Derik Badman's Journal

November 2019

2019-11-01 09:44

Woken up just after I feel asleep last night by a tornado warning. It was about 11:30, so we got out of bed and stayed downstairs in the dark until the warning passed. The power went out pretty quickly, and the wind outside was pretty crazy. Not any really great spots in the house that are away from windows on ground floor. By the time the warning expired and the storm had passed there were a lot of flashing lights going by in the street and then... not disappearing into the distance. We could see emergency vehicles parked just down the street. Turns out a tree had fallen onto a house and two of the people inside got trapped it took an hour and a half to get both out. I've imagined that happening to me in the past, as I lay awake at night.

I woke up extra early, still no power, so I get showered and dressed mostly in the dark, and decided to take a walk to see how much of town was without power. It was cold and very dark outside but looking up at the sky I could see so many stars, way more than I can normally see around here, it was really beautiful. There were 3 local news vans down the street where the tree fell on the house, I'm not sure why since there didn't appear to be any emergency vehicles left there.

All of town was dark and quite, not many cars out, no people, no lights. It was pretty neat to walk around in the dark like that in a place that is usually lit up.

(Emergency vehicle lights on the bedroom wall...)

Emergency vehicle lights on the bedroom wall 1 Emergency vehicle lights on the bedroom wall 2

2019-11-03 07:46

Daylight savings time ended last night, which means I have to start remembering I'm UTC-05:00 now. To most people that probably means nothing, but a lot of my work involves timestamps and they are always in UTC, so I do a lot of converting to my local time. If I'm looking in some logs to troubleshoot a problem that happened at 8am my time, I have to convert that forward to search or scan the logs. Getting that wrong because of stupid daylight savings time can really be a pain (I've wasted time in the past before realizing I was an hour off in where I was looking at logs).

It's nice and cool and the air is crisp outside this weekend. Enough to wear a flannel shirt and a sweatshirt when leaving the house. This is my favorite time of year, before it turns too cold.

Spent much of yesterday playing The Outer Worlds on my PS4. It's a new sci-fi action RPG. It doesn't seem terribly new at this point, but it's a solid game. My main issue with it so far is that it's first person which I really dislike. I find the way first person is handled in video games odd and inadequate, and I really prefer to be able to see my character as I move around, it's much less confusing. It's also weird in that this game, like most RPGs let's you customize your character but then... it's first person so you never really see your character. In general, the game is most reminiscent of Fallout 4, which I think is not unexpected as this same studio made some of the previous Fallout games. It has a similar sarcastic sci-fi setting, though this one is in space, so there are multiple planets to visit. It does seem to nicely allow for multiple ways to solve problems and for decision making. From a review or two I've read I understand that there are actual changes that happen based on your decisions. I seem to, I think, have found a better solution than one of the reviewers for the first major decision you have to make about a colony on a planet. So far, fun, not too difficult, and plenty of time wasted on it.

Finished up The Sacred Era by Yoshio Aramaki last night, another one of my library books from earlier in the week. It started out well enough, a sci-fi setting that was at least partially dystopic, with some kind of religion having started a new era on Earth. Technology was clearly not too advanced (there's a train and a later spaceships, but not a lot of tech evident early on). There was a young naive character, passing an exam to be in the "sacred service" (basically some kind of sort of religion/science work), and trying to figure out what he was supposed to be doing. But the longer the book went on the more it devolved into this dreamlike Surrealistic fugue about repetition or rebirth or something. The plot sort of dropped away, and the protagonist was pretty much completely passive, just going along without making decisions or taking any actions or really having much in the way of thoughts. In the end I was just bored and confused about the point of the whole thing.

November started and some folks on Instagram, at least, are doing #30dayscomics. I started that way back... when?... and it's always cool to see people still doing it years later. It almost motivates me to try making some comics, but at this point I feel like I've lost all my procedures and processes. I have to learn new programs, new keyboard shortcuts, recreate templates. I could always just use paper, but then... it's been so long, my drawing always looks so bad. Not loose enough to be cool and sketchy, not tight enough to be refined and slick. Just... kind of dead lines. I guess I could go back to photos again, probably where I feel I was most successful with a lot of those comics anyway. I don't know. Would it even be worth the effort anymore? I guess I don't think so, since it's been this long.

This journal at least provides some creative outlet, such as it is. Though sometimes it ends up becoming more rote than I would wish, and I've missed more days than I like. There was no reason I didn't write yesterday, just that I... never put in the time.

2019-11-05 08:20

Once again, got so wrapped up in my video game and working that I never wrote anything. Even being ahead of schedule for work, I still end up working too much.

