Sunday, February 28, 2010

Best Gig Ever, from Improv Anywhere

I was browsing, fascinated, through the Improv Anywhere archives last year. Lots of their projects seem hilarious and wonderful. But this one really got me...where they picked an unknown band and went and packed their show. You gotta know that it boosted that band's spirits no end, and probably seriously improved the show.

It's certainly much easier to play for a big audience than a tiny one. It's soul-killingly tough to play for a tiny audience. (Ask me how I know!)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Searchable name database

This seems like a handy tool, a searchable database of first names. You can specify some criteria and get a list. You can specify a portion of the name, or something about the meaning of the name, or a language.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Something important to say

Here's a post from a doctor....what she tells single moms under her care. Sniff, sniff.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Woman wins bowling championship, no one shows up

Kelly Kulick becomes first woman to win a championship in an American ball sport, competing against men. And no one seems to notice.

Arduino electric bricks

These components make it possible to hook up stuff to an Arduino board without doing any soldering. It's an interesting option, especially for, say, a hacker who can handle a little code but isn't interested in soldering.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pro-life properties

Making the world pro-life, one property at a time. This company helps folks add deed restrictions to their property, in an attempt to deny people the right to perform abortions or counseling on the property.

From their FAQ:

...The prohibitions “run with the land” and will remain in effect for any future owners of your property. This creates an accumulative effect as abortion prohibitions are placed on more and more properties over time.

I imagine this is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that excites neocons no end. I wonder how I'd regard it if I was pro-abortion. It seems pretty wrong-headed to me. Really, let's fill the world with land that has more and more deed restrictions. There's no chance all land will be covered, but there's some chance it'll make things tough for some clinic down the line.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Oceansize is a dramatic short film in the don't-hang-ou-in-lonely-places vein.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ethan played D&D with a friend of his yesterday

Just wanted to report that my 12-year-old son has not only played three one-on-one D&D sessions with me, but now has gotten together with a friend of his to play D&D on his own initiative. It's a friend whose dad/uncle had gotten him into D&D.

Also, he was designing a campaign for me to play in this weekend. Basically, it's a turn-the-tables, play-the-monsters campaign featuring lots of humanoids and lots of giant bugs. I've got a character who is a Gnoll Bug Tamer. Bug Tamers are mages with spells relating to insects. My character can charm bugs. I'm thinking of getting a beehive hat, to have attack bees always at the ready. :)

Shadow Unit

I've heard about this project before. Shadow Unit is a show about an FBI 'anomalous crimes' unit, something like X-Files. But there's no actual show, just web-based fan fiction about one...written by well-known scifi writers, and supported by donations. I just started reading it; it looks fun.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How to be lucky

Here's a brief article describing some experiments in identifying what makes people lucky, and how it could be learned. The author seems to attribute most of it to observation skills and being ready for the opportunities in life, as well as habits of variety. Worth a look.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Great Dungeon in the Sky

I got Ethan to try this game, Great Dungeon in the Sky, that I found on Metafilter, and he rather enjoyed it. It's kind of a Mario-like platformer. I don't know much about those, I haven't played very many. But the fun thing about this one is that it has a bunch of different characters and you keep unlocking new characters to play as you work your way through the levels.

Each characther has three abilities, accessed by the same three keys. So while you're playing a level, it's pretty simple, but you have a lot of options.

The images came out super tiny in my browser, though. Your character is a tiny wad of pixels. This didn't bother Ethan's 12-year-old eyes, but it did mine.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Try safe web browsing with Sandboxie

The other day I got a particularly nasty piece of malware that was interrupting everything I tried to do. I had to use another box to browse for a solution, and I wasn't sure I was going to be able to install a fix. I finally managed to install Malwarebytes and used that to remove it, but it was touch and go. Normally Chrome is pretty resistant to this sort of thing, but apparently I found one that got past it.

I'd experimented with Sandboxie as a tool for avoiding this sort of thing, and so I tried it again. I'm liking it. Sandboxie is a free tool that segregates a Windows program into a sandbox where anything the program downloads or installs is kept separate...and the sandbox can be easily emptied. In fact, you can configure the sandbox to be destroyed as soon as you exit your program.

If you download a file that you DO want to keep while using Sandboxie, you have to take special steps to copy it out of the sandbox.

You can sandbox any program with it, but it has shortcuts for running your default web browser. Looks like the best thing to do is make sure the browser you want to use with it is your default browser before you install Sandboxie.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

They Should Post This Guy's Photo at All Game Shops

This list of 1600 Things Mr. Welch Can No Longer Do During an RPG had me giggling, then rolling with laughter. Some highlights:

...the ones that imply he fails in his duty to his fellow players:
"Must learn at least one offensive or defensive spell if I'm the sorcerer."

