Friday, May 28, 2010

Dungeons and Dragons Friday: Default D&D?

So, I've encountered a problem In discussing D&D as though it's one body of work- It's not. This is, actually, obvious. Not only does every Dungeon Master run a different campaign with a different set of assumptions, but the Official D&D sources (TSR, WotC) have released a huge amount of material over the decades that features a just-as-huge level of variance. You've got your more-or-less vanilla fantasy of Greyhawk, your Tolkienian Dragonlance, your sci-fi-esque Dark Sun,all the way to the bug fuck craziness of a setting like Eberron, each of which breaks the D&D mold in interesting ways (with the exception of Greyhawk, as it more or less created the mold in the first place). Take, for instance, Halflings- in Greyhawk they are de-infringed Hobbits, roly poly pipe smokers who tend to thieving; in the D&D 4e, they're a kind of mini-warrior race; while in Dark Sun they're a feral cannibal race. Obviously, I'm going to have to be careful in how I assert my broad generalizations about this game. Because, you see, I plan on asserting quite a few.

So, let me propose a construct. Let's call it Default D&D. The basic idea is that if you were to get invited to three different games of D&D, run by three different DMs with three different groups of players, in three different decades, and not really given any information beyond that, you could make some assumptions that were reasonably likely to be true in all three games. You would probably show up to each game day ready to choose between playing Elves, Dwarves, Humans and Halflings, and then choose between magic users, fighters, thieves and clerics, with perhaps some more choices extending from there. You would expect the game to primarily feature combat in one form or another, and that you mainly be fighting some sort of non-human monsters. You would expect to be rewarded for your efforts with treasure and magical items. You would probably plan on there being goblins and giant rats and, somewhere out there, giants and dragons and evil wizards. These are all assumptions that you would probably make without thinking about it too much, and, I think this part is important, you would probably make them if you were interested in D&D but had never actually played the game before.

Consider it a sort of D&D oriented collective unconscious.

Where things like this can happen.

Now here's where things get a bit tricky: What would the game session itself be like? Unfortunately for my Default D&D construct, I don't think that there's a good answer that applies equally well from group to group, much less across the decades. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that, generally speaking, this is the area where the assumptions have changed to most over time . In the late 70s to mid 80s, adventures were primarily about the exploration of location. Go into the ancient dungeon and, well, see what's there (while trying not to die, of course.) At higher levels, you would go out into the Wilderness and again, see what's there. "Plots" rarely went beyond "Oh, hey, there's a totally awesome pile of treasure in this labyrinth and maybe you want to go get it?", and rarely but rarely did the world need saving.

These guys are there.

In the late-80s to sometime just before the present day, starting with the introduction of the Dragonlance campaign setting and ending at around the time of 4th edition's release, the emphasis shifted from location exploration to "succeeding" at a Tolkienesque narrative: stop some evil guy from doing a thing so that the world doesn't end, with a thousand thousand variations upon that theme. Dragonlance seems to have offered a particularly rigid version of this narrative centric play style, even going so far as to recommend that players portray characters from the various Dragonlance novels, and that if one of the characters died they be magically brought back to life at the beginning of the next module, so as to make the over aching story "make sense".

With 4th Edition, the emphasis has shifted yet again to a sort of hybrid of the two that came before. Dungeons are entered and explored, but now the emphasis isn't so much a free form process of discovery, but rather in forging a path to the next huge set piece of a combat encounter, wherein the players get to whip out their never ending panoply of awesome powers and the plot of the game is incrementally revealed. Again, please keep in mind that I'm purposefully speaking in generalities here.
Not default D&D.

For my own part, most of my play experience has been with the second Tolkienesque variety, though only rarely through published modules. This makes sense, as I "came of age" (in a D&D sense) during the early-to-mid 90s, when epic, Tolkienesque fantasy was enjoying a sort of renaissance. At the moment, I'm far more interested in the first style of exploration based play, however, and pretty much entirely averse to the combat oriented 4e style. And, as far as I'm concerned, these three emphases contain enough variation between them that they should probably be considered three different games. Still, I am going to lump them all together, or at least their trappings and general setting tropes, into my construct, and try to make it clear as to which emphasis I'm referring when it matters to whatever assertion I'm making.