The new collection of John Crowley stories And Go Like This arrived yesterday from Small Beer Press. I stumbled upon its existence a few months ago when looking up some other book they published. At the time it was a pre-order, so I kind of forget it would be coming out in the beginning of November. I jumped into the first story last night, one I had already read in an issue of Conjunctions many years ago. Very excited to read the rest (all or at least most of which I've not read before). I remember first finding Crowley's Little, Big on the shelves of the public library I worked in high school. A fantasy paperback, but for some reason one of those shelved with the regular fiction rather than the much less organized sci-fi/fantasy books. I no longer remember what attracted me to it, but I ended up reading it and loving it. And then reading more of his novels, and then waiting endlessly for the various sequels to Aegypt (now called The Solitudes since the four book tetralogy now has the former name). I've read the whole series through only once I think, but the earlier books I've read multiple times, and there are still scenes from them stuck in my head, like parts of a film, which doesn't happen with a ton of books I read.

We're getting a rain garden installed behind the house this week. The borough environmental committee got a grant to do work with stormwater management and part of it is installing rain gardens. Since we live on a hill above a park with a creek which has flooded in the past, it seemed like a good idea for us to help out. Yesterday the guys dug a swale (a new word for me) from where our busiest rain gutter can direct water down to where the garden is going. It's the sandy area that used to house an above ground swimming pool that we dismantled shortly after buying the house. That area of the yard it totally overgrown now like a jungle. The rain garden will be a good start to getting things a little more managed back there.

2019-11-06 07:54

I walk around my town a lot. There are 4-way stop signs on most intersections off the main drag, and I inevitably, pretty much every day, see people just blow right through them. I see that, and I despair for humanity. If people can't follow a really simple rule that is both for their own and others' safety, how can we expect them to do anything? I've almost been hit numerous times by people that just didn't bother to look even when turning at the intersections.

I forgot to write the other day about my Sunday movie viewing. I watched Naruse's Sound of the Mountain from 1954. I was reading this article called "The Smile of Setsuko Hara" about one of Ozu's frequent leading ladies, and it mentioned her appearance in this other film. It's based on a Yasunari Kawabata novel I really love (of the same name). I've read the novel a few times and had heard of the movie, but never had an available way to watch it. But the Criterion Channel to the rescue!

It turned out to be a pretty faithful (to my recollection) adaptation of the novel's plot, but on the whole not a very exciting one. Hara is great, as always, but in general the style of it is was invisible to me. Just a regular drama. Nothing made me sit up and really take notice like when I'm watching an Ozu movie.

Still playing The Outer Worlds on my PS4. It's a fun game, though also pretty easy. There are no real puzzles or complications to it yet. I've yet to really have issues balancing factions (and there are quite a few that the game tracks your reputation with) or making decisions. Like many games I can turn up the difficulty on combat, but nothing else, and the fighting just isn't that exciting. Like many of these games, also, there is a proliferation of stuff you can pick up. I have tons of consumables (drinks, medicines, food, etc.) that offer various temporary bonuses, but even at normal difficulty I have yet to need any of them.

I am enjoying the narrative and world building though. There is a lot going on, that at times becomes a bit overwhelming. Like in Skyrim or Fallout 4 one quickly accumulates a large list of quests even when trying to stick to just one. (Edit: After finishing the game, this turned out to be an illusion, I had a lot of quests at once and then there didn't end up being a lot more of them later.)

2019-11-08 06:45

I'm getting bad at keeping this to every day. I start work early so I can finish early and then... well I never was good at getting anything creative done at night. In college I had friends who would stay up all night working on projects, but I'd always just go to sleep and work on my stuff during the day.

Up at the crack of down this morning to help handle some server maintenance for work. Of course it was also a night where I woke up at like 3:30 or something and spent the rest of the night sleeping in bits and then waking up. It was like I'd be in that half asleep state and then something in my brain would give me a poke and I'd be awake again.

Sometimes I think I'm repeating myself a lot as I write here. I just started writing a sentence, had a vague sense, and then looking back realized I had already written almost the same sentence a few days ago.

2019-11-09 03:04

A lazy Saturday afternoon. I finished The Outer Worlds which turned out being a smaller game than I expected. The space navigation map had a lot of places on it that it turns out you never actually go to. In the end, it was a fun game but not a particularly great one. Certainly not one I will be revisiting. I do have a tendency to replay games when I really like them. I've played the Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Witcher games multiple times each, and always enjoyed my replays: finding new parts of the game, trying out different characters, making different decisions to trigger different stories and endings.

The Outer Worlds had decision elements, but most of them felt pretty limited and once you made them didn't do much more than effect the long ending where a narrator tells you all about what happened to all the different groups, people, and places. The game also ended up feeling both small and... excessive. I was playing on the "normal" difficulty level and there were all these consumables and equipment mods and such that I just never really needed. It ended up being just a lot of stuff to pickup, carry around, and ossacionally sell for not enough money to make it worthwhile. While occasionally going the extra mile to explore and find secrets brought out alternate ways to resolve a quest or just extra narrative information, a lot of the time it was just discovering more crap that mostly you didn't need anyway. One of the things I always liked about the Mass Effect games is they didn't overburden you with stuff, and instead focused on character and story. This game felt like it was trying to go a little too far into the first person shooter mode but also maintain a rich narrative.

