29 December 2008

Objective-C closures

Apple is adding “blocks” (Smalltalk’s name for closures) to Objective-C. See mikeash.com: Friday Q&A 2008-12-26

This is very interesting, but raises a couple of questions in my mind.

Will it require automatic garbage-collection? I believe Apple has also added the option for automatic garbage-collection to Objective-C as well.

The bigger question, though, is after adding Smalltalkesque objects and message-passing, automatic garbage-collection, and Smalltalkesque closures to C, why aren’t you just using Smalltalk instead?

28 December 2008


Santa brought the kids a Wii, and my worst fears were confirmed. It is far too much physical activity for a video game. (My arms are sore! ^_^) It is far more fun than the few times I tried it before.

As a former member of the Sega→Sony anti-Nintendo faction, I have to admit they’ve made some really good moves. With the original GameBoy, they understood that portability was more important than color. While the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 continued down the road of more expensive and a somewhat narrow library of games, the Wii went for a lower price, heavily featuring motion sensitive controllers, and more variety in its titles. Wii Fit looks very interesting. Wii Music brings a different attitude to music titles. (I think something in between Rock Band and Wii Music could be very interesting.) The DS looks very interesting too. The new cooking application, like Wii Fit, shows not only a tolerance for but a vision to expand the variety of software as few other “video game” companies have been willing to do.

The Mario-esque theme music behind everything on the Wii is about my only complaint. I think I’m a convert.

25 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

Whether you believe in the story of Christmas or not, consider for today the meaning of it. Why was it written? Why do we continue to tell it?

I’m thinking about three of the four words that I saw at both of the Christmas Eve services I attended this year. Love Caritas omnia vincit? No. Love doesn’t overcome my problems, but love can defang them. Peace If I can feel love, show love, do love, be love, then I can find peace even amidst strife. Hope No matter how dark the clouds may be, there’s always a silver lining. There are new beginnings. There’s a chance for me make the world a better place.

Those are the things that the birth of a child—human, divine, or both—bring to my mind today.

24 December 2008


***** IPHONE APPSTORE DEVELOPERS ***** Lots of ALL CAPS and ASTERISKS in the descriptions of your IPHONE APPS looks very ***AMATEUR***!!!!!

23 December 2008

Computers v. humans

The topic of this post is computers. For the gamers, however, can you guess why I tagged it “rpg” as well?

One of the principles I have long used to try to predict whether an application of computer technology will be successful is this: Let the computer do what the computer is good at; the people do what people are good at. The best use of computer technology is when the strengths of both the computer and the user work together, each doing the part of the solution they are best suited for. Computers should be used to help the user do what people do better than computers.

Amazon’s Mechanic Turk is a good example of this.

21 December 2008

Latest U-verse update

I’d had problem with U-verse VOIP when plugged into the POTS wiring in my house. A phone plugged directly into the U-verse gateway seemed to work fine. I figured that was just my problem.

I’d been having a lot of glitchiness with U-verse TV. It was intermittent. Then it developed this problem where on of the boxes would just stop getting video until you rebooted the box. Honestly, I suspected tech support wasn’t going to be very helpful.

Well, then I bought an on-demand movie. It wasn’t glitchy the way live (or DVR’d) TV was. This video just paused for about three seconds after playing for a second. None of the compression-artifact-like stuff. And the audio would only work if the video managed to keep from pausing for a few seconds. So, I called tech support.

I shouldn’t have waited. Once tier-one support had confirmed that I’d tried all the normal troubleshooting already, they passed me up to tier-two. Tier-two could actually look at stats from the set-top boxes and the gateway and see that there were lots of errors and where they were. They scheduled someone to come out the next day.

When the guy got here, he quickly assessed that the problems were the existing wiring in my house. Both the POTS wiring and the TV co-ax cabling had issues that were causing my problems with U-verse. He re-wired everything for me, and all seems good now.

So, two black eyes for AT&T here.

The guy who did the initial installation should have taken the time to take a closer look at the wiring in the house and fix it up. A quick installation is not a good thing if it isn’t a good installation.

Secondly, they scheduled the repair for sometime between 8am to noon. (I still don’t understand why the rest of us can schedule appointments at specific times but telephone and cable companies can’t.) The guy didn’t get here until at least 1pm. They didn’t bother to call and say he would be late.

But I was very impressed by both the telephone support people and the technician that came out. When I have actually called AT&T, they’ve gotten issues fixed. I shouldn’t have put off calling them.


The first two or three times I read Risus: The Anything RPG I fairly quickly dismissed it. Somewhere around the third or fourth reading, I decided it was The One True Role-Playing Game.

After recasting all my ideas into it and playing some of the solo adventures, my opinion cooled again. I was sure it would make a better Toon than Toon. I planned to try it for the next Toon session but probably not for anything else.

I’ve been looking at it again recently. Mainly—and this is silly—because I recently got a new printer (Andrea won custody of the old one) which will do automatic duplex (i.e. double-sided) printing. Risus was one of the first short PDFs I thought of to try out the printer with.

I remember the Risus Companion being good, but I forgot how good. I think it has a lot of it can apply to any RPG.

So, I’m determined (at the moment) to actually try running a Risus campaign. I’ve been saying that I need to just pick an existing system to run rather than trying to homebrew my own system.

13 December 2008


I had a draft post about this in relation to spells, but then I saw this ENWorld thread on magic items.

I was looking through my AD&D books tonight and noticed how versatile and multi-functional so many of the magic items were.

They were powerful, and they were odd, and fascinating, and most important of all a lot of them could do all kinds of things.

By comparison so many of the magic items of more recent editions are bland, plain, uninspired, and uninspiring. It’s like using a piece of technology from the eighties or something. The items are overly specialized, technical, usually limited to one specific function, top-heavy in design and capabilities.

Where Has All the Magic Gone?

With each edition of D&D, everything tends to become a little more systemized. Spells. Magic items. Classes. et cetera ad naseum The game is edging closer and closer to the Hero System.

Now, the Hero System is great. Mechanics and flavor nicely divorced. It is not, however, the one true system that all role-playing games should evolve towards.

No, before that

Me: What were you doing before you threw up?

Grace (6yo): Going to the restroom because I felt like I was going to throw up?

Me: But what were you doing before that?

Grace: Asking the teacher if I could go to the restroom because I felt like I was going to throw up.

Me: (>_<)!

My mom adds, “Grace answered you just the way you would answer me, so she gets it honest.”

11 December 2008


Another installment of things Robert likes that most people don’t...

I recently read one more complaint about the name of the first pedal in the collaboration between Joe Satriani and Vox: The Satchurator.

(Satriani’s nickname is “Satch”. The type of sounds the Satchurator produces are sometimes described as “saturation”. Seems like a perfect name to me.)

It’s also interesting to me that—despite all the hype about tube amp distortion being the holy grail—despite Satriani’s signature amp having two channels dedicated to tube distortion—he actually uses the solid-state Satchurator into his amp’s clean channel.

10 December 2008

Kenzer on Hackmaster Basic

Kenzer & Company sued Wizards of the Coast for not having the rights to include the Knights of the Dinner Table comics in the Dragon magazine CD-ROM archive. After the suit was settled out-of-court, Kenzer suddenly had a license to publish Hackmaster—the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons spoof in the Knights of the Dinner Table—as an actual game based on AD&D.

As licenses do, this one eventually came to an end. So now Kenzer is rewriting Hackmaster to be less derivative of AD&D. They are beginning with Hackmaster Basic. David Kenzer has been dropping some spoilers about it on the Kenzer forums.

I love this particular post.

09 December 2008

iCal duh

While talking to a new Mac user about how we both hate that the clock in the menu bar doesn’t show the date (unless you click on it), I realized something. In Leopard, they modified the iCal icon in the Dock to show the current date even when iCal isn’t running. I knew this, yet I didn’t think of looking at it when I wanted to know the date.

08 December 2008

On love

Things I think I know. Unfortunately, knowing them didn’t seem to do me much good. Maybe I understand them a little bit better know...or maybe I have no idea what I’m blathering on about. Either way, enjoy. (^_^)

Lust, infatuation, limerance: Perhaps sometimes called “falling in love”, but I think there’s a reason we have so many words besides “love” for it. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s only physical. We have little or no control over it. It just happens to us. Note that, while love is blind, infatuation is simply ignorant. It is also fleeting. It isn’t bad, but it is important to realize that it isn’t really as wonderful as it feels.

To feel loved: You feel love when other people do certain things for you. The analogy is sometimes made to deposits in a bank account or filling a tank with fuel. Enough deposits in your love account, and you feel loved. The trouble is that some acts of love may mean little or nothing to you and others everything. And it varies from person to person.

So, since this is about what other people do then—like infatuation—you have no control over it. Right?

Wrong! It may seem romantic to think that two people will find each other who naturally fill each others love tank with just the right fuel.

