athelind: (Eye - VK)



Originally posted 18 February 2010 at 18:15.
athelind: (Eye - VK)



Originally posted 18 February 2010 at 18:15.
athelind: (RPG: grognard)

WARNING:
This post links to
TVTROPES.ORG!




Yesterday, I found myself reading http://mythcreants.com/blog/blog-series/mastering-the-creeps/, and it reminded me of one of my quirks as a Game Master: as I've mentioned before, when I GM tabletop, it doesn't matter what genre the game is supposed to be ... there's about a 60% chance that it'll turn into a horror game.

It's not that I'm particularly fond of horror as an RPG genre. I just have a knack for it. When I'm GMing, at some point, I'll look at the players, smile wickedly behind my GM screen, and think, "oh, I just had an idea that might really wig them out."

You see, if you want to run a really effective horror game ... don't tell your players.

Over the span of three decades and change, I've done this in classic first edition AD&D, in a space opera game, and in two superhero games. Not a lot, I suppose ... until one notes that my stints behind the screen are rare and years apart.

The campaign that dove the most deeply into the horror rabbit hole was SUPPOSED to be a superhero game. I've alluded to this one before: the players were playing game versions of their real-life selves, and got super-powers when a UFO exploded near them.

I really intended -- I wanted -- to run a Fantastic Four-style campaign, using weird and amazing powers to explore bizarre phenomena and deal with off-beat threats.

However ...

The players were not primarily comic book fans.

What's more, this was the 1990s ... at the height of popularity of the X-Files.

Exacerbating matters, one of the players was, in real life, a Marine MP who had worked with FEMA at some point. I said, "UFO Crash", and he replied, "I'm not allowed to say whether or not FEMA has a plan to deal with this situation, but if they did* ..."

This was the metaphorical equivalent of reaching over, jerking the wheel, and sending the car into a spin. The whole party immediately slipped into Aaiiee Conspiracy Paranoia the Government Will Vivisect Us Mode, and I realized I had just lost control of the campaign.

So I did what my race car driver father taught me to do in a literal spin:

I turned in the direction of the spin and stepped on the gas.**

So, they all had Powers and Abilities Far Beyond Those of Mortal Men ... and they all wanted to lie low, go back to their lives, pretend it never happened, and try to keep the Gummint from ever finding out who was there at the crash site.

I could have doubled down on superhero tropes, and set up a big, public situation where Only They Could Save The Day ... but I had a sneaking suspicion, somehow, that this wouldn't goad them into action. I realized that, despite everyone signing on to play a superhero game, they didn't want to be superheroes.

They wanted a Paranoid Conspiracy with the Government Out To Get Them.

So I gave it to them.

I took the exact same power set that one of the PCs had: Teleportation, and a global scale ESP that manifested as erratic visions, a "teleport destination sense", and the ability to pinpoint technobabble "anomalies" that included other people sharing their power source ... and I gave that template to an implacable sociopath that the Shadowy Government Conspiracy had kept under lock, key, and power damper until they needed him to find the PCs.

([livejournal.com profile] kolchis gave me the invaluable suggestion of looking to Dean R. Koontz's gallery of empowered sociopaths for inspiration.)

He slipped his leash almost immediately, and started stalking them.

I gave them a few initial hints ... and then, when they'd all gathered at a restaurant to talk about the weird shit that had been happening to them individually, the Marine MP didn't show up ...

... and as they were sitting there, right outside the window where they're sitting, a body slammed into a car from a significant height, shattering the windows, denting the hood, and making the alarms go off.

The body looked just like the missing party member.

The PARTY'S clairvoyant was able to tell that, even though there wasn't a mark on the corpse ... the heart was missing.

I then shifted to where the missing party member actually was ... in an alley, with the water from a recent rain dripping off a fire escape ... drip ... drip ... drip ...

And he wasn't alone.

I shifted back to the alley, where the party realized that the body before them wasn't really their associate -- the build was wrong, the height was wrong -- but someone else whose face had been ... sculpted, somehow.

Back in the alley ...

(... drip ... drip ... drip ...)

There was a figure who was always JUST out of our missing party member's line of sight. Any time he'd turn, there'd be a voice behind him, or off to one side, or above him, patiently explaining that, after his "translation", nobody else was really visible to his new senses. He came to understand that he was the only real thing in a world of shadows; he could see souls, you see, and nobody else had one ...

