Monday, February 27, 2006

Dies the Fire

I've really been into S.M. Stirling's latest series, Dies the Fire. I won't vouch for it's worth as literature, but I will say that it presents a really fun idea that is fairly well executed. The basic premise is that some kind of mystical/super-science event wiped out the capacity for "high-energy" technology all across the world. By "high-energy", I mean gunpowder, internal combustion engines, steam power, electricity, nukes, etc. The concept is well-thought out, especially concerning the effects on civilization as the world's critical infrastructure ceases to work. It's not a world I'd like to live in (obviously), but it is a fun world to fantasize about, which means it would make a great game setting.
The first chapters of each book are available online at Dies the Fire, The Protector's War, and A Meeting At Corvalis. The last book isn't out yet, and I'm reading the sample chapters to wet my appetite.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Weird Future of Computing

This article at New Scientist talks about how a quantum computer was made to produce an answer without even being turned on. Try to wrap your head around that one.

New Photos

My boy turned 5 1/2 months this weekend. New photos are up here.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The End of Privacy?

Check out this ACLU ad. Hyperbole, sure. But it certainly seems like we're heading in this direction. Should we be afraid? Should we care? I confess, I'm probably not as bothered as I should be.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Maybe it's their connection to Steampunk fiction or Pulp adventure. Maybe it's that the presence of airships is one of the key indicators that you're in an alternate time-line. But I love airships. Since college, I've mulled the idea of reviving the concept of an airship cruise line. We've had plenty of time for stigma of the Hindenburg to fade away. The time is right for such an enterprise. Apparently, someone else has the same idea.

On a related note, I found this site to be a fantastic reference for information on historical airships (British airships, specifically).

A Lego Difference Engine

As someone who had a childhood obsession with Lego and who now has a fascination with all things Steampunk, this site was just too cool for words.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Who Wants to Live Forever?

I do!

Well, at the very least I'd like to live a very long and healthy life. Fortunately, science is finally tackling the issues of aging head-on. This article in Scientific American describes some absolutely amazing research into possible therapies that could dramatically extend human life.

I'm glad that people are finally discussing longevity research seriously. For a long time, the topic was taboo among serious scientists. Perhaps it was the innate reluctance of scientists to speculate about future developments? Or perhaps the reluctance was due to the perceived social repercussions of longevity advances? What would happen to society if lifespans were increased dramatically? And who would be able to afford such therapies?

This article indicates that scientists are seriously taking about these issues. And they should. The rate of technological change is accelerating and (barring violence, accident, or illness) most of us will be alive to witness some extraordinary advances. Few things in the world excite me more than this.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Best Castle Falkenstein Site

I love Castle Falkenstein, the Victorian-Fantasy roleplaying game from R. Talsorian Games. I've run a couple of mini-campaigns set in that universe and I hope to run more games in the setting in the future. When running Castle Falkenstein, or any other Steam-Age/Steampunk game for that matter, Mark Baker's website is the place to go for information regarding the game and era. His adventures are particularly cool, as they are well researched, well-written, loaded with cool props, and very fun to play. It's not often that you find free adventures of this quality.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Everything Old Is New Again

Last night, my wife and I enjoyed a rare night out since the birth of our child. We took in a little dinner and then a She Wants Revenge concert at the Black Cat. For those of you who are unfamiliar, She Wants Revenge is the latest in a series of modern rock bands that are capitalizing on a wave of 80's alternapop nostalgia (see also the much better Interpol as well as the Bravery). Compared to other acts, they seem to be wearing their influences a little more openly. You can definitely hear elements of Joy Division, The Cure, and Depeche Mode while listening to their album. To me, they also sound like a second-tier goth-pop band like The Wake or Rosetta Stone. Seeing them live, however, they had a lot more electropop posturing than gloomy goth broodiness.

I find it very interesting that the alternative music from the early 80's (even late 70's) should be so popular with modern listeners. When I was in high-school in the late 80's, we wouldn't be caught dead listening to music from just ten years ago, never mind twenty. I think it must have something to so with the fact that today's "alternative" music (whatever that means now) directly descends from the punk and post-punk of that earlier era. The Classic Rock and Prog Rock of the 70's (and earlier) seem as different from 80's alternative as 50's Rock n' Roll seemed from late 60's Psychedila. The music of today just doesn't seems as different from the best of the 80's music.

Of course, maybe it's because I'm an old fart (at 35) who's tastes were formed in the 80's. I'm sure people that grew up in the 70's or 90's feel differently.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Space Policy

This article on describes how NASA Administrator Michael Griffin is defending his agency's new budgetary priorities. Programs for basic science and unmanned exploration are being cut to make way for the remainder of the shuttle and space station work, as well as the proposed Mars mission. U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-New York) writes:

"This budget is bad for space science, worse for earth science, even worse for aeronautics."

Alas, while I am very disheartened by the possible cuts to the Europa mission and the Terrestrial Planet Finder, I'm not going to join in this criticism. In my opinion, NASA must get back in the manned exploration game. Running a bus service to low earth does not count as exploration. Unfortunately, we have commitments to the space station (which looks like a complete waste of money right now) and we have nothing to replace our existing shuttle capability until new vehicles are produced. So were are stuck paying for two programs that are going nowhere.

Man, I can't wait until private companies finally get into low earth orbit...

