Sunday, December 28, 2008

Further on the new table

The LA and I went through hardware and craft stores this weekend, and procured a four-foot piano hinge and a two-yard length of 72" wide crimson felt. These items will be combined, after we've visited a supplier, with two sheets of 5/8" MDF, each 4' by 2'6", and a few battens and laths, to produce a folding tabletop. The extra felt will allow me to ensure that the underlying table is protected from scratching while still having the tabletop covered in nice crimson felt which will grip dice very nicely and (sadly) show spills a treat.

I shall probably also make a wooden frame with no bottom, to use as a virtual dice tray.

Friday, December 26, 2008

On tabletops, gaming and space problems

The LA and I enjoy the occasional (read: regular) game of Arkham Horror, which, while fun, is also space-hungry. Our largest table is approximately 3 feet square (EDIT: just measured; 3'6"), and this is (barely) large enough for our four-investigator games. However, for Christmas, the LA's father was kind enough to buy for us the Dunwich Horror expansion. This adds a number of cards, making some of the locations rather more interesting (and in some cases, posing the risk of "killing off" at least one location permanently), a few wrinkles in the mechanics (apparently, spraining one's ankle twice was fatal in the 1920s; who knew?) and an extra board. While much of the expansion can be "dropped in" without the new board, it's reportedly best with the board. This presents a problem.

I have, however, already worked out how to fix it. What I shall need for this is: a four-foot length of piano hinge, two four foot by two foot six sheets of MDF (sufficiently thick for me to install the hinge such that it's flush on the pin side), about a square yard of felt (preferably something I can easily glue down, although staples would also work), four 18" battens, and the usual screws and suchlike. With these, I can make an expansion tabletop. With some extra felt and sufficient edging, I can make a most excellent gaming surface.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On relocation

I've not been feeling like it's the run-up to Christmas. I've been wondering why this is, and have finally realised that my situation this year is unique so far in my life. Last year, I came to the USA in mid-December, with my body having seen the usual shortening of the days at 51° North.

This year, the shortening of the days has been as expected for 37° North. However, my body has not figured out that I've moved roughly 14° Southwards, and so it's insisting that it's roughly the end of October. Despite this, the Solstice has passed. I'm still not in my usual Winter funk, and I think I may escape it entirely. I'm frankly astounded at how much difference this has made.

I like it.

On the associations of music

Take any British person my age or thereabouts, and play them Booker T and the MGs' Soul Limbo. They will immediately think of cricket. Play them Fleetwood Mac's The Chain, starting at 3:00. Their first thought will be of motor racing. Play them the aria Nessum Dorma, and they'll think of 1990, and the football World Cup.
This came up recently in discussion between the LA and I. I still can't stand Nessun Dorma, because of its overplaying during the World Cup of 1990. The LA pointed out that in the US, it's more likely to be something akin to Gary Glitter which is associated with sporting events... which led to my remembering the one hit the Timelords had, back in the late 1980s, which came about the way it did because the Doctor Who theme was in 3/4 time.
This led to my doing some searching for the Doctor Who theme, and learning that the 1980s theme (decent, and reminiscent of my childhood even though I never watched Doctor Who) was in fact not the original theme, but a reperformance using synthesisers. The current theme, of course, is another re-do. The original theme, however, is utterly wonderful. I can well believe that a mother wrote to the Radio Times complaining that it had terrified her son; it's still exceedingly spooky, even today. When taking into account its genesis, it's an astounding piece of work; it was hand-assembled, note by note, and mixed down by means of multiple almost-synchronised tape players, with each line having been put together with lots of razorblade and stickytape use. Compsed in 1963, it still sounds like the future. Reportedly, the composer's reaction on hearing it for the first time was "Did I really write that?"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

On mistaken identity

The kitty was scratching at the couch, so I went over to see if she'd gotten her mouse under there again. While doing so, I felt something soft fall across the back of my hand.

I thought it was her tail. As it turned out, it was my tail; my ponytail, that is.

Things are getting interesting when you mistake your own hair for one of the cats...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Onward!

So the swatch last night came out as close as it gets to exactly the size I thought it would. Hooray for swatching! This means that it's currently in the washing machine, felting. It will felt easily, and hopefully I worked out the proportions correctly to have it felt into a square. For now, I shall save this post and see what it does.

Meanwhile, the ski cap has become a bust due to twisted stitches necessitating a frogging. I just didn't want to start again. I shall find some other use for the yarn...



I rock.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On the d6

OK. This is getting mathematical, not to mention repetitive. Here's the summary:

Last night, I knit up a swatch on 8s. Far too loose, and far too spendy; I only have 69g of yarn to play with, so my swatch must not exceed 9 grams. Hopefully, it'll be a little less, and felt square, which will give me a huge margin to play with, but that would be lucky. So, I'm assuming it'll be a bust that I might be able to make a catnip pouch out of. Anyway, 8s are too much for this yarn with my tension; 7s are much better. I get a lovely fabric, and I'm close to figuring out the right size. I've just frogged another swatch, in preparation for a go with a narrower width. This swatch was 18 stitches by 24 rows (including caston and castoff) and came out to four and three quarter inches wide by four and a half tall. It also came out to nine grams dead on, so I carefully wound it into its own ball (leaving it attached, though; I won't cut it off until I felt it). If my tension stays even, I'm looking to try 16 stitches by 26 rows, which should (fingers crossed!) felt square and use up the same amount of yarn. If it comes out roughly the right shape knitted, it'll be time to felt it and correct from there...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On the latest project

I've started swatching, and it's going to be (hopefully) on size 7 needles. The yarn is knitting up beautifully, especially now I've stopped twisting the knit rows (thanks to Barbara for pointing that out; I figured out what I was doing wrong, and it was slowing me down as well - easily fixed, but I might use it for effect, and I'll deliberately keep doing it in the hat since I don't want to frog that) and it's giving me a lovely fabric. I may want to try some socks for myself in this yarn, once I've finished this project.

The intention is to knit up six swatches which are sufficiently off-square that when I felt them, they'll come out as near square as I can get them; then, I'll figure out what to do for pips (probably a contrasting yarn, felted), and then sew it up, stuff it, and let the cats at it.

Then, I'll start figuring out patterns to make triangles numbered from 1-8. That, I may not felt.

You'll know I've become really confident when I start doing patterns for pentagons numbered 1-12. That pattern, if I can pull it off, I shall type up and make available...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On this date, one year ago...

I arrived in the USA. At that point, I was expecting to return to the UK around three weeks later, but things turned out deliciously differently. Let's take a look, shall we?

The LA and I saw an immigration attorney. His advice was that we could wait eighteen months, or I could extend my trip and marry while in the US. We decided on the latter. The LA and I then shared our first Christmas together, with the cats. Since then, many things have occured. For a start, the LA and I married, and went to Disneyland, all on the same day. We went and were introduced to the LA's paternal grandfather on his 90th, which made him very happy.

We moved up North to the Bay Area, held a celebration, and have been enjoying ourselves. The LA took up knitting, and now so have I.



The cats continue to entertain.



And today, I put up the Christmas tree again, and fixed the balky garage door opener. The down limit was set too far down, which was causing occasional bounces. However, the door itself is cracked and ought to be replaced.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On surprises

The LA and I now have... an embarrassment of gifts. In all seriousness, I have wrapped eight separate items for her, even though she knows what is in six of the parcels. Mother dearest, your package arrived today; the LA does not know what was in it for her, since I took it in and extracted the relevant while she was at work. The LA is intending to spend some time this weekend wrapping items for me, probably while I perch upon a ladder in the garage to fiddle with the opener of the door, which has lately been not of the finest for reliability. Meanwhile, I know some of what I shall receive; even had my mum had the items she ordered from Amazon gift-wrapped, I would have known, because Amazon's systems are not as clever as they could be.

You see, I had multiple books in a trilogy upon my wishlist. My mum decided to get the trilogy, and so proceeded to buy one of the books from my Wishlist. Amazon took it upon itself to be helpful, and suggested she might wish to buy the other two. She did so... and Amazon entered the domain of Fail, because those very same two books were still upon my wishlist. She was forced to e-mail me and alert me, so that I didn't receive duplicates.

Still, as I said, the LA will have surprises, and I shall also. The local secondhand bookstore (to which, should she return, my mother will be paying a visit) had a rather inexpensive mystery bag of books for sale last time we were in there, and it has not yet been opened. The LA will be ensuring I don't catch a glimpse of its contents until the day.

I do hope that the gifts we're sending will be close to timely. I'm certain they'll be well-received, even if they're not.

Monday, December 8, 2008

On improvements

The LA and I enjoy Arkham Horror, a co-operative boardgame published by Fantasy Flight Games. The setting is Arkham, a fictitious Massachusetts town, in 1926; menaced by an "Ancient One", a cosmic horror from beyond space, the players take the role of investigators combating this being. They do this by killing monsters, and closing the gates from which the monsters have sprung. It's a simple concept, but the game is exceedingly complex (it takes at least three times as long to play it first time around, unless you have an experienced player to help) and very replayable. Until recently, the Fantasy Flight website had a very good amount of support for the game, including suggested variations, FAQs and the like.

