Monday, March 29, 2010

The Return of No Quarter (Part I)

There is the old adage: The reward of doing your work is more work. I slog through 50 states worth of quarters (with an added bonus of a few of our imperial properties), and what does the mint do? Back up a truck with more quarters.

This time, we're not talking about states per se. No, this is the America the Beautiful series, which gives each state a second chance at self-promotion, but this time with a stated topic: National Parks or National Sites (in case your state doesn't have a National Park) or National Forests (if you're really hurting).

And I, for one, am of two minds about covering all this. I'm thinking we're looking at eleven years worth of mighty vistas and scenic views. And I wonder if the Internet will still be around by the time I get to the end of it. On the other hand, the previous guided tour through America's coinage was so much fun.

OK, I'm in for another go-around. Let's begin:

Hot Springs - Arkansas

How does Arkansas rate as the first quarter?

I mean, Yellowstone is the FIRST national park. But Hot Springs was made a federal reservation back in Andy Jackson's time, though no legislation was passed to protect it and a bunch of people claimed it before the feds moved back in and chucked out all the squatters in 1877. So when the national park service was founded in 1916, Hot Springs moved over to that department, and in 1921 it became the eighteenth (and smallest) national park. But it was still "founded" way back.

Yeah, it feels like we're splitting hairs here to me, too.

The Hot Springs quarter depicts the first Dancing Water fountain outside Vegas. No, sorry, it actually a fountain in front of a facade of one of the buildings. Not quite sure if the fountain depicted is in front of the doorway depicted or not, which takes it perilously close to my pet peeve of throwing a bunch of stuff on the coin in hopes something sticks. But this one excavates itself with a nice balance.

OK, not an auspicious start to a series about the Beauty of America, but maybe we'll appreciate it better after we get tired of all the mountains and forests that are coming up. And to be honest, the design is pretty solid, and how are you going to show a lot of hot water, anyway?

And here's a general question - if we've known all such places like this, with superheated water and other volcanic tell-tales, why are we surprised to discover that there is an earthquake fault running up the middle of the country? But that is incidental to this quarter.

Rating: B (Not Bad)

Yellowstone - Wyoming (and a bit of Montana and Idaho, but that's OK, they're willing to share)

Wyoming seems to have gotten the memo - their previous state quarter had all the soul of a video game slug and all the deep artistic vision of a mudflap. This time out, they put the pieces together nicely, even if it means parking a bison over the warm, muddy earth of Old Faithful.

This is a good quarter, and one that you're going to have a hard time confusing for some other wild outdoor scene. Being early in the sequence this time, they get first dibs on the american buffalo, which I believe is now the most popular mammal on our coins after mankind.

Rating: A (Way Cool)

Yosemite - California

So here's one of the challenges to running through the states a second time - what happens when you shot off your big guns the last time around? The previous California quarter was a testament to John Muir (who photographed Yosemite), Half-Dome (at Yosemite), and the California Condor (who was ... um ... vacationing near Yosemite). Now with this new coin we're back at Yosemite again, but this time with a shot of El Capitan, the biggest block of granite in the world.

And here I already made my Star Trek joke about Kirk climbing El Capitan in Star Trek V: Please Make the Hurting Stop. Seriously, they deserve bonus points for NOT showing Spock in a levitation harness mocking a climber. But they did do more than just show a big block of rock, with foreground, middleground, and background pieces.

On the other hand, we're three coins in and we're already looking at repeats? Would the natives of Los Angeles riot if you put the Golden Gate on this one?

Rating: B (Not Bad)

Grand Canyon - Arizona

Another repeat, though like Yosemite coin, it is an improvement over the mishmash of images from the first try. Almost as if the state quarters were rough drafts for this second set.

This is another shot of the Grand Canyon, but unlike taking one from the top (with the misplaced Saguaro cactus), we are halfway down the side, getting a beautiful panorama. As a bonus, the shot takes in the granaries which were used by the Native Americans for storage in the area, managing to unite both the man-made and natural in a way that the Hot Springs coin does not

I think this one is my favorite of this year's crop. I like the sense of depth it gives as the canyon snakes into the distance. Plus, it is a part of the canyon you don't see from the normal vistas. I really want to see how its texture feels when it is released. A good carving can really make a coin like this come alive.

Rating: A (Way Cool)

Mount Hood - Oregon

Well, here come the mountains, at least. I'm probably going to get tired of them by the time we get the end of it all, and there will probably be a quiz or something.

