Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sports Desk

We've been blissfully immune out here on the other coast to the huggamugga surrounding Super Bowl XLII. Given a choice between the narratives of "The Undefeatable Patriots" and the "Boston and New York hate each other", the media understandably embraced the latter. Works for me, since we like to ignore the pair of them.

Meanwhile, over in pro basketball, the Sonics snapped a 14-game losing streak, which most of the fandom have concluded is a plot by the new owners to cheese everyone off so we'll let them relocate to the Oklahoma City. Oh, and a while back the owners released a study declaring that losing the pro team will have NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER on local business.

This is particularly interesting, since when they were asking for a ton of money from the state, they were touting self-funded studies that showed that Pro teams ADDED to the economy in all sorts of gray, fuzzy ways. Yet when they have their bags packed? No, you won't even know we're gone.

Finally, the Seattle Times has done an excellent series on our college football team, in which those in power looked the other way on criminal activities in order to keep their stars on the team. What is interesting is that one of those responsible for soft-pedaling the charges is our new Prosecutor, Dan Satterburg, which the Times Endorsed just three months previously. Gee, maybe that's news we could have used at the time.

More later,

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Political Desk

So the question is: In a two-party system, would you prefer the opposition party to nominate a moderate candidate who might govern well, or the more radical candidate, which reduces the chances of election in the first place?

Yeah, that's what I've been thinking about for the past few weeks. Both major parties have large cores that frighten the heck out of the opposing sides. The Democrats have a strong secular progressive wing, which they publicly back away from but, when in power lean towards. The GOP has a very strong evangelical wing, which they pander to publicly but when push comes to shove try to keep away from major decision making.

I've also noticed how the conservatives have finally decided to throw the President under the bus. After seven years of rah-rah support, they have finally decided that the Decider is not conservative ENOUGH to their tastes and have gone looking for a new messiah. This harks back to the "Flawed Vessel" school of modern politics - Conservatism never fails - rather, conservatism is failed by weak individuals.

All of this roiling around as Washington State prepares for its caucuses, one of 100 slightly different methods that the two big parties use to select its nominees. Some have caucuses, some elections. Some elections are winner-take-all, some are proportional, and some are beauty contest. Some are counted, and some are not, but that may change after a court case or two. It is a muddle that pretty much defies the idea of Intelligent Design when it comes to our political parties.

Here's the short history of the process in these parts: A while back both parties selected their nominees by caucus - members of both parties would meet and hash out arguments and select their nominees in a raucous process that can best be described as smoke-free, smoke-filled room, a place where the big tent and the backroom are occupying the same space.

Then one year the GOP caucuses were overwhelmed with a strong evangelical faction who nominated Pat Robinson. Panic ensued, and the GOP went to a primary which gives half the delegates, while the other half comes from the caucuses. The Dems still give all of their (more numerous) delegates in the caucus, but have the primary anyway as a non-binding "beauty contest".

Confusing? Yeah, and that's just Washington State's operation, and doesn't count the "Superdelegates" who are political choices, primarily to keep the rank and file from getting too uppity. It makes for a intriguing mess, and as a survivor of the caucuses of 2004, I can safely describe them as verbal rugby, but not as polite.

All of this leads up to a public service announcement. The caucuses are coming up on February 9. I shan't be able to attend (more on that later), but those of you who are interested in seeing local participatory democracy up close and ugly (and maybe get your hands on those messy tools of elections) are strongly encouraged to check out the info here for the Dems and here for the GOP. Because despite the best efforts of the sage pundits who like to believe they what is going on, both sides are going to still be up in the air by that time.

So go check it out. More later.

Monday, January 28, 2008

No Quarter (Part X and Last)

Long-time readers of this blog know that I've spent the past few years following the development of the Fifty States Quarters program. The project, from the US Mint, gives each state the back of a quarter to promote their chunk of the country. The various quarters range from lame to not bad, but raise desperate hopes that state lawmakers are better at lawmaking than at graphic design. Their previous efforts have been mocked here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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

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

So we go out with a whimper, not a bang, with the last five quarters.

So actually, after all this time, here is a strong recommendation for showing your state's outline on the coin. The state bird ("Swallowtail Flycatcher"), flying over the state wildflower ("The Indian Blanket") against the state backdrops ("Whole Lotta Nothing"). Some enterprising soul at a TV station in OK City is going to take a bag full of these out on the street and ask passersby to identify what they're looking at. And not get many correct answers. This was your shot, Oklahoma! We weren't expecting Rogers and Hammerstein, but we had such hopes!

Rating - C - Kinda Lame

New Mexico
Now New Mexico screws up in the opposite direction - they go for the old reliable "Shape of the State" approach, which is a pity because a) their shape is that of a rectangle drawn on an Etch-a-sketch, and b) because it minimizes the REALLY COOL symbol from the state flag. Let's be honest, with its "Zuni Sun", New Mexico has the coolest state flag, hands down (plus, it fulfills the true purpose of state flags - it can be drawn by school children - Not like, say, PA or WA).

But they blow it by dropping it on their lumpy square state-shape. And to make matters worse, toss in the state motto - "Land of Enchantment". Since this came out, Wisconsin wants to be known as the "Land of Abjuration", and Arkansas as the "Land of Invocation/Evocation".