...I remember PVP doing this joke:
I will not beat Tomb of Horrors in less than 10 minutes from memory.

...Hitler references always work:
Even if he was a paragon of humanity in his alternate dimension, Good Hitler is not an appropriate superhero concept.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Days of Windows Past

This fellow created a browser-based, Javascript duplicate of Windows 3.1.

I really don't know why. He's using it as his home page. I s'pose it shows what he can do. It's certainly interesting.

You can direct link to a genre radio on

Here's a link to a world music "station." I use this when I want to fill my headphones up so I can concentrate on writing. ;)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Random recipe generator

You really need to go try this one out.

Here's one I got....

Chillis Melt Bagels
Serves 2
You will need:
  • 1 chillis
  • 140ml orange juice
  • 1 courgettes
  • 80ml whipped cream
  1. pre-heat the oven to 200 C
  2. throw the chillis away
  3. fry the whipped cream until browned
  4. fry the courgettes
  5. toast the orange juice
  6. bake for 40 minutes and serve hot

Monday, February 15, 2010

Link to a portion of a YouTube video

This is handy: this site will allow you to create a link to a specific portion of a YouTube video.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Enchanted Forest

We got this game at a Half Price Books for a song. It lacked the rules, so we looked them up on the internet. It was enjoyable for ages 10 through 40.

I really liked the plastic fir trees. I had trouble remembering where the various treasures were. I liked that they bothered to put the cards on thick card stock. I liked that the pawns seem to have hats.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Merlin Mann Defended

Here's a post where someone defends Merlin Mann against slanders and calumny. Here's Merlin's response. Here's Merlin dancing to New Order.

Friday, February 12, 2010

We Don't Always Live Up to Our Reputation

This story about Operation Pastorius, which I got to via MetaFilter, describes how Germany forced some U.S. citizens to go on a mission to be saboteurs in the U.S. during WWII...but the fellows appparently agreed to go only to get away from Germany, and a couple of them defected immediately. The kicker is that they had a terrible time getting the FBI to believe them, and then Hoover betrayed the ones who defected, treating them as criminals. Furthermore, the ones who didn't defect hadn't actually done anything the government put them in a military tribunal and had them executed. According to this account, this was mostly on Hoover.

If the people aren't doing anything cool the book is dumb

"If the people aren't doing anything cool the book is dumb" is the title of this post, and also the sum and thesis of it, and the title of the post I'm linking to, which is here, and which spoke to me.

From The Magic District, a blog of several fantasy writers.

Batman does a cameo... this recent episode of XKCD.

Took me a minute and a half to actually get this one fully, but I really like it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fortune that Chloe found in a cookie yesterday

"An alien of some sort will be appearing to you shortly."

Too true, wise cookie. Too true.

Wonder Woman animated movie

Last weekend we watched this 2009 animated straight-to-video movie done by Bruce Timm, the guy behind most of the DC animated shows, including my all time favorite, Justice League Unlimited.

I was hoping it would show some strong female characters for my daughter to see, and otherwise be fun. It was certainly that. Overall, it was well made, with the kind of attention to detail that many cartoons ignore. But there were some crazy moments.

It was more violent than I expected....more so than other similar superhero shows. There was a lot of action violence. Characters clearly died, though frequently the camera cut away from the death blow. Many fights featured bladed weapons. A couple of beheadings were shown in silhouette. I didn't mind letting my 10- and 12-year-old watch it, but I was glad we'd sent the 4-year-old to bed.

I was delighted to identify Nathan Fillian as the voice actor behind the Steve Trevor role. He actually got a line off about Wonder Woman's boobs, when he was under the influence of her magic lasso. This was a bit risque, and also hilarious. I wouldn't be surprised to find many parents deciding this show was too something for their kids. I think they'd be wrong, but I wouldn't be surprised.


The storyline starts way back in mythology, and provides an explanation for both the origin of Wonder Woman and the isolation of the island of Themyscira that she comes from. Many minuts of screen time are expended to set up the mythological basis and history of the island.

However, at a key moment, the famous Invisible Jet shows up. With no explanation at all. It's just, hey, we need to send our emissary to the mortal world, here's a jet. There's no other high tech of any kind on the island, but they have plenty of magic, you'd think she'd get a magic carpet. But nope, it's an invisible jet. Heck, it has invisible missiles.

I don't actually know the Wonder Woman storyline very well. I remember the invisible jet being part of the campy live action Wonder Woman show. I was never clear on whether it was part of the comic. I have no idea where the invisible jet comes from. I assume that someone felt it was a required part of the WW canon, so they stuck it in...but it's odd, since they were going to the trouble of retelling the origin anyway, that they didn't either write it out, or give it some justification.

