Monday, February 27, 2006

Lundi Gras

Why does eating with chopsticks make food tastier?

I suspect that eating with chopsticks forces one to slow down during eating, bringing mere consumption of mass quantities closer to dining and therefore closer to savoring. As the man says, the best spice is hunger; Cervantes called hunger the best sauce in the world- La mejor salsa del mundo. Some real live scientific research even proves it.

That doesn't matter to me. Leftover General Tso's Chicken, full of spice and garlic and sweet and hidden deadly nuclear peppers over steamed white rice, eaten with gusto and the good lacquered wooden chopsticks made my meal tonight. If it was good enough for the General, it's good enough for me.

Today is Lundi Gras, Fat Monday, the day before Mardi Gras, the traditional culmination of Carnival, the celebration of excess before the Catholic season of Lent. Back home, I'm accustomed to seeing almost every restaurant advertise their Lenten specials- no small feat in a city known for its seafood. Even though I just went to a Mardi Gras party not two days ago, it's not the same. King Cake, muffelettas, jambalaya, red beans and rice and watching strangers drink did help contribute to the proper atmosphere. I don't drink and I'm not really the party-hardy type. I simply resonate with people relaxing, letting loose, and celebrating life.

As far as I can remember, this will mark my second Mardi Gras not spent in Louisiana, ever. It's a (often paid) state holiday for us, you see. Many many years back, we took a family vacation to Walt Disney World in Florida over Mardi Gras, since we had off and the rest of the nation didn't. Somewhere (maybe), we still have a book of E tickets.

But tomorrow is going to be just a regular Tuesday for Austinites. I plan to at least wear purple, green, and gold. What will you do?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Playtesting and Parties

By "parties" I of course mean large social gatherings with food and libations and old stories told many times over and now refined and deployed to impress the largest number of potential mates and vocational opportunities by showing ourselves in the best possible light, not just the notion of an adventuring rag-tag group of misfits off to slay the dragon and protect the small local village from the wrath of the evil creature after a thousand years of terror, but of course the double meaning when coupled with playtesting also has a certain charm to it that I simply can't deny.

Playtesting the second session of 1984 Prime went well. I had some new mechanics that I wanted to try and I think they went over rather well. I took a page from the Mountain Witch, trying to get a sense of partial and mixed successes. I definitely feel that the game is improving, though I know it's far from complete. I can't stop watching how the game evolves under my eyes- I've experienced characters in stories running away from me the author, but I've never had an RPG behave the same way.

Here's an analogy that may make sense. (I can't claim it as my own; thank this guy.) Imagine that I wanted to write a game about Christopher Columbus exploring the New World. While designing the game, I found out that Portugal is really a lot neater than that pesky New World. While playing it, I've discovered that not only is the New World not all that, but the political intrigue and machinations between the royal factions back in Europe made a lot better story, with the other hemisphere acting as little more than a huge McGuffin. Once I get notes together, I'll discuss this in depth. Also expect to see an Actual Play post over on the Forge.

As for the party... life is good. Cat finally met John, Bryan, and Juli, old friends from LSU who I haven't seen in nearly a decade. We caught up, talked about old times, showed off embarrassing photos from the past, and took new ones. I need to transfer the pix from my camera, so be patient. In the near future, I expect to see John more often, bringing him into the various gaming circles and sharing restaurants, and driving down to see Bryan and Juli in Hell- er, I mean Houston. Tomorrow is Lundi Gras, then Mardi Gras. It's not too late to order a King Cake from Randazzo's or Haydel's, though you may have to wait after the Carnival season. I see that is shipping Next Day Air orders tomorrow early, so you'll have to hurry if you need your fix.

I nearly forgot to mention- I met an internet celebrity last night at the party. Surely you've heard about the Delta flight attendant who got fired for posting semi-provocative pictures on her blog? (Hi, Ellen!) PS: She's got a book coming out soon.

Have I mentioned lately that I am not a spokesperson for Dell and that all of my words and opinions are mine, mine, mine?

