Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Decision time!

So, I have recently come to the decision to hold a D&D campaign for my friends online. I'm currently in the "brainstorming" portion of campaign planning, and the hope is that writing stuff down here will allow my ideas to grow and develop, like the fungus on an unclean dish. Or possibly something more pleasant. Anyhow, the current decision I'm making is the setting of my campaign.

The first and most mundane of my choices is Eberron, the established, quasi-official setting for 4th edition D&D (which is what we're playing.)


  • Very well characterized regions and factions; means I have to make less stuff up. (I'm actually not much for the creation of settings out of whole cloth; my view is, the more work I can put into plot rather than setting pamphlets, the better.)
  • It is by far the most beautifully steampunk setting I've ever heard of for DnD. It's got zeppelins, people. Zeppelins. The flying transports I'm so fond of that I named my blog after them.
  • It is high-magic, and will support screwball plots like the current contender for my campaign: the PCs play a fantasy police/Drug Enforcement Agency, tasked with jobs like intercepting Polymorphine shipments and confiscating +4 Wands of Murder from hardened criminals. Don't look at me like that.
  • I am a very lazy individual. As such, I don't want to read through the hundreds of pages of Eberron campaign materials.
  • My players are very lazy individuals also. See above.
The second option for setting is somewhat tricky, but has awesome aspects, too:

The Real World

  • No work needed AT ALL for setting, since everybody understands how it works in terms of law enforcement, currency, social norms, etc. The players are as intensely familiar with the setting as the DM is. Even moreso if you base the game in your hometown. (The maps are all drawn for you!)
  • I've actually seen this worked to great effect in World of Darkness games (well, okay, really just Orpheus.)
  • We'll be playing DnD 4th edition, which means I'll need to finagle a plot incorporating warlocks and sorcerers into an Earthlike setting. (Particularly since DnD 4th ed is pretty sparse in terms of purely mundane classes, like the Fighter and Warlord.)
I'm very strongly considering running with a Real World setting. I can think of a few ways to go about this:

  • This is the assumption the World of Darkness games works under: that basically, the supernatural exists, but normal people/"muggles" simply don't know about it. This ignorance is carefully cultivated by the Powers That Be for their own ends. Advantage: Justifies PC knowledge of American culture/technology. Disadvantage: I'd need to work out a mechanism for enforcing the Masquerade.
Style 2: Fear us, Earthlings!
  • In this style, the PCs are going dimension-hopping for the sake of going after a MacGuffin! The powers they wield are completely unknown to the Earth; hilarity ensues.
  • Advantage: Plenty of possible reasons to be doing this. The important thing is, this type of game gives you the opportunity to live the American dream. Which is to say, fireballing the DMV. Disadvantage: It's a fish-out-of-water scenario for the PCs, who likely don't have a justifiable in-game reason for understanding things like ATMs. Or guns. Or the DMV.
Style 3: Uncommon Skill
  • Nobody has the PC's kind of power, but they are also native to the earth. They've been given magic powers through some kind of ritual or event that really just doesn't happen that often. The reason that magic isn't well-known is NOT that it has been kept a secret; it's just that it's hard enough that the few who practice it are taken for cranks and ignored. The Dresden Files uses this one, actually. Disadvantage: I have to figure out why the PCs are magickers in a nonmagical universe.
Any thoughts, ladies and gents?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Biting Wit

"Ten people missing over the past month, all whom were last seen spending a night at the Moonlight Inn. And I know why: the inn staff are all vampires."
"Vampires, Detective Winder?"
"I'm sure of it. I've been carrying a small mirror during our investigations, hidden in the brim of my hat, and not one of the inn staff have a reflection."
"Remarkable, sir! But I must confess, I'm puzzled: how did you come to this idea? I would never have guessed!"
Chuckle. "Well, my nephew used to visit the Moonlight Inn while he lived near here-- just for food, never board, which is probably why he wasn't eaten. Call it a hunch, but he mentioned the reason he stopped going was that..."

(puts on glasses)

"The service here sucks."