If you don’t know what fills your love tank... If you don’t tell your partner what fills your love task... If you hide the gauge... If you lie when asked what the gauge reads... You’re leaving feeling loved up to random chance.

To Love: Love is a verb. Love is an active verb. Love is a choice.

Can it really be put so simply as: To love is to put someone else before yourself.

Love can last, but—being an action—to make it last, you must keep doing it. You must fill the tank, and it helps to know the right fuel for the engine that tank is connected to.

So, where’s the romance in all of this?

I don’t know. I always thought of myself as a romantic. I’ve never been very good at being romantic, though.

I don’t think romance is being a slave to basic impulses. I don’t think romance is trusting to chance. I do think that to have any chance of finding true romance, I have to understand the things above.

06 December 2008

Landscape keyboard

I keep reading complaints about iPhone apps that don’t allow you to use the landscape keyboard. Am I the only one who finds the landscape keyboard harder to use?

I know it seems like the landscape keyboard should be easier to use, but—for me—not so much in practice.

05 December 2008


I really enjoyed the Sonic the Hedgehog games on the Sega Genesis. They were part of the reason I bought a Genesis. They were straightforward Mario-style platformers...on speed.

I’ve now played a Sonic game for the Xbox 360. Right off the bat, this game does not feel like a Sonic game.

In Sonic games, you start the game, and you start playing. At most, you choose a character (Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles) or load a saved game. Then you’re racing through the level.

There is a story. (e.g. Dr. Robotnik has trapped your woodland friends in badnik robots and is trying to collect the six Chaos Emeralds in order to rule South Island.) There’s just no exposition.

The 360 Sonic starts with a (much too lengthy, IMHO) exposition movie and then you...walk around a town talking to people.


This post was somewhat inspired by We can steal the term “neo-retro”; there are parallels in P-n-P gaming and console gaming.

04 December 2008

Cookie cutters

OK, it’s been a month since a role-playing game related post. Non-gamers, bail-out now.

Anyone else have fond memories of cookie cutters? There’s absolutely nothing negative about my memories of using them. They do what they are meant to. They do it well. They add to the experience of making cookies and take nothing away.

While they give you a reliable shape, they don’t limit what you can put inside. Sugar cookie, snicker-doodle, peanut butter, chocolate chip, white chocolate macadamia, oatmeal raisin, whatever. Heck, they don’t care if you’re cutting sandwiches or Jell-O jigglers.

When someone criticizes D&D classes (especially classic D&D) as being cookie-cutter, I don’t mind. Like cookie-cutters, they do what they are meant to do without limiting what I can do with them. All I have to do is accept them on their own terms.

If I expect a cookie cutter to be a piping bag, I’ll be disappointed. The strange thing is that there was a time when I expected D&D classes to be piping bags. Or...something like that.

03 December 2008


Continuing to try to catch up...

I’m thankful for:

  • My children
  • My parents
  • My sister and her family
  • My gaming group
  • Söundcheck
  • My Sunday school class
  • The Heartsong band, choir, and all my other friends at church
  • My job
  • My coworkers
  • Old friends who—even though I don’t do enough to stay in contact—are always ready to pick up right were we left off
  • My online friends—including you
  • My therapist

02 December 2008

Noisy iPhone app week

The week before Thanksgiving was “Noisy iPhone app week”. (And I haven’t gotten around to posting about it until now.)

Smule’s Ocarina is an iPhone simulation of a four-hole ocarina. I’d been reading good things about it, but when my friend Cheli sent me a link to the Stairway video, I had to try it. Smule discovered that they could detect when you blow on the iPhone’s microphone, which I think they first took advantage of this with their Sonic Lighter app. Given the five-touch limit of the iPhone screen and the typical square arrangement of holes on a four-hole ocarina, the ocarina was a good choice for a flute to simulate. Of course, the digital ocarina boasts some features unavailable on a real ocarina, such as the ability to change key and mode. Of all the musical instrument apps for the iPhone, this is the first one that’s really felt like a usable instrument rather than just a novelty. (And the app got me to buy a real ocarina.)

FourTrack by Sonoma Wire Works is a four-track recorder. A little multi-track recording studio on your phone.

I hadn’t really had much use for Google’s iPhone app. When I read that they were adding voice recognition, it just seemed kind of gimmicky. It actually works pretty well, though, and speaking your search terms can sometimes be more convenient than typing them on the on-screen keyboard. I imagine that some users will find it much more convenient than the on-screen keyboard. Check out the video demo.

I discovered Midomi long before Noisy iPhone week, but it seems like it deserves a mention too. It was one of the earliest iPhone apps I downloaded, after seeing Andrea use it. Midomi can listen to a song and identify it for you. It can listen to you sing or hum a song and identify it. It also has voice recognition—like Google’s app now has—for looking up a song or artist by name.

20 November 2008

Safari wish list

New tab toolbar button
Odd that this isn’t an option.
Copy text of link
The context menu for a hyperlink gives the option to copy the link, but not the option to copy the text. Oddly enough, choosing Copy from the Edit menu does copy the text.
“Open in...” for incomplete URLs
If you select some text that is a URL (though not a hyperlink), the context menu will have “Open in new window” and “Open in new tab” options. If it is a partial URL, however, these options aren’t given. If we’re dealing with a raw URL that isn’t a hyperlink, there’s a good chance it won’t be a complete URL either.
Search in Google in a new tab
Select some text, and the context menu will give you a “Search in Google” option. More often than not, however, I’d rather “Search in Google in new tab”.
Add RSS feeds to Google Reader
When Safari sees a page with an RSS feed, it makes it easy to subscribe to it with Safari or Apple Mail. I miss the way Firefox would add RSS feeds to Google Reader.

19 November 2008

An open letter to AT&T

1. Don’t tell me I requested something when I didn’t.

When I signed up for U-verse, this apparently required the unbundling of my mobile bill from my other AT&T bills. They didn’t tell me this. Instead, they sent me a card telling me that I’d requested it.

Note that it isn’t that the mobile bill cannot be bundled with the U-verse services. They’ve now re-bundled it for me.

1a. You should’ve told me up-front. 1b. You should have not told me I requested it when I didn’t. 1c. OK, this may sound crazy, but maybe you should just not require the unbundling in the first place.

2. If the billing address and/or account number changes...I don’t know...maybe...tell me!

Oh, and 3. Date your correspondence.

18 November 2008

How I feel

A man had held his dream job for nine years, when his boss met with him.

The boss said, “We’re going to have to let you go. You just haven’t been doing your job correctly.”

The man asked, “What have I done wrong?”

The boss replied, “A number of things, but what’s important is that it clearly isn’t working out.”

The man said, “But here are my annual performance reviews. They each say that I’m doing fine. There are none of these concerns.”

The boss said, “I know. I tried to make things work, but I can’t any longer.”

The main pleaded, “Let me know what I’ve been doing wrong, and I’ll do them right.”

The boss replied, “I’m sorry. It’s just too late for that now.”

Just to be clear: This is a metaphor. I know I wouldn’t have this problem at my current job.

16 November 2008

A threat to marriage

I see on Facebook that someone has changed their status from married to single. Someone has made a comment...


I simply cannot fathom that response.

Yes. Sometimes marriages end. Sometimes they even need to end. But is it ever a happy thing? Even if you don’t believe in marriage, surely you can understand that divorce is never pleasant.

Gay marriage isn’t a threat to the institution. If you want to find a threat to marriage how about the mindset that would respond to divorce with “Congratulations!”

09 November 2008

The next century of change

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves—if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

—President Elect Barack Hussein Obama

Extrapolating from the changes the last hundred years have brought, what might things be like at the end of the next hundred years?

Do you like what you foresee?

08 November 2008

Not filibuster-proof

This year was the first time I voted in a primary election. I’ve always considered myself an independent, so I figured the primaries were none of my business. I don’t think I’ve ever voted for a Republican for a federal office, though.

I even attended my district Democratic caucus this year.

While it may now say “Democrat” on my voter registration card, I’m glad the Dems didn’t get a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. While I’m very happy that Obama won, I can’t say I’m terribly comfortable with the Dems also having majorities in both houses of Congress.

But then, I’m weird. I think gridlock is a good thing.

07 November 2008

We’ve been ready

I suspect that Obama’s victory is a sign that we’ve been ready for a black president.

I think candidates may have not won because of racism, but I don’ think a president gets elected because they’re black. Obama won because he was the strongest candidate and racism is weak enough that it is no longer a factor.

Likewise, I think the country is clearly ready for a woman president. Clinton came close to winning the Democratic nomination, and the both parties have now had a woman as a vice-presidential candidate. We got our first black president instead of our first woman president merely because Obama was the stonger candidate; not because the country isn’t ready for a woman to be president.

06 November 2008


I don’t think it’s terribly realistic, but my suspicion is that this president will not start out being constrained by what people tell him is realistic. If he did, it wouldn’t be president now.

David Wessel

05 November 2008

A separate RPG blog?

