Tuesday, March 28, 2006


On Sunday, I finally got around to watching Mirrormask. As huge fan of Neil Gaiman, I was not disappointed. I found that the film had Neil Gaiman's fingerprints all over it. It was dreamy, weird, creepy, and beautiful. The visual stylings of Dave McKean were indispensable to the film. I can't imagine a more perfect visual artist for working the Gaimanesque magic. There were many moments that felt like I was watching something right out of The Sandman.

Despite the amazing effects, the film had a very "indie" feel. That's good and it's bad. It was more imaginative and thought-provoking then a mainstream movie, but it also seemed to lack something in the energy department. It was almost too dreamy. Then again, I was tending a fussy little boy at the time I was watching it, so I couldn't give it my full attention. Under ideal viewing conditions, my praise would likely have been unqualified.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Slaying Solomon Update

Slaying Solomon has been updated and is current through Episode 4.3. For the uninitiated, Slaying Solomon is a long-running Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG campaign set in a fictional college town in western Massachusetts. It is, hands-down, the best roleplaying campaign in which I've ever been involved. The website is managed by Greg Pearson and much of the content is provided by Jodi Roosenraad (Drew and Sam in the game, respectively). Their work earned them an ENnie Award nomination in 2005 for best fan site. It is because of their efforts that I will most likely create campaign websites for all future games that I run.

Friday, March 24, 2006

This Is Depressing

Moving on from zany comedians impersonating wacky religious presidents to pollsters identifying the wacky (and not in the "ha ha" way) prejudices of the religious American public. I haven't made the leap to full-fledged atheist status (I'm comfortably agnostic, thank you), but you could see why I'd be concerned that non-believers and skeptics fare worse than any other minority group in this study by the University of Minnesota. Sad.  

Bush On Global Warming

Well, not the real Bush... Will Farrell as Bush. Only loosely related to what I've been blogging about lately, but I'll file it under "Culture" and just call it a Friday funny. Here's the link.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Future of Computing

Nature magazine has special web focus on the future of computing. I love it when scientists speculate about future. Usually, it seems like they leave that to the futurists. I also love how 15 years seems like such a long way out, as far as technological development goes. Not so long in my personal life (I'll only be 50 in 2020). But 15 years ago, there was no world wide web (and the Internet was still mostly underground). Now, I can't imagine life without having web access. What's going to happen in the next 15 years? I never tire of reading what smart people have to say on the subject.

One Step Closer to the Diamond Age

Here's a report from the cutting edge of nanotech research. Looks like scientists in Japan have created the first nanomachine composed of two smaller molecular machines. Pretty exciting stuff.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Moore's Law for Razors?

I was just having this same conversation the other day, and now someone else has gone and blogged about it. Drat! Anyway, check out Avram Grumer's post on the correlation between razor blade marketing and the Singularity.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Consequences of Longevity

William Saletan has an excellent article that appeared in this weekend's Washington Post that can now be found here on Slate. He points out that government entitlement programs are in for a world of hurt as medical advances continue to increase our life expectancy. Ultimately, he seems to favor abolishing age as a standard of fitness for Social Security. Not a bad idea, though I wonder how you would implement the testing for eligibility while minimizing the occurrence of fraud. There's also the matter of healthy people putting more into the system than they take out. But isn't this the way regular healthy insurance works right now? Regardless, these issues need to be discussed.

Look Out Steve Austin

Thanks to this discovery of super-strength artificial muscles, were one step step closer to the bionic man and super-soldiers in power armor.

Friday, March 17, 2006


I must admit that I don't play very many video games anymore. With a new baby and other interests, I just don't seem to have the time. It's not that I don't want to play video games. It's just that I haven't seen any that would make me set aside time in my schedule to play them.

Spore will be such a game. Check out this video of Will Wright giving a demo at last year's GDC. I must buy this game when it comes out.

(Of course, I'm assuming I'll be able to run it on my two year-old laptop. If not, I may need to play it after hours at work.)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

That Ubiquitous Game System

I have mixed feelings about Dungeons & Dragons, and it's Open Game License sibling, D20. I have fond memories of getting my first taste of D&D in the 80's with a magenta Basic Set, followed soon after by the original AD&D hardcovers. It wasn't that the gaming was all that good (I was too young for that), but the potential was amazing. I remember spending hours rolling up characters, mapping out castles on graph paper, and dreaming up worlds that never were. But when I discovered my first real gaming group in my junior year of high-school, we quickly left D&D behind for systems that agreed with our sensibilities at the time. Middle-Earth Roleplaying, Rolemaster, James Bond RPG, and Warhammer FRP were big winners for us. But the biggest for us was GURPS, a game that I would continue to run and play continuously until just a few years ago.