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Tall Tale

"Dead dwarf in the middle of the street. Name of Eli Stonehammer, no apparent enemies, no real power or wealth. Why do you suppose he died, Joe?"
"Well, sir, in my opinion it's probably the crossbow bolt through his forehead. I reckon that'd do for anybody, Detective."
"Yes, clearly the bolt had something to do with it. I'm asking more broadly why you suppose he got shot."
"Well, this highway's known to be filled with robbers and thugs, isn't it?"
"True. However, the criminal scum infesting this highway is typically careful to avoid murdering the people they rob, since that would bring the police down on them. I wonder why that should change now?"
"Ah! I believe I could shed some light on this, sir."
"Please do, Joe."
"Well, I'd heard that this highway's dominant gang has been hatching deals with the different racial groups around town. Elven, halfling, and gnomish gangs have secured their passage by dint of regular gold payments. The dwarven clans couldn't pay, though, and they've been warring with the bandits here ever since."
Snort. "Hmph. It's an unfortunate situation, Joe. Still, can't say I'm too surprised when the dwarves..."

(puts on glasses)

"...come up short."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Kicking ass, and TAKING MINDS!

Oh, I do so love popular psychology books. I suspect it's because I secretly desire to read minds, and this is the closest I can get without resort to nuclear radiation or actual psychic abilities.


Anyway, for that reason I used to be really into the art of personality typing. The first system I used for this purpose (you never forget your first!) was the Enneagram, which I discovered in Middle School.

In all its glory!

Basically the idea with the Enneagram is that we all are deranged, but in different ways. Each "personality type" has a certain "fatal flaw" that's associated with it; the idea being that a person's whole personality is built to shore up this one fatal flaw. It's sorta like Hamlet, where Hamlet's fatal flaw (alcoholism) led him to kill his adulterous uncle. Anyway, the important thing is that in this model, the road to happiness lies in stopping your subconscious brain from massively overcompensating for your fatal flaw. It's like everyone's brain has allergies.

Anyway, I thought this idea was really cool at the time, even though now I naturally realize that this sort of personality typing system has more in common with a real-life version of epileptic trees than any sort of real science. Still, it did have one thing going for it: that it allowed me to hold a mirror up to my flaws and see where they potentially could be coming from (since in Middle School, I very strongly identified with Type 5.)

You know, it kinda reminds me of a saying I heard once. That back in the day (when we thought diseases were little elves inhabiting our bodies), we still managed to get some useful medical information out of day-to-day experience. We learned, for example, that alcohol dulled pain, and that you shouldn't drink stagnant water. So even though the theory behind any of these findings may be totally whacked, many of them do have some roots in day-to-day experience.

It's a bit like psychological alchemy-- of course, there are much better ways of learning about the world than alchemy.

Enneagram image courtesy of, and Mentok image courtesy of Harvey Birdman. And that last one from XKCD, natch.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Your daily dose of BEEEEEEEEEES

Press the soccerball button for added horror.

On an entirely unrelated note! Due to my living in Carnation (population: you, plus 3 cows) I've really been wanting for things to do-- pretty much the only entertainment in the town is a public library.

As such, I've started expanding my reading habits from my usual fare (pop psychology and fantasy literature) to more esoteric stuff, like marketing and transhumanism and IT management (no joke-- the Mythical Man-Month is actually a pretty groovy book, dealing with the intersection of human folly and high technology. AWESOME.) That's the really nice thing about having a summer mostly-off, I think: that I can engage in that kind of reckless self-improvement. My goal is to be, by the end of summer, some kind of all-knowing ubermensch with a robot arm and an axe to grind. Like this cheery fellow!

Image (sans smiley) courtesy of 4chan image boards. Comment if you know who drew this!

Speaking of self-improvement, anybody ever play Neverwinter Nights 2? Awful storyline, but I really liked it for one reason: I was able to have my character take two prestige classes, one (the Pale Master) which replaces your arm with a skeletal appendage, and the second (Red Dragon Disciple) which gives you crazy-awesome scales and a breath weapon. The character concept is a normal bard who's hell-bent on self-improvement in the best way possible. Awwwwwww yeah. Although it did cause misunderstandings with the townsfolk I was rescuing.

Townsfolk: Oh noes-- goblins have been attacking our caravans! Whatever are we to do?
Me: Not to worry. Mister Flask is here, to save the day!
Townsfolk: Oh gods, it's some kind of magical lizard! Have mercy, scaled one! We can offer you trifles!
Me: No, no, I'm a good guy! Look, I'll shake your hand. How many bad guys do that?
Miscellaneous Thieves: Excellent! A diversion with which we can steal alllllllll the trifles.
Townsfolk: Make with the ritual sacrifices! Spare us, Elder Gods!
Church Militant: This village is filled with heretics, and must be cleansed-- with fire.
Townsfolk: Ia! Ia! Cthulhu ftaghn!
Me: I'm a helper!

