Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Children, with Geese

We found a small flock of geese waiting in a field in Milwaukee during our Christmas vacation. They were willing to hold still for me to get a slightly closer shot. This was right after we enjoyed some Mexican food with Michelle and Ramon at a favorite Milwaukee eatery.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Although Chloe cannot fly... is not for lack of trying.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Kiss, short story with goblin

I recently enjoyed this story from the Strange Horizons webzine. I'm interested in how goblins are represented in various stories these days. This one is brief and strange and weird.

Chloe's Indian project

Fourth graders at Summitt Elementary do an Indian project every year. Not all of them include a cutaway teepee. Or a bison like this one.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

_Gunnerkrigg Court, Volume I, Orientation

I was pleasantly surprised to see a full-color volume of the webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court at my local library. I shouldn't be surprised; lots of webcomics have books out; but I'm still getting used to the idea. (Amazon link for the book.)

Gunnerkrigg is the tale of a girl going to a strange boarding school, full of unacknowledged supernatural secrets. It has a strong aura of mystery and fun, anime-ish art with bold lines and bright colors. I thought it worked rather better in print, given some very colorful printing and the fact that picking up this thick volume means you can run through storylines faster. My 10-year-old daughter also enjoyed it.

The book takes you into the development of a mysterious conflict between the court and the nearby mystical wood. It mixes in characters from various mythologies. It's held together by the young girl main character's chutzpah, and I like that.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

One-twelfth Scale Food

Figured I'd continue to reveal my love of the cute by posting a link to this Flickr archive of someone's 1/12-scale food art projects. I'm guessing these are made of polyclay.

Friday, March 26, 2010

13 Ways of Thinking about Liz Lemon

Oh, this is well worth a read: 13 Ways of Thinking about Liz Lemon. Found via MetaFilter. A nuanced look at what this very funny character means.

I think I like articles about TV more than TV itself. Huh. Probably an article about TV makes me feel smarter than TV does. For example, I've been watching a lot of NCIS lately. It does not seem like a smart show, but it is a lot of fun. Hey, Wikipedia says NCIS got its pilot start as a couple of episodes of JAG, whaddayaknow.

Chloe is what we call modest

Chloe with an award from school.

Talk to people about what they know: a practical way to deal with racism, ignorance, people

I found this post on Metafilter earlier this month and was impressed. The writer spent time in a job where he dealt with aboriginal land claims and the non-natives who were being affected by them, so he encountered a lot of racism.

He argues convincingly that most such beliefs are quite shallow, and that you can ignore a lot of it and see the good in people by remembering this quote he provides, from a cowboy singer:

"You know, if you talk to people about what they know, they will always tell you the truth."

See what you think. The post is part of a larger discussion about respectfully disagreeing with people.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sign of the times

These signs started showing up at work when the H1N1 scare got started a few months ago.

Solicitors don't have it easy at our house

Last month we had a couple of solicitors stop by our house, at the usual convenient time... dinner time. That never puts us in a good mood. As it happened, we were more on the ball than usual and we were actually all gathered in the vicinity of the front room.

We're running around trying to get dinner on the table, and the doorbell rings. It's two kids of about college age, a slightly chunky young woman and a slender young man.

Tanya answers the door and before the woman gets very far with her schpiel, Tanya interrupts, saying, "We don't buy anything door-to-door."

The woman was taken aback, got a little angry, started to protest. "I didn't say we were selling anything," she said, rather harshly. Then she seemed to realize that she'd blown the sale by getting angry. Her body sagged, she said something like "never mind", they walked off and we shut the door.

I'm sure people factor the dinner thing into their choice of when to ring doorbells. For one thing, you want people to be home. I don't know whether they count on the fact that it's harder to brush someone off with your kids standing there than otherwise. However, they get less of an advantage from that at my house than elsewhere: week before last I bounced someone off my porch with a quick "we're not interested, thank you," and Chloe, 10, was right there and laughed in the person's face. I had to say a few words to Chloe about this rudeness, and I don't think Chloe saw that at all, she just thought my sharp rejection of them was funny.

Back to our pair of folks who weren't selling anything: Tanya noticed that the woman had a receipt pad with her. So they might not have been selling anything, but they were likely looking for donations at least. And I have a problem with that. I've done that door-to-door donation thing, briefly, and it was disappointing to learn that frequently those collectors are funded by commissions on the money they collect.

That commission model for donations probably is highly practical, but I can't stomach it. And if you're going to do that, then you should be super up front about it. I suppose I could take to asking folks whether they get paid by commission when they come to my door, but I can only get interested in pranking such people in theory.