Agave, epoxy, and me

It's still a standstill on the didj making thus far. The weather has yet to cooperate this weekend, being either (or both) too cold and too wet. According to my weather widget, it should be warmer during the week. I can readily pour the epoxy, but I need to work out how to hang the stalks so they can dry overnight. With luck, I won't have to resort to building scaffolding.

If I only had a garage.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Weekend linky clicky

In a sign of serendipitous coincidence, I heard about a new alternate history mockumentary presuming if the South had won the Civil War. It's called CSA: The Confederate States of America. Kevin Willmott, a professor out of the University of Kansas, got this satire/commentary/comedy/candid look at racism/mockumentary/alternate history experiment produced with the help of Spike Lee. (I find this information even moreso interesting because of yesterday's playtest- 1984 Prime is a game of alternate history, presuming nuclear apocalypse as the outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis. More on the playtest later- notes and scheming machinations are happening even as we speak.) You can hear the NPR story for yourself or catch the full trailer at the official site. It's coming nowhere near me, but I suspect I'll snag it once it hits DVD.

If you like mashups, check out the movie trailer contest over at Fark. Notably, I saw Toy Story: Requiem (for a Dream). This is a little unnerving, to say the least. Be advised- I also don't think it's entirely work-safe, so use headphones.

My brother sent me a link to Flixster, a social movie site. Basically you rate movies and see how other people rated them, then you get to see how compatible you are. To join this phenomenon, and see your movie compatibility with me, click here and look for the "Movie Compatibility Test." Shameless, I know, but none of you want to be my Netflix friend, so I resort to other methods.

I've been working with implementing Getting Things Done by capturing into a specialized and lighter-weight TiddlyWiki called, imaginatively enough, GTDTiddlyWiki. It's definitely something worth looking at, at least to realize the power of the web as a platform.

And now I gotta run- we're going to a Mardi Gras party tonight, hosted by an old college buddy I haven't seen in almost a decade. I've been looking forward to this all week.

Friday, February 24, 2006

1984 Prime playtest part 2

About to run off to a second playtest session of my award-winning roleplaying game, 1984 Prime. Also to eat homemade pizza.

We should finish out the adventure tonight, then I can geek out and bore a large percentage of my readers.

Saturday night, we're going to a Mardi Gras party with some old college friends, so look for excitement and adventure in the near future!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Survey says...

Cat is now licensed to drive by the state of Texas! Thanks to everyone who crossed their fingers.

While yall're at it, I may buy a lottery ticket.

Civil service

Some call it the OMV, Texas calls it the DPS, I know it as the DMV. No matter what you call it, chances are that you've needed to make use of their services one way or another, even if only as getting ID issued by the State. In other words, I can't make this episode of the NWLB as action-packed as usual. All I can really do is ask you to imagine the thrills and chills on your own- but please don't think of any spills. Wish Cat luck on her driving test!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Agave didgeridoo work

I had a grand old time Sunday. Yes, that's a power saw. Yes, that's my hand. No, nobody got injured- or involved with the law.

I spent about five hours working with Steve from the Oztin Didjgroup on the agave stalk that I previously recovered. He's got an actual house with a garage and power tools, and he very graciously allowed me to make use of the gear. Not to mention the experience in doing this sort of thing before. We wound up basically just cutting it in half-ish and removing the pith from the center of both stalks. Because the original stalk had laid out for so long, it had nearly dried completely, making for relatively easy going.

Agave smells very much like sugarcane with a hint of something spicy, or maybe cedar or sandalwood.

If you think of an agave stalk as a carrot standing on its thick end, imagine cutting it just south of middle. I wound up with one longer and thinner proto-didj and one shorter and fatter proto-didj. The longer one measures about 82 inches long with a two-and-a-quarter-inch mouthpiece and a three-inch bell, whereas the shorter measures 70 inches long with two-and-three-quarter-inch mouthpiece and a four-and-a-half-inch bell. Roughly, of course- look at my timestamp. Steve thinks that the longer one will sound deeper than the shorter one. Honestly, the physics of the didgeridoo are insane, and I'm not one to question.