Why Mount Hood? Well, because they put Crater Lake on the State Quarter and, unlike Arizona, couldn't figure out a good way to bring it back for one last curtain call. So we see the majestic Mount Hood, surrounded by the living barrier of killer pine ents which are used to keep tourists from Washington State from climbing it. Unlike the California coin, it is just a vista without anything in the foreground, which actually leaves it feeling a little empty.

Rating : C (Kinda Lame)

That wraps the first batch - a couple promising ones, and no real clinkers. It's an OK start.

More later,

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Realms and Remembrance

The previous write-up on Marvel Super Heroes generated a lot of response, so I started in on covering one of the biggest worlds in FRPGs – The Forgotten Realms (I may double-back for Dragonlance, or not. I dunno). As with the MSH write-up, a lot of this material is already common knowledge, and some of it is not so much.

1) The original Forgotten Realms was a setting created by Ed Greenwood. I tag along as co-creator when it comes to the published product you’ve seen (starting with the Grey Box). I’m the sidekick in this relationship, or as I tend to put it - he's the architect, I'm the engineer.

2) The Realms predates D&D, and was a setting for Ed’s stories long before there were RPGs. It joins Greyhawk (miniatures game) and Tekumel (stories and language) in that category.

3) The first FR story was written in 1967 by Ed, One Comes, Unheralded to Zirta. It involved Eliminster, Mirt, Waterdeep, and magical crossdressing. Ed was eight years old at the time.

4) Ed was an early adaptor for D&D and soon began to send articles into DRAGON Magazine. He would couch them in a framework of “Elminster drops in on Ed and raids his fridge and tells Ed about Seven Magical Swords of the Realms”. Initially the editors would cut out those parts, but after a while they relented and the rest of the world would find out about Elminster and the Realms.

5) In the wake of the success of Dragonlance, TSR management were suddenly interested in publishing another world, because Dragonlance might peak and then where would we be? (quit laughing, it was a reasonable concern). I was the poor schmuck that pointed out that Ed was writing things about his world and maybe it would be interesting to find out more? And that was how I ended up working on FR and serving as product manager for the early years.

6) TSR bought the Realms for a relatively modest amount of cash, a Mac Plus computer, and promise to publish novels he wrote. Later, when we were very happy with him, we bought him a hard drive to go with the computer.

7) Ed started sending me his typewritten notes. At the time Ed had access to a photocopier (as a librarian) but not the now-ubiquitous cut-and-paste feature of the computer. So he would write stuff up, cut it up physically and photocopy the results. This resulted in huge masses of text. Plus the ‘t” key of his typewriter was non-functional, so he would go in afterward and draw in all the “t’s”. It was like reading a little graveyard on every page.

8) He also photocopied his original maps and sent them. I believe the original Realms map was on 24 8 ½ by 11 sheets of paper. The original map of Waterdeep was larger still, and ended up being the inspiration for the City System product. When we got the maps, we spent a day fitting them together. I colored the originals in with yellow (roads), green (forest edges) and blue (water edges) highlighters.

9) The maps were hand-drawn and lettered, which led to some confusion. The “Lost Empire of Cavenauth” was originally a site on Ed’s map known simply as “cavemouth”.

10) Ed was always very accommodating about changes made to the original Realms maps. We drained half of the Great Glacier, redrew the Moonshae Isles, and added Ten Towns, among other things, before the product saw print.

11) The Moonshae Isles as they are known today were the product of Doug Niles. At the time, he was working on a Dragonlance-type world with TSR UK, and had half a novel written when that project (and the creative side of TSR UK) went casters up. At the time Ed and I were working on the campaign setting, and while both of us planned for novels, we had no time. That was how “Darkwalker on Moonshae” became the first Forgotten Realms book and the first Forgotten Realms product.

12) The initial wave of books were: “Darkwater on Moonshae” by Doug Niles, “The Crystal Shard” by Bob Salvatore, “Spellfire” by Ed Greenwood, and “Azure Bonds” by myself and Kate Novak (better known to readers here as The Lovely Bride). No, none of us realized that a supporting character from Bob’s book would be the breakout star, and would become the Fonzie Fonzarelli of the Forgotten Realms.