For various reasons, I’ve choosen to keep a single blog for all my thinkings aloud. I’ve been considering starting a separate blog for my role-playing game related musings.

Any thoughts about that from my score or so readers?

When the best candidates don’t run

Four years ago, the best Democratic candidates didn’t run. Who can blame them? Why go up against an incumbent when you can just wait four years and not? Especially when there seems to be no heir apparent emerging.

I don’t like a system that discourages the opposition from putting it’s best candidate forward. I’m not sure how you could really fix that, though.

Of course, part of the problem may simply be the political climate in which a failed bid for the job effectively disqualifies you from getting your party’s nomination again.

04 November 2008


No matter what happens today, I’ll be happy.

I never cared for Bush. Not when he ran for governor. Not when he was governor. Though, he did show an ability to work with the other side that I could admire. Once he got to Washington, though...

To be honest, I agreed with Natalie Maines. I’ve been embarrassed that Bush has been our president. I’m ashamed of some of the things our country has become under his leadership.

I used to just tune out when the Republicans brought up “character”. But then they let this guy lead their party for eight years. (Bush certainly is a character, but...) I much preferred a president with Clinton’s flaws to one with Bush’s flaws. I was no big fan of his father’s, but I liked Bush senior better. I could have a modicum of respect for the guy. I’ll much prefer McCain if he should win.

Though it bothers me that Palin seems cut from the same superficial cloth as Bush.

It actually boggles my mind that McCain got the nomination. It’s almost as if Lieberman were the Democratic candidate.

Anyway...no doubt some of you reading this will not appreciate my feelings on this, but this is honestly how I feel.

Four years ago, I voted against Bush. This year, I voted for Obama. He’s the candidate whom I more agree with on the issues. He’s the candidate whom I feel is best suited for the job. Yeah, he’s a master orator, and while that can let someone without substance go farther than they would otherwise, it doesn’t mean there isn’t substance there. It feels good to vote for a presidential candidate again rather than against.

But I also agree with McCain on a lot of issues. (Senator McCain if not candidate McCain.) And I think both candidate’s score better than the current office holder by at least an order of magnitude on the Republican “character” criterion.

Semi-generic RPGs

Only the oldest games—Traveller, D&D—get away with the sloppy design of having rules that are kinda generic but really are spiked with loads of setting assumptions that you’d have to go clean out to really use them as a generic ruleset.


I think one of the real stregths of classic Traveller (following the lead of D&D) is that it has an implied setting. Yet, it doesn’t detail the setting. The setting is only implied.

There’s a lot to be said for the implied setting approach. It is quick to get into. The implied setting has already filled in enough blanks to get things rolling. Not too many, however, that would slow down getting started. It still leaves a fair amount of room for the group to really make the setting their own.

Classic Traveller (perhaps even more than D&D) also provided tools to aid in fleshing out the group’s unique version of the implicit setting. Those tools being presented as random generators gave us the flexibility to either randomly generate things or just make choices.

I’m glad there are games that strive to be more generic. I’m glad that there are games that are strongly tied to a specific setting. I enjoy games from both of those approaches. I’m very glad, however, that there are still games—like Mongoose’s incarnation of Traveller—that take a more moderate approach.

Look, no fault of Traveller's initial design, it's fine for the 1970s when people didn't know any better.

This is not sloppy. This is not ignorance. This is a very strong, middle-of-the-road approach. Moreover, I think such a middle-of-the-road approach is especially suited to newcomers to the hobby.

On mxyzplk’s criticism that Traveller never presents a main Imperium setting book: I don’t really know any of the editions except classic well enough to confirm or deny that charge. I can think of some arguments against it. Yet, I think it has merit. Even with such a book, however, I think having the implied setting in the main rules fits what Traveller was meant to be.

03 November 2008

Equal time

Why I Support Barack Obama by Tim O'Reilly

This is from the primary: 20 minutes or so on why I am 4Barack by Lawrence Lessig

(Not really equal)

Should you consider the campaign?

But the failures of the campaign are reasons to punish the campaign managers, not the country.

David Frum

Shouldn’t the candidate also be held responsible for the failures of the campaign?

While I have liked Senator McCain, I haven’t been too fond of candidate McCain or his campaign. Likewise with Mrs. Clinton, if not moreso.

19 October 2008

What I want from Hasbro

Jeff wants the original D&D box set or one of the Basic Sets in their vintage wood box line.

Which is a great idea. I’ve long been saying that the old game deserves to live on the shelves alongside other classic games.

Whatever you think of the D&D/AD&D split, there’s no doubt that the old Basic Sets sold well. There’s no doubt that a great many AD&D players got their start in the hobby with one of the old Basic Sets. There’s no doubt that an old Basic Set is even more of a different game than the current edition of D&D than it was a different game than AD&D.

Some may doubt that the old game is still as much fun today as it was then, but I’m not the only one who will vouch for that fact.

And let’s not forget that Wizards approved miniature (but complete) reprints of the Basic and Expert sets. They approved selling of PDFs of the classic products. Hackmaster and a “current edition” did coëxist in the market. The idea isn’t without some precedence.

I’d love to see the 1981 Basic and Expert sets reprinted verbatim, but if I’m dreaming...

I’d like to see the Basic and Expert books edited into a single product. With commentary by me to try to head-off some of the misconceptions that I had.

What might the actual products look like?

  • A boxed set
    • 4 player booklets
    • A DM booklet
    • B2
    • Dice
  • Free PDF of the player booklet online
  • A companion box set (not more levels, but more spells, monsters, treasures, optional subsystems, &c.)

Maybe? I don’t know.

Of course, D&D is just the tip of the iceberg if we’re going to talk things I want from Hasbro. About Avalon Hill...

18 October 2008

Tool tips

Tool tips are insidious. We’ve somehow designed them so that they never appear when you try to summon them, but they won’t go away when they’re in your way.

17 October 2008

3 levels of complexity in RPGs

Let me start out by saying I think there are problems with the following, but here it goes anyway.

Let me posit three levels of complexity in rules for role-playing games.

Low complexity The outcome depends mainly on the judge who must provide ad hoc modifiers, interpret outcomes, and make rulings. (Call it “fiat” if you wish.)

Moderate complexity The outcome depends mainly on character stats and die rolls.

High complexity The outcome depends mainly upon the player having a thorough understanding of the rules.

16 October 2008


I look around my house. Now just my house—in practice if not yet legally. It feels so different. I’m still happy with it. It just feels—diminished.

I’m diminished.

No matter how much happiness the future brings, my little family will now always be broken. My kids’ mom will never again be my wife. We’ll glue things together however we can make them fit. I suppose we’ll all come out of it stronger.

It’s like...I don’t think I’ll ever be as proud of anything I accomplish as I was of the things that Andrea and I accomplished together. Providing my kids a home is not that same as providing our kids a home. I can see a bright future, but it isn’t as bright.

Which is a foolish thing to be mourning. Life’s been good to me so far. There are people in this world who would gladly trade their troubles for mine.

15 October 2008

Transistor radio→Walkman→iPod

“The iPod has sort of lived a long life at number one,” he says. “Things like, that if you look back to transistor radios and Walkmans, they kind of die out after a while.”

Steve Wozniak

But there was little incentive in buying a next-generation transistor radio or Walkman. An iPod with a bigger, cheaper hard-drive is worth the upgrade. I think the iPod has the potential for a much longer run.

14 October 2008

What every company should know about the web, part 3

Look at your web site’s reports and you’ll see that most visits are from people using Microsoft Internet Explorer on Microsoft Windows with Adobe Flash installed.

What about the customer using their Blackberry hoping to find your closest location because they are out-and-about and they want to buy something from you right now? What about the customer using their iPhone who wants to check your menu so they can decide whether to come to your restaurant or your competitor? What about the search engine that may bring you leads who would not have found you otherwise? What about the handicapped customer...?

No matter how good that Flash animation looks, it isn’t doing you any good if potential customers can’t find the information they’ve come looking for. (Flash is, of course, only an example. Substitute whatever flashy technology you want.)

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the animation. Just that it shouldn’t be a obstacle between potential customers and the answers they’ve come to your site seeking.

To put it simply: If you’re restaurant’s web site requires Flash to give me any information, then when I am using my iPhone to help me decide where to eat, you’ve lost my business.

If Flash was used merely to enhance your site for those visitors whose browser supports it, then you would’ve had a shot.

13 October 2008

Grimm Studios’ podcast

Two things that stuck out for me from the Grimm Studios’ GM Sessions 2 podcast:

  • Story is a goal, not a ingredient
  • A character is a player’s vehicle

12 October 2008

What every company should know about the web, part 2

The web is a medium in which your customer comes to you. If the customer is coming to you, they are already interested in your company or product. They come because they have a question about you or your product.

The web is a medium in which there is virtually no limit to the depth of information you can supply. You know those technical little details about your product that you’re so proud of? The ones that they told you you couldn’t put in your ads? On the web, customers can drill down through layers of information to find the details that they care about—and that you’ve been dying to share with them.

