Sunday, July 31, 2005


This is probably the longest time so far without any posting with me still being in town. Quite simply, my schedule has been knocked askew by the new gig, plus getting all the old gigs out of the way at the same time. I tend to rise at 6, get to work by 7, leave 4ish, home by 5 or 6. devote a few hours to writing and dinner, then crash early to repeat the process. This has resulted in me catching up on my sleep on Saturday morning, and with less-then-productive weekends.

There have been casualties. I already bailed out of some large projects that were in the offing (wisely, as it turned out - I can barely get my small stuff in line). My World of Warcraft characters languish as my friends' second collection of characters are catching up and passing me. An industry mailing list I'm on has changed formats and I never bothered to follow it. My regular mail is piling up, unanswered. I generally have managed to keep something a social life (Tai Chi on Wednesday, D&D group on Thursday), but missed the most recent poker game from sheer exhaustion.

And there's stuff to talk about. They found a tenth planet (which, if I seem to remember, we've found two or three times in the last decade alone). They tested a sasquatch hide and found it to be a bison. Not content just to get its primary back, the state GOP declared you could only be in their primary if you got a certain percentage of the vote in its conventions (this was overturned, but still that is pretty durned insecure). And there is a kerfuffle about an extremely violent video game that got kicked up a notch when it was "discovered" you could unlock some lame, demeaning sex to go with the lame, demeaning violence. One take on the matter is here, while a counterpoint is here.

Oh, and the GWOT (Global War on Terror) is over, replaced in official parlance with GSAVE, which is the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism. Just in case you think people have been sitting on their hands about this. Now, Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism is both more acurate than the old term as well as more flexible (it doesn't require we use the military every bloody time). But as an acronym, it's up there with Carter' energy program, the Moral Equivalent of War (MEOW).

In the mean time, I've got a lot going on, and am in the weeds until I get a few of the freelance projects out of my life.

More later, probably.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Friendly Neighborhood Spiedie-Man

So the weekend was tough. In part because I've been working on a lot of freelance that I agreed to before taking the contract job. But also because I spent a good chunk of Saturday playing World of Warcraft with friends (that would be real-life friends who I am meeting online to play - its sort of like my Thursday Night group without having to leave the house). All our characters are in late level 20s, early level 30s, and getting the crud kicked out us by Elites five levels lower than we are. Sigh.

But the cool thing was Sunday afternoon, where we gathered at T'ed and Jill's place for his Spiediefest. A spiedie (pronounced SPEE-dee) is marinated meat (we used chicken and pork) served on a hoagie roll, and is the pride and joy of Binghamton, NY, where T'Ed once lived. There are a wide variety of marinades, but T'ed swears by Lupos, and have to admit they were pretty durn good. The company was excellent - mostly WotC and former WotC, with only a few of them engaging in the weirdness of web sites. Families, discussions of movies and books, and lots of spiedies. Very pleasant.

But now, back to the fray. More later,

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Nonfiction: Poker Night

Dealer’s Choice: The Complete Handbook of Saturday Night Poker, by Janes Ernest, Phil Foglio, and Mike Selinker, Overlook Duckworth, 2005

Pay attention, because this review will tell you how to make money at poker.

I’m part of a pretty eclectic and erratic poker group that meets about once a month or so at “Castle Pikachu”, a painted lady up in the Greenwood area north of the city. The hosts are noted cartoonists Phil and Kaja Foglio, who are the creators of the Girl Genius comic (which is now On-Line – go check it out). The number and identities of the players change over time, but consists of other cartoonists, writers, game designers, programmers, air force veterans, a professional magician, mini-robot builders, and other bloggers (who range from small personal journals to regulars on the Daily Kos). There are usually four or so hubs to this Friday party, one upstairs with the kids, one down in the living room, one in the kitchen, and, of course, one at the poker table.

This is nickel-dime-quarter poker, easy for those short of money or limited of attention span, and enlivened by all manner of poker variants(“the game is Hamlet – Kings are dead, Queens are wild, and Jacks are low”). Now you’re sitting around with game designers, so some of the variants turn very variant indeed.

So it was only a matter of time before all this turned into a book. Phil (who does wonderful cartoons), Mike Selinker (former WotC guru and puzzle-maker for Games Magazine) and James Ernest (owner/designer/sage of Cheap Ass Games, makers of Kill Dr, Lucky and the now-renamed Before I Kill you, Mr Bond) have conspired to put together to put together a great big book of poker variants.