Anyway, could I get some nonfiction book recommendations from y'all? (For fiction, I'm plowing through a bunch of Jim Butcher's works, so that particular niche is filled.)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Steampunk? Dungeonpunk? Punkpunk?

You know, for some reason poems and art always resonate with me when they deal with steampunk machinery or architecture. Like this!

(Image by a fellow named Ignacio Lazcano.)

I remember that C.S. Lewis once mentioned that every once in a while, he'd be struck by the profound beauty of creation-- a falling leaf, or a soaring vista. He felt that these were tiny glimpses of divine glory, sprinkled into our consciousness. Well, I don't really hold an opinion on that last point, but I've definitely felt what he described-- generally in response to something like the above, with gears 'n stuff. Not sure why. Or a piece of music, but I hear that's pretty common.

Anyway, I've always loved the Hymn of Breaking Strain (by Rudyard Kipling) for just that reason. BEHOLD!

The careful text-books measure
(Let all who build beware!)
The load, the shock, the pressure
Material can bear.
So, when the buckled girder
Lets down the grinding span,
'The blame of loss, or murder,
Is laid upon the man.
Not on the Stuff - the Man!

But in our daily dealing
With stone and steel, we find
The Gods have no such feeling
Of justice toward mankind.
To no set gauge they make us-
For no laid course prepare-
And presently o'ertake us
With loads we cannot bear:
Too merciless to bear.

The prudent text-books give it
In tables at the end
'The stress that shears a rivet
Or makes a tie-bar bend-
'What traffic wrecks macadam-
What concrete should endure-
but we, poor Sons of Adam
Have no such literature,
To warn us or make sure!

We hold all Earth to plunder -
All Time and Space as well-
Too wonder-stale to wonder
At each new miracle;
Till, in the mid-illusion
Of Godhead 'neath our hand,
Falls multiple confusion
On all we did or planned-
The mighty works we planned.

We only of Creation
(0h, luckier bridge and rail)
Abide the twin damnation-
To fail and know we fail.
Yet we - by which sole token
We know we once were Gods-
Take shame in being broken
However great the odds-
The burden of the Odds.

Oh, veiled and secret Power
Whose paths we seek in vain,
Be with us in our hour
Of overthrow and pain;
That we - by which sure token
We know Thy ways are true -
In spite of being broken,
Because of being broken
May rise and build anew
Stand up and build anew.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

But does it slice cheese?

So I've been working on this mod of Civilization 4's Fall from Heaven-- it's the first time I've found myself with a real creative outlet for a while. The gist of it is that since the beginning of Fall Semester, I've been adding new leaders to the game-- I've got like 60 new ones, by now. A "leader" for Civ 4 and its mods, for those of you who don't know, are basically like variations on the theme of the original civilization that you can choose at the start of the game. Like, one leader is a bit more focused on arcane techs, one is a bit more focused on military... it's a pretty neat system, and gives you a lot of variety. The really awesome things about this project, to me, were:

1) Since the leaders aren't really connected with each other, I was able to put a release out of the mod every couple of weeks, "finished" each iteration. So I didn't get overwhelmed with stuff I had to do, like on a previous project where I was building an actual civilization. At any moment I could've called it quits and still be proud of the result. It's a good feeling, you know?

2) If I had an idea for a cool new mechanic to add to the game, I could just flavor it up a bit and throw it in-- it never involved any big overhauls to my other plans. I dunno, maybe I'm just lazy, but I really like that.

3) It was really easy to balance, since all I really had to do was ensure my custom leaders weren't obscenely more powerful than the game's current stash.

4) It gave me an opportunity to take advantage of /tg/ image dumps, since each leader has their own portrait (which actually forms a big part of their flavor!) Like this one!

who became Eurynome of the Sheiam Civilization (basically a bunch of Armageddon cultists.) Good times, amirite? My only problem with it is that since I get the pictures from 4chan, I don't know where any of them come from, and can't credit the authors. Which makes me sad, because they totally deserve credit for their work.

Still! The success of this last project makes me want to embark on another one... although pretty much all of my plans at this point require me to wait until the slow-as-molasses main modder gets the new version of Fall from Heaven out.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Beastiary of EDH Players

1) The Watcher:

"Don't rock the boat, don't rock the boat, baby."