Seriously, I could do that right now: "We thought we should have some modern weaponry/transport just in case, so we stole a jet and draped Mercury's Magic Milkduds over it to turn it invisible." Doesn't explain how WW knows how to pilot a jet, but that's another story.

Okay, as long as I'm writing about this I guess I can do a little research. Wow, the plane gets its own article on Wikipedia, which talks about the plane's origin as an intelligent and shape-changing crystal. I'm sorry I looked. The Wikipedia article about the Wonder Woman animated movie says that the explanation for the plane was cut from the film.

The plane is a convenient way to move WW and Steve around in the story, so this makes sense. The movie would need some serious rework if they took the plane out.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Let Me Google That For You" web tool

This site allows you to enter terms in a Google search box, then creates a link for you. The link launches an animation showing how to enter those terms, click go, and see the results. Then it displays the message "Was that so hard?"

For example, here's the link for a search on 'best hotel austin.'

It's automated taunting. An essential. Ten thumbs up.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Caracara sighting this weekend

I went birding this weekend, taking Chloe on Mikael's neighborhood bird walk. We saw a big raptor give us a nice show: a crested caracara took a long slow flight across our field of view, favoring us with several different angles.

I got a little frustrated during this walk, trying to keep flying birds in my binoculars, but this bird cooperated beautifully. I say this sort of thing a lot, but I didn't know we had any birds like this here...and right in my neighborhood. They're actually year-round residents. A big falcon relative with some gorgeous colors.

Other notable birds that I got to see were a Savannah Sparrow, whose stripes I enjoyed, and a Pied-Billed Grebe. Chloe and I had enjoyed the grebe's diving behavior on a previous trip to this same spot, the Parmer Village model homes area, but we didn't see any of that this time.

I'm enjoying the binoculars I received for Christmas; they've become essential on these walks. It's amazing the views you can get with a little patience.

Explaining Republican Fears, like the Deather thing

Adam Cadre, who is always interesting, has a neat essay here to explain why some Republicans seem to have such outlandish fears of Obama, among other things.

I have mentioned Cadre before, regarding his excellent novel Ready, Okay! and his short story December.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Video of me juggling knives

I posted over on my juggling blog a link to a very brief video of me juggling knives, from the past December's Madrigal Dinner.

DUNE Express free printable dice game

This looks easy to make printable dice game based on the Dune series.

Someone is seriously upset about The Golden Girls

Umm, this article is on a Christian site. I guess it's serious? Although it's kind of frothing at the mouth batshit crazy? And the fellow is really quite bothered about The Golden Girls? And says they made lots of kids gay? And he seems to know so very much about gay's like he's got a mental catalogue of gay roles. Like he's been watching the men very closely.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Can every app please copy Chrome's search?

There are so many things to like about the search function in the Google Chrome web browser:

  • At the touch of Ctrl-F, it appears as an embedded dialog box, tiny, in the upper-right of your window...rarely obscuring what you're searching through.
  • As soon as you type some text, it displays the number of hits, and tells you which hit you're on.
  • It has two small arrows, up and down. You can immediately go to the next or the previous hit. I love this. So often I search for something, and because I know the text, I know I need to go backwards to find it....something that often isn't easy to do.
Okay, I have to admit that this was a problem for me in Emacs, not because Emacs won't search backwards, but because I'd never learned that keystroke. So I just looked it up right now. I googled for 'emacs search backwards' and the answer was in the text that Google displayed for the first hit; I didn't even have to go to the page. Ctrl-s searches forward, Ctrl-r searches backward. Simple.

So I guess this is what tactical nukes means?

I bumped into a mention of some very small nuclear weapons that we built back in the day. It was kind of shocking to see how small these things were. And so inaccurate that it was the radiation damage, not the explosion, that they were used for. Nice name, though: Davey Crockett.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Kenneth Hite on Setting in RPGs

Kenneth Hite says setting is the game designer's primary responsibility....and adds many other interesting ideas to it, in this blog post. I'd forgotten about his blog, found it deep in my delicious links.

ChoiceScript....language for writing choose-your-own-adventure games

I do think about writing a choose-your-own adventure thing now and then. I'm hampered by the knowledge that most of them are terrible. Sure, you could open an infinity of choices for the player, but in practice, the writer doesn't want to spend infinity writing choices, so the writer collapses many options down so they either result in a quick end to the story (often a death), or joins them.

It would be interesting to try this in an online format, though, since pagecount wouldn't be a limit. I imagine pagecount was a big limit on the old Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Wait, they're not old. They have a website for a company called Choose Your Own Adventure.