No more. Or rather, I don't know anymore, because the site was redesigned, and now I can't find anything of use, I often have to try again because the site takes so long to load, and searching is rather tricky since the plugins take so long to load, and they don't do text properly. Sure, it's prettier, but it's less useful. I strongly dislike this form of redesign; Lucasarts did it a while ago, effectively barring me from obtaining patches for a couple of games I have, because their browser and plugin detection disallowed me from entering, and the computer I was using didn't have the horsepower for the plugins they demanded.

Fortunately, for Arkham Horror, there is still BoardGameGeek.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

On poultry

So, despite it being Thanksgiving recently, and Christmas soon, I decided to roast a small amount of turkey. Part of this was because it was on discount after Thanksgiving, and part was simply because I like the leg meat, and the turkey joint that my mother-in-law roasted for Thanksgiving didn't include any. The LA hasn't liked leg meat in the past, but I'm hoping she'll be OK with this. If not, there's plenty of white meat.

However, this leaves open the question of what I ought to roast for Christmas. I'm partial to beef, since the LA dislikes pork and I dislike lamb, but there is also the option of duck.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

On gifts

As the LA has said, we've done our gift-buying for each other, and we've managed to get ourselves a little unreliable as regards other gifts. If any of my readers wish to buy me gifts, then there is an Amazon wishlist containing things I covet located here, and those of you local enough to be able to get to Concord could do far worse than buttonholing me to ask about the wishlist I have for Black Diamond Games.

Or you could just send a card. Nothing I'm coveting is a need, they're all wants.

Monday, December 1, 2008

On the casting of pods, once again.

So, these are the podcasts I'm currently subscribed to, in no particular order. I'll give them a little mini-review each.

The Bungie Studios Podcast - mostly shilling for Halo stuff, highly irregular, but still amusing.

Writing Excuses - professional writers giving their advice on how to write professionally - everything from "how to avoid being formulaic, even when following a formula" and "what editors do and why you need one" to "how to submit your work for publication". Bite-sized fifteen-minute chunks of advice, from people who have done what they're telling you about, and have good chemistry.

Fear the Boot - this was the first podcast I listened to, and it pretty much spoiled me for other podcasts. Production quality and host chemistry is excellent, and the RPG advice is well-considered. This was also the only podcast I ever listened to from a portable mp3 player (episode 82 dropped the day before I came to the US).

The Podge Cast - after some host drama which I won't go into here, ex-hosts of Fear the Boot created this podcast. They're still insightful, and the quality is still good. They range wider than RPGs, but they remain mostly focused on such things.

Bear Swarm! - A cross between Fear the Boot and the Podge Cast, with a little more swearing. Good fun, and mostly good advice.

Atomic Array - another RPG-focused podcast. Still under review, but pretty good so far.

Game On! With Cody and John - this one's about board games, and is nicely entertaining.

Save Against Frostbite - slowly improving sound quality (they've finally killed the hum, and hopefully soon they'll manage to figure out turning the gain down to stop the mics clipping) and huge amounts of profanity, from a bunch of Canadian geeks talking about anything and everything.

I also have Radio RTFM and the Red Earth Saga in the list, but those two both appear to have suffered what's known as podfade.

Monday, November 24, 2008

On culture

Thanks to the generosity of the LA's parents, we were a party of four yesterday at the Davies Symphony Hall for Mahler's 8th, the Symphony of a Thousand, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The performance was wonderful, apart from the inevitable people unable to resist coughing during the quiet parts. On the way, I realised why the toll on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is on the Westbound journey: that's the one that goes via the upper deck. The view is gorgeous that way, even from the Eastern span (the replacement is currently being constructed, as a seismic upgrade; the newspaper told me recently it was going to be a suspension span, and is being built deck-first.)

The thing I really like about the Bay Bridge, though, is its genesis. It was ordered to be built by Joshua Norton, who was the self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States. Actually, he was a homeless crazy guy, but the entire city of San Francisco went along with his proclamation, and accepted his "money" at face value. You have to love a city that does something like that.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On the desireability of learning

I'm sure some of you have been in a Starbucks at some point, desiring some refreshing drink. It happened to me, some years ago; I reached the counter, requested a "large coffee", and received a blank stare in return. That was my introduction to what's become known as "Starbonics": the specialised jargon used for ordering at Starbucks. After that introduction, I naturally resent it; in fact, I refuse to use it. I will order in English, and complain mightily if my (simple) order is incorrect. The trouble is, although Starbonics would be simple to learn, I resent the enforced usage of it. Think how much you hated history lessons at school; anything you're forced to do is unpleasant.

Now, let me compare and contrast with another specialised ordering jargon: In-N-Out Burger's "secret language". I willingly learned this, and will always order in it, because it's not compulsory. You can order in plain English at any In-N-Out, and receive what you wanted. However, the plain English for my "usual" (in a rather loose sense, because it's around six months since I last ate In-N-Out) is rather less wieldy than "Two by one no tomato no onion, protein-style, fries well, medium soda". The only part of that that's equivalent is the soda, in fact; all the rest is custom-ordered. To explain: "two-by-one" means that I want two patties, one slice of cheese, and any combination up to four-by-four is valid; the lack of tomato and onion is self-explanatory; "protein-style" means that I don't want the bun, but rather the burger should be wrapped in lettuce; "fries well" means I want the fries left in the oil for a little longer than normal, as I prefer them crispier. I can give that order at any In-N-Out and know exactly what I'll get. This is the point of ordering jargons, Starbonics included, and is a good idea. However, enforcing a jargon is a good way to a) keep existing customers and b) reject new customers.

Starbonics has the sense of a secret club that you're not a member of, and the existing members don't want you in. You get dirty looks for not knowing things, even though you don't know them because nobody told you. In-N-Out, on the other hand, makes you feel like you're a member of the secret club, and yet allows non-members the same privileges as members, just as long as they ask. The key point is that you don't HAVE to use their jargon. It's helpful if you do, but you can get by without it for years. I hated history lessons at school, but since leaving, have avidly read history.

Of course, Starbucks does suffer quite a lot from being the largest player in the market; everyone loves to bash the 900lb gorilla. Sadly, biggest players seldom manage to do themselves many favours.

And while researching this post, I discovered that I have in fact been regularly patronising a Starbucks in plain covers; Seattle's Best Coffee is actually a Starbucks subsidiary.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

In memoriam

My mother has informed me that my paternal grandmother died today at just after 1PM. She didn't specify PST or GMT, although I assume GMT.

My grandmother had been suffering for some years now. She has passed beyond her pain, and I shall miss her. I shall remember the good life she had.

The LA and I shall still be attending Monty Python and the Knitty Grail tonight.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On failure and success

First, failure: Tivo have rather failed at customer service. See, there's a bug. They know about this bug; it can cause season passes to fail to record. They could tell users about it, but they have not. This bug deprived me of my Mythbusters this week. I am not a happy bunny on that front, especially as I heard the words "det cord" bandied about.

But success: this marks my hundredth post across the two blogs I have on this service.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On palettes

The LA commented the other day about my taste in clothes. I've known for some years that I'm very partial to an earth-toned palette, but I hadn't realised that I was actually pretty much an autumnal colour person. Now I look, I see that that's true. I go for oranges, and they're pretty good with my skin tone. Browns and greens complement them.

This does explain why I like sandstone.

Friday, November 7, 2008

On literature

My sister purchased a copy of Neal Stephenson's Anathem for my birthday gift. It's a rather imposing book, and initially difficult to read thanks to large numbers of unfamiliar, invented words. However, I rapidly got past that. I have to admit to having bogged down somewhat, as lighter-reading books have come along, but I'm plugging away with enjoyment.

Stephenson seems to have become the progressive rock of literature. He's rapidly shot beyond normal length to triple-album regions, and each book seems to have a concept. With Anathem, I get the impression his concept is the exploration of the consequences of making science genuinely be a religion, as some people allege it to be.

I'm enjoying it, but it's a big book that demands you think. Be warned.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

On protests, gunpowder, and celebration

Today is the 5th of November. To almost everyone in the UK, that means it's Guy Fawkes's Day, the anniversary of the State Opening of Parliament in 1605, which Guy Fawkes, despite his best efforts, did not blow up. That was largely a religious act of terrorism; at the time, Catholics were under huge legal pressure in the UK, James (the new King) had made some vague comments that he might ease things a little, but anti-Catholic sentiment was still strong. A group of young, foolish Catholics formed this plot to remove the King and Parliament, and bring in a Catholic puppet ruler. It largely failed, and this failure was celebrated the next year. By now, though, nobody's sure whether the sentiment is "Hurrah, they failed!" or "Hurrah, they tried!", but the fireworks tend to start in late October and not let up until around February.

Meanwhile, in the USA, the big night for fireworks is the 4th of July. I have to admit to not understanding this; first, it's in Summer. A key point to note about Summer is that it stays light until late. Moreover, in recent years, Benjamin Franklin's worst idea has been used; thanks to clock-keeping, you need to give people even less sleep before the next day's work to get darkness. Frankly, July 4th does not make sense as a time for fireworks.

In both cases, though, the impetus is a rebellion. The major difference is that the US rebellion succeeded.