Rating - C - Because you have a REALLY COOL state flag, and you blew it!


For the five of you out there that have never visited the Grand Canyon, let me tell you the secret of this natural wonder. If you arrive in the late afternoon, when the sun is just at the right angle to pick out every outcropping and set ablaze every layer of sandstone, it is one of the most beautiful spots on earth.

If you arrive ten minutes before that, it is a flat and dull as a postcard. And this shot was taken twenty minutes before that magic time.

Now, shrinking an entire canyon onto a coin is a challenge, but they make matters worse by reinforcing the myth that the desert runs all the way up to the edge. Actually, the northern side (the "tourist side") of the canyon is dominated by scrubby little pines. You have to go further south for saguaro and barrel cactus. Separating with a banner telling us what we're looking at (remember the rules above), doesn't really help.

Rating = C - Kinda Lame, so take off those rainbow shades.


Alaska produces the nicest coin of this year's collection, which is sort of like saying the Seattle Seahawks are the best team in the NFC West. They get all the pieces right - single image, something that is connected with the state involved, and it can be forgiven if they put their forgettable slogan on the coin, because it needs the exposure. I mean, "The Great Land" sounds like something on a D&D map from 1983.

But I will notice Washington's state coin has a big salmon on it, while Alaska's coin has as an EVEN BIGGER bear, EATING the salmon. And you thought the whole Ted Stevens/Maria Cantwell thing had blown over.

Rating = B - Not Bad


Celebrating the 20th Century, the Hawaii quarter shows King Hominahomina, first and greatest of the Klingon Emperors, and the traditions Klingon greeting "Your State Motto Has No Honor".

Actually, this is a wonderfully subversive little coin, because while the first coin in the series highlights Delaware's contribution to freeing ourselves from the British King, this coin actually puts ANOTHER King on the coin. In fact, I don't think we've PUT any royalty on our quarters yet, and this opens the door to more monarchs in the future. Good going, Hawaii!

Rating - B - Not Bad

And so the long national nightmare has at a last come to a close, and for those who are interested - no, I'm NOT going to do it with the Presidential Dollars series, if only because all the carvings so far give the presidents these empty, soul-dead eyes.

So you're on your own. Have fun,

More later

More later,

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Moving Day

I don't think I've mentioned this before, but my office hates offices.

No, really. The founders of my company eschew the entire office-with-a-door, private-line, cube-farm-with-concrete-colored-walls mindset. We work at tables, our personal cells are our office lines, our rooms are large (and sometimes loud) and we communicate really, really well. And the founders? They tend to work in the hallways, on tables, with their cells as their office lines, near the hubs of the projects. It really works.

I mention this because we've recently expanded into the rest of our building, and are in the process of breaking down MORE walls and eliminating MORE private offices. And at one point, the founders bought a set of cubes - low-walled, open cubes, roomy, but cubes nonetheless. I think they didn't like the decision, because it came time to expand out the operations, it was determined that These Cubes Must Go.

Simultaneously with this decision, the Lovely Bride has returned to tax preparation. She's spent the past few years working for a Big National Tax firm franchise, and as the years have passed they have been stressing their financial schemes as opposed to the art of preparing taxes. So she retired, only to join up a year later with a really small firm that is strong on tax ethics but is still getting its operation together, which includes needing good furniture for its offices.

So I mention the upcoming Death of the Cube Farm to the Lovely Bride, and she says yes, we could really use some of the stuff. And I ask the bosses, and they're cool, as long as everyone who wants to get some furnishings for private use gets first dibs. Friday morning the furniture team that had installed the cubes ripped everything down. And two of the artists took full cubes and one of the writers some desktops for his kids, along with two more of the artists. The rest had to go, and go before Monday, else it would end up in the dumpster.

So it fell to today to get a lot of cube furniture out of the office. With a weather forecast of snow. So at the crack of dawn we set out to borrow a truck from the Lovely Bride's Boss's brother, drive to Carpintino's to pick up her office accountant, office accountant's truck, office accountant's daughter, and office accountant's friend, and headed to my company to rescues the cube farm.

And a cube farm dismantled is a LOT bigger than you would think. Luckily I was able to dragoon two other guys at the company to help (I owe them pizzas, now), and the office accountant's husband and son were at the tax office to help us unload, which made a MASSIVE project just barely doable. Still we had to make a second run to pick up everything we could not fit in the first batch. So it took three pickup truck loads to move our chunk of the dead cubefarm to its new location.

All the while, all involved had to listen to me say that I neither knew nor cared what happened to it after it reached its destination. I had told the bosses it would be gone by Monday, and I wanted to keep that promise even if I had to grind the cubes to a fine powder and make it part of my complete breakfast.

So we offload the second collection, get everything squared away, and headed back to the house in midafternoon, after about 7 hours of hard work. I collapse in front of the tube, watching a History Channel special on ancient Egyptian weaponry. And as I am watching, I looked outside and saw that big, heavy flakes of snow awee starting to come down, only an hour after we had finished everything.

And I feel pretty darn good about myself, despite the aches and pains.

More later,

Friday, January 25, 2008

Concert: Designers at Play!

So as part of our Christmas bonus, our entire company got tickets to the Play! concert at Benaroyal Hall. This a concert featuring the Seattle Symphony, Northwest Boychoir, and Vocalpoint! Seattle chorale groups playing music from computer games.