13) I contributed Festhalls to the Realms. Ed’s original city maps had a high population of brothels, which made them inadvisable to publish. Our choices were rename them or rekey all the maps. I came up with the festhall name, which by definition spread out to handle a multitude of sins (feasts of both foods and flesh, and a bit of day spa added as well). I am very aware when someone else uses them in a fantasy novel.

14) Ed called his campaign the Forgotten Realms with the idea that the Realms were always there, right next door, but we had forgotten them. The people that lived there called their area Faerun. Ed had no name for the planet, and I contributed the name of my home campaign – Toril (originally Toricandra – I was a CS Lewis fan (though not of Narnia, surprisingly)).

15) Ed’s gods emerged mostly unscathed. I added Waukeen because I felt we needed a merchant god. Waukeen was a god created by one of my players, who decided to worship money – in particular the Walking Liberty Silver Dollar (hence, Waukeen – no connection to anyone named Joaquin).

16) I checked with one of our editors who was wiccan if any of the gods would raise hackles from people who might worship them. The only one she tagged was Tyche, which I turned into Tymora but otherwise left intact. However, I did not remember the map tags, so the original project went out with Temples to Tyche marked on them. Later we would retcon them with Tyche being a Luck goddess separated into good luck (Tymora) and bad luck (Beshaba).

17) For the original maps I wanted a parchment-look for them. What we ended up with what a friend and manager referred to (loudly) as “urine-yellow maps”. He demanded they be replaced with future expansions, with a color I referred to (loudly) as “Fiestaware orange”.

18) I was always very proud of that plastic overlay in the grey box, by the way. We had done hexgrids for the beautiful Greyhawk map and Dragonlance, so I wanted to get away from a hexed look, but still be useful to players. The big openness on the map was so the players could add their own stuff. The idea was so cool Mayfair games lifted it for their City State of Invincible Overlord, keeping the plastic template and only erasing the FR logo on it. It didn’t fit with their product, but it was cool-looking.

19) Sembia was originally a territory that scheming merchants came from in Ed’s campaign, and we didn’t have a lot to go on past that point. The book was already groaning for space, so I decided that Sembia was to remain open space for players to toss their existing campaigns into. Later, the book department decided that for the Horde trilogy, the Tuigan Horde would roll through Sembia, and on that basis, I broke my own promise and went there in a comic book story. Then Horde ran out of steel in Impiltur. Hah! Fooled me!

20) Just as the maps were supposed to look like parchment, the interior was supposed to look like an old book as well. Which is why the original set was printed in brown ink on brown paper. I was worried it would be too dark.

21) A lot of what we concentrated on in the original boxed set was based on what Ed had written up. That’s why we had a lot on Rashemen and the Dales and not so much on, say, Impiltur and Sembia. Most of the material in the summary and game mechanics is mine, most of the material in Elminster’s Notes is Ed (well, edited Ed).

22) The guy on the cover? I have no idea who he is. I think we retconned him later. He was a great Keith Parkinson art piece, and I loved it.

23) I was also very happy with the cover of Forgotten Realms Adventures, which had a female paladin on a clydesdale unicorn. I think it is one of the few times I’ve ever convinced Clyde Caldwell to draw a woman in full armor.

24) The “Year of the X” construction for the years was Ed’s. It allowed him to pull some past year out of his ears in play and create the illusion of history. Years later we would fill in all the rest of them (Though I don’t think they kept my “Year of the Screeching Vole”).

25) We retrofit a number of D&D Products that were in the works into the Realms, including N5, Under Illefarn, the Bloodstone Pass H series, and I3-5, which were being repackaged. Part of what made this work was the idea that the Realms was everyone’s campaign from 1975, and was supposed to be able to handle most of what the DMs would throw at it.

26) One manager demanded zeppelins at one point. I rolled my eyes and called Ed. He pointed out that he had already done the Skyships of Halruaa for DRAGON about a year previous. I was pleased to present that material to the manager.

27) I ended up the de facto product manager for the Realms line because I knew where all the bodies were buried when we created the first boxed set. During that time, I ended up talking with Ed once or twice a week (he was in Canada) and working through things.

28) “Waterdeep and the North” was scheduled before we realized we would not have any room for “and the North” in the product. And as it was, we had to go to mouse type to fit in the Guilds. “The North” finally was addressed in “The Savage Frontier”.

29) One of my greater regrets (and I’m only sharing one) involves “Empires of the Sands”. Scott Haring did a marvelous job on the project, but in production, one of the plates for the maps was reversed and printed backwards. At the time, the company promised that they would catch it in the next printing, but they never did, to my knowledge.