And tonight, if I can find somewhere reasonably close to Pleasant Hill which will be dark and have an eastward view, I shall be watching silent fireworks, provided by nature. The Taurids are coming, and this year they're promised to be spectacular. And tonight, they're not even having to fight the moon much.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On this historic night...

I greatly respect John McCain for the quality of his concession speech.

I also loved Barack Obama's announcement of the impending addition to his family: in his acceptance speech, he announced that he'd be taking a new puppy to the White House.

Make sure it's house-trained, please.

On the orientability of certain Platonic solids

Following my post regarding the excellent dice bag the LA knitted for me, somebody asked me about one of the dice shown in the photos. After that question, I now present for your edification the art of reading the d4.

Below, we see two d4s; an old-style d4 in pearl, and a new-style d4 in white. Both of them are showing a result of 1.


Below, we see the same two dice. This time, however, they're showing a result of 2.


Below, once again, the same two dice, showing 3.


And finally, the same two dice, both showing a result of 4.


As you can tell, the reading method is consistent: you read the number which is upright. I personally prefer (and have more of) the old-style d4s, but I do have the new ones just in case I have a player who doesn't know how to read a d4 properly.

Of course, if they follow my blog, now they do, and so do you.

Monday, November 3, 2008

On truth

I thought I was going to stay out of US politics this election. Seems I was wrong.

Everyone in California, please go to your polling place tomorrow and make sure to vote "No" on Proposition 8. Even if it wasn't shoving discrimination into the state Constitution, it is being pushed deceptively. Schools will NOT be forced to "teach gay marriage", just as they currently don't teach marriage. Obama does NOT support Proposition 8.

Who you vote for as President is one thing, but please, whatever your politics, vote NO to discrimination, hatemongering and fearmongering.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled geeky whininess.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

On the road back to health, and other subjects.

So yes, that is correct. I am much improved, health-wise, and the LA is also rather better. We're both off the chicken soup, and I'm cooking again - tonight's chicken with potato wedges went down rather nicely.

Still on the subject of health, I'm currently in the process of applying for health insurance. I honestly cannot figure out why so many citizens of the USA see this as somehow preferable to a system which allows you to see a doctor without worrying about cost. I won't say the NHS is perfect, but it is, to my mind, a damned sight better. I think that the best system would be one which keeps basic healthcare free (ie you can go see a doctor about this thing on your leg for free) but which allows for insurance and/or copayments for anything beyond "the basics". To take an example, if your appendix goes bad, "basic" is in you go, you get opened up and out comes the appendix, and they sew you back together and keep you in till you can get up and about safely, while you can if you wish pay for less invasive surgery, etc etc. "basic" vision care covers checks and basic lenses in uncool frames, but you can pay extra for contacts, nicer frames, thinner lenses and so on. I would consider universal access to healthcare to be a human right, but it's not the job of the state to support everyone's health.

I'm also applying for a credit card. Yes, Mum, I do remember what happened last time, and it's certainly NOT going to happen this time. The sad fact of the matter is that life is very difficult in the USA of modern times without a credit card and the accompanying credit rating, and so it's a good idea for me to have one, no matter that I will be using it very little. I chose which one to apply for in consultation with the LA, and it carries good interest rates, no annual fee, and some spiffs which make a great deal of sense when considered with respect to my preferences.

While the LA has been feeling under the weather, she's been continuing to knit. Her latest completed project is shown below:



Yes, that's a cabled dice bag. I have the perfect wife.

And now, I'm going to get ready for tomorrow. I have to go to the library to return some books, and to the gaming store to fill in my Consumermas wishlist. If anyone should buy me anything which is on there (and that will probably be high-dollar non-essentials such as a battlemat, maybe some minis, paint, and moar dice, rather than such things as GURPS Myth or Rippers which I would be sure to use) I will get double points for that item on my rewards account there. I'd shop at this store anyway, since it's a) got a wonderful atmosphere and b) the only gaming store in the area now, but the rewards card is icing on the delicious dice-shaped cake.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

On health

So, on Tuesday I was feeling a little seedy, possibly in part because the LA's allergies continued, and when I woke up yesterday, I had what felt like a rope of mucus tying the tracheal portal of my nasal cavity to my uvula. I ended up heavily medicated, with pseudoephedrine, slow-release guaifenesin, ibuprofen and chicken soup. I was still feeling utterly wretched by bedtime, and this morning wasn't much better. I decided to treat myself for lunch, and to that end I defrosted some bacon for sandwich-making purposes.

As a result of how much that improved matters, I am declaring that my illness was in part acute hypobaconaemia.

Monday, October 27, 2008

On long-distance communication

I've heard that Stephen Fry considers the telephone an extraordinarily rude device, and I find it hard to disagree with that assessment of it. It demands our attention, it chains us to somebody else's idea of when is a good time to talk, and it forces one to make ill-considered replies to questions.

Be that as it may, we are stuck with the devices for the time, but there are methods one can use to make them more bearable.

First among these methods is learning a few simple rules. Here are some things to do with telephones:

  1. Know who you expect to answer. Opening a call that you dialled with the words "Who is this?" is, in my opinion, grounds for being reported to the FCC.
  2. Answer rapidly. Pretending to answer, by means of having a machine pick up and put the caller on hold, is Not Allowed.
  3. Reduce reliance on automated systems. Why should I have to do the job you're paying your call centre staff to do?
  4. Voice Recognition Doesn't. Automated voice recognition systems are, in my opinion, grounds for being encased in concrete and dropped into a subduction zone.
  5. Speak my language. If the person at the other end speaks a different language than you were expecting, you MIGHT have the wrong number, and it would be a good idea to at least try to clear this up in the language they first spoke. If that's not possible, you might at least learn to say "Sorry, wrong number".
  6. Redial doesn't correct. When you hit "redial", it dials exactly the same number, so if you got a wrong number before, it's STILL a wrong number!
  7. Admit you're not perfect. We've all misdialled. Every last one of us. Don't accuse me when YOU get the number wrong.
  8. Telephones get link rot too. Phone companies recycle numbers. There are only so many valid combinations. It is not the fault of the person who got the recycled number that whoever had it before failed to tell you that they no longer had it.
  9. Where did you think I'd be? At four in the morning, sane people are in BED, and you should NOT be making telephone calls.
  10. Not right now means exactly that. When someone says they can't talk now, please, STOP trying to talk to them.
I really want a whitelisting mechanism for telephone calls so I can only allow certain people to call me.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

On the completion of another solar orbit

So, now I'm 28. What real difference does that make?

None at all, in practical terms. I'm still me, just as much as I ever was. However, taking stock of the year just past is a good idea anyway, so let's have at it.

This time last year, I was employed. Via an agency, true, but I was employed, I was earning decent money, and I was getting on with building up my finances so I could head over here.

This time last year, I was unmarried. I had been engaged over two years already, but the thought of marriage was still a "we'll do that when we can" prospect.

This time last year, I was devoid of animal companionship.

Now, I have a wife, two cats, and no job. I think I got the better end of the tradeoffs.

I'd have liked to be able to spend my birthday out taking pictures, but the antics of the cats are a good substitute.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

On disappointment

The LA and I had been set to go to Hawk Hill today, for some photography, a little education and some socialising, but sadly this has had to be cancelled, as has the party we were planning to attend this evening. This means that Silas's debut in sucking at bowling has been postponed. You see, the LA has allergies, and they are being truly unkind right now. I had thought that she hadn't disturbed my sleep by sharing the bed, but as it turned out she had - to the extent that I couldn't manage to get any deep sleep that night. This resulted in my being very, very vague and unfocused the next day.

I offered to take the couch last night, but she insisted I should have the bed. It didn't feel right, but her arguments were irrefutable.

It seems I'm somewhat doomed never to get to Marin.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

On conventions

Being a gamer, I want to attend conventions. It's a chance for large-scale socialisation, something that's important for people like me to get used to. Now, the local con is DunDraCon, and they have an online registration that allows folks to get money off if they pay in advance. The LA and I will be attending, for a total cost of $30.

But getting those thirty dollars to the con was a mission. First, I tried paying by credit card. Paypal wouldn't let me use the e-mail address I'd given the con, because that address already had an account. So I tried my other address, and it still didn't work. In attempting to get the first address sorted out, I found I was going to need to close that account, and why? Because Paypal refuse to admit the possibility that someone might want to keep their money after moving across a national border.

I eventually opened a new account under the second address, this time the card linked to it OK, and I got the payment in. I then zeroed my balance on the other account by sending every penny to the new account, and closed the old account.

I truly hate Paypal for making this so much more difficult than it could have been.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

On parties

So, I probably won't get my "own" birthday party this year, what with my social circle being a Venn Diagram consisting of "Me" in one set, and "Everyone else" in a non-intersecting set, but the 4th anniversary party at Black Diamond Games today was a reasonable substitute. I even won the raffle, which got me a bunch of interesting things... and a single AT-43 unit that had clearly taken on a forklift and lost. For a line that he's deep-sixing, Gary sure does have a lot of AT-43. Maybe he's hoping that if everyone gets some, people will play it.