So, Default D&D. Makes sense? It's a conceit, obviously, though a valid one. And it'll help later on.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Back to the Routine

You know what's even more difficult than starting a routine? Getting back into one. After almost a week of houseguests, everything still feels a bit out of place, and the monotony required to get a good blog going is hard to come by.

The guests, a friend of mine from high school and his three, almost four, year old daughter, were very enjoyable, and I got a chance to do some of those New Mexico things that one only does when guests are around. But man, it is kind of exhausting, isn't it? I wound up going to bed at 9:30 last night, and sleeping through most of Bryce's nap time.

Adding to that sense of exhaustion is the fact that today feels like the first taste of summer. It's only about 88 out there, which is pretty much a crisp Fall day by Austin standards, but it's just about the same temperature inside which is distinctly unpleasant. There was a time when I'd try to drag out asking the landlord to turn on our cooler, perhaps some sort of attempt to prove masculine prowess?, but those days are long gone. I expect to be knocking on his door shortly.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Just FYI for anyone who cares: We've got house guests through the weekend, so I don't think I'll be doing much in the way of posting until next week.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Letter of the Law

So far, this has been a week of getting almost nothing done. Oh, I have things on my agenda, lists that I've made being ignored on the fridge and other places, but it's been too easy to procrastinate my way out of those. If I have a fatal flaw, that's it, right there. It's just too damn likely that I'll put things off until the moment of their relevance is gone. Hell, I did it today with this blog post. Instead of writing a neat little article about all the various things I briefly considered at the beginning of Bryce's nap, I played a game on my iPad instead.

I wish I could blame technology for today's malaise. It would be so very pat to say that the modern age of distraction du jour kept me from my self-appointed tasks, but it's not true. I'm a dawdler, a procrastinator, a putter-offer by nature.

If there's a value in this blogaday project beyond anything worthwhile gleaned through the writing of individual posts (surely it must happen sometimes!), it's that it gives me a bit of accountability in my otherwise self-policed writing regimen. If I miss a day, somebody besides me will know. Even if it's just the google-bot creeping its way over an absense of words. There's an undeniable psychological effect to that, and maybe it'll work for me?

So, here you go, Internet, have some more words.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Season of the Moth

And now the moths are here. Last night, stepping out the back door to shut the chickens in, I triggered the yard light and was suddenly swarmed by dozens of non-descript grey-black moths, battering into my body and face in their sudden desperate need to get to the bulb. Moments later, after I finished with the chickens, I stepped back inside, and was followed by at least four of the winged nuisances. They immediately began kamikaze rushing the kitchen ceiling fan, the sound of their fat little bodies thwacking into the blades.

This is something I forget about every year until it happens. Late spring and cool breezes through open windows, grilling in the backyard with a beer and the company of chickens and dogs, and then one night Oh, yeah. These guys. The reason that we have screens in our windows despite having no mosquitoes.

I don't know what they are, and I don't think I've ever heard anybody refer to them as anything other than The Moths, but they infiltrate like no other pest I've encountered in this town. For a few weeks now, I'll be finding moths hiding in my bookcase, moths destroying their bodies agains the grated security door, moths landing on my face at night and shocking me into sudden frantic wakefulness. And the thing is, they are utterly the stupidest animals on earth until the moment I try to catch them. Then, they become all cunning and quick reflexes, and my hunter's pursuit is just embarrasing comedy. No, they'll starve to death inside my house, thank you very much, and my job is not to remove them to the outside world where they may pursue their mothly goals in the full flush of their vigour, but rather to gather up and dispose of their frail and tattered corpses.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Brutal Purge

I loaded up five boxes of books into the back of my car today, ready to cart them up to the Northeast Heights and sell them for money, or, failing that, give them away. Didn't I just do this a few months ago? How did I wind up with five boxes of books that I'm willing to let go of? Deepening the mystery, I can count on one hand the number of books that I've bought this last year. Where do they come from?

I understand where the migratory clumps of dog-hair that flutter across my floor come from. I have dogs, dogs spontaneously grow and lose hair. Maybe it's the same with bookshelves? To keep warm over a hard winter, a bookshelf will sprout copies of Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, The Mystic Mandrake and the Ace "bootleg" edition of Return of the King? But no, I know these books, there is no parthenogenesis involved. And yes, I will admit, I bought them all.

But... Why? I haven't read them. In however many years it's been since I acquired them from whatever bookstore I was working at, they've mainly just sat on my shelves, or, in boxes during and after moves, waiting for me to put them on shelves, where they will sit, unread, for an indefinite period of time.

