", and as you hear his voice, the microphone gets redder and redder and starts to smoke. It was an incendiary commercial that left me stunned for its rabid invective.

Suprised? Of course, since I'm making all of that up. Well, not the existence of a commercial showing a red-hot, smoking mike. The commercial is running, and its for Rush Limbaugh, who bounced from his old local station for for a new home at KTTH, which bills itself as "The Truth" and is the the latest of the red-meat hate-blatherers in the area. And of course, he was whining about the "Liberals, with their hate-America attitude". And it was on the History channel, which most of the gang I know also call the Hitler Channel for its "all-this-and-WWII" programming. And the local feed chose the right show to advertise in - The Barbarians, a wistful look at the heyday of the good old days, when the Strong regularly took stuff from the Weak.

Of course, its OK to pick on Liberals. Its not like trying to run an anti-Bush commercial at the Superbowl. That was nipped in the bud, because, you know, its not like they're selling a product or service. That's permissible. But this is a democracy, so you got two choice here. - like it, or lump it.

"I Have Arrived At The Truth," intones Rush in All Caps.

So have I, Rush. The truth is we have to up your medication again.

More later,

Saturday, January 24, 2004

New Format

I'm thinking about this as the new format for the blog.

Actually, its a mixing program that puts together my content with another layout. You too can mix your blog with or the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The mixer can be found here.

Thanks to Eric at Mystical Forest for the heads-up. Mina Naguib did the programming.

Thursday Night Gaming

Let me tell you about my D&D character. [Warning: copious use of D&D jargon in the following article. Do not try to operate heavy machinery immediately after reading]

I have a couple regular and semi-regular gaming groups, but the most dependable is the Thursday night game over at Bill Slavicsek’s house. I’ve been playing in it since shortly after I got out to Seattle, and we have a good group of about seven people, with Bill as Game Master. In addition to being the Director of R&D RPG, Bill is also a designer, so his game is often a test-bed for new ideas and a playtest for future projects that are coming (and yeah, I ran this past him to make sure I’m not giving  away too much). The other players are designers, editors, and developers as well, and it tends to be a touchstone for us to both enjoy ourselves and take the latest rules out for a spin.

Previously, we’ve run campaigns in Star Wars d20 (where I ran my wookiee Force Adept Whappamanga), d20 Modern (Moondog Greenberg, the original Tough Hero), and Urban Arcana (Edie Romanova, my Fast Hero/Slayer with a touch of Telepath). Right now its Eberron, which is the big new world that is coming up this summer from WotC.  Our group is currently editor Michele (who's playing Kieran - a Bard verging on the new Inquisitive class),  T’Ed (Cyndar - elven cleric of the Undying Court), Chris (Zagrum – “Zag”, a shifter monk), John (Taylan d’Orien – Dragonmarked rogue with teleport abilities), and Andrew (Claymore – “Clay”, a warforged barbarian –warforged being a new race of living constructs).  I’m running Relique, a warforged paladin. We’re all 5th level.

[And as an aside, Andrew and I are taking our warforged in different directions – I’m doing the more humanistic and social character while Andrew is comfortable with an more combat-oriented version. Data versus Bender. Warforged are going to make a good new character race.]

Now the other thing about Bill’s campaigns is that, as Director, he gets access to a lot of new products and toys that he loves to “spring” on us. With the recent Dungeons & Dragons® Miniatures, that means that he’s pulling out new figures from various stages of development and throwing them at us. More importantly, one of the upcoming sets (not the next one, but the one after that) is introducing huge figures. And these figures are HUGE.

So  in the game we’re after a journal that belongs to a friend of Kieran’s late mentor. We see flashing lights from the library. Relique, who is both impulsive and has initiative, runs into the room, and sees . . .

At this point Bill sets down one of the new HUGES. And it is a monster (I can’t tell you which one – it’s a creature from Eberron – just call it . . . IT).  IT fills the library, as ITs gnome allies are rummaging through, looking for the journal. It is one thing to examine one of these things in an office environment – you look at cast lines, detail, scale. Encountering something like this in play is a heart-stopping experience. (Well, Warforged don’t have hearts, but you get the picture). Barely room to maneuver. An incredible reach. Oh, and Bill added a few new templates to IT to make IT even tougher. We have bitten off more than we can chew. So I try to bluff IT and the gnomes. I’m a paladin – it doesn’t work out. I get slammed into an inopperative state and the rest of the team comes in to take on . . .IT.

And in that one shining moment we become the X-Men -  teamwork over more powerful adversity. Zag is drawing attacks and fighting at full defense, keeping IT occupied. Clay rages and chews huge chunks out of IT. Keiran the bard keeps our offense good with inspire courage, while Cyndar the cleric keeps us on par defensively with shields of faith and other abjurations. Tayland, noted within our group for horribly low hit points, concentrates on the gnomes. I pull my shattered form out of the ITs reach and get an aidspell to get me back online again.

A gnome finds the journal and hides behind IT. Tayland teleports me behind IT (right back into the melee) and I take out the gnome, but Tayland, my low hit die ride, gets slammed into the wall by IT, stranding me. Clay, who has been absorbing huge amounts of damage, crashed in the same round. I prepare for the worst, when Cyndarthe elven cleric puts an adamantine arrow right betweem ITs eyes, taking it down.

Now, one of the concerns I have with the d20 system as it stands is the fragility of the challenge ratings (CRs), a method of determining the strength of an encounter. If you are fighting an opponent of a higher CR, you are in for an uphill battle. If you are fighting one of 2 CRs or higher, you are seriously asking for a world of hurt. Our group would be considered CR 6 – IT started at CR 8 before adding on the templates. The fact that we could balance out the deficit through co-ordinated and cross-supported play was extremely reassuring, since this is exactly the type of play (co-operation, mutual support, party organization) that SHOULD be rewarded.

