Wednesday, December 14, 2011

As requested, and no doubt anticipated...

Here is a photograph of me as a US citizen, wearing a suit.

My passport application and voter registration forms are in the mail.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

That was a little unexpected.

The LA and I had agreed that, for my swearing in, I ought to have a new suit, since I've never had one before. So, today it was off to Men's Wearhouse, and it turns out they have a sale on. Buy one suit, get a second suit of equal or lesser value free. So now, I have two new suits on the way; one three-piece (for which the waistcoat needed to be bought separately, and which is having to be a rush job on the tailoring; the trousers needed about an inch taken in) and one two-piece. Both are single-breasted two-button, both side-vented, both have slightly wider lapels than is currently fashionable, and both will look rather good on me. We also bought some varying colours of shirt, some ties, and (due to the aforementioned waistcoat and the "buy one, get one free" deal on items of similar class), a rather nice mock turtleneck which will give me a softer look.

I'd still like to go Hong Kong bespoke at some point, but two good lightweight wool suits will keep me covered for years yet.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Allow me to gush for a moment.

I've only ever bought one computer game on release day. That was Half-Life 2; I was working at the Social Security office at the time, and on that cold November day I used my lunch break to go to a game store and buy a copy. Full price. It sat in my bag all afternoon, and when I got home I couldn't play it because the then-new Steam service used to authenticate it had fallen over under the astoundingly huge demand. That game was POPULAR, in a big way. The next day, the load was less, and I was able to play, and the sheer beauty of the game, even on a video card which fell between "minimum" and "recommended" specs (and which, unlike the rest of its line, was unable to cope with the most advanced bling-mapping used then) blew me away. Combined with the most believable NPCs I'd ever seen in a computer game, the effect was almost complete immersion. I was reacting as Gordon Freeman, and the fact that I physically resembled his canonical appearance (goatee, glasses, and according to the first Half-Life a ponytail) was icing on the cake. In time, that particular install of Windows went irretrievably south, and I still hadn't finished the game. It had, however, been a wonderful experience up until then.

Roughly seven years later, I wondered why I'd picked up a dislike of Steam's conditions in the years between my losing my ability to use it and then. I checked, but found nothing more objectionable than most EULAs, and many terms more generous than that. So, I logged in once more (having astoundingly remembered the password to a service I wasn't using for a good long while!) and found that I'd lost my progress. The current version of Steam is exceedingly friendly; I not only have access to my games from any computer capable of running them, I have my preferred control setup, my saved games, and so on, backed up transparently to "the cloud", which is to say a space on Steam's servers. I could, if I so desired, go to any computer running Steam, log in, and play any of the games I own starting from any saved point within them. This wasn't available in roughly 2005 when I stopped using Steam.

Thanks to the generosity of friends, I was given gift copies (another new feature since I stopped using Steam) of Portal, an excellent puzzle game, and Half-Life 2 Episode 1, the abbreviated follow-up to Half-Life 2. I actually finished Half-Life 2 (for the first time!) prior to starting Episode 1; I wanted to follow the story. Around October, Portal 2 became available at half-price for a short while, and the LA and I (having both gotten Portal for free, by various legitimate means) decided to purchase a copy each. That put me back in the ranks of "people who own a game released in the current calendar year", a situation I last experienced in 2004.

And, recently, as part of a sale, Half-Life 2 Episode 2 went half-price. This is the second short sequel to Half-Life 2, and is distinctly improved over Episode 1 insofar as the difficulty curve is better judged, and the environments are less recycled-feeling. It's also introduced a new enemy type, and this enemy type does horrible things to the player's view of the screen. When its characteristic "warning" hits, the screen area narrows down into tunnel vision, colours are somewhat distorted, and there's a distinct faint noise. Somebody at the development studio has low blood pressure; the effects of the Advisor's psychic warning are almost exactly those of a blood pressure crash. I'm very impressed by the realism shown here, and at the point in the game I've reached I can't help but feel that Gordon Freeman must be nursing a very severe headache; it's hit him quite a lot.

In other recent news, I've been given a date for my oath ceremony; on December 14th, four years and one day after I landed in Los Angeles, I shall become a US citizen. I really did hit the fast track. Also, yesterday saw a follow-up appointment with my doctor regarding the x-rays of my lower limbs he recently ordered; it turns out, despite my having had painful ankles since I was about 10, they're fine; despite my knees being painful since my late teens, they're fine; it's my hips, which only really started hurting in my mid-20s, which are arthritic. I wasn't really surprised by the diagnosis; although the blood factors are only elevated normal, the extent and persistence of the pain indicated pretty clearly that there was damage, and it's something of a relief to have that confirmed. There are many good options for managing arthritis, and we're starting with the ones that have fewest long-term ill effects on the rest of my body, since I'm only in my early 30s. There's no cure for arthritis, and little prospect of such a thing ever being discovered, so I shall be living with it for a long time. I just hope the next set of hip x-rays is a long while away; I shall be learning from last time next time I need them done, and taking with me a designated driver and some powerful painkillers. It turns out that arthritic hips really don't like being placed in the positions needed for a good hip x-ray; for a couple of days afterwards, I was barely able to walk, and that only with the assistance of a cane and synthetic opiates.

It's been quite busy of late, all in all. I'm hoping for a slowdown, but doubting its likelihood.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The great Evil that threatens our World

Being an examination of the nature of this Evil, what must be done to Combat it, your part in said struggle, &c.