Until a day like today, when I suddenly realize that I could use both money and space (given Albuquerque's used bookstore market, fortunately the latter more than the former), and it becomes time to kill the darlings.

No tears. Shiva! Guide my hand.

Friday, May 14, 2010

D&D Friday: The Trouble with Goblins

First of all, I missed the update yesterday, the first since I began this daily regimen. What can I say? When the two year old skips his nap (or, in this case, sabotages it) I don't get any time to write. The act of sabotage, by the way, was that he got a pack of wet wipes out of the drawer of his changing table and used the first thirty minutes of nap time to pull them out one by one and pile them up on the bed. Not only did this provide a nice alternative to sleeping for that time, but it also soaked his sheets, ensuring that sleep was impossible from that point on.

Anyway. Time for the weekly D&D meander.

This guy is three feet tall and thinks that he can kick your ass.

My intention in starting a Swords & Wizardry game was to play a classic Dungeons & Dragons campaign, with as many of the old tropes as I could stomach. Endless dungeons spiraling under the earth and mapped out on graph paper, random encounter charts, seedy taverns filled with seedy villagers who have come into possession of mysterious maps, and a vast array of monsters that don't make much sense if you think about them too hard. But there have been a few casualties of the Olde Ways that offended my sensibilities to the extent that I just couldn't bring myself to include them.

Goblins, for instance. I hate goblins.

As anyone who has ever played D&D or read through any of the endless numbers of Tolkien rip-off fantasy novels knows, goblins (and orcs and bugbears and hobgoblins and all those different "creatures" that basically boil down to the same thing with different hit points) only have one reason to exist: They are there so that "heroes" can kill some people without feeling bad about it, or even being particularly justified in doing so.

And yeah, I mean "people". There's nothing even particularly monstrous about a goblin. Let's see, they're short, dark skinned and, uh... as the Monster Manual informs us, they "have a tribal society". And that, apparently, makes them bad enough that the default assumption is that a group of players can slaughter a whole village (including women and children) and feel like they've performed some noble deed for the greater good, whether the goblins have done anything to deserve this or not. Oh, I forgot. They're "lawful evil", whatever the hell that means.

If they didn't want D&D genocide declared on them, maybe they shouldn't dress so provocatively.

Oh, you don't have to play it that way, of course. But if you've done as much D&D as I have, you can't deny that this is how it usually goes, and almost 36 years of Dungeon Master sanctioned goblin slaughter have left an irrevocable mark on the mind of the modern gamer- if it's a goblin, it's evil, and the DM put it there for you to kill.

I'm not going to get into the racial and cultural implications now, because plenty of people have dived into those waters before me, and, frankly, if you're still not seeing it, I'm not going to convince you today. Instead, I'm going to focus on an arguably more pertinent problem (from a game narrative point of view, anyway) with this mode of play:

It's frigging boring.

To me, the whole point of role playing is to imagine scenarios that require interesting decision making and that may evolve in unexpected ways. In D&D, one of the most potentially rich areas to explore these decisions lies in finding some weirdo people in the dungeon and trying to figure out what they're all about: Are they smart? are they good guys or bad guys? Can they be negotiated with? Will they try to trick you? What are they doing down here? When the dungeon weirdos are a bunch of goblins, the party already knows the answer to most of those questions (Not very smart; bad guys; can maybe be negotiated with; yeah, they'll try to trick you; who cares what they're doing? Start killing!) and the decision tree devolves into "when do we kill them?" and "how?".

Humans have clerics. Filthy, primitive goblins have shamans.

What to do? I mean, for my game, I want something with a bit of brain power and cunning living in the dungeons, and although having actual human beings fill in the goblin niche is attractive and opens up a wealth of potential complexities, the fact is that I like more of an exotic and otherworldly flair to the societies that lurk in the depths. So, in my campaign I've basically filled the goblin niche with ratmen.

Yeah, men + rats.


I'm not fooling myself. I know it's not a perfect solution, nor a particularly original one, but I think that it answers many of the problems neatly. They're reasonably exotic, and they're pretty much an unknown quantity. At the very least, the common conceptions of anthropomorphic rats range from the desperately nasty Skaven of Warhammer to the superintelligent and morally complicated scavengers of the Secret of NIMH, and there's no particular reason for a D&D player to assume they know where on the spectrum these particular ratmen are. True, a number of the characteristics we ascribe to rats themselves are present in my ratmen (cunning, fearfulness and perhaps duplicity and an unwholesome affect), but eeeevil isn't one of them, and in play it seems that my players are not as quick to leap to the slaughter as they would be with your bogstandard goblinoids.

