Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rather astonishingly productive weekend

I got to spend a lot of time puttering around the house this weekend, which I like. I got to fix a few things and that always makes me happy.

We had a broken drawer that required me to cut a new piece of wood for the drawer box, cut a groove in it, drill some holes, and glue it together; I'm very happy about fixing that. I don't use my table saw often enough, but it made short work of cutting a perfect groove.

Now all we have to do is make sure the drawer doesn't get overstuffed again. My theory on the drawer is that there was so much stuff in it that it got stuck...with items being pushed so high that the drawer wouldn't open, and then one of the kids probably yanked on it over and over again to release it. The front piece of the drawer box cracked and finally fell off. But luckily the fascia was fine, so I could replace the backing piece and it'll look good as new. At the moment, toiletries are piled up in boxes on the counter.

We got a nice bookcase at a garage sale that turned out to be wobbly; I fixed it by nailing some plywood to the back as a stiffener. Here it was nice to take care of something before it becomes a problem.

I woke up inexplicably early on Saturday morning...4:30 am...and wrote 1200 words before anyone else in the family got up. That was nice, but then I felt like I was going to die when it was about 6 p.m. ;) I'm making good progress on my latest rewrite of an old story. I'll be happy to both clear out my backlog and get some stories into the mail. Stories tend to languish in the needs-a-rewrite stage for way too long. I'm trying to be more disciplined about that.

You can't do that in RPGs

Wow, this guy explains some really interesting things about role-playing...that I never considered. A dungeon is a flow chart...a means for controlling players. Okay, I sort of knew that. But this fellow goes on to say that players wanting to go off the rails of the gamemaster-developed plot is inevitable and should be embraced. This makes me feel like games that negotiate control between player and GM explicitly are really on the right track.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I keep coming back to short stories

I've "decided to write a novel" so many times I've lost count. I've got two books that are sort of 3/4 first drafts. Each has some good stuff in it, but neither is likely to be finished.

Then there's the one I worked on most recently. For that one I have less text written, but I have a strong plan, and I know I could finish it. But I still concluded that I need to work on stories more before I write it.

It's not that stories are exactly like novels, not by a long shot. But I think I need to work on structure structure structure and be able to more reliably produce good stories.

I've gone through this process before. But I'm more engaged in the story process than ever before. I'm actively looking for the stories I like and for where they are published; I'm analyzing the stories I like, and modeling on them.

The fact that there are now a lot of SF stories available for download, whole magazines of them, and that I can copy them to a file and break them apart on my computer, is a big boon. The process is a lot of fun.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Santalap Chloe and Lily

This is another picture that Tanya recently downloaded from her camera.

The Mountain Witch Trick: fleshing out a game world in play

I bumped into a reference to 'the Mountain Witch trick' in a description of a role-playing gaming session. I knew it had to be a reference to the game The Mountain Witch, but I don't own that game and wasn't sure what was meant. I knew it had to be cool, though; everything I've read about The Mountain Witch has sounded cool. ;)

Here's what I dug up: as a gamemaster, you tell a player that his or her character reacts to something/someone in the game. Then you ASK the player why. Tell 'em they meet someone who seems familiar, ask 'em why. That sort of thing. Allow them to invent their own background. Here's my source, with a more detailed description.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lily at Christmas

From our most recent trip to Wisconsin. I think this was in Chicago. Tanya downloaded a pile of pictures off her camera and this one caught my eye.

Expendable, the henchman's point of view

Expendable is a kickass short film about what it's like to be a henchman or flunky in the sort of evil organization that populates superhero or spy settings. Add temp work to the mix and you've really got me. And they do.

It's by David Malki, of Wondermark.

_The Greatest Show on Earth_ by Richard Dawkins

Image from Amazon and used to link there.

This week I'm enjoying this book, subtitled The Evidence for Evolution, by prominent evolution proponent Dawkins. I've read several Dawkins books before, though it has been a while. I didn't think I'd enjoy this one as much as I am. This book's approach is to be an enthusiastic depiction of the evidence in favor of evolution. It's hard to say how this is different from Dawkins' other books, although my main memory is of detailed explorations of how evolution works.