If those customers, however, come to you web site and find no more information than an ad designed for another medium, your web site has failed.

Go ahead. Put all that information you’d like to share with customers on your web site. The challenge is no longer to distill your message for a limited medium and a general audience. The challenge is merely to organize it well.

11 October 2008

D&D 4e—rhetorical questions

Would I like Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons “fourth edition” better if...

...there were more utility powers and rituals and fewer combat powers?

...utility powers and combat powers weren’t “silo’d” so that I could choose the mix of them that I want?

...if PC’s had access to all the powers of their class and level?

10 October 2008

What every company should know about the web

When a customer comes to your web site, they are coming to find out something about your company or your product. If they fail to find that information—whether because you didn’t put it on your web site or because you’ve put barriers in front of it—your web site has failed.

09 October 2008

Character building

I’d generally rather play a twerp I diced up than an ubermensch I had to buy with points.

Jeff’s Gameblog: Fantasy in Drag

When I stopped playing AD&D, I started playing GURPS. How great it seemed to be able to build exactly the character I wanted. Yet, the biggest concern in my group was ensuring your character wouldn’t “step on the toes” of another PC. In essence, we spent a lot of time building exactly the sort of niches that AD&D classes handed us preformed.

Oh, that is an oversimplification. There was more to building our GURPS characters than reinventing the AD&D wheels. Yet, after I had a few GURPS PCs, there tended to be a lot of similarities between them.

When I first started playing Wizard’s D&D “third edition”, I loved the fact that rather than limitations or restrictions, it usually gave trade-offs instead. In practice, though, it often amounted to the same thing. Having a choice between two very unequal choices isn’t really much of a choice. Despite the many more choices (versus AD&D), I don’t know that the number of suboptimal choices that I found enjoyable was much greater.

With all the prerequisites and such... Well, there are a few specific Fighter builds that the rules encourage. The archer, the power fighter, the finesse fighter, the mounted fighter. Sometimes I think they should’ve just included more classes rather than make us sift through the specifics of the rules and discover them.

And the designers tried very hard to balance these different builds against one another so that—at least in some sense—it didn’t matter which build you chose. In fact, the options often seem so well balanced to me that I’ll end up using dice to make choices when building 3e PCs.

(I’m intentionally not even touching on what supplements add to the equation, because I’m usually don’t use supplements.)

Ironically, so often when creating a character in a system that seems to promise building whatever character I want, I instead feel like the system is keeping me from building the character I want.

Now, this isn’t meant as a criticism of GURPS or 3e. I enjoy both games, and they have good points that aren’t salient to what I’m trying to get at here.

And what I’m trying to get at is... Why did I enjoy all my AD&D Fighters so much—and felt no two were the same—despite the fact they were all mechanically identical?

I think it is because the things that make a character interesting to me are not mechanical. Adding mechanics for building characters can please the rule mechanic in me, but that is fleeting. In the long run, no mechanic is going to really make much of a difference in how I feel about the character or how much I enjoy playing it.

08 October 2008

Communicating expectations

One of my repeated memories from my childhood is how angry I’d get when my mom would ask me to do something moments before I was about to do it. I’d so much wanted to do whatever-it-was without being asked to, and suddenly I didn’t want to do it at all.

It’s so strange how sometimes someone telling me to do something makes me not want to do it. Likewise, it’s strange how it’s so hard sometimes for me to tell others what I want.

I clearly remember realizing during that first year of marriage how silly this was. At best it was childish; at worst, irrational. I should be happy when someone I love tells me what makes them happy. And how can I expect to get what I want if I’m not willing to ask for it?

Well, knowing and doing are two different things.

On the first score, I think I’ve actually done pretty well in my life thus far. I’m usually happy when people tell me what they expect of me.

(Incidentally, this the the best management advice I’ve ever gotten: The most important thing to do as manager is to let your employees know exactly what is expected of them.)

On the second score, I’ve never done as well. My inferiority complex has always led me to just “deal” whenever my own needs, wants, or expectations aren’t met. Instead, I just try to fill them myself whenever I can.

07 October 2008

D&D tournaments

I’m probably really out on a limb here because I haven’t played in a tournament, but here goes some thinking out loud anyway.

Quotes come from James Maliszewski’s interview with Tim Kask

We also had other concerns, chief of which was how to conduct fair tournaments. Before the term came into vogue, we were marketing TSR virally; I was a perfect example. I played the game at a con, bought one and took it back to my group and infected them.

(1) Conventional play was a good way to market the game. (2) Tournaments were a good way to market convention play.

As the nature of the game dictated, it was meant to be only loosely bound by the rules as printed; they were originally meant as suggestions and guidelines. Finding 30 DMs to run a tourney for us was a big task in and of itself; finding 30 that played the game the same was impossible as each one ran his own campaigns as he saw fit.

(3) Tournaments required minimizing one of the strengths of the game. (4) It seems to me that marketing that minimizes one of the product’s strength is maybe not the best idea. (5) Furthermore, the adventures created for tournaments were often published as modules, but they were often not good models for non-tournament play.

Later tournaments had the participants vote on which of them had played their role best. This minimizes the need for standardized rules, but it also emphasized one aspect of the game over others.

06 October 2008

To boldly — what no one has —’d before

When Dungeons & Dragons was published, it included a full range of monsters and treasures. This gave referees both sufficient things that could be used out-of-the-box and lots of of inspiration.

But they also became—to an extent—canonical. We tend to assume that the bulk of these things exist in every DM’s milieu and that the bulk of them are as described in the book.

As new editions were published, each sought to round out those lists even further. And the canon grew. While there is always room for our own creations, adding them to the already crowded lists...

Imagine what it was like for players in Dave’s Blackmoor campaign or Gary’s Greyhawk campaign, to encounter these things for the first time not in books, but in game.

Perhaps we should strive to use nigh none of this stuff exactly as published in our own campaigns.

Is this at odds with my “let D&D be D&D” principle? I thought so, but I’m re-thinking that.

05 October 2008

Public education

I think there are two main things we should do in this country to improve public education.

1. Stop micro-managing our teachers and administrators. Let these people do the jobs we hired them for. The jobs they trained for. In particular—to give just one important example—let them pick their own text books.

2. Figure out how to get more of the money we spend on education into teacher salaries. Pooring more money into the system isn’t an answer to anything until we figure out how to better use what we already spend. If we are going to let the teachers do their jobs, we need to retain the good ones, recruit more good ones, and give them the incentives to do their best.

Incidentally, I’m not a fan of school choice. The best schools can’t take everyone. (Even if they did, that would just mean they wouldn’t remain the best as they got overloaded and stretched too thin.) The other schools will still be full, but it will be full of the kids who lost the voucher lottery instead of the geography lottery. We need to improve the whole system rather than trying to come up with a silver bullet.

04 October 2008


Is it wrong that I keep imagining an Octa-switch with a bunch of amPlugs?

Let’s see...an AC-30 set to a clean setting, an AC-30 with a dirty setting, one Classic Rock, one Metal, & one Lead? Octa-switch is perhaps overkill for this task.

03 October 2008

Per X abilities

I promised some good points about Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons “fourth edition”.

I like the basic idea of at-will, per-encounter, and per-day abilities.

I’ve written before about the fact that per-X abilities can simply and abstractly simulate the fact that some abilities or “special moves” require specific circumstances. If you don’t like simple and abstract, then that’s bad. But I currently prefer simple and abstract.

Another good thing about many 4e abilities is that they have an alternate effect even when the player fails the die roll. ExploderWizard on ENWorld suggested that all per-X abilities should either work automatically (without a die roll) or an alternate effect if the roll fails. I definitely like that idea.

I think there should also be a general rule for getting to re-use a per-X ability. Like spending some sort of “meta-point”. 4e has some specific rules for this but not a general one.

P.S. Another thing about per-X abilities is that when abilities aren’t perfectly balanced (always the case, but can differ based on circumstance) one doesn’t get repeatedly used to the exclusion of the others.

02 October 2008

Mac vs. PC ads

The bad thing about Apple’s commercials: They often choose a topic where the Mac isn’t as strong against the PC or which are borderline misleading.

The bad thing about Microsoft’s ads: They are all about image with no substance. Not even weak or misleading substance.

01 October 2008


...or It’s not that easy being—ew!

Wake up. Walk into bathroom. Lift the lid on the toilet.

Long ago I got in the habit of not only putting the seat down but the lid as well. Not out of any attempt at domestic peace. Mainly from—at the time—having a small bathroom with the toilet right next to the sink and not wanting anything to accidently fall in there.

Lift the lid on the toilet. Staring up at me is a frog—or maybe a toad, I don’t take the time to access—the size of my fist.

Close the lid.

I flush several times and peek. Gone. Still, I leave the house with a heavy weight on the lids of both toilets.

Come home from work. Peek.

It’s back.