Termites or grubs or something had gotten to the end of the stalk, eating out the center. This is how real traditional eucalyptus didgeridoos are made and is extremely unusual for an agave didj to be hollowed out this way, even partially. Once I seal the stalk, I expect the irregular surface will make for some extremely interesting sound.

The next step is for me to obtain the requisite Bondo Marine epoxy resin, wait for warmer weather, and seal these babies. Home Despot alleges they've never heard of the stuff. The quest continues!

Some extra pictures:
The thinner of the two stalks (right) next to the drill (left) used to clean it out. That's four feet of extensions plus a wire brush attachment, incidentally.

Keeping splits in check with some pipe clamps.

Brushes, tools, bits, and bobs. Start with a paddle bit to do most of the grunt work, then move to using the wire brushes to abrade the pith away, leaving the hardwood intact. The walls of the agave are very light and relatively strong- sort of like aluminum of the desert plant world.

This picture shows the LED flashlight bringing the termite grooves into relief. I think this looks really cool. Some of the other shots turned out much blurrier- I'm still working on grokking basic light writing- er, photography.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Status Check, medium geekery

I caught some grief the other day at work for being a Mac user. This riled me a little, but not much. I continue to maintain that I am platform-agnostic. Every platform has a web browser, an email client, a text editor, a way to view images and PDFs. This agnosticism extends even to IM networks: I'm on ICQ, AOLIM, Yahoo!'s IM, MSN Messenger, and Jabber (Gtalk runs over this). For some, it's all about the applications: people learn a way of doing things and they stick with it. Look at Adobe's products, look at Lotus 1-2-3, look at all the Mac high-end editing software. Me, I transcend the application. I worry about my data. I've worried about the problem of electronic data in various uncooperative formats since at least high school. We had a Smith Corona word processor that only could save to its own proprietary discs- nothing else could read 'em. I knew about WordStar not playing nicely with WordPerfect. Now I know (and this is a few years back)that we're losing telemetry data from the space age because the tapes are physically deteriorating.

Lost data is a problem, people. We're making more of it every year. Here's a data point for you to help put things in perspective. According to a Berkeley study, we produced five exabytes of information (print, film, magnetic, and optical media) in 2002. What the hell is an exabyte? Kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes, petabytes, exabytes. Then there's zettabytes and yottabytes. I'm not making this up. Five exabytes is about five billion hours of television, or some 37,000 Libraries of Congress, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes. And we're typically putting all of this on hard drives with one-year warranties.

An email from a friend led me to find my first ever Usenet post. Yes, that date is correct. November 1994. For those of you who know what Usenet is, I'm always reminded of the 1992 quote by Gene Spafford: "Usenet is like a herd of performing elephants with diarrhea -- massive, difficult to redirect, awe-inspiring, entertaining, and a source of mind-boggling amounts of excrement when you least expect it." For those of you who don't know about Usenet and the previous quote sheds no light, start with the Wikipedia. Yes, I realize that I'm part of the September that never ended.

Rant off. Thanks for playing.

Back in the real world, we filled up Lita the Ford today with her lead substitute additive, I replaced my wiper blades on Blueberry the Saturn, I had a Boca meatless burger for the first time as far as I know, I recieved my "Got wood for sheep?" shirt, and tomorrow is a day of agave didj crafting! (Thanks, Steve!) Pictures and posting to follow!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Parlor Narration

Thursday night, I got a chance to get some gaming in. We had an impromptu night of time-limited one-shots, playing two sessions of Greg Stolze's Executive Decision (zipfile) and one of Ferry Bazelmans' Soap. A good time was had by all, but I'm not sure we were really roleplaying. I feel this is more accurate with the debate-centric Executive Decision, where PCs play members of the President's cabinet. Soap had more character-driven story and felt more like traditional roleplaying, but the narrative structure of "one sentence per turn" felt too forced for play.

Executive Decision plays like this: Decide who gets which cabinet positions and who plays the role of the President, write down default and optional agendas (pro-military or anti-centrism, say), then pick one of about a dozen scenarios. Each scenario presents a time-sensitive crisis. At certain points in the scenario (every twenty minutes in the ones we played) more information is revealed, including the options for the President to decide upon and further developments. Once time is up, the Prez makes the decision and everyone gets points based on their agenda(s). The only game mechanic is really the players' ability to sway others' opinions.