No, really. It was pretty cool, so much so they have a second concert added for Saturday.

Computer game music is a challenge, since it expected to be supportive and secondary of the game experience (at best) and innocuous (at worst). Its a tough situation for a composer, and produces music which often lacks the dramatic stabs or lyrical hooks that define other types of modern music. So bringing the music to the forefront is a challenge.

And in general, backed up by a full orchestra and chorale, it works. The best piece was (and I am horribly prejudiced on this) the Guild Wars Suite, in which Jeremy Soule merges together the highly recognizable themes from the four Guild Wars projects into a flowing, dynamic whole. It was beautiful, unified, and should be added to their regular play list. Also good was Martin O'Donnell's Halo collection and Hikaru Utada's Kingdom Hearts (Which also holds recognizable thematic hooks). Oh, and Koji Kondo's collected themes from Super Mario Bros, and a swing version of the Chocobo themes.

The orchestra is backed up by three huge screens, which show clips from the games mixed with shots of the orchestra itself. The LB and I have mixed reactions to this - she likes the fact that they can have shots of things we could not normally see - (the piano players hands, the percussion in the back row), but I found myself watching the screens as opposed to engaging fully with the music. Maybe I'm too much of a traditionalist.

It was a great concert, and repeats on Saturday. I ran into a number of LJ friends at the shindig, and the audience was definitely heavy in the geek department (a lot of black fleece hoodies and one of our number was counting utilikilts).

And I really want a chorale group for GW2. Just saying.

More later,

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

DOW Breaks 12000!

Wow, that’s pretty amazing. It was only back in October that the markets topped 14,000, leading me to conclude that even though there was a lot of nastiness in our forecasts, what with subprime loans and soaring energy costs, that we were finally moving the economy forward. It might not show up on YOUR bottom line, but somewhere, someone’s accountants would be smiling.

And then the markets tanked. Seriously, DOW 2000 points off its high, with massive drops on Friday and yesterday. Monday was a holiday, so everyone got to watch the rest of the world’s markets augur in in anticipation.

Our pro-business newspaper the Seattle Times, finally moved the economic news to front page, above the fold this morning, in the aftermath. Of course, it was with the subhead – “”But doing something can make things worse – so DON”T DO ANYTHING.” And they pared it with an article that, despite the drop of number of home sales and increase of housing inventory, homes are just as expensive (and presented this as good news). Mind you, yesterday, as the foreign markets were tanking, they ran a picture of a man biking across Puget Sound.

Our increasingly invisible president (he went to Israel for the first time in his administration – if you weren’t watching PBS, you would have missed it), has lobbed a recovery plan that looks suspiciously like the one George McGovern proposed back in 1972 – give people money. Of course, it won’t be real money, but rather a tax break or a rebate or an advance or somesuch strings-attached deal. And there is debate about whether the government should bail out the taxpayers as they bail out the corporations day in and out.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has tried to keep the debacle from getting worse by a sudden, emergency rate cut of three-quarters of a point, which resulted in a massive sudden drop in the markets. I often refer to rate cuts as giving the squalling child a cookie, but this is much more serious – this is flinging an entire box and the child in the hopes that diabetic shock will shut him up and let the adults drink themselves into oblivion before said child recovers.

Of course, such macro-economics doesn’t count for the Times admonition of "don’t mess with things”. And the faitht that this administration has engendered over the years with other crisis just fills me with dreadful anticipation.

So strap in, its going to be a bumpy ride.

More later,

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Escape from Mt. Lebanon!

This video, from Blog-Lebo, from the new Mt. Lebanon-based blog Suburbia Calling, made me smile, but then, blowing up the front of the Galeria (the closest thing we have to a landmark in my old neighborhood) was kinda cool.

Also, here is the Civil War, in four minutes. Hypnotizing.

More later,

Monday, January 21, 2008

Theatre: Drop Me In The Water

The Breach by by Catherine Filloux, Tarell Alvin McCraney & Joe Sutton, Directed by David Esbjornson, Seattle REP, through February 9, 2008

So as a playgoer, I'm a bit of a booster. If the play itself isn't up to snuff, praise the actors. If neither are up to the task, say something nice about the set design. If all else fails, praise the theater for taking a chance, even if it doesn't work.

But sometimes it all falls apart, and The Breach does exactly that. Three weak one-acts crosscut into a theatrical collage on the aftermath of Katrina. And collage is the correct word - a mosaic takes the pieces and makes a greater picture out of them, while a collage retains all the big identifiable chunks and challenges you to see if there is any connection.

And there isn't much, other than the hurricane and the failures that followed it. Three plays with very different styles, and, taken apart, are very slender threads. Addition does not make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Piece one is Mac the wheelchair-bound bartender, who escapes his flooded house but is plagued by a personification of water, who is two parts legend and two parts DTs. I never personified Katrina as anything else than a savage bully of nature, so re-branding the storm as a witty, lovely, athletic black woman with a British accent (on a mike and amplified) just loses me. And why are delusions always more witty and intelligent than their creators? It is the best of the group, yet it is struggling against its own pretensions.