Let me get this out of the way first – this book has the worst cover in Christendom. You have an award-winning cartoonist among your writers with a distinctive style (who does great cartoons all the way through the book) and you choose as your cover the typical lame poker-book cover – Green felt background, chips, and cards. And they probably wonder why this book is doing just OK on Amazon, and much better in the brick-and-mortar stores (where people can, you know, actually LOOK at it).

The contents, however, are delightful. They go through the basics of setting up a Friday night (well, they call it Saturday night, another marketing weirdness) poker game, the basics, and delve into a huge number of variants, ranging from the mildly amusing (Seven Nice Cards, Jane Austen, Call the King), to the positively deadly (Heinz 57, Diablo). Some of my favorites are in here, along with a couple that will drive me from the table.

And, James, Phil, and Mike also write it all in a very accessible, readable, fashion, like someone at one of these poker games talking about the game. Their stories get into all the details that they know, relating both facts and folklore, and they tend to mock themselves, their fellow cardplayers, and anything else they find within range. It has a great voice, and that voice is a frankenstien of James, Phil, and Mike (Frankenstein, of course, is another game entirely).

I have to note that book mocks in particular “Jeff the Math Genius”. I must confess that I am not Jeff the Math Genius, but rather another Jeff entirely. I call Jeff the Math Genius by the name “Jeff Prime”, since he has been playing longer than I have. Sorry about that. I’m not the Jeff you’re looking for.

Oh yeah, the money-making thing. Last time I was playing poker, I said to Phil “I’m going to have to get a copy of that book.”

Phil says, “I have extras. I’ll sell you one.”

And that, folks, is how to make money at poker.

More later,

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Made A Wrong Turn At Latveria

So while bouncing around the net, I found this cute little puzzle where you have to pin the nations on the map of Europe. Oddly enough, long-time experience playing WWII wargames is little help in the face of 60 years of additional European history.

More later,

Friday, July 22, 2005

Two Bits

So today in change I got a couple Oregon quarters. which rate up there with the Connecticut quarters as a favorite design. While a lot of states have gone for a hodgepodge of symbols and icons, both states have chosen single, solid elements that embody their states and give their coins a distinctive appearance and a unified feel.

And speaking of unified, the Seattle Times led section B with an article reporting that the Washington State Representitives, Democrat and Republican, are standing united against Enron. The bankrupt and corrupt energy corporation, after gouging western states during a manufactured energy crunch, is now seeking damages against the states that terminated their agreements after they realized they were being had. Opposing the corporation's additional gouging (of some $125 million in Snohomish County alone), the entire Washington State Delegation are supporting an amendment to an energy bill to keep Enron from pursuing those funds. What makes this doubly impressive is that not only that GOP members are supporting the amendment, but that their numbers include Doc Hastings of Pasco, who is in charge of investigating his own party superior, Tom Delay (who, in turn, would rather Enron get another break). And though he's not mentioned in the article - "unanimous support" means that our local rep, Dave Reichert, is on board as well. This is a case of the state pulling together, and I think its a wonderful thing.

Oh, and the person sponsoring the amendment? Senator Maria Cantwell. So it looks like she has no trouble working across party lines on some things. And, to their credit, neither do some of the other representitives of our state.

Now if we can only get a quarter as cool as Oregon's.

More later,

Thursday, July 21, 2005


One of the strengths of this journal is also one of its weaknesses - its diversity. Quite simply, I talk about a lot of things. This is good for variety, but bad for staying "on message" and delivering a regular installment of whatever-it-is-people-tune-in-here-for.

I do politics, but I wouldn't call this a polical blog. I do reviews but it isn't really a review blog. I am a game designer and an author but wouldn't call this a gamer's blog or a writer's blog. And it deals with personal stuff, but doesn't concentrate too much on the boring details of daily life (though I should note that the Lovely Bride entered into battle yesterday with a nest of paper wasps. The wasps won, but the LB suffered only a handful of stings and is currently planning revenge). I go off on loops on comics and would-be states of the union (I still want to do a bit on the state of Sequoia), but usually that comes to an end eventually. And I talk about the media, but this is hardly a media blog.

Part of this is my low attention span, but part of it is because other people do political blogs and review blogs and media blogs better than I. In particular, Blatherwatch does a pretty nifty job on reporting on the media scene in Seattle. In particular they cover local daytime radio and the deep ties it has with its corporate masters and conservative audience. I enjoy this site on an almost-daily basis, and recently sent them a letter to correct a mistake.