Sorry. For all that it's one item where the AT-43 had three figs, I'm more stoked with the Battlemech. For a start, I get to assemble and paint that (if I get primer, and so on), and there's more chance I'll actually play Battletech.

Still, the copy of a|state was actually a better prize than you realised. Sure, I can't use the mechanics (percentile skill rolls won't mesh well with Savage Worlds no matter how you slice it) or the items (mediaeval/steampunk, no firearms versus post-apoc, lots of guns), but I can pull a surprising amount of feel out of this book.

I'm still intending to order a copy of GURPS Myth, though. Most of the fluff in that will be directly applicable...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

On flowers

So, today was Concord's Oktoberfest, ja? The LA and I went, thinking I could check out some local microbrews, but we found a distinct shortage of beers I wanted. This was because of one thing they all had in common.

Cascade hops.

The Cascade hop is the curse of the American microbrew. Yes, it grows better than any other hop variety in the USA's climate. This does not make it the right choice for American beers, however, as it is extraordinarily bitter, and lacks any subtlety in its flavour. Indeed, Cascade hops are almost guaranteed to render me nauseous. I suppose if one's suddenly discovering that beer can have flavour, then it's perfectly possible to become used to Cascade, but frankly, to me they are disgusting. Please, anyone who wants to brew, go the extra few bucks and import Fuggles, Challenger, Goldings or Saaz. European hop varieties are FAR more pleasant.

Moreover, please, America, please learn what IPA is actually about. IPAs do tend to be high alcohol and heavily hopped, yes, but they are NOT a competition to see who can make the concoction which most resembles a mixture of corn syrup, Everclear and Bitrex. If you want to know what a proper IPA SHOULD be, kindly take yourself to your nearest BevMo! and look for Meantime India Pale Ale. It's not what you think. What this stuff is, is flavourful and subtle. It's hoppy, yes, but you can still taste something other than hops.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

On Two Wheels

As you probably know, I'm not a driver. However, I do still know the rules of the road, since I do cycle to get to places. Indeed, I probably follow the rules of the road rather more stringently than do most cars around here. Today, I went to the library. Because the bus company is idiotic, when the library is actually open, the buses don't run past it, and when it isn't open, they do. This meant that I had the expensive and tiring option, or the cheap and tiring option. I went for cheap and tiring, and set off on my nice not-all-that-shiny Trek to reach the library.

Now, the most direct route takes me along Contra Costa. This is all well and good, but I didn't want to go along Contra Costa because a) it's being worked on at the moment and b) people drive like maniacs along there. So, I worked out an alternative route, shown below:


View Larger Map
This route is still almost entirely on public roads, aside from the section along the EBMUD trail, but those are much less busy roads. So, off I went, and was taking the lanes from the beginning. At the first stoplight, I was in the middle lane, and so it continued. All the drivers I encountered were perfectly OK with my behaviour. I count that as a great success for the vehicular cycling philosophy, which holds that as a cyclist one should behave as a vehicle, and this will cause cars and other motorised entities to treat you as a vehicle. Not a single vehicle cut me off, several actually deferred to me at multi-way stops (!), and I astounded one chap in a VW by being less than a length behind when we left one intersection, having been next to him (and in the middle tending left of my lane, so that those turning right could filter past while I retained ownership of straight ahead; safety and courtesy) at the light.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

On the winding of yarn

The LA is a knitter. Some yarn does not come ready to knit with. However, ball winders are available, some motorised.

The LA realised that she had married me. She therefore commissioned me to make for her a ball winder, using K'Nex, since it had been posted elsewhere. To this end, we procured the following resources:



My first attempt was... overcomplicated.



This monstrosity never got tested, because I realised that I'd overlooked how to transmit torque properly, and thus I could get the required two-axis spinning action with a single shaft. The key was in fact the ability of the gears to free-float.

Version 2 was distinctly less overblown:



The big wheel turns, causing the small cog to turn with it. This rotates the platform. Meanwhile, the vertical shaft is held immobile, and the wheel atop it engages with the spindle cog, causing the bobbin to rotate whle the platform it's mounted to also rotates. Hopefully, once I've figured out precisely how to run this thing, it will produce balls of yarn which can be centre-pull or outside-pull, and will do so at roughly a fifth the cost of a motorised one. It actually cost similar to a hand-wound winder, but is That Much Cooler simply because it's something I built.

Directions are available on request; if you share them, please credit me for them. I put a lot of thought into this device!

Monday, October 6, 2008

On keeping things tidy

The LA and I live in an apartment community. What this means is that there are no gardening tasks I need to perform, unless I decide to grow something. There are grounds, with plants growing on them, and a gaggle of small men who maintain them.

At this time of year, even in California, the leaves are turning and falling (I must remember to take a camera next time I'm visiting the LA's parents; some of their trees are gorgeous), and so there is a drift of leaves. This being the USA, they need to be removed, lest you get natural mulch and humus. Again, this being the USA, the small men refuse to use rakes to collect the leaves. Instead, they scatter them using leaf-blowers. Said leaf-blowers are powered by small but loud two-stroke engines, which is hardly West Coast Hippie. I personally find it amazing that leaf-blowers haven't been banned; they're loud, they're ineffective, and they're unkind to air quality.

Indeed, the blowers fail even the most basic test of leaf-collecting: actually collecting leaves. They merely redistribute them, mainly to the surface of the ponds.

Speaking of the ponds, recently the LA and I were walking home from somewhere, and I saw a small bird. For the Americans, it was roughly football-shaped; for the rest of the world, roughly rugby-ball shaped (the rest of the world is closer) and it was cryptic colours, with a dagger-like beak, showing it to be related to herons. I ran it past the rather good What Bird? wizard, and ascertained it to be an American Bittern.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

On the allure of sticks and string

Those of you who follow the LA's blog will know that she knits. Among her current projects is a pair of socks to keep my feet toasty through winter, but that's beside the point. This afternoon, we were in the drugstore failing to find a shoehorn, any pseudoephedrine or a 4" cube-shaped box, but we did get some Halloween candy (since we can't actually turn off our porch light).

The LA saw some 49ers hats and scarves, and immediately began analysing the stitching. She's mildly obsessive...

Monday, September 29, 2008

On the casting of pods

No, this isn't some crazy California bean ceremony or divination. This is about technology, specifically about the use of it to make audio files available after the manner of a radio show. There are many such shows, and many of them suffer from one or other of these problems. Let me explain the Seven Ways Your Podcast Can Suck:

1: Sixty Cycle
This is pretty self-explanatory; you can have a 60Hz hum on your podcast. This is caused by something in your setup picking up the power lines, and is incredibly annoying to anyone who has trouble picking voices out from background. European podcasts suffer from the related Fifty Cycle, as their powerlines run at 50Hz; either way, it's a hum, and it sucks. Please, please, get rid of the hum. Upgrading microphones so you use the balanced (and thus hum-rejecting) XLR plug rather than the plain ordinary jack can be enough. Many audio recording programs can automatically kill the hum. There are filters. The hum is one of those things that there's really no excuse for.

2: Wait, that was it?
Please, please, do SOMETHING to indicate "OK, that's it for this episode". Whether it be music, or simply a canned copyright statement, it's jarring to be dropped straight into silence or some other audio file. In extreme cases, your listeners will start wondering if their reader downloaded you properly.

3: Oh yeah, spoiler alert.
Self-explanatory. Yes, we know, the Dark Knight was cool, but unfortunately not all of us were able to go out and see it. Please, wait until it's on DVD before you have your nerdgasm over it. If it's on DVD, we all have Netflix or a local Blockbuster; we've nobody but ourselves to blame if we haven't seen it, so spoil away as long as you warn us, but if it's not out on DVD yet, you can't assume we've seen it.

4: Intermission
We don't need to know that you stopped recording for a couple hours so somebody could go poop. We don't need to have a minute of music to mark the gap. Transitions between segments, if you must have segments, are OK, but otherwise, try to keep it flowing. Remember, in most cases, we don't have video, so we can't see that Joe is now sitting to Bill's left.

5: Adverts
Sure, the equipment costs money. However, plugging your sponsor in the middle of the cast is jarring, and doesn't incline people like me towards checking out their offerings. Keep it to the opening blurb, and the closing boilerplate. If your sponsor won't accept that, you need to find a sponsor that doesn't suck.

6: Late This Week
If you're going to give a schedule, then please stick to it. Some casts don't have a set schedule; that's fine. Each episode of those is like a little gift. Howver, if you're going to say "every Tuesday", then you need to step up and commit to making sure it really IS every Tuesday. Once you've set a schedule, you've set your listeners' expectations, and you really can't fall back on the "It's free, so whay are you complaining?" defense. Remember, without a schedule, each episode is a little gift; with a schedule, each miss of your drop date is a little bag of flaming dog poop.