Piece two is a New York writer going South to chase down rumors that the levees were blown up on purpose, a story prevalent amongst a black community that for the most part was ignored and savaged by the storm. Not that reality spared his community much, but this snippet concentrates on the Internet-borne rumor that followed. Yet most of the story seems to be about the writer being unable to explain clearly who he was and what he wanted. Not a good sign when the audience knows the "right" answer from the outset.

Piece three actually got me irritated. Three survivors trapped on the roof of their flooded home - Grandfather, grandson, and seven-year old granddaughter. The older version of the granddaughter (dressed in the "military fleece poncho" look that will be popular in 2035) narrates. The storm is pretty much secondary - this is three people trapped together and the emotions that fly. Worse yet, this is the third play in the row where we have the "sacrificial gay character" - who is punished for his sexuality. Is this a theme for the season? Will there be a gay character in "Imaginary Invalid" who catches a bullet in act one?

The actors were, well, not bad, for the most part because I know them from earlier productions - veterans of Birdie Blue, Gem of the Ocean, and The Blue Door are all here, reminding me they were better in the other plays. The stagecraft was tough - how do you flood a stage in a traditional theater (Initiman pulled it off with Metamorphosis, but that's theater in the round - we're all looking down). Pieces moved effectively on and off, but capturing the nature of bleakness after the flood is tough.

I guess what is frustrating is what was unsaid, or rather skimmed over in passing - a brushing touch and then on to other matters. Semi-addressed was the fact that Katrina was a disaster, but what happened next was even worse. That neglect and corruption laid the groundwork for what happened to New Orleans, Biloxi, and the Gulf Coast, and the fact that we don't seem to have learned anything. We succeeded in making government small enough to drown in a bathtub, and then were surprised when it was washed out to sea. Such that in the post-Katrina years, with brushfires and flooding in Chehalis, no one is really counting on the national government to ride to the rescue.

We need a good Katrina play. We don't have it yet.

More later,

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Last Minute Plug

So I'm on Uberguilds Radio tonight at 9 PM PST. This is a last-moment plug only because the gang there have just dragged me screaming and kicking into the Ventrilo-activated future.

We'll be talking about archetypes of online gaming characters and the primeval ooze of Fantasy RPGs that they came out of.

Tune in if you get a chance.

More later,

Saturday, January 19, 2008


I'm back playing Warcraft, but I don't think I'm staying for long.

The reason for returning are pretty much the standard reasons I end up getting caught up with the game - a bunch of friends (in this case co-workers) all start playing again on a new server, in the case Cenerion Circle, Horde side. A lot of folk say they're building new characters, and we'll all advance together, so I go along with it and reactivate the account.

And pretty much the standard things have happened. You miss a day and suddenly you're three levels behind. Miss another and you're five levels. Miss a third and you friends aren't even on the same continent with you. And then they build alts, and THOSE pass you.

I've tried this time to dedicate a part of the day to keeping up, but it just doesn't work out to my advantage. And some of the players are bringing over characters from other servers, so I'm looking at being the low person in the guild. And this will go until we get a new shiny objects and they move onto it.

Now mind you, I'm enjoying myself. The 1-20 early game experience is pretty nice and diverse, and I'm running a Shaman for the first time, and the specials for that class come together in a nice story line. And I've run a few instances (they have made changes which have made the instances a little more accessible). And playing with a group of game designers has its own amusements in chat (my favorite quote to date is "This EA was spawned by drunken monkey robots!").

And the economy is not broken, but is severely sprained, with a huge drive for ore for the new crafting operations. I thought this would go away after everyone had adapted to Burning Crusade, but there is a lot of money to made in the auction house just from getting your alt to go mining (and mine hangs out in southern Durotaur, which is pretty empty these days).

And I'm not that shabby a player - my exposure to my co-workers is rubbing off a little more. I'm better with my timing and knowing when to pull and when to just run. So that's different than last time, when I always felt struggling with the options available.

So its not that bad, but I'm keeping an eye out for the inevitable topping out, of people drifting off, losing interest, and finding new toys. And then I'll close this one out again. Because the big reason for playing the game is the people you hang out with, and its a pretty good gang.

More later,

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hastur Theory

So, that theory on Hastur ...

Ideas are interesting things. You come up with a conecpt, and immediately think how it would make a good RPG or a good short story or a good novel. And sometimes you think of something, and it doesn't really fit anywhere, and when you try to make it fit, it just turns out differently. I suppose I could make this a scholarly article, but I think I've pretty much shown the last time that Hastur pretty much as evolved as a concept instead of being any intelligent design. Furthermore, I don't have the strength of will to source all quotes and concepts. As a result, the idea becomes a powerful grain of salt that eats into the flesh over time.

So it ends up here.

(Oh, yeah, I also figured out how the doors in Doctor Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum function, but that's another piece of data that will probably never be used).

So, Hastur. His first appearance was in "Haita the Shepherd". The story is here and it is a short read - Haita, a Shepherd, who worships Hastur, god of shepherds, is good and kind and rewarded with a beautiful young maiden. But each time he questions his fortune, the maiden disappears and something bad happens. He visits a hermit, who states:
Know, then, that her name, which she would not even permit thee to inquire, is Happiness. Thou saidst the truth to her, that she is capricious, for she imposeth conditions that man cannot fulfil, and delinquency is punished by desertion. She cometh only when unsought, and will not be questioned. One manifestation of curiosity, one sign of doubt, one expression of misgiving, and she is away!
That's is what Bierce says on Hastur - the moral of the story is truly "Don't worry, be happy". When Chamber calls upon the god, and adds the King in Yellow. his protagonists are upper class, often have suffered a head injury, and read the play as some point, intensifying their madness. Lovecraft invokes the name (and the Yellow Sign) to alude to powerful mystic forces. It only when we get to Derleth that we are off to the races with Cthuloid horrors.