A couple of days ago they were dealing with Harry Potter (like, it seems, everyone else on the planet, including the Lovely Bride (when she wasn't fighting paper wasps)), and their spin was about the more-religious conservatives getting their shorts in a knot about the book and in particular it sorcerous subject matter. The Blatherfolk acquitted themselves pretty well, but noted that "Witches aren't even in the bible." Coming from one of those Protestant splinters that believes in a) bible-readings, and b) bringing a covered dish to pass, I thought this was off-base. Pulling a few of my bibles from the shelves (yes, I keep different editions), I did the research and called them on it. And they fessed up with good graces. Which I thought was pretty nice. Just go read the letter. And they linked back here, so I thought it only fair to return the favor.

And for me, I discovered that while I would generally rather be Left than Right, there are times that I'd rather be Accurate than Either.

More later,

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Fiction: Godbert

The Religion War By Scott Adams, Andrews McMeel Company, 2004

I can only think of the phone conversation going like this:

Scott Adams’s Agent: Good news! Scott wants to write a book!
Publisher (surrounded by Dilbert merchandise): Great!
SAA: He wants to make is a sequel to his “thought experiment” God’s Debris.
Publisher (less enthused): Oh. That’s . . . nice.
SAA: And he wants to talk about a future war between Christianity and Islam. Do I hear a thumping noise?
Publisher: That's only me slamming my forehead against the desk until it bleeds. What were we talking about?
And so it came to pass that I was at Half-Price Books, and found a stack of The Religion War on the table, and it took me a moment or ten to realize that the author was Scott Adams (the cover art tries desperately to obliderate the name). So I picked up a copy.

It’s a quick read, and Adam’s writing style is as open here as in his cartoons. Indeed, his pacing feels much the same way as his cartoons, complete with punchlines. But what he is doing is a polemic, much like the philosophers of the earlier eras would set up their arguments as a discussion between three characters – characters with names like Sympatico, who would offer the author’s views, Ignoranto, who would be a straw man opponent, and Judgementico, who would represent the reader but really just feed Sympatico leading questions.

Now, in God’s Debris, the protagonist was the world’s smartest delivery man, kin to Dilbert’s world’s smartest garbage man, who realizes everything is interconnected and sees the patterns in the world. Here he turns up as the Avatar, who as a result of this ability to make others see the patterns through simple logic, can convince anyone of anything. The Avatar wants to head off global armageddon between the Christian West’s General Cruz, and the charismatic Islamicist Al-Zee. He does this by force of his arguments.

Of course, the weakness of this is that you have to get someone who is willing to get into a discussion in the first place. Unfortunately, for the purposes of the book, this would result in the following discussion:
“Let me explain this to you”, says the Avatar
“No,” says the guard
“Bang,” agrees the gun.
And indeed, a lot of the book consists of characters acting like General Hofstedder in Hogan’s Heroes, shouting “Klink! What is this man doing here?!” But that’s OK, since characterization and plot is secondary to the message. The ending pulls God out of his Machine and resolves the plot with a feel-good 11th hour rescue, but that’s OK, because the resolution is secondary to the message. And the message seems to be – everything is interconnected, and if we just think about it, we’ll realize that. But we can’t think about everything, because we’re a part of it. Adams is much closer to Robert Anton Wilson and his Illuminati trilogy, so that anyone who has gone through those will find similar ground here.

So what we have here is another case of an author getting out of his assigned box (which is to be applauded), but producing something of odd duck of a product. And you know, that’s OK, since he has the throw-weight to do it. The book has the punch of a second-year philosophy major but without the invective and the source-quoting. I found it interesting but not world-changing. Your mileage may differ.

More later,

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

I Become Employed (But Check Back Later)

So yesterday I started a new gig. It is a contracted, hourly position for Pokemon-USA to help with their web site. The job has a contracted end date (right before Thanksgiving), and while I hope it will turn fulltime, I frankly don't know what's going to happen. So as in most things, I'm going to do my best and keep my ears open, and if anything major changes, I will pass it along. I had to bow out of some major potential freelance projects to take the position, but I am still doing a lot of short fiction, so I'm going to be busy (How busy? I'm thinking of retiring my World of Warcraft account).