More later,

Friday, January 23, 2004

A Brief Five

Here is this week's:

At this moment, what is your favorite...

1. The theme song from Jonny Quest (the original)

2. Right now I have a major jones for a deep dish spinach and garlic pizza (pepperoni on half), from the Original Chicago in Lake Geneva.

3. show? Simpsons (followed closely by America's Test Kitchen)

4. ...scent? Air cleaned by a long passage over the Pacific Ocean

5. ...quote? "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." – Dwight D Eisenhower.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Shorter State of the Union Address

Everything's fine. Why do you ask?

On the Road Again: Lunch

Tuesdays are always a pain in that our design group has meetings at 11 and at 1, and if the 11 o'clock meeting runs long, we have to grab a bite fast before the 1 o'clock. Its the nature of the bizz, but on this particular day it saw myself and co-worker Staci driving down to the local Baja Fresh with a small time window for a meal.

So we get down there, park in the clearly marked "Compact" space in front, go in, and get lunch, intent on bringing it back to the office. When we get out, there's a humoungus white Caddy parked in the "Compact" space right next to us. Its one of those 1950's gas-guzzlers with the fins and the collector plates, and has this unfinished white matte coat that looks like its a work in progress. Its also at a 15-degree angle off true, so there is no way to easily back out past it. I manage, though, by Staci guiding me, and with about four inches to spare off the Caddy's back bumper. It takes time we don't have, of course, and we spend the trip back to office mocking the UTTER MAROON that would park a car that big, badly, in a compact space. (And to be fair, we also mocked the white SUV that tried to pull into the compact space we had just carefully vacated).

OK, so its one of those clueless bozo driver that you see on the roads every day, and I thought no more of it. Until I got out of work and found the same White Caddy parked (badly) in front of the company building. Aparently the maroon works for Hasbro/WotC (and with my luck, is a brand manager and reads this blog).

Said it before and will say it again - Whotta Maroon.

More later,

Monday, January 19, 2004

The Blog Goes Ever On And On

So I'm still in the process of deciding what goes into this blog and doesn't. Here's what I come up with:

Reviews: A couple weeks ago I was reading a review column by a gaming professional, in which he admitted that he wasn't reviewing an interesting and well-written product because the publisher hadn't sent him a free copy. I understand this to some degree if he's getting a paid for the review and has to deliver every week or so, though this particular unnamed reviewer is pretty slap-dash with his deadlines, and you know, you'd think he'd at least be curious about it. Anyway, when I review, I notice that I tell you where I got it, how I got it, and why I think its worth reviewing (yes, I read (and watch) more than I review).

Politics: After writing a bit about the national level, I think I'm more comfortable with local politics. I don't have the lack of memory and/or ethics that allows me to declare the Kerry campaign dead in the water one week, then hail its victory the next (I'm talking about the major nets and pundits, here). I tend to think about what I write, which also puts me at a distinct disadvantage. Yeah, there's a lot happening at the top, and I will still throw in when I think there's something to say, but I think there are enough other blogs out there handling the national level on a regular basis.

Seattle: This ties in with local politics - a lot of good blogs are local ones, and I am a fan of Seattle. I'm comfortable with it, and will continue to report of little stuff that I encounter while I'm out and about. I mean, its JANUARY and I took a walk in the park without a hat (woohoo!).

Work: I don't talk about work, except in generally vague terms. Part of that is because this is both a public forum (well, public for me) and a semi-permanent one. A lot of what I work on is still secret at this point, and I'll be glad to reveal my part in it when the various corporate masters announce their own plans (Like the Star Wars Miniatures from WotC, or the big Galactus figure from WizKids), but not before. I saw a presentation copy for a project I was working on over the Christmas break, and it looks FANTASTIC, but of course, I can't say anything else. (hehehe).

Creative Stuff: I'll throw the occasional bit of creativity in every so often. I don't know where it comes from, or where its going, but this is good place to put it. After the poetry below, I got comments ranging from invites to dinner to offers of a suicide watch. No, it won't disuade me from posting again.

Friends: I find that I have a couple levels of rankings when I talk about friends and family. Friends that are bloggers get refered to their own blogs. Friends that are not I am a bit more dodgy about, particularly if the comments are less than flattering. Family I tend to not write anything that would totally freak them out (My mother worries about the weather out here, my brother is a more conservative than I, my sister is back at college - nothing they wouldn't mind the world finding out about).

Rants: Sure, why not? I have this soapbox and everything. I can complain about bad drivers and dumb laws here in the virtual barroom that is the Internet. And if you don't like it, well, you can get your own soapbox.

And behave yourselves, or I'll write more poetry.

More later,

Sunday, January 18, 2004

I Take A Day Off

A fire, a market, and ghost soldiers. An interesting Sunday.

I slept 12 hours last night, which might finally catch me up after the Providence trip and beat the aches I've been feeling for the past week. On awakening, I had the choice between working (or at least claiming to be working) on a few projects or taking the day off. I chose the latter.

Drove north along I-5 past Boeing Field and saw the smoke rising from the area between the airfield and the sports stadiums - an area of docks, warehouses, and light industry. As I drove north the smoke darkened and took on a thick, black, pillow-like texture that drifted north towards the city proper.

I took the next exit, and got there after the fire trucks had deployed, and about the same time as the press. The area near the fire was the aforementioned light industry and warehouses, but mixed with some private housing and commercial shops. Most of the crowd gathered near a local grocery store/resturant, and they pulled up the blinds so the diners could get a good view.

It was a manufacturing plant, the middle of three identical warehouses that dominated its block - a metal fabrication operation, making dumpsters, ship containers, and other heavy items. The outer walls themselves looked metallic and unharmed, but the timbers and roof had already caught fire, and the HVAC units disappeared as they lost their support and collapsed into the building's shell. Details are here.