Many people have a ready answer to which one thing they'd like to un-invent. It can range from Pokemon (not that I have any use for the little blighters, but I don't begrudge anyone the fun they derive from catching 'em all) through automated phone systems designed to keep you from reaching a human (tempting...) all the way up to nuclear weapons. My prime candidate, though, is rather close to home, and almost all of you will have encountered it: the Snooze button.

Why is the Snooze button evil? Simple. It encourages sloth, it annoys anyone who can hear your alarm clock, and it's a device that trains you to do exactly the wrong thing. Alarm clocks are supposed to wake you up; they generally don't. They instead train you to smack the Snooze button several times, until you blearily raise your head, see the time, and realise with a scream that you should have been at work some unconscionable time ago. Why is this? Because you can't count when you're asleep. You don't realise that you've smacked that damned button ten times, because you never really wake up. Then, when you realise you're doing this, you decide "I smack the snooze button n times, so I should set my alarm n times the snooze timer earlier to make sure I get up at the right time". What happens next? You smack the button even more times, and you still get to work late. You're just more grumpy because your sleep wasn't as good, thanks to the regular rises to smack the damn button.

So how do we fix this? Step one: STOP HITTING THE BUTTON. That's trite, of course; how do we stop it? Well, first: go to bed earlier. You need enough sleep, and setting the alarm earlier doesn't help; try to work into a pattern so your natural sleeping habits wake you up around the right time. Second: set the alarm later. I'm not expecting this right away, but your objective is to have the alarm set to go off at your "get up or get fired" time, and wake up before it every morning. You do not want to know what your alarm clock sounds like. Try to break the snooze button reflex. Instead, treat the alarm clock as the last resort it's meant to be. If you hear it, if it goes off, you're doing it wrong.

Believe me, those who live close enough to hear your alarm clock will be grateful.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reflections on unfamiliarity

So, on Halloween, many things happened. Some of them happened to me; for instance, I went into the City and attended an interview with US Customs and Immigration, and (assuming the cross-checking officer approves) I'm in the run-up to becoming a US citizen. Unfortunately, when I got back to my car afterwards, in the time it had been parked, the speedometer had given up the ghost. There was no obvious smell of magic smoke, but it must have leaked out somehow; the needle sat stubbornly on the pin, the odometer tumblers rolled not at all, and I was forced to use guesswork and the tachometer to judge my speed. I didn't get pulled over, so it was OK, but that was mildly harrowing. I'd forgotten that my smartphone has GPS and the ability to install useful applications, so it wasn't until the next day that I had a GPS-based substitute running. However, that was only going to be a temporary fix, since I'd been using the trip odometer as a proxy for the broken fuel gauge (which I really will pull and fix one of these days) and so I now had an indeterminate amount of fuel. So, into the repair shop my car went, and they had to send the parts out to be fixed. For over a week, I didn't have my car; but I did have the ability to borrow the LA's car.

Now, the LA's car is quite nice, and most definitely more modern than mine (roughly 50% more power from a very similar engine capacity, thanks to more efficient burning and better breathing from 4 valves per cylinder to my two; various fancy aids for monitoring things like tyre pressure; everything run by computers) but I was finding it tricky. For a start, I've got a couple of orders of magnitude more time and distance at the wheel of my car than I have at the wheel of anything else, and it shows. Among the things I was finding tricky on the LA's car were achieving a comfortable seating position (I've been spoiled by Volvo), knowing where the ends of the car were (the bonnet line is quite high and drops sharply; I don't have visual reference, and while the back of my car is invisible from the driver's seat I can still tell where it is from familiarity; the LA's car is a couple of feet shorter, so I don't have that dialled in), getting it in gear (going from a straight track and a button to a zigzag track), speed control (her car is equipped with an electronic throttle module; there's a Hall sensor which determines pedal position, and sends appropriate signals to a stepper motor controlling the throttle plate; meanwhile, my car has a Bowden cable, which makes for FAR more feedback through the pedal), gentle starts (between the extra power, the electronic throttle, and the front-wheel-drive, I was repeatedly spinning wheels or getting torque steer), interior control placement (just about everything is slightly different, which puts me on edge; having to remember that the two most-used wiper settings are reversed, for example, that the headlamps are turned on by twisting the stalk rather than a dash switch I've not touched in months, that the doors are locked by something akin to a window switch, and so on for approximately everything on the car) and the big one: visibility. Her car is a sporty, low-slung little number, which means a low H-point, a heavily raked windscreen, and a high beltline. Add in the enormously thick pillars to accommodate rollover protection and side curtain airbags, and I was struggling to see anything. The A-pillars gave me blind spots which could hide a bus, the doors came up to shoulder height, the C-pillars were horrific, and I felt as though I was trying to drive a postbox.

Fortunately for my nerves, yesterday I was able to collect my car and return to driving comfortably. It may be the last iteration of a design which began in the early 1980s, with engine technology which was conservative in the 1970s when it was new, but it's my car, and I know how large it is in much the same way as I know how broad my shoulders are.

Monday, October 24, 2011


I had a thought over the weekend. Even though I'm tattooed myself, and ought to know that it didn't change me at all beyond making my arm slightly more interesting to look at, I still find myself pre-judging people with facial tattoos. Not that I ever really meet anyone with them, but it's something I should do less of. For those of you following me on Twitter, that was my thought that was too big for a tweet.