What do I do? What do I do?

I check the clean-out outside. The lid is on.

What do I do? What do I do?

I’ll just go ahead and get it out.

There I am with a bucket with a tight fitting lid, a plunger, and a broom. I open the lid.

It seems I have an irrational fear of hopping amphibians that come out of the sewer.

I put the weights back on the toilets and wait until morning.

“How may we help you?”

“I have a frog in my toilet.”

“Please hold on a minute. I’ll have to check about that as I haven’t heard of it before.”


“Sir, I’m sorry. We don’t handle amphibians.”

“Can you recommend somebody?”

“Let me check with my supervisor.”


“No, sir. I’m sorry.”

Maybe you should call yourselves, “a-few-very-specific-types-of-pest control”.

The conversation with the plumber was shorter. And very amusing. For him. I stressed that my biggest concern was to ensure that no other animals would be coming in this way. He said there was nothing he could do.

The rest of the calls were no more helpful.

So, after a trip to the drug store for some latex gloves, I finally did it. The frog—or toad—is out of the house.

But now I’m going to be even more sure to keep the lids closed.

the photographic evidence

$ coins

Despite past failures, the US mint is trying once again to promote a $1 coin.

Austin in golden

I have to wonder how they measure success or failure.

If they consider success people using dollar coins exactly the way they use dollar bills, I don’t think that makes any sense. People aren’t going to use dollar coins like dollar bills anymore than they use quarters as they use dollar bills. Coins and bills are different, and thus will be used differently.

Which is all moot anyway. Dollar coins don’t need marketing campaigns. If the treasury wants people to use dollar coins instead of dollar bills, all they need to do is stop printing dollar bills.

Of course, some people are against that. Though, they failed to get their legislation passed. Even still, the treasury could only print a token number of dollar bills.

30 September 2008


If you occasionally enjoy reading comic books and are even further out-of-the-loop than I am, the following contains spoilers for The Death of Captain America.

Let me get this straight.

Captain America’s sidekick, Bucky... One of the few comic book characters that had managed to stay dead... Who’d become a symbol of a character who stayed dead... Whose death served a major role in Captain America’s character... Whose death served as a reason why Marvel heroes don’t have kid sidekicks...

Is back from the dead.


Cap dies and the retcon’d back to life Bucky becomes the new Cap.

My head hurts. I’m going to have a little lie down now.

29 September 2008

More of the same

If it’s more of the same on both sides, I’d rather have more of the Clinton years than more of the Bush years.

PS2 progressive scan & DVDs

In the Playstation 2 as DVD player saga, there was one tricky bit. To enable 16:9 and progressive scan, you have to start a DVD, hit “stop” twice, and then go to the settings menu. If you don’t hit stop twice, the 16:9 and progressive scan options won’t even show up.

And I believe this is only available on the newer, smaller PS2s.

The good news is that Sony actually has a knowledge base article on this on the PS2 support web site.

28 September 2008

Presidential debate 08 impressions

Jim! You’re a moderator, not a therapist!

It seems kind of ironic how McCain keeps emphasizing how he’s worked on these things his whole career and still hasn’t made progress on them.

Barack, we need to invest in education beyond science and technology. We may need to improve, but we need to be more well-rounded too.

McCain, the guy who has been signing all those spending bills is your president.

We had a surplus under a Democratic president, a Republican president who never saw a spending bill he didn’t like, and a Republican presidential candidate complaining about greed on Wall Street. O_O

Hmm. McCain has been to all these foreign countries, yet he still has shown very poor judgement about them.


When my wife and I bought our first Playstation 2, it was also our first DVD player. Using the game controller as a DVD remote wasn’t so great. Some companies made remotes that came with a sensor you plugged into the controller jack. That didn’t prove much better.

Soon enough, we had a regular DVD player. Besides, we wanted a “progressive scan” model to take advantage of the HDTV we’d bought. We didn’t have any HD programming yet, but we had plenty of DVDs.

Eventually, some Playstation 2 games featured progressive scan mode as well. With “component video cables”, we could also use our TV’s extra resolution with those games.

When the U-Verse box was being installed, I realized the DVD player and Playstation 2 had claimed both component inputs on the TV. To get HD from U-Verse, it needed to be connection via component cables too. (My TV is pre-HDI.)

Not too long ago, our Playstation 2 gave up the ghost. So, we upgraded to one of the new thinline models. Turns out the new Playstation will play DVDs in progressive scan mode. It also has a built-in remote-control sensor.

The U-Verse box (like most cable and satellite boxes) comes with a remote you can program to control TVs, DVD players, and other components. Sure enough, the first code for Sony DVD players worked with the Playstation.

So, much happiness. It seems the Playstation can pull double-duty as a decent DVD player. Freeing up the component inputs the DVD player was using for the U-Verse.

27 September 2008

U-Verse first impressions

AT&T U-Verse brings what they always told us fiber optic cables would. A single data connection goes into a U-Verse “gateway”. Out of the gateway comes telephone, video, and Internet.

The U-Verse digital telephone is VOIP, but the gateway provides POTS. It’s hooked directly into the existing wiring in the house, so—to my phones—nothing has changed. AT&T even installs a UPS for the gateway so that your phone will still work if there’s a power outage. Perhaps the best part of the U-Verse phone service is that you can check your voice-mail online. Does this mean iPhone-esque visual voice-mail for my home phone? We’ll see. I haven’t gotten a message yet.

The U-Verse video also hooked directly into my house’s existing video cable. It’s a digital signal—not straight video—over the coax, so you need a set-top box for each TV. The living room box includes a DVR. Both boxes support HD. You can’t currently watch recorded shows from the non-DVR box, but the tech that installed it tells me they’re currently testing that capability. So far, it’s at least comparable to Dish Network. I don’t think we lost any channels, and we did gain a few that I wanted. With the Dish DVR, we could only record two programs at once (and it mattered which TV you set up the recording from). With U-Verse, we can record up to four shows simultaneously. Perhaps the best part is that you can search for programs and manage recording online.

From a user interface perspective, the video service is as good as any other service I’ve used. Looks really good, though. Very slick.

The Internet service is pretty straightforward. The gateway acts as a router (NAT) and Wi-Fi access point. I turned off the Wi-Fi since I have a Time Capsule. Currently, both the U-Verse gateway and the Time Capsule are doing NAT. I’ll probably disable NAT on the Time Capsule.

Of course, bundling all these services has cons as well as pros. A single-point of failure for multiple services being the most obvious disadvantage.

I have to say, the guy who did the installation was knowledgeable and efficient. I was lucky that I didn’t have any problems with signal strength or needing additional wiring or anything, but I’m sure this guy would’ve handled any challenges as well as could be done.

So, those are my first impressions. Anyone who’s interested in my impressions after I’ve lived with it for a bit, give me a poke when your ready for a follow-up, and I’ll try to oblige.

14 September 2008


4e sort of feels like a McD&D to me.


13 September 2008

World record guitar speed 2008

A YouTube video of Tiago Della Vega setting the world record guitar speed (2008)

Just let it finish loading and skip straight to 7:39 for the fastest run.

Is there any point to playing this fast? Musically, not much. Being able to play faster than you need to, however, means you’re not struggling when playing as fast as you do need to. That means you can devote energy to how you play the notes, not just getting them played in time.

So, while I’m not a huge fan of shredding for the sake of shredding, I don’t think it is completely pointless.

12 September 2008


If I was a McCain supporter...and there was a time when I was a potential McCain supported...I’d be very put out.

  1. Abandons many of his principles to run towards Bush
  2. Tries to call this staying the course position “change”
  3. Hammers the (nonsense) experience angle
  4. Picks a running mate as vulnerable to the experience argument as anyone
  5. The “claim to change” which that running mate trots out is misleading at best

Oddly enough, this all seems to be working short term. I like to believe this is sealing his doom long term, but Bush got elected...twice!

It’s fun when you search a list of Bush quotes for “logic” and it says “not found”.

11 September 2008

Bored with science

One of the reasons kids get bored by science is that too many teachers present it as a fusty collection of facts for memorization. This is precisely wrong. Science isn’t about facts. It’s about the quest for facts—the scientific method, the process by which we hash through confusing thickets of ignorance.

Clive Thompson

I think my teachers did a pretty good job here, but I think that more often we could have done the same experiments that shaped and supported theories.

02 September 2008

A d20 game with two classes

I’ve been toying with this idea on-and-off. (No doubt somebody has already done something like this.)

Take the generic classes from the (3.5e) UA. Drop the Expert. Bump the skill points of the Warrior and Spellcaster classes to what the Expert got.

Perhaps create a third class—I’ll call in Munchkin in lieu of a better name—which would be a Warrior/Spellcaster built using the fractional base bonuses (UA p. 73).

On the other hand, you could just use the straight multiclass rules. Maybe—at the least—create one-level class similar to the appentice level rules to allow a PC to be a Warrior/Spellcaster at first level.