Channel 7 was interviewing people watching, keying on those that weren't wearing jackets (locals who might know something). Channel 4 had a crane camera up a responsible distance away. Three sets of cameramen clustered with the paramed team, getting the shots of the boom hose fighting against the now-visible flames. I counted a dozen engines from my vantage point, and there were firemen on the roofs of the adjacent buildings, trying to keep the flames from spreading.

I watched for a while from across the main road. The police sealed off traffic easily, and the crowd (I'd say about a hundred people) were well-mannered and out of the way. The firefighters had to move the media away in order to get one of the trucks in, then made up for it by having one of the firefighters get the cameras to a closer-but-still-safe vantage point. I stayed for a while (until the air conditioning unit fell in), then headed north under the grey-black cloud into the city.

Hit Pike Street Market for a few gifts for Kate for her birthday. Kate's birthday was well over a week ago, and even though she swore she just wanted dinner out, she had a few things she's been wanting, and this was the first chance I'd had to get out to get them since Christmas. The south surburban malls had proved singularly unhelpful, so I counted on the Pike to have what I was looking for.

For the non-Seattlite readers, Pike Place was at one time the "Fresh Produce" sanitary market in the city, perched on the hillside overlooking the piers and rails (where a lot or the food came in). Its a four-to-seven story structure, honeycombed with shops, craft-sellers, food joints and still, fresh produce. For Pittsburghers, think of the Strip District stacked on its side. (Oh yeah, Pike Place is the place where they throw fish. If you're out of town, you do the fish-throwing thing).

Anyway, it was pleasant shopping there, because the Pike is between seasons - Christmas season has just passed, and Tourist season hasn't kicked in. As a result, the vendors are a bit more chatty, the street performers (it is awash with them as well) a little more bouncy, and crowds a lot more subdued. Ended up talking with people; talking about jade with the storeowner from who I bought an imperial jade pendant, and chatted about plastic casting and toy soldiers with a vendor named Daniel Leen, who made replica jewelry based on Northwest Coast native designs (I picked up a pendant from him as well, of Raven Bringing Fire, which seemed appropriate given the blaze earlier in the day). And I found a new beret for Kate at the place ("Lidwear") where I had got her her scarf-hat two years previous. For myself, of course, I snacked my way through my travels - Cookies and cheese and piroshkis (the tip jar at the piroshki joint states "The Cold War is over - We Appreciate the Change!"). Picked up mozeralla and rosemary garlic bread as well.

And then out to Kite Hill, to see the soldiers, but they were gone. Again, for those from not around here, Kite Hill is a low bare rise on the former Sand Point military post which has been turned into a park. About two years ago, the Monolith appeared there. This year someone had set up nine plywood figures, eight of them soliders with mirrored faces facing a saluting officer. The park authorities stated the squad of figures could remain until March, when the kite fliers take over the hill in earnest.

Except the soldiers were gone. The area was alive with people who came out to see the soldiers, only to find that they have disappeared (which then asks the question that if people are seeking the art, does the art still achieve its goal if its not there?). I haven't seen any news on this one yet, but it was a good day for a walk, and most of the people I talked to were good natured about the sudden appearance, and equally sudden disappearance, of the art. Maybe they'll turn up in Greenlake, like the Monolith did.

Back home in daylight, and got the presents wrapped before Kate got home from work, so I got to surprise her. Dinner of shrimp pasta with a jaelpeno pepper sauce, and she loved the gifts (AND I found her sunglasses, which she was sure she had lost as well). She's curled up downstairs watching Cirque du Soliel on the CBC channel, and I'm updating, then retiring for the evening.

An interesting day off. How was yours?

Deeper Meanings

Yaknow, these online personality tests can be addictive.

Bermuda Triangle. Fnord.
The Bermuda Triangle:

Gotta catch 'em all.


Which Illuminati are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

More later,

Play: The Little Hostages

Living Out written by Lisa Loomer, Directed by Sharon Ott, Seattle Rep Theatre.

I think its no secret that I’m not terribly comfortable with babies. I don’t dislike them - I find them sweet and soft and gurgle-filled, and there is no creature on the planet that looks cuter when drooling. But I’m always fearful of how fragile they are, and if they’re comfortable when I hold them, and what happens if they cry when I hold them, and all that. Part of it is a case of over-protectiveness, in which I want to keep them safe from the clumsiest thing in the area – which usually me.

[Kate, on the other hand, is a master at baby-wrangling. Given a room full of people, a small baby, and Kate, within five minutes she’ll be holding the small baby. I have seen this happen at offices. I have seen this happen at parties. I have seen this happen on airplanes. She is fearless, and of course, babies sense that and trust her completely.]

The reason I mention all this is the play Living Out, at the Rep, which deals with the problem of work and family. In particular, people who hire women to look after their kids, often women who have kids of their own. Its the balance of employment and children for all sides, and the madening frustration of a society that grants, to quote one characters badly "The ability to do it all but to not do any of it well".

So there are babies and children in the play, and the theme of the play is watching over them. The economy of plays states that if you mention a gun in act I, then its going to be fired by act III. So I have a feeling of dread because, under the law of how plays operate, you KNOW something bad is going to happen, and there are such a plethora of small potential victims. How dare the playwrite, thinks I, put these small (fictional) children at risk? How dare you hold them hostage? So I went in with a feeling of unease.

Which is a pity, because this is a extremely well-written and well-acted play that underscores both the divide of family and work, and the great divide of wealth and poverty in this country. Stephanie Diaz play Ana, an El Salvadorian woman working as a nanny for more wealthy white Angelenos. Ana has two kids in turn, one in El Salvador with her grandmother, and the other here in the states by her new husband. To get work, she tells her new employer that both children are in El Salvador, and that simple lie spins things out as Ana tries to serve both her natural family and her employer's family.