It was driven from my head over the weekend by an annoyance: one of my tyres picked up a screw. This was distinctly unhappy-making, since it could have proven expensive. Those tyres only have about 6500 miles on them. Fortunately, I'd sprung for the road hazard coverage, but that would merely have reduced the cost. I got lucky, though; it was a short screw, and didn't penetrate the tyre. However, having noticed it yesterday, my reaction was to give the LA a chance to observe as I swapped the wheel for the spare. Fortunately, I use a full-sized spare, rather than a donut spare, so I had no qualms about doing the swap. I was reminded while doing so that my car's passenger-side jacking points are what's technically known as "bollocksed", insofar as the provided jack can't latch onto them as it should. The LA noted my frustration, and when I explained that I could procure a 4000lb-capacity floor jack for the price of the big fuck-off set of mole grips and the unmolested jack that the alternative plan of un-bending the bent parts required, and for significantly less hassle than going to a pick-and-pull and finding the replacement jack, she approved the purchase. So, now I have a floor jack and a couple of chocks (since they're nicer to the garage floor than the bricks I had been using to chock the wheels) and, since I'd already had to perform step 1 of a tyre rotation (swap a random wheel with the spare), I decided to continue with the rest of the steps once I'd had the tyre repaired. As previously noted, that turned out unnecessary, but I pressed on with the rotation anyway. The right rear tyre I'd removed went over to the right front, the right front it replaced went to the left rear, which moved to left front, and so on until all four tyres were in their new spots, my torque wrench had been given its longest workout yet of torquing 20 nuts to 65 foot pounds each, and I was positively yearning for an impact wrench to break the blasted nuts and spin them off. As it was, I was using a spider-type wheelbrace, which had just enough leverage to take the nuts off. An impact wrench would have been quicker, but there's no doubt whatsoever that the greatest contribution to the ease of doing the job (and it was MUCH easier this time than it had been swapping to the alloy wheels in the first place) was the ability to use a good jack. Yes, I technically did have all the tools I needed last time around, but having the tools you WANT makes a heck of a difference.

I should start maintaining a "tools wishlist". Right now, an impact wrench of some description is at the top of the list, along with suitable sockets and a set of torque sticks. I made this job easier by getting a set of 1/2" drive extensions, which are impact-rated since that's what Harbor Fright had on special. Moving the torque wrench outboard by roughly 3 inches meant it was no longer fouling the bodywork, so I could get a clean reading on it. I got the beam type since that's a low-maintenance tool; so long as I store it correctly, in the original packaging, it's not got anything to go out of adjustment. The click-type torque wrenches are a lot more finicky, and I just don't want the hassle.

Of course, this does mean that I'm now feeling the hurt, since I spent the morning doing physical labour, but it's still an honest job that I can be proud of.

Monday, October 10, 2011

How to boost confidence

Or, what I did over Columbus Day Weekend. As I mentioned last time, I was at a convention from Friday through Sunday, and a very enjoyable convention it was too. The organiser is a guy I know, and he works hard to make things go well. This convention, his first full-blown convention as organiser, was no exception, and he did very well. Frankly, I think he got more right than people who've been doing it for years.

Among the things he got right: game sign-ups. There was a good long submission period, and then a good long period of waiting while everyone got to look at who was running what and when, which  let people plan. Then, and this is the important part, the sign-ups were opened in a first-come-first-served format. The general pattern in the Bay Area is for games to be done as a shuffler, wherein you make your selections and you might get into a game or not. This leads to stress, and uncertainty, which make things less fun. Knowing what you're playing in before the con is a LOT easier to deal with. Then, there was a lot of communication, which meant lots of promotion of pickup games (and that was a popular option), and reminders of interesting events such as what passed for a seminar track this year. Normally, there are seminars at conventions, and they cover many subjects. I tend to be a seminar person at shuffled cons, because they don't require signups and the associated stress, which means I enjoy myself more. As an added bonus, I learn things from luminaries such as Kenneth Hite, Ryan Macklin, Leonard Balsera, and others. At Big Bad Con, the seminar track was a late-night thing involving sitting in the bar, in a tight group of geeks, and getting Ryan Macklin and Lenny Balsera (two of the mouthiest men in the games industry) started on game design. People kept them lubricated, asked them pertinent questions, and one person wound up somewhat of a focus because she pitched her concept, and had her gameplay torn to pieces. On the other hand, she got a huge amount of good advice, suggestions for media to look into, and I suspect we'll see a very good game come out of it. I certainly hope so; her core concept is interesting enough that there were several people in the group wanting to play the game. I'm pretty sure Ryan Macklin was one of them. The whole atmosphere of the con was friendly; it being tiny compared to the "major" cons helped with that, but everyone there was determined to make it good. One of my room-mates for the con was volunteering; when he was bumped from that at one point, he was disappointed.