What is feeding most of my enjoyment of this book is its collection of fun animal facts. For example, he mentions a fish that has an extra, downward-facing eye growing out of each eye.

I like the way Dawkins leads you through certain important ramifications of evolution. He talks about turtles evolving as reptiles that went back to the water, then back to the land, and possibly repeated the trip. This points out how evolution is a journey without a destination, and that the direction of it can change at any time, a fact that argues against any design in nature.

A discussion of the artificiality of names for species was interesting too. He talks about how many controversies arise from taxonomic arguments over how to name creatures, and says that if species could be evaluated against the continuum of all of their dead relatives, it would be hard to put any creature in any one category...because you'd then be conscious of the unbroken connections between all species.

For example, to paraphrase his discussion: suppose you were presented with one thousand birds, all of them related parent to child. Suppose that at the older and younger ends of the spectrum, they were clearly different species, one therefore a descendant of the other. You are asked to divide the animals by species. Wherever you draw the line, you are splitting a parent and child into two different absurdity.

This isn't obvious with living animals simpy because the intervening animals are dead and gone.

I might post other tidbits; I'm about halfway through. I'm enjoying it a lot.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Conan O'Brien. 33 Million. Haiti.

Conan O'Brian just received $33 million dollars to leave the Tonight show. Haiti just had a big earthquake and could use some cash.

I'm just sayin'.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Theoretical blogging: let's talk about the process

I'm not sure I've done much talk about my writing process. Perhaps I don't typically feel qualified to offer advice. The sort of thing I'll usually talk about here amounts to tips, or pointers to what I feel are useful resources.

But I'm convinced that one of the great things a blog can do is document the writer's artistic development, throwing those notes out there into the void to be found later by someone else who happens to be at the same stage of development, or dealing with the same problems.

I'm reasoning from the analogy of how web search helps when you're making a physical object. Let's say you're building a model kit, and you want to get some help with that. You start with the instructions that came with the kit. And they are a start. But you can go to the web and get much more:
  • photographs that show how someone else finished and painted the model
  • tips from someone else who tried the instructions, where they explain what they thought was confusing
  • problems someone else encountered as they attempted to construct it
  • variations and changes people have made
  • reviews of the quality of the parts and the instructions themselves
So when you throw your thoughts out there into the Zeitgeist, I don't think they need to be perfect examples of anything. Your experiences (and mine I hope!) have value: report them and throw them out there into the world for sharing.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

History of Marc Miller and Traveller

Any old-school roleplayer probably remembers Traveller. Allen Varney has a great article about Marc Miller and Traveller up on The Escapist.

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit in the article is the assertion that Miller built racism into Traveller...racism whose flaws were designed to be slowly revealed to the players. This means that the flaws of galactic culture would become obvious as you played the game. It's a nice idea that I never quite got when I reviewed the game materials.

I've hardly ever actually played Traveller. Just pored over its books endlessly. I really like the setting, especially the aliens. Every now and then I dive back into the old books. There are tons of good ideas there, but I never assembled a group of players who were interested enough to do a campaign.

One of the nice things about the ubiquitous interwebs is that you can find out about the authors of things like this. Pre-web, you'd have to hope that a gaming magazine carried an article like this, and you'd have to read the appropriate issue. If you missed an issue, you'd be unlikely to find the info later. Now, it's archived, often forever.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Must not take Google ads personally

The above is a screen capture of what I saw in my ad box yesterday. It's good to know that the Google algorithms categorize me as a geek, and are astute enough to assume that my vast army of readers is mostly male.

But I'm disappointed that anyone thinks it's important to distinguish an article about hot women by adding 'Sci-Fi'. They should just put "I've got a new list of 50 hot women!" There's no reason to be more specific. Your target audience for that doesn't care. :)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Why don't you have a job as a mad scientist, daddy?

This'll give you an idea of what we talk about around our house. The other day I was driving 4-year-old Lily to school and she asked me, "Why don't you have a job as a mad scientist, daddy?"