Lisa Loomer's writing is natural, and her characters are human, even the broadest of them. The conflicts are very, very human, and the arguments, when they come, are completely believable - sliding all over the place. Its got great lines and solid laughs. Yeah, solid laughs - its a comedy, but in that hyphenated school of serio-comedy or tragi-comdedy or socio-comedy. Which means - don't get too comfortable, its not going to end well. Which is sort of the spectre that hangs over the entire proceedings - if children are involved, someone's going to be hurt.

And of course I am taken in. I come to care about these characters - they are well-shaped by the playwrite, and well-rounded by the actors. This was a top-flight cast, top to bottom, and in addition to Ms. Diaz, kudos to Julie Briskman, who has become a Rep Veteran, a friendly face to the audience. Ms. Briskman reaches out as the Ana's well-meaning, harried, occasionally clueless but deeply human employer. The directing was also amazingly smooth, using an open stage to shift between households and unite Ana's two families on one stage.

This was a good one. Its got a short run, so go see it now.

More later,

Saturday, January 17, 2004

An Odd Five

And if I'm not bummed out enough, this week's five is rather odd in the sense of age and mortality.

1. What does it say in the signature line of your emails?
Nothing at the moment. My emails are used for both personal and professional purposes, so a glib email may be out of place. The last sig line I had read:
"Its a Barnum and Bailey World
Just as phony as it can be
But it wouldn't be make-believe
If you believed in me."

2. Did you have a senior quote in your high school yearbook? What was it? If you haven't graduated yet, what would you like your quote to be?
I attended a huge high school, and we weren't big on quotes.

3. If you had vanity plates on your car, what would they read? If you already have them, what do they say?
ISHI Named after a comic book character I created named Ishi Barasume. The name was also used by the last of the "uncivilized" Indians of California, and, I am informed by a fellow writer, was also a childhood name for boogers.
DRBUNNY Named after my wife's long-standing character in a Star Wars Roleplaying Game. Three weeks after we applied for the plates, that character died. A lot of people want to know if I'm a veternarian.

4. Have you received any gifts with messages engraved upon them? What did the inscription say?
None that I know of.

5. What would you like your epitaph to be?
If I'm not here, just hang about.
[Thinks about it a moment, then adds]
More Later,

More later,

Friday, January 16, 2004

Run for your lives! It's Poetry!

I don't write poetry, but today was a muddy, confused day - awakening from moody, water-soaked dreams to about five things that needed to be done at once, and all at the end of a week that has left me exhausted. So in the middle of the afternoon, I put this down. I have no idea if it goes anywhere, but hey, you're here, so let's try it.

Talking Shop
J. Grubb

Business is down
said Bob the funeral director
signalling for his regular margarita
(Double, lime and salt
served in a glass tumbler)
You would think otherwise
times are tough
people are nervous.
Know they won't live forever.
Think of the future, we say
the Survivors
the Heirs.
Don't be a burden
plan in advance.
Now people think of the future
and see bad times
hard times, why pay
for a plot when you might be
scattered with the airframe shards
over some farm town?
entombed in a collapsed structure?
flash-fried, your body stacked
with all the other unfortunates?
Deep sigh and that first sip.
No one really wants to think of the future.

More later,

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

States of Mind

So this is the latest in Bloggerdom - a listing of the states (and a territory and a district) to see which ones you have lived in, visited, or visited briefly. Just for our files, so we can keep track of your movements:

Underline = lived there
Bold = slept there
Italic = been there


(You know, after all the typesetting commands, it would have been just easier to generate some content. Bwah hah hah)

More later,

Monday, January 12, 2004


Part of the reason for this entry is reassure the other members of my writer's group that I have navigated safely home from Redmond after three margaritas and way too many diet cokes. But its also a chance to let the rest of the world know about the Alliterates, or rather the West Coast Alliterates.

The first Alliterates writer's group was founded by Robert J. King in the Lake Geneva, Wisconsin area, and is still a going concern. Its always been eight members, meeting at a local house or just as often a local bar, such as the Jury Room in Elkhorn. The web site, updated about once every two months or so, is here, and all those who have been midwestern members are listed at that site.

Almost all the Allits were TSR authors, designers, or editors, and the common experience continues to this day. But we do grow up and move on, and a number of us are no longer in the Wisconsin area. Thomas Reid is now in Texas, and Steve Winter, myself, and Dave Gross ( also known as Frabjous Dave) are in the Seattle area. After much goofing around, the three of us (with Dave as the driving force) chose to form a West Coast Branch of the team and continue the tradition.

The West Coast gang numbers seven - the Three Former Wisconsin Allits, plus Wolf "The Monkey King" Baur, Stan! "The Stannex" Brown, Magic author Jess LeBow and former Paizo honcho Johnny Wilson. We get together once a month, though unlike the Midwestern branch, we have yet to find a regular meeting place - candidates to date have included such diverse places as the Whistle Stop, The Giant's Causeway, the Conor Byrne Pub, and the Rendezvous. Last night it was Big Time Pizza in Redmond, a nice place with good food across the street from a Half-Price Bookstore. Johnny didn't make this one and Steve was late due to a family commitment, but everyone else was there.

What happens there? We drink, eat, and talk. We used to smoke cigars, but there are former smokers and allergic folk in both teams, so that practice has fallen by the wayside. We talk about a number of things - industry gossip, movies (Dave is a bug for foreign and indy films), job opportunities, our lives, and our work. In particularly our work. On a good month, one or two of the gang will bring something in and the rest of the guys will draw their long knives and critique it.