And, of course, I ran my game. That was Saturday afternoon, and, well, I wound up a net two players short (which was OK) after three of the signups didn't show, and one person crashed, and then character choices led to my one planned challenge having to go by the board before we even started. This meant I was improvising from minute one, and I had a four hour slot. I also had my silly principle of "I will run this game standing up" to contend with, since I didn't want to be hopping up and down constantly, nor did I want to be hidden by my "screen" of a couple pages of notes and the character sheets for the characters chosen (since I'd gotten organised and actually printed out two copies of each character I'd made...), and so I was distinctly glad I'd elected to wear hiking boots. I managed, despite running blind and for complete strangers, to create a reasonably well put-together storyline, and the players gave me enough material and ideas for another two games in the same series. This is looking likely to become a long runner; at every con I attend, I can be reasonably certain of having a couple of these games I can run, and getting enough new material for some more of them. When I asked my players to be gentle with their feedback forms after the game, they were astounded that I'd just finished running my first ever con game. Heck, my third time ever running ANY game, although I didn't tell them that.

Unfortunately, there were some niggles with the con. Food was... well, it was decent enough, but I'm not sure it was worth the price being asked. Next year, I'll see if I can't get hold of something MRE-like to cut costs. I didn't really have a good way to let people know that I had two open seats, since there wasn't really a way to drop games. And despite the excellent communication, many people were somewhat out of touch because there was no wifi in the con building and many of us were unable to get cellular data inside. I found that a mere three feet from the door, I was getting full speed HSPA (what my phone calls 4G, although really it's 3.5 at best), whereas inside, where I got signal at all it was a degraded EDGE signal. Voice was fine, as was SMS, but data was reliably absent. The one location I could get data signal, I didn't need or want it, as I was busy running a game!

Overall, though, this was one of the best convention experiences I've had, and has made me very excited for next year's Big Bad Con 2. Even though Ryan Macklin is moving to Seattle and Lenny Balsera is reportedly moving to Texas, so the seminar track will probably be quieter, more sober, and considerably less foul-mouthed.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I ride!

Not on a motorcycle, or even a bicycle. Not even a stationary one. But I'm eating better, as a result of making sure the LA eats better (it being far simpler to do two portions of good food), and this morning I weighed myself.

I'm down a stone from my peak weight. I'm aiming to get rid of another stone, which will likely take a while. (For the Americans in the audience, that's 28lb overall, from a peak of about 195. I want to try to stabilise around 165, at which point my doctors should hopefully nag me less.) I am, however, on the right track, and the LA is also on a downward trend for weight.

In other news, this weekend I'm running my first convention game, and we're also waiting to hear the outcome of our house-buying efforts. We've an offer in on a place which, frankly, is just about perfect. Slightly smaller than the current house, but better laid out, and in better shape overall. However, there are competing offers, and so it's a nervous time. If it works out, though, well, it's a large point in my favour on certain things which I'm not quite ready to discuss here. Suffice it to say that October's shaping up busy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Smarter than it appears

You may have heard of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Much of it is good. Recently, they've been in the news for having decided to introduce a new flavour, inspired by a skit on Saturday Night Live. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the name is a pun, in poor taste.

One of the multifarious "everyone else has no morals" pressure groups with which the USA is sadly infested was surprised, and has taken it upon themselves to demand a boycott of the company. Naturally, this is helping the "Schweddy Balls" flavour gain huge publicity, making the pressure group a figure of fun, and generally giving Ben & Jerry's and Saturday Night Live a huge boost. It's also distracting said pressure group from screeching about more important things. The pressure group is opposed to such things as reproductive health, civil rights for all, informed consent, bodily autonomy, and human love, but right now they're screaming about how fancy ice cream will destroy America, which makes them look foolish and pulls resources away from their efforts to deny the humanity of more than 50% of the population.

One begins to wonder if Ben & Jerry's isn't doing this entirely deliberately, perhaps even with the aim of destroying what little shreds of credibility such pressure groups may have had. After all, just because the founders were hippies doesn't mean they weren't smart.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I really am turning Californian now.

It appears there's been an earthquake, centred in Virginia. Latest reports have it as a 5.9, and the Eastern seaboard is busy saying things like "Ohnoes!" and "Wait, was that it?" because they mostly have no experience of earthquakes.

Meanwhile, my instinctive response is to say things along the lines of "Now do you get why I really don't care? Because seriously, that WAS it. I'd far rather have maybe one of those in five years or so, or maybe not ever, than be pretty much certain I'll have to deal with a hurricane most years."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Coat tails

As my mother will no doubt confirm, I have a tendency towards running to fat. The lack of activity in my daily life (due to a combination of lack of need to exercise in doing things and an ever-increasing collection of mobility-impairing health problems) doesn't help at all. The LA, having an office job, also struggles with keeping weight to an acceptable level; so much so, in fact, that she's begun (with some friends) attending meetings at Weight Watchers. Their points system is nicely generous, with the majority of vegetables counting as freebies, and her attention to it is also providing fringe benefits for me; since I cook for both of us, it's simplest to cook something that's good for her, and eat my portion of it happily. It's not impossible that I'll be able to lose some weight as well, which will make my doctor happy; he's been on at me to lose about a stone and a half. For the same reason, I'm working (when I have tuits and suitable weather available) on a frame to raise my desk by roughly 15 inches, so that I can stand at it instead of sitting.

Perhaps I ought to try posting regular updates here. Allow my readers to help keep me accountable.