HTML, of course, makes a choose-your-own-adventure thing pretty easy to make at home; you could simply have each 'page' be an HTML file, and provide the choices as links.

But you can get more interesting than that. Up to now, when I muse about this possibility, of writing electronic choicebooks, I think of TiddlyWiki as format...because it has a lot of features that would help, like being a single-file format, and a built-in editor.

Then I bumped into ChoiceScript: it's designed for doing these things. It's got a simple wiki-like script. And it looks like it makes HTML aided by JavaScript. I liked the company's page about why they make such multiple-choice text games.

Oh, and this might well be a good way to get a kid into programming, with a nicely concrete application. That might get me to actually try it out.

The makers of this script have a fairly interesting game, Choice of the Dragon. It clearly uses variables to make the game text more tailored than a paper game could.

Friday, February 05, 2010

They fixed D&D!

This chart reduces most of the required die rolls in D&D to quick calculations, so that you don't have to consult a table. I like this a lot. I don't actually play D&D at the moment. If this was a product I would want to buy it, despite the fact that I don't need it. Is there a name for this phenomenon?

It's analogous to when I bump into a unicycle at a garage sale. I already have three unicycles. I certainly don't need another unicycle. But if I bumped into one, I'd be sorely tempted to buy it.

But it's okay. I'm thinking about playing this crazy retro rewrite of the very first version of D&D, called Swords and Wizardry. The neat thing about this is people have revised the rules. I remember finding my first copy of D&D largely incomprehensible. And of course this version is a free PDF, that's a big selling point. ;)

There are retro clones of other versions of D&D, including the 1981 Basic D&D by Tom Moldvay. Which means it is possible to play that version of D&D without having to dig up an out-of-print version of the game. And it is apparently possible to play and enjoy the old rules unironically; this post from the creator of Dogs in the Vineyard and Kill Puppies for Satan is inspirational in that regard, although that guy always sounds like he has great games. ;)

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Chloe's writing, to a prompt

Prompt, 4rth grade:

The flowers were everywhere. They were pretty. Ducks swam in the pond. The grass was green. We had our lunch in the park. Then we went home.

Chloe's writing in response:

Soft orange petals adorned the proud green stems while the black and yellow bees spread the sweet smell that wafted into my nose. In the green tinted water, fluffy yellow ducks pushed their webbed feet through the water. Light green frogs sproinged (? or sprayed?) their own notes. The grass was green and light-hearted, waving to the friendly cattails. We sat on a rotting bench and table. Mom pulled out salami sandwiches and bottles of iced tea from our nylon cooler. I sighed. All was tranquil in the park. When all chewers had run out of food, we headed home down rock-carpeted road. I decided that I was satisfied with the day.

(Much of the punctuation added by me)

How to Host a Dungeon

Here's a game about creating a dungeon...over time. I have long wanted to generate a fantasy world using the process this game uses: by setting up different groups of 'people' (monsters in the case of the game) and playing out how they interact. This game found a workable procedure for it. And when you're done, you have a dungeon you could base an adventure on. Very interesting.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Living the dream

Chris Yates makes art objects that are semi-mass produced....for example, figure castings that are each painted differently. I like the style and I love the idea of doing this sort of thing to make your bread.

I guess it's no surprise I'd like the Slugs shown here, because their design has some things in common with my Poids.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

More Expendable

I recently posted about the short film Expendable. I forgot to mention that it reminded me of the (unrelated) science fiction novel Expendable, which I enjoyed. I just found a review of the novel, though, that brought up some interesting issues.

The novel's premise is that future Earth has gone to the stars and developed the technology to give most folks lives of ease and near-perfect bodies. But some few folks can't benefit from the body fixing, for whatever reason, and they are looked down upon...and become the only folks given the dangerous job of Explorer, because they are considered expendable. Our hero is a woman Explorer.

The book is fun and funny and has some good ideas. The review here talks about some of the issues, and some flaws with the book, as well as making a flattering comparison to Joan Slonczewski's Shora books. I still recommend the book.

Comic Strip Doctor

Why haven't I read this before? The Comic Strip Doctor is where David Malki of Wondermark fixes the boring comics of the newspaper. Snarky comments about things like Beetle Bailey would be fine, but this is a critique that comes with real medicine. I feel like I learned a thing or two about comedy from reading these dissections. Also, they are hilarious.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Author Kage Baker has died

I only got interested in Kage Baker books this year, and now she's dead.

They Fight Crime!

This is one of those widgets that makes you a story plot from random elements. It is awesome.

Here's one: "He's a genetically engineered white trash sorceror on the wrong side of the law. She's a time-travelling hip-hop mechanic on the trail of a serial killer. They fight crime!"