Generic Spellcasters get access to all the cleric, druid, and wizard spells. While, in this system, I wouldn’t make the normal divine/arcane distinction, I have thought of making a different distinction. Spells from the wizard spell lists might be difficult to acquire and might come with an additional cost.

Other UA rules I’d consider using:

01 September 2008


My wife of nine years, Andrea, moved out this weekend. It’s officially a separation, but she’s made it pretty clear our marriage is over.

Let the record show, I love her and always have. I still remember the day we met. I was always faithful. I tried to always put her first. I wanted to grow old with her. I promised “until death do us part” and I was committed to that. Not because I promised, but because I loved her enough to promise her that.

Since I learned that she was unhappy around the first of the year, I’ve learned a lot of mistakes that I made. Given my limited experience and what I knew, I think I did my best. Perhaps not.

Once I did know that she was unhappy, I certainly did my best to save the marriage. We found no differences that I believe were irreconcilable. But, as our marriage counselor was wont to say, it takes two yeses but only one no. My best wasn’t good enough.

I know I’ll survive. I know I’ll move on. I expect I’ll love again. I know I have friends and family who love me.

But right now, none of that matters, because my heart is broken. I failed in the one thing I wanted to do in life: Make Andrea happy. I failed to give my children a happy, whole home.

Edit: There is now a follow-up.

29 August 2008

Albert Collins Telecaster

Another Telecaster with the same S-H (single-coil/humbucker) configuration as Trixie: Fender Custom Artist Series Albert Collins Tribute Telecaster

D&D 4th edition, second impressions

I know I promised to post about things I liked about 4e, but I’ve got some more dislikes first.

Second wind My general philosophy is that players don’t need to know the rules. They just tell the DM what they want their character to do, and it’s up to the DM to translate that into mechanics and then translate the results back into plain terms. This is an ideal that we perhaps can’t actually fully make it to, but I’d rather move towards it rather than away.

Second wind is not an action a player would ever think of his character wanting to take unless the player knew about the rule. Well, maybe. “I spend this turn catching my breath.” But you get the point, right?

Healing surges These seem like a completely unnecessary extra layer of abstraction on top of hit points.

The 15 minute adventuring day One of the things 4e sought to fix was that adventuring parties would often stop to take a full 8-hour rest and replenish “per day” resources. This didn’t seem to work, since our party did the same thing.

Too many subsystems? Powers, feats, skills, and rituals. Does the system really need and make the most of these subsystems? Feats in particular seem a bit redundant now that there are powers.

Unreliable magic One of the things I really liked about D&D is that magic spells tend to just work. Yeah, if a spell is cast on a creature, it might get a saving throw or magic resistance. And yeah, more and more spells that didn’t allow saving throws would in a new edition. Now, however, most spells are essentially attack rolls. I didn’t like having to roll to cast spells in any of the non-D&D RPGs I’ve played. I don’t like doing it in 4e either.

28 August 2008

Parent survey

What frustrates your child?

I’m not sure, but what frustrates me is these questionnaires full of questions I don’t know how to answer that his teachers alway send home.

22 August 2008

A guitar amp idea

I imagine: A guitar combo amp with an embedded computer that can run an embedded version of ReValver. It can drive a second cabinet (for stereo) and has stereo line-outs. It’ll need a bank of foot-switches to switch pre-sets and enable/disable individual effects.

At first I was going to say that it and the extension cabinet should each have a single 12” speaker. Since ReValver does speaker simulation, however, we want high-fidelity speakers rather than typical guitar amp speakers.

Of course, you’d use a desktop/laptop with ReValver to create pre-sets to load into the amp.

And while I’m dreaming, let’s include a compartment in the amp that the foot-switch and it’s cable can be stowed in. And a place to stow the power cord.

A huge amount of tone flexibility in an easy-to-tote package. Suitable for practice, recording, and just about any gig.

You can get pretty close to this today, but not quite.

Vaguely related, the OpenStomp project is interesting.

Yeah, yeah. All you need is a good tube amp. I can enjoy that, but I could also enjoy this.

20 August 2008

RPG development and releases

So, with D&D “fourth edition”, Wizards is planning on putting out a new Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, and Monster Manual each year. These will be expansions rather than replacements. They’re considering them, however, “core” rather than supplements.

The distinction is a bit subtle. They typically avoid using a lot of stuff from supplements in adventures, preferring to stick to the core rules. Also, calling these expansions “core” make it easier for them to choose to delay certain things—e.g. gnomes, half-orcs, and druids—that they would normally consider something that should be “core”.

As I said, the distinction is subtle.

I actually think, to some extent, this isn’t a bad idea. It is quite a task to develop a game as involved and with the scope of Wizards’ brand of D&D. It seems daunting and risky to try to fully develop and playtest it before releasing anything.

They did test some parts of “fourth edition” as “third edition” supplements and in the Saga edition of their Star Wars RPG. But I’ll put that aside for now.

I think, however, that I'd go a more classic D&D BECMI→RC path.

The quick explanation: Classic D&D was released in a series of boxed sets: Beginner, Expert, Companion, Master, & Immortal. These were later compiled into a single Rules Cyclopedia.

The first year books would’ve been the Heroic PHB, Heroic DMG, and Heroic MM. They would cover only levels 1–10. (Which “fourth edition” calls the “heroic tier”.) In exchange, they would’ve covered more classes and races.

The second year would see the Paragon versions of the three core books. The third year, the Epic versions.

Then, once the game is fully developed, the fourth year would see all three tiers compiled into the Complete PHB, Complete DMG, & Complete MM triple along with errata and any other fixes that developed over the years.

I think it would be easier to develop and test more classes/races over a single tier than fewer classes/races over all three tiers.

19 August 2008

You can be anything

In the comments to Steve Yegge’s post on Business Requirements, entaroadun asked...

The problem with everyone eating their own dogfood is that there will always be some class of people with product needs that cannot make dogfood.

I’m not so sure. I think most of us are much more capable than we give ourselves credit for. If another person can do it, there’s a good chance you can too.

Obviously there are some extraordinary people that can do things very few others can, but that’s where the “good chance” comes in. Most of the things people do are things that most other people can do.

Which works the other way too. This isn’t a “problem” because the “some class” of people who can’t do what most other people can do are on the opposite side of the bell-curve from those extraordinaries.

Besides, people seldom accomplish things alone. You don’t have to be entirely capable of making dogfood in order to make dogfood. You can get help.

18 August 2008

Yegge on Business Requirements

The easiest way to build a product that kicks ass is to start with someone else’s great idea (camcorders, for instance), and take stuff away.

Don’t gather business requirements: hire domain experts.

Steve Yegge

I found it a good—if verbose—read.

17 August 2008

Schools of RPGs, follow-up

I’m not sure about The Fantasy Trip, Chivarly & Sorcery, or Runequest. Which probably has to do with the fact that I never played them.

Trying to be uncharacteristically inclusive, I’d put computer RPGs into the engineer school, as an extreme example of it. LARP? I don’t know.

Schools of RPGs

Don’t take the names too seriously. Probably not really useful at all. Just a thought...out loud. Not really very developed.

Old school: It’s a mostly free-form game with some simple, abstract rules for whatever we think it would be fun to have rules for.

New school: It’s about the world, PC backgrounds, and story. We need rules for things other than combat and magic.

Deconstructionist school: Let’s deconstruct the hobby and rebuild it in other interesting ways. We take the free-form elements from the old school, the world/background/story focus from the new school, and make any rules even simpler and more abstract.

Forum school: Forget the rules and dice. We’re going 100% free-form.

Engineer school: Let’s try to make the rules to cover everything. Which we think is rejecting new school and harkening back to old school.

16 August 2008

Look and feel

NPR Morning Edition: “Facebook Faceoff: German Rival Gets Poked

Facebook is suing a German site for copying Facebook’s “look and feel”.

Falzone says the line between an innovation and a copy can be blurry. But he also says that it’s important to remember that intellectual property rights are there to protect innovation.

OK. I’m with you. I don’t necessarily agree, but I understand the point.

“That’s essential to healthy competition,” Falzone said, “because it lets the person who executes the idea best win in the marketplace—and that protects a healthy, competitive marketplace.”




If you want it to be about who executes the idea best, then you don’t want intellectual property rights getting in the way of competition. Intellectual property rights are asserted to try to prevent competition from executing the idea so that you don’t have to worry about competing on execution.

Even though the “look and feel” term was popularized by Apple’s suit against Microsoft, Apple isn’t still around and doing well because they won that suit. (There was never a ruling.) It’s because of how Apple executed their ideas.

And just think of where they’d be if executed better and not made some of the big mistakes that really set them back.

“It’s not easy to do a copycat” site, Hochmuth said. “It may look like an easy thing to do, but actually growing such a copycat is just as hard as building a company that’s otherwise your own original idea.”