30) My “era” of the Realms is pretty much framed by the Grey Box and the Forgotten Realms Adventures Hardback. I would write stuff after this, including the “Gold Box” version, but the schedule for the product line would be less impacted by me and Ed’s original notes, and after this takes flight with other people’s contributions. It includes the early sourcebooks and big 128 page perfect bounds and the comics and the early novels and the Time of Troubles. After that I was moving on to other matters, and leaving the Realms in good hands.

31) And to that end, thanks to Karen and Julia and Steven and Jim, who contributed to the original and kept moving forward. And the editors and designers who brought their own visions to the years as we moved forward. And of course, to Ed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Right to Be Illin'

It should be obvious I support the recently-signed health care bill. I have lived the freelance life before, and I have a lot of friends who live in that weird twilight world of insufficient or nonexistent coverage (and by twilight, I mean "shades of gray ignored by the rest of the world", not "sparkly vampires"). I would like to see a strong public option and more comprehensive plan, but I am willing to take these first steps forward.

So it is with raised eyebrows that I see that our state's attorney general, Rob McKenna, is going to court over the bill, citing it as unconstitutional. It's an interesting approach, but I wish he wouldn't drag the rest of the state in along with him. He's cheesed off a large number of people (including our previous attorney general, who is now governor), though our sweetly conservative Seattle Times is trying to give him cover.

I'm not going to go after McKenna as a conservative - he strikes me as being all over the place, and in some places (like wanting to release the names of people who sign petitions) is more liberal than I. And I severely doubt that this is the political suicide some worthy heads are calling it, though I don't think that re-opening the Medicare D "Donut-Hole" and making the supposed 500,000 uninsured Washingtonians uninsured once more is a strong platform for re-election.

But I do think he's on thin ice, constitutionally. The argument that requiring health insurance is unconstitutional? That strikes me as a bit wobbly. I mean, if he manages to get that, I'm looking forward to seeing him fighting just as hard to repeal home-owner's insurance and car insurance (particularly since I once got mightily dinged for not presenting proper insurance paperwork at a traffic stop).

In the meantime, I'm looking at the current state budget hole and wonder if this is the best spending of time and effort from his office.

More later,

Update: So there is a Facebook page for Washington Tax Payers [sic] OPT OUT of Rob McKenna's lawsuit [sic]. In two days it has 14k people on it. I was going to make a joke about how just about anything could get 14,000 people, but a quick check of "I Like Pie" only has 5000 supporters. What's the deal with that?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Norwescon 33

And since other cool kids are doing it - here's my current schedule for Norwescon 33:

Thursday, 10:00 p.m., Cascade 7
Massively multiplayer online role-playing games have revolutionized computer
gaming, and become the dominant model for computer role-playing games.
Thought about playing one? Are the acronyms confusing? Can't follow the
gaming chatter from your friends? Come learn about MMORPGs. Get suggestions
from our panelists on what type of MMO would fit your gaming style,
schedule, and budget.
Donna "Danicia" Prior (M), Jeff Grubb, Julie Haehn

Saturday, 11:00 a.m., Cascade 8
Forgotten Realms: Past, Present, Future
Since 1987, this campaign setting has grown and developed, generating over
two hundred novels, dozens of computer RPGs, and a host of adventures and
gaming supplements. Join our distinguished group of gaming professionals as
they discuss the Forgotten Realms and their parts in developing it.
Jeff Grubb (M), Richard Baker, Bruce R. Cordell

Saturday, 1:00 p.m., Evergreen 3 & 4
Autograph Session #2
John P. Alexander, Carol Berg, David Boop, SatyrPhil Brucato, Ted Butler,
Bruce R. Cordell, Dr. John G. Cramer, Jeff Davis, A.M. Dellamonica, Cory
Doctorow, etc.