Long-time readers know I rarely talk about the day-to-day in these entries. I will pass on that the offices are on the 20th floor of a skyscraper in downtown Bellevue, until recently known as the Rainier Plaza but now renamed for a new major tennant, a financial group (Lot of lawyers, lot of accountants, worlds collide on the elevators). It is, without a doubt, the nicest set of offices I have worked in as a game designer (remember, when I started at TSR, we were working out of a condemned hotel). The offices are near the top of the structure, and have a commanding view of the surrounding area (including Bellevue Square, Lake Washington and the Seattle skyline). So with a long (30-45 minute) commute and parking away from the building, I keep getting this strange vibe in the mornings, commuting from the home to the office. I keep humming the theme song from Bob Newhart (Buh-DUH-BeDUBbebah!)

Gotta go - Mr. Carlin and Mr. Peterson are coming over to talk about page maps. (Buh-duh-DUN-dehBAH!)

More later,

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Dalek Song


Ow ow ow!


More later (ow),

Local Politics

You try to get away, but they keep pulling you back in. Three things, all from last Friday.

First off, Dino Rossi, who has been saying he’s not running for Senator against incumbent Maria Cantwell for a while, officially announced he is not running for Senate (this actually got national play, but then again, so did Pink Floyd announcing they would not tour). He says it’s for family (And that’s OK), and that he can do more for Washington State as a governor instead of a senator (debatable, but wait for item #2). But of course, not willing to leave well enough alone, he had to put in a dig at Cantwell anyway:

"I think the people of Washington sense that they're not getting their money's worth with the incumbent," Rossi wrote. "She has proven herself unable to work across party lines, which does our state no good."

Which is pretty typical GOP-style, but is undercut by the timing of item #2 (which ran in an article in the Times right next to Item #1, but, fortunately for Rossi, did not include the above quote). Enron is cutting a deal over its gouging of the western states, and the pacific coast could see about 1.6 Bill coming back, (at the moment, its only confirmed at 22.5 Mill for Washington, but more to come) That ain’t chump change, and will probably go to making Washington State a better place to live. And the person who is credited for bringing in the money to Washington? Maria Cantwell. If this is what Rossi means by “Unable to work across party lines”, I hope she keeps it up.

Finally, a district judge, to no one’s surprise, overturned the top two primary currently in place. Righties and Lefties alike are overjoyed with this turn of events, since it keeps out those who might not be “pure of heart” from their proceedings. It is no secret I liked the “Blanket Primary” we had, since it encouraged the maximum number of people to get involved, and would actually tend to get people on the ballot who actually appeal to a moderate audience (Yes, there were righties who would vote for the most lefty dem in hopes to have a weaker opponent, but I think that’s a WMD argument – more fiction than reality, a political boogieman). Of course, with the replacement "Montana" Primary, you can still vote in the GOP primary if you're a Dem, but now you have to screw up the entire GOP ballot, not just one race. Hey, good going, there. So Dunn of the 9th and Edmonds of the 1st get to cry "do overs" and start again.

Oh yeah, and both sides declare that this has been argued from the standpoint of the “The political 'right of freedom of association”. This grinds me two ways. First, I thought the PEOPLE, not political parties, had constitutional rights. And second, how is it freedom of association to exclude people? Its that sort of post-millenial mental jujitsu that our establishment seems to relish in, that ends up with things like people having freedom of speech, but only if they exercise it far away from anyone who might listen.

OK, I’m done. I'm going to try to find something less painful. More later.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Gorillas & Garages

So I’m north of the city today, since Half-Price Books was having a warehouse sale. Pickings were slim and the quarters cramped, but coming back, I found the Crusty Buzzard (7221 Greenwood Avenue North) a used book store which had what I was looking for. While there, I passed a woman on the street with a table and a petition, and a sign labled “Gorillas, Yes! Garage No!”

I had to stop and ask. And I was presented with a petition against the Woodland Park Zoo building a large above-ground parking garage and convention center and closing the North Entrance of the Zoo in the process.

My curiosity satisfied, I said, “Thank you very much,” and turned away, not signing her petition.

To my back the woman said, “I guess he likes garages.”

Unfortunately, she did not wait for me to get out of earshot before unleashing her bon mot. I spun and, with a broad smile, said, “Actually, in this case, I do. I’m a zoo member, and one of the most difficult parts of going to zoo is parking. It clogs up all the local streets as well.”

The woman, a little embarrassed that I responded to her rejoinder, mouthed a quiet, “OK”, and turned back to someone who would allow themselves to be confused that a new garage would somehow be a bad thing for the great apes in their recently-renovated (and pretty cool) digs.