In practice I just want to be let alone to lasso my kids to the table and eat my dinner.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Returning to a pre-September-11 mentality

Adam Cadre wrote this a long time ago, but I only found it recently:

In the article, Cadre was explaining why he preferred Kerry to Bush in 2004, and noted that someone tried to insult Kerry by saying he had a pre-September-11 mentality. I like it for its focus on results, especially given the amount of security theater we've seen in recent years.

Cadre says it would be great if the whole country returned to a pre-September-11 mentality:

September 11th taught us that if we blow off monitoring terrorist activity, terrorists can currently succeed, once every several years, in killing almost as many people in a single day as die that day from smoking-related illness. It was a lesson that we had to be extremely vigilant in protecting against terrorist attack. It was not the worst day in American history (the casualties inflicted on 11 September 2001 would have classed it as a minor skirmish in the Civil War) and it was not an all-purpose excuse for murdering tens of thousands of civilians. So I would actually welcome a return to the pre-September 10th mentality — perhaps to the 31 December 1999 mentality that actually foiled the bombing of LAX and was focused on things like rounding up loose nukes instead of remaking countries with imaginary arsenals.
Correction: I had described this article as referring to why Cadre preferred Kerry to Bush in 2000 instead of 2004, until Doug corrected me in his comments and then later demanded I correct this post as well. So now it's correcter.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bronson Pinchot interview in the Onion AV Club

Don't tell me you never watched Perfect Strangers and laughed. I think I'd be embarrassed by the show now. But it ran for eight seasons. Not sure that says anything good about anyone.

However, this highly candid interview with Bronson Pinchot is well worth a read. From the Onion AV Club. Here's a tidbit about working on Risky Business with Tom Cruise:

"We didn’t know it was going to be a big hit. We thought Tom [Cruise] was the biggest bore on the face of the Earth. He had spent some formative time with Sean Penn—we were all very young at the time, Tom was 20, I was 23. Tom had picked up this knack of calling everyone by their character names, because that would probably make your performance better, and I don’t agree with that. I think that acting is acting, and the rest of the time, you should be you, but he called us all by our character names. He was tense and made constant, constant unrelated homophobic comments, like, “You want some ice cream, in case there are no gay people there?” "

Monday, March 22, 2010

Relief map generator

This little tool generates nice-looking random relief maps, useful for RPG scenarios. One of the interesting things about it is that it generates all of its randomness from a single seed number, so you can specify a particular map with one number.

For example, if you leave all the preferences on the default settings, and enter 55567 as the random seed, you'll get the exact map I show above.

Another interesting features is the random town names: the names are taken from a default list or a text file you provide. So you can specify a list of names, but they get placed randomly around the map.

The tool is a free download from Greenfish.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

_World War Hulk_ by Greg Pak, John Romita Jr.

Image from Amazon

World War Hulk is the story of a vengeful Hulk returned from weird adventures in space to wreak havoc on earth. It was an odd addition to the Hulk legend, but full of the sort of big action you expect in a Hulk story. A lot of the action panels were full of explosions and such, making it hard to follow the art much of the time. It's a graphic novel reprint of a limited series first published in 2008, so it's a relatively recent piece of the Hulk was interesting to see where they've taken the Hulk.

MINOR SPOILERS...the basic premise

Before this book starts, the Hulk got shot off into space by some of Earth's biggest names in superherodom...Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Doctor Strange. We get a precis of his weird adventures as the Green King, which sound very pulpy and interesting but run the risk of serious silliness. The idea, though, is that the Hulk, ejected from Earth, built a whole new life for himself, with a new love interest, and then somehow those same Earth heroes killed his whole planet, so he's returned for revenge.


The Hulk is, of course, initially unstoppable. Lots of scenes of heroes feeling guilty as they try to beat the distraught Hulk. This Hulk is not the "Hulk Smash" unreasoning brute...he seems to be in one of his smarter incarnations...but he is so angry that there is no reasoning with him.

This book takes Hulk-gets-angry-gets-stronger to near supernatural levels, and there's a lot of fun in that. I also like the appearance of the Sentry in this book.

The best part of this book are the hints of his weird adventures on the planet Sakaar. He even brings back a set of pals with him. I can't help but think that these weird adventures sound better in the brief retelling than they would if I read the originals. There's always a risk in the complete-reinvention-of-a-character that comics feel obliged to perpetrate periodically.

I'd like to say I'm totally open to these reinventions, but I think it actually depends on the character, how well I know their continuity, and of course how well the story is done.