There were also a few other aspects of the game I literally never used, like some kind of time stopping power that I kept forgetting I had, and my NPC companions had special abilities that I never remembered or used. They seemed completely extraneous.

At least it didn't end up being a game I wasted weeks on. I was entertained, but also felt like it was not totally worth the time I put into it. Back to other endeavors. I really have a lot of books I need to read, I should devote the time I spent on games to more of those. The piles in my office are getting a little ridiculous and I have more books to pick up the library.

2019-11-10 12:51

Watched a 1933 silent Ozu movie this morning before breakfast. Woman in Tokyo is unusually short (47 minutes) and downbeat. I've not really watched many (any?) of his silent era movies before so I don't have much to compare it to in that respect, but I did notice the same careful care for composition and repetition as seen and refined in his later works, as well as those always identifiable transition shots.

The movie is a short tale about an older sister who besides working as a secretary, works as some kind of hostess or prostitute in a bar at night, all to support her younger brother's education. He doesn't know until his girlfriend's older brother (or possibly father?) hears rumours about it and tells her. She then tells the younger brother, who kills himself in... shame? It's a pretty bleak... morality tale (?). Which mostly made me think the brother was an idiot. He didn't ever seem to grasp that what she was doing was so she could support him. (Or maybe he did and... decided it was better to have all her effort be useless.)

Anyway, some screenshots of things I took note of.

Screenshot from Woman in Tokyo

A lovely composition of the young brother and his girlfriend as she is telling him about the rumours. Note how they are foregrounded by multiple teapots (I can't help but wonder if one of them is that red teapot that pops up in so many of Ozu's films) and some kind of tall heating device (at one point the brother lights it with a match and you see steam coming out of the teapot on top). The tall teapot divides them.

Screenshot from Woman in Tokyo {data-cat="movies ozu"} Screenshot from Woman in Tokyo

As their conversation continues and they both stand we get this great compositional matching. The camera is inbetween the two, but it is all organized so the ceiling lights appear in the same area of the composition during the cross-cuts.

Screenshot from Woman in Tokyo

This is just a great shot of the sister at the bar. This is the first (and really only) time we see her like this and at first she is unrecognizable from previous scenes. It took me until the next shot to realize it was the same character/actress. It also has a great noir vibe to the composition and lighting.

Screenshot from Woman in Tokyo

When the brother confronts his sister later in the film, we get a repeat of this composition with the teapot/heater dividing the male and female character, a thematic repetition about how he is separating himself from both women that love him.

Screenshot from Woman in Tokyo {data-cat="movies ozu"} Screenshot from Woman in Tokyo {data-cat="movies ozu"} Screenshot from Woman in Tokyo

After the two woman have learned of his suicide (the one collapses her head into the other's lap, sobbing), the film cuts to three transitional shots to the next scene. Nothing unusual for Ozu except that third shot, where the shadow on the wall looks like a noose. It's harder to notice in the still, but in the film it's slowly swaying back and forth. Not terribly subtle at that point, but an unusually direct symbolism for those transitional sequences.


2019-11-11 08:41

Finished up Molly Tanzer's Creatures of Will and Temper yesterday afternoon (spend a long time reading in the afternoon, since I finished my video game). It's a gothic fantasy that draws from Picture of Dorian Gray in a way that I'm sure I did not totally pick up on since it's been decades since I read Wilde's book. The obvious things like "Dorina Gray" and a prominent portrait (though not of her) and aspects of long life, but I don't remember the Wilde well enough to pick up on anything more. I enjoyed the novel as a fun read, finished it in probably 3 sittings, but it felt like it ended as a different book than it started as. A very slow build-up of romance and a bit of mystery ended up as a sudden climax of action and violence. It was a rather jarring change in the mood. I see there is a second book that is... not a sequel, but... I guess just a book in the same setting, that has gotten better reviews. I'll see if the library has it.

My next read is Geoff Dyer's Zona which is all about the movie Stalker. I'm maybe a third of the way through at this point and... I'm not totally convinced. I'm not really getting much out of it to increase my enjoyment of the film itself, and I'm finding Dyer's voice rather annoying. Now that I've actually written that out, I'm realizing I should just cut my losses and move on. The library has two more books waiting for me anyway. And it's good I just went the library catalog to look up the Tanzer book as it turns out the branch is closed for Veteran's Day. That saved me a failed errand today.

Watched the latest Watchmen episode over breakfast and coffee this morning. It occurred to me, in watching it, that this is a very rare tv show that features pretty much no teens or twenty-somethings. All the major characters are adults of at least slightly older age. There are a few small kids and one character introduced this episode who is maybe a tween, but otherwise no one with a major part to play. That actually feels right in relation to the original comic, since that too was about a bunch of characters who weren't still so young.

This episode has some interesting though sort of ostentatious transitions between scenes. One really quick one transitioning from a kitchen in the one character's house to the yard of another's, had a close-up shot of a waffle maker closing and then a close-up of a circular gate latch opening. It was so fast I almost missed it, but the matching of shape and the opposite movements was really nice.

