Monday, May 31, 2010

Cast foam dungeon scenery material that you can cut and modify

Cast foam has been making its way into the game stores as a scenery material. I like it because it's lightweight but it takes details and paint well. It's usually too expensive for me, though, and I like to make my own stuff anyway.

Here's a product by a company called Thomarillion that provides a set of interlockable cast foam pieces, and takes advantage of the foam material's ability to be easily cut and modified, to create system that's a cross between Legos and a model kit.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Homeland Security's active shooter pamphlet

This pamphlet was more gripping than many thrillers I've read. Seriously. This is about how to deal with a shooting in your workplace or wherever.

Lesser-known American civil wars

From, a funny list of real historical conflicts in the U.S. that you probably haven't heard of.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sex and the City 2 review

I don't actually plan to see this movie, but this review made it all worthwhile.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

One-handed keyboard

There was a time when I really wanted a pocket computer with some kind of chording/one-handed keyboard. Now someone has come up with a solution that doesn't require relearning how to type. When you hold down the space bar on this keyboard, you get the letters from the other side of the keyboard. For example, to generate an H with your left hand, you hold down space and hit the G key..which uses the pointer finger. Same finger, different hand. It's not that hard to do.

Has a great use for folks with a missing or injured hand...and they sell a half-keyboard version too. The interesting thing here is that the full keyboard can be used normally as well. You could also use it for carpal tunnel reasons....switching from two-hand to one-hand typing at any time.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Survey of the moral panic over D&D is like reading horror fiction

One of my hot-buttons is people linking D&D and other games to Satanism. I was completely caught up in this survey of the topic by Allen Varney, published on The Escapist....but I also found that reading this stuff depressed me as a review of people's stupidity. Still, I retain a morbid fascination with the topic, and Varney's a great writer. I was particularly taken with one item he mentions, The Pulling Report, a careful analysis of one mother who made herself into a game-Satanism expert for the courts, crusading against a problem that didn't exist, spreading lies as far as she could, apparently in an attempt to explain her own son's suicide, against all the available facts. That this woman was accepted by anyone as a credible expert is painful to read.

I don't remember that my Mom ever had any serious worries about D&D. Sometimes lurid pictures would bother her, perhaps. I can't see her ever taking any Satanist ideas seriously, and this from a seriously religious woman. Maybe she's always had too much faith in me to worry about such things. This is a nice thought actually. Good on you, Mom.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Traveller maps online

I feel I would be remiss in not mentioning this Traveller map web site, which displays maps of the Imperium and surrounding areas in any scale you like. It's enough to make me regret that I've never managed to actually play Traveller with any success.

My mother would not be interested in these maps, I know, but she'd appreciate how excited I got about them and make encouraging noises.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"Sundowning" by Joanne Merriam, a different sort of vampire story

"Sundowning" is about getting along in a tough world, so in that way it's universal. That the toughness comes from having to live in a postwar world where the vamps won the war makes it both terrifying and charming. Highly recommended. From Strange Horizons.

Man, if my mom knew how much I'd slacked off on blogging, she'd be upset. If she quite knew what a blog was. But I've been getting a lot of writing done. So there.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Red and blue families article on NPR

1. New book talks about the fact that there's more divorce and teen pregnancy in conservative states than liberal ones, and explains this via the age of marriage: conservative states encourage early marriage, which has negative outcomes; liberal states encourage later marriage. Audio of the NPR article here.

2. You can hear a tidbit of an article on NPR, and then quickly and easily find it and listen to it on their site. I overheard part of an article on Friday, and I wanted to hear the rest, and it was easy.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Restore Joss Whedon!

When I mentioned the restore Stephen Baldwin campaign, I didn't know, at the time, about the much more relevant and compelling campaign to restore Joss Whedon(video).

However, I admit that my mother would probably prefer Baldwin.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Summary of abuses in Wakefield anti-vaccine crusade

This summary of the whole terrible Andrew Wakefield-inspired anti-vaccine campaign, listing Wakefield's falsifications of his "research", is interesting. It's a summary of investigative reporting including information on ways Wakefield profited or stood to profit from casting doubt on the MMR vaccine.

This article lays the blame for the start of all the autism-anti-vaccine feeling here in the US on Wakefield's work in the UK; I didn't know about that. And the sad thing is that though Wakefield's work has been thoroughly debunked, lots of folks still think there's a link between vaccinations and autism.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Real Translations of Names of Popular Thai Dishes

When friend Mikael demanded "one each" of the Thai dishes listed here at a dinner, famous writer Top Changwatchai (winner of the 2001 Lyttle Lytton contest), provided the real meanings of the names....and I thought his contributions were worth sharing. Therefore, with Top's permission, we have these translations By A Certified Thai Person:

As a public service, I now give the *real* translation of the names of these ten dishes:

10. Kai Pad Med Mamuang Himmapan (Stir-Fried Chicken with Cashew Nuts)
Real translation:  Leftovers with Mystery Meat

9. Por Pia Tord (Fried Spring Roll)
Real translation:  Sea Pork with Oxen Hearts

8. Panaeng (Meat in Spicy Coconut Cream)
Real translation:  A Little of This, a Little of That, and a Whole Lotta Love

7. Som Tam (Spicy Papaya Salad)
Real translation:  My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend, and I Sure Do Miss Him

6. Moo Sa-Te (Grilled Pork Sticks with Turmeric)
Real translation:  She Got the Ring and I Got the Finger

5. Tom Yam Kai (Spicy Chicken Soup)
Real translation:  Tom Wrecked My Car, Shot My Dog, and Stole My Wife

4. Tom Kha Kai (Chicken in Coconut Milk Soup)
Real translation:  Tom Returned Her

3. Kang Keaw Wan Kai (Green Chicken Curry)
Real translation:  Fried Keaw Wan Kai

2. Pad Thai (Fried Noodle)
Real translation:  Spaghetti

1. Tom Yam Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup)
Real translation:  Here's a Shout-Out to Tom, a Great Drinking Buddy and the Best Takraw Player This Side of the Andaman Sea

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"The Freedom", creepy good story

Creepy, odd, weird, compelling. Definitely worth your time. "The Freedom" by K M Lawrence, from Strange Horizons. Not one I'd ask my mom to read though.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

More connections between Tea Party and racism?

PZ Myers has an interesting post here about how the Tea Party picked on Roger Ebert for being his usual classy self.

One million giraffes

I like this idea. This fellow is collecting drawings of giraffes from contributors. He's trying to get to a million. I've actually drawn giraffes enough to have developed a cartoon giraffe design of my own. So I plan to contribute. I know I can get Chloe to contribute. I hope he succeeds.

Well, I said drawings, but it's really giraffe art made out of anything, as shown here.

I just showed the site to Chloe, 10. She's raced off to start drawing giraffes.

I wonder if I can get my Mom to make a giraffe. Probably, if I'm willing to post it on her behalf.

Dominion Card Picker

This one is a tip from pal Mikael, who I'm proud to have introduced to the wonders of Dominion: a web tool for randomly picking a set of cards for a Dominion game. It's notable for allowing you some parameters, like requiring that the set contain certain specific kinds of cards. Also, it lets you tell it which Dominion sets you own, including some promo cards I didn't even know about. It represents the best thing about the web: letting everyone share the fruits of someone else's obsession.

For example, if my Mom were willing to use the web, we could benefit from the recipes she comes up with. She told me about a casserole she made involving tortilla chips and beans and enchilada sauce. She often comes up with quick and easy recipes like these. She even thought about submitting this one to a newspaper's comfort food contest...but it would have required her to type it up, and figure out how to enter the contest online, which would have required help from she dropped the whole thing. So I guess this isn't an example of that sharing.

UPDATE: Mikael pointed out I left out the link to the Dominion card picker tool.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I'd like to tell my 4-year-old not to watch Barbie animated movies...

...but I just glanced over and Barbie is flying away from her enemy on a pink pegasus, and she's carrying a baby polar bear. (Huh, if she took her top off it would make a pretty good Frank Frazetta painting.)

I'd sit down and watch it with her, but I'm pretty sure the actual story could only disappoint. Oh, and the bad guy rides a gryphon, which reminds me of Dark Lord of Derkholm, where the protagonist has magically-engineered gryphons whom he adopts as kids. Alongside his regular kids. Making magical creatures like gryphons is a pretty standard Dark Lord trick, but I love how the guy in that book raises them as beloved adopted kids who pal around with his normal human kids; it's delightful.I think my mom would like it.

Huh, I thought I'd already posted about Diana Wynne Jones' book. It's a tense and funny fantasy in which the main character is forced to play the role of Dark Lord for a set of otherworldly tourists who come from our Earth. Jones is the author of the book Howl's Moving Castle that was made into such a fine movie.

UPDATE 5/11/10....I don't think my Mom has seen any of these Miyazaki movies, but she's not opposed to a good kids' movie by any means. I should probably sit her down to watch Kiki's Delivery Service, I think she'd like it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Skull font

A free font where every letter has its skull. You could make a fun t-shirt fast with this sort of thing. All you need is something to say.

Speaking of skulls, Skull the Troll has had some interesting adventures due to PVP's recent guest strips. I liked the ones where Little Rayne from Least I Could Do shows up to be Skull's special friend.

I'm not seeing quite so many skulls around. For a while they were huge in T-shirts and all over the mass market.

UPDATE 5/11/10...I wonder what my mom would think about these skulls? She tends to shy away from dark symbolism. I don't think you can convince her that it's all in fun.

Oh No Nuns!

This is a blog of pure fantasy. Photos of nuns, with strange stories made up about them. It's like playing the stranger game, but with the audacity of aiming it at nuns. Which makes sense. Everybody likes to watch nuns. My mom likes to watch nuns. She thinks they're mysterious. I would play this game with my mother, but I'm confident that whatever she'd actually be doing would be odder than anything I could make up.

