18 December 2013

Conley’s OSR recap

Rob Conley wrote a pretty good recap of the OSR (the Old School Renaissance/Ruckus/whatever).

17 December 2013


Reading an article on wasters, I come upon this.

Writing on old swordplay in the late 19th century, researcher-practitioner Captain Alfred Hutton listed it as “wafter”, not uncommon as “s” was typically written as an “f” in earlier forms of English literature.

When writing about history, not being aware that the long-S (ſ) is a different character than a lowercase-F (f) does nothing for your credibility. ☺︎

16 December 2013

An observation about Podcasts

For me a good podcast is 10% subject, 90% hosts.

15 December 2013

Thoughts occasioned by the watching of the trailer for the second The Hobbit film

You’d think I’d be happy that they aren’t trying to shoehorn a novel into a single feature film. The feature film is more akin to the novella than a novel. Typically, too much has to be cut from a novel in the adaption to film to do the novel justice.

But, I’m seeing so little of the book in this trailer. Shouldn’t three movies mean we get more of the book rather than less?

It does look like a fun film.

They do draw on Tolkien’s work beyond the novel, but there is still a lot that doesn’t seem to be from Tolkien at all.

In truth, I don’t think “intellectual property” should be considered so sacred. Anyone should be able to make their own adaption of The Hobbit, or even their own “loosely inspired by The Hobbit” film.

Look at The wizard of Oz. It is a great film despite departing so far from the book.

If we are going to have this “intellectual property” silliness, though, shouldn’t the people with exclusive rights actually honor the property?

What do you call the reverse of plagiarism? Claiming your own work as someone else’s.

Couldn’t this be done more honestly. Like how most films adapted from Philip K. Dick stories have different titles. Or how Oz the great and powerful didn’t borrow the name of any of the books.

I hope someone does a “phantom edit” of this once the trilogy is complete.

I also hope someone edits the remaining footage into a movie that isn’t pretending to be The Hobbit.

04 November 2013

Level drain and dragons

Why do mere undead get the “scary to the players” out-of-game-world mechanic of level drain* whilst the freaking dragons have to make due with mundane attacks?

Let’s start with the fact that flying and breath weapons are pretty impressive. Certainly PCs get to the point where those things aren’t so impressive anymore, but at that point the PCs aren’t really mundane anymore.

Secondly, there’s a good argument that dragons weren’t meant to be ultimate powers in D&D.

Thirdly, dragons aren’t there to represent the supernatural. Although we know that the cube-square law means that D&D dragons would have to be supernatural, in the milieu of the game, they aren’t. The out-of-game-world mechanic of level drain is justified to represent the sort of irrational horror of coming face-to-face with powerful supernatural beings represented by level-draining undead.

Or, at least, that’s my thinking aloud for today.

*I actually play it as XP drain, but I’m not going to call it “energy drain” because it isn’t about any diegetic rationalization. It is about simulating a horror that is best simulated by a extradiegetic mechanic.

02 November 2013

In- or out-of-

Metagame: Originally, this term was really about things that were “beyond the game”. Like, if Bob sells Park Place to Alice for $1 because he’s foolishly hoping that will improve his chances with her outside the game. In RPGs, though, we tend to use it for things that aren’t really outside the game but are merely outside the fiction of the game.

(There should be a ISO 4217 code for Monopoly money.)

In-game: This term is can be an antonym of “metagame”, and is thus subject to the same misuse by us RPGers. Of course, words mean what we use them to mean, but I think it’s worth trying to use them thoughtfully when we can. Especially if it can make our meaning clearer.

Disassociated mechanic: A common complaint about Wizards’ D&D 4e. I don’t tend to use this term, and I also tend to think that disassociated mechanics aren’t inherently bad bad.

Diegetic (and extradiegetic): Even when I use it, I can’t help but feeling I don’t really understand the term well enough to be using it.

In-character (and out-of-character): These terms seem to not cause much confusion.

So, I’m thinking I want to prefer these terms...

  • In-character
  • Out-of-character
  • In-(game-)world
  • Out-of-(game-)world

I kind of like “in-fiction” and “out-of-fiction”, but I think they are potentially more confusing.

01 November 2013

Arena of War

I look at Warhammer Quest and Conclave, and I think Wizards could have partnered with someone to create a really great D&D4e iOS game. Instead, there is Arena of War: A confusing, boring iOS game whose only relation to anything D&D is a Forgotten Realms storyline.

31 October 2013

Smart enough?

A tweet quoted in Why Deprecating async() is the Worst of all Options:

The fact that top men standardized something already broken tells me I'm not smart enough to use C++11 or 14 in production

Unrealistic expectations of perfection are not smart. Rejecting all the goodness in C++11 because of the issues with std::async and std::future is not smart. If you don’t come across the pitfalls when learning about C++11, you’re not being smart in how you learn about C++11.*

So, I guess I agree, but I don’t think this has anything to do with people involved with C++11. ☻

*I currently only get to write C++11 in my spare time, and nigh everything I’ve read about std::async mentioned the known issue.

30 October 2013


Why did Apple remove so many features from the Mac iWork apps? I don’t know, but here’s a guess.

Ive has now been put in charge of human interface for software as well as hardware. He brought a fresh pair of eyes to iWork and saw a lot of things that could be improved. (You might not agree that they are improvements, but I long saw things in Pages that I felt could be improved.) But he also lacked the experience of what customers wanted.

Combine that with the work to bring the Mac, iOS, and iCloud versions of the iWork apps closer together. The decision was made to move forward with these things, but to also—when installing the new iWork apps—leave the current ones installed for existing users who depend upon existing features. That will give them time to reassess those features, to be thoughtful about how they bring them to the new apps, and to take the time to implement them well.

29 October 2013

On innovation

What do people mean when they say Apple isn’t innovating any more?

Do they mean creating new kinds of products? There were tablet computers before the iPad. There were cell phones and palmtop computers before the iPhone. There were portable, digital music players before the iPod. There were portable computers before the PowerBook. Arguably the only product that Apple invented was the personal computer, and I’m sure people would make the case that they didn’t do that either.

Do they mean making an existing product more practical? If so, how can you not call Touch ID innovative?

And whatever they do mean, do they really expect it to happen every year? Every iPhone—including the first one—has been criticized for not going far enough. (No GPS? No 3G?)

28 October 2013

Your RPG Person Profile

Your RPG Person Profile

I'm currently running (at home): My Skylands campaign.

Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (at home) include: There is a Mekton Zeta campaign and a Wizards’ D&D 3.5e campaign on hiatus.

Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (online) include: No time.

I would especially like to play/run:

  • Classic D&D
  • Classic Traveller
  • Buck Rogers High Adventure Cliffhangers
  • Pendragon
  • Risus
  • ...many others that aren’t coming to mind at the moment...

...but would also try: Nigh anything that doesn’t put me on the spot or make me think about “narrative”.

I live in: Texas.

2 or 3 well-known RPG products other people made that I like:

  • (I feel like it’s awfully repetitive and obvious to list the Moldvay D&D Basic Set, the Cook/Marsh D&D Expert Set, and classic Traveller.)
  • The Risus Companion

2 or 3 novels I like:

  • The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
  • Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

2 or 3 movies I like:

  • 2001
  • Disney’s Robin Hood
  • Disorganized Crime

Best place to find me on-line: My e-mail address involves my first name separated from my last name by a COMMERCIAL AT, then a FULL STOP, then the two-letter ISO country code for Christmas Island (CX).

I will read almost anything on tabletop RPGs if it’s: IDK

I really do not want to hear about: IDK

I think dead orc babies are ( circle one: funny / problematic / ....well, ok, it's complicated because....) boring

Games I’m in are like: ...thinking...

Free RPG Content I made is available on this blog (updated irregularly) and on my web site (in dire need of updating).

You can buy RPG stuff I made: Nowhere.

If you know anything about _____ it’d help me with a project I'm working on N/A

I talk about RPGs on Google+. Some on Facebook too. I’m usually RobertFisher or RFisher on forums, but I don’t visit them much these days.

27 October 2013

The Apple events problem

The problem with Apple events isn’t that they’re becoming boring and repetitive.

The “problem” is that more people are paying attention now. Many of those people are only now realizing that not every Apple event is as interesting as some of them have been. Many of those people are only now starting to see patterns.

18 October 2013


A couple of things you might want to know if you are considering the IK Multimedia BlueBoard. This information comes from IK’s video about the BlueBoard, answers they provided in the comments to that video, and playing with the app.

The BlueBoard is primarily in either program change or control change mode. So, you can not use the foot-switches to switch presets while also using an expression pedal to control volume, wah, etc.

There is a mode that can do program changes via the bank switching feature while otherwise being in control change mode. Bank switching, by the way, is done by holding down the A or B foot-switches.

