athelind: (Eye - VK)
Songs and song titles make great adventure seeds. In the past, I've had GMs who constructed entire campaigns around albums by Jethro Tull or King Crimson.

It's especially appropriate for comic book games -- Stan Lee loved to play on pop music for his story titles. The right combination of words and the songs they describe can suggest entire, baroque scenarios. It's kind of like the way Silver Age DC (and Golden Age Pulp SF) editors would commission a cover, hand it to a writer, and say, "I need a story to go with this."

The questions to ask when you try this:

  • What kind of scenario does the title suggest?
  • Does it describe an event? An adversary? An ally or a victim? Just a general mood or theme?
  • How much of the song itself can I lift to help flesh out the adventure?


So, LiveJournal HiveMind, Your Obedient Serpent has the request lines open: give me song titles that you think would make good adventures, particularly superhero adventures.

Don't feel like you have to be obvious, but don't feel like you have to be obscure, either. "Eve of Destruction" is obvious; "Winds of Change", a bit less; "I Don't Like Mondays" sounds like a Garfield punchline unless you know the song and the story behind it.

Give me titles; if you feel like it, give me the scenarios that come to mind when YOU hear them -- or just toss them down as a challenge.

My players all read this, so I'm screening replies!


*"But that trick never works!"
athelind: (Eye - VK)
... or rather, Dust in the Laptop.

My laptop is three years old, and I've been using it as my primary computer system for almost two years.

It's exhibiting the telltale signs of overheating -- lagged keyboard response time, stutters in streaming video, inexplicable lock-ups. If this were a desktop system, it would be a simple thing to open the case and empty a can or two of compressed air into it to blow the dust off the components.

Just how does one accomplish that with a sealed hunk of plastic like this? Aside from the battery compartment, there are a couple of removable panels on the back; I figure one gives access to the hard drive, and the other, to the RAM. Any suggestions before I risk disabling my sole connection to the Internet?

Edit: It's an Acer Aspire 5516, essentially a netbook with an oversized 15.6" screen. I have the manual now; if the KB is removable, there's no indication, but I can now confirm what all the panels on the back are.


athelind: (RPG: Setting the Stage)
Another song popped into my head as I was perusing responses to the last post.

It's "defiant and heroic", but in a very different sense than the rest of my examples.

... and definitely not "Wrong Publisher".






Superman never made any money ... )

And sometimes I despair the world will never see
Another man like him

athelind: (grognard)
I'm kicking around a playlist for the DC Adventures/Mutants & Masterminds game I'm going to be running Real Soon Now, and I'm looking for for songs with heroic, defiant themes.

This is what I've got so far:
  • Pat Benatar - Invincible
  • Muse - Victorious
  • Bonnie Tyler - Holding Out for a Hero
  • Queen - We Are The Champions
  • Remy Zero - Save Me (Smallville Theme)
  • Five for Fighting - Superman
  • Rush - New World Man



Maybes:
  • Vertical Horizon - Everything You Want
  • Blue Oyster Cult - Veteran of the Psychic Wars



Rejected suggestions:
  • Ozzy Ozbourne - Iron Man (Sorry, wrong publisher!)
  • The Beatles - The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
  • They Might Be Giants - Particle Man
  • Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick


Does anyone have any other suggestions?

This is just ONE playlist, mind. Another (which will get more use) will be purely instrumental, and there may be adventure-specific lists.


athelind: (coyote durp durp durp)
While discussing Renaissance history and culture for our upcoming Ironclaw campaign, [livejournal.com profile] kohai_tiger asked a question that surprised me -- in no small part because I realized I had never really thought to ask it before.

The question:

Europe traded with China, and got silk, tea, spices and all sorts of things.

What did China get from Europe?


Of course, my Eurocentric US-ian education didn't have an answer for that ... and, to my annoyance, my Google Fu hasn't proven equal to the task of getting an answer.