So, of course, now I have a new mission – to find out what’s going on here, and report back. Is more parking for our local zoo a Bad Thing, or merely another case of NIMBYism?

More later,

Update: So I did the research, and found out that not only the zoo has a pretty good plan, it also has been extremely responsive to the locals in putting together that plan. The original plan was to put a large underground lot in the south of the park, but after local input, moved above ground and to the west. Then they changed from a bid-build mode to a design-bid-build model after additional concerns. In addition to the lot, they are going to give the zoo workers better offices, create a better/bigger visitor center, and install a vintage carousel donated by the Allens.

None of this has anything to do with the animals. Even in the short time I have been here, Woodland park has been phenominal in bringing the animals out of cages and into more accessible, natural settings.Invoking the animal population to complain about this process is a scam, since a different population entirely is the one concerned about this (namely, those with good views of the park).

I continued down Greenwood after this encounter, and passed the zoo, on the west side, where they're going to put this lot. Traffic was slow from people searching for parking spots on the street, and the line to get into the zoo was about a hundred feet long along the sidewalk outside. So there is a problem, and it sounds like the zoo has a plan for it. I hope they are allowed to proceed.

More later,

Friday, July 15, 2005

This and That

This is short, because I'm up to some other things. A while back I provided a link for popularity of your Senators, so now we're going to do same thing for our State Governors. There are six GOP Govs among the top ten, and six among the bottom, so that's balance, I guess. The bottom ten include Washington's own Christine Gregoire (the local radio stations are still trying to put an asterisk next to her name), Arnold Schwarzenegger of California (what, you guys just voted him in, there's a problem?) and the scandal-wracked governors of Ohio and Alaska.

Oh, and someone named Yoyogod did a review of The Brothers' War on his site. I mention it because he says nice things about the book, and, more importantly, he demonstrates that I'm not the only guy writing reviews of books that have been out for a while.

More later, but right now up up to some other things.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Local Politics

And then they kicked me out of the 9th District.

No, no, wait. I am playing fast and loose with the truth. That's what happens when I don't get my official talking points.

I earlier mentioned both the Republican and Democratic held conventions in an attempt to avoid anything like democracy creeping into their choices for the the rejiggered King County Council. And I mentioned how the State GOP was having their hands full with two candidates in the 9th who are still running (Hammond and Dunn) after all the voting was supposed done and the State Dems have a similar problems with the 1st district (Edmonds and Ferguson). The two conflicts are different in the details - on the GOP side both candidates agreed that the loser would drop out. For the Dems, both stated they would stay in the race regardless of the outcome. Well, at least the Dems were honest with themselves.

And I was looking forward to watching a lot of the mailings and fireworks in the 9th District between organization darling Dunn and downcounty minister Hammond. I was particularly looking forward to the mailers. Sadly, it is not to be. I got my official voter's card (which you have to cut out using scissors, sort of like joining the Mighty Marvel Marching Society), and, lo and behold, I have been rezoned to the 5th District, which includes Parts of Renton, most of Kent, and SeaTac airport. And so I'm a little disappointed.

Now, to be fair, I really did think I was in the 9th. All the maps I saw were these little things that showed all of King County, so the exact borders were kinda flaky. I thought the edge of the 5th was Route 167. Or at worst Benson. But no, the border lies to the east, and I have been consigned to the 5th, not the 9th. Which is sad because I tend to identify with the more rural turf to the west of here than the housing developments, light industry, and superfund sites to the east.

Now here's the interesting thing - the new 9th has a long, chunky neck leading up to the population centers of southern Bellevue. Where a lot of developers are based. And the 9th also includes a lot of the land to the south and east, where the developers want to develop. So all of them are now in the same district, while towns that are going to have to deal with the increased traffic load (like Kent and Renton) are in another district entirely. Strange how all that worked out.

But that's not my worry, because I am in the 5th, which means I will be looking at Julia Patterson (Democrat, incumbant) versus Orin (Not Orson) Wells (GOP). And as things heat up, I will pass along the information. But I gotta tell you, this took a lot of wind out of my sails.

More later,

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Seattle Sunday

One - A picnic birthday in Gasworks Park for Jana, with a view across Lake Union at the city, a brass band practicing, kites ranging from tiny to humungous, and four young people practicing their firedancing routines with unlit torches.