2019-11-13 14:35

Took the day off and then ended up doing some work in the morning anyway. Without a currently ongoing video game I had nothing to easily fall into doing, and I've not currently got any projects in progress. There are some more things I could do with the journal site, but nothing that seems all that pressing. For some reason, I find refactoring code for work calming. I'm making improvements, it's a clearcut goal ("get rid of this file", "change this whole page over to newer classes/methods/templates") and it's kind of like straightening up.

Probably I should have spent that time straightening up my office which is getting a little out of control with piles of (mostly) books. They keep accumulating, but I've not managed to get rid of any in awhile despite the piles that are exclusively meant to be weeded out. Finding a good home for books is not always simple, and I can't just throw them out or recycle them. Sometimes I sell them to Powells online, but comics and rpg books are not usually what they want.

Part of the reason I took the day off was because I was getting a massage. I can do that over lunch break, but it seemed like a good reason to use up a day before the year is over. A massage still feels really decadent to me, possibly because the first things that comes to mind are scenes in old movies where rich people are getting massages while they talk to their underlings. But, for me, I realized today it's also a way to really focus on my physical being and try to not get lost in my thoughts. I could easily lay there and get lost in my thoughts and miss the actual experience. In a way it makes me think of the reading I've done on zazen. Sitting and focusing on sitting up straight and not letting yourself fall into your thoughts so that you actually experience the time spent. I've tried in the past, in the morning before work, and then, as has happened increasingly with this journal, I end up jumping into work early and then I start missing days. I really should set a hard start time for work and then make sure to focus on other morning habits.

2019-11-16 07:32

We were the target of a DDoS attack yesterday at work. It was not the app I work on, so I was just watching from the sidelines. For those not familiar with the term, basically someone programmed a bunch of bots/malware to simultaneous and constantly hit a website so that it is overwhelmed, stops working, and goes down. Our customers are pretty much all libraries, so this was some asshole attacking a library website. I can't even imagine the logic of that, ok, well I guess I can imagine some disgruntled and too skilled student attacking a school like that.

Got the new Stars Wars: Fallen Order game for my PS4 yesterday. I am not in general a big Star Wars fan. Sure, when I was a kid I had some of the toys (mostly inherited from my older brothers), and I've seen almost all the movies, but it's not like with Star Trek where I've watched full series multiple times. I saw the last few Star Wars movies just as a social event going out with my siblings-in-law. I tend to be impressed by the effects but bored and annoyed by the plots. But this game looks like it will be good, a third person action rpg type game.

We have an in-person game today. Eric is running a one-shot of Low Fantasy Gaming which is a D&D clone/variant. I used a random generator to create my name/class/race and ended up with a scribe beastman ("half-skorn" in the games lingo), then when rolling my stats ended up with the perfect stats for that: 18 intelligence, 8 strength. It'll be fun to play and not be running things.

2019-11-17 07:41

So, before I forget it all, here's a rundown from our game yesterday.

Low Fantasy Gaming one-shot

The party: - Toadvine (my character), half-skorn (beastman) scribe specializing in animal lore with a crossbow and a scroll of sleep. (An uncharacteristically super smart but very weak beastman.) - Rohanna, a former shield maiden cultist, some kind of northern viking-like race worshipping a goddess, with a big shield, a battle-ax, some healing magic, and a desire to make her goddess happy by dancing and saying appropriate things. (Cultist is the ruleset's cleric.) - Arlen, a dwarf monk with a desire to vote for everything and fast feet who likes to talk to cats. (My impression is the monk is basically the classic D&D unarmed fighting monk.) - Dak, a human monk with a staff and a good length of rope.

We decided the monks knew each other from the monastery in Crow's Keep the city we started in. Rohanna and Toadvine met on the way to the city (both being from elsewhere), and Toadvine and Arlen met because they were both talking to the same cat.

The party was hired by the captain of the Hunter's Guild, Jaspar Hammond, to take supplies and head west into the Forest of Drellnor to ascertain if a party of 12 hunter's sent in search of "Big Beak" a giant owlbear were still alive and bring some kind of proof either way. If we wanted to return with Big Beak's head there'd be even more money in it for us.

The first day on the trail we heard an awful, moist chewing sound coming from ahead. The 2 monks scouted ahead (being skilled in Stealth) to discover a bear carcass being eaten by some kind of centipede creature. We circumnavigated that clearing and continued on, eventually noticing a man-made structure ahead. Once again the monks scouted ahead finding a small farmstead with a human who looked a lot like a hunter standing guard at the dilapitated gate.

Arlen revealed himself and talked to the man, explaining our mission. He let us into the yard. We met 6 men, all from the Hunting Guild. Toadvine, found all their names in his list of the hunter's we were trying to find. They told us about going to Big Beak's lair (a cave), getting surprised and that 6 of their comrades were killed by the owlbear. All that were left were men (and one wonders if that was a coincidence). We have supplies for the hunters and it is late, so they offer to let us stay.