But let's back up. What if Hastur is, as originally posited, a god of the shepherds. And humanity are therefore his sheep? "Tatters of the King" plays with this concept to some degree, connecting the Hastur mythology to Christian Trinity, with varying degrees of success. Indeed, if you think of Hastur as a Shepherd god, the parable of Matthew 25, where Jesus speaks of separating the sheep and goats, comes to mind.

And the question that comes out of that Bible verse is - who are the sheep and who are the goats? The best example of Hastur's "sheep" is Haita, who is faithful and rewarded, and who, when he questions, is punished. Hastur's "goats" can be seen as Chambers' men and women of the world, upper class, worldly, and most of all, intelligent.

You may see where we are going with this. Hastur as a god, his faithful are his flock, blindly following. The danger to his flock are those that question - the smart people, the elite, the intelligentsia. Those are the goats. They have to be identified and excised.

Enter the King In Yellow and his play. Hastur's supposed avatar is a targeted anti-viral agent, the mechanism by which the god protects his people. The common folk, the hoi-palloi, and the illiterate would be immune to a vector directed against the upper classes, the readers, and the intellectual elite. A play, in particular a play aimed as the "smarter set" would be a perfect vector for protecting the dumber population.

What this is means is actually kind of scary for the average Cthulhu investigator. The smarter you are, the more likely that Hastur will lump you among the "goats" and the more vulnerable you are to the King in Yellow. And by definition, the investigators tend to be more goats than sheep in the first place.

So Hastur loves humanity. It is you that he is out to get. It is an interesting idea, but I just don't know where I would want to go with it.

Don't worry. Be happy. More later,

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hastur Through the Ages

So one of the challenges for the Tatters of the King adventure is that is attempted to deal with Hastur and his avatar, the King in Yellow. The problem, though, is that within the mythos Hastur as been all over the map, and there have been a number of different stabs at him, which in part accounts for the sprawling (and sometimes unfocused) nature of the adventure.

Let's look at this within the light of the Six Ages of Lovecraft I talked about way back. For those who don't want to link, here they are:

Generation 0 - the Predecessors (Chambers, Bierce)
Generation 1 - The Originators (Lovecraft, Weird Tales)
Generation 2 - The Organizers (Derlith, Arkham House)
Generation 3 - The Explainers (Leiber, Lumley)
Generation 4 - The Gamers (Peterson, Chaosium)
Generation 5 - The Pagans (Tynes, Pagan Publishing)

Hastur and the King in Yellow have a number of incarnations through all this, sometimes together, sometimes not. In addition, the King in Yellow refers both to the mythos entity AND to the supposedly banned play (which we'll put in quotations here - "The King in Yellow" is the play). Its a bit of a mess, part of this is to separate out the skeins.

Generation 0 provides the basic building blocks of Hastur. R. M. Price tracks back Hastur himself to Ambrose Bierce as a beneficent god in "Haita the Shepherd". Chambers builds on this in his work, and brings up "The King in Yellow" as a forbidden play that causes SAN loss in its readers. The play itself, from the little bits used, echosed Poe and his "Masque of the Red Death". For Chambers, Hastur is sometimes an entity, sometimes a place.

Generation 1: For Lovecraft himself, he refers to Hastur only once,in "The Whisperer in Darkness", and he puts Hastur in an odd place, between locations and individuals. It is hard to say if Hastur (Hah-STOOR) is one or the other. He does link Hastur and the Yellow Sign, as part of namecheck to assure you that this is all mystic and not-good. But beyond that? Nada.

Generation 2 puts Hastur definitely among the elder gods with Derlith's "Return of Hastur", which makes the big H a sprawling, spinelike, oozing monster. Hastur was Derlith's boy, a here H makes the big time. Derlith is the one that makes Hastur definitely a being, not a place, and assigns the King in Yellow as its avatar, making a hard link between the two.

Generation 3 sort of downplays Hastur - lacking a firm basis. The Titus Crow Hastur is like Cthulhu - big alienish tentacled monster to conflict with, and be outwitted by, the protagonist. There are attempts to write the play itself, such as James Blish's "More Light", making the play a noxious text that no one can finish. The King as avatar is missing from the scene for these guys,

Generation 4 brings back both Hastur and the King with a vengeance, but doesn't do as much to link them other than to say they are linked. Their Hastur is the molten flesh thing, and D&D offers the time-honored "Speak Hastur's Name thrice and he will appear" (Compare with the movies Beetlejuice and Candyman). The King in Yellow is more engaged as an antagonist than Hastur, and it is here for the first time that the Yellow Sign makes a true appearance (Steven Ross did it in 1989 - before that it was merely an imagined device).

Generation 5 has an interesting take that evokes the Generation 3 explainers, but with a modern twist. Hastur is not a god at all, but the mere force of entropy that is personified by human minds. The King in Yellow is the prophet of this empty god, and their followers are advance men prepping the world for its mindless sacrifice.