(... drip ... drip ... drip ...)

... until he sensed the PCs ... being born.

After two decades, I don't remember all the details of the encounter, or why, but it was something along the lines of, "go back to your friends ... and let them know ... I am a jealous god. And I am coming for them."

And then, as the session ended, I queued up Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper."


*They did. It is no longer classified. Fnord.
**This works. It's saved my life twice, once in a '71 Chevy van, once in a '97 Ford Aspire.

Ominous!

Apr. 13th, 2012 10:10 pm
athelind: (doomsday clock)
You know, Friday the 13th is bad enough, but when I got in my car to head home from my carpool, the trip odometer read 66.6 miles.

I got home, went back into my room, and the thermometer read ... 66.6 F.

I'm at two decibeasts and counting.


athelind: (Ommm)
Pee Wee Herman

is my Tyler Durden.



athelind: (cue howard)
Last year, I posted an LJ entry that said that the defining moment for our generation wasn't when man set foot on the Moon, but when we turned away.

Most of my commentators, bless their literal souls, thought I was just talking about the space program, and at that stage in my recovery, I wasn't quite up to clarifying the symbolic and metaphorical dimensions of the statement.

I picked up a copy of Fight Club last week, and [livejournal.com profile] thoughtsdriftby and I plugged it in on Friday night. This is the quintessential movie of my generation.

It comes closer than anything else to explaining exactly what I meant.

Preach it, Tyler:
I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables — slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won't. We're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.


You are keeping tabs on the Occupy Wall Street protests, aren't you? If not, check out http://boingboing.net, and, as the Good Book said, consult your pineal gland.

Fnord.



EDIT: The first comment on the post has forced an addendum, hopefully early enough in the morning to catch most my Loyal Audience on their first read-through:

I really do appear to only be able to communicate half of what's going on in my brain at any one point.

I said Fight Club was "the quintessential movie of my generation". I didn't say "Tyler Durden is a Divine Prophet."

[livejournal.com profile] notthebuddha was close -- Tyler's rant is HALF the truth. Pahulnik, in this speech, succinctly describes the malaise afflicting Generation X. We came into a world of progress and potential—we were literally promised the Moon—only to have it ripped away from us.

"Ah, never mind that. Here, have a crappy job and an apartment full of cheap furniture. Oh, wait. We're shipping the crappy jobs overseas. Why aren't you paying for your cheap furniture anymore?"

Fight Club is, in many ways, a cautionary tale. Sometimes, we all find ourselves in Tyler Durden's headspace, entertaining fantasies of just randomly beating the crap out of someone, or blackmailing your pissant boss, or taking your hands off the wheel as you ram the accelerator into the floorboards just to see what happens.

You can deny that and repress it and end up like the Narrator, or you can face it head on and channel it.

When you subtract the explosives, the beating the crap out of each other in basements, and the long-term goal of hunting moose in the vine-covered towers of the city, Tyler's idea of "zeroing out the credit system" sounds a hell of a lot more rational and productive than bailing out the banks for using fraud and doubletalk to rope thousands of people into mortgages they couldn't afford. The banks wound up with the houses and the money; if the bailouts had gone to the swamped homeowners themselves, the banks would have still gotten their money, and we'd still have an economy instead of a shattered, broken population.

At some point, you've got to take a stand. You've got to get angry.

You don't have to go mad and tear everything down. I brought Occupy Wall Street into the end of the post to say, "this is Project: Mayhem done right." It's not a riot. It's not terrorism. It's taking a stand. It's an ever-increasing circle of people gathering together and saying, "We've had enough. No more."

Take a look at the icon I used for this post. I know exactly how things ended for that guy, too. But sometimes, things reach a point where you've got to listen to all the Mad Prophets, all the Tyler Durdens and the Howard Beales, so you can see what drove them mad and make it stop.

You don't have to go mad to say you're not gonna take it anymore.

Fnord.


athelind: (Eye in the Pyramid)
Wikipedia has a surprisingly good, succinct and precise explanation of a concept that is supposed to be deliberately inconcise and obfuscating. It begins:

Fnord is the typographic representation of disinformation or irrelevant information intending to misdirect, with the implication of a worldwide conspiracy.



And it goes on from there.