The hunters say they are going back first thing in the morning to the owlbear's lair. Their plan seems to be "go at dawn, attack it." That makes us suspicious. Toadvine suggests getting in trees and just shooting at the thing from a distance. (Do owlbear's climb trees? We think it'd be too big.) The hunter leader seems uninterested in making plans. Like he just wants to run in.

Rohanna and Toadvine are both very suspicious. We try to get the leader to tell us what the hell is going on and what he is not telling us. He demures. The hunter's go into the one building to make dinner. The party investigates the other buildings. An empty chicken coop, a smoke house (recently used, containing some vittles), a house with a hole in the roof being used as sleeping space by the hunters. (For some reason we do not dig around in their belongings looking for clues. At this point it just seemed like maybe something had gone wrong and they were embarrassed or... they were just bad at hunting owlbears...)

We end up having dinner with the hunters, talking to them a bit. Rohanna charms one of the fellas, and he seems kind of freaked out about his colleagues' deaths, saying he didn't really see it. She convinces one or two of them to dance. Toadvine questions hunters about owlbear information and convinces two of them that owlbears get scared if you bark at them like dogs (this was either a morale booster or a cruel joke, I'm not sure which).

Arlen notices another room (down a hallway... never did figure out if there were other rooms, implied by the presence of a hallway), that has been used for dressing meat (maybe those little white chef hat looking things that you see on the legs of roasted turkeys in old cartoons). In the corner is a satchel, inside of which is a weird knife, two-pronged, made of cold iron (good for fighting demons and undead) and a black gem in it. Arlen being a dwarf obsessed with valuables decides "finder's keepers" and pockets it.

Later, we decide to bunk in the chicken coop. We investigate the knife and discuss our suspicions. Rohanna decides to take a watch shift outside (the other shifts being taken by hunters), and the rest of the party keeps their own watch inside the coop (still being suspicious these hunter's might decide to kill us in our sleep).

During Rohanna's watch (coincidence?) she identifies a humanoid with an unusual gait outside the stead (pause as DM walks, dragging one feet behind him across the room and back). The humanoid is circling around the yard. Rohanna warns... Arlen (I think?) who was on watch inside, and the rest of the party awakens.

Rohanna and Arlen head out of the yard to follow the traces of the humanoid, while Toadvine and Dak stay in the yard. Toadvine readies his crossbow. The humanoid comes into the yard and slips into the smokehouse. We block him in, and Arlen and Rohanna go in.

It's... an injured hunter!?!? He's scared. He appears to be stealing meat. He is suspicous of the two-pronged knife, and he's scared of the other hunters. Having expected something bad, we all quickly agree to follow him out of the yard and talk further away.

In the forest he explains his side of the story, which somehow involves the leader of the hunting party deciding to kill half the party with the weird knife and take their hearts for some nefarious purpose. Despite otherwise being suspicious of everyone we all just agree this guy seems to be truthful. Rohanna heals the guy, Farek(?), with her magic so he can walk better and we all head as quickly as possible back towards the city (unclear at this point whether we actually had our supplies with us or left them back at the coop).

As we walk most of us hear the sound of a large creature swiftly approaching. We ready weapons and a very large owlbear ("Big Beak" obv.) rushes in to attack. There is fighting, there is wounding, there is the danger the owlbear will owlbear-hug and completely crush someone.

Dak (I kept wanting it to be Dax like in Deep Space Nine) saves the day on that accord, by using his rope to lasso the owlbear's one paw/arm. He runs around a tree to keep the thing in place. With only one arm to use, the owlbear is slightly less dangerous to the melee combatants: Arlen and Rohanna. Toadvine keeps a distance using his crossbow to shoot (effectively), and Farek shoots his bow (not very effectively, as I recall). After a few rounds, Rohanna also attempts to rope the owlbear's other paw/arm. She manages to lasso it but fights against its massive strength unable to pin it. Eventually the owlbear is killed by a crossbow bolt to its femoral artery. It falls. We take the head (our proof) and continue rushing back to the city.

The Hunter's Guild captain takes Farek's and our story as truth and sends out a large party to find the remaining hunter's. We split our 600gp reward and go party, sleep, repeat.

Eric is running a bunch of one-shots for us using different games he wanted to try (and then had us vote on). This was the first of the bunch. Personally, I wasn't impressed with the rule system Low Fantasy Gaming, it's pretty much B/X D&D with a bunch of rules hacks of different sorts added on, none of which are too exciting or novel. It changes "Wisdom" to "Willpower" and adds "Perception" to the ability scores, to no great advantage (other than giving an excuse to have people make lots of perception rolls). It uses a roll-under ability score mechanic which is unofficial in most old D&D rulesets but a broadly used mechanic regardless. It adds skills, but they only give you a +1 to your relevant ability (for purposes of roll-under) and there isn't really a "unskilled" penalty, so on a d20 roll having the skill is mechanically not very helpful. Role-playing-wise the skills do add color to the PCs, but my character, for instance, had 7 skills, which is more color than I needed to go on.