Saturday, 4:00 p.m., Cascade 5
Comic Cross-overs and Tie-ins
As comics become ever more mainstream, more tie-ins are coming from popular
video games, TV shows, and books. A look at the unique aspects of writing in
an established universe defined by a different medium.
Greg Cox (M), Jeff Grubb, Brandon Jerwa

Saturday, 9:00 p.m., Cascade 8
Novelization of a Game
Many video games today have accompanying fiction which often provides a more
detailed storyline of current events as well as past or future action. Many
role-playing games have companion series of novels expanding their worlds
with characters and cities and events that become canon in that setting.
Join our panelists as they discuss how a game's setting is translated into a
novel that, in turn, gives back to the game.
Jeff Grubb (M), Richard Baker, Saje Williams

Sunday, 11:00 a.m., Cascade 8
Playing God, Part II: Gods and Religion
Part of world building is designing the pantheon responsible for the whole
thing. Our game experts discuss how they go about filling the cosmos with
deities worthy of a hero's worship; and how they manage to stay upright on
such a slippery slope as religion in gaming.
Sean K Reynolds (M), Jeff Grubb, Christian t. L. Mecham

My only question is how did I end up being a Moderator? They must have rolled random for initiative.

More later,

Saturday, March 20, 2010

All In the Family

So with all the updating on secret Conservation Illuminati voting, I haven't had much of a chance to plug the upcoming Family Games: the 100 Best, edited by James Lowder. Here's the list of worthy authors and subjects - see how many of each you recognize.

Foreword by Mike Gray

Introduction by James Lowder

Afterword by Wil Wheaton

1. Carrie Bebris on 10 Days in the USA
2. Steven E. Schend on 1960: The Making of the President
3. Dominic Crapuchettes on Apples to Apples
4. Mike Breault on The Awful Green Things from Outer Space
5. Jeff Tidball on Balderdash
6. Keith Baker on Bang!
7. Bruce Harlick on Battleship
8. James Wallis on Bausack
9. Paul Jaquays on Black Box
10. Lewis Pulsipher on Blokus
11. Teeuwynn Woodruff on Boggle
12. Fred Hicks on Buffy the Vampire Slayer
13. James Ernest on Candy Land
14. Ian Livingstone on Can’t Stop
15. Bruce Whitehill on Careers
16. Jared Sorensen on Cat
17. Wolfgang Baur on Cathedral
18. John Scott Tynes on Clue
19. Alessio Cavatore on Condottiere
20. Elaine Cunningham on Connect Four
21. Will Hindmarch on Cranium
22. Erik Mona on Crossbows and Catapults
23. William W. Connors on Dark Tower
24. John D. Rateliff on Dogfight
25. Robert J. Schwalb on Dungeon!
26. jim pinto on Dvonn
27. Gav Thorpe on Easter Island
28. Jeff Grubb on Eurorails
29. Kenneth Hite on Faery’s Tale Deluxe
30. Richard Dansky on Family Business
31. Warren Spector on Focus
32. Corey Konieczka on For Sale
33. James M. Ward on Fortress America
34. Stan! on Frank’s Zoo
35. Bruce C. Shelley on The Game of Life
36. Phil Orbanes on A Gamut of Games
37. Monica Valentinelli on Gloom
38. Matt Leacock on Go Away Monster!
39. Steve Jackson on The Great Dalmuti
40. David “Zeb” Cook on Guillotine
41. Jason Matthews on Gulo Gulo
42. Joshua Howard on Halli Galli
43. Bruce Nesmith on Hare & Tortoise
44. Mike Pondsmith on HeroClix
45. Anthony J. Gallela on HeroQuest
46. Chris Pramas on HeroScape
47. Ed Greenwood on Hey! That’s My Fish!
48. Colin McComb on Hive
49. Alan R. Moon on Hoity Toity
50. Jon Leitheusser on Ingenious
51. Uli Blennemann on Java
52. Luke Crane on Jungle Speed
53. Monte Cook on Kill Doctor Lucky
54. Emiliano Sciarra on Knightmare Chess
55. Todd A. Breitenstein on Liar’s Dice
56. Marc Gascoigne on Loopin’ Louie
57. Andrew Parks on Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation
58. Seth Johnson on Lost Cities
59. John Yianni on Magi-Nation
60. Bill Bodden on Master Labyrinth
61. Andrew Greenberg on Mastermind
62. Ken Levine on Memoir ’44
63. Scott Haring on Mille Bornes
64. Steve Jackson on Monopoly
65. Sheri Graner Ray on Mouse Trap
66. Kevin G. Nunn on Mystery Rummy: Murders in the Rue Morgue
67. Dale Donovan on The Omega Virus
68. Darren Watts on Othello
69. Charles Ryan on Pandemic
70. Michelle Lyons on Pente
71. Thomas M. Reid on Pictionary
72. Nicole Lindroos on Pieces of Eight
73. John Wick on Pit
74. Matt Forbeck on Pokémon
75. Robin D. Laws on Prince Valiant
76. Stephen Glenn on Qwirkle
77. Sébastien Pauchon on Ricochet Robots
78. Peter Olotka on Risk
79. Richard Breese on Rummikub
80. Jesse Scoble on Scotland Yard
81. Richard Garfield on Scrabble
82. Mike Selinker on Set
83. Rob Heinsoo on Small World
84. Hal Mangold on Sorry!
85. Jess Lebow on Stratego
86. Eric Goldberg on Strat-O-Matic Baseball
87. Andrea Angiolino on Survive!
88. Karl Deckard on Thebes
89. Dan Tibbles on Time’s Up!
90. Tom Wham on Trade Winds
91. Susan McKinley Ross on TransAmerica
92. Ray Winninger on Trivial Pursuit
93. Leo Colovini on Twixt
94. Matthew Kirby on Uno
95. David Parlett on Upwords
96. Lester Smith on Werewolf
97. John Kovalic on Wits & Wagers
98. Philip Reed on Yahtzee
99. Kevin Wilson on Zendo
100. Jess Hartley on Zooloretto