So yes, you have the one-player-one-character requirement. There's someone ostensibly running the game, but the role of the President is more of host than of presentation; true, the Prez gets to read the scenario, and every players get points based on final decision, but it's not entirely in accordance with the normal roles that one expects a GM to have. The manual suggests the President encourages arguing, in-fighting, playing devil's advocate, and generally to "pour gasoline on any
smoldering disagreements." This is not the same as regular game mastering duties- though in some circles, it's par for the course.

Soap, on the other hand, is entirely sentence-based and plays without a GM whatsoever. You have your turn, you state your sentence. You can't die as long as nobody guesses your secret. There's a bidding mechanic for resolving contested statements, such as entering someone's scene without permission, or modifying a stated sentence and so forth. With Soap, we created characters and decided on a genre/venue, so it felt more like a real roleplaying session.

Both games are inherently time-limited. Soap requires a half-hour and must end on a cliffhanger. The Executive Decision scenarios run about an hour.

Both are undoubtedly games; Executive Decision has agendas and points for determining a winner and Soap has character goals. Both have characters, one per player- in Executive Decision, players definitely have roles to play whereas Soap very specifically has characters.

Can it really be a roleplaying game if one only has a role, but no character?

Thursday, February 16, 2006


I just got cut off by a girl with a bumper sticker reading 'Save the planet- kill yourself.'

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Lita the Ford (Fairlane)

That's a V8, baby- and it's boss. 221, count 'em, 221 cubic inches of engine.

Original factory paint- Honey Beige.

Seatbelts? We don't need no stinking seatbelts! But you can have them as an option on the front seat.

Here she comes, here comes Cat Racer- she's a demon on wheels.

A little after-market here... nobody'll notice.

Chrome just never goes out of style.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy V Day!

So what did you do?

We randomly stopped at an IHOP and had Valentine's dinner with pancakes and mozzerella sticks. I got candy and a silly flower that makes this dashing chapeau, worn with a rakish angle.

I'm probably going to regret posting this picture, so enjoy it while you can before I take it down.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Car coincidence

Cat and I have been talking about a second car for a while. She'll definitely need one as part of her work and the commute has been [DELETED FOR SECURITY REASONS], as you well know. Driving on Saturday en route to the shindig, we saw a car for sale that had caught Cat's eye. Actually, we had kept our eyes peeled for a decent runabout for her for the last several weeks. This time however, we have a candidate.

She's a 1962 Ford Fairlane. Original factory paint, sort of a blush cream color. Original chrome, original rims and shop manual, definitely shows signs of love. Her name is Abuela, as in the Spanish word for grandmother. Pictures will follow, I am sure.

Cat's already thinking about renaming the car "Lita." As in abuelita and Lita Ford. So we've got a linking name there. I've got a tie for the position of best car name ever. Sadly, I didn't come up with the name nor met the cars in question, but I'll steal the jokes shamelessly and pretend otherwise. Wait, I'm not supposed to tell you that part. Wait, I'm not supposed to forget to edit that out, either.

It's a toss-up between Vlad the Impala and The Hatchback of Notre Dame. Can you beat that?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Today's road trip

Look what I got!

What you see here is me holding a thirteen-foot agave stalk (I'm the one with the saw.). Agave, also known as the "Century plant" or American aloe, is the plant tequila comes from. Strictly speaking, Tequila Agave is a different species from American Agave, but we're dealing with internet botany here, so you lose some of the important details.

I've known for a while that people could make didgeridoos out of agave stalks, but I had always heard that the plant grew in the southeast US in desert-type places like Arizona and New Mexico- places I do not live. I also somehow failed to realize that I live in central Texas now, and therefore live in the desert, and therefore live in a place where agave grows. Steve from the Oztindidjgrp told me that he had made a few dozen didjes from various stalks around the Austin area. I played his and Robert's both- an agave didj has a great power to it and a quick response. I suspect this may be partly due to the thin and porous walls of such an instrument.