Kind of sounds like the mission statement of Fox News, doesn't it?

So what sounds better: "Fnord News" or "Fnox News"?


athelind: (Eye - VK)
Those who just read my pearls of wisdom via their friends lists may not be aware that the topmost entry on LJ page is a mash-up of a CAPTCHA test and the Voight-Kampf test from the opening scene of Blade Runner.

On 18 January 2011, that entry got a word-salad comment that looked like a random text generator used a series of metaphysical screeds as a seed source:


Hey

Those who possession of to the standard faiths call that the expert of their obedience rests on revelation, and that pronouncement is confirmed in the pages of books and accounts of miracles and wonders whose disposition is supernatural. But those of us who take great discarded the belief in the mysterious quiescent are in the attendance of revelations which are the purpose of faith. We too entertain our revealed religion. We have looked upon the lineaments of men and women that can be to us the symbols of that which is holy. We acquire heard words of sacred wisdom and facts in fact spoken in the possibly manlike voice. In sight of the domain there set up hit to us these occurrence which, when accepted, despair to us revelations, not of abnormal doctrine, but of a natural and sure credence in the incorporeal powers that spark and labour in the center of [a person's] being.



Given entry in question, I can't tell if this is just some kind of random spam, a blind idiot translation of something from another language, a sincere if TimeCubist rant, or an amazingly clever metacommentary.

Think on that one for a moment. I cannot ascertain the degree of sentience that generated this comment. Someone (or something) has responded to a parody of a test to determine your humanity with a response that is recursively ambiguous. Seeded randomness? Automated translation? Schizoid human? Clever post-modernist? I can't tell.

I was tempted to leave it there, but [livejournal.com profile] theweaselking provided some compelling reasons to delete it (especially since LiveJournal lets you mark such unwarranted commentary as spam). I hope that copying and pasting the text here won't trigger the spammer's search engines, but I am far, far too lazy to turn the blurb into an image.


athelind: (Eye of the Dragon)
And so, another year ends, and Your Obedient Serpent will be more than happy to be shed of this one. I bid 2010 adieu with two upraised middle fingers and a shout of defiance.

It's time to face forward.

I've mentioned that sometimes, the radio talks to me, that the station I most often tune to has a tendency to play certain songs over and over again, and sometimes, the songs that cycle into that repetitious rotation are ones that directly address my moods and circumstances.

Back in November, as I was preparing to move a lifetime of belongings out of [livejournal.com profile] quelonzia's garage, this one played nearly every day.

I was going to post it tomorrow, but it played again, just minutes ago.

This, then, is my New Year: No Resolutions, Just Resolve.

I've got a world and a life and a future in front of me.

And it's mine.






I know what it means to walk along the lonely street of dreams ... )

Happy New Year, one and all!

athelind: (Eye of Agammotto)
One of my co-workers brought in a CD of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society's A Very Scary Solstice.

I found that it works best if you play it just low enough that listeners can identify the jolly holiday tunes, but can't quite hear the lyrics.

Of course, since I mentioned these songs, I have to link to the music videos for two of them:







athelind: (Eye - VK)
In the tradition of [livejournal.com profile] paka and [livejournal.com profile] hafoc:

"Jane Austen. Novelist.

"Gentlemen, we can rebuild her. We have the technology."


athelind: (coyote durp durp durp)
I think I'm a hypochondriac, but maybe I'm just imagining the symptoms.


athelind: (Howitzer)
The phrase "crawling from the wreckage of my life" has been running through my head today.

It has an oddly positive tone that seems at odds with the words ...

... but when you realize that the alternative is "trapped in the wreckage of my life", then the upbeat tone all makes sense.


athelind: (Eye - VK)
Last week's Yoda quote raised a little controversy in the comments.

Here's another quote that I find equally compelling:

"Failure is always an option!"

—Adam Savage, Mythbusters



In my mind, this does not conflict in any way with Yoda's "Do, or do not; there is no try."

Let's put that into some context, courtesy CNET:

That leads to another question I wanted to ask: Talk about the notion of "Failure is always an option."

Savage: Well, people always imagine a scientist sets up an experiment to prove something. When it doesn't, they imagine him saying "my experiment was a failure." In fact, a real scientist sets up an experiment to test something. If he was wrong about his preconceptions, he's far from upset. In fact, it means something else entirely new has been illuminated. This is how it is for us, and thus we say that any experiment that yields data, even if we were wrong about what that data would be, is a successful experiment.