In this case, I didn't read the actual reinvention. But I think they faltered in this story. At the end, I was sure they were going to kill the Hulk off. It would have been an appropriate turn of the story, given the Hulk's emotional situation. The Hulk basically begs for it, suggesting that he's too angry to stop fighting. But when he finally gets hit by the magic laser beam that Reed has been working on to stop him, it just turns him back into Bruce Banner.

If they'd killed him off, they could have played on the guilt of the top heroes for years. Also, they've already made Hulk weird and unHulky, what have they got to lose?

I might forgive all this if the main action of the book was better, but it wasn't. It was hard to follow. Plotting this thing must have been hard, but the way it's set up, one big hero after another takes a swipe at the Hulk. That's kinda stupid. As I mentioned, the action panels are hard to read, so this stuff isn't that interesting. Doctor Strange gets a little interesting, but he basically channels a demon and then faces off with the Hulk in fisticuffs, also kinda dumb.

I'd be interested to hear how someone who read the Green King adventures of the Hulk (that made him what he was when this story started) regarded this book.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lynda Barry dated Ira Glass

...and Ira Glass was a jerk to her. Later he became a famous radio guy and she wrote a comic about it.

The best part? Glass admits it, all of it: "I was an idiot. I was in the wrong. About the breakup...About so many things with her. Anything bad she says about me I can confirm."

If you haven't read any Lynda Barry, you should. She's a fantastic writer with wonderful characters. Unless you hate revisiting the pangs of childhood. In that case steer clear. But you should really man up and check her out.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Writing your way through the doldrums

On my current project, I was suffering from a lack of interest. I'm reworking an old story that didn't have a proper ending...itself an old story for me...and it was no fun. Every day I was thinking about dumping it and working on something else. But every day I did another 500 words of something for it...500 words from some character's point of view, or 500 words trying to fill out a Snowflake for it..something. And it's taken what seems like forever...maybe ten or fifteen days...but I finally feel like I've turned a corner on it. I just kept churning through the bad ideas and now I'm getting some good ones.

Part of the pain was having to view this story, which I'd once thought was hot stuff, as being truly awful. Now I can hardly see what I saw in it. Well, that's not strictly true: the same elements that I liked are there. I just can't any longer see why I ever thought the story was a complete story, or accomplished much. Now I read it and I think, "Nothing happens in this thing!"

Hey, I still might dump it. But I've written my way out of this particular hole and am having a good time again.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Word macro for wordcount

I'm doing 500-word writing sessions; to do that, I need to know how many words there are in my file when I start, I need a quick way to get the current wordcount, and I need to know what my goal is.

So I came up with this macro. It's for Word 2003. When you run it, it generates a line like this:

Start 11609, current 12167, goal 12109

and the value for the current wordcount is a field code, so you can update it at any time by clicking on it and hitting F9. Yes, this would be unnecessary if I had the latest version of Word, which displays the wordcount in the status bar, but I don't have that. Also, that version of Word hides menu options from you more effectively than any previous version.

I thought the code for generating the field code was pretty arcane, but I got it by recording the action of adding a field code.

Sub WordCount()
' WordCount Macro
' This macro puts a line about wordcount into the current document.
' It puts the 'start' wordcount..the count you start with
' then the 'current', which is a NumWords field code that you can update with F9
' then it puts the 'goal, which is start + 500.
Dim Numwords As Integer
Dim Goalwords As Integer

'Ok, now populate Numwords with the value of the wordcount property
Numwords = ActiveDocument.BuiltInDocumentProperties(wdPropertyWords)
Goalwords = Numwords + 500

'The rest of this is just outputting text at the selection point
Selection.TypeText Text:="Start "
Selection.TypeText (Numwords)
Selection.TypeText Text:=", current "

'I generated the line below using a recording.
Selection.Fields.Add Range:=Selection.Range, Type:=wdFieldEmpty, Text:= _
"NUMWORDS ", PreserveFormatting:=True
Selection.TypeText Text:=", goal "
Selection.TypeText (Goalwords)
End Sub

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A tour through the Original D&D rules, via Something Awful

These guys are always funny, but when they turn to D&D geekery, they hit my sweet spot.

It must have been strange to be the writers of the original D&D rules. Those guys were just writing a little addendum to the Chainmail wargame rules. They had no idea what they were starting, and they didn't know they'd find an audience of folks who had never played wargames. I know I found my way to wargames by starting with D&D. I guess that makes D&D a gateway drug to the much more expensive Warhammer, doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Picatta sauce is easy

May I improve your life? I can do it in a couple of steps:

1. Buy a jar of capers.
2. Learn to make picatta sauce.

I assumed that Chicken Picatta was a difficult dish requiring massive culinary chops. Also, it didn't occur to me that you could omit the chicken. My dad showed me the way out of this dead end.