The Mars mission needs to happen. As a society, we have to leave the confines of our gravity well. Otherwise, we are destined for extinction. Sure, we probably have many, many years before extinction is a threat. But forgive me for being selfish... I want to live to see people living on other planets.

As an American, I also worry about a decline in our exploratory impulse. The Chinese could have dominated the world centuries ago if they had not turned inward and demolished the Great Armada of Admiral Zheng. Exploration just wasn't a priority for them. It's ironic that China is now an up-and-coming power who could, conceivably, beat us back to the moon and possibly to Mars as well.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cultural Evolution

Here's a culture issue that can really get me worked up. It's all the fuss about the "controversy" surrounding the Theory of Evolution. What a bunch a hooey! Does anyone complain that the Theory of Electromagnetism is "just a theory". Why aren't school boards demanding that schools teach the flaws in the Theory of Gravity?

The Panda's Thumb is a great site for staying abreast of this manifestation of the culture war. It makes for an entertaining read, as long as one can maintain a sense of optimism about how things will eventually settle out. News stories like this keep me hoping that this will all go away soon and we can get back to teaching kids science.

(Not that I'm opposed to alternate world-views that deny scientific observations... they make great fantasy).

Keeping My Focus

My other blog has the advantage of being narrowly focused. While I may go a while between posts, the blog itself remains useful to its readers. They know that when they read Risus Monkey, they are going to get something that at least pertains to Risus.

I need to have a similar kind of focus for the Velvet Edge. Perhaps a better way of saying it would be that I need a "mission statement" of sorts. I do not want this blog to be a place where I go to vent about personal and mundane matters. That is boring and of no use to anyone but myself. Instead, I want to provide information that may be new to readers. And I hope to add some interesting commentary that will lead to thought-provoking discussions.

I'd like to restrict the subject matter of the Velvet Edge to my primary passions: Adventure, Culture, Fantasy, and the Future...

Adventure: I mean travel, adventure sports, and real-life excitement. I do not, typically, mean spectator sports. In that sense, yesterday's Olympic post was already off-base.

Culture: I am referring to pop-culture, the arts, and "edgy" cultural issues. These cultural issues are probably about as close to direct politcal discussions as I want to get. When it comes to pop culture and the arts, I am not talking about celebrities. Instead, I hope to discuss genuine creative works and cultural trends.

Fantasy: Dreams, roleplaying, and the fantastic in art and culture. In many ways, it is Fantasy that will be the driving force of this blog.

Futures: I'll be the first to admit that I am very excited about what the future may hold for me personally, as well as society as a whole. I want to identify new discoveries or inventions that will change the world. I may also speculate (or post other people's speculations) about possible futures.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Winter Olympic Blahs

I love the Winter Olympics more than any other spectator sport (except perhaps University of Michigan Football). Having just returned from an amazing three days of skiing in Utah, I expected to be doubly stoked to watch. Now that the games have started, though, I find that I've lost interest.

I think the problem is time-delays. In the old days (when I was a wee-lad), you couldn't get results until the night of the broadcast. Thus, every competition was exciting. Now, I just bop over to the BBC or or Washington Post and get my results during the day. When night rolls around, I have no incentive to watch given that I already know what happens.

That sucks. I've already missed out out some cool competition and dramatic "Olympic moments". But I just can't bring myself to avoid Olympic results when they are readily available. I'm a news addict. I admit it.

But if there is any event that I want to keep myself in the dark about, it's Snowboard Cross. I really want to watch this event. It's like roller-derby on the snow.

It's Chuck Norris' World...

...we just live in it.

Check out this site for words of wisdom about the king of fitness equipment infomercials.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Welcome to the Velvet Edge

It seems like everyone is creating a blog these days. Last December, I created my first blog. It's a journal that is narrowly focused entirely on roleplaying, and more specifically on the wonderful Risus roleplaying game by S. John Ross. Maintaining that blog has been a lot of fun, but it made me realize that I needed another outlet for non- Risus posts. Fortunately, I've had my unfinished website just waiting for me to give it attention.

Two things pushed me to finally launch this blog. The first is that there have been discussions in the Risus community about taking the name of my Risus blog, Risus Monkey, and appropriating it for a community webzine. If that should happen then I would need another blog for personal Risus-related posts, not to mention non-Risus posts. The second thing that pushed me over the top is that I've been playing around with Blogger. I've known that I needed to move to professional blogging software at some point (Risus Monkey is done by hand), but I just hadn't investigated it yet. Now that I have, there is no turning back. I think it's awesome that I'm submitting this post by email.

This blog is not going to be solely about gaming stuff. I have a lot interests in adventure travel, alternative music, film, literature, technology, futurism, and philosophy and will certainly post on these topics. I may even dip my toes into politics and religion, assuming I am comfortable that resulting discussions will (mostly) be civil.

That being said, I suspect much of what will be discussed will be roleplaying-related, or will at least pertain to "geek culture" in some way. The name Velvet Edge is itself a gaming reference, being derived from a GURPS modern/near-future fantasy campaign that I ran throughout most of the 90's. The links sidebar (which is still taking shape) will feature all my recent campaign worlds, as well as any other original gaming content that I have published to the web.

This website is still very much in development. I still need to fix some small formatting issues (and not-so-small issues when it comes to working with handheld browsers). I also need to figure out what I want to display in the sidebar since I certainly can't link to every site that I find cool and interesting.