Also, you can not use two BlueBoards with one iOS device. So dedicating one to program change and one to control change is not an option.

Overall, this is pretty disappointing. Since my Griffin StudioConnect has MIDI, I’m going to be looking into conventional MIDI foot-controllers. Still, the BlueBoard would be useful even with its limitations.

08 October 2013

Xbox Live Rant

I hate Xbox Live.

After buying some Microsoft points, I transferred them to my son so he could buy Minecraft. It turns out, that Microsoft won’t let a minor buy it, although the system didn’t tell me that. Someone else had to explain why it wasn’t working. Oh, and I couldn’t transfer the points back to me. Why can I transfer points only one-way to an account that can’t use them?

I carefully customized the settings for the kids’ accounts, but the settings don’t seem to have anything to do with what is actually allowed or not. I am constantly having to adjust the settings to allow them to do things I thought I had already set as allowed. And it is even odds whether changing the permissions will actually help or not.

I recently bought another Microsoft points card, but whenever I tried it, it always came up as invalid.

(There’s also the run-around I got trying to get a second-hand Xbox repaired.)

And you have to have an Xbox Live account to use the Amazon video app.

Every time I have to do anything with the Xbox is painful and ends up not working.

23 September 2013

On bad logos

2013 Brand New Conference logo & identity

Wow. I now have some idea of how companies so often manage to spend so much money and end up with a crappy logo. After reading the justification, I actually started to like this one. But you have to be able to back up sometimes and say, “No. The emperor has no clothes.”

(And I’m not saying the Brand New Conference spent a lot of money here. What I’m saying is simply that the fact that their justification almost convinced me to like this helps me understand how companies end up spending lots of money on bad logos.)

I suspect when you’re paying lots of money for an “identity”, the people involved are going to over-think it and, to justify the cost, you’re going to buy into their over-thinking too. Ironically, Brand New normally comes to a logo with fresh, uninvested eyes and provides a good critique. But then, they say they were going for “uncomfortable” here, and they did succeed in that. I’m still going to call it “bad uncomfortable” rather than any sort of “good uncomfortable”.

I think this is also a case study of how good execution in its application can overcome a terrible logo. If that was the point, then point made.

14 September 2013

When the prototype is too good

In general, a prototype isn’t nearly as nice as a finished product. That may end up not being the case for Rocket Dice. The prototypes shown in the Kickstarter promotions were 3D printed, which produces a much more consistent product than most dice manufacturing processes. Which Game Salute seems only now to be discovering.

There are more consistent dice manufacturing methods. They’re used for Casino dice and precision Backgammon dice. Those come only in six-siders and lack the fanciful shape of the Rocket Dice. They are also very expensive. Gamescience makes precision polyhedral dice, but they’re also more expensive than other polyhedrals. Especially when inked, because they have to be inked by hand. Game Salute says they are committed to deliver the “best dice possible”, but that’s likely to be a lot more expensive than they bargained for.

One thing in Rocket Dice’s favor is that the spur from the molding process could be located in a less obtrusive place than on Gamescience dice.

It will to be interesting to see what happens.

13 September 2013

The full rig

Here is nigh all the guitar gear I’ve collected assembled into a single rig.

It is sort of a wet-dry-wet setup. The Princeton amp in the middle gets the guitar signal without any effects. (Though that amp does have compression, overdrive, and reverb built-in.) The stereo outputs of the RP350 and VG-8 are mixed together (by the VG8), goes into the JamMan, and then into the left and right amps. A Morley ABY controls whether the Princeton, the RP350, or both get a signal. (A switch on the Roland-ready Strat controls whether the Princeton/RP350 path, the VG8, or both are active.)

Here’s how it’s wired up.

Layering three different sounds seem to work surprisingly well. If the trio ever gets some gigs, this could let me fill up a lot of sonic-landscape when we want to. But it may have to suffice with just pleasing me.

The biggest challenge is that the VG-8 is hard to program and doesn’t have any dedicated “user” banks that you can use without overwriting factory settings. It is also the piece that would be the most expensive to upgrade.

12 September 2013

iRig Pro

I ranted about the iRig HD, but I think the iRig Pro looks like a winner.

11 September 2013

Ad hoc programming

Does everyone need to learn programming?

Obviously, not all program development time is measured in man-years. One could no doubt write a program for generating anagrams in a couple of days, [...]

This is intentionally a trivial example, but it is practical tasks of this scale that are exactly why you should learn to program.

It isn’t because computers are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. Most people aren’t going to write the software for appliances that happen to have computers in them. Most people aren’t going to write application software for general-purpose computers.

It’s the small tasks that are never going to be a bullet-point feature of an appliance or application where most people can benefit from learning to program.

If you’ve ever written formulas in a spreadsheet application, you’ve already done some programming. And while spreadsheets are appropriate for some tasks, there are better ways to program that aren’t really any more difficult that are more appropriate to a much wider array of tasks.

[...] though it would take the average neophyte the same couple of days merely to type in the 75 to 100 lines of code required. Not only can a single misplaced colon or parenthesis mark foul up the works, but it often takes an enormous amount of time to discover such a seemingly minor error.

Programming is, indeed, sometimes like this. But with good tools and experience, it is the exception rather than the rule.

That said, programming is not for everyone. If you like math, you will probably enjoy programming. If you don’t like math, you probably won’t. So, the benefits may not be worth the costs for everyone.

10 September 2013

Food advertising

If you’re trying to sell me food, and you talk about a lot of things except how it tastes, you’ve not sold me.

I will gladly choose oil over cream because I like the taste of Cool Whip more than Reddi-Wip.

No matter how “natural” your product is, the technical names of chemical compounds in it don’t sound any more appetizing than those you point out in your competition’s products. And I don’t remember what your product even was. I can’t even come up with enough to google for it like I could for Reddi-Wip. So, that was a complete failure.

In fact, no matter what you’re selling, if you’re talking more about your competition than your own product, that’s a bad sign.

Sargento, I am glad you talk about your product in your commercials, but you don’t have to insult other products that I also like at the same time.

07 September 2013


Dear fast food restaurants,

What is the point of having numbered combo meals, if you have to ask me...

  • what side I want
  • what size side I want
  • what drink I want
  • what size drink


None. Because now we’re back to exactly where we were before.

06 September 2013

Competition in business

A very wise couple of sentences from Marco’s “Mutex Nintendo” post:

Over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about competition. The biggest lesson has been that in most cases, products and companies live and die by their own actions, not their competitors’.

Although I have first hand experience of a company that took a fatal blow from a competitor, that has been the exception.

Fatal? Could we have recovered from it? Perhaps, but there were other opportunities at the time that seemed more promising and less of an uphill battle.

05 September 2013

Kindle MatchBook

About Kindle MatchBook, Gruber writes...

This is the e-book/print combination I've wanted since 2007.

But it’s too late. I do still get print copies of books shipped to me on occasion, but almost never when buying from Amazon.

Yet, there are sadly books I still can buy in digital form.

04 September 2013


Gruber, Marco, and Siracusa have all been talking about Nintendo.

I don’t know much, but I do know this: Being a 3DS owner has felt like you were dealing a company that was living in the past and only barely keeping up. I can only store settings for three WiFi networks? Buying an app/game and getting in to download in the background takes a large number of seemingly pointless taps? Games are still sold on cartridges? If I buy the cartridge version of a game, we can play it on any of our 3DS systems—one at a time. If we buy the digital version, we can only play it on one specific device? Etc.

Are these just software problems or are some of them hardware problems being reflected by the software? I don’t know, but it seems clear that Nintendo is not great at making a great overall product despite being in control of the hardware and the software.

I’m not convinced that getting out of the hardware business will help. I’m not convinced that writing software for other platforms will help. I am convinced that making great products will help.

There’s also a point made that the 3DS library—which includes all DS games as well as the 3DS games—makes up for this. Personally, though, I’ve found more games I want to play on iOS than for my 3DS. In any case, having a deep library is good, but it doesn’t invalidate criticisms of the system.

03 September 2013


I think Steve Ballmer did the best job he could as Microsoft CEO. I think almost anyone else Microsoft could’ve gotten for the job would’ve done it better, though.

I couldn’t blame Ballmer for the state Microsoft is in. That blame lies with the board. It was their job to replace him when it was clear he wasn’t the person for the job. They didn’t.

Yes, I did—sort of—defend Steve Ballmer.

02 September 2013


Playing with λ-calculus is fascinating. That everything we do with computers can be represented simply with unary functions is mind-blowing.

But when I think about it too much, I begin to doubt the applicability of λ-calculus to what we actually do in practice. We don’t use Church numerals. We use two’s compliment binary integers and IEEE floating-point and—when necessary—various arbitrary precision numbers. Our conditionals aren’t based on Church Booleans but on conditional instructions built into our microprocessors. Our lists may be built out of pairs, but our pairs aren’t functions. We don’t use the Y-combinator to express recursion; we simply give our functions names, which get turned into jumps.