Does it work? Well, the proof is in the pudding. I've played through the same ratman negotiation scenario with two different groups so far, and I'm pleased that the outcomes of each were quite different to each other- one party formed a guarded truce with the ratmen that soon broke down into hostilities, while the other forged a trusting alliance that has so far lasted the campaign. Importantly, neither group was entirely sure of what to make of the ratmen, the heuristic for this particular group just wasn't present and instead they had to judge them based on their actions and words. Exactly what I was hoping for.

In as much as both of these outcomes evolved organically from the players making decisions that made sense to them given the circumstances (and not because the creatures carried the DM sanctioned Goblin Badge of Evil), I consider the experiment a success.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


This beautiful machine is the latest acquisition by the BannGerald Museum of Anachronistic Communications Technology. It is the second acquisition by the museum, the first being a Royal Quiet DeLuxe typewriter that I've dutifully dragged every place I've lived since 1998. It is the "latest acquisition" by sheer accident of order, not because I got it any time recently- I've had it for at least two years. But here's the thing- when I picked it up for $5 at a flea market, it didn't work.

Then, just a few days ago, I dragged it out from a nook in the closet and kind of played with it for a bit, and now it works, almost perfectly with the exception of a non-functional backspace key. How this happened, I have no idea. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I can only assume that it repaired itself supernaturally, something like this:

Regardless of the particulars of its no-doubt demonically instigated self-repair, it's a beautiful machine, isn't it? You'll notice the extra wide carriage, suited for ledger paper and the like, the myriad strange levers that seem to have no other function than to make satisfying "thunks" or ratcheting "clicks". What you may or may not be able to tell from the picture is that it weighs a frigging ton. Seriously, if you ever need to club a deranged superfan who has been holding you hostage in her isolated snow-surrounded cabin to death, THIS is the typewriter for you.

Two Stephen King references in the same post? IT MEANS SOMETHING!

I wish I could tell you a little bit more about the age and the model, but it turns out there are so many Underwood models out there that most collectors' websites only list a few of the seminal ones as examples. Since I'm not willing to give this more than a cursory amount of research, I've decided to be satisfied with "cool, old Underwood" and leave it at that.

Well, there's one more obvious clue-

So, the typewriter did some amount of time with Stanolind Oil & Gas Company. A quick Google reveals that Stanolind was the name of a conglomerate of companies that eventually became the Amoco Corporation. The name Stanolind was only used between 1931 and 1957, so, uh... I've narrowed it down to only three decades! Go me.

But, this is New Mexico, so maybe that can narrow it down a bit further. Turns out that there was a flurry of Stanolind activity out here between 1947 and 1952 or so, with hundreds of oil wells drilled in the north and western parts of the state during that time, so that seems like a pretty likely window.

And now, a moment just to picture this self-same typewriter in 1951 being slaved over by a Stanolind secretary, some quiet spring evening in a hastily erected wooden shack out in a barely productive oil field. Ledger paper rests in the carriage as she takes a moment to cross check the figures on the yellow pad that hold the day's totals. Maybe the open windows let in the sweet tar smell of crude oil and the clank of machinery, or maybe they let in nothing more than the scent of the cooling desert as the sun goes down.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Taste Test: Barium Sulfate Suspension

First off, there's nothing wrong with me. Every six months, I go in for some testing to make sure that the cancer isn't attempting a encore in my lymph nodes. One visit a year is devoted to a CT scan, and that means I get to spend my morning attempting to down two pints of barium sulfate suspension.

The suspension is a contrasting aid. The idea is that it fills up your gastrointestinal tract so that your stomach and intestines easily stand out in the scan image. So, obviously, since the purpose is to fill up your whole digestive system, you have to drink a lot, and over a two hour period so that it gets down into the lower nooks and crannies that I'd rather not think about too much.

The first few swallows aren't too bad. It doesn't taste awful at all. In fact, it doesn't really taste like anything. It has the barest hint of vanilla to it, but other than that, it's just pure texture. A thick, chalky, slimy texture. And, with each swallow, it only seems to get thicker, chalkier and slimier.