If you omit the chicken, then you've got a dish you can whip up faster than you can boil the noodles. And if you use Angel Hair for your noodles, then the whole dish can be cooked in thirty minutes or less.

The only ingredient for picatta sauce that we don't routinely stock is capers. Everything else we keep handy...chicken stock, butter, flour, garlic.

I made some yesterday using this recipe. I need to repeat this a couple more times before it'll be second nature. I initially added too much chicken stock and it was too salty.

Guess what? I just kept adding water until it tasted right. Although this cooks up like a gravy, I didn't have problems with it congealing like a gravy, so I was able to start the pasta water, make the sauce (holding off on adding the lemon juice), then add the lemon juice and stir when the noodles were ready.

Also, this packed well the next day for a lunch at work. Good things all around.

I suppose you can probably find prepared picatta somewhere. I think I may have found a crack in my reality here. I think I'm going to leave picatta labeled as a swanky luxury food in my head, and just feel like a king every time I prepare it.

Here's another picatta recipe I bumped into that looked interesting: Chicken Piccata with Lemon, Capers and Artichoke Hearts.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Lord Dunsany story, online

Hey, somebody put a Lord Dunsany story online. I was reading about gnolls, and someone has a theory that gnolls come from the Dunsany story How Nuth Would Have Practiced His Art Upon the Gnoles.

I read some Dunsany when I was in college, I guess because it was referenced by various fantasy authors. I always found it to be weird wild stuff, and this story is no exception. Dunsany's conception of Faerie is of the scary sort, and many of his stories are pretty creepy.

Hey, I thought Dunsany was super ancient news, but he actually lived until 1957.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Catholic charity taking a beating

As far as I know, Catholic charities have a strong reputation. I was raised Catholic, though, so I could biased. Oh, wait, we're all biased.

Anyway, Catholic charity, as a value, is taking a beating lately, what with the reaction to Washington D.C. legalizing gay marriage: The Archdiocese of DC has decided to deny benefits to all spouses, so that they can't be forced to give benefits to partners in gay marriages.

Specifically, they're not going to add any new spouses to their benefits. Folks already on the rolls get to stay on.

This is a curious stand. The reason given is to "remaining consistent with the tenets of our religious faith." The most interesting argument about this that I saw was that there are lots of other ways people might violate Catholic tenets...but it's gay marriage that gets you locked out of benefits.

I found those ideas in a report of a Catholic school refusing to admit a kid because the kid has lesbian parents.

"I don't think they interview to see what parents are divorced or what parents are using birth control or other things that are against the teaching of the Catholic Church," one protester said.

This is one of those things that we're all going to find very strange a hundred years from now, the way slavery seems today. I mean, I find it strange now, but our kids are going to slowly internalize the idea that gays are just people and wonder why people were so crazy.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

_Robin: Year One_ by Chuck Dixon

Image from
Our library has two mother lodes of comics goodness. I guess it's a mother lode and a daughter lode: one for adults and one for kids.

Sometimes it's not clear to me why a book is in one category and not the other. Maybe it's just the essential conflict of librarianhood: you can only put a book in one place. That's just another problem that will fall by the wayside when the singularity comes, and all books are online, and everyone realizes that Cory Doctorow was right all along.

But I digress. This book was not shelved wrong. It's aimed at young adults, but it's a fine read for adults as well, which is as it should be. The art trended towards the style of the Batman and Superman cartoons, but not quite as simple as that. The storyline has Batman acting a little softer towards Robin than he usually seems, and I liked it.

Star Trek insignia shirts

I used to have something like these as pajamas when I was a kid.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Cheap paper diagnostic tests for diseases

Little paper diagnostic tests. Sort of like litmus paper for blood. This is some really cool simple cheap technology. Reading about this technology brings a couple of things to mind:
  • In science fiction, this sort of thing would normally be a gadgety box that zaps someone with a ray and thereby diagnoses them. Science fiction, I would argue, rarely predicts this kind of technology. Ziploc bags spring to mind. How many visions of the future included those? (Actually, I'd love it if someone contradicted me here with some highly realistic stories that I could go read.)
  • It's amazing what folks can do when they focus on not just innovating but innovating in ways that would spread important developments to the masses. This thing has great potential for the developing world.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lessons from Doom

I love stuff like this article about lessons designers of modern FPS games can learn from Doom. I do not know why. I do not actually play FPS games. I just have an instatiable desire to understand what the cool kids are talking about.

Anyway, in this article, the interesting thing is how the author, who works on current games, attributes much of Doom's success to the lack of realism in the design, to its taking inspiration from older arcade games, creating a design that puts gameplay first.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

You can change original D&D in a heartbeat

Summary: GOBLINS: As halflings, only green.