Granted, closures in Scheme—much like functions in the λ-calculus—are used to build higher level features. (And, of course, the keyword for creating closures is “lambda” in reference to the λ-calculus.) But lots of the lower level stuff isn’t built from closures because it wouldn’t be efficient enough. (Could it be if the effort was made to design hardware for it?)

Edit: Here’s some example code.

30 August 2013

Warhammer Quest

I have been enjoying the Warhammer Quest iOS game. I never played the board game. (I’ve never played the miniatures game either. I did play a fair amount of Fantasy Roleplay first edition.) It has an unusual “action economy”.

During a single turn (that would be a round in D&D), a character can take their full movement, make their full set of melee attacks, make their full set of missile attacks, use all their special abilities, use all items they have readied, and cast spells until they run out of spell points. About the only restriction is that once they make an attack, they can no longer move until the next turn.

Contrast that against Conclave where you get one-and-only-one minor action and one-and-only-one major action each round. Although characters will often have abilities that combine, e.g., movement and and attack into one action.

In practice, this seems to work fine in Warhammer Quest. To me, it begins to feel more like a one minute combat round than AD&D ever did.

29 August 2013

The swords of Ostgard

Another artifact from my Skylands campaign.

Some background on this: In the basement of the ruined Temple of Ostgard, the PCs found two cases that were both locked and Law Locked. (Law Lock is like Wizard Lock but it can be opened those who are lawful.) The party happens to have a lawful thief (he prefers the term “adventurer”) who managed to open them. Inside each a sword was found. A sage was able to provide this information about the swords:

The sorceress Rozenta—seeking to impress the demon-prince Hangdofalten—spend six years in the construction of the sword Malezort. She sought the red-gold star-metal of Bowal for its blade. She stole the ebon wood of the Ezar tree cultivated by the green elves of Glortingel to fire the forge. She cursed the family of the grandmaster swordsmith Quasrag to force him to form the blade. She uncovered the darkest tomes of fell dwoemercraftie for its eldritch charms and chaotic enchantments. Many dread deeds she did or forced upon others to obtain the energies required.

When her masterpiece was complete, she conjured Hangdofalten to present him with her offering. Annoyed by being brought against his will and unimpressed by the sword, the demon-prince ripped the sorceress’s soul from her body and imprisoned it in the sword.

The sword came to the hand of Mulchor, a warrior of great strength. With the sword, he became a cunning leader. He drew together a band of warriors who conquered castle, then county, then duchy, then kingdom. He began building an empire and was called The Unstoppable.

A high priestess of law, Megulf, decided there was only one thing to do. She laid the plans for the forging of another sword to counter Malezort. She convinced the dwarfs to contribute the rare and silvery metal they call Revlis. She convinced the green elves of Glortingel to give the shining wood of the Ullorn trees. She recruited three master swordsmiths and three high mages to shape the blade and enchant it.

There was one element of her plan, however, that Megulf kept strictly secret. When the blade was done, she conjured Hangdofalten and tricked it into placing Megulf’s own soul within the weapon. Only in this way, she believed, would this sword, Lexifer, be equal to and able to defeat Malezort.

Lexifer then came into the hands of Doelpen, a great champion of law. He rose to the place of High Marshall of the forces of law. Under his leadership, the armies of Mulchor were defeated. Doelpen sought Mulchor, defeated, and killed him.

It happened that Doelpen came to the realm of King Fegborjo. Fegborjo was a hedonist who cared only about sating his own pleasures and not the needs of his realm or his people. Doelpen confronted the king, and Fegborjo dismissed the marshall. Doelpen said, “I and my armies fought to free you from Mulchor’s rule, but you are unworthy of your crown!” Doelpen drew Lexifer and drove the king from his throne and castle. As the king had no heirs, the kingdom happily accepted Doelpen as their new sovereign.

It seemed that Doelpen found fault with every other sovereign he met, no matter how good. First he deposed a few neighbors, and soon he was building a new empire.

A girl, Paldoran, whose family were killed in Doelpen’s conquests found her way into the emperor’s court. She told him her story and denounced him, much as he had denounced Fegborjo. Doelpen cried, “Lies! How dare you disparage the name of your leige by whose leave you live free!” He drew Lexifer and swung the sword at the girl. The spirit of law entered her, and the sword flew from the emperor’s hands. Doelpen, suddenly realizing all the things he had done, drew his dagger and killed himself.

Paldoran took Lexifer and Malezort, which Doelpen had kept locked away, before the council of bishops. The council demanded that both swords be destroyed. The spirit of law within Paldoran, however, said, “No!” It told them the story of the swords’ creation. Since destroying the swords would mean destroying the souls within, that was not an option. And so the swords were sealed and hidden away.

All names were generated with Holmesian Random Names One-Sheet from the Zenopus Archives.

26 August 2013

Continued on page...

Gygax Magazine makes me smile. (As I write this, my PDF copy of issue two just arrived.) It’s like a issue of Dragon from my youth with content from today. (There’s content in there to annoy grognards and modern gamers alike.) Two observation that are meant to be neither criticism or praise:

On the one hand, you find things that betray its modern desktop publishing reality. e.g. There’s a table that wraps from the bottom of one column of text to the top of another column of text. Of course, modern desktop publishing could have addressed this, but it simply wouldn’t have happened when layout involved literal cutting and pasting.

On the other hand, you find things that are rare these days. The periodicals I read today (even those that are also available in print) tend to be fully digital rather than simply facsimiles of print. So, when I hit the “(continued on page...)” in this PDF, it surprises me.

(Although, I complained about that practice back-in-the-day as well. I get that it was to deal with tricky layout issues, but I’d rather a worse layout in favor of keeping all the text together. Besides, doing it still creates a lot of ugly layout in the back of the magazine.)

25 August 2013

The Skylands introduction

I’ve posted a few things about my Skylands campaign, but here’s a little overview.

This is its introductory blurb:

An age ago, the forces of Chaos overran the realms. The Last Avatar of Law brought the remnants of civilization to a fantastic refuge: Loftgard, one of the several Skylands, islands floating in the skies.

This refuge, though, is not paradise. A noble house is fighting a war within itself. There are rumors of strange things haunting the forest.

What mysteries do the inaccessible skyles hold? A mysterious tower can be seen on one of them, but there is no sign of habitation, and no one knows who built it.

Will any brave souls find a way and venture down to the surface to win glory, treasure, and relics. Could the Grand Temple of Law still stand? What arcane artifacts might be recovered if The Hidden Stronghold of the Archmagus could be found and its safeguards circumvented? Might some lands be reclaimed and a foothold for civilization be established?

My son said he liked the way I bolded the “PC bait” to make it easy to find.

It’s a D&D me game. That’s Basic/Expert D&D (“B/X” on my D&D ID page) with some changes.

24 August 2013

On stats in RPG adventures

An introductory rant from “Big Trouble on a Little Planet”, Adventurer #7 February 1987, by A.J. Bradbury:

This scenario is designed for use with any of the leading SFRPG’S—Traveller, Star Trek, Space Opera, Star Frontiers, etc., though this isn’t the only reason why no player stats are included. To judge by some of the letters appearing in the leading RPG magazines, many Referees and GMs are still locked into a mental straightjacket which makes them try to run any printed game straight off the page—which is a big mistake—or to reject such scenarios because they don’t fit into the current game (which is just as daft).

Although the scenario produced here is complete within itself, it is designed to be a source of ideas rather than a finished unit, and is particulary unsuitable for ‘unedited use’, so to speak. On the contrary, anyone wishing to use this material is strongly advised to read through the entire text before (a) making any and all additions/deletions he/she thinks necessary, and (b) rolling up character points which will tailor the scenario to the preferred game and style of play, and the experience of his/her players.

And now, having got those few thoughts off my chest, let the action commence.

23 August 2013

Customer versus user

I really appreciate Reeder and Feedbin because I know I can leave them at any time and, when I come back, they’ll still be in the same state. They’ll still know what I’ve read and what I haven’t. They’ll show me things in order instead of via some “top stories” silliness.

The thing is, I shouldn’t appreciate those things. That should be expected. These things were mastered decades ago. Yet they are beyond Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+.

Of course, the biggest difference is that I am a Reeder customer and a Feedbin customer. I pay them. While I use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+; I don’t pay them. They won’t even let me.

21 August 2013

D&D Next public playtest lessons

As before, a couple of points to make before mentioning “D&D Next”...

  1. Yes, “D&D Next” is a terrible name. That’s because it’s a project name. The real name will be decided (I assume) by actual marketing people when the project gets closer to becoming products.
  2. I will reiterate that Wizards should make clear on the books what edition of the game it is. There’s already enough confusion for non-collectors looking at D&D books and not being able to tell what edition they are.