The second pint is the worst. By the time you crack it open, you've probably been choking the stuff down for 45 minutes all ready, and have just been sitting there feeling your stomach fill up with... filling.

Did I mention that they tell you not to eat or drink anything for four hours before starting the suspension? That's because they want your stomach empty, so that when you puke it's easier on you.

Not that they recommend that you puke, but there's a good chance you're going to want to.

I've done this, four or five times now? Today, for some reason, was the worst. Maybe because I had an early morning appointment and thus had been de facto fasting (read: sleeping) for some 10 hours before starting the suspension. I had a killer headache and desperately wanted some coffee and eggs as I opened the first cannister. I didn't feel hungry anymore after the first swallow, but the headache stayed on. And I just felt worse and worse as I struggled through the first pint and a half.

In order to coat my esophagus in the right way, I was instructed to reserve the last half pint until I was actually in the room with the machine. My stomach gurgling, I dutifully choked it down, and managed to make it through the scan itself without any retching (good thing, too, because then they would have just made me start over). In fact, I thought I was in the clear as I walked out of the Cancer Center, started the car and then turned onto Lomas.

No. I wasn't in the clear.

I've never had the experience of vomiting while driving, and I'm happy to say that I avoided it by the narrowest of margins today. I pulled over onto the rough road in front of one of Albuquerque's most neglected cemeteries (the picture is from a different visit) and let the inevitable occur.

Back at home, Courtney made me drink water and brewed me some tea. About an hour later, she made me a grilled cheese sandwich and I felt better.

I am 0% thrilled with barium sulfate suspension.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Sudden Realization

If I'm going to be doing this blogging every day stuff, I really need to start hauling my camera around and taking pictures of everything. It would make an entry like today's more interesting, certainly.

See, if I tell you that I grabbed Courtney and the kid right after work on Friday and headed up north to Santa Fe, stayed the night, and the following day went trekking high into parts of Northern New Mexico that I've either never been to or never really took any time to get to know about, that's one thing. But if I could show you the pictures of the surprisingly lively downtown Las Vegas (NM, of course), or Montezuma's Castle (some strange stories on that web site, please take with a shaker of salt), or the 45 degree road to Morphy Lake, or the crumbling adobe churches of Mora, well, that would mean that I had been thinking of you, my dear readers (hi Ringo! hi Regis!) even as I was galavanting about these pastoral mountains villages with my family. Yes, thinking of you and how I might bring these morsels of my experience back for you to partake of and enjoy with me.

I totally wasn't thinking of you at all.

But next time, I will, I promise. Maybe the attitude I should be adopting here is to treat the every day experience as nothing less than an exotic trek into the wooly parts of the world. If I blogged about this banal stuff like I did about Prague or Pine Ridge, maybe I would start to embrace my life as a valuable experience that must, MUST be shared with others. That's the point of writing, isn't it? To find the value in your experiences and communicate it to others? Consider the rhetorical question answered in a loud affirmative grunt, a "hoo-ah!" even. Why not? It's my blog, I'll hoo-ah if I want to.

Anyway, the point is that I'm going to be downing a vial of barium sulfate contrasting solution prior to going through the "popcorn" setting inside one of UNMH's most expensive microwave ovens tomorrow morning and I'm going to bring a camera so that YOU, my treasured and more-or-less imaginary companions can enjoy the experience with me.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Dungeons & Dragons Friday

I just made this theme-day up, right this second. Why not, right? So, let's say, starting NOW, every Friday I'm going to post something related to role playing games, and since the one I'm currently playing is a knock off of D&D, I'll probably post about that.

Anyway, let me show you what I bought!

It's a box! With a dragon and a wizard on it and inside. . .

A bunch of little books and some dice and a... hmm... pencil.

So, yeah, this is a printed copy of the game I mentioned above, the D&D knockoff. Why a knock off? Well, this is a legal "clone" of the original 1974 ruleset, with better editing and a few little improvements. It's basically a way to buy a copy of the original set without spending $150 on ebay.

But, more importantly, this box represents the promise of the internet fulfilled. Why? Well, story time.