Appendix A: Games and Education by David Millians

Appendix B: Family Games in Hobby Games: The 100 Best by James Lowder

My contribution: Eurorails (and the Mayfair train games in general) comes out of the fact that my wife and I have played a lot of them over the year, and it was great to tell other people about them.

More later,

Update: Went through and boldfaced the games I've played over the years. What strikes me about the list is how interesting the pairings are - reviewers are definately going with favorites that feel outside the expected comfort zone. And now I have this desire to play "Hey, That's My Fish!".

Monday, March 15, 2010

Secret Ballot

All of our readers in King County are cordially invited to engage in a secret election tomorrow.

No, really.

There is an election for the King County Conservation District. This is a large organization that advises on land use in rural King County - things like putting more subdivisions in and protecting wetlands. Pretty important stuff, but it doesn't rate inclusion in the general ballot.

Answering the obvious question: Apparently, it doesn't rate because it has to pay for inclusion on the ballot, and that would be too expensive. Better to run a little election where no one is paying attention.

Answering the next obvious question: Yeah, I guess it DOES mean that we're paying for all those lame Tim Eyeman initiatives that show up every year complaining about government waste. Go figure.

Anyway, back to the main point. On Tuesday, there will be an election for the open position on the five-person board. And no, you didn't miss a mail-in ballot. Instead, you have to go vote in person. And, better yet, there are only SEVEN secret locations in the county you can vote. Yeah, its like a scavenger hunt, or one of those Alternate Reality Games, but this time with Democracy (next time, I understand, you'll only get to vote if you bring a policeman's helmet).

 Actually, this year, the Seattle Times has been paying attention to the election, as have sites like Publicola. But this is Democracy on the sly, the late-night vote, the conversation in the cloakroom. The best thing I can recommend is that you HUNT down the nearest location of the voting and GO VOTE. That'll show them.

Oh, right, recommendations. All of the candidate statements are here: I have nothing beyond that a couple recommendations. Those candidates who use the code phrase "Property Rights" usually lose me right off the bat.(1) Of the survivors, I will recommend Max Prinsen though I like Kirk Prindle's concern about over-engineered solutions.

So hunt down your secret ballot box and go secretly vote!

More later,

(1)While property rights are usually presented as "You should have the right to put a pig farm on your property", it usually turns into "Your neighbor should have the right to put a pig farm on HIS property. And then move, because who wants to live near a pig farm?"

Update: Went to the Bellevue Library at noon and the place was packed - 50 people in line. Went back at 3 and there were still 50 people in line (though a different 50), and after I voted there was another 50 behind me. Bottleneck at the license check, but otherwise it took about half an hour and was fairly painless, not counting the loudmouthed bass that was busy scaring the seniors and declaring "If a man doesn't have property rights, he doesn't have anything!". Just this side of electioneering, but they can't afford anyone to stop that sort of thing. I think its time for KCCD to put on its big boy pants and join the general ballot.

Update Update: The final vote count was 4232 votes, are which 1772 went to Max Prinsen, the winner. The Bellevue polling station was packed, as was downtown, which ran out of ballots for a while. Burien and Vashon stations were not so much.

Hardly voting-in-Iraq sort of uncomfortable but still a push for an enthusiastic electorate.