Now, on to today’s musing...

In his latest “Legends & Lore” column, Mike Mearls listed some of the things they learned from the public playtest.

On the one hand, it’s great to see that these tend to line up both with my approach to the hobby and with what I think will help grow the hobby.

On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder why Wizard’s D&D 3e and Paizo’s Pathfinder were and are so dominant if this is really what the RPG public wants.

20 August 2013

Cheap custom dice

A trip to Office Depot and Walgreen yielded...

the raw material

I might’ve been able to get it all at Walgreens, but I figured Office Depot was likely to have a wider selection of labels. The only ones they had in this size were orange.

I might have heard of Sicherman dice before, but noisms recently posted about them. So, those were first on the agenda.

Sicherman dice

Then I made a 36-sided die. One die is relabeled 0, 6, 12, 18, 24, & 30. Roll it with a normal die, and they’re equivalent to 1d36.


A third die could make it 1d216!

Then I created some binary dice. They’re numbered...

  1. 0, 0, 0, 1, 1, 1
  2. 0, 0, 0, 2, 2, 2
  3. 0, 0, 0, 4, 4, 4
  4. 0, 0, 0, 8, 8, 8

1d16 - 1

The can be used as 1d2-1, 1d4-1, 1d8-1, or 1d16-1. And, of course, we could keep adding binary digits.

31 July 2013

Dear Academy

Dear Academy Sports + Outdoors:

I came to your website to find out the hours for my local store. Your website could not tell me. In fact, your website couldn’t find my local store.

Also of note: Your website asked if it could use my current location after asking me for my state and zip code. Yet, despite knowing my state, zip code, and current location, it failed to find my local store.

I went elsewhere.

Can you guess why I’m posting this open letter on my blog instead of sending feedback directly to you? Here’s a hint: It also has to do with a failure of your web site.

13 July 2013

The future of gaming

The Omni is a very interesting device. It appears to be an elegant solution.

They should distance themselves from this kind of hyperbolé rather than quoting it, though:

Ladies and gentlemen, you're looking at the future of gaming

Video games have not had an uphill battle against their lack of VR technology. Rather, such technologies have had little success in the market. It isn’t just because “they aren’t there yet”. It is because people enjoy playing games without the VR experience. Such gaming will continue no matter how good the VR technology gets. The VR technology will be used for some games but not a majority of games.

Even among the types of games that work well for VR technology, there’s the convenience hurdle. Pulling all this gear out of where you store it and getting it set up and calibrated adds overhead that tradition controller and screens don’t have.

While prices will certainly continue to fall and the experience will continue to get better, I wonder if this stuff will ever provide an experience that really justifies the cost. But I’m hoping the Omni does have a bright future. I’d love to try that setup with Minecraft. The non-gaming applications are very interesting and may equal or exceed its gaming applications.

12 July 2013

3 things about Magic Realm

There are a few things about the Avalon Hill board game, Magic Realm, that have always been inspirational to me. I’ve made a number of stabs at adapting these to an RPG over the years.

Its size/strength/vulnerability/weight scale: Magic Realm measures these qualities on the following scale.

  • (N/—) Negligible
  • (L) Light
  • (M) Medium
  • (H) Heavy
  • (T) Tremendous

I assume Magic Realm wasn’t the first game to use such an adjective scale, but I’m pretty sure it was the first time I saw such a thing. Similar scales have since been used to good effect in a number of RPGs including Melanda, Marvel Super Heroes, Fudge, and The Ladder, to name a few.

Its combat attacks and maneuvers: Combat in Magic Realm revolves around three attacks and maneuvers.

  • Thrust hits charge
  • Swing hits dodge
  • Smash hits duck

There are a number of complications that make it more than just “rock, paper, scissors”. There’s something very appealing and evocative to me about the attacks and maneuvers.

Magic colors and rituals:

There are five colors of magic, each representing a different sort of spirit that causes a different sort of magic: White magic represents Power from on High, working beneficial magic; Grey magic represents Natural Laws, controlling nature; Gold magic represents Woods Sprites, working elvish magic; Purple magic represents Elemental Energies, twisting and reshaping reality; and Black magic represents Demonic power, working infernal magic.

Then there are eight rituals (represented by chits)...

Type I chits are Righteous invocations, Type II chits are Pagan rites, Type III chits are Elvish lore, Type IV chits are Energy-binding alchemy, Type V chits are Diabolic ceremonies, Type VI chits are Conjuring techniques, Type VII chits are Good Luck knacks and Type VIII chits are Malicious tricks.

11 July 2013


Something got me to thinking about Magic Realm recently. So, I downloaded RealmSpeak.

In my first three games I was killed by the first denizens encountered everytime. I don’t remember this game being that hard. I guess dad and I must’ve never gotten the rules quite right.

After about a half-a-dozen games, I managed to survive to the end of the game playing the dwarf, though I didn’t have the victory points to win. I managed to get enough victory points to win as the white knight, but I got trapped by the winged demon and killed. (It didn’t help that I didn’t know how to make my hired native follow me and then his contract expired before I renewed it.)

I won my third game playing the white knight.

10 July 2013

Analog versus digital

From the Electrical Engineering Stack Exchange: Why does digital equipment have more latency than analogue?

As an electric guitarist who likes digital gear and who is watching things move seemingly inexorably in the digital direction, the inherent latency of digital signal processing is something that’s been on my mind. So, I was pretty interested in this response.

The thing that I hate about analog is the careful balancing of signal levels throughout the signal chain. That always drive me nuts because my OCD kicks in when it comes to these things. I hate that I can’t know that all the trim pots are set exactly the same way all the time. I hate even more that setting them exactly the same isn’t what you want. They need to be set for the environment they’re in. And even if it is the same place at a different time, that’s a different environment.

Once you’ve digitized the signal, though, you can call up the exact stored settings and highly reproducible results in any environment. You only have to deal with the analog issues at the ADC and DAC ends.

For me, the upshot of this is that I’m good with analog for simple signal chains, but complex signal chains benefit from going digital.

Digital single-effect pedals—like BOSS’s new MDP line—are perhaps the worst case scenario. You go through ADC/DAC for each pedal. It’d be cool if the pedals could detect that they were connected to another MDP pedal and use a digital signal between them.

09 July 2013

Form the sweating-the-details habit early

A Short Quiz About Language Design:

That may be uncomfortable at first glance, but give it a moment. Sure, a vertical bar will end up in a string at some point—regular expressions with alternation come to mind—but the exceptional cases are no longer blatant and nagging, and you could get through a beginning class without even mentioning them.

Glossing over this kind of thing is a huge mistake. To write decent code, a programmer has to keep many such edge cases in mind all the time. It’s a struggle to do so, and it’s a habit that needs to be formed as early as possible.

08 July 2013

Talking in-character

A brief rant: Talking in-character is role-playing, but role-playing is not talking in-character.

27 June 2013

Be a better (RPG) player

In “Know Your System”, noisms referenced grant’s “11 ways to be a better roleplayer”. There’s really only one of grant’s points that I wholeheartedly agree with. Embrace failure.

So, here’s my advice. I’d like to say that I’m a paragon who exemplifies these points, but—alas—I am not. Do what I say, not what I do. ☺

Avoid over-analysis—especially during character creation. I’m a big fan of over-analysis, but I’m also a big fan of experiments. Often it’s better to just make a choice, play, accumulate data, and save the analysis for later. What’s the worst that could happen?

Don’t look to the rules for options. You know whenever you find yourself screaming at a fictional character for not doing what you would do? You know whenever you’re playing a game and you think, “I wish I could...” Well, RPGs are the chance to do those things. Look for options in the game-world.

Ask questions. Then ask more questions. The GM is your character’s senses. To some extent they are also your character’s knowledge of the world. They can’t volunteer every detail that your character sees, hears, smells, and knows. Plus, they’re mainly using words to communicate all these things to you, which is error-prone. You have to ask about what you want to know more about and to clarify things. Don’t take any action until you’ve gathered information beyond what the GM has volunteered.

Tell the GM your intent. If you try to describe the things you want your character to do in discrete steps, it’s going to take a lot of time and increase the chance of miscommunication. Instead, tell the GM your intent and then describe discreet steps as necessary to clarify.

After you tell the GM your intent, tell them why you should succeed. Look at your character sheet and mention anything that might be a factor. Mention aspects of your character that aren’t on the sheet that might be a factor. Mention things about the situation that might be a factor. Don’t be a jerk about it. It isn’t about convincing them so much as reminding them about things that they might not think of.

Give the GM the benefit of the doubt. It is a hard job, and they’re only human. If you think you can do a better job, most GMs will be happy for the chance to be a player.