I turn to you, O Loyal Readers. Can anyone provide links and references to tell us just what it was the successors to Marco Polo were delivering to the Middle Kingdom in return for all those well-known luxury goods?


athelind: (Eye - VK)
I'm looking at registering a domain or two, and I'm wondering if any of the registrars out there still offer multi-year registration for a discount. I got spoiled by the luxury of knowing that we didn't have to worry about renewing our domains for a full decade.


athelind: (hoard potato)
Well, Mearls started it:

This is a placeholder to remind myself to talk about core stories in my next post, particularly as they apply both to superhero RPGs and to the comics themselves.

Notes to Emphasize:
  • Different characters (and teams) have different core stories.
    • Batman's Core Story is not the same as Superman's.
    • The Fantastic Four and the X-Men have similar core stories based on familial connections.
    • The Hulk has a very different core story.

  • Core stories change over time.
  • Heroes get dull and predictable when writers forget their core stories and replace them with "Bad guy acts, heroes react, there is punching."
  • Most superhero RPGs assume "act/react/punch" is the core story.
  • What core story am I going to use for Gateway City?



Feel free to provide commentary while I'm gone. Talk amongst yourselves; I'll steal your ideas for the full post.

athelind: (Captain America 01)

[livejournal.com profile] forthright looks for some silver linings in the election results.



Everything I know about Canadian politics, I learned from LiveJournal; I confess I'm only grasping a fraction of what's going on up there.* I do know that I read (and am read) by a lot of people in the GWNE who don't read each OTHER, so one thing I CAN contribute is CONNECTION.


*Here's the fraction I do grasp, as well as I grasp it: new Lefty party caused a split in the votes, and some weird distortion of proportional Parliamentary procedure called "first past the post" has turned that into a Conservative majority. A "Canadian Politics For Unitistatians and Other Dummies" would be greatly appreciated.
athelind: (Warning: Group Intellect)
I like tea.

I like honey in my tea.

Honey is too damned sticky and messy to deal with at work.

Is there, like, crystallized honey out there? In nice little packets, like sugar?


athelind: (no help whatsoever)
I just found occasion to use the phrase, "killing two birds with one stone".

I realized that my proposed course of action could, in fact, dispatch several problems at once, and amended it to "two or three birds".

For a moment, I contemplated extending the metaphor to "a veritable single-stone avian Columbine", but given that I was posting to a schoolteacher's LJ about a school-related issue, I decided that might be ever-so-slightly inappropriate.


What's it called when you push a metaphor to the breaking point, where it no longer makes sense anymore? i know there's a phrase for that, but it's eluding my Morning Brain.
athelind: (green hills of earth)
It's late, and we're in the hotel bar. Maybe it's the starport hotel, or maybe it's just this year's convention. It doesn't matter. It's late, and maybe we've been drinking a bit too much, but someone starts singing, and, by the last three verses, we're all singing along.

All of us who know the lyrics, anyway, and what philistine doesn't know at least the chorus of "The Green Hills of Earth", by Rhysling, Blind Singer of the Spaceways?

The arching sky is calling
Spacemen back to their trade.
"ALL HANDS! STAND BY! FREE FALLING!"
And the lights below us fade.

Out ride the sons of Terra,
Far drives the thundering jet,
Up leaps a race of Earthmen,
Out, far, and onward yet ---

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.


[Poll #1625842]


... can anyone think of something a little more hard rock that uses the Common Meter?


And here's the X Minus 1 radio adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's biography of Rhysling.
athelind: (Warning: Lack of Internet)
Icon to the contrary, Internet access is the one thing I do have at the moment.

My cellphone account has always been provided through [livejournal.com profile] quelonzia's employer. Due to our impending divorce, it has now been terminated.

Time to tap into the LiveJournal Hive Mind again:

I need to find an inexpensive, reliable provider with good coverage in the Silicon Valley/Bay Area. I'm going to be spending a lot of time out in the eastern hills in the near future, so good rural coverage is a plus.

I want to transfer my old cell phone number, preferably without any additional service charges.

I think I should go with a pay-as-you-go plan; I don't need to get locked into monthly obligations when my income is, at best, erratic.