I loved that in GURPS you could create any type of character you wanted. I also loved the way that its combat system actually seemed to reflect the action of what was going on in a fight, whereas D&D had cheesy notions such as armor that could help you avoid blows, or hit point totals that made it impossible for most characters to be killed by anything short of ridiculous amounts of damage. But the best thing about GURPS was that the magic system was capable of being fit to more interesting models, ones that actually reflected literary or occult source material better than D&D 's antiquated Vancian model. I especially loved the magic system that was introduced in GURPS Voodoo and later perfected in GURPS Spirits. To this day, it is one of may favorite magic systems.

So, throughout most of the 90's, I was a bit of a system snob. I looked down on D&D and those that played it. Things started to change when I realized that gaming is, first and foremost, a social activity. The people you play with are more important than the systems you use. One of my friends was running an AD&D 2nd Edition game and I eagerly joined. I still hated the system (and 2nd Edition AD&D is the worst incarnation of that game...ever), but the game was pretty good and the company was excellent. Slowly, my snobbery was falling away.

What finally killed my anti-D&D prejudice was the simultaneous release of D&D 3e and the gathering of a new group of friends to play it in Charlottesville. My good friend Nakia is a excellent game master. He proved that even though 3e retained some things that annoyed me, a really good fantasy game could still be run using it.

That brings me to the present. I have a new favorite system to run (Risus), and my long running Slaying Solomon game uses the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG. But I'm also a part-time player in a D&D 3.5 game and I am considering running a D&D/D20 version of my Dragonspire game. While preparing for this new game, I have been forced to confront many of the things I don't like about D&D. Things that have stopped irritating me as a player still really get under my skin as a GM. But it's not my old gripes that bother me so much as my new gripe: it takes too long to prepare D&D games. I've been spoiled by Risus and BtVSRPG, and even GURPS would probably annoy me now.

I'm persisting, mostly out of my desire to prove to myself that I can run a D&D game that is as cool to my players as Nakia's game was for me. That, and I'd like to be comfortable running D&D when I get a chance to participate in "round-robin" games with the cool ENWorld folks at GenCon or Game Days.

When Sharks Aren't Enough...

According to this article on the BBC, the US Government wants to "to create an army of cyber-insects that can be remotely controlled". Ok, this seems a bit wacky... but the article is interesting. The sidebar has an interesting tidbit about the use of dolphins in Vietnam.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Those Images Up Top

People reading this blog (anybody? hello?) may or may not be curious about the images displayed under the title. To satisfy your curiosity (and to give me something to talk about on a slow day), they are images pulled from a variety of sources that are in some way significant to me. If you've been paying attention, you will have noticed that I do change them every now and then.
The current crop includes:
  • A found image of a snow covered mountain (because most of my adventure travel revolves around snowy mountains).
  • A clip from the Castle Falkenstein supplement, Sixguns & Sorcery. Not only is it very relevant to my Silverlode game (which I'll be running at NC Game Day), but it also depicts an Anasazi cliff-dwelling (which also relates to some recent adventure travel).
  • The third clip is a gloomy castle from a Brotherhood of the Wolf wallpaper. Not the greatest of films, it was nevertheless very inspirational to me and wound up influencing numerous roleplaying projects.
  • Replacing an image of the Golden Compass from the first His Dark Materials novel (one of the best fantasy series ever), is a clip from the cover of Neil Gaiman's Smoke & Mirrors. Neil Gaiman's work is hugely important to me. In fact, I think I can say with confidence that he is my absolute favorite sotryteller, whatever the medium.
  • Finally, there is a Christoper Shy image from a GURPS Transhuman Space supplement. Besides representing a fine gaming supplement with a well-imagined future history, the image also stands in for my deep and abiding interest in transhumanism and the promise of accelerating technological change.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Call for Action on Anti-aging Research

This article presents a very well-reasoned call for anti-aging research in the U.S. Careful not to sound like wide-eyed techno-optimists who believe immortality is around the corner, the authors set a very reasonable goal of increasing life expectancy by just seven years. I think this is too conservative, but I welcome any kind of a goal in this area. 

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Liquid Water On Enceladus

Found this article on slashdot...

"We realize that this is a radical conclusion -- that we may have evidence for liquid water within a body so small and so cold," said Dr. Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. "However, if we are right, we have significantly broadened the diversity of solar system environments where we might possibly have conditions suitable for living organisms."

Wow. This is potentially huge and important. It makes funding NASA robotic exploration missions even more important.