Take turns. After you’ve had a “turn”, sit back and let everyone else have a turn. While other players have the GM’s attention, have a pencil and paper handy to jot down notes for things you might want to ask about or do when it is your turn again. Before taking another turn, ask any players who haven’t had a turn since your last one if they want to do anything.

Enjoy your friends’ successes. Even in competitive games, you can enjoy a friend’s success. Make sure you take them time not only to give other people their turn but to enjoy being in the audience.

Cöoperate, involve others, and form consensus. RPGs aren’t always cöoperative, but not being cöoperative is easy. Getting everyone working together can take effort. When appropriate, make the effort.

Take responsibility for your own fun. I’m tempted to leave “for your own fun” off of that. Taking responsibility could take many forms. I guess you should just ask yourself “What can I do to make this game better?”

Give the GM feedback. Before, after, and between sessions, let the GM know what you’re enjoying. Tell them about the things you don’t enjoy too. Don’t expect that things you don’t enjoy will go away, but it is useful for the GM to know the players’ perspectives.

I looked at a bunch of other lists like this. I disagreed with the majority of most of them. So, perhaps the best advice would be to try to figure out what works for your group.

23 June 2013

Formula D

When I first learned about Formula Dé, I immediately dismissed it because dice are used to determine how far a car moves. That is—typically—a bad sign in a racing board game. Then I saw (the now renamed) Formula D on Tabletop. While dice are used to determine how far you move, the die you roll depends on the gear you’re in and each die has a short range of values.

The game seems to have a lot of the spirit of Waddingtons’ Formula 1—for me, the canonical car racing boardgame—while still doing things its own way. Formula D also has the advantages of being “in print”, having two tracks in the box and additional tracks for purchase, and having some more in-depth rules. I can’t say much about that last bit yet, though, since we’ve only played the basic game thus far.

22 June 2013

Doesn’t do Word

Yes, the iPad doesn’t do PowerPoint. It also doesn’t do Word.

When I wrote these posts, Office Mobile for Office 365 hand’t been released.

It does do Pages.

More interesting, however, is that it does UX Write. UX Write is my favorite word processor. I wish there were a Mac version. It may not work for you, but it works for me.

There are lots of other word processing apps for the iPad.

Oh, and Pages and UX Write both work on the iPhone and iPod touch as well as the iPad.

21 June 2013

Game of soaps

Good stories, according to me, have a point. A moral, even if it isn’t a particularly moral moral.

Soap operas are simply about keeping the story going. There is no point except for continuing. Soaps can only hold my interest for a time.

(If you’re thinking of a soap opera that doesn’t meet that definition of a soap opera, then that’s not what I’m talking about when I write “soap opera”.)

I haven’t read any of the Song of Fire and Ice yet. The TV series isn’t selling me on it. I suspect the TV series of being a soap opera, although there are hints of a possible point or two. I’m afraid it won’t actually get to any of those points.

Why? Because I read this quote from GRRM, which I’ve edited for spoilers. (The original with spoilers)

I knew it almost from the beginning. Not the first day, but very soon. I’ve said in many interviews that I like my fiction to be unpredictable. I like there to be considerable suspense. I [SPOILER] in the first book and it shocked a lot of people. [SPOILER] The next predictable thing is to think [SPOILER]. And everybody is going to expect that. So immediately [it] became the next thing I had to do.

Unpredictability for the sake of unpredictability doesn’t make for good storytelling, IMHO. And, ironically, unpredictability becomes predictable after a while. If this is his primary reason for these events, then I’m not inclined to care.

20 June 2013

Doesn’t do Excel

Yes, the iPad doesn’t do PowerPoint. It also doesn’t do Excel.

When I wrote these posts, Office Mobile for Office 365 hand’t been released.

It does do Numbers. There are lots of other spreadsheet apps for the iPad.

More interesting, however, is that it does Soulver. Soulver sits somewhere between a calculator and a spreadsheet. (It’s similar to a old Mac app I used to love called MathPad.) You may find that Soulver replaces any calculator app you might use. You may also find that it replaces many of the more straightforward uses of spreadsheets.

Also of possible interest here: Permanent. (I haven’t gotten to trying it out yet.)

Oh, and Numbers and Soulver both work on the iPhone and iPod touch as well as the iPad. (Although Soulver for iPhone is a separate app.)

19 June 2013

Ramblings about skeuomorphs

Amid the revealing of iOS 7, I started using a new app call Do It Tomorrow. This app is very skeuomorphrific. It not only looks like hand-written notes in a paper notebook, it also includes the desk, pen, coffee, coffee stains, &c.

During the WWDC keynote, Apple suggested that the most important thing about a product is “How it will make someone feel.” I argue that skeuomorphs are not about usability but about how they make some users feel. Indeed, I don’t think the skeuomorphs in Do It Tomorrow make the app more usable, but they do make it—for me—more enjoyable.

Rene Ritchie says iOS 7 is most skeuomorphic iOS yet.

One of the key aspects of Apple’s iOS devices is that they become each app.† The app takes up the full screen. The screen is how the user interacts with the app. The hardware beyond the touch-screen is designed to not distract from the app. In iOS 7, there are system things that can temporarily intrude—notification center from above and control center from below—but these are translucent overlays that emphasize the the device is still primarily the app. Well, Apple is actually emphasizing content now, but sometimes the app itself is content. Skeuomorphs can be content.

Speaking of notification center and control center in iOS 7, they appear glass and plastic, respectively, to me.

Guitar effects apps are an area where skeuomorphs are common. While I’d certainly like to see some more entries in that category that take a skeuomorphless approach, the look of guitar gear can be an important part of the feel.

So, despite Apple’s move away from skeuomorphs, I hope that some apps will still provide skeuomorphic options for those users who enjoy them.

†It occurs to me that this works directly against the sort of split-screen mode I have always wanted in iOS.

18 June 2013

Not doing PowerPoint

Yes, it is true that the iPad doesn’t do PowerPoint.

(See “New Microsoft video slams the iPad on multitasking, PowerPoint and price”)

(Ironically, since I started the draft of this post, Microsoft has actually released an iOS app that allows—perhaps limited—PowerPoint editing as well as presentation.)

It’s also true that it does do Keynote. There’s a good chance you’ve seen a presentation that was powered by Keynote instead of PowerPoint. I’ve used Keynote on my iPad to edit and present a presentation that was originally created with PowerPoint. (There were some issues but nothing that kept me from getting what I needed done done.)

More interesting, though is that the iPad does Haiku Deck. Haiku Deck doesn’t have all the features of Keynote or PowerPoint, but what it does, it does well.

And that’s only two of the presentation apps for the iPad.

Oh, and Keynote works on the iPhone and iPod touch as well as the iPad.

17 June 2013

It’s time for compulsory licensing of video

Since the owners of video content can’t wrap their heads around the simple fact that there is zero difference between streaming video to a phone, tablet, computer, “smart TV”, or set-top box†, I say it is time for compulsory licensing.

That’s how music is licensed (here in the US at least). You don’t have to go to the “rights holder” for permission to play a song. You just have to be sure that you pay them the mandated fee.

We get to watch movies and TV however is convenient for us; the “rights holders” get paid; win-win.

†Here’s how you can tell: Open them up and see that, inside, all of these things are computers.

16 June 2013

App Store Genius

John August, “Topping the charts and racing to the bottom”:

What you really want is a list that shows what apps that people like you are using and enjoying. That’s the kind of information that companies like Amazon and Netflix are terrific at leveraging.

Um...isn’t that what that Genius option does?

15 June 2013

The iOS 7 redesign, second impressions

My first impression was that the iOS 7 redesign was all about coherence. Here are my second impressions...

There have been a lot of complaints about the iOS 7 icons for Apple’s apps. shrug I can’t get too worked up about them. I generally don’t care for many of them, but I could’ve probably complained just as much about the iOS 6 versions.

Only using color to differentiate interactive elements is something I have concerns about. Firstly, how will this work for color blind users? Secondly, I’ve seen differentiating things only by color be a problem for users who aren’t color blind in many situations. Thirdly, in user interfaces redundancy is a feature. I’d expect that Apple has taken these concerns into account. Sometimes a well thought out implementation of something that goes against the guidelines can work fine. But that’s the one aspect of the redesign that I’m doubtful about.

14 June 2013

Serious Superman

I haven’t seen the Man of Steel yet, but I can’t say that I’m excited about it. And not simply because I’m old enough that yet another incarnation of the old superheroes is becoming tiresome.

I’d love to see a serious Superman movie. But it would be one where they threw out almost all the canon except for the alien orphan becomes super-powered hero bit.

Trying to make a serious movie about the DC Superman seems pointless to me. There’s a built-in idealism and over-the-top aspect that it is hard to see working the way the Dark Knight series could.