Two - An afternoon performance of Tai Chi at the Summer Festival in the International District, Kate and I and four other oldsters did 24-form, but the highlights of the event was the youngsters doing wu shu and sword forms. Nice.

Three - Dinner at Ivar's down on the pier, watching the ferries come in.

And those are three good reasons to stay in Seattle, folks.

More later.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Surfing the Development Wave

One of the advantages of doing a journal is that you can tell stories of your daily life, boring a maximum number of people in one sitting. And so I will.

This started a couple months back, when a couple surveyors showed up on our street. In this area of farmland-turning-to-development, surveyors are never a good sign to the long-time inhabitants. There was a gun man (the guy standing by the instrument, usually a real surveyor) and a stick man (usually a kid, who had the responsibility of walking around with the stick so the gun man can take sightings). (There used to be (when I was a stick man) a link man as well, who was responsible for measuring the distance from the gun to the stick, but modern technology in the form of laser-accurate theodolites sent him the way of the dodo). But I digress).

Anyway, the stick man (as stick men go) didn't know why they were doing what they were doing (which was to uncover and mark the right of way markers at the front of the property). "Something about putting in sidewalks". And indeed, soon afterwards a King County Construction crew came through, and filled in the drainage ditches in front of the house, scraping a chunk out of the hillside at the front of our horseshoe driveway, putting in an asphalt walkway and putting concrete curbs between the street and the new walkway.

And they moved our mailboxes, a trio of old battered rural boxes mounted on a metal pole, while doing this. We share this cluster with the Finks, two families from across the street (Fink is their last name - don't send me any mail on this). The elder Mr. Fink has lived here since 1957, and I really enjoy listening to him talk about the "old neighborhood" (He can't understand why the family who originally built this house built it so close to the road, and remembers when the corner lot (soon to to become 9 housing plots) was a orchard). Originally the mailboxes were on the left hand side of the driveway, in clear view of the Fink home - now they've been moved to the right.

As a result of the renewal out front, the Lovely Bride took advantage of the chance to put a stone wall in front of the horseshoe, where they scraped it away. This was an adventure in itself, since she ordered stone that she could lift, but they delivered stone that not only she could not lift, I could not lift, we could not lift together, we could not roll, nor could we load into a wheelbarrow (dented wheelbarrow offered as evidence)/ We also found we could not break into smaller rocks (I went at it with a sledgehammer and was rewarded with a shard of rock creasing my temple, ending the experiment). The end result of this adventure was that the Lovely Bride called in a professional to build the wall for us. Said professional was already working a job locally, had a bobcat, and assure the L.B. that this sort of thing happened more often than anyone really wanted to admit.

So we put in the wall right next to the moved mailboxes. And then we got a note from the Post Office saying that, because of the way King County re-installed the mailboxes, they were too low and too far from the curb for easy delivery. We would have to re-install them or lose mail service.

And the Lovely Bride went over to the Finks to find out if they got a similar note. They did, and Mr. Fink revealed that he had installed the original mailboxes way back in the 50s, and still had the tools from it (Tools, by the way, he bought with G.I. Bill, which ties in with the review of The Bonus Army, below). So Kate, sensing another handiperson/kindred spirit, proceeded to conspire with Mr. Fink to rebuild the mail boxes, raising them and bringing them further out to the road.

And this is the result -


Not bad. We all bought similar mailboxes down at the hardware store, the wood came from scraps from Mr. Fink's woodworking shop, Kate did the painting and put in the flower baskets. It actually looks really nice, and the mailperson sent us a thank you note (as opposed to cutting off service).

The punchline? Two days after this major project was complete, a surveying team showed up on the street again, once again marking out the right of way. The stick man was a kid, and said that it was about "putting in new sidewalks".

Here we go again.

More later,

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Distant Thunder

I sat down this morning at the keyboard to the news of the London bombings ricoceting across the blogs. I know of no one who was in London at the time, but my heart goes out to the victims of the blasts and the citizens of London.

Then, another piece of bad news arrived, taking longer to arrive but more personal in nature. Scott Haring was in a car accident on the 4th which claimed the life of his younger son. Scott is best known in the gaming industry for his prodigious work with Steve Jackson Games and his column in Comics Retailer, but I got to know him at TSR, where he edited a number of projects and wrote the Republic of Darokin book for D&D Gazeteers and FR's Empire of the Sands. In addition to the loss of his son Scott has to undergo surgery from the accident.

