Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A storehouse of pencil and paper games

Here's a nicely organized collection of games that one can play with only pencil and paper. Really handy to learn a couple of these for entertaining kids on the fly.

I also found this interesting tic-tac-toe variation, ultimate tic-tac-toe:

...which has a smaller board inside each square of a larger one. The kicker is, you must make your move on the small board corresponding to your opponents last move.

Monday, November 24, 2014

"A Kiss with Teeth" by Max Gladstone, short story about a vampire father

I only read this for the first time yesterday and I kinda think it's going on my all-time favorites list.

It's perhaps the most mature vampire story I've ever seen. But I'm sure I'm biased by the fatherhood aspect. I'm starting to realize that short stories are more situational, seasons-of-life dependent.

So maybe the stories that really grab me now say as much about me or my current situation as anything else. However, that doesn't mean they aren't great. It means that a well-done story that his the right notes for me has more impact.

I think this story hits some deep universals. But maybe if you've never been a parent, those won't hit as hard. Feel free to give your own opinion in the comments.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tacoma art museum shows Western depictions of Native Americans and allows them to comment on them

Really interesting approach:

Tacoma Art Museum has just opened an entirely new wing devoted to a single collection of Western American art [depicting Native Americans and created by Europeans and Euro-Americans]. Because the work presented is culturally problematic, the museum has taken the unusual step of commissioning a handful of Native American people to write labels responding to the art. What results in the galleries can be frustrating, but it also breaks open the complexity of what's really going on both in the art and in the institution of the museum in 2014.
How Tacoma Art Museum Criticizes a Collection Without Angering the Donors

Monday, November 17, 2014

Best way to help the poor? Give them money, directly, in small amounts

Experiments show they do not waste it and make better decisions than aid agencies; the result is improved lives and people off the public dole, with vastly less administrative costs.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Grief and old computing platforms, or why Paul Ford is a genius

This article on by Paul Ford mixes the grief of losing a friend with nostalgia for old computing platforms. The way Ford weaves everything together is, to me, the mark of why he's a fantastic writer. I've been reading his stuff for years and years. I can't even express the feelings his writing evokes.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

"Black Box" by Jennifer Egan, short story on the New Yorker web site

I went to read this because I recognized Jennifer Egan's name. The associations in my head for her name were 'award-winning, literary, sci fi'. The story is interesting but I don't feel that I fully understand it.

When I checked my journal database I found that I'd read her book _The Keep_ in 2011 and been impressed. Similar to this story, though, I was more impressed while reading it than at the end, where there were some things that seemed unfinished.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween 2014: My Owlman Costume

This is me as the Owlman of Morrison's Earth 2 comic.
I guess I'm doing kind of an Owlman Returns? I look a little paunchy to me. Like Owlman had hung up the feathers for a few years, but then somebody got him drunk and convinced him to put on the costume ONE MORE TIME:

Still, I was really happy with the stylized-feather-cape thing. Side note: I've definitely proven that such a cape would be completely impractical for any kind of acrobatics. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

New story "Expecting to Fly" on the Scary Go Round / Bad Machinery web site

The author of the venerable Scary Go Round webcomic and the more recent Bad Machinery is taking a break from Bad Machinery to do a new story. He does this now and then, and I've really enjoyed the results.

Here's the start of the new story:

Allen has developed his fictional town of Tackleford, UK into a host of characters, and this story is a jump backwards in time to see Shelley Winters as a child.

I've grown the whimsy of Allen's art, the snarky comments of his characters, and the way lots always seems to happen between installments, so that in most strips you spend some time figuring out what happened since last time.

Anyhow, I highly recommend it. has become a daily stop for me.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Everybody Eats Everybody on Sunday's Planet, by Jeff Swycaffer

I was remembering this story, which I'd enjoyed in Dragon Magazine years ago, so I did a search, and the whole issue is archived as a PDF here:

The story involves an ousted dictator who flees assassination to land his damaged starship on an apparently deserted planet, where his attempts to repeat his dominion are met with an unusual rebuff.