In other news, my car has lost a feature it had until very recently; the powered antenna ceased to work reliably, and my efforts to troubleshoot resulted in finding that the $200 motor is up the Swanee, which is far more than I'm willing to invest in what is, frankly, a luxury on what I consider to be utilitarian transport. And so, I reassembled the thing with a shortened pigtail (having removed the mast while troubleshooting, and been unable to re-thread the pigtail) and a permanently erect mast, and then disconnected the control and power lines to the motor. I can no longer take my car through an automatic car wash, but then again I hadn't done that in over a year anyway. I wash the dust off it occasionally, and keep the important glass scrupulously clean; beyond that, it's getting on for 18 years old and is always going to look it., so as long as the paint remains sufficiently intact to prevent rust, I honestly don't really care.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I just wish you could smell this...

I had a busy day lined up, and limited tuits, so I decided to front-load the complex part of dinner. So, I made something approximating quiche. It'll be nice cold, today and tomorrow, and all of it is from the larder. This one has about 5 ounces of ground turkey, mushrooms, aged goat cheese, and a shallot in it. I'm not sure if that's four or six portions, but it's more than if I'd cooked the turkey and served it straight!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Expressions of annoyance

It is with some regret that I draw to a close my endeavours to make a business of glowing dice, but the glow is simply insufficient for the necessary price. While they are nicely glowy in darkness, they're nowhere near as wonderful as I'd hoped, and so I shan't be making them available.

Not that it's all doom and gloom. I got excited about something, which made the LA very happy, and I got a set of nuclear-powered dice out of it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Expressions of interest

As you probably know, I like dice. I also like things which glow, and am not uninterested in radioactivity. I've had the idea to combine the three, but I cannot quite do it independently. Allow me to explain.

There is a technology known as tritium illumination. This uses the radioactive decay of a hydrogen isotope to excite a phosphor, which produces cold, visible light with no immediately obvious power source. It is possible to obtain small vials which produce this light; it is also possible to obtain clear plastic dice. With these, I would be able to create internally glowing dice, which would glow for a long time. The trouble is the price point; in order to make the project viable, an individual set of seven dice would have to sell for $80 before shipping. While it's possible to sell dice at that price point, they're a niche product, and I would not have the advantage of volume. I am also considering offering single d20s, which would sell at $11 before shipping. I am willing to make a limited production run of dice, glowing green (as the other colours are lower in light output), as long as I obtain sufficient interest. I would require pre-ordering with a deposit if I committed to a production run, and the run would be unlikely to be repeated. However, given sufficient interest, and as long as it turns out to be legal, I will do this.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Know thyself

Always good advice, that. In particular, try to know yourself well enough to avoid falling victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect, from either side.

One thing I've frequently been heard to say is that I know just enough about working with natural gas to know I don't know enough about working with it to be safe. This is, from a distant perspective, probably untrue, not least because I know enough to be cautious. Sadly, whoever was responsible for much previous gas work in this house was a victim of the effect from the low side; he didn't know to seal threads, which almost led to the house burning down before we moved in, and it turns out he didn't know enough to realise that gas hardware and water hardware are Not The Same Thing, despite both working on pipes.

I would love it if the gas standard became left-hand threads. That would make gas line idiot-resistant, in many ways.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The morality meter in games

Lately, I've been playing Fallout 3. Reasonably fun, for the most part, but it does have a mechanism called "Karma", which is essentially a measure of how "good" you've been by the game's standards. Sadly, this is a one-dimensional line. You can completely wipe out the effects of, for instance, blowing up an entire town, by repeatedly giving water to certain NPCs. It's also rather broken; I've had clearly "evil" characters attack me, and once I've done the game world a favour by removing them, been reprimanded by the karma system for taking their belongings. They're not using it any more, they were evil, I was told I was being good for killing them, but taking their stuff is bad, wrong, and evil. This seems distinctly broken, as does the entire concept; it essentially boils down to a count of puppies kicked versus kittens cuddled.

Such systems in games seem to be universally unpopular. They're generally heavy-handed. The least terrible version I'm aware of is in the Mass Effect series of games, which I've not actually played myself, but their morality meter is actually a two-axis job; it has scales for both "paragon", which is idealist (with a side order of "spineless wimp") and "renegade", which is pragmatic (with a side order of jerk-for-the-sake-of-being-a-jerk), and the two are essentially independent of one another. Unfortunately, the second game does some heavy-handed behaviour modification by means of altering your appearance based on how you've acted, and I dislike that. What I'd like is for each NPC to have their own preferences for "how people should act", and to react to the player character based on what actions of yours they're aware of (which requires a change in how such things are handled; currently, there's rarely if ever any restriction on what player actions an NPC can know of) and how well those actions line up with their concept of correct behaviour. Make it somewhat mor complex than the above-mentioned puppy/kitten count.

Of course, that's an unattainable pipe dream, and I doubt such a game would sell well, but I'd quite frankly rather have no morality meter than such a simple-minded one.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

You don't need it.