This particular evening was a bumper crop. Stan!, Wolf, and I all have short stories due for an upcoming anthology (More on that as we go forward). Dave had the opening chapters of his next Forgotten Realms novel for WotC. A lot of the gang come from a editing background, so line edits are in their blood. It was a really productive evening - I got a lot of good stuff for my revision, Wolf and Stan have solid entries, and Dave has probably one of the best prologues for an FR book I've read in several years (which does the task of foreshadowing and bringing the reader up to speed while at the same time providing a wonderful little vignette of the Realms). No blood was spilled, though a lot of red ink dripped from the pages by the end of the evening.

All in all a very productive night, though I am exhausted. And so to bed.

More later,

Sunday, January 11, 2004


So the heavily-reported non-news this week that there will be news next week about the US returning to space is kinda interesting. Are we serious about this? Is this because of the success of our Mars probe? Is this because we're falling behind Europe, Japan, and China? Is it because of the Columbia? Is this a national pride thing, or a science thing, or an aerospace bailout thing, or what?

Me, I was struck once again by the similarities of this administration and one forty years ago, when we last declared we were going into space. Let's take a look at the similarities between GWB and JFK.

I'll pause here are both my right-o and left-o center friends do a spit take. How can I compare the two? One's the best thing that has happened to the White House in years, and the other is a corrupt, secretive, boneheaded buncha yahoos (note that I'm not saying which is which). Yet the further we go into this administration, the more the comparisons crop up. Fer example:

Political Dynasty: Joe Kennedy versus George senior. Actually, the Bush dynasty goes back to Prescott Bush of Connecticut, the grandfather, but both are from political families. And both families have skeletons in the closet that have been regularly dragged out (Joe dealt with bootleggers, supposedly, Prescott with Nazis, supposedly). Such accusations are ruminated upon by opponents, ignored as irrelevant by supporters, but the fact remains that neither patriarch let stuff, people, or facts get in their way.

Contested Election: Everyone knows about 2000, but 1960 was a real squeaker as well, with a few votes in Illinois making the difference. Make that a few votes in Cook County. Make that a few votes in the Cook County controlled by Chicago's Boss, Mayor Daley (There's another political "family business"). And yeah, the fact it was so close was used (repeatedly) against the victor.

Faith: Big hubbub at the time - would the White House take orders from the Vatican? Big hubbub at the present - does the White House take orders from the Christian Right?

Infamatory Catch-phrases: "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" verus "Bring It On". And while we're on the subject - compare flying into Baghdad with visiting a West Berlin surrounded by Soviet Bloc forces. Both men have a flair for delivery.

Bad Intel: Yesterday: Missile Gap. Today: WMDs. Yesterday: The Cuban people will welcome us with open arms after we come ashore at Bay of Pigs. Today: The Iraqi people will welcome us with open arms after we take Baghdad.

Hubris: The administration of 1960 labled itself "the best and the brightest", and then landed us in the quagmire of Vietnam. The administration of 2000 remains in danger of the same thing in South Asia. But both teams were so sure of themselves.

Family: Presidential brother? Check. Politically powerful brother? Check. Potentially embarressing brother? Check. Jack, Bobbie, and Teddy versus George, Jeb, and Neil (whose messy divorce is dislodging all sorts of flotsam - Two million bucks from a mainland Chinese company to serve as an consultant? Good lord).

A Compliant Media: For all the boo-hissing at the Fox Newses of the world, in earlier days there was Henry Luce and the Time-Life Empire, trading access for spin and setting the tone for the rest of the US Media (I got the Neil Bush stuff off the BBC).

The Final Frontier: And now a dedicated space effort. Much as NASA overturned previous military thinking towards space, so will a new initiative change the ground rules for how we look at space exploration (for the past two decades it has been baby-steps, small missions, and doing the best with what we have).

Anyway, the more I look at it, the more the present administration seems to hark back to the previous one (I've also got some Clinton/Reagan hookups, but nothing as clear as these). There are some differences (war record, union problems, and JFK and his Veep DIDN'T get along), but for the most part, there's a strong set of similarities between the two administrations.

Does this mean anything? Is there a plot afoot here, or do our political and social mechanisms produce similar results over time?

As a former co-worker of mine puts it - "I'm not saying anything. I'm just saying."

More later,

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Anthology: Holmes meets Cthulhu

Shadows over Baker Street: Edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan, containing stories by Neil Gaiman, James Lowder, Elizabeth Bear, F. Gwynplaine McIntyre, and others.

I came to this book by a strange path – I was attending the Northwest Bookfest, and sat on a panel with, among others, editor John Pelan, who had previously edited an anthology I had enjoyed, The Last Continent, a collection of new tales of Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique. (Apparently I enjoyed it so much I pushed it on a friend or fellow-writer and it is now no longer in my collection). So over the course of the panel discussion it came up that his latest anthology was a cross-genre collection called Shadows over Baker Street. I and several of the other Alliterates on the panel picked up the book (and I am curious about their opinions as well).

Anyway, Shadows over Baker Street is a collision between two noble and long-lived fictional worlds – the sharply thought-out, rational world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes with the amorphous, terrifying world of the H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. While the two belong to different literary eras (Doyle’s creations belong to the popular magazines of the 1890s., Lovecraft’s to the pulps of the 20s and 30s), the Victorian era is rife with potential for Cthuloid goodness (indeed, there is a sub-genre of gaming, long ignored, dedicated to this very period, Cthulhu by Gaslight, and could be considered a precursor to these tales).