I posted on craigslist asking for anyone who knew the location of agave stalks. I got two responses- one fellow told me he spotted one about a half hour away- much closer than the other location and already cut down, though the other person has many stalks on their property, however. I wouldn't mind having a whole slew of stalks to work with, but I don't have a workshop.

I had to get up early (for a Sunday) in order to make the road trip. I've got a regular game on Sundays, so I needed to be to the north edge of the city by one in the afternoon. Cat and I drove out to Bastrop, found the location of the stalk, and I knocked on a total stranger's door and for all intents and purposes asked him if I could haul away his yardwaste. He had no problem with it.

The stalk is really lightweight, much lighter than it looks, and much lighter than my other didj. I'd guess it's about half as dense, but I'm no materials engineer. The stalk obviously had been cut down or fell some months back- the break in the base was not clean and the blooms at the top had withered away and the top had started to rot. Luckily, we brought a saw and readily removed about a yard or so. We also knocked out some of the pith in the center using a stick. For a brief moment, I imagined taking a walkabout and attempting to craft my didj without the aid of modern tools, but then I came to my senses and decided to haul it back to the city and seek aid from those who know.

Of course, that doesn't mean that I'm not going to entertain thoughts of retiring to be a professional didj crafter.

Agave acquired

I now have a stalk! Details and photos later.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Game on!

I've got a pretty full two days to cover.

Friday's game night at Great Hall found us playing:

  • Wiz-War (two players, me and Bryon) [BGG or OOP: SOL!]
  • Bang! (seven players, no expansions, played twice) [BGG or BUY ME!]
  • Titan: the Arena, aka Colossal Arena (five players) [BGG or BUY ME!]
  • Odin's Ravens (Ryan and Yari) [BGG or BUY ME!]

I brought along Ricochet Robots [BGG or BUY ME!] and Light Speed [BGG or BUY ME!], but we didn't play them. I believe that Ricochet Robots will become among the standard games that I bring out for the game group, but it still has the same playing-is-very-much-a-skill and practice-required and all that. Light Speed, is a real-time card game that requires a decent number of tokens to track damage and points.

Wiz-War I've mentioned before. I haven't played it with two in a long long while- possibly as long as high school, but I somehow doubt it. The fan Wiz-War pages allude to their having a weekly game of Wiz-War and having to create their own cards and boards. Remember, this game first came out in 1985 and has a fairly loyal following, and is now out of print. My ulterior motive is to bring it as often as possible until people start asking to play it.

Bang! went over very well, I'm pleased to report. Cutthroat games and player elimination go hand-in-hand, and I've heard reports of the game not going over well due to poor sportsmanship or just bad luck. Not the case this time. We got in two seven-player games during the course of the evening, and I think we will play many more. I plan to leave the Dodge City and Fistful of Cards expansions for at least the next few plays. I want folks to have a good grasp of the basic game before we start with the craziness of expansions.

Again, I've yet to play Odin's Ravens.

Dan, Dan, the monkey man held a birthday party today. Instead of everyone focusing their attention (and presents!) on him, he decided to hold a White Elephant Gift Exchange, something I've never heard of before. It works a little like a Secret Santa, with everyone buying a gift for a certain assigned someone, except in this case, people take turns opening gifts- and you can steal an opened gift instead of opening a new one. Dan also came up with cards for folks to have powers- plus German-translated rules for kicks. Seven people and couples participated, and we had fun with it. I sort of wish we had more stealing going on, though.

Here's the roster. Note that we had a price limit of $20. Margie Roper over there, aka Mrs. Monkeyman, may put up some photos for your amusement.

  • Save Dr. Lucky plus the Moon Base Copernicus expansion, also One False Step for Mankind plus its One False Step Home expansion (I gave a Cheapass extravaganza!)
  • Apples to Apples, the basic version
  • Colossal Arena (Did I mention this went over well?)
  • Inkognito: The card game
  • Chrononauts
  • Lord of the Rings: the Duel
  • Travel Blokus

We played a round of Apples to Apples in order to determine who got to pick gifts first. After that, we split into two groups: one (including Cat and myself) played Chrononauts first, then Inkognito. The other group played Monkey Lab a few times, then two players split off for Blokus.