More, as they say, later.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

An Irrational Holiday

Grubb Street wishes you a happy and safe Pi Day, and celebrates by pointing you towards Stan!'s 10 by 10 Toon.

Hmmmm, Pi.....

More later,

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Only I could go to a comic book convention and end up at a parade. And the thing is, most people aren't surprised by this.

The Emerald City comic convention was this weekend, and, as for all other ECCCs to date, continued to bust the doors down on attendance, such that I'm going to have to start showing up on Sunday if I'm going to actually get to buy any comics. The ticketing problems of last year were more than readily solved by the convention team, but for most of the day the halls were gridlocked by masses of slow-moving fans and non-moving lines. Next year, I think they should go after the guys with the huge backpacks that move with all the grace of trailer truck carrying a house.

But it all went very well, and I touched base with a lot of people that ranged from "I saw them on Friday" to "I saw them LAST Emerald City Comics Convention", and there were a lot of hall costumes slowing things down as well, but at least they were entertaining (favorite - a little girl as Princess Leia, who was posing with some accurate Imperial Storm Troopers).

But I got my badge and walked down to the Pike Place market to pick some fresh bread and cheese for the Lovely Bride, and on my way back I was blocked by a parade that wasn't there before.

A St. Patrick's Day parade. And of course, I stayed to watch, since I part Irish. Well, Black Irish. Well, Black Forest Irish. But hey, it was a parade, which served the purpose of putting all the bagpiper players in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia together in one spot for an afternoon. And to the rest of Oregon,, Washington, and British Columbia, all I have to say is ... you're welcome.

Actually, the pipers were excellent, and there were other representatives of the Irish culture - wolfhounds, dancers, and DeLoreans, the last driven with gull-wing doors extended. And such regular trusted features as the Seattle Seafair Pirates, atop their chosen vehicle, Moby Duck. And the loudest group was, not surprisingly, the Seattle Sounder fans who brought up the rear. And they were competing with Seahawk fans (yeah, they had their own marching group).

Oh, and only Seattle would force a unicycle squad to maneuver uphill. They were cool, too.

It was nice, and the pirate cannon prepared me for the return to the convention. And afterward ArenaNet hosted a small meet-and-greet at The Elephant and the Crown. Sorry if you didn't make it.

So its a long day, and my feet are throbbing from the walk. But another strange day in downtown Seattle. You'd think I'd get used to it by now.

More later,

Friday, March 12, 2010

Buck Rogers

I've worked on a lot of Buck Rogers projects in the 80s and early 90s, and I have to say, I really LIKE this. The writing, the acting, the sepia tones - yeah, this is a web series I want to tune into:

Oh, you want a rocket ship? Here, have a rocket ship.

The site for all this is here.

More later,

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Grab Bag

First, I'd like to welcome author and 4E game designer Rob Heinsoo to the blogroll on the right. Rob promises more entries if I add him, so I'm going to hold him to this.

Also, I've been spending a lot of time with Steambirds, a brilliant little game by Andy Moore and Daniel Cook that evokes everything I like about Crimson Skies. The central conceit, that there is a more powerful engine available for flight, allowing heavily armored planes, fits nicely with the game itself. The interface is simple and the rules capture the basics of dogfighting while the alternate universe setting allows for non-standard weapons and attacks.

Finally, I've mentioned before that I've been listening to a lot of lectures on tape from the Teaching Company. One of them I enjoyed was on Lost Christianities, by Bart Ehrman, who is also the author of "Misquoting Jesus". Here's the first part of lecture by him that captures the gist of his larger lectures, and well worth listening to. You can follow the other sections on YouTube.
More later,

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


So I've come across two things recently, involving unwanted businesses, affecting the communities to the north and south of where I live.

For the newcomers, the home office of Grubb Street is located near Panther Lake, in unincorporated King County, between the cities of Renton and Kent, in the state of Washington. Renton is to the north, and I shop there, commute through there, and for a time worked there. Kent is to the south - I lived there for a time there and this is where I can find my doctor and some pretty nice restaurants. Because of our recent vote, the Panther Lake area will be annexed by Kent in the middle of this year.