7: iTunes is coming
Really, this should go under "feed issues". Podcasts live and die by their RSS feeds; please, make sure you've set yours up correctly. First, you need to make sure that you have a podcast-only feed. Then, you need to make sure that nothing ever drops off this feed. Most feeds have a maximum number of entries; you need to set that to a LOT higher than you think necessary. Do NOT allow it to only be twenty items. That will mean your early episodes will drop off, and that is a very effective way to avoid gaining new listeners. Remember, people love going through archives; this is why so many pay-to-read-archives services for webcomics have been flops. If you want new listeners, they need to be able to download all your episodes in their reader. Speaking of readers, like it or not, iTunes is overwhelmingly dominant. You need to make iTunes support priority one; you simply cannot get away with saying "It's complicated", "we'll get to it soon", or "we're working on it" past a month. If you're not properly supporting iTunes, then you're shooting your potential listeners figure in the foot.

So, those are ways you can suck. As for ways you can be brilliant, that's up to you. There is no one path to success, but there are plenty of ways to hack people off. Avoid hitting the above seven points, and the likely reason for me not listening will be a lack of interest in your subject matter. However, there are plenty of people like me but with different interests. Of course, you may not be wanting to podcast at all, but that's fine.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On food preparation

I enjoy cooking. However, I have a tendency to stick to dishes which I know work.

Today, I'm branching out some. Starting with potatoes, tuna, a white sauce and some breadcrumbs and cheese. Hopefully the resulting baked thingummy will be nice...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

On alignment, mechanics and roleplaying.

The more I think about roleplaying, the more things I see that are just plain daft. A wonderful example is Dungeons & Dragons' alignment. The basic setup is that every entity in the world has an alignment, on two axes: law versus chaos, and good versus evil. This gives a range of nine possibilities, from lawful good to chaotic evil, with neutral as the middle on each axis. Now, if this was strictly a roleplaying thing, I'd have no issue with it; it's a two-word summary that helps you make snap decisions on how your character reacts to something. However, D&D takes it further: it becomes an actual thing. Your character has, permanently marked, his alignment. He's been branded Lawful Good, or similar. There are actual mechanical penalties for acting in a manner not consistent with that. This, to me, is ridiculous. Making a roleplaying decision, which may be entirely in-character, have a mechanical penalty makes no sense to me.

There is, also, the problem of alignment-based spells, from "detect evil" onwards. These also make little sense; they seem to be a workaround for a GM who can't make his characters well enough for them to be believably evil-but-seeming-good. Again, this is a problem of insufficient attention paid to keeping RP and mechanics separate.

This is one of the reasons I won't run D&D. I don't really want to play it, either. Please, don't get me started on class, either. I'll accept level, but really, you shouldn't be developing characters through mechanics if you can avoid it.

On entomology

So, this morning the LA and I were going out to breakfast, and when we exited, we found on the porch a visitor.

This chap was just sat there, so I snapped some photos of him.

I should note that he was BIG. That rail is about eight inches wide.

Friday, September 19, 2008

On balancing profit and profit

Television networks, as we all know, exist to sell advertising. The BBC can, in this context, be ignored, as can the CBC and most definitely PBS. A TV network is a means to sell advertising. This does mean that they have a duty to their shareholders to reject ads which are too irritating (so I cannot for the life of me comprehend why, on every ad break recently, an unreasonably perky woman foghorns out a "HI! CAN WE TAKE A MOMENT TO TALK ABOUT YOUR COLON?", closely followed by the three bloops of a TiVo being told to floor it and get us past this horrific advert), and of course they must needs devise some method of inducing people to watch the adverts.

This is what TV shows are for. You might have thought that TV networks' primary purpose was to make shows, but you'd be wrong in that thought. The shows are a way to get you tuned in for the adverts. However, people being what they are, all the viewers miss the point entirely and get caught up in these expensive timesinks that the networks would really rather not have to deal with. However, if the networks didn't make shows available, they'd be unable to get people to watch their advertisers' productions, so shows there will be. Of course, in these days of the interwebs, viewers will feel safe in missing a show, because there's always a way to get it. For some time, said way was via people who would capture the show, edit it somewhat, and put it on the intertubes (YARRRRR!), but then the networks realised, after the advent of YouTube and the realisation that people really would watch a pixellated version of something in a tiny window and think it was wonderful, because they were getting it on demand, that they could do similar. Of course, this was unlikely to keep their advertisers happy, so they had to develop means to insert unskippable advertisements into their intertron versions of the shows, and did so.

All this is leading up to the fact that I was never a watcher of Lost, but the LA convinced me that I should give it a try. The TiVo concurred, and when one of the channels we get but don't know why we get started running it from the start, it recorded the first episode for us to try. Suffice to say, it's now under orders to continue recording episodes, but there is a slight problem. This is that the channel re-running Lost is doing so in four-hour blocks, and so there are three hours I can't watch. Not to worry, thought I, and hied me to ABC's website, where I found that full episodes were available. "Score!", thought I, bookmarked it, and then had a couple of Busy Days. Today, I returned to find that the Flash-based streaming has now given way to a "Download our player. No, we won't tell you what else it does. No, there is no alternative." setup. I promptly issued a California Freeway Salute, and went over to Netflix, to add the first disc of season 1 to the top of the queue over there.

My point is that there is a fine line to be walked between protecting your IP (the shows, which are valuable IP insofar as a) they allow ads to be sold and b) they can be sold as DVD sets (thus proving that people will buy anything; in the TV business, shows are actually the equivalent of pork scratchings to the advertisers' porkchops)) and keeping your consumers (not customers; the customers of a TV network are the advertisers) happy. ABC crossed that line when they required a download.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On the Storage of Fruit, and Cakes thereof.

So, the Mac had some... fun issues after its recent software update. After the LA had it drop to textmode on logout, and I had it fail to allow me to get out of screensaver without poking the power button, we took it to the Apple Store, for some Genius Bar loving. The LA was expecting some deep magic for a price; what we got was a free fscking and an install of Leopard, which meant we also got a free long weight. We also got a zonkingly huge external drive, which is connected via the rather lovely IEEE1394, otherwise known as FireWire (400; we don't have 800 on this Mac). Zonkingly huge in capacity, not physical size; it's quite petite.

We also got a free WTF entertainment, hearing someone else at the Genius Bar. I came to the conclusion that most Genius Bar customers don't actually need a genius, they merely need someone competent, but that Competency Bar is less of a marketing win. However, this person... did need a genius. Not so much for the problem as for their mental problems. When one of the things you hear is "A hard drive only has a finite amount of space" and another is "You have less than a gigabyte of space free", you start to realise that you're actually an ideal Genius Bar customer, because you do at least know what the hell is going on and that you want to keep your hard drive less than 95% full. Mind you, the later stages of the Customer of Doom were astounding; the Genius was attempting to explain the concept of VMWare to this person.

One of the odd side effects of installing Leopard on this Mac is that the CD drive, which has never before burned a disc that was readable, now works.

And returning to the external hard drive, there were actually two options at the capacity point we went for; one was a simple "1TB" drive (actual capacity, in Finder, being roughly 930GB) while the other was $50 more and claimed to be a 1TB "RAID". As it turned out, when I read the box specs, it was indeed 1TB (decimal, rather than binary), but only in stock configuration, which was RAID0. RAID0, for the uninitiated, isn't actually RAID, since it's not at all Redundant. It's more FAIL: Fragile Array of Inexpensive Liabilities. The box could be configured to be RAID1, which does give somewhat of a performance boost on reading, but that would, obviously, halve the capacity. Since we wanted "excessively huge" and I actually trust Western Digital to not balls-up, we decided to save the $50. However, the price point ($250 for a 1TB box) astounded me.

And in closing, Leopard is shiny. Stroke the shiny Leopard, and try not to be amazed when it turns round and bites your hand off.

Friday, September 12, 2008

On renovations

My sidebar is so Web 2.0 now. You may have noted the change from a list of links to a dynamically updated list of recent posts from the other blogs I read; this is a fairly recent addition to Blogger's functionality. You'll also see that it works with anything that has an RSS feed; Twenty Sided Tale has nothing to do with Blogger, but it works.

The "Follow this blog" only works for Blogger people. It puts a feed of this blog into your dashboard when you sign in; it also makes adding this blog to a list of recent posts like the one over there a little easier. There are also the non-Blogger subscription links, just because.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

On the controlled deposition of graphite

Being a geeky type, I have a preferred writing tool. It is a Staedtler Mars Medium mechanical pencil, in 0.7mm, and I prefer to feed it 2B leads for extra legibility in its primary usage, which is completing the cryptic crosswords that one C. A. J. was kind enough to send me as a gift around the time the LA and I married. While said crosswords are distinctly fun, the paper upon which they're printed is rather cheap, and rapidly fades to yellow, making HB marks illegible. Note for the US/Canada readers: HB corresponds to a #2 pencil, while B, 2B and so on are softer ("Black"). Meanwhile, H, 2H and so on are harder ("Hard"). The difference is ratios of graphite and china clay, and the more china clay the harder the pencil and the lighter the line. My preferred hardness is a little softer than usual, and so is less than common, particularly in 0.7mm, since the standard for mechanical pencils is 0.5mm. Unfortunately, 0.5mm tends to poke holes in my crosswords.

Fortunately, tonight the LA and I passed through Staples, and found 0.7mm B leads. Not quite my preferred 2B, but perfectly acceptable. I can return to smooth writing and legibility in my crosswords, and cease worrying, since they were in packs of 36 leads. Since each lead is supposed to write for as long as a standard pencil, this is remarkably good value... you try finding 36 B pencils for less than $2.50!