Basically, Chrononauts is Chrononauts- a Looney Labs game with a touch too much randomness and a shade too little table talk. I think the relative complexity works against it, leading to so-called "analysis paralysis." Inkognito is a deduction game for four that I haven't played in a very long time. The art is beautiful and it plays in about a half hour, maybe less. I'm good with the deduction but not yet the strategy.

Tomorrow morning, we drive to Bastrop, about a half-hour away. I have a lead on an agave stalk out of which I could construct my first didgeridoo, PVC notwithstanding. Exciting times!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Stop-n-go traffic

I don't like traffic. That's a real understatement. Sitting in a car for more than 15 minutes makes me wonder why I even have a car. I'd do better with a bike or just walking. Or maybe teleporting or flying. More than just wasting time, I feel so damn mundane and average. This may be old hat for some, or worse yet, regular hat for those who are so accustomed to what I can only imagine is just the usual life for these majority populations. Almost home now, so I must stop this cell blogging.

Live from the caf

Lunch break. Food and freedom. As American as apple pie. Now I have more American things on my mind, like revolution. They have me using Outlook.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Linky clicky

Here's a round-up of things I'm reading right now. Well, not right now right now, but within the last few hours right now. These roam all over the blogosphere and touch a variety of emotions and reading moods, so I'll helpfully categorize and comment.

From Gone Gaming, here's Six Degrees of Collaboration, showing how board and card game designers work together to create their games. Notably, there's a big graphic map at the bottom, and a reference to another post that shows how two collaborating designers can create two different games. (Make sure to check out the photos of prototypes.)

From the eponymous and anonymous Waiter of Waiter Rant, here's Heaven & Hell, doing a fine job of refuting Sarte. I first started reading the Waiter in the weeks following Katrina. Some days I wish he delivered more "a funny thing happened on the way to the four-top," but I can't stand here and deny the power of his words, particularly with this post.

Disgusting and silly:
From The Sneeze, here's the collected episodes of Steve Don't Eat It! Come on, man. It's the Internet. You know they have stuff like this out there. And hey, this is way funnier than reading what I still consider the strangest thing I've yet seen on the Internet ever (and don't forget that I've played around in this nutty little chunk of cyberspace for something like fifteen years): erotic fan fiction of wrapping Roy Orbison in clingfilm.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Didj day afternoon

Robert and Steve, shown here with their didjes, showed up at the Austin Didj Group get-together this afternoon. Obviously, I was there as well. From left to right, you can see Robert's Y-shaped didj (aka "the Lady"), Steve's agave didj (no known nickname), Robert's agave didj, (aka "the Madman"), and Steve's heavy eucalyptus stick (again, no known nickname). Apologies for the low quality of the picture- I forgot my camera and had to use my now-famous ravetastic phone. My three didjes are out of frame.

Steve made this particular agave didj from a stalk he found around town, and has made several more over the years. So now, all I have to do in order to make one for myself is find someone with a dead agave stalk in their yard. Has anyone out there in Austin-land seen one?

The didjeridoo is a wonderfully unique instrument- almost by definition, no two are exactly alike. Thanks to genetics and the shape of the head, neck, skull, throat, lungs, mouth, and lips, no two players are exactly alike. Every didj player I've ever talked to has always enjoyed hearing someone else play their didj. You may not realize it, but unlike most other instruments, a didj player can't easily listen to their own music. After all, the sound is some four feet away from your ears and moving in the other direction. (This is why my Mindbower didjbox rocks. I can actually hear myself play!) Something about the nature of the drone sound itself prevents it from traveling well or being mic'ed easily. So having another player play your didj is one of the few ways to hear what your instrument sounds like.

This marks the third time I've gotten together with Austin didj players. Each time one of these meets go down, I feel both energized and humbled for pretty much the rest of the day.