Something that I didn't really get as a kid playing D&D was how easy it was to change it. I supposed it's partly because I came to D&D during the heyday of the publication of the first AD&D hardbacks, which contained a strong thread of "this is the one true way to play D&D."

That seems silly now, but we have a long D&D publishing history to look at now, and you can anayze these things with context like what was going on at TSR Hobbies, and with Gary Gygax, and so forth, and start to understand. Now it seems crazy to me that anyone tried to standardize something like D&D, or that you should worry if one game played by slightly different rules than another. I get why kids, especially, would worry about this, but really...transferrability between campaigns never made sense. When I walk into your campaign with the four wands and two magic rings that my wizard character got because he started as the NPC henchman of a thief I was playing, and that thief stole those items from a PC in a game, and then gave them to his mage, and then my DM was lax enough to let me make that NPC into my new PC just because he suddenly had a bunch of magic items...that's just ripe for abuse.

Furthermore, as far as I can tell, everyone ignored lots of the rules in AD&D. Weapons versus Armor Class seems to have been a favorite. So despite the pleas of Gygax & Co., the game was different all over the place.

But that's not what I wanted to go on about. I'm simply enjoying the extreme simplicity of the Swords and Wizardy retroclone of original D&D, and noting how easy it is to add a new race or class to the mix.

For example, a post on Grognardia mentioned the idea of using goblins as player characters, specifically to replace halflings. I've got a special place in my heart for goblins, so I immediately adopted this idea when setting up a campaign for my son. He doesn't realize it yet, but at the moment, goblins are central to just about everything.

Whether we'll get very far in exploring these ideas remains to be seen. I've done no more than jot a few ideas down...I'm trying not to get too far ahead of him.

This simplicity is of course based on the fact that there are so few darn rules. We started generating house rules as soon as we started playing...although, to be fair, these are mostly just things I remember from AD&D that I adopted on the spur of the moment.

I suppose, as a kid, I would've been more interested in the powers of goblins, and therefore not very interested in goblins, who have no special powers. Drow were popular, and powerful. But now I'm interested in goblins as representing a downtrodden race, considered monsters. And I'm also interested in a world where people live side-by-side with such a race.

I imagine our play will change a lot if it keeps up. I'm just glad there is so much free material out there on the net that we can experiment with to try this out.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Two comics about Star Wars

Starting here, two comics from the strip Sheldon, about Star Wars. Sort of. More like about playing with Star Wars action figures? Anyway. They were cute, so here they are.

Monday, March 08, 2010

If we had handy, accurate lie detectors...

...would things be any better? This video answers that question.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Guilty pleasure: Potato chips and curry

Lately I've been eating a lot of extremely healthy homemade curry. Most of these curries are entirely vegetarian, low fat, and so on.

But when I pack them into my lunch for work, I can't resist using a bag of Ruffles (from the piles of free snacks a work) to scoop them up.

Sometimes two bags.

Anyway, here's the healthy side of what I've been eating...using this excellent guide (PDF download after the jump) to making lots of different curries.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

"Tourists" proves you can get first-published on

I'm on the mailing list, so I get e-mail weekly about new stories on the site. The quality of the stories there has been pretty high. I liked this one, Tourists, quite a lot. I thought it did a good job of describing a novel situation with great images in a few words, and built up emotional tension nicely. It sort of juxtaposes aliens with the alienation of trying to understand other people. That's good work for 5000 words.

Meanwhile, the author is doing handstands as it's his first publication.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Tada's Revolution

Some of the cutest crafted creatures I've ever seen, in adorable miniature scenes.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Banning photography reduces our security

Nice post on why banning photography is bad for everyone:

If there is a situation in which taking a photo would help a terrorist to achieve their objectives, no enforceable anti-photo policy will deter them. Anyone willing to plan or undertake a terrorist attack will be able to tolerate any punishment that could conceivably be imposed for taking photos. They are also likely to be able to take photos in a way that will not be noticed: either with sneaky hidden cameras or with a simple camera phone or by developing an awareness of when the authorities are watching. Banning photography in places like vehicles and bridges punishes photography enthusiasts and serves no security purpose.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Found-object sculptures

I like these found-object sculptures by Sayaka Ganz.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

OK GO's Rube Goldberg Video

This one's a keeper. One take, apparently. Found on MetaFilter. It's one of those Mousetrap/Rube Goldberg sequences that are so much fun. This one is more inventive than most.

Monday, March 01, 2010

I've Become My Mother

"Oh no, I've become my mother," reads the caption on this T-shirt, from the comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.