This gives me an idea for a different blog: one where each post seems to be about something else, but ends up being about your mother.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Interview with educator/policy maker who changed her mind about test-driven teaching

Barnes & Noble has put out some interesting author interviews, it turns out, and I was quite taken with this one with Diane Ravitch (wikipedia), who has written a book critiquing the way No Child Left Behind-type policies have affected U.S. education. Ravitch's criticism is striking because she was involved in the development of these policies, and decided through experience that they don't work.

Since my wife is just about to start educatin' kids, having recently got her degree, I get to hear a lot about the costs of standardized testing to true learning. Why, The Wire spent a whole season on the difficulties of teaching in a basic-skills-test-driven environment. Ravitch hits these issues in her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education, which came out this year. Balanced education comes into play:

DR: I think that every teacher believes and understands how important basic skills are. But you can't make that the end point of education.
JM: It's like having a basketball team that only practices dribbling.
DR: Right. You could have the best dribblers in the world, but they couldn't even play the game.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

New how to avoid cancer report includes no-plastic-containers guideline

I'd been hearing a little about this issue of plastic containers exposing you to carcinogens. BoingBoing reports that the government has put out a report citing some new ways to reduce your cancer risk, and avoiding plastic containers is one of them. Even avoiding storing food in them, not just heating stuff in them, which was the thing I was concerned about.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Never seen Star Wars

As I write this I'm wearing a retro Star Wars shirt that my son insisted I should have. It is awesome. It has X-wings.

But I'm also taken with the Never Seen Star Wars shirt shown here.  And this Guerre Stellari one ain't bad neither.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Move to Britain and you can vote, if you're from a Commonwealth nation

It turns out that any member of the British Commonwealth Commonwealth of Nations can vote in a British election if he's living there. And the commonwealth includes 54 nations. Honestly, I didn't know there was anything to the Commonwealth anymore, but this makes it seem like quite a deal. Imagine moving to another country and being extended the right to vote without waiting for citizenship. That's mighty friendly.

Of course, I learned about this from a post on BoingBoing where Cory Doctorow mentions his reasons for picking the Liberal of them being that they are the only party that isn't supporting heinous biometric and radio-enabled IDs for immigrants.

PodCastle, fantasy fiction podcasts

Did you know there was a podcast where you could get free fantasy stories in audio form? I didn't. But there is. And it audioizes stories that are from paid magazines. Nice.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Reading _The Hobbit_ aloud

Chloe has been wanting me to read aloud to her lately, and we settled on The Hobbit. We'd made a stab at reading it aloud a few years ago, and got pretty far...more than halfway, as I recall...before we got sidetracked.

Last night I found my copy, on the bottom shelf of a bookshelf in Ethan's room, with so much stuff piled in front of it that it couldn't be seen. And so we sat down and started reading it. We'd agreed to take turns reading so that I wouldn't give up for my voice giving out, and I found that ten-year-old Chloe has become a fine reader, able now to enunciate and emphasize words appropriately, especially in dialogue, which she now speaks as if acting.

We were reading to a mostly-rapt audience of four-year-old Lily, and we fell into a pattern of me reading Gandalf's part while Chloe read Bilbo's.

With many listenings to audio versions of the book to inspire, I felt like I did a decent gravelly, impatient Gandalf. It was fun. I hope we get to the end this time. It'll require some dedication, but I didn't realize it would be so much fun.

Building a castle in the ozarks

A project to build a realistic castle, using only hand labor, planned to take 20 years, with tours going on the whole while.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Microdungeon compilation

The blog Year of the Dungeon posts little maps with tidbits of information. They are evocative; I rather like these adventure seeds. Now the writer has posted a compilation of his January work, an 18-page PDF file, so if you'd rather consume your materials that way, have at. It looks good. I can't help but wonder what it'd be like to be a young dungeon master in the web world, with so much inspiration and source material to work with.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Modern magic, and the Fingerling

I was just reading this excellent short story from Strange Horizons, "The Duke of Vertumn's Fingerling", and got an idea. The story has a magic spell that is described as requiring a ring of "precious salt." Referring to the salt that way made me realize that salt was of course much more precious in the past than it is today, and gave me an idea for fictional magic.

The story, which is by Elizabeth Caroll, came out just a month ago. It's a little under 6k words long. I liked the hints of colorful magic it contains, and the revelations of its ending. I liked most of all that the author puts us in the head of a creature of magic, a homunculus, and makes her unique. The story is well worth your time.

So here's the idea it sparked. Suppose you have a spellcaster who is researching spells and comes upon a recipe for an old spell. The spell might call for salt, but since the value of salt has changed, its value in the spell might now be negligible. One might need to be astute enough to substitute a modern item that is more precious, or something like gold dust that remains precious. A plot could turn around this, or a character could be distinguished by his ability to make these subsitutions, where others say that the magic fails.