Both Kate and I offer our deepest sympathy to Scott and his family in this time of loss.

More later,

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Rambling Man

Feeling a little blue and out of sorts today, so here's a collection of bits and pieces in no particular order.

The Fourth was fun, with a big party at Monkey King's. The local weathermen had predicted overcast and rain for the evening, so, Seattle being what it was, it was clear and warm (the front finally rolled in last night, providing some much needed rain). The party was a pleasant afternoon talking to folk, and we unloaded a lot of books to send to soliders overseas (including Starfish so don't ask for my copy).

On the Academy (of Gaming Arts and Design) mailing list I'm on, a couple folk have complained that the Origins Awards did not list credits for the winning projects. Here's the short form for the RPG projects that won - anyone who wants to dig up the credits for the rest is welcome to:

Best Role Playing Game: Ars Magica by Jonathan Tweet & Mark Rein*Hagen (original creators), and David Chart (5th Edition design)

Best Role Playing Game Supplement: Eberron Campaign Setting by Keith Baker, Bill Slavicsek, and James Wyatt (Game Designers)

Gamer's Choice Award for RPGs: The World of Darkness by Mark Rein*Hagen and Stewart Wieck (original creators), Bill Bridges, Rick Chillot, Ken Cliffe and Mike Lee (Writers).

Actually, all this underscores the problem of crediting on the awards - who should get the credit? Traditionally they go with the cover credits, which are usually the game designers. Not only are there more individuals who deserve credit than the couple who are listed (developers, editors, playtesters, production, art are all vital, just to pull a handful off the top my head), the very definition of what rates for cover credit varies (Two of three winners are revised versions, so the original creators, who may not be involved in this particular version, get credit along with the current authors). World of Darkness, which evolved over a number of years, has 18 people credited for "Concept and Design" (many of whom I know). It's a thorny issue, and one that won't go away as games get as complex as movies.

In my world, the job hunt continues, and when I have something more concrete to report, I'll pass it on. I have taken advantage of this down time (when I'm not criss-crossing the country or cutting up Deadfall Maples) for more reading and game playing. I have moved my World of Warcraft characters forward nicely, but the cool thing that happened was on July 3rd, when we had a fireworks celebration. This was not organized by the company, but by a bunch of high-level players who all bought fireworks (available in the game) and held party in the Duskwood (which is continually shrouded by trees, making it a good place to set off fireworks in the day). I'd say there were about a hundred and fifty players present, cheering and dancing (yes, you can make your figure dance in World of Warcraft - each race has its own dance moves. Humans do disco).

On reading, I have a new problem - I'm reading faster than I review. I have yet to decide if I'm doing to write anything of China Mieville's The Scar or Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, but in the meantime, as a fallback measure, I've started the second of Neil Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. THAT should slow me down.

Oh, yeah, The Lovely Bride read Varley's Mammoth, and contrary to my decidedly mixed review, really, really liked it, and recommends it. Of course, she likes the idea of baby mammoths (when we started playing Magic: The Gathering, she would send the Mammoth (named Chunky) over to attack, making Mammoth noises).

And finally, Washington State has its turn coming up for unique collectible quarter (The score so far: 23 lame ones, one winner - the Charter Oak Quarter from Connecticut). The local paper launched a contest to create the next Washington quarter. So naturally a group of photoshop geeks had to get into the act (Note- parts of this site of NSFW).

OK, that's enough rambling. More later,

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Origins Awards

So the Origins awards were presented this weekend at the convention of the same name in Columbus. Readers may well remember the adventures of the Big Box, which involved coming up with the nominees for two of the catagories (Best RPG and Best RPG Supplement).

Here are the winners, announced over the course of the convention. Oh, and don't worry if you don't recognize some/all of the winners - the hobby game industry is pleasantly diverse and heavily sub-niched, so that miniature gamers, roleplayers, and card gamers are sometimes overlapping, often separate, markets.

Best Role Playing Game - Ars Magica: 5th Edition - Atlas Games

Best Role Playing Game Supplement - Eberron Campaign Setting - Wizards of the Coast

Best Play-By-Mail Game - Fall of Rome - Enlightened Age Entertainment

Best Historical Board Game - Sword of Rome - GMT Games LLC

Best Historical Miniatures Line - WWI: Western Front 28 mm - Brigade Games

Best Historical Miniatures Game - Dawn of the Rising Sun: The Russo Japanese War 1904-1905 - Clash of Arms Games

Best Board Game - Ticket To Ride - Days of Wonder

Best Miniatures Game - Attack Vector: Tactical Ad Astra Games

Best Miniature Line - Elmore Dragons - Dark Sword Miniatures, Inc.