Also, aliens try to eat him. Repeatedly. Enjoy!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Kommissar, the boardgame of hilariously misunderstanding the Soviet Union

This game sounds hilarious for what it reveals about America, basically. Also, kind of sounds fun.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Text mechanic: online tools to manipulate text

For people who [can't be bothered to learn EMACS/have never heard of EMACS/are sick of hearing about EMACS], this must be really, really sweet.

I bet I'll find uses for it too.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

"What the Elfmaid Brought" by Stephen Reid Case

I was particularly impressed with the story "What the Elfmaid Brought" which was the feature story last Friday on Daily Science Fiction.

I liked the hints of a world with modern sensibilities mixed with fairly Tolkienesque elves and powerful magic. I loved the image of a wizard perplexed by the protagonist's mysterious library, when the wizard himself manifests only as a ball of light.

Most of all I liked the deeply romantic -- in both senses -- ending.

Daily Science Fiction features slightly longer stories on Fridays, and I often find I enjoy them more. I like to read and write supershort flash fiction, but also feel that it is more hit or miss: it's that much harder to please a wide audience with a very short piece.

Or maybe that's an exccuse. Nevermind. Go read this one and enjoy!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Transitioning to renewable energy; Boulder's success

Very interesting video about Boulder, CO taking its energy policy into its own hands, with big companies fighting hard against it:

...and a detailed article about the same:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

There is no skills gap with American workers

Here's an interesting New York Times article that says the idea that American workers have a skills gap is nonsense:

This is interesting because it calls the concern about a skills gap a 'zombie idea', one that isn't true but that nonetheless refuses to die. I'm interested in that sort of thing, that "how we know what isn't so" thing.  Also, it mentions how the idea benefits corporations and their executives.

In fact, this is a good time to mention the book How We Know What Isn't So by Thomas Gilovich, which I very much enjoyed. It explains misinformation and wrong beliefs by examining biases and heuristics in our psychology. I read it in 2009, and I recommend it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

_The Massive_ by Brian Wood

Just a short note to express my pleasure at being able to read volume 3 of Brian Wood's sci fi story _The Massive_.

This series is set in a near future where the ice caps have melted, leading to a worldwide crisis called The Crash. It focuses on a group of Greenpeace-like protestors led by Callum Israel, a former mercenary, who live on their anti-whaling ship _Kapital_ and try to survive in the changed world.

The stories start with a bang, putting characters under stress. And each volume offers tantalizing hints of the past.

The title refers to a sister ship that was lost mysteriously, and which the crew of the Kapital hunts for, sometimes catching her on radar.

That and other surreal elements, the certainly-not-natural character Mary, hint that there is more than just science in the story.

I started reading this series just about a year ago. I eagerly await the next volume.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Learn something about HTML5 via the simplest game

I was thinking, I should learn about HTML5.
I thought, maybe I should look at making a simple game in HTML5 
What's the simplest game? Pong.
So I googled 'pong in html5' and got this:

It has a multi-pane window approach and you can see the code results on the right, instantly.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Fletcher Formula

This fellow seems to have cracked the secret formula to Murder, She Wrote:

Here's a snippet:

POLICE IDIOT stands over DESPERATE BUSINESSMAN’S BODY. JESSICA arrives immediately somehow.
Looks like an open-and-shut case, Mrs F. Witnesses heard Shady Contact threatening to kill him, and as a police officer I don’t like to look for further evidence or consider any other possibilities.
I’m not so sure, Idiot! Can you get me his phone records?
OK, for some reason it’s fine for me to share that private data. But I’m telling you Mrs F, this time you’re wrong. I know I have a 0% success rate and you solve all of the 22 murders that happen near you every year, but

ADDENDUM:  This page caused me to skim the Wikipedia page about the show, and there I learned that none other than Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski was a writer for the show in its later years.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

My writing process at the moment

Rebecca Schwarz tagged me re: writing about my writing process. My process is undergoing change right now. For a year or more I was happily doing rewrites all the time and would rewrite a short story's text from scratch often. These rewrites might not change much ...wording always changed a little, but the structure of the story often did not. I was heavily biased towards a complete retype of the story to make some small change consistently throughout the story.

