Thursday, May 27, 2010


So currently up at Booklife is a short interview with Matt Forbeck about the joys and pitfalls of collaboration, in regards to our upcoming Guild Wars 2 novel, Ghosts of Ascalon (which finally has the correct cover at Amazon).

More later,

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

DOW Breaks 10,000

Now how did THAT happen?

No, really, was it only a month and change ago that the DOW surged over 11k, and everyone was sure that whatever was wrong, it wasn't wrong anymore, and things were going to get better, at least for the masters of the universe and the social investment funds that propped up the stock market. And we could stop kvetching about how Wall Street was falling apart and go back to complaining about how Wall Street was recovering and leaving Main Street behind (again)?

And it doesn't seem that there IS any one villain here, according to the trades. Market correction. People are mad that the gummint is being mean to the bankers. People are mad that the gummint is being insufficiently mean to the bankers. Greece, Iceland, Spain, or your favorite floundering western economy of the week. The BP spill. The fact that the BP spill is still spilling. Government action, government inaction, or (shakes magic 8-ball) just a market correction after all.

Actually, I think one of the culprits is High Frequency Traders. These aren't real traders in the pits, but rather financial bots armed with primitive AI and very, very short attention spans. A lot of operations work off algorithm trading, making their choices based on computer models. The HFTs, however, work at blinding speed, buying into and then selling within fractions of a second, finding opportunities where mere mortal meatspace traders cannot follow. Indeed, they can see a large retirement fund lumbering towards a target, dance ahead of it to invest, and then, when the fund has purchased, quickly sell off from the resultant bump the purchase gives the stock value. Then do it again, at a speed that would impress The Flash.

Such HFTs also create a lot of churn in the market, and a lot of liquidity. And that seems to reflect in the fact that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. When stocks are trending up, they tend to follow that trend and help to perpetuate it beyond a supportable point. Similarly, when the market takes a short, sharp, shock, these same HFTs can be pulled quickly out of the system, drying up ready money and with it the liquidity that greases the wheels of modern capitalism. And that can make a sudden downturn a cliff for everyone still trading in Realtime.

This happened with the sudden precipitous drop a few weeks back when it seemed that the bottom fell out of the market (did I mention that these HFTs are not as regulated to the same degree as other investments? Ah, the joys of freedom of the marketplace). And now we see a general deflating as algorithms are rehoned and refined.

So there should be a lot of wild rides in the near future, and I would be unsure if we are moving upwards or downwards. But I am keeping my magic eight-ball handy.

More later, e

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Comics: Blackest, Darkest, Night Siege

Major Star Trek flashback - there's an old episode of the original series, "I, Mudd", where the crew has to confuse a whole bunch of androids in order to burn out their circuits. So Spock goes up to a pair of beautiful androids (played by twins), and says to one. "I love you." and to the other "But I hate you". The second beautiful android says "But I am identical in every way to the other android." "And that is why I hate you," says Spock, and the beautiful androids burn out their circuits dealing with the contradiction.

So that's how I feel about the two major comic book company "events", which have recently resolved - the "Dark Reign/Seige" sequence from Marvel, and the "Blackest Night" event over at DC. I've been trying to figure out why I like the former when those same reasons also apply to the latter, which left me frustrated and cranky.

For those who don't follow comics on a weekly basis, here is the short form. Over in the Marvel Universe, at the end of the Skrull Invasion (don't ask), Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin) emerges as a hero, and is given Nick Fury's old job of defending the free world. He then proceeds to hire every other villain in creation with the intention of creating a "permanent super-powered majority" that lets them be villainous (within limits) and keep the heroes from making a comeback. Meanwhile, over in the DC universe, a dark cosmic entity, Nekron, raises the dead to confront the living heroes, allowing DC to literally resurrect old deceased characters.

And from these bases, they spool out pretty darn similar. There are titanic battles. There are a plethora of tie-ins, which vary from intriguing to lame. There are more titanic battles. There are forgotten villains which suddenly see a lot of screen time (I swear the Griffon, a minor-league Spidey villain, has gotten more work in the past year than in the previous thirty). There are heroes returning from the dead (Steve Rogers is back, Aquaman is back, Batman appears as a skull, but HE's coming back as well). There are heroes engaged in redemption (Hal Jordan blew up the Green Lantern corps, Tony Stark wandered deep into supervillain territory - both are back on the side of angels (Tony reloaded a back-up personality, which creates interesting legal problems). There are way too many superteams involved (Rainbow Lanterns for DC, all the flavors of Avengers in Marvel). The core books feel like a lot of "coming attraction" trailers for other books that spin off. And both end with a sense of redemption - a Brightest Day which leads to a Heroic Age.

And yet it works for me on the Marvel side, and not on the DC side. So much so that I am looking forward to the next step of the Marvel ongoing story (Heroic Age), but not the DC (Brightest Day)(Note that the DC Brightest Day already cheesed me off through the gratuitous slaying of a Next Generation Hero (the Ryan Choi version of the Atom) - but that's a rant for another day). And given all the similarities, that contradiction should burn out my circuits.