As Unca Sammy taught me to say:

Failure1 is not Failure2.



When Yoda says, "that is why you fail1", he's saying "you have sabotaged yourself with your own doubt and disbelieve, and your impatience has caused you to surrender when you have actually made headway toward accomplishing your goal." Only, you know, in backwards Muppet Moonspeak.

Failure1 means giving up.



When Adam says "failure2 is not an option", he's saying that, to an experimenter, there are no failures: there are unanticipated successes.

Failure2 means learning something new.



They are the same word, but they are not the same idea.


The "Feed Your Head" series started with the subject line, "Things I KNOW, but need to LEARN". If I sound didactic, rest assured that you are not the intended student body.

Which doesn't mean you're not welcome to audit the course, naturally.

athelind: (Dragon Conspiracy)
Conspiracy rants are often amusing.

Conspiracy rants that cite Mage: the Ascension as factual material are Comedy Gold.


athelind: (eco-rant)
Okay, one reason, and one alone:

The United States of America consumes a disproportionate amount of the world's resources, and produces a disproportionate amount of its pollution. Even a massive socio-economic catastrophe isn't going to do more than moderate that, at least over the next half-century or so. this is an issue that I can't run away from, because the ripples affect the entire world, and not just economically.

I am an Earth Systems Scientist.

If I have any hope of having an effect on this globe-threatening situation, it's gotta be here.

I've got my lever, rusty as it may be, and I think I'm narrowing down my places to stand.


athelind: (politics)
This was originally tacked on as a footnote to my last post, but I think it needs to stand on its own.

For the record, the "Divided States of America" is only a "worst-case scenario" if the Balkanization is violent. That's not unlikely, because we're all pretty pissed at each other right now, and we do like our guns.

On the other claw, the Soviet Union managed to spin off its component without devolving into all-out war, though, even if there were border skirmishes; if the U.S. pulled off the same trick, California might wind up better off than we are now, with the Federal Government funneling money out of the eighth-largest economy in the world and into Red States who rant against taxation, welfare and government interference.


athelind: (prisoner)
Mostly for my own reference: some thoughtful and measured words about emigration.

I'll tell ya: ever since reading Toffler's predictions for the future of the two "Second Wave" superpowers in 1990's Powershift, and watching it come true in the Soviet Union less than a year later, there's a part of me that's been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Yes, I'm fully aware that this kind of apocalyptic paranoia has contributed to the paralyzing stasis of my life since graduation.

Still, there's an important truth in play: things aren't getting any better in the Untidy States, and the best-case scenario is to hope that the continual erosion of our rights and freedoms will be sufficiently gradual that we won't notice.

And the alternatives ... well, we seem to be using all the worst clichés of Cyberpunk as a road map as it is, why not that one, too?*

I would really like to convince myself that this is just pessimism due to the latest economic downturn, but even during the boom years of the '90s, I saw the "New Democrats" quietly and casually continuing the trends of restricting the rights of biological individuals and increasing the freedoms of "corporate persons". Some oppressed groups have made a few advances in acceptance, but really, it's just welcoming them to the same Village that the rest of us live in. One step forward, two steps back.

I'm in the process of reevaluating my life, realigning my goals, and trying to get a better grip on how the "real world" works.

And around here ... it doesn't. Not very well. Not in ways that will do me any good, now or in the future.

Realistically, if I'm trying to reconstruct my present to make plans for my future, "emigration" needs to be one of my options—even and especially if I land the elusive "Real Job" locally.

The big issue, of course, is that the other Anglophone nations don't really want more USian expatriates.


This is not a post about pessimism or defeatism. This is a post about options.
*See next post.

athelind: (Warning: Caustic)
One of the recurrent themes in yesterday's discussions of "Draw Mohammad Day" was that when you deliberately go out to provoke people, there are going to be consequences.

Well, after my post about Fundamentalism and Atheism, the comment threads that followed, and my own flippant, insensitive responses, I just wound up losing one of my oldest friends.

Yeah. Go me.


athelind: (no help whatsoever)
I got home and read my comments.

I'm just ...

I mean ...

I ...

Aw, screw it.