Unlimited evening and weekend hours are a must.

Unlimited text messaging would be Very Useful Indeed; our last contract charged us something like ten cents a pop.

Thanks in advance for the feedback, gang.


I should also note that my old email accounts will be terminated on Sunday. As a Permanent LiveJournal Account Holder, however, I can always be easily reached.
athelind: (loop)
Trying to grok microblogging and social networking just makes me feel old.

I feel the need to make the effort, though—in no small part because it does make me feel old. I look on in baffled incomprehension at a vast swath of online life, wholly Out Of the Loop, and I realize that I'm nearly as disconnected from the Bleeding Edge of the One-And-Twenty as someone with no Internet access at all.

The Unkind Curmudgeon, the part of me that tries to reduce the world into a series of Pithy Epigrams, keeps coming back to "these are ways for people to TALK when they don't have anything to SAY."

Of course, Pithy Epigrams are exactly what microblogging services like Twitter are all about; the Unkind Curmudgeon would thrive there.

I'm not sure I want the Unkind Curmudgeon to thrive.

Nevertheless, I can see the utility and appeal of the Twitters and Qaikus and Status.nets of the online world. Sometimes, you just want to say something quickly and efficiently, without wrapping a well-thought-out blog entry (or stream of consciousness blather) around it. The first sentence of this entry would have been an ideal Tweet, but here, on LJ, I feel I have to elaborate.1

I also appreciate the idea of an ongoing, persistent conversation that's faster than a newsgroup but slower than IRCs or MUCKs. IM conversations have that quality on a one-to-one level: you can say something to someone, and they can respond at their leisure. 2

It's the Facebooks and MySpaces that I don't get. I'm on LinkedIn, the most professionally-oriented of the social network services, and I don't get it. There's no content on LinkedIn. Nothing happens. It's static. Even if you recognize former co-workers floating around on the service, it's just "hey, I know you [LINK]". It's another place to post my resume to get ignored.3

As I understand it, Facebook and the more "social" social nets have Other Stuff: microblog-style "Status Updates"; tedious mind-numbing timesinks "games" like Farmville; the exchange of pointless tchotchkes virtual tokens like the llamas of DeviantArt and the weird little icons that LiveJournal has tacked on in imitation.

I still don't quite grasp what you do on these networks, though. I don't grok how you interact with them. LiveJournal has the eminently-useful (if unfortunately-named) "Friends" list, which is an entirely useful means of monitoring those individuals who provide interesting content; I peruse mine regularly, and it irks me that there's not an equally-elegant way of following the Blogspot blogs I read.

I'm clueless about the SpaceBooks and MyFaces, though. honestly, I don't even know what such sites look like, since most of them are, in my experience, inaccessible to those who don't already have an account.

Given the well-publicized privacy issues and the impossibility of deleting accounts, I am extremely leery of registering just to see if I want to register.

Some contracts, you just don't want to sign.4

Why, you might ask, am I concerned about this at all?

It's not just because "all my friends are doing it."

Any number of recent articles in the blogosphere suggest that my mortal alter-ego's nigh-complete absence from the virtual sphere has had a negative impact on my career aspirations.[citation needed] A Google search on my mundane name yields my 2003 capstone thesis, a few sparse credits in a handful of published RPGs, and a lengthy discourse in an etymology blog about the plural of "octopus".

It's bad enough that my professional experience is so sparse, but, as far as any potential employer can determine, I have no personal interests whatsoever.

Nevertheless, I'm hesitant to establish overt connections between my Mundane Alter-Ego, the Earnest Environmental Scientist and Cartographer, and Your Obedient Serpent, who may be an Eloquent Commentator of Comics and Popular Culture, but also has some ... eccentric ... search results attached to his most-used nom de guerre.


1 Endlessly.

2 I do miss ICQ, which would let you drop someone a note even if they weren't online at the time; I described that more than once as "leaving a Post-It on their monitor".