Classes do have special abilities, more like 3rd edition, I guess, but if you are into lots of special abilities you must as well just play 5th edition. It adds a bunch of commonly used things like luck and reroll polls and formal rest rules and some kind of injury rule (that didn't come up so I'm not clear on what it is) but none of it is particularly different than anything other games use or that you can just easily house rule.

For me, at least, I'd just as happily play B/X (or lately, Old School Essentials the clone with the best design for play) if I want a lighter rules game and 5e if I want something with lots of bells and whistles.

I got the feeling Eric was more interested in the implied setting of "low fantasy" with less magic, more dangerous magic use, etc. But that too could just be put to use for really any other rule set. Even in 5e, the Adventures in Middle-Earth books from Cubicle 7 provide a variety of interesting class options that are not so "everyone gets spells" as normal 5e.

Next time the game of choice is Colonial Gothic which so far I understand is Call of Cthulhu in colonial America using only d12s.

2019-11-18 17:38

The Criterion Channel added a bunch of Peter Greenaway films this month. I haven't watched any of his films for a long time, so I watched The Draughtsman's Contract yesterday. It's a highly ambiguous film. Perhaps if I watched it again it might be less so, but I feel like it is purposefully left allusive. Even the basic plot is hard to easily summarize. In late 17th century England, an artist is hired (convinced) by a lady to make 12 drawings of the outside of her manor while her husband is away, ostensibly as a present for him. The contract stipulates money and sexual favors from the wife (she's the one that adds that element). After he's made the first 6 drawings, the lady's daughter points out to him how articles of her father's clothes and other clues in the drawings point to the murder of the lord. She then hires/convinces the artist to let her put items in his last 6 drawings in exchange for sexual favors. Her argument seems to be that he will be implicated in the murder of her father somehow. The father is found dead in the moat. Later the artist returns to the house and is murdered by the daughter's husband and other men, blamed for the father's murder or maybe just the affair with the daughter.

It's not clear in the movie how much it is all a plot by the mother or the daughter, but it certainly points that way. The mother is unhappy with the father. The daughter's husband seems unable to give her an heir (who would inherit the property from the father). It seems likely that the daughter arranged the whole thing. It's an unusual movie, featuring some interesting drawings, but the extravagant costumes and wigs are pretty annoying. I guess I really don't have much to say about it.

2019-11-20 17:21

Release week at work means I'm up early, more stressed, and often working more intensely than usual trying to bug fixes done from whatever we have broken in our releases.

And my normal break from stressful work, video games came to a halt this weekend when I hit a basically game breaking bug in Star Wars: Fallen Order. The game doesn't have multiple saves, so I've gotten stuck in a scene that I can't finish, can't back out of, and can't even return to an earlier part of the game. I guess that just means I'll be getting more reading and movie watching done until a bug fix comes out that lets me continue playing.

Our rain garden installation was finished yesterday. As part of a grant our local borough environmental council has subsidized rain gardens to help with stormwater management. We live on a hill above a creek, so it seemed a good idea to participate. Our backyard is quite the overgrown mess, but now there's a nice circular bowl-like area which has a few shrubs and should eventually grow a bunch of other plants that will enjoy a wetter environment.

I'm in the midst of too many books and magazines at this point. The new John Crowley short story collection has been a bit mixed so far. Some of the stories haven't been very interesting, others have been quite good. I've also read a few stories from a Library of America collection called The Future is Female of sci-fi and fantasy stories by women. Like any anthology it's hard to account for the varying quality of the works. Oddly, the Ursula Le Guin story was not one of her best, neither is the James Tiptree Jr. story. I'm not convinced I'll keep reading it.

2019-11-21 15:55

There comes a point in the day when I've been so focused on work that I can't remember what any of my other thoughts are or have been, what I did yesterday, or what I was going to write here. I sit to write and I end up writing something banal so I give up, or I can't think of anything at all so I give up.

I'm writing this, that's in quotes, as I walk to my shift at the co-op bagging groceries. I'm using the text-to-speech on my phone so I probably look crazy walking along the sidewalk talking into my phone like someone talking into an old tape voice recorder, as if I were making notes to give to my secretary to type in weird business correspondence to other people.

But it does make me make words, and in a different way because I'm not looking at them or thinking about spelling or punctuation, parentheses, which in writing I do normally overuse. So maybe I should get into the habit doing this a little more at least to jot down some kind of notes for future reference, well or reference when I then sit down to actually write.

It does make me walk slower though, so now I need to hurry.

(I did end up cleaning this up later.)

2019-11-22 07:08

I got this new Billy Bragg BBC sessions compilation the other day, so now I've had his version of Woody Guthrie's "Way over Yonder in the Minor Key" stuck in my head all week. I just keep singing it over and over.