I was really proud of these rewrites and they made hitting wordcount goals easy. But I came to believe that they were wasting a lot of my time, and I swung the other direction, often spending many writing sessions working on the outline for a story and not writing any prose.

I'm trying to find the synthesis for those two poles now. I'm still spending a lot of time on planning; I don't like to go into a story without knowing where it is going. But I also find that I can generate ideas for a long time and often can't choose an idea without testing it with some prose.

Most recently, I was unable to decide what to do with a story where there was a magical object, and I couldn't seem to pick any one way to visualize it. The story needed a MacGuffin, but I didn't know whether it should be a magic ring or a magic juice jar or what.

After a couple of days of not writing much, I came back and sat down and just started drafting the middle of the story, and quickly settled on a shape for the object. More and more I'm finding this technique useful: generate lists of ideas, then draft to make a decision.

Okay, those are my thoughts on process today. Now I'll tag Doug Sims.

Friday, August 01, 2014

i'm kind of in love with this article about how the social justice of denmark makes it immune to pick up artists

This article looks at one pick-up artist's review of trying to ply his "art" in Denmark and failing... because enlightened government policies have made women too equal to be easily knocked down by negging and such:

Monday, July 28, 2014

_Perfect Dark: Initial Vector_: ignore the cover and the origin and just enjoy a great thriller

Perfect Dark: Initial Vector, by Greg Rucka, is a novel set in the fictional future of the Perfect Dark video game series. I picked up a cheap used copy when I saw that it was by Greg Rucka, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

My favorite Rucka work is his Queen and Country series of graphic novels and regular novels, which focus on a British lady spy. So I was pleased to learn that this book had a spy slant. The world of Perfect Dark is one where corporate power has run wild, and so corporate espionage is more like covert ops. 

What I liked best about the book is that a thoroughly satisfying spy thriller made me think about corporate excess the whole time. 

If I hadn't seen Rucka's name on the book, I would have dismissed it out of hand as a schlocky video game tie-in book. I'm very glad I didn't.

The book didn't require any prior knowledge of the game to enjoy it. 

I'd have liked to learn more about the main character's background and what gave her her special abilities. But in the main I was happy to follow the story's twists and turns.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Redshirts, a game about social media, includes some sexism intentionally

(post edited 7/28/14 for grammar and because I didn't originally include a title)

This article:
...  describes both an interesting game and an interesting situation that arose because of it: the designer set out to write a game that would comment on social media as a way of interacting with others, but got criticized by a player for some of the -- intentional -- sexist content. The game includes a stereotypically sexy-alien race, which suffers more sexist attention.  The developer's response? Add a trigger warning to that race choice. Which seems eminently reasonable... but she got criticism for THAT action, by those who felt she caved somehow.

Oh, and the game's name is Redshirts, and so it operates as a reaction to the idea of a future utopia, as well.

_Uncertainty in Games_ by Greg Costikyan

I am reading this slim volume right now, and I got the urge to e-mail Costikyan and say good job. But I couldn't find any way to do that. He has a FaceBook page, so that's an easy solution...if you're on FaceBook, but I'm not.

<insert rant about folks who assume everyone is on FaceBook; cite examples of people whose business cards offer no other way to contact them... >

So I'll just post my love here. This book, which is part of a series called 'Playful Thinking', is an attempt to catalog the ways in which uncertainty is important to the design of games of all types. Costikyan makes a strong case for uncertainty being an important part of a great game.