12 June 2013

T&T attributes

At NTRPGC this year, I got to play Tunnels & Trolls with its creator, Ken St. Andre. My only experience of T&T before this was a few runs through solitaire adventures. It seems that we were the first people to play the T&T Free RPG Day adventure. Ken was an enjoyable GM, and we got a sneak peek at the Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls changes.

Perhaps my one apprehension about T&T has been its highly abstract combat system. It seemed to work much better in play than I’d anticipated, though. It seems to smooth out the kinds of imbalances between characters that T&T doesn’t avoid. The “weakest” character still contributed to combat and the “stronger” characters could protect them by soaking up the damage. It also played very quick and got us back to exploring and parlaying with the NPCs.

But, on to the topic at hand: Like D&D, T&T characters have a number of attributes that are generated by rolling 3d6. Ken had us reroll attributes below nine. Since there is an almost 26% chance of rolling < 9, though, that meant a fair amount of rerolling. So, that got me to thinking about ways to do it without rerolling.

My first thought was to use 6+2d6 instead. That would mean the minimum was 8 instead of 9, but...close enough. It does greatly change the probabilities, though. At least it is simple.

Next I considered 6 + (3d6 drop the highest). I was surprised by how close this was to the original 3d6 reroll < 9. It seems perhaps “too fiddly” for T&T, but it seems to get the job done.

This AnyDice plot shows the probabilities for 3d6, 3d6 reroll < 9, 6+2d6, and 6+3d6 drop the highest. Switch it to “graph” and then check out the “normal” and “at least” views.

Note that this ignores the TARO rule: If you roll triples, you get to roll three more dice and add their results. It’d also be interesting to work out the chances of qualifying to be a paragon (all attributes ≥ 12) would be for the different methods.

Whichever method might be used, one question arises: Should the reroll < 9 rule apply before or after kindred (i.e. race) modifiers? I’m thinking: Before.

(Another question about kindred modifiers is whether a character qualifies for a type (i.e. class) before or after kindred modifiers. But Ken said that in dT&T, only human characters have types.)

11 June 2013

iOS 7—coherence

...or Jony Ive is the man.

I said that, if it were up to me, I would decide about textures in Apple’s iOS apps on a case-by-case basis rather than blindly making everything flat.

The key word for the design changes in iOS 7, however, isn’t “flat”. It is “coherence”.

They didn’t blindly make everything flat. They created a coherent design language. Which makes the way everything works seem to make sense—even if only subconsciously. Not to mention that it makes it more pleasing. It’s exactly the opposite of a case-by-case basis, but on a deeper level than flat versus textured.

In a sense, the flat versus textured issue simply disappears in iOS 7. The user picks the backdrop image. The content sits in a layer on top of that. Anything on top of that is not flat or textured but translucent to let the backdrop and content shine through.

Ive has shown that the same sensibilities he brings to hardware design can be applied to software with just as—if not more—spectacular results. I can’t wait until fall.

Incidentally, Sunday night I was organizing my RPG files and thinking about how I wish I had tags so I could organize them by source, publisher, and game system. Monday, they’re telling me how Mac OS X Sea Lion Mavericks will have file tags.

10 June 2013

Apple and Google maps at NTRPGC

No, the Old San Antonio Road wasn’t involved in me getting to or from NTRPGC, but its sign seem appropriate to the topic.

My experience with the map apps while attending the North Texas RPG Con this year...

Apple maps did it great job of getting us near the hotel. It thought the hotel was a couple blocks from where it really was, but at least I could see it. (And, yes, I submitted the mistake to Apple.)

For nearby points-of-interest (i.e. restaurants), it failed. It didn’t show them all and was mistaken about the locations of those it did have. On the POI side, the Google maps app proved flawless. It appeared to show all the nearby restaurants, and it had their locations spot-on.

So, when we left and headed out to pick up my daughter from her grandmothers’, it was Google maps’ turn to fail. First off, the app just gave me a text list of the route choices, which didn’t give me a good way to judge between them. It told me to get off a highway only to get back on to it a few miles later, which added a lot of unnecessary extra time. To exacerbate things, construction meant I couldn’t get back on that highway. After adding about a 20 minute extra delay to a 30 minute trip, I switched back to Apple maps to help find an alternate route.

The road construction in the D/FW area seems out-of-control. It’s a real mess. Apple maps tripped up on it once as well, but it luckily recovered quickly. So, the delay was perhaps not completely Google maps’ fault, but it picked a screwy route even if there hadn’t been construction to exacerbate things.

Of course, this is just one anecdote that I wouldn’t want to generalize too much from. The lessons I’m taking away from this are:

  • It’s a good idea to check both Apple and Google maps when possible.
  • Start with Apple maps for guided turn-by-turn directions.
  • Start with Google maps for POIs or finding the exact location of the destination at the end of an Apple maps route.

06 June 2013

Rathkin abbey relics

Rathkin Abbey is a classic D&D campaign I’m running as my 10yo daughters first role-playing game. The players found some magic items belonging to famous adventurers of the past.

(I looked at a lot of magic items from different sources while coming up with these. I don’t remember what all may have inspired them.)

Ogden the fighter: A belt of finely-tooled leather with a silver buckle. It increases the wearer’s strength enough to increase their modifier by +1.

Frida the thief: High, soft leather boots designed with a feather motif. The wearer will not activate traps. If the wearer should fall, the boots will generate the same effect as the Feather Fall spell.

Cora the crusader (i.e. cleric): When the wearer raises the hood on this cloak, their image seems to shift and waver to onlookers. The effect can be very disconcerting when looking directly at them for more than a few seconds. (i.e. displacer cloak) +2 AC and saves.

Ector the mage: A fairly plain hazelwood wand with a crystal tip. It can store one first level spell. The crystal glows faintly when a spell is stored.

There was one other relic found of unknown provenance: A tiara with a cat’s ears design. When the wearer meows, they are transformed into a cat. The user may transform back at will, and they will also transform back when falling asleep or unconscious. Usable once per day.

05 June 2013

Another thing about textures

Thinking more about textures and skeuomorphism, another point occurs to me about textures in iOS.

What purpose does the “Corinthian leather” serve in a Chrysler? What purpose does green felt and wood serve in a casino? These surfaces could be covered with materials of different color and different texture. They could be covered in materials with a flat texture and painted in flat colors. These textures are just as superfluous—or purposeful—as they are in the digital world as in the real world.

You may not like the specific choices in either the real so digital world, but the aesthetic choice is just as valid in either case.

04 June 2013

It isn’t about magic or fighting

As usual, the recent regularity of blog posts means that a lot of it is me sifting through old drafts, so the references aren’t exactly timely. Also, as usual, this isn’t really a critique of what JB wrote as much as the thoughts I had reading his comments.

“Magic in 5AK”

[...] the fact of the matter is a player wants to play a magic-user because he or she wants to USE MAGIC.

Actually, I don’t play a mage to use magic. I don’t play a fighter to fight. Instead, those class names describe what I fall back on when my brain fails me.

03 June 2013

Scheme implementations

One of the difficulties in getting started with the Scheme programming language is picking an implementation. There are a bunch. Many of them are very good. Each has strengths and weaknesses. But those strengths and weaknesses don’t always readily line up with uses. So, recommending an implementation can be tricky.

Here is a pretty good guide to picking an implementation: “an opinionated guide to scheme implementations

I know a lot less about Scheme than (wingo). I just play with it and use it instead of Bash/Perl/Python/Ruby whenever I can at work. Still, I was a Scheme newbie once, so here’s my suggestion:

If you’re using Linux or BSD, check to see if Guile is installed. (If you’ve got Mac ports or fink installed on your Mac, you might fall into this category as well.) There are things I love about Guile, and there are things I hate about it. But it is hard to argue with it already being installed on your machine. Grab a copy of SICP or The Little Schemer or whatever and go...

If you’re on Linux or BSD and you don’t have Guile installed, check your package manager for it.

If you don’t have Guile or if you’re ready for something more than Guile, get Racket. While the people working on Scheme standards are trying to figure out how to please academics and pragmatists, Racket has built a Scheme that is good for learning/teaching the language and has much of the “batteries included” that some other languages claim you should expect.

If you want Racket but without the GUI bits, you’ll have to dig a bit for Racket Textual.

Once you’ve had a taste of Scheme with Guile and/or Racket, then you can start to delve into what makes all those other implementations unique.

02 June 2013

Actual conventional wisdom vs. pundit conventional wisdom

Pricing and Profit Consistency and the Halo Effect

The conventional wisdom is to pursue profits by maximizing market share.

Is that really true? In the actual business world, perusing higher margins or niche markets or both seems to be conventional wisdom. Only in the business press is maximizing marketshare the conventional wisdom.

Certainly there are companies that have done well at the maximizing marketshare game, but they are the minority.