The two worlds are very different, and a challenge to those who seek to cross the streams. Doyle’s writing for Holmes was cerebral, rational, and rather bloodless, and he has a direct approach where the mystery is resolved by Holmes to the unwitting Watson, often using clues that might not always be shared with the reader. Lovecraft’s world, by comparison, is visceral, terrifying, and more blood-curdling in nature, and uses ornate and obscure language (Squamous is a favorite word. Rugtose is another). Indeed, the two universes seem to be in direct opposition – Holmes embodies universal understanding, rationality and comprehension, with the Cthulhu Mythos deals with uncaring, sanity-shattering gods, fell ancient terrors, and books which should never have been written and should definitely not be read. Holmes in his London only rarely fails (such is his nature), and mortals rarely succeed against the Mythos. How can cold rationality and sanity-smashing terror exist side-by-side?

The answer varies according to the writer. Most authors take a definitely Holmsean view of the universe. In these tales, Sherlock is more than capable of withstanding the soul-blasting knowledge of the Necronomicon, while Watson is protected by his own dull and unimaginative nature. And while the bulk of these tales are solid and enjoyable, its those that do not hew to this line that truly stand out.

The lead story is "A Study in Emerald", and is Neil Gaiman’s piece, and probably the best “draw” of the book, given Gaiman’s popularity. He takes the broadest pen of the lot, completely reinventing Holmes’ universe as one where the Old Ones live and rule, and evil is pedestrian. He pulls off a few nice tricks and turns along with way, and his path is rewarding to both the Cthulhuphile and the Holmes addict.

The best story NOT by Neil Gaiman is James Lowder’s “The Weeping Masks” which moves Holmes off-stage entirely and deals with Watson’s eldritch experiences in Afghanistan. Former TSR editor Lowder tells a direct tale, more in keeping with the Cthuloid mythos, without Holmes to banish the shadows back with the light of logic. He pulls it off quite nicely. The other non-Holmesean Holmes tale is also excellent – Elizabeth Bear’s “Tiger! Tiger” which deals with Miss Irene Adler’s experiences in India and creatures of Hastur.

Pound for pound, the entry with the MOST Lovecraft and Doyle references is I F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre’s “The Adventure of Exham Priory”, which mixes the Necronomicon, Deep Ones, Moriarity, and things which should not be, with a nice head-nod to rats (both those in the walls and big ones from Sumantra). By throwing everything into the mix, this story ends up being one of the freshest of the lot, since you aren’t quite sure where its going until it gets there.

Most of the others have typical Holmesean scenes – Holmes deduces the new client’s name, occupation, problem, and sun sign upon meeting him for the time, without breaking a sweat, Holmes reveals that he has heard of (or often read) the Necronomicon. Watson operates at a number of different levels of buffoonery ranging from foolish to life-endangering. In many tales Holmes transforms the Mythos into nothing more than another type of science – a mind-shattering, soul-destroying science, but a science nonetheless. In these tales, Holmes wins, and the Mythos is lessened a bit by each victory.

Reaves and Pelan have assembled an excellent collection of stories around the common hub of Holmes meets (and occasionally beats) Cthulhu and his eldritch lot. If you have interest in either of these subgenres, I strongly recommend you check this volume out.

Friday, January 09, 2004


I've been off the air for a few days, but its not the result of the incredible snow-followed-by-ice storm that hit the Seattle area, which was impressive even by Midwestern standards (though most of the folk by the Sound don't have enough data to compare it to. Check out the Mystic Forest site for some pics). Instead of enjoying snow-days in Seattle, I was in Rhode Island, working on a new gig for Hasbro.

As always, I cannot talk about the nature of the project itself, except to say that it looks challenging and if everything works, it will be a lot of fun. I can talk about the trip, and give a few thoughts about being back East, in a place where 20 degrees and snowing is considered typical weather.

First off, I have to really give credit to the people at Alaska Airlines. I used this space about two months back to whine bitterly about the fallen state of US Consumer Aviation, but Alaska gives me hope. Hot meals in the main cabin. Seats far enough apart for human knees. Hand-held movie Dig-E-Players with about twenty films, five network shows, and ten channels of music (yeah, they charge, but previously it was five bucks for headsets). And most of all, a cabin crew that actually seemed to be glad to be there. Compared to USAir, Alaska gave me hope. I've seen news reports that USAir is selling off its assets, and I hope it loses out entirely to smaller operations that deliver on customer service.

These flights were so good that we were grounded for an hour by the worsening weather in Seattle on the way out, and on the way back were in the business-traveler's nightmare - a plane filled with families with small children, and I STILL think they were good flights.

Other downside - we flew into Logan, which is a humungous airport, and rented a car to get down to Providence (The Client is in Pawtucket, which is right on the Massachusetts/Rhode Island border). We experienced the horrible combination of snow and Boston drivers, who in comparison to their Seattle brethren, are fearless and much, much crazier. And we got lost in Providence itself, a rat-maze of one-way streets and do-not-enter signs (An situation that would be repeated several times through the next day, including when we were following natives and THEY got lost).

My fellow consultant and I were treated like the Pros from Dover - Excellent hotel (The Westin), good company, and a good meal out 10, a Steak-and-Sushi joint. They figured that we were both based out of Seattle, it was a safe bet. They were half right, as my traveling companion was raised vegetarian, and though he now is comfortable with cooked flesh, it is expecting too much to get him into raw fish. Our hosts were gracious, intelligent, and excited about the project, a very contagious combination, and I'm looking forward to it as well.

But I saw the businessman's Rhode Island - hotels and service people, a cluster of upscale resturants around the river. A bubble within the greater world, untouched by locality. Most of the local color came from the fish-hook accents from the waitresses and the heavy breading on most of the food (not the sushi, thank goodness). I managed lunch the second day at a local diner, which gave me more local color than I had experienced in the previous two days. I'd like to have time for Lovecraft's Rhode Island, but not this time, though I kept getting the feeling he was at the edge of my vision, in a Rhode Island proud of its immigrant roots and Innsmouth looks.

I could get used to this kind of consulting, but I've paid a small price in the form of physical exhaustion and I am all worn out. More later.