I guess what it all boils down to is this - I grokked the Marvel characters and enjoyed the stories more than the DC version. Given my own background in the MU, I recognized most of the D-listers that filled up the panels (Mandrill, anyone?) and felt the whole Dark Reign/Siege was an event that let all the characters react according to their natures (a Marvel strength). Blackest Night, on the other hand, sort of put all the heroes in the same box, with identical reactions to the threat du jour. In the end, the various heroic factions coming together made a lot more sense in the Marvel end than on the DC side.

Heck, Marvel even made its Sentry character, the latest in their sequence of Superman clones, interesting.

But I'm still trying to parse out the difference between the two - megaevents that sprawl through multiple books. Both were big events that should have had personal resolutions, yet only Marvel seems to have pulled that off.

Excuse me, I smell burning circuits. More later.

Monday, May 24, 2010


This past Saturday, the Lovely Bride had a Tai Chi class in the morning, and a Tai Chi demo in the afternoon at the Seattle Center, which left a four-hour block of time in Seattle. So we went to the MOHAI.

The MOHAI is the Museum of History and Industry, tucked into a thin wedge of land between 420 and the Montlake Cut (don't sweat about it, they are moving soon). It is a nice history and tech exhibit, heavy on the settlers and salmon and Fisher Communications, surprisingly light on Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon. It is the final resting place of the Toe Truck, the Rainier R, and the cougar Eddie Baur shot. Boosterish but at the same time recognizing the racial challenges of the city (removing the Native Americans, Interning Nisei and Issei). Even Madame Damnable gets a passing nod.

But we were there for the Terror in America: The Enemy Within exhibit, a traveling show that will be running until 20 June. Sub-sub-titled 1776 to Today, it more accurately a history of the 20th Century of Terrorism, though it casts its net broadly. It name-checks the Boston Tea Party (which I would put down as vandalism as opposed to terrorism) and the burning of Washington (Done by an invading military force), but despite a large timeline to show the endemic nature of violence in American History, it really gets started with WWI sabotage and rolls forward from there.

And the general feel you get from the exhibits is that, while there were reasons for action (Union violence, Japanese spies, Communist agents), as much damage, if not more, was done through overreaction (Palmer Raids, internment camps, Red scares). In fact, we tend to seek sweeping results when dealing with the Other, and tend to bore down to individual crimes when dealing with groups that wrap themselves in the flag and faith (the Klan and the Militia movements). In the latter, we see the individual leaders being arrested and prosecuted, while entire families and classes of peoples where targeted when those responsible were members of minority groups.

It is pretty dour stuff, that reinforces the idea that we are still wrestling with the problem of balancing protection and basic rights, and all its takes is one action to crystallize the fears into action. Of particular amusement is a Jack Webb-narrated Red Scare film where Joe America wakes up to find the Commies in charge ("We tried to warn you, Dad! Sunday school has been closed by the State"). Interestingly, the film could be almost-effortlessly redubbed to represent our current right-wing radicals as the threat ("We tried to warn you, Dad! Sunday school has been closed for teaching about social justice").

The exhibit runs until June 20, and is worth catching, as is strolling through the rest of the mazelike exhibits (because we don't know what will be where when they move into their new digs). Check it out.

More later,

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thirty Years Ago

The Seattle Times did a good job on the current ecosystems here.

More later,

Monday, May 17, 2010

Someplace Special

Yes, I've been off the grid for the past ten days, on vacation, visiting family and friends in Pittsburgh.

No, I don't feel particularly responsible to tell anyone I was doing this in a public forum. In fact, all those continual posts I see from people saying "Hey, I'm at the beach this week" or "Hey, I'm at the local Starbucks!" is sort like saying "Hey, my house is empty and I won't be home for a while!"

Of course, when I DO leave for an extended period, I leave the lights on a timer, and my personal bodyguard, Steve "The Crusher" Miller comes in to make sure the dobermans (Hannibal and Lector) are properly fed and any stray trespassers are given proper rites and their scant remains buried in the back yard behind the shed.

But anyway, Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh itself was beautiful in May, ranging between heavy lightning-sparked downpours and warm cloudless blue days (and yeah, I have a little sunburn for a long walk without a proper hat). The trees have unfurled in a cascade of green shades, and the city's age works to its advantage - many of the trees planted decades ago now grace the area with the thick verdant cover. It remains a very green city.

The city itself (was in Downtown (correct pronunciation - Dahn-TAHN) picking up a nephew to take him to lunch) is pretty much pedestrian-based, and all they really have to do is shut down the side streets to all by delivery vans and it would be an effective walker's utopia. Part of that is the nature of 'Burghers themselves - if your vehicle is not physically in the crosswalk AT THAT SECOND, they feel they have right of way. It makes for an interesting experience.