Friday, September 5, 2008

On instability

So, I guess I'm now a for-real, honest-to-Bob Californian.

This event was palpable here. This is the first earthquake I've actually felt; it was unlike anything I'd ever felt before. I rather enjoyed it, actually.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

On how to tell you're in San Francisco.

Today, the LA and I had to go to the city. We needed to get lunch while we were there, and after finding a lovely little Chinese lunch place (their broccoli beef was the best I've ever had), we went back towards our appointment. We passed by an Italian restaurant.

The menu was printed in English and Chinese.

That's how you know you're in San Francisco.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

On feedback and stability.

Most of you are aware of what feedback is. For those who aren't, it's what you get when you feed the output of a system into the input of the same system. There are two types. Positive feedback is what happens when the output reinforces the input. You know it as the howl you get when shoving the microphone of the PA system into the speaker. Positive feedback generally is unstable. The other kind, negative feedback, happens when feeding the output back in reduces the input. This generally results in stability.

Not always, though. The LA and I have a light on our balcony. It's on a light sensor as well as the switches, so when the switches are on, it still won't light unless it's dark. However, there is a negative feedback loop which occurs at a certain stage of the evening. "Oh", says the sensor, "it's dark. I should allow the light to come on." This occurs, and "Oh", says the sensor, "it's not dark. I should turn the light off."

It runs at about 2Hz. Negative feedback producing instability. Who'd have thought?

I'm attempting to distract myself. It's sort of working.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

On good news...

Today, I received an e-mail.

Apparently, I ticked the right boxes when applying to BART for a job. They want me to turn up for a written exam on Monday.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

On honorifics

This morning, I had a sudden moment. The LA and I had been at the Credit Union, opening our new joint account, and then she had to do something that needed notary stuff. Once we were done, the notary person there thanked us... as Mrs Humphreys and Mr Humphreys.

I've never been Mr Humphreys before. At school, I was "Silas", apart from the time at private school, for which I was "Humphreys". At University, I was pretty much exclusively "Silas". Since then, I've been "Mr Silas Humphreys". "Mr Humphreys" has always been my father. This is the convention; my father is the most senior Humphreys male, so he's "Mr Humphreys". It sits slightly wrongly with me to be addressed as "Mr Humphreys", but I think technically I am paterfamilias over here. What distance is sufficient to break one's ties?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On Edge, again.

At the moment, my stress levels are running close to sustainable maximum. In fact, it's possible they're *past* sustainable maximum, since pretty much any significant input is causing my brain to start clipping, with unpredictable results (and since it seems my brain is transistor rather than valve, it clips hard rather than soft, and sounds ugly).

In just over a week, things should be less stressed, but right now, I'm not much use. Anything I haven't had a while to anticipate is going to result in me falling apart...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

On GMing

Setting fluff for my (hopefully) forthcoming campaign is now online at this location.

I may or may not blog about sessions.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

On transportation

I'm looking for a job, but as always, the sticking point is getting there.

We've been thinking of bicycles.

I don't understand modern bicycles. There are so many options, so much choice, that I just freeze up. Perfectionism is good when you're working; really bad when you're shopping, and not good when you're looking for work.

And my brain is still not fully working after yesterday's head asplosion.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

On opiates and their role in society

I suffer from migraines. Those of you who are also sufferers will need no explanation of how bad things can be, while those of you who aren't... well, I'm afraid you simply can't get it. It really is beyond the comprehension of anyone who hasn't experienced it.

Today marked my first serious migraine since moving to the US. I hadn't realised until today just how effective a painkiller codeine is; in the UK, I was accustomed to treating serious migraines with a dose consisting of 1000mg of paracetamol (acetaminophen for the Statesiders reading), which was basically sugar for all it did pharmacologically, and 16mg of codeine, which was the minimum effective dose.

And I do mean minimum effective dose; what that did was reduce the intensity of the pain to merely excruciating, as opposed to the unmedicated level I experienced for the second time today (the first time being when I first suffered one of these; the fact that I NEVER experienced it again until today should be a clue as to how much it hurts), for which there can be no words. If you've been there, they aren't needed; if you haven't, you genuinely cannot understand, no matter how many words I use. Believe me when I say that even with the codeine, things still sucked.

In its way, that was a good thing. I thoroughly burned into my brain the association between taking codeine and things sucking. This made sure I wasn't even going to touch the stuff the rest of the time. Yes, opiates are addictive, but with the associations I have between codeine and pain, no junkie here!

But in the US, I can't get codeine without a prescription. And that means I have to explain to Graham just why Daddy spent about half an hour today blindfolded, in a dark room, lying on the bed whimpering, shivering, crying and twitching. If I'd been capable of tying a knot, I'd have gagged myself so I didn't even have to make the effort to keep from grinding my teeth into powder.

So if someone claims to have a migraine, but they're functional, they're either heavily medicated or they just have a headache and want sympathy. Someone who does have a migraine will be obvious; if they can walk at all, they'll be shakier than a politician's reasoning.

EDIT: and now the pain seems to have burned out, although the way I feel it may still be worse than the worst mundane headache ever gets, I can't tell. I just feel incredibly spaced out and my body seems to be operating by remote control.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

On Geography

I've been putting off finding players, because I detest drawing maps. I love thinking them up, but I can't draw them worth beans.

Or rather, I couldn't. I've just reminded myself why I love vector drawing: in less than a day, I produced this map.



I'm sure people will spot themes in place names.

Along with the fact that the weather wouldn't work, and the fact that it appears to be upside-down, what with the trolls in the South.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

On relief...

So, the LA and I have finally had our wedding reception. This has been stressing the LA for some months, not least because we left much of it late, and so she's currently sick. Also, my best friend from the UK is still here visiting, so things are a wee bit busy.

My Savage Worlds setting is going slowly. If anyone feels like giving me unusual names for various metals, that'd be nice...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

On making one's own entertainment

So I've finally managed to actually get into RPGs. Moved away from my parents, and the LA approves, or at least can hardly complain given what she spends on yarn.

Years of fun for $20.

Mmmm. Dice and a rulebook, for the cost of two movie tickets. That's cost-effective entertainment right there.

You'll notice a lack of six-siders. That's because we have huge numbers anyway, although I am considering buying some of the big honkin' red casino dice for use as wild dice. We need some way to make sure players know which is the wild die when they have D6 in a skill, and besides, it adds to the flavour to have people rolling special dice like that. I should get some poker chips to count bennies, too...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

On REM Sleep

I don't normally remember my dreams. I generally time my sleep so that I don't get woken while I'm dreaming, which is a good idea in general. This morning, however, the LA turned off the radio during a dream of mine, so I woke up during it. This led to a certain amount of disorientation. I think I recall the ream involving singing and Engrish, but I really have no idea what was going on.

It's a bad sign when you're woken up in the middle of a dream and your first lucid thought is "Man, I hope the other guy got that on YouTube!", isn't it?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

On another planet

I suffer migraines. Generally, I can predict them, I know what triggers them, and I can hold the symptoms at bay by sheer effort of will; self-trained biofeedback can work, although it's tiring. However, it's simpler to just let them burn themselves out; that way, they're pretty much over in a day, as opposed to leaving me suboptimal for several. Every medication for migraines I've tried has had side effects worse than just dosing up on powerful painkillers to reduce it to merely excruciating, lying back and watching the pretty lights and listening to the strange sounds (yes, I get full aura - even more so since I'm somewhat synaesthetic), so that's what I tend to do.

A while ago, I noticed that colas tended to be a trigger. Then I had a bottle of Gatorade... which triggered me. Turned out it had phosphoric acid in it... so now, that substance is banned from my diet. It's rust remover anyway.

Now, today, I tried a flavour of Gatorade I hadn't had before, and that has triggered me. It didn't have phosphoric acid in it.

I need to get health insurance so I can consult a doctor over this. It's getting silly.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

On enthusiasm

It's fairly common knowledge that I'm pretty much a neophobe. New things generally fail to thrill me, and I'm not the type to rave about them. What this means is that I usually fail to notice good new things until some years later. This includes things like TV shows; the movie Serenity came out before I even met the LA, and yet I'm only just getting around to watching Firefly. Quite enjoying it, but several years later than everyone else. This tends to mean that I have a Crap Filter for TV.

This doesn't work quite so well on the internet. At the moment, it seems, the Big Thing is this Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, the title of which is discouraging me for a start. Then there's the fact that it's by Joss Whedon; I know this guy's work from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alien Resurrection, and Firefly. In my opinion, that makes him 1 for three; Buffy was popular, but I never understood why, I prefer not to acknowledge the existence of any Alien movies after Aliens, but Firefly's good (and the music is excellent). I admit to not having watched Dr H, but really, it's by someone who for me misses more than he hits, and it's getting a huge amount of buzz.