True to the demands of the format, the Watcher attempts to win by doing nothing at all until he accumulates the cards in hand to actually win that turn. They play a lot of Blue, because Blue specializes in this kind of reactive play. Counterspells are a favorite. If one of your players has a Spellbook in his deck, he's almost certainly this kind. Also a dick.

2) The Vendetta:

"You ever hear of this animal called a honey badger? If a lion attacks it, the honey badger will latch onto its genitals and not let go until the lion dies.

He's kinda like that."

This player is like Sweeney Todd- never forgive, never forget. No, the instant you sling a spell in his direction, his kill-o-vision instantly and irrevocably narrows to you until one of you is dead. The Builder may take this role if he's more metagame-oriented, since nobody wants to attack a known Vendetta. However, a Leeroy may also take this role, 'cuz a Leeroy doesn't need a reason-- he just needs an excuse.

3) The Friendly Face:

"I attack John for ten damage, knocking him out of the game."
"I use Wing Shards on your creatures, killing them all. We're friends now, right, John?"

This player is the kind of player who, when someone's on the brink of death, will send a bit of help his way so that he can continue just barely squeaking along. This is so the Friendly Face will have an ally to help beat down whoever was assaulting the victimized player; when the aggressor is killed, the weakened victim can be taken care of at leisure. These guys drag the game on sooo much.

4) The Troll-Face:

"You're my ally, right?"
"I'm really more of a well-wisher, in that I don't wish you any specific harm."

This guy likes to use things like Pestilence and Caustic Tar to burn all his opponents equally, without fear or favor. This has the advantage of not feeling as personal as a dedicated Leeroy-type assault, and so has less of a chance of inviting retaliation. They tend to have a lot more success if there's other conflicts going on at the table, so they can stay in the background dealing their tiny amounts of widespread damage that nobody notices until it's too late.

5) The Builder:

"I just loooooooove tokens!"

This player tends to not attack (at first), but rather spends the game building up an unstoppable force, ideally increasing his threat level to the point where he can crush the other players under weight of numbers. Builders are pretty obvious, so for a Builder success depends on how well he can dissuade opponents from killing his threats before he reaches "critical mass" and murders everything. (For this reason, they can have much success blending into the "Vendetta" archetype.) I once had a very successful Builder deck, using Teysa, Orzhov Scion to both generate threat and discourage retaliation. And then it got hated out of the game. Boooooo.

6) The Leeroy:

"Goddammit, Leeroy, you are stupid as hell."

This player will, when turn lengths start stretching on, beat the tar out of somebody just to move the game. He will do this regardless of whether it'll increase his chances of winning. I end up playing this archetype, a lot of times. Because winning the game tends to be lower on the Leeroy's list of priorities than having fun, they will very often end up being Vendettas just for the sake of justifying their insane rampages.

Rome: All I did was kill one of your creatures, man! What the hell?
Me: I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of me trying to kill you.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Elder Dragon Highlander!

Ahhh, Elder Dragon Highlander. The ancient, inbred Russian royalty of multiplayer magic. In case you don't know what it is, it's much like regular Magic, but intensely political. That's because it is a free-for-all game, which means most of the game depends on being able to convince the other players you're not a threat-- since you almost never have the strength to take on everybody by yourself (and if you do, of course, you've basically won.) We stopped playing it a little while ago.

The reason we stopped... well, it ran into a problem a lot of free-for-all multiplayer games have: that sloth is almost always the best strategy. That is because... well, consider the three-player game of A vs. B vs. C. All of them start at 40 life. A attacks B, and B retaliates, causing both A and B to go down 10 life points.

Guess who's winning? The player who sat by and watched, of course, who is now at 40 life vs. the other players' 30 apiece.

This problem can be extended to multiplayer games of all sorts. Consider: why do you suppose Halo games typically use the greatest number of kills as a basis for winning (Slayer), rather than the lowest number of deaths (Survival)? Because, of course, making it a Survival game would encourage huddling in a corner whilst aiming your gun at the only doorway. There'd be no incentive to go out and do anything; the winners, instead of being the most skilled, would instead be the players with enough patience to not take any risks until the match ended. That's basically what multiplayer Magic ends up being: a game of Survival. Well, that brings me to a question:

What if we ran Elder Dragon Highlander as essentially a game of Slayer? The gist being that each player keeps track of both his life and how much damage he's dealt to opponents. In addition to the normal ways, players can win by being the first to deal 50 damage total to their opponents. I can only think of a couple of strategies horribly nerfed by this:

1) Deck destruction (but come on, how many decks use this anyway?)
2) Turtling and playing strictly by tit-for-tat methods. (Ex: "I'll only attack people who attacked me." This is actually pretty popular... I remember one time we even got in a debate over whether or not 10 damage for killing someone's creature was overly punitive. Seriously, it was like the United Nations playing a game of Magic.)