01 June 2013

Don’t change that logo

Playing Logo Quiz really brings home that changing an established logo is most often a bad idea. The only reason that I recognize a lot of the new logos of old companies is that I follow Brand New.

31 May 2013

Hype hurts

If you tell me something along the lines of “Next month we are going to announce a product that will change everything!” what have you told me? You’ve told me that you feel the need to manufacture hype. That tells me that you don’t believe the product will be successful on its merits.

Ideally, you shouldn’t announce a product until it is ready to be bought. Perhaps nothing dampens enthusiasm as much as the waiting. There are times, though, when it makes sense to announce a product earlier.

When you do announce a product, though, you should be able to show it doing exactly what you say it will do. If your product isn’t good enough that showing it sells it, then you may need to go back to the drawing board rather than trying to build hype.

The big caveat is the trap of demoïng well. While a good demo is the best way to sell your product, you need to make sure it is as good or even better with long term use.

30 May 2013

Corporate hobbies

I’ve signed up for feedbin as my Google Reader replacement. Firstly because it is the choice of Reeder, but also because I think such a service is worth paying for. Hopefully paying for it means that it will not only stick around but actually see improvements.

Also of note is Feed Wrangler. I enjoy David Smith’s podcast, Developing Perspectives and his Check the Weather app. I suspect Feed Wrangler will be a great alternative too.

I don’t really lament the end of Google Reader as I did Google Notebooks or when Google Docs became significantly less useful to me. I think we’re going to end up with more and better options.

But on to the topic of this post, which is inspired by Google Reader but isn’t really about Google Reader specifically: Some people say that Google Reader never made sense for Google. I don’t agree.

Consider musicians. Most musicians have a “day job”. Their day job is how they make money. They may make some money off music but not enough that they can quit their day job. (Sometimes their day job is music related, but that’s neither really here nor there.) Yet nobody would say that making music never made sense for these people.

The same way that it makes sense for people do spend time, energy, and money on activities other than a profitable job; it makes sense for businesses to spend time, energy, and money on activities that aren’t profitable. Because businesses are made up of people.

29 May 2013

Google Glass

Wearable computing has come a long way

I think you can break down most of the aversion to Google Glass into these concerns:

  1. Privacy concerns about its camera and the way it might surreptitiously take pictures
  2. A safety concern such as it being a distraction while driving
  3. A social concern about how its users interact with other people
  4. How it looks

Concern number 4: We live in a world where people walk around with Bluetooth headsets in their ears at all times and where having your pants pulled down to show your underwear is a fashion. I honestly don’t have a problem with either of those things. Though, it does make me wonder why—if others are doing those things—I don’t wear my very comfortable renfaire garb everyday. I’m not convinced this will be a significant hurdle.

The second and third concerns: I think for most people, these concerns are more about behavior than technology. If people don’t use the technology in a way we consider rude or dangerous, then we don’t mind them using the technology. We’re not banning mobile phones, though we are banning and discouraging their use in certain contexts.

I suspect number 1 is the biggest issue. (Arguably it’s a subset of concern number 3, but it is a very significant subset.) On the one hand, you can argue that, even without Glass, we’re already living in a world where we may be unknowingly photographed or filmed† by surreptitious cameras. On the other hand, you can argue that, in practice, Glass exacerbates the situation.

(Of course, most of the arguments against the camera also apply to the microphone. It’s even easier to surreptitiously record audio today without Google Glass than video, though.)

Whether it is a valid concern or not, I suspect merely eliminating the camera might be the best thing to do to make Glass more acceptable. While that does also eliminate a whole host of features, we can still have those features on our phones.

†It might seem strange to use “to film” here, since film is not involved. Then again, “to film” itself strikes me as a fairly strange verbification of a noun. Yet, its use here feels very natural for me. Language is weird like that. Read it as “video’d” if you prefer.

Image attribution: By Glogger at en.wikipedia Later version(s) were uploaded by Dgies at en.wikipedia. (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons

27 May 2013


In my current classic D&D campaigns, I’ve switched to a “silver standard”, and I describe the coins this way:

Early Medieval Coins Fitzwilliam Museum

By Arichis at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

  • Gold is treasure
  • Silver is money
  • Copper is change

Which is really the whole point of the change. Having the PCs start the game with 100 gold coins to spend (even if it really only represents their net worth rather than actual coinage), dampens the impact of finding a coffer of gold coins.

But I find that the 1gp:10sp:100cp ratios (call it “tens, dollars, and dimes”) that I’m using—because it made converting from standard values to mine easier—don’t quite give that feel. I’m thinking 1gp:100sp:10,000cp (hundreds, dollars, and pennies) would better represent those distinctions.

One of the sources I like to borrow from is history. (Plus, it gives me an excuse to learn about history.) So, I took a look at the coins during the reign of Edward III and Roman currency. Neither of which really have anything close to a 1:100:10,000 trio to use as a model. Which is disappointing.

Maybe 1:20:400 would be sufficient? Although, failing the history reality-check doesn’t count 1:10:10,000 out completely.

Either way, it makes the math between classic D&D and my D&D values more difficult.

25 May 2013

0 < 30 < 35

John Gruber quoting the Washington Post quoting Tim Cook...

“If you look at it today, to repatriate cash to the U.S., you need to pay 35 percent of that cash. And that is a very high number,” Cook said in an interview Thursday. “We are not proposing that it be zero. I know many of our peers believe that. But I don’t view that. But I think it has to be reasonable.”

We know Apple’s favorite percentage is 30, so they should be happy with that, right?

24 May 2013


A PDF should be more than a facsimile of a print product.

I agree with that, but only a bit. There are a few things beyond print that should be provided: Providing bookmarks and making sure the text is searchable and copyable.

But the one reason for choosing PDF is that it is the best digital format for print products. Sure it has lots of digital features. If you’re really serious about making an digital product, however, you should be looking beyond PDF.

Of course, other formats have their issues. Sometimes people come back to PDF because that print-basis makes it seem more mature, which arguably it is. But, if you’re trying to move beyond print, you need to move beyond a format with such a heavy print bias.

23 May 2013

File systems

“It’s a UNIX system! I know this!”

It is well known that users have a difficult time understanding the standard, hierarchical computer file system. I wonder that’s really the case, though.

For example, the Mac—from the beginning—taught users how to use the file system though the Finder. The Finder was the Mac “shell”—the program the user used to get to and organize their documents and applications. But when the user interacted with the file system within an application, it presented it in a completely different way than the Finder did. This was always the biggest stumbling block I witnessed new users stumble over on the Mac. This dichotomy tended to be repeated in most GUIs that followed.

Perhaps the problem isn’t with file systems themselves but with the ways we’ve expected users to interact with them.

The screenshot above is not actually from fsn, which was used in Jurassic Park. It’s from fsv.

22 May 2013

iMac vs iPad revisited

Back in 2010, I took a look at how many of the apps that I used on a daily basis on my Mac had an equivalent on my iPad. Let’s take a look at how things are different here in 2013.

Now, I use iMessages much more than AIM, and it has even replaced iChat on the Mac. (Though I do miss some iChat features.)

Besides third-party equivalents, there’s now an iPad version of GarageBand.

I now use UX Write more than Pages on my iPad. I actually use it a lot on my iPhone too. Since my favorite Mac HTML editor, Amaya, hasn’t been keeping up-to-date, I wish I had a Mac version of UX Write.

The iPad can now print.

There is a GuitarPro for iPad now. It is mostly for viewing, but it does have a decent notepad that can be used to write a bit of tab. Notion, however, is a full-fledged music engraving app for iPad.

While I’m not expecting an iPad version of DrRacket (née DrScheme) any time soon, Lisping is quite impressive. See also the Gambit REPL app for iPad.

Posts is a great app for writing and editing Blogger posts. I still have lots of problems with Blogger all around, but it is equally painful on both the Mac and the iPad now.

Another Mac app I use a lot is Terminal. (I use Cathode a lot too.) The iSSH iPad app and my Bluetooth keyboard have allowed me to telecommute with only my iPad.

I do my taxes with TurboTax on the iPad now instead of on the Mac.

Soulver is an app that I use a lot on Mac, iPad, and iPhone.

Nearly all the graphics I create are made on the iPad with Inkpad. I don’t remember the last time I created a graphic on the Mac.

IMovie gets used the most on my iPhone.

21 May 2013

Textures, skeuomorphism, etc.

From “Tail Wagging” by Matt Gemmell...

At first glance, making the interface visually resemble a physical object seems like a reasonable way to create that immersion.

I think we are long past when these elements where argued to make software more immersive or more usable.

The textures in Game Center aren’t there because it makes the app more immersive or more usable. The textures are there because some of the people at Apple like the way they look. Some of Apple’s customers like the way it looks too.