This brings me to my point: my neophobia, when combined with my ingrained misanthropy, leads to large amounts of enthusiasm for something generally resulting in my moving from "unbothered" to "actively hostile". That's what prompted this post, in fact; the sheer amounts of (let's be brutally honest here) fanboyish pant-wetting over Dr H have caused me to move from "Hmmm, might be worth a look, especially as it's free" to "No.", and I doubt I'm the only person who reacts this way. The fact that Dr H is being taken down tonight (as if that's going to work) so people can buy it (?) is not exactly making me want to see it, either. In a way, I'm kind of hoping it turns out to be successful, but I've been turned off by the fans, and even if it turns out it's perfectly suited to my tastes, I'm not going to see it until it's too late for my viewership to determine success.

Anyway. Long, pointless rant. Enjoy Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog if you like it, but I'm not going to bother. Ask me about it in five years' time, if it's still remembered. After all, culturally, I'm about that far behind. I like it back here, it's comfortable and unthreatening.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

On the stones

Thanks to the LA's mother, who despite the stereotypes about a man and his mother-in-law I love, I have some baking stones. They're basically unglazed quarry tiles, and they're currently in the oven, baking a small loaf of home-made bread. After the fun of various job-hunt stuff while mildly ill yesterday, bread was a very desireable substance, and it wanted to be fresh. Can't get much fresher than that.

Half a pound of flour (US standard general purpose turned out to be strong enough, although it took longer than I expected for the gluten to develop), a pinch of salt, a little sugar, some active dry yeast (quick yeast; lovely suff) and a sufficient amount of warm water later (the water is one of those things I just don't measure; it's quicker to do it by feel), I had a ball of dough, which I placed in an oiled bowl to rise. It did so, and then I kneaded it again, placed it on the stones and let it rise again. Slashed the top with a wet knife, and now it's baking.

I'll put some photos up when it's done.

And now, the photos are up.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

On your feet!

So, I realised that I actually lacked any suitable shoes to wear with a suit. I headed out today in search of such.

Do you have any IDEA how expensive shoes are? The first pair I tried were decent, but... $450? For that price, I want them custom... second pair had a weird bump in the footbed, and were "only" $205. Note to self: avoid that shoe store. It's scary expensive.

So I wound up cruising the reduced racks at Nordstrom and found a pair of Eccos for a sensible price.

Although Mum, if you feel like putting my leather-soled black boots in your case, my dance teacher (!) recommends leather soles over rubber. The Eccos will do brilliantly for work shoes too.

And on another subject, I dislike cooking electric. The problem is thermal inertia; it takes too much time for the heat applied to alter. I'm so used to gas that I always turn things down late. I know the scent of boiling over far too well...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

On the Telly, again.

Last night, the LA and I headed North, to Concord. We met up, in Todos Santos Plaza, with 2050 other guitarists.

And around 6.38pm, all of us played This Land Is Your Land. We broke the world record for largest guitar ensemble...

Friday, June 27, 2008

On the altitude of cats

Do you happen to recall the windowsill I mentioned in my post regarding a wasp? Well, of course you do, and if not, you can easily check my archives.

Said windowsill is rather high up. We had believed until recently that it was, in fact, beyond the range of cats, despite our petite black huntress Sheba often gazing wistfully upwards.

Well, she proved us wrong. She decided to make the attempt, and proved her athleticism - she made the jump from the TV stand. That was approximately a four-foot leap, or the rough equivalent of the LA or I leaping from the ground to our balcony; we're on the first floor (British style) or second floor (USA style). She then inspected things, for a while (meaning that my cat has seen something I never have) and started looking for a way down.

By this stage, we had finally managed to remove the threaded rod from the top of the tall cat tree, making it far less of a "spear the cat" effort, and had placed it by the window. However, Sheba didn't want the help, and also decided she wanted to stay up there. Fortunately, it was by this stage dinnertime, and so we could bribe her down with wet food.

She initially wanted to come down the way she'd gone up, but we couldn't allow that, as there was not a cat-sized area on the TV stand without photo frames. While she was down, we cleared such an area, and placed a blanket there for cushioning of landings. This turned out to be a mistake, as she decided to land beside the blanket on her next descent. We've now got a designated landing area, and Sheba has decided that she likes the high windowsill. It provides her with a good view, a chance to taunt the cats across the pond, and a definite advantage over Graham in the search for altitude.

In the social dynamics of cats, status is strongly linked to altitude. Graham simply cannot reach the height Sheba can.

Sadly, nor can the LA, and nor can I. It seems we're outranked by a cat...

Monday, June 23, 2008

On the occasion of his passing...

I would like to say a few words to honour the memory of George Carlin.

Seven words, in fact. You all know which ones.

Shit. Piss. Fuck. Cunt. Cocksucker. Motherfucker. Tits.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled FCC rules violations...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On baking

I'm trying out something new to me: following a recipe. Normally, I'm completely incapable of this task, but an intuitive understanding of What Works (thanks, Mum!) saves me from producing inedible messes. Today, though, it's baking, which is more science than art, as opposed to cooking, which is more art than science.

I have taken the recipe in question from my sister, who let me have it by request. I did need to make some substitutions: I don't have self-raising flour (which can be worked around by a standard method, and I did so), I don't have whole milk, just skimmed (that's an unknown), and I don't have mustard powder (so I added a similar quantity of paprika). The method is easy, and the scones are just about to come out of the oven.



And here they are, fresh as can be. Yes, that ninth one is a little scruffy; I'll put it out of its misery as soon as it's dropped below "scorchingly hot". They're actually octagonal, since I also lack a cutter; I used a drinking glass, and the ones which are the right size are octagonal. I like the effect.

Now, if I were to do it again purely for myself, I'd make one slight change: I'd add chopped onion or shallot on top. The LA wouldn't like that, though, so it's not been done this time. I expect them to be lovely without, though.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On the Security of Societies

Or, How Things Are Different.

UK: Social Security office full of people who have great difficulty speaking English or forming a coherent thought, but who feel they're entitled to something.
US: Social Security office full of people who can actually think, and who mainly feel vaguely ashamed to be there.

UK: SSO with constant smell of s**t thanks to idiots changing their babies' nappies in public and just dumping them in the trash
US: conspicuous lack of kids.

UK: SSO staff generally inefficient and want to find ways in which they can prevent you succeeding
US: courtesy, efficiency, and apparently a desire to help.

My Social Security card will be with me in two weeks.

Friday, June 13, 2008

On insects and instability

I have hurt myself. Not seriously, merely bruising, and that mostly to my pride, but I have hurt myself.

Some of you may have been aware that a wasp was building a nest within the holy place contained between our patio door and the screen door without. (Speaks volumes for the quality of said screen; it's supposed to keep insects out!) That wasp was killed when I destroyed the nest with chemical warfare. However, today I saw a new wasp of the same type.

It was in the living room.

As you can imagine, this was far from ideal, especially as neither cat wished to help in the destroying of it. Now, to set the scene... at the Eastern end of our living room, the LA and I have a large (almost 5 feet by six feet) picture window, immediately adjacent to which is the big entertainment centre in which the TV sits, and above which by about 18 inches is the arch window. See, we have a so-called vaulted ceiling; this means that there's basically no attic space above the living room. The arch window is semicircular and the same width as the picture window; its sill is at a rough guess about nine feet up. The picture window's (narrow) sill is about 18 inches up.

The wasp was investigating the arched window for possibilities of exit. It was finding none. Yours truly, mildly freaked out by the wasp, went over and grabbed a magazine, rolled it in the approved wasp-killing manner, and then used the entertainment centre to climb onto the picture window's sill. Then I managed to grab the arched window's sill, and edged across (did I mention the was was at the far end?) until I could reach the wasp. Then, I had at it, and landed a stunning blow.

The wasp fell.

I shrieked a little and fell too, then immediately got up and hammered the wasp into nothingness with the magazine I was still gripping. Then I went and got a paper towel, gathered the fragments of wasp, and disposed of them. That was when the pain hit, and now I feel such a fool...

Neither cat wished to aid me once the wasp had fallen. I suppose if they'd moved I'd have seen that they were laughing...

However, the moral of the tale? When you have cats, the best insecticide is a rolled-up newspaper or magazine. Cats aren't harmed by the lingering effects of THAT when you use it to kill an insect!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

On receipt

USCIS sent me something unequivocal.

I can has job?

Also, I can has wedding registry. Four hours in Bed Bath & Beyond blew out my knee, though...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

On papers

USCIS sent me things, that got here today.

I *think* they're saying that I can now jet back to England and come back here. I'm not sure, though. Still, they have an instance of "APPROVED" on them. This is a happy word.

I'll be consulting the LA for some clarification on what the other words mean. She speaks legalese.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

On line

We're moved in. The kitties are happy, and the net connection is up. We've even used the on-demand free movies.

I'm happy, because we have wildlife here. I've seen something that looked like a small heron, about duck-sized (I think it was a green heron), and I've seen a turtle. This makes me happy, as do the hummingbirds!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

On personal development

As some of you know, I work Faire. This is sort of about that.