I find this sort of thing exciting, in that it makes you feel like you could design a game. But you don't have to be a game designer to get a lot out of this book; it's a great help in understanding games.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Inventing languges for a living

The show Game of Thrones needed invented languages...several of them, and with full vocabularies. They turned to the community of folks who make up languages for fun, and held a contest. Here's an interview with the winner:

I've dabbled with inventing languages, and this is the sort of thing that makes me go, "Awwwww man, I want that job." Except it turns out that inventing a complete language would be work, lots of work. Still, this guy is getting paid to be creative; it's a great story.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Bloodchild" by Octavia Butler: what might a relationship with a parasitic alien race be like?

I bumped into a reference to this 1984 Nebula- and 1985 Hugo-winning novella in an article today, and quickly found the full text online in  couple of places; here's a link to a PDF with the story and some notes about themes from Butler herself:

I was interested in the idea of parasitic intelligent races, which is one of the big subjects of this story. I was impressed by the nuances of what Butler does with the idea.  I had just been thinking mainly of the conflict: ooh, yuck, that race reproduces parasitically.  Butler sets up a situation where the races need each other. I'll say no more; it deserves all the acclaim it's received.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Basic Rules Released as a free PDF

Wow, I think Wizards has made a really smart decision here. They've released the basic rules for the latest edition of Dungeons and Dragnos as a free PDF file:

It's too bad there's no way to test both doing this and not doing this, because I predict this is going to seriously help the sales of the product.

Personally, I definitely do not need another role playing game, especially not another version of Dungeons and Dragons. But when they put the rules out there for free, I'm unable not to download and read them.

I assume they plan to make their money on glossy rulebooks with art, and on additional rules. By making the basic rules free:

  • People can try the game easily, read it and see if it's for them.
  • New players have access to the rules before they are hooked enough to buy.
  • You have a searchable electronic reference.

I could go on and on, but the advantages seem enormous. Wonder what they plan to do for other companies add-on products? If they're smart, they'll try to make a welcoming environment for those.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

You should be able to change/annotate the subject of an email you've received

Let's face it...lots of the emails we receive have misleading or useless subject lines. This annoys me because my work day is full of emails and often I need to store them and be able to retrieve them later, and that's not easy to do when the subject is bad.

Even if a search turns up the right mail, if there's more than a few search hits, you need a reasonable subject line to find the right one.

That means that every now and then I get an email that I need to file and I would love to amend the title, but I'm not aware of any mail system that allows that.

I'm using gmail. I wanted to put this out there on the lazyweb and see if anyone has tried a feature like this.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Great twist on the 'Diamonds and Toads' fairy tale: 'Toad Words'

A new twist on the fairy tale about the two women, one blessed to have diamonds come out every time she speaks, the other cursed to spout toads:

That fairy tale always seemed weird and hard to understand, and this followup on what happens after is therefore more satisfying to me. Here's a reference to the original fairy tale:

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Earworms in fiction

Looking at the Wikipedia entry for a musical 'earworm',,
I'm surprised by how many short stories there are that use the concept...for example:

In Alfred Bester's 1953 novel The Demolished Man, the protagonist uses a jingle specifically crafted to be a catchy, irritating nuisance as a tool to block mind readers from reading his mind.

And there are so many more:

In Fritz Leiber's Hugo Award-nominated short story "Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-TAH-Tee" (1959), the title describes a rhythmic drumbeat so powerful that it rapidly spreads to all areas of human culture, until a counter-rhythm is developed that acts as an antidote.[22]

Great stuff.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fighting the good fight against Morgoth, in Portland

The always excellent Lowering the Bar has a piece about a lady who found herself confronted by a fellow in chainmail, attacking her BMW: Fingolfin Defeated Again

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Using wipe-off forms at a doctor's office

I took my daughter to Groovy Molar yesterday to get a tooth checked out, and it was our first visit there, and they used laminated write-on/wipe-off  pages for all the intake paperwork.

After I handed the forms back to them, they entered the data in their computer system, and no trees were harmed in the process. Nice.