Sunday, January 04, 2004


The past week has been weird, in that I've developed this nervous tic over my left eye. Its sort of a fleshy tremor that ripples through the upper eyebrow, and though Kate assures that it's not visible, its definitely detectable by touch and VERY detectable from the inside.

Don't know what's caused it, though it might be stress - its been a very, very hectic holiday season (We put my nephew John Michael on the plane this early this morning, and I'm in final revision on a big piece of work for tomorrow morning). And it might be monitor, TV, or X-Box -oriented, since I've been working contiunally and taking breaks with X-Box games. But the tic actually popped up for the first time when we out in the peninsula, driving on very, very slick roads, and has stayed with me as the cold front moved through here and left everything from Renton southwards to Portland a sheet of ice. Yes, we made it to Canlis last night, and it was a wonderful meal, though it was tough getting off the hill.

More later (twitch, twitch),

Saturday, January 03, 2004


Last Christmas Kate got me an X-Box, both as entertainment and as exposing me to the rich diversity of X-Box games in case I would have to go looking for a job at Microsoft in their games division. Despite having some friends who are extremely X-Box friendly (such as the Monkey King), it pretty much was occupying space - I pull the control out every so often, dink around with them a little, then put 'em back.

With my nephew's arrival, the X-Box has gotten a work-out. The afore-mentioned Monkey King lent me some of his games, and I played the versus versions of a number of them with JM. I come away with both more and less respect for the genre, seeing it though his 19-year-old eyes. John Michael has a Playstation and a Gamecube, so the X-Box was a new console for him.

His probable favorite was Max Payne, a violent shooter in which you're playing a cop seeking payback - Punisher without the skull-faced jammies. The various levels are short enough, and there is comic-book-style interludes to move the plot along. JM says its flaw is that its repetitive - move and shoot, and the solutions to all problems are through copious use of firepower and painkillers. I'm with him on that (Gunfight in a parking garage, Gunfight in a warehouse, Gunfight in an office building), but I do notice that some of the level design is quite spiffy (I particularly liked the lobby with the obelisk in it). JM blew through it over four evenings.

Also repetitive, and abandoned by him, was Crimson Skies. Despite its cool setting of odd planes and zeppelins (and the fact Uncle Jeff was a fan of the boardgame version), this left him cold, such that he bailed about the time he was doing the "Navajo Trials" - you can only fly through Navajo land if you perform three missions. Again, most of these missions were move and shoot of some type.

The best game for the pair of us was NFL Fever 2003. Here I started to make the transition from button-mashing (just hitting the buttons) to actually trying to hit the buttons in the right order to make the play work. It was from the start of the season, so we had Kordell Stewart running the Steelers, and the Seahawks were even suckier than they turned out to be. I managed to figure out how to do running plays - just hand off to the Jerome Bettis.

Also in the button-mashing catagory was Soulcaliber II, a fighting game that has pretty graphics and interesting characters (including the comic-book character Spawn). This is a good game for newbies/irregular players, since we're still at the level of "how did we do that?".

JM also fooled around with Oddworld: Munch's Oddessy and Knights of the Old Republic (Better known as KOTOR). He had finished the latter on his Playstation, and was comparing how the controls handled (OK). He also fooled about with the GT2002 Racing game, which was similar to his Playstation versions, though, in his words "more reality-based" (I suppose that means he crashed more often).

From playing with him and watching him in action, I'm coming to a conclusion that there are several layers of interaction in console gaming, much as in other types of gaming. The first level, akin to "Kick in the door and kill the monsters" in D&D, is the button mashing - hit everything and hope something works. The second level is getting subtle - knowing what the moves are and how the buttons work. The third level is anticipatory - from what you've seen in the design, you expect certain types of challenges and know how you'll respond.

All in all, its interesting. My faves turned out to be the ones with more (apparent) variables, like the sports sims. Or it could be that the football game functions more like the turn-based games I am comfortable with - plan, then resolve, as opposed to continually being on the move.

More later,

Friday, January 02, 2004

The Five

A little late going up today, but I'll play.

What one thing are you most looking forward to . . .

1. Tomorrow evening, I am taking Kate and John Michael to Canlis for dinner to celebrate Kate's Birthday. I've raved about Canlis earlier in this blog, and look forward to dinner tomorrow.

2. ...over the next week? A trip to Rhode Island on gossamer wings. Well, on the Wings of Alaskan Airlines. Its the opening of whole new chapter in my life, and I'm really not sure what to expect.

3. ...this year? Writing for myself, as opposed for various deadlines (don't worry, there will be a lot of that as well). After reading my latest short, some of my writing fellows have sworn to start bugging me to produce something that is not shared-world in nature.

4. ...over the next five years?Paying off the house (Insert Maniacal Laughter Here -its going to be a lot of work).

5. ...for the rest of your life? Being able to get to a point where I can relax, read, and get bored.

I Experience Music

As I mentioned earlier, my nephew John Michael is in town this week, and on the first day of his trip, we braved the wet and wind to take in the Space Needle and the Experience Music Project. Little did we realize that this was the best weather we would encounter in his trip out here. (He's currently at the Asian Art Museum with Aunt Kate as I write this), and there's still snow on the ground here.

Anyway, the Experience Music Project, or EMP, is a housed in a twisted, melted building at the base of the Space Needle, and one of the ugliest structures in the universe. It is designed in exterior curves that defy the human eye and the human mind to put any exact shape to, and is painted a motley collection of contrasting reds, blues, and yellows. The finished building (and yeah, it IS finished) looks like Godzilla had a technicolor accident at the Seattle Center.