Once upon a time, back in the glorious 1970s, a bunch of crusty old wargamers invented a game where they could play around in a Swords & Sorcery world of their own creation. Pretty much everybody even slightly inclined toward such things dug it, and, after whipping up some capital, a couple of the guys printed up a few dozen copies of

a white box with some little books in it and some dice in a little bag. Probably no pencil, though. And, despite being poorly edited and formatted and having some of the worst illustrations you've ever seen in a "professionally" published product, it sold like frigging crazy. And, at this point, even as it was selling more and more copies, it was still just a bunch of guys who played a silly game and had a good time and nobody took it very seriously, and people who bought it made up their own rules and published their own material and DIY was the order of the day.

And, you know what happened next. D&D became a phenomenon and the money came in by the truckload and suddenly everything changed. The products became slicker and more well organized, TSR launched a war against the people who were publishing their own rules expansions and if they couldn't shut them down legally they adopted a tone of derision to sway their fan base away from anything but Official TSR products, there were corporate manipulations and underhanded backstabbings and boardroom coups and parents freaking out about Satan and a second edition was released that got rid of the stuff that freaked parents out and was even slicker and more expensive than anything that had come before and there were terrible novels and terrible cartoons and terrible movies and when the internet came TSR's legal department worked overtime sending out cease & desist letters and the company teetered on the edge of bankruptcy somehow and was bought out by Wizards of the Coast which was bought out by Hasbro and new editions were released that drew on the lessons learned from collectible card games and even newer editions came out that encouraged even more reliance on official TSR rules and, well, here we are.

For better or for worse, time passes and companies change hands and games change. But, to my mind, something important got lost along the way. Specifically, the idea that the game was ours, that it literally belonged to the people who played it. That the official rules weren't nearly as important as the fact that you were having a good time sitting around a table with your friends, and if TSR's interpretation of the Sleep spell seemed kind of dumb, you could change it, or if somebody really wanted to play a a robot, well, go ahead. In the beginning, the rules were put together by some guys hanging out in their basement trying to have fun; if they could do it, why not us?

But that culture was fragile, and as the books became more aesthetically impressive and the company that made them became more corporate in its structure and ruthless in its actions, new crops of gamers saw things more and more in terms of "right" (the official published way) and "wrong" (the dreaded houserules that threaten to derail a whole finely balanced ruleset). And, in those days, you basically had your choice of a small group of peers or the official products to look to for guidance, and as the original group of DIYers drifted away from the hobby, the official products gained more and more influence.

But now it's the age of the Internet! Essentially, what has happened recently is that the official Dungeons and Dragons game has moved radically away from its roots, with the fourth edition rules being almost unrecognizable when compared to the original, and very complicated. Seriously, kudos to the guys who thought this stuff up and spent untold hours testing it, it's a wonder to look at. But not a game that I feel like I can screw around with. However, the Internet has made it easier than ever for people who enjoyed the older systems to connect with each other, and something of a counter movement has formed, mostly centering around this guy and his various pontifications. Due to a bit of legal weirdness, someone in this group realized that they could legally put together a restatement of the original rules, and basically bring them back from the grave. And so they did.

And that's what this is. Swords & Wizardry was created to call back the DIY, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants make-the-game-your-own aesthetic that the original rule set encouraged. And, they've succeeded in creating a product that is at once a heartfelt homage to the spirit of the basement-produced original, and a fun, very playable game in its own right. Most importantly, it's a game that makes you want to take ownership of it for yourself. I know that I couldn't read through it without immediately wanting to try out new systems of my own devising.

That's what the internet should be for; it should put you into contact with things and people and ideas that encourage your creativity. It's strange that, for all its power to put powerful tools into the hands of almost everyone and then connect them with each other, so much of the net's output seems to be negative and cynical. Dammit, it's time to get past that.

After all, if those guys in the picture can make something awesome, so can you.

Still not sure that the pencil was necessary, though.

Awesome D&D horse by Lauren Gregg.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

A Triumph in Two Acts

Call it- The Trains and the Ant.

Act I- The pleasant pastime of railroading is interrupted when a Frightful Insect appears upon the tracks. A plaintive cry for help!

(For the benefit of ladies and children, the actual act of ant removal occurs off-screen, due to its intensity and drama.)

