25 April 2008

RPGs and hometowns

Someone once said that role-playing games had to have come from the midwest.

Looking at the editions of D&D, it is somehow unsurprising that the 1970s editions were creating in Lake Geneva while the 2000s edition were created in Seattle. (If I’m not mistaken.)

Similarly, GURPS seems somehow perfectly at home here in Austin.

How much influence does a game’s hometown have?


I played Bard’s Tale. I played a lot of Might & Magic. There’s something about Wizardry (“the proving-grounds of the mad overlord”), however, that the later games seemed to lack. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

A few years ago I got an Apple ][ emulator and played some Wizardry again. The game itself was still just as fun. What was painful, though, was the limits of the user experience due to the limits of the platform. Especially when combined with the sometimes awkwardness of an emulator. Guess I’ve become spoiled.

Just recently I’ve discovered Murkon’s Refuge. It’s a web version of Wizardry clone. (Written between about 1999 and 2002, it’s “old school” web implementation of an “old school” CRPG.)

You're the communications guy?

Hillary’s communications guy on NPR a couple of days ago: “If that’s a negative ad, then I don’t know what a negative ad is.”

It’s funny when a guy paid to not make those kind of mistakes makes them. (^_^)

20 April 2008

An (eventual) Time Capsule happy ending

We had a couple of power outages in quick succession. Plus, they weren’t just on→off→on but included a bit of brown-out. Afterwards, my Mac mini wouldn’t get past the boot screen with the gray Apple logo and spinning gear.

Booting from the Leopard disc worked fine. Disk Utility repaired some problems with the mini’s disc. When I tried to boot off it, though, it still stuck on the logo and gear screen.

After various other pokings around, I decide it’s time for an archive install of Leopard. Unfortunately, the mini’s disc was too full.

Andi—my wonderful wife and Apple tier 1 telephone tech support rep.—suggests deleting some stuff to make space because I can always restore it from our Time Capsule. I’m not sure (at this point) how I could delete things—other than wiping the disc. Then I realize that the Leopard installer has an option to restore a Time Machine backup directly. So, that seems the best way to go.

Unfortunately, that kept failing.

I think maybe the partition table got corrupted. So, I repartitioned the mini’s disc and tried again. The restore finished!

After rebooting off the newly restored disc, the mini stuck on the logo and gear screen again.

Verbose boot seemed to show disc problems. Booting off the Leopard disc again, Disk Utility showed no partitions. Any attempt to repartition it now gave an “in use” error.

Tried a few other things, but finally used the command line diskutil to repartition and format the disc. (It’s nice that the Leopard disc includes Terminal.app.)

Now the Time Machine restore option wouldn’t recognize the mini’s disc.

Tried a few other things, but then realized—the mini’s disc has already been wiped at this point—let’s just install Leopard.

That works fine. During the “welcome wizard”, it gives me the option to transfer data from a Time Machine backup.

At the stage where it calculates whether you have enough disc space, it keeps getting stuck. I finally try restarting it and sitting there moving the mouse or hitting a key every once in a while to keep it from going to sleep, and that works. Transfer begins. It puts the monitor to sleep during this process too, but doesn’t get stuck.

Reboot. Everything looks good except that I’ve now got only Leopard 10.5.0 and my iTunes has been downgraded so it can’t read my iTunes Library. (Not unexpected.) After a long Software Update session, I’m all up-to-date again.

So, it wasn’t the kind of smooth experience you might like, but Time Machine and the Time Capsule came through. I’m right back where I was before the incident.

And it turns out, I should’ve just listened to Andrea’s advice. (Not unexpected.)

18 April 2008

Terminal.app icon

Why does the icon for Terminal.app in Mac OS X sport a “>” prompt when the default shell is bash for which the default prompt is “$”?


OK...probably because the default shell used to be tcsh. It hasn’t been since 10.2 though. Time to update the icon, Apple!

RPG form factor

There’s something very appealing to me about saddle-stitched role-playing games. (And other kinds of games too, I suppose.)

Saddle-stitched” is a fancy way to say “bound by staples”.

Stapling through the center fold, also called saddle-stitching, joins a set of nested folios into a single magazine issue; most American comic books are well-known examples of this type.

I really enjoy my c. 1981 D&D Basic and Expert booklets. My Starter Traveller booklets. Even more, I enjoy digest-sized, saddle-stitched booklets. Like the classic Traveller booklets or the original D&D booklets.

When I flip through a new RPG in a big hardback book or a big “perfect bound”, it seems so unwieldy.

Maybe it has something to do with the simplicity. I bought a saddle stapler, so I can make my own.

One factor may be that a saddle-stitched book can’t be more than about 60–90 pages. (Well, 64–88, since you need a page count evenly divisible by four.)