One thing I'm constantly astonished by in the US is the prevalence of what I can only call monster trucks. Pickup trucks in general are far more commonly seen over here than in the UK, no doubt because over here they're available with far more plush interiors and lower registration fees than cars, not to mention laxer controls on emissions and consequently less strangled engines, but a truly amazing number of owners seem to have decided that now they have their pickup truck, they must of course modify it; which they achieve by altering the suspension and wheel sizing such that the truck now rides with the floorpan at roughly shoulder height to an average person. This lifting is generally described as being a benefit to off-road performance, which makes it all the more remarkable in its popularity; the vast majority of the moster trucks I see on a day-to-day basis are in near mint condition, with perfect, undented sheet metal, suspension components blazingly orange, and paintwork so carefully shined one could use it as a shaving mirror, although the acres of chrome brightwork would be somewhat preferable. I will admit to having seen a few trucks which had been lifted and had been offroad. I could identify them by the fact that they appeared to be held together by dried mud, rust, and maybe the odd wodge of chewing gum, and if they'd ever been painted, the ripples in what sheet metal remained were ample evidence that it had all flaked off long, long ago. There's no real middle ground when it cones to lifted trucks.

I suppose that this fad, much like the fad for putting two foot diameter mirror-finish wheels with tyres of approximately the aspect ratio of a rubber band (a cost of roughly a grand per corner) onto clapped-out rustbuckets worth maybe $200 on a good day, and whose handling may once have enabled them to negotiate the corners needed to parallel park, or the fad for replacing reasonably functional suspension with hydraulics with all the compliance of a housebrick (but which can cause the car to jump in place), will forever remain a mystery to me.

It would seem that I've become one of those people who doesn't understand the youth of today. I like my car because its seats don't hurt my back. I drive at reasonable speeds. I park carefully, unlike the inspirer of this post, who this morning parked their monster truck in four spaces at once. There were multiple cars circling the parking area looking for spots...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You can't do that.

I heard on the radio news this morning that the US government is considering getting rid of its much-derided colour-coding for "terrorist threat levels" (the one which never, ever went below orange, and only ever spiked up to red when there was an election the Republican party wasn't sure they could win coming up; and I must insert my joke about the getting rid of it being because the TSA saw the threat level was "Grape" and thought it said "Grope") and replacing it with a system which uses words. Specifically, one which has only two levels: "Imminent" and "Elevated".

You can't do that. If the danger level is elevated, it must be elevated from a lower level. That's what elevated means. To make "elevated" the lowest possible rung is far, far more blatant fearmongering than the never-less-than-orange rainbow ever was, and I am sick of it. Moreover, I am sick and tired of the average American reaction to terrorism, which is essentially to cower in the corner and whimper. I've said many times that the way to react to terrorism is ridicule and mockery. Laugh at them. Scorn them. Don't let them change your behaviour at all. Stop being scared. Fear and behaviour modification is their objective.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Trouble sitting.

Lest you think I'm some kind of automotive genius based on my last post, allow me to remind you that I'm a fool from time to time. This one, well... shortly after buying my car, it became clear to me that the velour seats in a fetching dark grey were going to get distinctly hot over the California summer. So, off I went, and acquired a seat cover, of the large-wood-beads persuasion, and fitted it. That was distinctly tricky, due to exceedingly limited space beneath the seat. The easiest part was getting the elastic straps through the gap between the back and the squab, and that was no picnic. Still, I succeeded, hooked the little plastic hooks on, and went on my merry way. Come winter, I removed it, to allow me to make better use of the heated seats. In the process, one of the plastic hooks departed, and by the time summer rolled around again, I was forced to make do, with both of the elastic straps, with velcro cable wraps. These were a sight tougher to manage than the hooks, and I barked several knuckles, but I again succeeded, and until that autumn, there it sat.

Today, it came time to reinstall the thing once more, and so I pulled it from the boot. The velcro made it tricky to feed the straps through, and my eye lit upon the height/tilt adjustment lever for the seat. "Aha!", thought I, "maybe if I adjust this, the gap will widen!"

It did not. However, I should have expected that, as the seat was already at the bottom of its travel, and upon the lever being moved without my bulk in the seat, it leapt to the top with a mighty SPROING! and moved no further. The seatback and the squab are a single unit, as one might expect of a seat designed by a lazy orthopaedic surgeon; so the feeding through remained annoyingly hard. With the seat a good three inches higher, though, connecting the straps beneath it was a breeze.

And it only took me two and a bit years to figure that one out.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


As you probably know, I drive an older car. Old enough, in fact, that it has a few mildly intractable problems, such as the fuel gauge, which only works intermittently. It's seemingly random, but today I finally figured out the pattern. It had seemed to correlate with cabin temperature, but not during summer; when it was warm in spring, the gauge would work, but for summer it wouldn't. This puzzled me until I finally figured out the human factor.

You see, my car has working air conditioning. This pushes cold air through the ventilation ducts. The fuel gauge is on the extreme left of the instrument cluster, right next to the vent duct leading to the outermost vent on that side.

So, I have a dodgy connection somewhere in there, which sometimes expands enough from heat to make a good connection, and can be cooled to the point of not making the connection by the air conditioning cooling the ventilation ductwork. I'm inordinately satisfied with myself for figuring that one out.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A little about being me.

For some reason, probably to do with the world we live in having been built by extroverts for extroverts, I feel a little ashamed to admit that I am a fairly pronounced introvert. Introversion tends not to be understood by extroverts, but I see a bunch of misconceptions. Let me address some of them.

First: introverts don't dislike socializing. What's different is that we find it drains our energy, rather than increasing it as it does for extroverts. I have friends, I enjoy spending time with them, but it tires me. I put up with that effect because I have good friends whose company I enjoy.

Second: as I implied, introverts can and do make friends. In fact, I would guess that I am closer to my friends than I would be were I an extrovert. Because I find company tiring, I have to be sure of someone before I'll commit to spending time with them.