Act 2- The still-dazed conductor recounts the Tale of the Defeated Ant in a tone of wonderment. The railways safe once more, the trains resume their operations and peace is restored.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Not-Napping Nap

At this exact moment, Bryce is breaking The Agreement. For the non-parents who may be reading this, The Agreement is a sacred and binding, though unwritten (no point in writing for the illiterate, after all) contract that states something along these lines: I, the undersigned Papa, will feed you and play with you and take you to the park or the zoo and other fun things and generally devote the majority of my attention to you between the hours of 8am and, roughly, 1pm. You, the undersigned baby or toddler, for your part, will consent to snuggle up into your bed at roughly 1pm and, after the previously negotiated two stories (or one long story) and three songs (Hush Little Baby, Carrickfergus (1 verse) and I've Been Working on the Railroad) go to sleep for a nap of a length no less than one hour and no greater than 3. Both parties agree to uphold this contract under penalty of Papa/toddler crankiness.

Unfortunately, The Agreement is easily trumped by the whims of a two year old, and today that whim is for him to, apparently, throw his toy trains around the room and shove railroad tracks under the door. He won't actually open the door, because when he does this I immediately put him back to bed, so instead he attempts to exploit a loophole that if he remains in his room and doesn't sound like he's getting too out of control or hurt or something, I'll generally leave him alone and he can get away without actually sleeping. The problem is, of course, that this loophole doesn't actually prevent the aforementioned toddler crankiness (and, necessarily, the aforementioned Papa crankiness). Also, I will eventually relent if he goes for an hour like this, and bring him out into the living room, because really, what's the point? And, invariably, when I put him in the car to pick up Courtney he will hit the car-seat and immediately fall asleep, which is maddening.

I really need a lawyer to get that contract written up. But ever since he got optioned for a movie, Harvey Richards, Esq doesn't have the time for us little people anymore.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

I am a cruel, cruel person.

Thoughts on the iPad and the Sony Touch

This is actually something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Over the past six months, Courtney and I have acquired two much-hyped pieces of technology and many of our friends have had questions about our experience with them. So, then, here’s a reviewish breakdown of my thoughts. As most of you know, I’m not particularly tech-savvy, although I am somewhat gizmo inclined, so please bear in mind that these are basically the impressions of an ordinary 30-something (god, has it come to that? now I’m referring to myself by the title of an 80s dramedy?) schmo.

The Sony Touch eReader (PRS 600)

Right off the bat- Electronic ink is nothing short of a display revolution. And, honestly, I really, really mean this, a reading revolution to boot, perhaps even the savior of long-form ,profitable , writing, whether journalism or fiction or essays. Without E-Ink these readers would be overpriced garbage, little more than crippled cell phones. E-ink renders text readable in a way that a light emitting screen cannot approach, and the eReader display is, by far, the most conducive to actually sitting down and reading for an hour or so of any medium this side of an actual piece of paper. So, make no mistake, if it doesn’t use E-ink, it isn’t an eReader, nor should it be considered a viable alternative.

Now, is an E-ink display actually superior to a book? No, absolutely not. The background is not quite white enough, the fonts are limited, the tactile experience is lacking, blah blah blah. That’s all true, but you essentially exchange that for the device’s portability (even the comparatively cramped storage of the Sony readers can hold dozens, if not hundreds, of books) and access to a huge number of free, public domain titles through sites such as Project Gutenberg. For new releases, sure, go to bookstore, purchase a good, old fashioned hard cover and curl up in anachronistic bliss. But if you have an interest in catching up on older works, or if you’re a student who’s sick of lugging around text books, I can’t recommend an eReader strongly enough. Since getting our Reader, my long-form reading has increased several fold, especially after picking up the Calibre program, which has a nifty feature where it downloads RSS feeds from magazine websites (like Newsweek or Atlantic) and compiles them into an eBook perfectly suited to the Reader.

As to the particular variety of reader that I, personally, own, well... The touch screen is a trade-off that I’m not sure I can recommend. In order to have the nifty layer of touch-sensitive material over your screen, you must put up with a somewhat murky text read out. Oh, and glare. The glare is bad enough that reading in full sun is out of the question (which isn’t a problem with the Sony Pocket edition or the Kindle), although it’s still perfectly usable under artificial light . It’s still an enjoyable read, but I sometimes find myself wishing I’d gone for the cheaper the Pocket edition instead. Of course, the Touch has a bigger screen AND native pdf support, which is what pushed me over the edge in its direction, but, honestly, I don’t use the reader for pdfs so much since I acquired the iPad, and the larger screen is really neccessary to make up for the loss of clarity.

So, in summation- eReader? Yes! Get one! Sony Touch? Er... maybe?