3 But I'm not bitter!

4 I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you can not put downe; by the Which I meane, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use. Ask of the Lesser, lest the Greater shall not wish to Answer, and shall commande more than you. —H.P. Lovecraft, "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward".

athelind: (facepalm)
For the record, Measure J passed with 60% of the vote.






I think "monorail!" (with exclamation point) is now part of Athelind's Argot.
athelind: (cronkite)
I should have posted this a lot earlier than the day before the primary election, especially since I know a lot of people who vote Permanent Absentee and have already mailed their ballots in. Better late than never, though.

There's a big push here in Santa Clara for Measure J, committing millions of dollars of public money to build a stadium for the "San Francisco" '49ers.

I hear constant radio ads, talking about how it will "bring jobs" and "boost the economy" and "benefit the schools". In fact, one of those ads is playing as I type this.

I am deeply suspicious of these claims. Has anyone ever done any solid, rigorous studies on the real economic benefits that the presence of a big-league sports franchise claims to provide to a city? Has anyone looked at how the economy of a city swings around when a sports franchise arrives—or when one leaves?

The gut reaction a lot of people have seems to be, "this is a great, big project; of course it will bring great, big changes". There's a lot of talk about intangibles like "prestige" that will bring increased tourist activity, and that it will be a Major Civic Improvement, the centerpiece of a mercantile theme park; there's an air of Shiny Happy Utopianism to these proposals that makes Walt Disney's plans for EPCOT sound cynical.

My gut reaction is that the presence of a sports team doesn't make a lot of difference in a city's "prestige", or in the vacation choices of most travelers. Los Angeles is still Los Angeles, with or without the Raiders—and Oakland, alas, remains Oakland.

I also have to say that, in my experience, the neighborhoods which are fortunate enough to have a stadium descend upon like some Spielbergian mothership seldom look like they've had a significant economic boost. They're not so much "Utopian Theme Parks" full of prosperous businesses and happy locals as they are, um, scuzzy slums punctuated by parking lots.

Full Disclosure: I don't have a lot of use for organized sports. Growing up, baseball was just something that preempted weekend reruns of Star Trek, and football's greatest virtue was that it seldom interrupted things that I wanted to watch. Still, if the presence of a sports franchise really did have a measurable positive impact on the local flux of valuta into the coffers of the city and the pockets of the citizenry, I'd be all for it.

I'm just not convinced.

I hear a lot from the supporters of Measure J.

I don't hear a lot from the opponents.

To me, in this day and age, that doesn't suggest that there are more or better reasons to support the stadium.

It says that someone with deep, deep pockets is shelling out a lot of Dead Presidents to convince us that there are—and that those who disagree don't have nearly as many resources to make their case.

Of course, in this day and age, one doesn't need a lot of folding green to make one's case, and to present hard data. It's just harder to get people's attention without it.

It took some searching to find Santa Clara Plays Fair: The Problems with Measure J. I cheerfully admit that the numbers they present and the claims they make dovetail with my biases and prejudices—however, they're also more thorough and detailed than any of the pro-stadium rhetoric being bandied about.

Follow the numbers, follow the dollars.


athelind: (hoard potato)
This is partly related to [livejournal.com profile] legacy2020, and partly a matter of general curiosity.

Back in World War II, Clark Kent volunteered for service, but failed his eye test. He was sufficiently agitated that his x-ray vision kicked in, and he wound up reading the (entirely different) eye chart in the next exam room. That popped up in the Superman newspaper strip, in February of 1942:



Bruce Wayne, on the other claw ... I have no idea what kept him out of the service. The Batman movie serial of 1943 has a line where Bruce and Dick talk about being on "special assignment" for "Uncle Sam", with the implication that said uncle knows who Batman and Robin really are, but to the best of my knowledge, nothing of the sort was ever brought up in the funny pages.

We've got the appropriate volumes of The Batman Chronicles at the store, and I suppose I could leaf through them and find out. On the other claw, it's more fun to ask the LiveJournal Hive Mind:

  1. Did the comics of the '40s ever provide an explanation for why Bruce Wayne stayed out of the service?
  2. Did any post-WWII comics throw in any retcons to answer the question?
  3. Okay, gang, what do you think? Did Bruce use his wealth to pull strings? Or did the proverbial "little man from the Draft Board" simply never drop in on Wayne Manor? Not everyone got called up, after all, and Lazy Trust Fund Playboy is exactly the kind of stereotype nobody would expect to volunteer.