"Tatters of the King" seeks to synthesize these diverse elements, which in part accounts for the diverse approaches and uneven feel. The oozing Hastur and the enigmatic servant, with its killer play and unwatchable sign, seem a strange teamup, one that did not exist from one mind, but from a bundle of creative approaches, all striving against each other.

And I have my own theory, but that comes tomorrow.

More later

Sunday, January 13, 2008


So Friday night, we wrapped up the Call of the Cthulhu campaign I had been running for the past year or so. I have been GMing Tatters of the King, an adventure built around the Hastur wing of the Cthulhu Mythos.

It is interesting that while most of my D&D adventures have been homebuilt, while most of the Cthulhu adventures I've run have been written by others, "canned" adventures. I modify stuff as I go along, but these tend to be renovations as opposed to original construction. Part of this is may be in part that they follow a more orderly storyline than the map-based D&D adventures, and part of it because it deals with an time (1920s, 1890s) that I am comfortable letting others do the initial research on.

And Tatters is pretty good as a "canned" adventure, better than most. On the initial read through, I saw some troubling points, but in practice it turned out better than I had hoped. The investigators went mad and doomed the world, which is sad, but in general it worked out pretty well. There are a couple generalized spoilers following, but nothing major.

The adventure is separated into two major sections. The first runs in the traditional fashion of a CoC adventure - the investigators discover something is wrong, that cultists are involved and about to made it worse, they must foil the cultists. If there is the CoC version of "you meet at the inn and go into the old ruins", that's it. And after an odd start, it is pretty good.

Then there is a year gap, and the SECOND part of the adventure picks up. And that's a little different. Now the heroes are assumed to have working knowledge of the existence of the mythos, and things get intriguing, leading to a non-standard confrontation that stresses the isolation of the investigators. While this is not spelled out, it works out pretty well in practice. Indeed, it is small things, like dreams and omens and the ever present Yellow Sign that makes this work. But that only became clear at the end of it all.

Downsides? The adventure leaves a big gap between the two halves that must be filled in between by the GM (We spent an evening just running the gap between the two, and I boned up on my 1928-1929 history as a backup). The opening is "soft" - a chance gathering of individuals who are sucked into the mythos. The ending is, to be honest, brutal, and has a very narrow range of success for the group (and when two of them went mad, well, then that reduced their chances further). There are some errors with the timing (some handouts have the wrong year, some of the passages of time feel like too much or too rushed). And there are a few "plothamnmers" in the story - where things HAVE to fall a certain way to advance the tale.

But in general it was as good adventure, better than when I first read it. Which is one of the challenges of reviewing an adventure - you cannot tell exactly where the weak spots and strengths are until you really run it.

And one last thing - When I started this adventure I was a little disappointed with blogspot's performance, and started a Cthulhu blog over on livejournal. I found LJ to be a little clunkier than I wanted it to be, and with an increase in personal work (Eye of the North and all that), soon dropped it. If you are interested in the early adventures (particularly for the players, who had know idea I was doing this, well, go here.

And make a Sanity Check.

More later,

Friday, January 11, 2008


So this happened to a friend I work with, and his story bears wider dissemination.

One of my co-workers wanted to take his girlfriend to last Saturday’s Seahawks/Redskins playoff game. He bought tickets through StubHub, which is a reseller owned by E-bay. Stubhub provides a forum where folk wanting to sell tickets (who used to be called “scalpers”) hook up with ones wanting to buy them (who used to be called “marks”). More convenient than hanging outside Heinz field in a snowstorm saying “I got two”.

The order is made. The next day, a Fed Ex envelope arrives from the seller – empty. An empty FedEx envelope. My friend makes a phone call to StubHub. Questions are asked. Reassurances are offered. Simple mistake. Seller forgot to put them in. Will send you a pdf that can be used.

My friend is no fool – contacts Seahawks ticket office and dconfirms that, yeah, the pdf will work. They just need the barcode to scan into their system. Friend gets the pdf two days before the game.

Still no fool, he and his girlfriend show up early for the game. The bar code scans. They’re let in. They hang out, get something to eat, then head for their seats.

Which are occupied. By a nice couple from Moses Lake (their first Seahawk game). Who have the real physical tickets. ALSO purchased off StubHub.

And the couple is very nice. They offer to share. Each couple takes one seat. It works out – no one is sitting down during this game. A good time was had. My friend buys them lunch. What he doesn't know is if there was anyone else stuck at the front gate with duplicated tickets.

After the game, he comes back and fires off a blistering email to StubHub. Current status: A claim has been filed. Hoperfully StubHub does the right thing. And hopefully they are having a few choice words with the scammer who tried this. Hopefully involving hammers to the kneecaps.

In the meantime, as the playoffs continue, Buyer Beware. Be Aware and Be Prepared.

More later,

Thursday, January 10, 2008

One More Link

Tracy Hickman's younger daughter, Tasha, made a Dove Commercial for a contest. Check it out. Simple and sweet. Give it five stars.

Me, I remember when her older sister was a toddler, so I suddenly feel very, very old.

More later,

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ongoing Commentary

Notes from all over, personal to national (because otherwise I will just get too far behind):

Sacnoth, better known as Tolkien scholar John Rateliff, has his magnum opus on The Hobbit reviewed by theLA Times.