I am 85% thrilled with my Sony Touch.

The iPad

I stood in line for this thing. Seriously. You know those idiotic news reports where they show footage of all the douchebags waiting in line for the latest gadget from Jobs and Co.? That was me, I was one of those guys. Waiting in line. For an iPad.

And you know what? I’m glad I did. The wait was twenty minutes and they had free coffee and bagels and everyone was kind of friendly and excited. When you got toward the front of the line, one of the Apple blueshirts made sure to get your name and relay it to an Authority insde the shop, so that when it came time to go in and get your doodad they would open the door and say “Hey Ty, come on in! We’re ready for you” and you felt like Willy Wonka had opened the gates of the factory just for you. They even assigned each customer his personal blueshirt employee to take you through the process from entry to purchase to exit. So, props to Apple for making it a little more fun to spend $500 on something you probably don’t really need.

The iPad itself? It’s awesome. Don’t let anybody tell you anything different. We use it all. the. time. For web browsing, for email, for watching movies, for stupid little games about flinging exploding birds at catatonic pigs, for pandora radio and itunes and just having a second computer that you can slip into your satchel and cart around to wherever you need to use it. And it’s super fun to use. It’s responsive and smooth in its transitions, the display clarity is outrageously bright and sharp, and even the tiny little speakers on its sides are surprisingly high quality. I mentioned above that we are using it to read pdfs on and it’s perfectly suited for the purpose.

I guess there are some downsides. Yeah, the lack of Flash is a drag, and a pretty weird battle for Apple to start waging, but definitely not a deal breaker. And if you’re into coding applications, than I’m sure that the “walled garden” approach to the OS and the App Store is a real pain in the ass, but for someone like me who is a consumer of said apps? I’m totally happy. The virtual keyboard is juuuust a little too small to feel totally comfortable, but you can use any bluetooth keyboard with the device, so that’s not really a factor unless you’re just stubbornly refusing to shell out any more money on the thing. But that’s really it. So, let’s see, I’ll just plug in some numbers here and... it looks like I’m... Hmm... Carry the 3.

I am 97% thrilled with my iPad.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Morality of Discipline

The title of this post is a phrase that turned up in one of my course descriptions for the MFA program at UNM (did I mention the big news? No? Well, here it is. What are you complaining about?), and it struck a chord. The meaning should be obvious, that being disciplined, in the manner of your choosing, is a moral imperative. And, conversely, that being undisciplined is, at the very least, amoral. This is, no doubt, debatable, but for the purposes of saving my immortal soul, I've decided to take the assumption as beyond argument.

See, the thing is, I haven't been writing. Much. Oh, I manage the every-few-monts late night scrambles required to complete my handful of articles for the Alibi, but other than, that nothing has been happening as far as regular, every day writing. Why? Well, let's see... how about the baby? Partly, yes, but mainly my own mental stumbling blocks. I'm good at creating obstacles for myself, and having the baby to pin it all on has been very handy for my procrastinating nature. But guess what? He's not going anywhere (thank god, as I've grown rather fond of him), and I still want to write. It's time to figure out how to work around him.

Grad school is going to be an ass-kicking experience, no doubt, and if I'm going to survive I'd better get used to the idea that I'll be writing every day. Several hours. In addition to reading for classes and baby-watching (toddler watching? He is two, after all,) and the usual family and home life obligations. I need to train.

Hence, this blog entry. My training schedule is something like this: 6am-7- stream of consciousness gobbledygook, fit only for the Pythia or my therapist; 2-3pm (approximately, as it's dependent on Bryce's nap), blog entry. So, obviously, this site will be updated a whole lot more often. Hopefully, my two followers have a great appetite for my navel gazing, as daily entries means that there'll be plenty. Expect there to be filler between our every-two-months Bryce picture posts.

I've shut down my Forgotten Albuquerque site for the time being. Since ending the Letters entries in a whimper I just haven't been able to muster the passion for pursuing Albuquerque's history, nor the time to do proper research. I'd like to write "hopefully, there'll be more to come in the future!", but the fact is that I just can't promise that right now. The next six months will bring major changes, and I'm not exactly sure where they'll be taking me. I could leave it up, I suppose, but really, it's only purpose lately has been to make me feel guilty.

So, a bunch of BS? Will I even be able to make it a week with this newfound "discipline"? There's no room for self-doubt here! This is about morality!!!