I think it's a great idea so I'm passing it along, even though my own left-handed/hook-handed writing style means that it's a challenge for me to use that sort of thing without smudging all the writing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Could Heinlein win a Hugo today?

Oh, man, John Scalzi's Metafilter response to the sort of 'Heinlen couldn't get a Hugo today, you dang liberals' complaint is priceless:

...and the reason it is priceless is because it acknowledges that people revere a straw man Heinlein, in rather odd ways:

When people say "Heinlein couldn't win a Hugo today," what they're really saying is "The fetish object that I have constructed using the bits of Heinlein that I agree with could not win a Hugo today." Robert Heinlein -- or a limited version of him that only wrote Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and maybe Farnham's Freehold or Sixth Column -- is to a certain brand of conservative science fiction writer what Ronald Reagan is to a certain brand of conservative in general: A plaster idol whose utility at this point is as a vessel for a certain worldview, regardless of whether or not Heinlein (or Reagan, for that matter) would subscribe to that worldview himself.

At the market very late

You find the best things on Metafilter:

 "I thought I had more money left," she muttered before bursting into tears. They were not tears of embarrassment. They were tears of desperation and panic and "I don't know what to do anymore."

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Superpowers that really exist

Nice post on BoingBoing about real superpowers, in the sense of abilities that exist in nature in some animals.  But the best one is a real mutation that has occurred in humans:

 There have been at least two documented cases of a mutation in humans that triggers accelerated muscle growth and extraordinary strength right from birth; it happens when both copies of a myostatin-producing gene are defective, is extremely rare, and no one knows what the long term health consequences are. Having said that…the child in whom the mutation was first identified could, at age four, hold two 6.6 lb weights with his arms extended. That’s the equivalent of 3 litres of water. In each hand.

Full story:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Men's violence and the monster myth

"One of the most disturbing moments of the past eighteen months of my life was hearing my wife’s killer form a coherent sentence in court. Jill had been murdered almost six months earlier..."

This story is interesting and inspiring. The writer lost his wife to a rapist and murderer who basically fits the 'lone rapist' idea. But it made him want to make the point that usually this is not at all what happens, that if your assumption is that the fellow who's going to do people harm is some OTHER, some MONSTER, you're working from wrong ideas that won't help you; that we need to confront that it's all of us, it's the guys next door, it's people in your workgroup, who do the violence that we see every day.

Also of interest was his point that folks would often tell him they hoped the perpetrator would get raped in prison, and how that struck him as wrong, as requiring a kind of infinite loop of rapists to punish each other.

Found, of course, through the ever-awesome Metafilter.

How to say you're sorry

I'm sure there are a lot of guides to this, but this one is wrapped in an engaging blog post from a teacher, who adopted the idea to teach to young students, starting from the idea that, "kids today aren't being properly taught how to apologize."

Well, nobody taught me how to apologize properly either. This method includes several useful ideas, and the discussion shows you how it can make a difference in both the apologizer's future behavior and the relationship between apologizer and apologizee.

I'm not at all sure apologizee is a word.

Friday, April 18, 2014

_The Rinse_ by Gary Phillips

This graphic novel rather reminds me of Brubaker's _Criminal_ series, which is one of my favorites. The story here deals with a money launderer, on a caper that tests his ability to be an honest man in a dishonest world. That's his charm, and Phillips manages to sell the idea of his money launderer with a heart of gold, mostly by making many of the other characters into scary scumbags. I enjoyed every minute of reading this book, and when I finished it, I picked it up and read it a second time. Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rejecting incremental change in a quest to make sci-fi a reality -- an interesting perspective

In _The Atlantic_, Robinson Meyer talks about Google's 'Google X' projects and how trying to emulate sci-fi could be limiting Google's imagination.

Key idea: they're only choosing projects that make big sweeping changes and actively rejecting incremental changes. That seems counter to how real change tends to work. Meyer's comments though are an interesting perspective on techological change and sci-fi's vision of it.