(Please indicate which questions you're answering when you comment. Specific citations are preferable to hearsay, naturally.)
athelind: (Warning: Group Intellect)
Question:

When responding to a job posting that doesn't list a specific contact person, what's the best way to open a cover letter? I've been using "Dear Sir or Madam", but that sounds a little vague, a little stiff, and a lot like the opening to a Beatles song.

Obviously, the ideal option is to address a cover letter to a specific person, by name, but this is not always possible.

Should I stick with "Dear Sir or Madam", use some other gender-neutral salutation, or just leave it off entirely and dive right into the "Look At Me, I'm Wonderful!" part of the letter?

[Poll #1561114]


athelind: (Eye: RCA Magic Eye)
Question for the Hive Mind:

I am using Ubuntu Linux 9.04.

I want to simply hash up a text file, so I can just push a button or enter a short password to unlock it. This doesn't need to be bulletproof; when I was running Windows, I used EditPad Lite's ROT-13 function for the same purpose. It does, however, need to be portable: I want to be able to encrypt a file on the laptop, and open it on the desktop using the same application.

The gedit GNOME text editor has an Encrypt/Decrypt plug-in, but it drops into the OpenPGP "Passwords and Encryption Keys" application, which is a) incomprehensible gobbledygook1, b) overkill worthy of SlitherSting2, and, most importantly c) not, insofar as I can tell, particularly portable: any pass phrase I come up with will be linked to a locally-stored Encryption Key File.

That last one HAS to be wrong. The whole point of PGP is to pass encrypted files around, right?

OpenPGP also makes passwords pass phrases encryption keys thingamabobs that expire after a maximum of six months, and I don't want that. Yes, I know, blah blah blah security blah blah, but I'm not a Swiss bank. I want to be able to hash a file, ignore it for a couple of years, and then open it up and still be able to use it, even if it's on a different machine.

Heck, I've got a command-line ROT-13 hash app for Ubuntu. If I knew enough about the Ubuntu equivalent of a DOS .BAT file, I'd whip something up that just let me enter "Innocuous Command" at the command prompt, and it would turn it into "Decrypt location/hashfu.bar > location/useful.txt", and another one to go the other way.

Now, I wouldn't mind PGP-level security, if I could make it portable and access it with a minimum of fuss.


1"Ubuntu" is not in the default dictionary for the spell-checker in Ubuntu, but "gobbledygook" and "thingamabobs" are.
2Yes, that will get an Argot entry eventually.



You know, I'm gonna Andy Rooney here for a minute.

There's an ongoing and, as far as I can tell, unsolved conflict between Keeping Your Data Secure and Actually Being Able To Use It Yourself.

I constantly hear that :

  • Passwords should be hard to guess.
    • This, of course, makes them hard to remember.

  • The best passwords are completely random.
    • ... making them impossible to remember.

  • You should have different passwords for every site and log-on.
    • ... giving you vast amounts to remember.

  • You should change your passwords regularly.
    • Ibid.

  • You should never, ever write them down, because anyone who finds your password book has access to your whole life.
    • Not that you have much of a life, since you spend all your time trying to access sites whose passwords you no longer remember.

  • You shouldn't store them on your computer, either, because anyone with physical access to your machine will, again, have full access to Your Whole Life.
    • Besides, if anything happens to your computer, or if you have to use a different one, you'll have totally forgotten all your passwords.


Summary: Online Security and Password Protection lie somewhere between Catch-22 and Kobayashi Maru. Unless you spent the points for Full Eidetic Memory, you have to compromise on at least one of the above, and probably more.

That's not really a question. It's just me bitching.


athelind: (coyote drives)
The manual mentions that the light might come on if you're low on fuel, as small amounts of air can get into the fuel line and cause a misfire. Sounds like trying to start the engine with a nonfunctioning fuel pump would cause the same effect—though it's odd that it would hit 50 miles later.