They tend to be easy to use at the gaming table. They tend to lay flat well, and you never have too far to search when looking for something.

While typing this, I typed “appealling”. The choices my computer offered for correcting it were “appealing” and “appalling”. It seems there’s a short distance between the two. (^_^)

17 April 2008


Seriously? There was another debate? Hillary still hasn’t dropped out?

15 April 2008

Baritone guitar

I’ve been interested in baritone guitars. A baritone is tuned a perfect fourth lower than standard. You can think of it as a standard guitar with a neck five frets longer.

Why not a seven-string guitar instead? I don’t know. For some reason, I just think I’d prefer a baritone to adding another string.

And I’ve come up with a practical use for a baritone: When the music director has decided to transpose to a lower key, you can effectively “reverse capo” compared to a standard guitar. i.e. Putting a capo on the fourth fret of a baritone is like being able to capo the -1 fret of a standard guitar.

Danelectro seems to be coming out with an affordable one. The Eastwood Sidejack Baritone looks pretty nice. (Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to link directly to its page.) The Gretsch Jet Baritone looks interesting too.

08 April 2008

Top 7 Tips to Starting a Band

Top 7 Tips to Starting a Band

You must decide as a group what members are going to partake in the songwriting process.


“Right, so, we’ve agreed that Nigel will write the lyrics and George will write the music.”

Has it ever worked like that in any band?

Well, OK, they basically told the Monkees that none of them would partake in the songwriting process, right? (^_^)

Best-Selling Fender Signature Model Electric Guitars


Top 10 Best-Selling Fender Signature Model Electric Guitars at Guitar Center

  1. Eric Johnson
  2. Jeff Beck
  3. Eric Clapton
  4. John Mayer
  5. Eric Clapton (Custom)
  6. Jimmie Vaughan
  7. Joe Strummer
  8. J5
  9. Muddy Waters
  10. Andy Summers

1–6 are Strats; 7–10 are Teles.

I wonder where Clapton would fall if you combined the sales from his two models.

Likewise, I think they’ve got like a dozen SRV models, which may explain his absence from the list.

Scheme in the browser

The creator of JavaScript on it’s creation:

Brendan’s Roadmap Updates: Popularity

As I’ve often said, and as others at Netscape can confirm, I was recruited to Netscape with the promise of “doing Scheme” in the browser.

Interesting. I wish he hadn’t also had the mandate to give it Java-esque syntax.

I think. Sometimes, though, I almost think that I enjoy JavaScript more than Scheme.

maliszew: Skills and Feats

maliszew: Skills and Feats

Naturally, some will see this as a potential source of problems; I simply can’t. Roleplaying games are entertainments that demand rules, certainly, but they also demand compromise and flexibility. If I’ve learned anything from OD&D, it’s that this hobby was born out of and grew because of an openness to make judgment calls and run with good ideas even when there were no rules to cover the situation—or when the rules in fact said otherwise. I’ve rather reluctantly come round to believe that AD&D, great though it was, marked the beginning of the end for the style of roleplaying I enjoy and that we don’t see as much of nowadays. I won’t pretend that I can just turn back the clock to that freewheeling earlier era but neither will am I willing to simply grimace and groan every time yet another RPG is released that assumes that platitudinous invocations of Rule 0 are sufficient to convince me that they’re not in fact a wholly different kind of game than the one I fell in love with in late 1979.

Vulnerable mages

maliszew: I’ve got your 15-minute adventuring day right here ...

Wizards conduct their adventures with caution and forethought. When prepared, they can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught be surprise, they are vulnerable.

OK. Now the spell memorization/preparation thing from D&D makes more sense to me. It is the magic-user’s Achilles heel. An exploitable weakness.

I mean, I understood it as a game mechanic. A spell-point system with some extra rules that meant giving the character the ability to cast one very powerful spell didn’t give them the option of casting a lot of low-level spells in exchange. But now it makes more sense with this tidbit.

My group subbed the word “preparation” for “memorization” in the 1980s.

Mini vacation

At the end of March, we went on a mini-vacation to Great Wolf Lodge.

The indoor water park was great. The resturants weren’t anything special. (A bit of a disappointment, really.) MagiQuest was pretty fun.

(Of course, it bugged me that they used “magi” as a singular when it is really plural, but only because I’m pretentious that way. (^_^))

It was lots of fun for us and the kids. Except that Andi ended up getting pretty sick, but she didn’t let that stop her.

03 April 2008

Ask Wizards: 03/27/2008

Ask Wizards: 03/27/2008

What is the difference between a golem and a construct?

Seemed like a perfectly good set up for a role-playing gamer joke, but the Sage fails to deliver a punchline.