Best Collectible Card Game - Seven Masters Vs. The Underworld - Z-Man Games, Inc.

Best Traditional Card Game - Cthulhu 500 - Atlas Games

Best Fiction Publication- Path of the Bold - Guardians of Order

Best Non Fiction Publication - Pyramid Magazine - Steve Jackson Games

Best Game Accessory - Cardboard Heroes Castles - Steve Jackson Games

Vanguard Award
Note: The Vanguards are selected by the members of the academy for design to reward innovation. It has been noted that revolutionary concepts in the industry often are not recognized in the traditional awards ceremony, often because there is no category for these what these products are. A good example of this is the Pirates game from the 'Kids, which blurs the line between Collectable Miniatures (you get pirate ships) and Collectible Cards (The ships are made out of punched-out pieces, which are sold like booster packs). Pirates is an innovative, revolutionary, and successful game, and did not even make it out of the nominating round in its category (Historical Miniatures).

All Wound Up - Twilight Creations, Inc.

Flames of War - Battlefront

Fire as She Bears! 2.1 - Starboard Tack Press

Pirates of the Spanish Main - WizKids, Inc

Gamers’ Choice Award
Note All of the above were voted in by members of the Academy (cost to enter the academy - free, but you have to show your gaming credits), much like the Oscars. The Gamers' Choices are like the People's Choices, in that they are open to the fans. I'd prefer to see all the awards be voted on by the fans, since the membrane between "fan" and "professional" is often wafer-thin. As it stands, though, two different games in the same category can get awards - a professional award and a fan award.

The Gamers' Choices were not listed by category, perhaps for that very reason.

Legends - Harlequin Games

Desert Rats – British in the Desert - Battlefront

Axis and Allies D-Day - Avalon Hill

A Call to Arms (Babylon 5) - Mongoose Publishing

VS System: Marvel Origins and X-Men VS The Brotherhood - The Upper Deck Entertainment

Cthulhu 500 - Atlas Games

World of Darkness Storytelling System Rulebook - White Wolf

Betrayal at House on the Hill - Avalon Hill

Hall of Fame
Duke Seifried
Mage Knight

Congratulations to the winners!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Novel: Creepy Deeps

Starfish By Peter Watts, TOR Books, 1999

I came to this book via Boing boing, an interesting and eclectic news site catering to the computer literate diginesti. The site was recommending the latest by this author, which is a continuation of a series. I found the first book of the series, used, At Powell’s in Oregon, and picked it up.

And its one of those books you’re glad to have read but not wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others.

Here’s the gist of it. It’s the near future, teetering on the edge of apocalypse world. Megacorps are in control and much of the population are in refugee camps on a tainted coastline. The mega-C’s have installed power stations in the deep trench smokers, where the continents butt together. And they staff them with modified transhumans capable of breathing water and withstanding the pressure.

And to staff these deep-sea dwellings they choose broken people – abusers, molesters, victims, people whom they can modify easily, and whom, if they fail, won’t be missed.

That right off the bat doesn’t do a lot for me, since all the characters are not people I would trust in my living room, much less roaming around unsupervised at the bottom of the ocean. And to Watt’s credit, he shows the losses from this badly thought-out piece of corporate creativity. Some of the crazy creeps go crazier. Some go an entirely new type of crazy. And some seem to go sane under the pressure.

Watts tries to make understandable these broken people, but does not make them sympathetic. This is a good thing from the reader’s standpoint, but in the process he also makes them difficult to tell apart. I thought this was just me at first, but I found the receipt for the book (Originally purchased at Barnes & Nobles #1964, Portland, Oregon) with crib notes from the original owner written on the back, writing up who all the characters are.

You never get close to these broken folk – there is too much distance, emotionally and evolutionarily, to get past. More frustrating, while the inmates of the deep sea asylum are coming to terms with their new role in the world, they are reduced to little more than witnesses for ANOTHER corporate screwup which drives the apocalypse at the end of the book.

The ideas and concepts in the book are intriguing, but in the end you realize you’ve been reading about one thing when the writer is setting you up for the ideas that he wants to talk about. And apparently these ideas continue in another book, but I can’t really say if I will follow him there.

More later,