Monkey King, also known as Wolf Baur, has been getting a lot of good press for Kobold Quarterly, now in its third issue. Notes from Wired, Cinerati and Velvet Dice Bag.

Guild Wars won a Reader's Choice award from Go us! (Why yes, Sacnoth Valley WAS named after the gentleman in entry one).

Writer's Strike: New weirdness, United Artists got a exemption from the Writer's Guild, similar to Letterman's World Wide Pants (that is, they agree to the Guild's terms NOW). Sort of points out that WGA's demands are not all that unreasonable. The thing is, UA is owned in part by Sony, one of the Bigs. So is Sony sending out a signal that its ready to deal? Or are its people not sufficiently influential that UA can chart its own course?

Floods in Chehalis: United Way - out of money. FEMA - grinding slow.

Basketball. The Storm is staying, and will soon be outdrawing the sooner-to-be-Sooners Sonics.

Scaife: Interviews with both parties in Vanity Fair. Kid-gloves soft treatment, pointing out the raw hypocrisy but not letting the comments stick. Humanizes the participants, but reminds you that they are not humans you'd want to hang around.

Economy: What the freaking heck is happening with the stock market? The DOW is like 1000 points off its recent high. Is anyone paying attention?

Local Politics: Two months after the election, it turns out there WAS fraud and abuse at the Port of Seattle. Good thing we got rid of one of the reformers on the board.

National Politics: To quote scriptwriter William Goldman: "Nobody Knows Anything". Glad I don't feel obligated to play pundit on a regular basis. It is, however, making for an interesting ride.

More later,

Monday, January 07, 2008

So Not a Surprise

88% John Edwards
87% Chris Dodd
86% Joe Biden
86% Barack Obama
83% Hillary Clinton
83% Bill Richardson
80% Mike Gravel
77% Dennis Kucinich
38% Rudy Giuliani
29% Tom Tancredo
27% John McCain
24% Mitt Romney
24% Mike Huckabee
16% Ron Paul
16% Fred Thompson

2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz

Well, the only surprise is RUDY as my number one GOP choice. I feel I really need to shower. Repeatedly.

More later,

Sunday, January 06, 2008


A game is a game, and Seattle played a very good one yesterday. But what is interesting is the narrative that surrounded this game.

Media loves a narrative, a story which gives deeper meaning to mere recitation of facts. Sports provides a lot of potential for narrative, since it involves scrappy underdogs, unappreciated heroes, last chances of redemption, establishings of dynasties, and all sorts of stuff. Anything can provide the narrative, and, once found, it is cheerfully pounded into the ground.

Case in point, the posthumous fate of Sean Taylor, Pro Bowl safety for the Washington Redskins, who was killed in his home by an intruder mid-season. Since then, the Redskins have rallied, won their last four games of the season, made it into the playoffs, citing Taylor's memory as their spark, their "gipper" (As in win one for...). And that is a great thing, the team rallying behind a shared tragedy, and the NFL put Taylor's number (21) on all the helmets in memorial. A fitting and positive testimonial to the untimely passing of a great player.

But for the past week, we have been subjected to a relentless summoning of Sean Taylor's ghost, a carpet-bombing with his spiritual essence. The narrative was "Washington is going to go in and win for its lost comrade". Strong narrative, one of the strongest of the weekend's. And it was relentlessly pounded home in article after article, newsclip after newsclip.

And then the game hit. The Redskins went down 13 points with no response, and Taylor, their patron saint, was mysteriously absent from discussions. Had he forsaken them? But wait, two quick touchdowns in the fourth quarter and the 'Skins lead, and the announcers suddenly uncork about how Taylor was the spiritual leader of the team, bringing him out of the tomb like Lazarus, and how it was a near-certain thing that their guardian angel would see them through the last 8 minutes of the game (I wish I were making this up - it was like watching the announcers find Jesus in High Def).

But it was a game, a game played by mortals, and the Seahawks stiffened, rallied, and brought it back to win, 35-14. And suddenly the narrative, trotted out early, fell apart, leaving the announcers to pick up the pieces, sputtering praises of the late safety even as the Seahawks ended the Redskins season. When the 'Skins were ahead, the narrative was divine intervention from the afterlife to bring victory - the Hand of God. When they lost, their guardian angel was quietly shelved, and you could hear the disappointment from the announcers that reality did not comply to the cool story.

Of course, there is the little matter that the Seahawks won by 21 points, Sean Taylor's number? 21. I haven't seen anyone make a divine connection between the two facts. I wonder why?

More later,

Postscript As one narrative falls, another rises in its place. Seattle goes to Green Bay next week. While the narrative could be "Old coach comes back against QB he taught", it is more likely the narrative will be "Seattle QB said something stupid the last time the two teams played - will God punish them this time as well?"

Saturday, January 05, 2008


Front page, Seattle Times:

Hasbro to Buy Seattle Game Company
Fate of 80 local employees not determined.

Cranium was a quirky, successful party game that rewarded players for diverse abilities (while Trivial Pursuit rewarded the knowledge-based players, Cranium rewarded trivia, creativity, performance, and language skills. What made Cranium particularly successful was their marketing push - they eschewed traditional toy markets for sales in Starbucks and on the web. Cranium (the company) put out a variety of spinoffs and new games, though as is often the case, their first strike was their greatest success.