Now it's Friday morning, and I've decided I'm not going to work too hard today after a long week of releases and bug fixes and just in general working really intensely all day from pretty early. That will be aided by the fact that I'm giving blood this morning. Usually it's down at borough hall, but today they're having a drive at the Catholic Church a few blocks from my house. I'd rather not be going there since they recently put up one of those stupid anti-abortion propaganda displays of white crosses representing something about "unborn babies" which pisses me off every time I walk by, which is too often. ███ █ ███ ███████ ██ ███ █████████ ███ ███ ████ ████ ████ ███████ ██ ████ ███ ████████████ ██████ ████ ███ ██████ █████ ██ ████ ████ ████████ ██ ███ █████ ██ ██████ ████████ █████████ ███ ████ ████ ███ █ ██████ ████ █ ██████ ███████████ ██ █████████ ██ ███████

Just saw a little brown creeper singing on top of a bush. Heard his song and then actually spotted him there. I can't do an onomatopoeia of his song, wish I could. Before I could get a picture he flew away. I've never been lucky with the bird photos, but it is extra hard when you're only using a phone with very little zoom.

2019-11-23 08:23

Been wandering in and out of so many books lately I'm losing track. End up feeling a bit overwhelmed by having accumulated too many lately via subscriptions, pre-orders, the library, for work, or just from my book ordering habit. Sometimes when that happens I'll start getting antsy about whatever I'm reading, ready to move on to the next book and then second guessing when I decide maybe the current one isn't very good. Like, right now, I'm reading Molly Tanzer's Creatures of Want and Ruin and thinking of giving up on it. It's entertaining, but feels... light... but do I really feel that way, or is it just my desire to move on to the next thing that makes me think that? I know I've had cases where I didn't give a book a decent chance and then later regretted it when I did read the book in full and loved it. But I was on the edge enough about the previous Tanzer book, that maybe I should just trust myself this time.

Also been very slowly working my way through D.B. Dowd's Stick Figure: Drawing as a Human Practice, and I think I'm going to move that to the front burner so I can better pay attention to it. It's, as far as I understand so far, about drawing as a mode of activity that is not exclusively in the same vein as "art", but rather thinking about drawing as everyday activity (not in the sense of doing it every day, but in the sense of everyday life).


2019-11-24 12:35

Looked out the window and it was snowing, large fast falling flakes, too fast for normal snow, too fast to last, but for a minute or so it was pretty. It's another dark cool autumn Sunday, me without much of a plan. I've spent a few minutes trying to organize parts of my office, mostly shelving books (where I can find room) and moving more books into the piles for removal (sell? give away? donate?). I really need to get better control of the book accumulation.

I feel stuck today in limbo. I don't know what to do with myself right now, and I don't feel motivated to do anything. I feel overwhelmed by all this crap I've accumulated even though I know, relatively, it's not that much stuff. I am far from a packrat.

Took a walk to get over my funk, and got a hoagie from the deli, and now I'm feeling rather better.

I started watching Turn A Gundam yesterday, trying to slow watch it, so 1 episode yesterday and 1 today. It's definitely a weird one, apparently not super popular with the fans, but I've read good reviews of it, which made me think it was one for me. It starts with three kids landing in a mobile suit and then going their separate ways into a world that is sort of Victorian, sort of industrialized... with airships and prop planes and old looking cars, but still horse drawn carriages, I guess it's kind of steam punk but a lot more restrained in the technology and style.

This was the last Gundam series done with traditional cell animation so it's still got that bright, hand-drawn, style that gives it so much more warmth than digital animation.

2019-11-25 16:30

Started playing Death Stranding the new Hideo Kojima game. It's got so many cut scenes that, so far it's more like an interactive digital movie than a game, and not a very good movie at that. It's a lot of too on-the-nose events and shots. And the explanations of what is going on verge from the excessively narrated obvious stuff to the completely incomprehensible. Of course the protagonist is the reluctant hero. It also appears to be all about "rebuilding America" which is super odd considering it's a Japanese made game. I may regret this purchase.

It started with a cut scene, then one where you pick up some boxes and walk to a cave. Then a long cut scene. Then you walk and pick up more boxes and go to a town. Then a cut scene. Then you're in the back of a truck and the only interaction is looking around. Then a really long cut scene, and another one. Then you walk across a town. Then a really long cut scene. Then you walk carrying a corpse from a town to an incinerator... then another cut scene started and I paused. So far I've spent way more time in this game with the controller sitting on my desk than actually doing any interacting.

2019-11-27 08:59

Death Stranding after more play is still mostly cut scenes and narrative that makes little sense. Your character is... walking across a post-apocalyptic US in order to connect a bunch of bases and cities via some kind of advanced networking technology. But it's not even slightly explained why he is walking rather than driving the all terrain vehicles you see parked at the base he starts from. Nor why he's just one guy doing this mission by himself. The character himself is also sooooo clichéd, all reluctant and "leave me alone" and "I don't care about your plan," but then of course he goes along with the plan anyway because... he has some kind of dream.