As I mentioned I spent the week visiting family and friends. My nuclear family still all lives in the Greater Pittsburgh area, along with people I've known since high school. My parents are both, in the parlance, "getting up there" in years, but my father can still bid (and make) a three no trump bid at bridge. Yes, we played cards and the Lovely Bride and I did a little planting and we got the entire extended clan (including a married niece now living in Baltimore) got together on the Sunday before we came back.

And there were more sobering parts. My brother-in-law's brother-in-law passed on. As did the Lovely Bride's best friend's husband. And a lot of things I remember just aren't there anymore. At least I can say I caught a movie at the Galleria (we saw Iron Man 2) before they shut that down.

On the other hand, I managed to get back together with two of my groomsmen from my wedding for a gaming evening, and found another interesting new game - Draken, which is worth playing.

And now I'm back in the Seattle area, and recovering from the transit (Air Tran, by the way - Formerly Valujet - not a bad operation. The planes were not stuffed, and the gate crew seems to have their act together (if not the front desk)). So we may pick this up again and have a few more things to say.

More later,

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Caveat Lector

Those who come here seeking clues about what we’re up to regarding Guild Wars or other projects I am currently involved in tend to leave bitterly disappointed. I don’t talk much about what I’m working on, particularly in the office. I prefer to tell you when something is done, out, and available. But this time I relent in service to a greater cause.

In front of me sits the final galleys for Ghosts of Ascalon, by Matt Forbeck and myself. Four drafts, three galleys, a set of proofreading notes and all. And it is done. Checked, cross-checked, updated, revised and finally to the printer. It should be in your hands by the end of July. And I have to say that it is correct and complete, based on where the world and the game as it stands right this moment.

And that is an important set of weasel words - “right this moment”. Guild Wars 2 is still in development, and we will continue to grow the world and its stories as we move forward. We are a creatively fearless company, and we iterate and re-iterate a LOT. So if tomorrow we discover that hat color is a major component of the game, we will see charr wearing crimson sombreros by the end next week. But not in the novel. That boat, as they say, has sailed.

This would not be the first time I’ve seen the world change beneath my feet. Many years ago, I wrote The Last Guardian, for Warcraft. This was set in Azeroth, but in the Azeroth from before WoW, and the map I used was not the map that most people are now familiar with. Imagine my surprise when I started playing WoW and found that Stormhaven had been moved, and that Dalaran (then on an island, and known for its purple-tiled roofs) was now under a big dome (and now has been moved somewhere else entirely).

I’ve never written anything that was at Splinter of the Mind’s Eye level of disavowal (Luke and Leia have a love affair, which left everyone who saw Empire Strikes Back shuddering in revulsion), but I have seen that when you work with a living license, it will continue to evolve and grow and get better. What is here is a snapshot, beautiful, well-crafted, deep and meaningful, but a snapshot of a creative locomotive hurtling along the track, draped with asura all making additions and changes as it goes.

And one of those asura will be me, stressing my allusion-generator into the redline.

More later,

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

More Plugs

As if all the pluggage below were not enough, I've done a podcast with Ethan Parker over at Gamer's Haven, where I ramble on about Marvel Super Heroes, Call of Cthulhu and other bits of madness. The site is here, or you can download it directly here.

More later,

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Forty Years Ago

Allison B. Krause
Jeffrey Glenn Miller
Sandra Lee Scheuer
William Knox Schroder

More later,

Monday, May 03, 2010


My morning commute smells like mothballs, and to understand why you have to understand how houses are built in the Pacific Northwest.

Let's start off with roofs. Roof pitch is heavily influenced by snow load. You go up into the mountains, and the roofs get steeper, because you want to be able to shift that load to the supports. But with less-steep roofs, you also have less space underneath. No snow load tends to mean no attics.

Lets go down to the deeper levels of the houses, and here we see a time thing. Older houses tend to have basements, while newer ones not so much. Indeed, most basements have an ongoing fight about keeping dry, so sometime in the last 50 years they decided to drop them entirely. Particularly for the split level or tri-level houses, where the lowest floor was a quasi-basement, but a finished one.

So we don't have basements and we don't have attics. Where do we put our extra stuff? You know, holiday decorations and old books and stuff that we should throw out but may yet need? Well, we put them in our garage.

At Grubb Street, we have a house built in the sixties, without a basement or an attic, and with a one-car garage, pretty typical for the era. And since we have two cars and a lot of tools and stuff in the garage, we part out in the driveway, But I see larger, newer places with two and three car garages (I love the phrase used for them - Garage Mahals, and their owners are ALSO parking on the driveway. Why? Their garage is full of stuff.

OK, so everyone parks outside, but that makes for another problem - vehicles are more vulnerable to elements (including moss) and creatures. We know (from little cat prints on the hood and the alarm going off in the middle of the night) that feral felines often nap on the cooling hood in the night. But the greater peril is when mice get in under the hood. We've had friends with gnawed wires and found a dead mouse under our oil cap recently.

Hence the mothballs, slipped into some old hosiery (not mine) and tied to the undercarriage. And it seems to keep the hordes at nature at bay.

But it makes for a bracing morning drive of dichlorobenzene and camphor, at least until the smell clears out.

More later,