The first strategy I don't think is very popular (particularly in a format where the smallest deck size is one hundred cards), and the second strategy, I think, is the cancer killing EDH.

Come to think, what if we ran other games as a Slayer-style matchup? What if we could use a variant of Starcraft or Warcraft where the metric of winning is not simple survival, but rather the mineral+gas value of all units killed by the respective players? This would definitely liven up our 3-way multiplayer games.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dissecting flame wars!

Hallo! The book I'm reading right now is one of those old ones, called "How to Win Friends and Influence People." It's basically a book of essays, and something I like about reading essays in general is that a lot of time, you get interesting and informative rehashings of ideas you had held previously in cruder form. Like some kind of idea-refinery, where the crude sludge of intuition gets purified into the valuable oil of practical application.

Anyway, I feel like I always need a bit of reminding now and again that we hew-mans aren't actually rational creatures. No, we are beings driven more by the insidious sparrow of pride and vanity than the staunch woodpecker of unbiased thought. (Wow, I am flying with these metaphors tonight.) One neat thing it talks about is how, if you're to change people's opinions, you have to be very careful about how you argue with them.

Thing is, you've made changing his mind impossible if agreeing with you causes the other guy to lose face-- I've argued with friends for hours about stupid shit because neither of us wanted to be the one to back down. Thing is, backing down for either of us would have meant having to deal with the other guy gloating over his victory and rubbing the loser's face in it. It only gets harder the longer the argument goes, since the number of insults made piles up; the problem being that admitting defeat feels an awful lot like admitting that the other guy was right on with his insults, because for whatever reason in general we tend to equate a little bit of concession with total concession. Consider how unlikely the following exchange sounds:

John Jackson: "I believe that economic policy X is good."
Jack Johnson: "No, that's wrong, and you're clearly an economic illiterate because of reasons Y and Z, which any idiot can read in any econ textbook."
John Jackson: "Oh, I guess you're right."

Yeah, not so much. Most of us (myself included) would, I think, respond in kind to such an unprovoked assault on our pride. I feel like the semi-conscious train of thought after reasons Y and Z are stated actually goes like this:

1) Well, this other guy's points about Y and Z are pretty sound.
2) But he called me an economic illiterate! Oh noes! I must refute this idea before it spreads to the populace.
3) How best to refute it? I know, I'll pick apart claims Y and Z and show that bastard he's no better than I am.
[These other substeps are used as needed.]
3a) Could one of his sources be unsound? I could use that.
3b) Well, his sources are okay. But he made a grammar mistake!
3c) Oh! Didn't the Nazis use that policy? HE IS CLEARLY A HITLER.
4) Okay! I have successfully defended my self-worth as a human being. VINDICATION! Now to score some valuable Argument Points by rubbing it in his face.

At which point the discussion's basically become an unsalvageable orgy of insults and point-scoring, and you've got yourself a 100% genuine, no-holds-barred flame war. Good times!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ahh, RPGs,

So I'm playing this RPG online with some college chums that's named Orpheus. Basically the gist of it is that you and your party is a team of ghostbusters that also happen to be ghosts, but part-time, see? Orpheus itself is the corporation giving you the equipment allowing access to your ghostly side. During character creation you buy powers like the ability to inhabit objects (and thereby influence them to act mechanically) or take over people's brains for a short period-- it's good times.

DM: And then, out of nowhere, a banshee appears and tells you, in a hushed--
Me: G-g-g-g-ghooooooost!
DM: Damn your eyes, do you have to do that every time?
Me: Yes.