There are several ways I could be described, personality-wise. I'm shy. I'm a perfectionist. I'm quiet. I generally don't like the spotlight. However, these aren't necessarily good things. When I went for working Faire, I deliberately went for a role that is completely against type. I don't usually deal well with talking to people I don't know; that's what this was all about. I like to consider my words and actions; this role forced me to just do it, and not stop to consider beyond "is this going to really freak the target out?". This role was very much Not Me, and yet I loved it. I was forcing myself outside of my comfort zone, insisting that I do things I really am not happy doing, and making myself see that it really did work out that way. This really helped force me out of the shell I inevitably build around myself. Working this role for almost the entire run of Faire (I worked my arse off, and only missed a couple weekends; those were basically because those weekends, my arse had fallen off) really pushed my limits, physically, mentally and emotionally, and it was a great time. As I said at the time: I wouldn't have let a job kick my arse that hard for $50 an hour, and yet there I was doing it for cookies.

One of the questions asked after the end of the run was "What was your favourite moment from this year's run?". Many people have answered, naming many great, fun things that happened.

Me?

I answered thus: "Every single one I was out there."

I really do feel that working Faire, just this one year, has helped improve me. I was pretty much subjecting my personality to Clarke's Second Law, and that is something that really does help me.

What do you do that you feel improves you?

On the hunt...

Well, our stuff is in, and being unpacked. We've knocked off for the night, though, due to extreme achiness and the stress of a day when NOBODY was on time but us.

Where the crud did my generic equivalent to Aleve get packed?

Friday, May 23, 2008

On Edge.

I find that dealing with setting up services is usually an annoyance of great note. Today was little exception... first, CableCo. I'm not naming names, but they're a cable company. You all know what such entities are like. They have an exceedingly uninformative website, a phone service that's somewhat broken, and exorbitant rates. They're also our only choice, since the only way we could get a southern aspect for a satellite dish would be by bolting it to the roof or the wall, and we can't do that, and we're not going back to over-the-antenna TV. We need our Discovery channel. We've also got no DSL availability there, so CableCo is our only choice for internet (dialup? Screw that!) and we're getting our phone through them also. This meant cancelling the order we'd set up with the Actual Phone Company, for when we thought we were moving into a different place...

Can you tell this is complicated? I don't deal well with complicated.

Now, we also had to figure out DVR service. See, we had a DVR on the satellite TV, and once you have a DVR, You Can Never Go Back. There is just no way you can do it. However, we had to choose between CableCo's offering or dealing with setting up a Tivo (sod their crazy capitalisation, I'm using title case for them and they're going to live with it), and that led to much looking at the net, scratching of heads and passing of notes while the LA was on the phone. We're probably going to go with Tivo, I think we decided, but I got kind of lost.

And finally, because we're using phone service from CableCo, we had to cancel our erstwhile long-distance provider. This was sad; Unitel had given us good prices, great customer service and no hassle at ALL for a long time. As and when we get to pick our long-distance provider again, we'll be going back to them.

And now I want ice cream, or possibly lunch. I may poke around some more with the toaster oven in order to get toasted cheese...

Which reminds me. Must tell the LA that I want a toaster oven once we've moved in...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

On the Trip

As the LA has already said, the drive up went pretty well. What she refrained from mentioning was that I had a migraine when we set out, thanks to the presence of phosphoric acid in a bottle of Gatorade. The inadvertent experiment thus performed was brutal in its conclusiveness: Silas gets migraines whenever he ingests phosphoric acid. This means no more cola for me, ever - a fact about which I find myself unable to feel sad. Root beer tastes better anyway, and if I go for Barq's it fills my addiction nicely. There are also gourmet root beers, which isn't the case for colas; about the fanciest they get is Pepsi Max (confusingly, this is not the same as the Pepsi Max in the UK; it's full-sugar, and includes ginseng and guarana, whereas in the UK Pepsi Max is the sugar-free stuff), so overall, the lack of colas is meh. Dr Pepper is included, though, but I'm not so keen on that either.

Anyway. I was pretty well packed in by bags (under my legs) and snacks, including a pack of golden Oreos. Some of my British readers may know the standard Oreo; for those that don't, it's a sandwich biscuit, with "chocolate" flavoured outers and white cream filling of surpassing blandness. It's disappointing, really; the main purpose of it is to come apart cleanly, leaving all the cream on one of the biscuits, allowing the creation of the "double stuff". This version, incidentally, is available readymade in the US, making the creation of quad-stuff and more multiples-of-two easier, although with sufficient patience these may be assembled from single instances (although past quad-stuff, it gets silly). Anyway. There are also variously coloured versions of the basic chocolate version, differing in the flavouring of the cream (such things as mint, peanut butter...), and also, we recently discovered, there is the golden Oreo, which is the basic biscuit without the chocolate. They're rather nice, lacking the carbonised edge of the chocolate ones, and I quite liked them. For some reason, they reminded me of giving blood, and somewhere around Coalinga I finally worked out why this was.

They're custard creams.

And now, as the cats socialise with the grandparents and the LA naps on the huge couch, I shall hope that things work out tomorrow such that she and I can go and catch Indiana Jones at some point. I may also nap a while, and dream of the very good pizza which was today's lunch; I would love a proper stone pizza oven.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

On the move...

What the LA said, plus migraine and exploding joints. Seems my body falls apart when I get stressed.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

On short notice

The move is... not going according to plan. It's still going, though.

More details once it's sorted.

Monday, May 12, 2008

On Hiatus

No, the titles weren't a leadin to this. However, it's true: for the next While, don't expect updates, since the LA and I are moving home, and that means Busy. Not a huge amount of updating will go on, until we're settled in the new place, but once we do, I'll provide some photos of surroundings and get on with some crafty things. We'll actually have a yard/garden (depending on which side of the Pond you're from), so I'll want some shade-loving stuff to grow there - veg, herbs and suchlike. Also a dartboard - so yes, the plants will probably be container rather than actually planted, so I can still have the darts alley.

Don't worry. This isn't a webcomic hiatus...

Friday, May 9, 2008

On wrongness...

So, today I experimented with my hair.

I attempted to do the two braids thing. It sort of worked. Specificly, it worked in a technical sense, but looked distinctly wrongeddy-wrong.

I have pictures. The LA is going to get to see them. The rest of you, not so much.


When I try the Hugo Weaving braided sideburns thing, you may see photos.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On dwarves

7 Felsite
Never rains but it bloody pours. Bunch of immigrants arriving, and the farmer's gone bloody fey. Claimed the craftsdwarf's workshop, and has apparently nicked some elf bone from the tip. Didn't know we had any, I guess the bloody goblins must've killed a treehugger. Just when you think it's safe to hate, they go and do something nice for you...

12 Felsite
So we now have a legendary stonecrafter. Wouldn't you know it'd be Mostlyharmless's girlfriend? She's made a trumpet out of bituminous coal, apparently. Carved some pictures of dwarves into some elf bone and set it in. Bet the thing still sounds crap, but it'll be funny as hell to try and sell it to the treehuggers. Ordered the waterfall turned on to celebrate. Also told every bloody dwarf that can swing an axe and not chop his own bloody feet off to go and cut down trees. We need beds, and it'll piss off the treehuggers. Also, we can make charcoal, and then we can barbecue some of these bloody cows.

13 Felsite
Calls himself a hydraulic engineer? Bloody hell, the drawbridge is flooded! Turning that damned waterfall off again.

19 Felsite
Oh for Armok's sake. The damn waterfall is still going. How bloody long does this plumbing TAKE?

22 Felsite
They've knocked off on the bloody road again. Something in the way. Went out, looked, and bugger-all could I see. Useless gits.
Ordered a strip-mining project started, since the bloody platinum seems worked out. Also going to check and see if went up or down or summat, but for now, a big grid works well enough. Keeps the miners busy, anyway.

24 Felsite
There's a bloody cow in my retreat. Get the damned thing out of there!
The stripminers have struck bauxite. Just what we needed, more of the bloody stuff. They're also moaning about damp. Bloody wimps, we're in a swamp! Of course it's bloody damp!

1 Hematite
Summer. Already? Bloody Nora. I need a drink...

2 Hematite
Drawbridge finally stopped flooding. Gah.

13 Hematite
Oh, Armok, the humans have showed up now. Oh well, they should have some booze. I think we got fleeced on the trade, though; I've never seen a grown human dance so stupidly before. Got a load of food and booze out of them, and also noticed while taking inventory that we had enough platinum for my statue to be made.

14 Hematite
So the head human honcho cornered me and wants to know what we want. Simple, booze and cheese. We can make chips ourselves, but you can't have nachos without booze and cheese.

16 Hematite
Oh bloody Armok, the gobbos are here again. Told everyone to get their arses in, and shut the door. Only trouble is, it wouldn't bloody shut. Turns out there's a shield jamming the hinges, and HOW bloody long has it been there? Mind you, I heard one place had its doors jammed by a dead bloody butterfly. There's such a thing as too bloody fine of a tolerance, guys.

22 Hematite
I think the gobbos have gone. Told everyone they could go out again.

24 Hematite
Oh bollocks. More of the green bastards, and wouldn't you know it, they've only gone and bloody killed Mostlyharmless's bird. He is NOT gonna like that. I'm getting someone else to tell him. If he tantrums, we're all screwed.

28 Hematite
He didn't tantrum, but someone else did. Smashed a bloody door, and says she enjoyed doing it. Didn't have the heart to punish her, though, since it has been a bit bloody fraught lately.
Wish the humans'd bugger off. Enough to make you paranoid, all these bastards twice your height wandering round.