The page flip animation in iBooks isn’t there because it makes the app more immersive or more usable. It’s there because some people like it.

The reel-to-reel tape player animation wasn’t put there to make the app more immersive or more usable. It was there because it was fun.

20 May 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness

My response to Star Trek: Into Darkness is much like my response to the first Abrams’ Star Trek film.

I could complain about various ways it lacks things I liked about the original Star Trek. I could complain that it draws from the canon well too often rather than standing more on its own. I could complain about plot holes and other issues with the film when considered on its own.

But I enjoyed it so much that I don’t want to do any of those things.

I also have to say that really enjoy these characters—both for how they are like the originals and for how they are different.

19 May 2013

Christology / Christian

Was Jesus fully God, fully human, both, or neither? Could Jesus really know the human condition if He was truly without sin? If Jesus was omniscient, unable to deceive himself the way we can, how could He have struggled with temptation the way scripture tells us He did?

Was Jesus married? Did He have a beard? Did He wear His hair long? Was Jesus an actual historical person or a myth?


By Berihert (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

These are all interesting questions to ponder, but—ultimately—I don’t believe they matter. Jesus’ message wasn’t about His nature, even if scripture occasionally tries to say that it was.

Being a Christian is not—to me—about the Trinity, the nature of the Christ, the Immaculate Conception (which probably doesn’t mean what you think it means), the Cross, the Resurrection, or the Afterlife.

Being a Christian is about a humble attitude, a charitable spirit, and the words & actions that flow naturally from those. It is about being at peace in the midst of strife. It is about loving both the lovable and the unlovable. It is about forgiving the unforgivable. It is about learning to listen to that small, still voice inside. It is about being able to put other priorities above your will. It is about learning that whatever mistakes you may have made, you are worthy of love, you can turn things around, you can make amends, and you can be forgiven.

Is that cherry-picking? Perhaps. I’d rather be called a hypocrite for using reason and prayer to discern the Godly from the human in religion than to be called a hypocrite for putting the letter of the law above the spirit or for preaching one thing while practicing another.

Note that while I may be all three kinds of hypocrite, I am saying that I only aspire to being the first. I’m working on not being the others.

18 May 2013

Fake call/values

For the programmers in the audience. Knowledge of Scheme is assumed.


Lisping currently comes with TinyScheme. TinyScheme doesn’t support multiple return values (i.e. values and call-with-values). So, I did this...

;;; How to fake multiple return values
(define values list)
(define (call-with-values producer consumer)
  (apply consumer (producer)))

It was a bit surprising to me that it was that easy to fake.

This isn’t quite equivalent to the real values and call-with-values. e.g. Given a single argument, the real values function returns that argument, but my fake one returns a list instead. Which, in fact, broke another part of my code where I was using values as an identity function rather than for returning multiple values.

;;; The real values function
(values 5) → 5
;;; My fake values function
(values 5) → (5)

I imagine that real multiple return values can be more efficient than a list. On the other hand, it seems like a smart compiler could optimize-out the list in the fake version too.

Edit 21 May 2013: There is some interesting discussion here.

[...] Matthias Blume argued passionately against the presence of values/call-with-values in Scheme on the grounds that they add nothing to the language as a language—that is, they grant no additional expressiveness beyond what is already possible with list and apply [...]

The primary arguments in favour of values/call-with-values were that they allow implementors to optimise generated code in ways that are impossible or more difficult in the list/apply case.

17 May 2013


Lisping is an iPad editor for the Scheme programming language (or Clojure). It is pretty much what I imagined in 2010 when I wrote about a Viaweb/RTML-style Scheme editor.

02 May 2013

Kickstarter projects should be simpler

At this point, having add-ons as part of your Kickstarter makes me less likely to back it. And the more complicated things are, the more this counts against you. Why?

First, there’s simply that I have to make some attempt to understand things even to decide to choose a simple option.

The more complex things are, the longer it is going to take you to fulfill my reward. Even if I personally choose a simple option.

The more complex things are, the more likely you are to make mistakes.

01 April 2013

Real Racing 3—freemium

The “freemium” bit of Real Racing 3 doesn’t bother me much. With racing games, I almost always feel the need to take a break after a few races. So, the play-or-wait thing actually fits the way I play anyway.

I happily payed for Real Racing and Real Racing 2. I even bought both versions of each despite the annoyance of non-universal apps. I’d have gladly paid for 3 as well, but it’s a lot harder for me to see the value in its in-app purchases. So, they’ll be making no money off me this time around.

31 March 2013

Classic Doctor Who on Amazon Instant Video

I have edited my “Classic Doctor Who on Netflix and iTunes” article with a separate list of episodes available on Amazon Instant Video. It looks like they have five serials that aren’t available elsewhere.

01 March 2013

Instacast → Downcast

Listening to podcasts through the iPhone Music app was frustrating. I was very happy when I bought Instacast, which made it a pleasure. I never shared most of the complaints others had about Instacast. In fact, I didn’t like some of the changes they made to address those concerns.

I don’t believe the people behind Instacast intended to be unfair to their customers. I believe that they simply made some mistakes and rectifying those mistakes required doing things that were unfair to their existing customers.

Good intentions, however, doesn’t change the fact that they did make mistakes, and one consequence of those mistakes is that this customer is checking out the competition rather than upgrading.

As with Instacast, I don’t share most of the complaints I read about Apple’s Podcasts app. Digging a little deeper, though, it seems that beyond those surface complaints, it is just as buggy as listening to podcasts through the Music app used to be.

While a few other podcast client apps get some love, it seems that Downcast is the most popular among people whose opinion I value. So, that’s what I’m trying. Exporting my list of subscriptions from Instacast to Downcast was ridiculously easy. The challenge was getting episodes other than the most recent from each feed marked as unplayed in Downcast. I’d have to flip over to Instacast, check which episodes I hadn’t listened to, and then flip back to Downcast to...

Well, it took me a while to figure out the next bit. You don’t so much mark an episode as unplayed as queue it for download or streaming.

28 February 2013

Notion for iPad

Thanks to the 128GB iPad, I can now install and use Notion for iPad. I originally bought it in December 2011, but it’s a big app. When I was fighting against the 64GB limit, it was near the top of the storage usage list and—since I hadn’t had a chance to use it yet—I had to uninstall it.

I have to say that now that I’ve used it, I am pretty impressed. It seems to be a fairly complete music engraving package for the iPad. It looks like it will do complete scores as well as supporting guitar tablature and guitar specific articulations.

As far as I can tell, the answer to the unanswered question is that Notion for iPad appears to be able to do everything Progression for iPad can. Although the only thing I have to base that on is the feature list for Progression.

My only real complaint so far is this: It lacks the “Convenient file sharing” they claim. It can...

  • Export Notion format to e-mail or an “Apps/Notion Mobile” folder within your Dropbox
  • Export PDF to e-mail
  • Export MIDI to e-mail
  • Export MusicXML to e-mail
  • Export WAV to iTunes file sharing, Dropbox, or Soundcloud
  • Export AAC to e-mail iTunes file sharing, Dropbox, or Soundcloud

Exporting to e-mail is the least convenient method. At least for me. I never want to share files via e-mail. Much less use e-mail as the workaround to get files into other apps or into things like Dropbox.

And iTunes file sharing is only marginally more convenient than e-mail.

I use Dropbox to share files with my bandmates, but the only thing I can export to Dropbox are the Notion format files or WAV/AAC files, which isn’t very convenient. What would be convenient for me:

  1. Export GuitarPro, MIDI, and PDF to an arbitrary Dropbox folder
  2. Export GuitarPro, MIDI, and PDF to another app

If I had #1, I could workaround the lack of #2 with the Dropbox app.

On the import side, I could use importing GuitarPro 6 and MIDI files from an arbitrary Dropbox folder, neither of which Notion can do. It appears that it can import GuitarPro 3–5 files and MIDI files through iTunes file sharing, but iTunes file sharing is inconvenient so I haven’t put it to the test.

27 February 2013

Swingy vibrato arm fixed!

The vibrato arm on my Roland-ready Fender Stratocaster used to just swing around and hang straight down, which makes it hard to use. I like it closer so I can grab it more easily when I need it.

Some research online uncovered several possible solutions, but here’s the one that worked.

This little spring goes down into the hole before you screw the vibrato arm into it. I was skeptical that this would really do the job. Plus, I was worried that it might not work with my guitar since it is MIM (made in Mexico) instead of an American model, which seemed to be the case for some people. It seems to work just fine, though.

The annoying part is that it is likely to get lost whenever the vibrato arm is removed. Thankfully, it came with eleven spares, but it’d be nice if it was held in place somehow. There are some suggestions online about how to do that as well, but I haven’t tried any of them yet.

Well, now ten spares. I dropped one into my Westone Spectrum ST, and it just fell straight through.