Yeah, the Apple engineers saw Xerox’s technology, but they had to figure out how to actually build it, make it affordable, and make it truly practical for consumers. If you think that’s easy, take a moment and give it a try.

Microsoft (as I understand it) had more access to Apple’s actual technology than Apple had to Xerox’s, but they still rebuilt it. They executed it well enough to keep Apple from taking over the market, though not well enough to make Apple superfluous.

Apple’s darkest days were when even Microsoft was executing on fundamental operating system features than Apple was.

Facebook should know that a “look and feel” lawsuit is just a waste of resources. Resources that should be concentrated on executing better than the competition.

15 August 2008

Alternate olympics

Every Olympics, I think about some of the things I’d like to see in a similar event.

  • No sports that involve a panel of judges choosing scores
  • No sports that require gear
  • Any victory by a margin less than human reaction time is considered a tie
  • No anti-doping rules

14 August 2008

Science versus religion, part 2

In response to this post, Anonymous wrote:

I guess if you want your science without objectivity, a little faith thrown in is fine.

What if I just want to look to science for answers to the questions it can answer while looking to faith when considering the issues it addresses?

When there is a conflict between science and faith, it is because somebody has misunderstood one or both of them.

Sadly, some scientists manage to misunderstand science, and some clerics manage to misunderstand faith.

If you think a scientific conclusion conflicts with your religion, you’ve missed the point of religion.

Not that that means the scientific conclusion is always right. Science is imperfect. Most of the time, there’s more to the story yet to be discovered. Sometimes, we just get it plain wrong. Religion, however, doesn’t really care about the issues science addresses.

If you expect science to provide meaning, you’ll be disappointed.


There’s this cool software called ReValver that emulates guitar gear. Amps, effects, and speakers.

There’s other software that does the same thing. In fact, Garage Band even has some of this stuff built in. My Digitech RP350 is basically the same thing in a stomp-box appliance, though less flexible.

The really cool thing about ReValver is that it actually simulates individual circuit components, so you can even play with modifying an amp. Or even virtually build your own.

Of course, these emulations aren’t quite as good as the real thing, but they’re coming pretty close. They allow you to play with decent facsimiles of a lot of gear that would cost a whole lot of money. It makes experimenting with that gear to find unique sounds cheaper, easier, and safer.

In fact, it’s making me want to buy a real tube amp (or three) more than anything else ever has. When I do, the lessons I’ve learned from these emulations will help inform my choices.

Which seems exactly the opposite of how Ig sees it.

13 August 2008

Science versus religion

The other day I heard this NPR story.

I’m so sick of this attitude that science and religion are mutually exclusive.

12 August 2008


This graph of one trillion URLs is similar to a map made up of one trillion intersections. So multiple times every day, we do the computational equivalent of fully exploring every intersection of every road in the United States. Except it'd be a map about 50,000 times as big as the U.S., with 50,000 times as many roads and intersections.

As you can see, our distributed infrastructure allows applications to efficiently traverse a link graph with many trillions of connections, or quickly sort petabytes of data, just to prepare to answer the most important question: your next Google search.

All this technology has been brought to bear so we can find information about these things.

And it all seems to be funded by little, unobtrusive text ads.

11 August 2008

D&D 3.5 = Linux

Now, I haven’t seen a lot of other systems, but from what I have seen, I suspect this problem looks worse than it really is. We started with D&D 3.5 and a lot of splats. Since it’s the only game we know, there’s an assumption that any system we replace it with would be similarly complex, and require a similar ramp-up time. My brief survey of alternative systems indicates that this isn’t so—but we have no way to know that. It’s as though we all started on Linux, so we naturally assume any system we switch to will have a similarly painful learning curve. Because, well, that’s all we know about computers.


Olympic pronunciation trivia

The J in “Beijing” is actually pronounced more like the normal English pronunciation of J rather than “zh”. Not that it matters.

10 August 2008

D&D 4th edition, 1st impressions

Played in my first Dungeons & Dragons “fourth edition” session Saturday.

“Blasting people with magical energy”

My first level Wizard, Tothamon, can launch silvery bolts of force, engulf his foes in a column of flames, and create a whip-crack of sonic power that lashes up from the ground. He can do one of these things every six seconds. Once an encounter, he can hurl an force-grenade.

Note that my other choices for these four powers were pretty much the same sort of things. This is exactly what I was afraid Andy Collin’s statement—“Being a wizard is about blasting people with magical energy”—meant.

He can cast a sleep spell once a day, and he has some nifty minor (non-combat) cantrips, and he has a couple of (non-combat) ritual spells. But he doesn’t get any “utility” spells until second level!

This is not what I think of when I think “wizard”. This is not what I think of when I think “D&D magic-user”. You cannot create a wizard by these rules who doesn’t have at least three “blasty” powers at first level.

That’s fine. I’ll enjoy it. “When in Rome.” But if you wonder why I might choose to play an older edition of D&D sometimes—if you wonder why I say “it’s not just a new edition, it’s a new game”—there’s at least one reason why.

“And when everyone’s super, no one will be.”

After looking at the rules, I said, “everyone’s a spell-caster”. After playing a session, I’d refine that.

Where playing a fighter or a magic-user used to be two very different experiences, now they are very, very similar. It’s not just that playing a fighter is now more like playing a wizard. It’s also that playing a wizard is more like playing a fighter. The engineer part of me loves it. The gamer part of me isn’t so sure.

This really has me rethinking some of my own homebrew system ideas and some of the systems I was looking forward to trying.

“If you can’t say something nice...”

There are definitely some things I like about the system too. I’ll try to post some about those things too.


pure awesome


A picture that asks the question: What if Traveller had been a fantasy game? There’s lots of nice little touches. Like REH’s “Know, O Prince...” text substituted for the “Free Trader Beowulf” text.

Since I first played Traveller (c. 1985?), I’ve wanted to run a fantasy game with the Traveller rules. I’ve not been alone. In fact, the 1981 Thieves’ World set included Traveller stats!

09 August 2008

I guess I wasn’t having fun

And worse, the fighter is still as boring to play as a brick. “I miss, I hit, I miss, I hit.” Yech.

seen on Paizo’s message board

<sarcasm>Oy! You’ve made me see the light! I haven’t had any fun playing fighters all these years! Woe is me!</sarcasm>

If you don’t enjoy playing Fighters, it doesn’t mean that Fighters need to be changed. It just means you shouldn’t play Fighters.

(Or—horrors—perhaps you should try to find out why some of us enjoy playing Fighters and see if changing your approach allows you to enjoy them.)


When I posted about Trixie, my new Telecaster, I forgot to mention the Gibson Marauder, another guitar with the angled—single-coil—bridge and humbucker—neck pick-up combination.

08 August 2008



A melee ensues when groups become locked together in combat with no regard to group tactics or fighting as an organized unit; each participant fights as an individual.

Turns out the use of the word “mêlée” in role-playing games is particularly apt. ^_^

07 August 2008

“...ended in bloodshed”

Mike Mearls worte:

Alas, as happens all too often in RPGs, our stealthy and bluff plan ended in bloodshed.

If there’s one thing I’m tempted to call “broken” in a lot of role-playing games, it’s this. One bad roll out of a series—which is usually pretty likely—spoils the stealthy plan. One bad roll does not spoil the frontal assault. Why even bother trying the stealthy plan?

How can we “fix” that?

  • Say it isn’t broken; it’s just the nature of stealthy plans
  • Decrease the difficulty of stealth checks to make a bad roll less likely
  • Partial credit; tweak the results so that a single bad roll creates a minor setback rather than spoiling the whole plan
  • Don’t roll for stealth
  • Tweet’s “there is no try” approach

06 August 2008

Rush unplugged

Rush “unplugged” covering Heart full of soul:

Here’s the Yardbird’s version.

How to make someone hate software

What to make someone hate a software application? Here’s a nigh foolproof method:

Require them to use it.

This works in two ways.

Firstly, when someone sees that a similar application lacks an annoyance or has an additional feature, the user will resent not having the choice to try the other application instead.

Secondly, when the person who chooses the application isn’t the person who uses the application, it is more likely to be the wrong choice.

05 August 2008

The opposite of power gaming?

I recently dropped in on a D&D 3.5 session. I had to create a 17th level character. (I’ve never played a 17th level character in any edition of D&D.) I created a halfling sorcerer, Emanon.

Yeah, I created a single-classed PC. Yeah, I just picked three skills and assumed he put one skill point in each each level. Just because you can agonize over a character build in 3e doesn’t mean you have to.

Although I knew the campaign was winding down, I’d probably only play this PC this one time, and that it was mostly going to be a big battle; I didn’t choose a lot of direct damage “blasting” spells. Sure, I took Magic Missile, Fireball, and Lightning Bolt; but that was about it. It was pointed out to me that that might have not been the wisest course. But I don’t want to play a blaster.

I ended up using Fly, Invisibility, Teleport, and Baleful Polymorph. It was a...um...blast.

Of the magic items I was granted, I only actively used the bag of tricks.