Cranium early in 2007 laid of 20% of the work force (something not noted in the Seattle Times article, but it's in the P-I, along with a lot more analysis and a lot less business rah-rah), but at the time declared they were not up for sale. Now they have been sold, and the founders are publicly stating they are heading for the exit 60 days after closure, staying around to help with whatever the new organization is. The "fate of the 80 local employees" remains unaddressed in the article.

Last paragraph in the Times story mentions the last Hasbro purchase in the area - Wizards of the Coast, for a reported $325 million. The current actions regarding Cranium are in keeping with Hasbro's expansion policy, which is to seek out successful games which have established themselves in related territories.

More later,

Friday, January 04, 2008

This Kobold Rising!

Issue #3 of Wolf Baur's Kobold Quarterly is out, which means it is time for my printer to run out of ink (yes, I get it PDFed and then print it out, but he is offering print versions as well). The issues are getting thicker over time, and yes, it reminds me of the very early DRAGONs a great deal, both with its heady mixture of Big Names and Newcomers, its cheery level of unapologetic detail (a multi-page article on the math behind the Power Attack), and its increased advertising, most of it from small companies that I have not heard of before. It is an amazing return to the good old days, only better.

More later,

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Meanwhile, Back at the Strike ...

So let's look in on the writers, shall we?

Things have been pretty quiet for the past month. The major corporations delivered their non-negotiable demands, walked away from the table, sent out a press release that it is all the writers' fault, and have refused to meet since.

I know you're expecting a punchline. There isn't one. That's pretty much what happened.

Yeah, you'd expect the UNION to come up with non-negotiables, but it is the management that is holding firm and demanding the Writers give up concessions before they will even THINK of coming back to the table.

This is of a bit of concern in Hollywood, where the city council held a meeting on the impact of the strike. Management blew them off as well.

Now, things ARE happening. While they can't get Leno and Conan and Stewart and Colbert back as WRITERS, they CAN get them back as PERFORMERS. So the late night shows will be back on the air, primarily to plug the latest dollops of popcult excreted from the entertainment mills. Yeah, that's going to go down well with the talent. I expect Colbert to show up on his first day in chains.

Now as performers these guys have a contractual obligation to show up, and the media gets to play it as "life gets back to normal despite those silly writers." But there is a fly in the ointment, a fly named Letterman.

Letterman has his own production company (unlike Leno and the rest, who are employees of their various operations). And he cut a deal. He said "Yeah", as in "Yeah, I agree to the Writer's Guild points, and will abide by them, and when this is all over, I'll join with whatever deal is going on". So he gets his writers. He also gets Robin Williams as his first guest. Leno? He's getting Huckabee. Good luck with that.

So this gets spun (as everything does) as how this is going to break the WGA, because a handful of guys get to go back while the others are stuck on the picket lines. Actually, it seems to be having more effect on the Bigs, as Letterman's operation gets Most Favored status and a podium on which Letterman can relentlessly pound away at the corporate masters (a favorite sport of his). So instead of keeping the strike relatively quiet ("Nothing to see here, move along"), it will get a higher visibility.

And it puts the other talk show hosts in a bind as well - don't talk about the strike and be corporate suckups, or talk about it and displease the corporate masters. This ought to be fun.

But in the meantime, enjoy the comic stylings of Woody Allen drinking tea.

More later,

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Road Trip

If I am ever kidnapped, I want you to know that this is how it would happen:

A couple days ago, I was leaving the house for a small errand - buying my mother a birthday card. I get in the car and pull out to the end of my driveway and wait for an oncoming car to pass.

But the oncoming car does not pass. Instead it pulls over right in front of me, and an elderly Asian man jumps out, with a piece of paper in his hand.

Not knowing any better, I get out of my car.

He's lost. He's looking for an address. I look at the address - it is one street north of here, but in the 5600 block, about five miles to the west (Much of Seattle is laid out in a reasonably-understood grid). I inform him that he has to go west, down off the hill, across the highway, and maybe across the Green River.

"You show me, please," he says, giving me an appreciative squeeze on the shoulder, and runs back to his vehicle.

Mind you, my original intent was to drive the four blocks to a card shop, not to drive five miles through traffic to look for a mysterious address. And yet I do it. It makes more sense to help than to come up with a lame excuse not to.

At the first light, the guy (his name is Mr. Cho) jumps out of his vehicle again and gives me the note so I know the exact address. I come down off the hill, cross the highway, and almost reach the Green River. The address is in the light industrial area of northern Kent, a maze of tangled streets. I get lost. I have to ask for directions. Mr Cho follows, his faith in my ability unaltered. At last I find it.

Mr Cho is happy, though place is closed, "I need to know where it is," he says, "I live about three blocks that way" he adds with a smile. And he leaves and I am left to find my way back to the card store. He was a nice guy, and he took me on a little adventure.

Now, I have noted before that I have the words "Talk to Me" written on my forehead, and have been hit up for directions and aid at odd moments by a variety of people. I also know that these words are readable in French and German. But for the first time, I found out that they were also carved there in Chinese, and can be seen from a distance of a quarter mile while sitting in my car. Such seems to be my fate.

But if I ever go mysteriously missing, it's because someone asked me to find an address for them in Australia, and asked if I would take them there. And I didn't think twice before saying yes.

More later.