Which brings me to the first item - I got a note from Kent laying out a number of meetings leading up to the annexation, and two of these meetings deal with casinos. Kent prohibits them, but there is a casino already in our previously unincorporated territory. It is up on Benson, a former pizza place on a slab away from the rest of the strip mall. It is (I assume) far enough away from the nearby Panther Lake School, though you can see one from the other. It is a squat, hermetically sealed bunker of a building, and I've never had the interest in seeing what changed from the days when I ordered pizza there.

But Kent does not allow gambling establishments, so when we join Kent, the casino goes away. Well, not so fast. Legislation exists to grandfather in existing structures and businesses, in part to facilitate annexation of those territories. Kent is going to hold meetings to see how they want to proceed. My opinion? Despite its location, it is not calling a lot of attention to itself, and the local Jack In The Box seems to attract more sketchy types than this tightly-shuttered gambling den.

Then, within the day, comes another bit of news picked up from Renton Councilman's Randy Corman's blog, that a strip club is planned to open near the junction of SR-167 and I-405 (while not being easily accessed from either). The site is tucked in a corner near the interchange, currently occupied by a closed Half-Price Pots store (I have a theory about Half-Price Pots as well, but I won't bother you with it here). It is close to a couple hotels and no private residences, but is also close to several businesses with day cares, including the FAA and Wizards of the Coast. I'm sure that the strip-club owners would be very disappointed to learn that they've moved into a nerd-abundant neighborhood.

The sign for the club is already going up, but city of Renton has put a six-month moratorium on new clubs, and looks like it is planning to make things as uncomfortable as possible for any ecdysiastic activities in the area, including enforcing the four-foot rule that went into the books in the first place to encourage clubs to go elsewhere (like, say Seattle).

Personally, I find I'm less easy-going about strip clubs than gambling houses. Not so much for the activity of the dancers, but because the strip bars dodge personal responsibility by making their entertainers "independent contractors" - like they were writers or something. Call me odd, but that sort of company behavior makes we go all wobbly and want to dig out my Pete Seegar union songs. Maybe found the International Sisterhood of Stage, Pole, and Lap Dancers (Local 112).

One of the concerns for the strip club is the clientele that it will bring to a insufficiently-desolate corner of Renton (There is already a (closed) casino along that stretch of road already). The Great American Casino/Former Pizza Place location at least has an established record for how disruptive it can be (and they should pull the police reports for the local, along with other nearby localities, including that Jack in the Box). Though the strip club (I roll my eyes at the euphemistic "gentlemen's club") missed a chance in naming the place.

Given its location, I would have called it the Renton Curves.

More later,

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Perils of Publishing

On the announcements here and here, I've gotten two questions:
1) Why didn't you tell us about this sooner?
2) Didn't I read somewhere you were working on a Star Wars book?

Here's my answer to the first question: A lot of writers post about their ongoing writing projects. I'm not one of them. Now, I admire those who keep the public informed with word counts, with the state of revisions, with feedback, and with each and every twist and turn on the way to publication. But I dislike raising false hopes, and in particular I hate admitting that a particular project "just didn't work out" or that I can't find a home for the cool work I've been telling you about.

In my long years toiling in shared world fiction, often while working for companies that manage those worlds, I've seen a lot of stuff happen. Ideas that sound good turn sour, or move down unintended passsageways. Good writers have bad patches. Bad writers have worse turnovers. Writing teams at the start of the project are no longer speaking to each other by the end. Computers crash. Deadlines loom and are missed, and sometimes by large margins. Cover art and artists switch. There are sudden changes in direction. Companies discontinue lines that novels are created for. Companies disappear. Plagues of locust. Rains of blood. Cats and dogs, living together.You know the drill.

I have a trunk book for a line that was published but the novel support was killed. I have another one for a publisher that has since vanished. I have had a project I referred to as Schrödinger's Book for the amount of time it spent simultaneously alive and dead. I have had projects in limbo. I have had things disappear into the aether, never to be seen by mortal man again.

For this reason, I am very wary of announcing things way in advance. Too much changes, even after an announcement. We all work on shifting ground, whether we are writing or editing. I usually keep my peace until there is some type of formal announcement, and even then, I hold my breath until I have the physical book in my hand, or the pixels on the screen.

And if it means that I am late to the party talking about, say, that I have an essay in the upcoming Family Games: The 100 Best, at least you'll know you're within guessing distance of holding the book in your hand, which strikes me as being better for both you and me.

And as far as the second question is concerned: Yes. You've heard somewhere that I'm working on a Star Wars novel. And that's where I am leaving it for the moment.

More later,