Third: introverts need time alone. Just as extroverts become depressed and unhappy without time spent with others, introverts deprived of time to be alone will rapidly lose their ability to operate as people. For both sides, though, a balance is necessary; however, dragging me to a place full of people to cheer me up will generally have the opposite effect.

As an introvert, I don't always follow society's unspoken assumptions. I'm polite and friendly, but I generally won't initiate conversation. Please, bear in mind that it's not because I don't like you. It's because I genuinely don't need the extra stimulation and human contact over and above what I already have, with my board game group weekly, my knitting group weekly, my roleplaying group weekly, and my hiking group as often as we can manage it. See what I mean about introversion not being the same thing as not liking people?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Making me want marketing

I tend to dislike advertising. No, scratch that, I tend to despise it with the flames of a million suns. On occasion, however, it can happen that I desire it. For instance, one publisher I rather like the stable of is Orbit. They publish, among others, Iain M. Banks, K. J. Parker, and Joe Abercrombie. The last two are the two authors who have earned automatic buys from me; I will buy anything they've written, based on the sheer quality of their previous work. Only one other author has ever enjoyed that status with me, although I've since demoted him: Terry Pratchett. Orbit have recently started doing a podcast; their format is roughly half an hour to an hour of conversation between a regular host and an author, so far (in the two episodes released to date) one with a new title either just out or coming soon. I only caught the first episode because Joe Abercrombie mentioned it (he being one of those authors who keeps a blog, interacts with readers, and generally keeps his fans informed of what's going on and what they can expect soon, in contrast to the rather secretive authors who toil in obscurity and on occasion release a book) and the fact that he was going to be on it. There was an iTunes link, so I pointed iTunes thereat (since I own an iPod, I do have a use for iTunes now) and it cheerfully slurped down a rather interesting interview with the chap, who sounded roughly as I'd imagined, and as though I'd greatly enjoy a beer with him. Since the first episode had proven interesting, I didn't bother to delete the feed from my trawl (the joys of a thousand gigabyte hard disk; I currently am not remembering to delete anything, because it's not as though I'm short on space), and today a second episode arrived featuring an author, Jesse Bullington, who I hadn't heard of, but for whatever reason discussing similar themes such as swearing in fantasy fiction, whether gruesome descriptions of injury are justified, and so on. I shall very probably be looking for this chap's work next time I'm in a bookstore; the descriptions which came up in the discussion made them sound very much like something I'd enjoy.

And so, I have been successfully advertised to. I've been given more information on a thing I already liked, which enticed me to stick around and obtain information on something I didn't yet know that I liked. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you need to do to market things successfully. Let people know about what they don't yet know that they like. You don't achieve that by giving them earworms, attempting to cave their skulls in with excessive volume, or causing seizures with flashing lights; you do it by treating them as intelligent beings who enjoy interesting information.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Again, the years have flown by.

Today and tomorrow are the closest the LA and I get to a wedding anniversary this year. Next year, we actually get abona fide, for-real anniversary, our first, but this year, we only get a sort of celebration, since it's only 3 years since we stood in the LAX courthouse and made solemn promises to each other.

I'm cooking Swedish Sailor's tonight, since the LA asked me very nicely. It's a lot of prep work, but oh so good when it's done, and right now I can smell it.

And in other news, I've had a couple of my RPG rulebooks spiral bound at an office services place. The tough part was overcoming my reluctance to mutilate bound books; however, both were already falling apart. Now, though, I'm serously contemplating having another one, in near-perfect condition, treated the same. It really is that big an improvement in usability for a rulebook which will be constantly referenced; it now lays flat, can be folded back with no damage... for roughly $7 per book, the value is astounding.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Might as well make it fully public.

I have become, by choice, a member of a visually identifiable minority, and one which suffers some degree of prejudice.

Yup, I got a tattoo.

Two Days Old
To be fair, this was not a rushed decision. The design and placement have been settled since before I even met the LA, which does date it somewhat; she and I are only just over a year from our first wedding anniversary, and the wedding was not a spur-of-the-moment thing; we'd been intending to marry over two years by that point.

I can highly recommend the place I went to: Diablo Ink, in Pleasant Hill (or, as the business cards have it, Pleasant Hell). My artist was the owner, Rickey-Lee, but all the artists there are good, and the prices are very reasonable for California. Multiple friends of mine have been very satisfied with work from Diablo Ink, and I'm expecting to remain happy with my ink; everyone who's commented on it so far has said very nice things about the choice of design and quality of work.

Right now, that arm is itching, and I'm fighting the urge to scratch. In about a month, it'll be fully healed, but right now it's still slightly fragile. As for the inevitable questions about whether I'm intending to add to it, I don't know at this point. I don't have anything in mind, though, so given my self-imposed rules for tattoos (minimum of a year wanting the same design and placement), I won't be getting inked again this year, and probably not next!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Two nations...

