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.