Anyway, that and a blog post by Trollsmyth got me to thinking about how I enjoy...the opposite of power gaming. Rather than create a blaster sorcerer for the upcoming battle, I enjoyed creating a sorcerer not designed for the battle and then doing my best with that. How am I going to take these spells—chosen, not strategically, but simply on what caught my attention and a vague character concept—and apply them in this situation?

Likewise, I’m happy to try a party without a cleric—although conventional wisdom says you must have one—figuring we’ll figure out how to manage and have fun doing so.

04 August 2008

What was D&D?

What separated D&D from other games, thereby spawning a new category—role-playing games?

Now, this can be a bit tricky because whatever elements you come up with, you can likely find pre-D&D examples of. But here it goes anyway.

  1. Non-zero-sum. One player “winning” doesn’t mean another player “loses”. Players can—and typically do—coöperate.
  2. A referee who—instead of moderating between the players—provides flexibility that no set of written rules can. The scope of the game becomes limited only by imagination.
  3. Open ended. There are no victory conditions.
  4. One player plays one “figure” that represents one character.

One was definitely something (according to Heroic Worlds) Wesely was going for with the Braunsteins.

Two seemed to be a tool he discovered—from Strategos—to help make it happen. (It has been said that Strategos got it from Free Kreigspiel.)

Three seems to have developed in Arneson’s Blackmoor campaign.

And again, these things are kind of tricky. I’m sure things weren’t nearly that clear-cut.

Four seems to have occurred in the Braunsteins as well. Although it seems essential to list it, I’m tempted not to. I’m not sure why.

03 August 2008

Ask Captain Pike

For fans of Star Trek (the original series): Scott Meyer’s “Ask Captain Pike”

02 August 2008

Games that aren’t D&D

Inspired by Other Games I Have Known et alia...

Although the first role-playing game I owned was a D&D Basic Set and an Expert rule book, the first role-playing game I played on a regular basis was Traveller.

In the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to play classic D&D and classic Traveller again. Both games were as much (if not more) fun today as they were then.

Here’s a list—as memory serves—of the other role-playing games that aren’t a D&D that I’ve played for a significant amount of time.

  • (classic) Traveller
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
  • GURPS (3/e)
  • Rolemaster
  • Hârnmaster
  • Fantasy HERO
  • Marvel SuperHeroes
  • (Decipher’s) Lord of the Rings
  • Toon
  • Forbidden

Forbidden is a homebrew horror game a friend of mine has designed.

Oh, and “d20 Fantasy”. (Duck & run) ^_^

Open minds

I get so sick of people assuming I don’t have an open mind.

By expressing an opinion, I am usually inviting challenges. If I didn’t want to hear counter opinions, I wouldn’t have bother expressing my opinion.

In fact, most of the opinions I express are the direct result of me expressing an opinion, hearing counter opinions, and changing my opinion based on such discussions.

Yeah, I know I can improve my communication skills. I’m working on that. But this is my blog, so I’m hear to rant. ^_^

(I used to spend way too much time (probably still do a lot) carefully choosing my wording in online communication only to be misread anyway. >_<)

Instead of accusing me of being close-minded, be open-minded about me! OK?

01 August 2008


If you—without tongue in cheek—find yourself explaining the proper usage of “dork”, “geek”, and “nerd”; then <foxworthy>you just might be</foxworthy>...whichever one you think is worst. If you’re (again, without tongue in cheek) offended by someone’s usage of one of those terms, then you are.


(Ah...the sweet irony of hyperlinking those words to Wiktionary.)

Incidentally, no matter how inaccurate it may be, I like the pop-etymology: drunk → knurd → nerd.

And as Scott Meyers wrote: “Jocks are just sports geeks. Live with it.”

25 July 2008

24 July 2008

Report iPhone app bugs

If you run into a bug with an iPhone app, you can file a bug report through the App Store.

  1. Find the app in the App Store
  2. Scroll down, and go to the reviews
  3. Tap the “compose” icon in the upper-right corner (It looks like the “compose” icon in the Mail app)

You’ll then have the option to either write a review or file a bug. I don’t know that I would’ve ever thought to look there. I guess it makes some sense, though.

Some advice if you find yourself writing a review: If your review is just going to complain about how you have a better app on your jail-broken iPhone or how you pirated the app for free—don’t bother. That’s not really helpful to those of us who have chosen the App Store over jail-breaking.

Also, the phrase is “waste of money”, not “waist of money”. (^_^)

20 July 2008

The Dark Knight, reality, and RPGs

“Three things that are completely unrelated, Alex?”†

Some stuff from “Dark Knight Shift: Why Batman Could Exist—But Not for Long

The biggest unreal part of the way Batman’s portrayed is the nature of his injuries. Most of the time, in the comics and in the movies, even when he wins, he usually winds up taking a pretty good beating. There’s a real failure to show the cumulative effect of that. The next day he’s shown out there doing the same thing again. He’d likely be quite tired and injured.

So, while the “death spiral” feature of some role-playing games may tend towards unrealistic, such a thing that kicks in after the fight is over might be more realistic.

...30 seconds to a minute (the maximum time period associated with his fights)...

So, does that mean that one minute combat rounds don’t make a lot of sense, or just that with one minute combat rounds combatants should go down in one hit. (^_^)

But it’s also hard for four or five people to simultaneously attack somebody, because they get in each other’s way. More realistic is a couple of attackers.

Whatever this man’s qualifications, they’re certainly more than my own in this matter. I’ve long suspected the “kung-fu movie circle of bad guys” thing was never as unrealistic as it’s accused of being.

†Yes, I understand that reality has no place in comic books, action movies, or fantasy role-playing games.

19 July 2008

Interesting Tele clone

What is this guitar in the graphic on the ACL Music Festival’s “The Sound and the Jury” page? It looks like a Tele with the Thinline pick-guard. The 3-over-3 headstock with a logo in an oval, however, gives away that it isn’t a genuine Fender. It looks to be left-handed, but that looks like a wedding-ring on the player’s fretboard hand. So, the photo is probably reversed. Most interesting—to me—is the bridge humbucker that’s angled, but with the two coils staggered to fit the angle. I think I’ve only seen that before on a Gibson Nighthawk. I’d love to know more about it. (One of my wife’s co-workers is the drummer for a band in the contest, Model United Nations.)

18 July 2008

Retail nostalgia

A Wikipedia category: Defunct retail companies

Some of these names stand out so clearly among my earliest, haziest memories: TG&Y, Handy Dan, Wollworth’s.

17 July 2008

Go To Address...

I’m surfin’ around the net, and I come across a raw URL that isn’t wrapped in a hyperlink.


Select. Right-click. Copy. Create a new tab. Click in address bar. Right-click. Paste. Hit return.

Wait a moment! Select. Right-click. “Go To Address in New Tab”!

It’s such a little thing, really; but it makes me smile.

16 July 2008


The software industry tried every method of copy protection they could come up with until they finally discovered two things. (1) It was a losing battle. (2) Enough people were honest enough that you could make a living without worry about the dishonest people.

Then it was the music industry. Despite all the hubbub over Napster, we now have unfettered mp3s from Amazon and iTunes Plus.

From iPhone App market: a look into one niche

Content will be a serious obstacle for smaller developers. While there are free eBooks out there, and channels for procuring commercial eBooks illegally, to create a legitimate eBook reader, a company has to have a legitimate source of material that is desirable. This, of course, involves the potentially long and drawn out task of licensing material from a plethora of different publishing houses, something better suited for a larger company like Amazon. There also needs to be a way to track downloads and pay out royalties. Not necessarily something a small software house has the means to do. This leave us with the potential of large companies such as Amazon or ebooks.com commissioning someone, or writing an application in house, to take care of the task.

It used to be, you’d by a vinyl record and you could play it on just about any record player. You could buy an audio cassette and play it on any cassette player. You could buy a CD and play it on just about any CD player. You could buy a video cassette and play it on any VCR.

(Though there was hand-wringing about illegal copying all along.)

So why shouldn’t I be able to buy an eBook and read it on any eBook reader? Why should a developer who creates an eBook reader be worrying about licensing content?

It’s way past time for the book industry to realize that they need to stop worrying about the same old issues and move on.

Here’s another one: DriveThruRPG. They sold PDF role-playing books with copy protection. They and their publishers eventually figured out that if they got rid of the copy protection, they could succeed. I can buy an eBook from them and it will work with almost any PDF reader I care to read it with.

Even the one built into the iPhone!

If I want to write a PDF reader, I don’t have to think a minute about licensing content.

(Incidentally, I like PDF, but I think it isn’t all that good for as an eBook format.)

It’ll happen, but I keep wondering why we have to wait when we know where we’re going.

(Since I mentioned DriveThruRPG, I’d also like to mention Your Games Now.)

(And then there is the irony of the iPhone App Store using FairPlay just as it’s being used less and less by the iTunes Music Store.)