I especially like it because it enforces teamwork; the last game involved one player manifesting a ghostly hand grenade, handing it to another player with the power of teleportation, and having him teleport it inside the body of a spectre. Good times. I think that 's one thing I really like about the game-- it's that the capabilities of powers are very strictly defined, so it's pretty clear what a given power does and does not do. Contrast this to 4th edition D&D, which I enjoy for other reasons (streamlined battle system, flexible character creation, nice DMing tools), but which has this issue where the (non-mechanical) properties of characters' powers are more-or-less undefined. Which isn't typically a problem until you get into situations where you're depending on a power working a certain way, like:

Me: I shall perform stealthy reconnaissance to save the day!
Jesse: You sure you want to risk being found out?
Me: Nah, it'll be fine-- I can turn into BEEEEES, which'll let me get out of most hairy situations. I approach the archer stealthily!
DM: (rolls) The archer now has you pinned to a tree.
Me: I use my power-of-turning-into-BEEEEES to remove myself from the arrow.
DM: Ehh... you're still stuck. The power can't work that way. That would be horrifically unbalanced.
Me: But that doesn't make sense in real terms.
: Balance!
Me and DM: Raaaaaaage!

So it's a bit irritating when that happens. I feel like in Narrativist-Gamist-Realist terms, D&D is kinda like:

Where entire builds in 3.5 were built around taking the Realist perspective to its logical, and horrifically broken, conclusion, where the specific measurements and such given to spells made certain combinations tremendously potent; it put the DM in kind of a rough spot, since saying the spells didn't work the way they said in the book would feel arbitrary, but allowing them to be used in certain combinations shattered entire plots. 4th ed went completely in the other direction, giving spells very little concrete utility-type power so that the DM could see to it that the system wouldn't be gamed. Pluses and minuses, I guess.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


So I've been thinking about the social dynamics of tables. Like, the tables you'd find in dining halls. No, don't leave yet.

Consider the round table: The red circles represent a group of friends, and the blue lines represent the number of possible conversations happening between these friends. Notice how they can all talk to each other more-or-less unimpeded. Nice, right?

Now look at a rectangular table.

There's a distinct problem here, and that is that if, say, the diner on the far upper-left wants to talk to the diner on the far upper-right, he can't, due to the two friends sitting between them. In my experience (though it is theoretically possible) it's very difficult for the smiley fellow to talk to his comrade a knight's move away. (represented by the orange line.)

There's another, more subtle, problem with rectangular tables, and that has to do with voice projections and the spawning of conversations. Allow me to demonstrate. Say that #7 is having a conversation with #3 (shown on the diagram below.) The orange area represents where his voice is projecting, since our natural inclination is talk towards the person we're talking to, and it is pretty damn hard to hear somebody who's talking away from you. But this necessarily leaves out #1 and #5 from the conversation. It also in the end leaves out #4 and #8, since #3 responds in kind; the purple area represents all the areas from which the entire conversation between #3 and #7 can be heard (and so represents the actual number of people that can participate in the conversation.)

Blech. No good, right? So worst-case scenario, there are three mutually exclusive conversations going on (best-case, there are two independent conversations going on-- as shown.) The circled areas are where conversations can occur.

Compare that to the round table, where if a person speaks in a given direction they can be heard by all involved.

tl;dr: Rectangular tables are an abomination unto God and Man if you're finding seats for your friend group of more than 4 people. Tell your friends!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Blast, why did my parents get a house out in the middle of nowhere? This is, of course, a rhetorical question, since I well know the answer: my mom, who is generally quite social but (like myself) sometimes finds it annoying to get into unexpected conversations, was finding it harder and harder to wander around in Tapps Island without running into people she kinda-knew, and therefore was obligated to talk to for a period before she could get back to what it was she wanted to do, which was... I don't know, actually. Read?

But I can totally get the lure of anonymity. It can be kinda jarring to sit down in the dining hall, start reading a book, and halfway through the meal have somebody sit down next to you. This is true even when the person doesn't actually initiate conversation-- I think it's just some script within us (or maybe just me) that says "Hey! Hey! It's rude to read when there are other people around!" And of course, if the person is slightly known to you (but is nevertheless outside the friend group) you're obligated to make uncomfortable small talk until one of you finds an excuse to bolt. (Do I sound antisocial? I actually do like conversations with friends, it's just inane chatter with mostly-strangers that gets to me.)

Hmm. I should do a blog on social scripts.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oh, those wacky transhumanists.
(I am looking in particular at the blog post accompanying the comic, although I've always loved Dresden Kodak in general. And by "always" I mean "since the beginning of this summer when I discovered it." Here's the first part, look to the link for more.