On a previous trip she asked me whether the dinosaurs made us. When I asked her why, she said because they came before us. Her teacher told her so. When I said no, the dinosaurs didn't make us, she asked if it was the space aliens. She became quite insistent that either the dinosaurs or the space aliens made us.

In each case I realized that it was likely, based on what she heard around her, that she'd decided that mad scientists and space aliens were real. It was hard to crush those dreams so early.

Actually she just ran through the house as I wrote this. "Whatcha doin'?" I ask.

"I'm ekscaping from the evil master!" she says, and runs out.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Quick sound track when writing; Deezer woes

Well,, my previous solution for online music, has run into troubles. But they seem to have solved some of them. I have a bunch of playlists there, and for a long time most of the songs were unplayable, but now maybe I can get them back. Apparently they negotiated new rights, but most of my tracks are still stale; you can hit a search button to find equivalent tracks that ARE playable.

An easy to use solution is, which has various channels of different kinds of music, and also allows you to enter an artist to get songs somehow related to that artist. My main use for this is for quick unlimited background music when I'm writing.

One thing about the multimedia ablities now standard on means I can throw on some headphones and isolate myself from other family members' TV watching. That's really convenient.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Blue Wonder, short superpower fiction on Strange Horizons

I rather enjoyed this quiet little tale. I'm a sucker for prose about superpowered people, but this one stands out for the tack it takes on a person born with an unusual ability.

I also like that "blue wonder" apparently means "an improbable tale" in German idiom.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Huge archive of sf/fantasy stories online: Infinity Plus

Bumped into this website on Friday, Infinity Plus. Yowza, this has a lot of fiction. It's been around for years, I've just missed it. It's nicely indexed. You can go get a long list of Jeff Vandermeer stories, for example.

Sunday, January 17, 2010 submission guidelines

I've been enjoying the fiction on the
website, but I was looking for their writer's guidelines and failing to find them. I finally found some information on the SFWA website. As I'd suspected, they're not wide open to submissions from newbies, but you can get the scoop here. has become a great source of new sf and fantasy on a regular basis. I like how they make each story available in a variety of downloadable formats. I also like seeing stuff by well-known writers served up for free.

Also, they made December 2009 their Cthulhu month. :)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dominion: Okay, we can throw out all other games now

Image taken from Rio Grande Games and used to link there.

Tanya received the card game Dominion for Christmas from her brother. It's a pretty amazing game. I like so many things about it I hardly know where to start.

He chose it, he said, because at "bring your lady" night at his game shop, the ladies liked it a lot.

I figured it must be pretty popular, but I didn't know how much until I mentioned it to Allen Varney and got a link to this article that Allen wrote for the Escapist, about the way the game swoops into gaming groups and takes over.

What to like? Well, I really like that this game takes the pre-game deck-building mechanic that swept through the gaming world when Magic brought it in, and turns it around to be an in-game mechanic. You start with a small deck, and you use the cards in your hand every turn to buy more cards, which go in your discard pile, to be quickly recycled into your deck.

This means you don't have to build a deck before you play, and there's no random card purchase factor, and no incentive to buy stacks of cards either.

More than that, you win or lose based on the cards you buy during the game...where you're effectively choosing the rules that you want to play by this time around. It's endlessly fascinating.

Also, the game builds on just a few concepts, and a game can be played in about thirty minutes.

So it's got lots of great advantages. But Varney does a better job of explaining all this than I do; go check his article out.

Friday, January 15, 2010

_Sherlock Holmes_ with Robert Downey, Jude Law

Saw this movie last weekend. Recommended. It was a little different than I expected:
  • It dealt more with the occult than I was expecting, though in a highly Holmsean fashion.
  • Holmes was made out to be quite the action hero, but in an interesting way.
I liked that the movie avoided the common flaw of giving its heroes inexplicable access to mixed martial arts/kickboxing techniques; instead, it used a neat visual technique to make Holmes into a fantastic fighter in a slightly more plausible fashion.

The images of London contained in this film were worth the price of admission all by themselves.

The main thing that strikes me as something that could have been improved was the villain. On reflection, he could have been more interesting. I didn't think of that during the movie, though.