What the hell, it's not like I can make things WORSE:



It's short for "Athelind".




athelind: (Default)
A comment over at [livejournal.com profile] toob's journal prompted me to finally put down in words something that I've mulled over for a very long time.

Over the decades, I've seen a great deal of evidence to support the hypothesis that, no matter what faith they might nominally adhere to, Fundamentalists of any creed have more in common with each other than they do with more moderate adherents of their own creed.

From my observations, the common keystone in the Fundamentalist worldview is this:

We and we alone know the One True and Proper Path, and those who disagree with us are not merely in error, they are evil, they are our enemies, and any abuse we can deliver unto them is not only justified, but for their own good.


All too often, this becomes the Fundamentalist's primary tenet -- the specific details of his or her faith all become a distant second to the pure, blind assertion that I am right and you are not.

This is their true religion.

Proportionally, I've seen just as many Fundamentalists who think they're Atheists as I have Fundamentalists who think they're Anything Else, and their reaction to Thoughtcrime is just as zealous.

Did that last sentence piss you off?

Might want to run some diagnostics.


athelind: (cronkite)
[Error: unknown template qotd]

Do you think the government should have the right to censor the media? If you're generally against censorship, are there any circumstances under which you feel it might be warranted?

Unca Bob had this one down:

When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, "This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know," the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything—you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.

—Robert Anson Heinlein, "If This Goes On—" (1940)



That, by the way, is from a short novel about a Fundamentalist takeover of the United States after a "backwoods preacher" is elected President in 2012.1

Heinlein also said, "The whole principle is wrong; it's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't eat steak."

Now, Unca Bob, especially in the second quote, was talking about what Wikipedia calls moral censorship2, the suppression of speech that some individuals might find offensive or immoral; that is, in my estimation, subtly different from military censorship.

It is the opinion of Your Obedient Serpent that both "moral" and "military" censorship are always wrong; however, there are instances when the latter might be less bad than the alternatives. A Fully Transparent Government would not have survived World War II, and the most likely replacement had even less regard to such niceties.

It's a key part of my ethical system, however, that being forced to do bad things to avoid worse consequences does not make them good things; when you allow yourself to frame the kind of secrecy and suppression practiced in WWII as "good", you take the first step on the slippery slope that justifies political censorship, and all the cover-ups and black projects that burden us today.

I also don't automatically equate industry ratings systems as "censorship", although the MPAA has certainly demonstrated that they can be arbitrary and putative, and big studios, finding that "General Audience" films are often ignored, often tack extra nude scenes or coarse language to get an otherwise-acceptable movie out of the "kiddie ghetto"—an ironic kind of anti-censorship. Marvel Comics has implemented an entirely functional ratings system for their comics, however; while most adult comic readers are wholly unaware that Marvel even has one, the discreet little letter codes in the UPC symbol box provide a useful guide to parents looking for suitable reading material for their children, and comic store workers attempting to assist them.

I could go on, but I expect these opinions to get thoroughly Disassembled in the comments. I haven't even touched on the idea of "hate crimes" yet.


1The same timeline has a well-established Lunar colony at this point; grumbling about only getting the crappy parts of future histories may now commence.

2Wikipedia distinguishes between "moral" and "religious" censorship; please pardon me if I consider that to be hair-splitting.

athelind: (ufo)
[Error: unknown template qotd]

Do you believe in UFOs? Do you have a gut dis/belief or do you rely on empirical proof?

Cheese and rice, who vets these questions these days? Here's another one packed with vague terminology and unwarranted assumptions.

Granted, these are common assumptions, but no less unwarranted, and no less inane.

First and Foremost: UFOs are not a matter of belief or disbelief. I have no doubt whatsoever that there are Flying Objects that have not been Identified, and I suspect that there are those that will flatly deny Identification in the foreseeable future.

Second: the Little Gray Man that accompanies the question on the LJ Home Page carries the implication that "believing in UFOs" conflates to "believing in the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis". In short, it assumes an implicit Identification of the "Unidentified".

"I don't know what it is, so it must be a space alien" is only one possible explanation of Strange Lights In The Sky That Defy Conventional Explanation, and it's not even the most exotic.

And let's not even get into whether you can use "empirical evidence" to prove a negative, since it's entirely unclear as to what is being "proved" or "disproved" here.


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