“Enough is Enough
A Thinking Ape’s Critique of Trans-Simianism

To further expound upon the topic of last week’s installment, I will address the more specific claims of Dr. Klomp and his radical theory that has been gaining wider acceptance throughout the community. Once again I would like to thank our readers for sending in your fish bones and boar hides in support of this journalist’s campaign to expose Dr. Klomp’s trans-simianist prattle for what it is: a collection of wishful thoughts out of keeping with any factual evidence.

The term ‘trans-simian’ comes from the shortening of ‘transitional simian,’ a concept Dr. Klomp has developed to describe an individual who is in an evolutionary transition from simian to post-simian, though Klomp himself admits that he is not entirely clear what a true post-simian would be. Characteristics exhibited by a trans-simian include augmentation of one’s natural abilities with ‘tools,’ as well as one’s mental capacities with what has been dubbed ‘culture.’

Klomp’s primary argument rests on what he calls the ‘Quickening,’ an imagined point somewhere in the future when the advancement of ‘culture’ occurs so rapidly that its pace will far exceed that of biological evolution.

Yeah, that Aaron Diaz is a classy fellow. On much reflection, I've concluded that the future will look less like "I, Robot" and more like a very low-tech Warhammer 40k where everybody is a techpriest. Oh yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Oh, BEE-have!

So I've always had this odd fascination with bees, specifically in their capacity as a weapon. In my mind it's like they're juuust the right mix of horrifying and hilarious to make me want to use them in all the RPGs I play. Just consider the following scenario:

Two guards standing at the city gates. A hooded stranger approaches.
"Ho, there!" One guard says, standing at attention. "What business do you have in the fair city of Amaranth?"
The hooded man moves closer. "I am... a merchant. I bring your fair city a very, shall we say... special cargo."
The guard sniffs suspiciously. "We've got some paperwork you need to sign if you've got foreign plants, and there's a tariff on liquor products. What kind of cargo?"
The stranger mutters something under his breath.
"Sorry, what was that? I didn't catch--"

I mean, isn't that the greatest thing ever? I once built a character based around that exact concept for my senior year of college: Prespur Bent, Bee-Druid of the Desert. It was great. And we'd have excellent conversations like:

Me: ...and that's why I think you catch more flies with bee-honey than with bee-vinegar.
Jesse: Why are you the way that you are? I hate, so much, the things you choose to be.
Me: I think you mean: the things I choose to bee! High fives!
Jesse: (glower)

I'm not sure where this fascination comes from. In real life, bees definitely top out the list of my irrational fears, right up there with heights and unstructured social interaction. Particularly when they do that irritating thing where they spend a large amount of time "inspecting" you, which gets me paranoid as all hell. Particularly during Marching Band! Which I can tell you the conductor did not approve of. I'm the blue circle, in case you're wondering, and we're all standing in line waiting for orders.

Maybe that's actually the reason for it; a batman-like turning of my morbid bee-fear into a bee-strength. Now all I need is a bee-costume. And perhaps a way to avoid turning into the Monarch from Venture Bros.
I wonder if I can force myself to blog every day. Nothing too terribly intense-- just a paragraph or two, at minimum-- but I suspect that nowadays I'll actually have the wherewithal to follow through on this sort of... don't wanna say commitment, because that sounds crazy-serious, but this sort of project. The primary purpose being to maybe clarify some of my thoughts and ideas, which I have throughout the day but end up forgetting or being otherwise lost to neglect. There's a post by Paul Graham, an essayist/programmer who greatly influenced many of my early views of science, academics and politics, and whose ideas I still feed off of today; the reason I bring him up was that in his view, writing not only records ideas but helps generate them. Here's a link, because everybody loves links.

I always wonder how many of my current views stem from this guy. Probably a bunch of them-- I remember that I actually wanted to go into science in large part because of the romance of actually building something, of doing some kind of purposeful, creative endeavor. Also, the glamour of pouring things into other things. (That's all science is. Ask anyone.)

At the time, I thought that this was a pretty poor reason for going into Chemistry. (I mean, it was still for that reason I went into chemistry-- I just felt bad about it.) Mind, up until Sophomore year I didn't particularly enjoy chem-- Genchem in particular was kind of a bitch, just because it felt like we were learning a bunch of disconnected information that wasn't really useful. But Organic Chemistry, despite how difficult it was, taught me that all of this stuff we were learning had a purpose. We could do distillations, people! DISTILLATIONS!

Anyway. First blog post! Wish me luck. And I say that with no expectation that this will actually end up being read until my seventh or eighth post, since I don't like to tell people I'm making commitments until I've proven to myself that I can keep them.