The whole game is in need of serious editing. One wonders if Kojima, with his own studio, just doesn't let people edit his ideas, or if the people who work for him are incapable of editing him for some reason. Just the screens that show up when you complete a delivery (the protagonist is a porter) are filled with all kinds of text and numbers and charts and calculations and... I have no clue what any of it means, why I care, nor what effect any of it has on actual game play. You seem to be earning "likes" (like in a social network) as experience, but no apparent leveling has revealed itself.

The scale of the game is also super weird. It shows me this map of the US, and in one section about 5 minutes of actual movement in the landscape seemed to be a trip from Washington, DC to Ohio. And that's a human walking. Distance seems completely shrunk down. It's like they wanted to convey scale and distance through the slow process of walking, but then undermine that by exaggerating on the larger scale map how far you went.

Anyway... reread some recent comics from my pile of books. Phases by Rachna Soun (2019) is a collection of four panel comics she did for #30dayscomics last year. I recall learning about her work from that month (she's on instagram as @xorachna) and being impressed. This is a really nice poetic collection of close to 30 comics (I didn't count). They are observational or they are small narrative moments or they are introspective. A limited color palette (she's got a good eye for color) with good use of line and texture and composition. She draws a great cloudy sky with color, no lines. I don't have a lot specific to say, other than I really like these.

I wrote a bit about Kurt Ankeny's previous book before. Pleading with Stars is his new collection from Adhouse Books, and it leaves me much less impressed. There's a lot of nice drawing in here, particular "Between December and March" which is all colored pencil and "Gulls" which appears to be watercolor. But, none of the narratives of these did anything for me. Some of the stories I found obscure and others just too slight to care. This is not an uncommon problem for cartoonists, where the visual skill overtakes narrative skill. You don't often seem the opposite, probably because writers can just write a story rather than make a comic.

2019-11-29 09:51

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To return to other matters...

This review by Tegan O'Neil of Chris Ware's Rusty Brown really struck me. I've been debating whether to read the book or not. Ware is one of the greats in the field, but I accept more and more that he just isn't to my taste. O'Neil makes this statement:

The problem with Rusty Brown in 2019 is not that the book isn’t “good,” whatever the hell that means, but that it’s doing something not a lot of people in this field are going to find natural sympathy for in 2019 - this is, translating the idiom of mid-to-late century American realist fiction into the comics medium.

And that, in brief, summarizes my feeling. I'm not interested in that style of fiction. My touchstones of mid/late century American fiction are a mix of postmodern/metafiction and new wave science fiction (not to even get into non-American fiction like the oulipo and the nouveau roman), and despite his often experimental approach to his visual work, that's just not really the same genres as what Ware does. I think in another way, his super precise, flat drawing does not appeal to me. I can appreciate the skill of it, but it just doesn't excite me to look at it.

Regardless, I'll just borrow it from the library. It somehow feels like I shouldn't just ignore the book.

After almost 4 months of watching during lunch or while making dinner, I finished up my latest rewatch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Still really enjoyed it, even when I knew all the major (and many minor) plot threads. It does get a little rushed in the final part of the last season as they try to resolve all the larger plot elements and provide various characters with some kind of final narrative resolution. At lot of the small B and C lines get jettisoned from the episodes, and some of the major results feel anticlimactic. In particular the resolution of the Captain Sisko and the Bajoran Prophets and Pah-Wraiths storyline feels like a long slow burn with an abrupt and sort of stupid ending. After spending all this time building to some kind of Pah-Wraith return and great evil, they are defeated by one guy pushing another guy and a book into a fire pit. It's like the writers ran out of time to make the climax match all that came before it, so they just made it all happen as quickly and simply as possible.

I also feel like the religious themes of the show felt rather one-sided. The Bajoran "Prophets" are from the beginning viewed as just some weird kind of alien by the non-Bajorans. They somehow exist out of time and live in a wormhole. Sisko over time basically shifts to the religious view of them. All the other non-Bajoran characters just... seem to stop caring, but act as if the aliens are still somehow magic. It feels like no one is ever just "well if they exist out of time then the fact that make prophecies is perfectly logically and maybe we should pay attention to what they communicate". There's not anyone who takes a nice middle way approach to the issue.

2019-11-30 10:08

Just watched What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine a documentary from this year the head writer of the show made about it. One cool part of it was a series of scenes where a bunch of the writers (including Ronald Moore from BSG) got together and broke a story for a hypothetical season 8, 20 years later. It would have been even more interesting if we heard a little more of the back and forth between them, as it was edited down heavily to their final decisions. For fans of the show, it's a good look a bit behind the scenes and also about how the show was a lot ahead of its times in respect to the medium. A lot of the Amazon reviews of it are all "why did they inject politics into this" which really annoys me. I don't see how anyone watching any Star Trek but particular DS9 can miss a lot of the overt liberal politics. DS9 especially is strong on nationalism (or the planetary form of that), isolationism, and equality, all still pretty relevant (and one reason the show has still held up so well).