I want to say that the building looks better from the inside, but it doesn't. The curves and space (and the fact it is built around the monorail as well) creates a lot of dead zones and overly high ceilings. When to you pack in the requisite admissions area, gift shop, resturant, bar (both capable of hosting live bands), sweeping staircases, make-your-own video concession, and a huge open space with a jumbotron used for corporate receptions, there isn't a whole lot of room for the exhibits and the music itself. At one point, there was a theme ride (!), but that has been disabled so they can put the Experience Science Fiction project in instead.

OK, the architecture just sucks, but the exhibits are well worth it. My nephew and I got "borged up" - fitted with the headphones, CD memory, and electronic pointers that played tracks of the local rock 'n roll heroes (I set mine to Hendrix, John Michael set his to Nirvana) and provided more information on the exhibits. The resulting experience was a little odd - completely informative, but also distinct and individual, as everyone was listening the exhibits at different rates and in different orders. Still, I really recommend you spend the ten minutes in line getting outfitted.

Most people broke in on the History of Guitars, which is an incredible tour from the early guitars of the middle ages through the Hawai'ian and into the early Fenders and Gibsons and on to the present day. Here the borging really shows off, because you can hear every guitar play in the exhibit, and you get a feeling for how they were used. You also get the feeling that guitars were and are an experimenter's field, and that people continue to dink around the them, looking for new sounds.

The other main floor exhibit is on Pacific Northwest music. It bemoans the fact that, being so far out of the mainstream, this area often seems isolated, but that very isolation has helped it in producing good music, from jazz to heavy metal (including, oddly, to me, Heart), to Grunge/Nirvana and post-Grunge Riot Grrls. And of course more renditions of "Louie, Louie" than you EVER want to hear again.

Second floor is a bit spotty on its history, ranging from early R&B through displays for Dylan, Joplin, and Cash (the original Man In Black), and a big shrine to Jimmy Hendrix. A lot of holy shards of destroyed guitars are in this last area, a counterpoint to carefully presented instruments of destruction just below.

There was a "hands on" exhibit, but it was overrun with small children and we could not get near the exhibits to get hands on. And there were two temporary exhibits. The Annie Liebowitz photo exhibit was excellent, and the borg-voices a requirement, giving the photographer's own insights on the various pieces. The last exhibit was on the Chicago Blues, and was tucked away in the basement - we only found in on the way out, and it was nearly depopulated (remember what I said about the horrible architectural design?) Good exhibits, gone to waste because no one knew they were there.

What struck me through all the exhibits was the low-level, amateur, in-the-garage sort of feeling for true rock-n-roll, both in the music and in the technology. Part of it comes from Paul Allen, who saw Microsoft go from garage to goliath, but also, more than most "industry museums" it stresses the art, which happens at the low levels, as opposed to the smooth, finished product that is churned out from the music mills today (Or as a bumper sticker puts it - "Corporate Rock STILL Sucks"). We had grunge up here because there was the Boeing Depression in the 80s, so housing was cheap and young people moved in. We had "Louie Louie" because it the local DJs in the 50s also played sock hops and mixed with the local bands. We had Heavy Metal because there was a need to make some noise. The Northwest provided musical raw material like it produced lumber, which was then shipped out a finished elsewhere.

All in all, its a great museum in a horrible building, and it is redeemed by technology. I like parts of the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland better, but all in all, this was a greatly enjoyable experience, and is on the must-visit list for bringing the out-of-towners to, "Louie, Louie" and all.

More Later, Me Gotta Go Now.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

New Year's

Kate and I had a much more relaxed New Year's Celebration, particularly in comparison to the madness of Christmas. Invited about a double-handful of friends, did not ask for RSVPs, and was not worried when about a half-dozen showed (combination of other parties and two inches of snow may have disuaded some). Junk food laid out (well, Kate made some cookies), cook-your-own pizzas and champagne chilling in the wine cellar (most folk would call it the garage, but it hasn't seen a vehicle for the past five years). A nice time was had by all.

Mostly, we played games. Wolf the Monkey King brought a card game called Summer Camp which revealed nothing more than the designers have some issues with acceptance to work through. Shelly the Wife of the Monkey King (doesn't that make her the Monkey Queen?) brought her Christmas present, a microphone/Karoke hookup for the X-box, which my pitiful sound system did nothing to enhance (though now that I have seen the lyrics to Y.M.C.A, I can safely say that there's some sort of agenda going on there).

John, our resident Tolkien expert (and in this lot that's saying a LOT - he's been quoted on CNN Online) brought a Lord of the Rings game, and the collected group desperately avoided being fed to Sauron on the last round of the game. I unearthed Citadels, a very nice European board game released in this country by Fantasy Flight which is a city-building game where everyone has a different role each round (The Assassin moves first and can make another character lose its turn, but doesn't know who the other characters are yet. The Thief can steal the money of another character, except for the Assassin and his Victim, the Bishop gets extra gold for religious buildings, etc. . . ). Solid game, and works well in the 4+ players catagory.

Midnight by the radio atomic clock and champagne/cider as fireworks popped outside (proximity to the various reservations = major pyrotechnics on the holidays). Most of the crowd retired soon afterwards, but the survivors played Carcasonne: Hunters & Gatherers. It is a "variant" of the Carcasonne game (where you are building a medieval countryside with tiles) where you are building a paleozoic countryside with tiles. No, really. You are putting out tiles for gathering (forests), fishing (rivers), and meadows (hunting). The new variant avoids a lot of the problems of the earlier Carcasonne, and the new rules twists make it a similar-but-strangely-different game.

And so to New Year's Day - my Mom called from the Rose Bowl Parade at nine in the morning, tumbling me out of bed - they're having a good time, but they are cold in Pasedena. Kate is talking about heading down to Boeing Field to see the Concorde, which they missed a few days ago. And I have to finish a project. So it feels like a pretty pleasant, and typical, year.

More later,