Learning Chinese

It's been a goal of mine to learn another language for some time now. My wife, expert world traveler that she is, can speak French, Spanish, and bits of German. Whereas my knowledge of foreign languages has been limited to two years of high school French and phrasebook knowledge of Russian, Italian, and German. But languages have always interested me. In high school, I tried to learn Elvish from the appendix of The Lord of the Rings. I tried to pick up Esperanto for a game of GURPS Riverworld. I tried to learn Welsh for a brief Celtophile (is that a word?) phase. And I've been very interested in natural language processing and constructed languages for fantasy worlds [see this site for the coolest conlang site on the web].

But thus far, I can't say that I actually know another language. I want that to change. I want to travel to a foreign country and be the one to converse with the locals. I also think that knowing a language is an important part of being a good global citizen. To that end, I've decided to study Chinese. Why Chinese? Because I think the 21st century is going to be the Chinese Century (just like the 20th was the American Century). Chinese is spoken by something like a quarter of the world's population and may even open up some interesting career opportunities in the future. Chinese culture is cool and interesting (and I can study the language while watching kick-ass wuxia films). If my son picks up some Chinese with me, then that he might have some exciting opportunities as well.

How am I going about this? I bought Rosetta Stone for a start. This CD ROM immersive course is really cool in that it jump-starts your comprehension of the language right away. The draw-back is that it offers no reference material for studying grammar or vocabulary. For that, I am relying on Chinese for Dummies (I'm so embarrassed). I also picked up a book on 250 important Chinese characters, since learning the written language is so very important to understanding the spoken language. I suspect that next year I will enroll in an actual class.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Don't Forget to Bathe

Hat tip to Nakia for this little gem: Stephen Colbert on D&D Online.

It's not the first time that Colbert's brought up his geek credentials. Here's an interview in GameSpy that talks about his gaming history.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Alien Rain

Something make me very suspicious about reports that two months of blood-red rain over India in 2001 were actually showering extraterrestrial material onto the subcontinent. Apparently, some scientists are taking this very seriously. If true, it would be the first confirmed discovery of extraterrestrial life (other than possibly the Antarctic martian meteorite). it could also lend weight to the theory of panspermia . I'm not holding my breath, though.

Robo Mule

This article in NewScientist describes an advanced robotic quadruped that is being developed for the US military. Ok, no big deal, right? Well, take a look at the video clip of the mechanical beast. I was floored. It moved so realistically that I found myself feeling sorry for it when engineers repeatedly kicked it. They were trying (unsuccessfully) to make it fall over. Wow.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

You know, I have one simple request

"And that is to have sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads!"

Well, apparently the US government also thinks this a great idea. Well, perhaps without the lasers just yet...

Elevator to the Stars

I've been aware of the idea of a Space Elevator since the 80's, when I read about in the 2300AD roleplaying game. Until recently, however, I'd never thought I'd live to see one actually built. This article on CNNMoney.com makes one believe that the concept is becoming more science than science-fiction. Advances in nanotubes are the key, and serious money is flowing into the field. According to some estimates, I may only be 50 years old by the time cars are carrying cargo and people into orbit.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

More Book Stuff

Over at his blog, my good friend Nakia talks about Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree. I confess that I've never actually read Hornby, though I imagine I'd like his stuff. Movies based on his work were a mixed bag for me. I loved "About a Boy" but disliked "High Fidelity". Anyway, Nakia posts the following quote:
"All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. . . With each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not." (125)
I have to say I mostly agree with this. My book collection does come pretty close to communicating who I am as a person. To get the full picture, you'd need to see what I've been listening to on my iPod and check out the athletic/outdoor gear in my closet. But the books get you most of the way there. Here's a small sampling of what's on my shelves:
  • Almost everything by Neil Gaiman, prose and graphic novel, including the coplete Sandman collection
  • Alan Moore's Watchmen, Promethea, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and others)
  • The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (red leather collected edition)
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (leatherbound collected version)
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: A Novel, by Susanna Clarke
  • The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
  • A leather bound collected edition of Dracula and Frankenstein
  • Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein.
  • The Baroque Cycle, Cryptonomicon, and Diamond Age by Neil Stephenson
  • A collected version of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser stories
  • The recent Harry Potter books (I borrowed the earlier ones)
  • Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond
  • A History of God, by Karen Armstrong
  • The Age of Spiritual Machines, by Ray Kurzweil
  • An enormous rpg collection featuring many books for GURPS, Vampire, Dungeons & Dragons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Castle Falkenstein, Warhammer FRP, and In Nomine