Based on the manual and the Very Useful Feedback I've been getting from the Hive Mind, I'm gonna open the gas cap and re-seal it, then go check the tire pressure*, and see where that leaves me. EVERYTHING, including the manual, suggests that a) It's Nothing Urgent Or Critical and b) It May Just Go Away By Itself In A Few Days, esp. if I do those little things.

(If the light were blinking, of if it were the SERVICE light instead of "Service Engine Soon", that would be another matter.)

Consensus: If it's still shining merrily on Monday, then I'll worry.

Thanks to everyone for all the information and advice!


*My usual service station doesn't have an air hose, so I've been uncharacteristically remiss in keeping tabs on my tire pressure. Yes, this may have contributed to the blowout.
athelind: (coyote drives)
According to my manual (a used car that came with the original manual! Amazing!), the "Service Engine Soon" light is indeed the "Check Engine" light.

Modifications made to the engine, transaxle, exhaust or fuel system of your vehicle, or the replacement of the original tires with other than those of the same Tire Performance criteria (TPC) can affect your vehicle's emission controls and may cause the "Service Engine Soon" light to come on.

Obviously, I just changed a tire -- it's the same kind as the other three, but there are differences in wear patterns, and I don't know if they checked and filled the pressure in the old ones, so there might be enough difference there to freak the chip out.

Rewiring the fuel pump might also count as "modifications to the fuel system".

[livejournal.com profile] halfelf revealed that AutoZone stores will check the OBD II chip for free, so, once I grab a shower, I'll head out to the closest one.

[[Edit: Crap. No, they don't, anymore—at least not in California. Argh.]]

I didn't mention the odd not-quite-metallic smell that I noticed when I got out of the car last night; [livejournal.com profile] thoughtsdriftby confirmed it. If it was coming from my car, then it might still be a bit more complicated than New Tires.

Oy.

athelind: (facepalm)
... when the "Service Engine Soon" light comes on, how badly is one's wallet about to get raped?


athelind: (Eye - VK)
This is a follow-up to this post.

Following [livejournal.com profile] foofer's advice, [livejournal.com profile] quelonzia got me a wireless bridge for my birthday, so I could finally get my desktop system back online. (Thank you, sweetness!)


The specific unit is a D-Link DAP-1522, purchased new from Fry's after a recommendation from Buy More's Nerd Herd Best Buy's Geek Squad.

I cannot configure the wireless settings for it.

It hooks up fine to the computer, and the Setup Wizard sees. the household wireless network, but the settings the Wizard imposes don't seem to take. It tells me that it's connected when I go to the bridge's Status page, but it doesn't actually connect.

According to the manual, when I go to the wireless setup page, I should see a nice, long pageful of wireless settings. )

What I actually see is a pair of buttons, a header, and nothing underneath. )

Something Is Wrong, obviously. Is that Something in the Operator or the Device? Am I screwing something up, or do I need to just return this and get a new unit?


athelind: (Eye - VK)
This is a follow-up to this post.

Following [livejournal.com profile] foofer's advice, [livejournal.com profile] quelonzia got me a wireless bridge for my birthday, so I could finally get my desktop system back online. (Thank you, sweetness!)


The specific unit is a D-Link DAP-1522, purchased new from Fry's after a recommendation from Buy More's Nerd Herd Best Buy's Geek Squad.

I cannot configure the wireless settings for it.

It hooks up fine to the computer, and the Setup Wizard sees. the household wireless network, but the settings the Wizard imposes don't seem to take. It tells me that it's connected when I go to the bridge's Status page, but it doesn't actually connect.

According to the manual, when I go to the wireless setup page, I should see a nice, long pageful of wireless settings. )

What I actually see is a pair of buttons, a header, and nothing underneath. )

Something Is Wrong, obviously. Is that Something in the Operator or the Device? Am I screwing something up, or do I need to just return this and get a new unit?


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