The UK and the USA share a great deal of heritage, but there are some interesting differences in outlook between us. For instance, I've been at protests in the UK where signs have been held aloft proclaiming: "Come Back Wat Tyler, All Is Forgiven", or "Where is Guy Fawkes when his country needs him?". Both of these figures were rebellious, and a rough equivalent in the US would be along the lines of substituting John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald (side note: it would appear to be a very good idea for Presidents to avoid men with three names), and I realised that that would be utterly unthinkable. On the other hand, both Tyler and Fawkes were ultimately unsuccessful, whereas Wilkes and (according to most sensible hypotheses; I don't intend to get into that quagmire) Oswald both succeeded in killing their targets; perhaps a better parallel would be John Flammang Schrank, who failed to kill Theodore Roosevelt in 1912; in fact Roosevelt gave a campaign speech shortly after being shot. However, Schrank is almost unknown; everyone over here knows Teddy was so tough he gave a speech after taking a bullet to the chest, but hardly anyone could tell you who the shooter was. I looked it up, on Wikipedia; I have no idea of the reliability of the information.

I thought about this for a while; the national outlooks are otherwise so similar, but the British seem more inclined to allow leaders of rebellions to become folk heroes. Then, I realised; the Americans have done exactly the same. Their Founding Fathers were all insurrectionists. All of them rebelled; they won, but that doesn't keep them from having been rebellious in the first place. Really, we're not so different after all; it's just that the American rebellious folk heroes became the establishment, while the British ones were honourable failures.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Has it really been 25 years?

Twenty-five years. I suppose it must be, but January 28th 1986 is one of very few days I know exactly what television I watched. Well, not exactly; I don't remember whether Newsround was still John Craven's Newsround or not, but I do remember the lead story.

NASA had lost a Space Shuttle. The first Shuttle loss, and perhaps the one which cut the deepest. I can still clearly see the graceful, curving exhaust plume, the ragged ball of smoke, and the two trails of smoke climbing from it, and I remember knowing that this was Bad. It was a significant event; it could be credited with having made me a geek. It certainly made me interested in spaceflight.

Seven men and women died aboard Challenger. We should not forget Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Christa McAuliffe, and Gregory Jarvis.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Choice does not trump everything.

First, for background, a link. The one-sentence summary: a marriage commissioner in Saskatchewan has stated that, despite the legality of same-sex marriage in Canada, he will, because of his religious beliefs, refuse to marry gay couples, and "they'll have to fire [him]" despite a court ruling that his views don't excuse him from doing his job.

This has ignited some discussion online, of course, and so I'm sticking my oar in here, where I can control the discussion and also where it's under the radar of those dedicated to intolerance. That, of course, makes my position clear; I believe the man is full of shit. There are several things the article and discussion have given me to talk about. One is the person I shan't name, who claimed that non-religious marriages aren't marriages. That person can go and die in a fire, because if I think I'm married, my wife thinks I'm married, and the US Government agrees that we're married, his religious nutball views mean nothing, and all he's doing is insulting me. I refuse to take that.

Another is the somewhat reasonable question of whether the commissioner's religious rights are being quashed, and if so, whether it's acceptable. Well, here we run into a problem; he's not acting as himself, he's acting as the state. That means that whatever religious objections he may have mean nothing; he is required to act as the state sees fit, and the state sees fit to marry couple regardless of gender.

This leads into a question of whether private prejudice is allowed. It most certainly is, but it can't be expressed when acting as the agent of an entity which is required to not be prejudiced. To say that he should be allowed to refuse to perform marriages based on his whim is tantamount to saying that a supermarket cashier can refuse to serve customers based on race, and THAT, I'm pretty sure everyone agrees, is very definitely not acceptable.

Which essentially means that although his religious rights ARE being quashed, they would be just as quashed even if he weren't being asked to do anything he found distasteful.

And then we have another fun one; people have been asking why gay people's freedom to marry apparently trumps their "freedom of religion". Well, we've got a couple of points here; number one is the difference between holding an opinion and acting on it. You can disapprove of what happens all you like, but you may not necessarily be allowed to take steps to stop it. Second, we have a more fundamental difference between sexual orientation and religion: religion is something you choose, while sexual orientation is something that just is that way. I never chose to be attracted to women. Not one of the gay people I know chose to be gay; those with whom I've discussed it knew they were gay before they really understood sexuality. That being so, it's exactly as unconscionable to discriminate based on sexual orientation as it is to discriminate based on race or gender. People choose to be bigoted; the targets of bigots generally did not choose the characteristics which make them targets.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Now that's a rather nice feeling.

I'd have preferred to be listening to Test Match Special, but for various reasons, I couldn't; England have just wrapped up the Ashes series. It's not happened in a manner I expect such things to happen; after drawing the first Test, they've won three and lost one. All of their victories were by an innings,which is to say rather crushing. For the statisticians, this marks quite a few records; most innings victories by England in Australia (a record they broke twice this series), first series win down under for 24 years (which means the first in my memory), and the fifth Test saw England's highest ever score in Australia, at 644 all out, eclipsing the previous record set in 1928. History, it's safe to say, has been made.

I feel almost sorry for Australian cricket fans. It's no fun to watch one's national team get comprehensively trounced; as an England follower, I know that all too well. I very much hope there's more of a fight over the Ashes in 2013; nice as it is to retain them by winning, rather than drawing, a series, I find a succession of easy victories somewhat less than exciting.

I imagine my dad will be rather pleased when he wakes up to the result. He actually remembers England being a good team, before the struggle and drought of the 80s and 90s. I grew up with England being a disappointment; I well remember the hope in the first Test of 1997, and the heartbreak following, and when England actually won the Ashes in 2005, I was overjoyed.