Thursday, February 28, 2013

Campaign Log: Bringing a book to a gun fight

Pic by my bud, Tim Hulsizer

Here's my recap of Sunday's Call of Cthulhu game. I'm sure I've gotten some details wrong or overlooked something important, but I'm equally certain that someone who attended the game will step in to correct me.
Eric was the GM and we were all playing cinematic versions of ourselves. The players gave him details about themselves ahead of time and he provided the stats. I assume that some of the stats were randomly generated, however, as Eric gave me an APP lower than 30.  I was glad that I didn't have to build my character myself, because, while I used to be familiar with the system, I haven't played since, geez, maybe high school.I played a chemist named "Josh", with a wife named "Joan" and a daughter named "Rose". It was a stretch, but I managed to get into character.

I usually loathe avatar games in RPGs, but this one worked out. It was probably the best avatar game I've ever played. Chaosium's system never seemed like a great match for Mythos gaming to me, but Eric made it work so well that I may have to reevaluate my opinion.

I had joined a campaign already in progress. I was supposed to be there for the last session, but I had to bail at the last minute, and as a result, my character was present for the events of the previous adventure, though only as an NPC. If you are so inclined, you can read about it here.

Dramatis Personæ

I didn't catch the name of each character, but I assume that it was the same as the player.

Me: Playing Josh

Dr. Bob: I've mentioned Bob once or twice on the blog.  He escapes from the pressures of being a professor by pretending to be a professor in the 1920s. He didn't confirm it, but I assume that his character relaxes by pretending to be a professor in the 1820s in some kind of matryoshka-like recursion. The character was some kind of southern gentleman, and the accent evoked Foghorn Leghorn, though, knowing Bob, it was probably some kind of obscure reference to Senator Claghorn instead.

Brian: Brian played a guy named Brian. (I'm assuming). I'm not sure what his deal was. Seemed to know a lot of the folks we needed to meet, though.

Steve: Steve was some kind of medical doctor, I believe, with a pregnant wife.

The Turkish Librarian: The Turkish librarian was a woman, though she was being played by a guy. I don't know the whole story, but she was here from Turkey on some kind of visa, working in the Columbia University library.

Not Present: 

Phil: I know that Phil's original character died, and he was playing a replacement, but he wasn't here, so I never had a chance to meet him.

Jess: "The Widow Carson", a socialite turned Private Investigator. 

In the previous adventure, my boss had told me to keep Jess entertained at a soiree. That turned into the adventure that I missed, and after that wrapped up, we had become acquaintances. She fell out of touch, so I decided, after failing to reach her by phone, I stopped by the office, where I encountered Brian.

We couldn't find Jess, so we went drinking instead. We found Steve at the Gentleman's club and we all started drinking together, as PCs do. Somebody brought up the fact that the papers had offered a large reward for information leading to the return of Phil LeMonde, an occultist of the group's acquaintance. They decided to visit his mom up in Connecticut, and I was thinking about how I could justify dropping everything and going off with these weirdos I had just met when Eric asked me for a Con x3 roll to see if I was drunk enough to think this was a good idea. I looked at my sheet and said "Okay, I need a 42." *clatter* "And that's a 43," and Eric said, "You're on the train to Connecticut..."

Heh heh heh.

We chatted with his mom for a while and got some clues and some cookies. Eric claims that she gave us some sweaters, but I think he was just kidding.

I was jotting down notes and I see on writing this out that I had written, "You Ivory Tower liberals always want big government to clean your prostitutes!", and while I can't remember the context for that, I think it's something that gives you an idea of the kind of game this was.

We stumbled through the adventure for a little while. The librarian suggested we rough up an uncooperative witness by smacking him around with the heavy book she was holding. I said "Don't bring a book to a gun fight," and then we moved on.

We did some more drinking. Bob convinced the librarian to try some mead, by arguing that it circumvents the text of the Islamic prohibition against alcohol. He also invented the Manhattan Julep, which I think he said was a shot of whisky in a glass of champagne.

We followed some clues and broke into an apartment, belonging to the unfortunately named Mister Rogers. I had a 1% skill in locksmith, but still managed to pick the lock. Woot!

The five of us spilled into the place and started looting it before Eric had even finished the description. And that's what we were doing when the cleaning lady knocked on the door.

Steve went to drop the deadbolt before she could enter, but while rushing across the room, he fumbled what should have been a very easy dexterity check He landed in front of the heavy oaken door, just in time to be smacked by it. After a catastrophically bad series of rolls, he took a bunch of damage and then again failed the very easy constitution check and fell unconscious.

We were in the other room, looting the library, and we were about to intervene, because I was thinking that four burglars, even ones as incompetent as we were proving to be, could take one cleaning lady, when she pulled a handgun out of her cleaning bucket.

Bob said, "What, is this a Coen Brother movie?"  She started shooting at us and we scattered, except for the librarian, who had her hands full with the heavy tome we were boosting. She was right next to the maid, so she decided to smack her once with the book, and realized, after being shot at point blank range, that she had in fact brought a book to a gun fight.

Those of us who could flee went out the window. I thought we were going to circle around to have another go at mega-maid, but Bob hailed a cab. He called up to the party members still present, "I'll hold the cab!" and yelled to the cabbie "Go, go, go!"

We did some more drinking. Steve's wife called, demanding to know why her husband was in the hospital.  Ah-ha! Bob was going to try to contact Harry Houdini for help (and Eric knew off the top of his head which supplement had stats for Houdini. NERRRRRRRRRRDDDDDDDDD!!!,) but he missed the Credit Rating check and couldn't reach Houdini.

So we improvised.

Since the librarian was Turkish, they disguised me as the Turkish ambassador to get her out of the hospital. The make up artist who disguised me didn't roll spectacularly well, and Eric said I looked like a "greasy Greek", but this was 1920s New York and nobody really knew what Turks were supposed to look like, so it got us in the door. We failed ruinously at fast talking the cops, (Seriously, we were like Han in the Control Room of the Death Star) but we made enough of a distraction everybody got away.

We all convened at the office where we discovered our friends were missing several months of memory and had fine pinpricks on the back of their neck. We started playing with some of the junk we had recovered from Rogers' apartment. One of them projected the image of some creepy monster when activated.  We also learned that Mister Rogers had kinship to the Yith and was under orders to kill LaMonde and his associates.

We did a little more digging, almost got killed by a bunch of mobsters when we all walked in to their HQ, armed to the teeth, but we learned that LaMonde was being treated/held at a celebrity asylum. His agent had power of attorney and we all drove up there to check him out.

I thought this part was just the denouement  Everything seemed to be going fine until the two party members allowed in the facility encountered mega-maid and a dude with a weird gun in LaMonde's room. However, the guy with the gun must have been using Steve's dice, because he fumbled and his weapon blew up in his hand. Brian had smuggled in a veritable arsenal and made short work of the pair. 

LaMonde was saved, we presumably got our money, and all was right with the world. We rolled for skill improvement, we regained a little sanity and that was that. It was a lot of fun. I'm glad I had the opportunity to attend and I eagerly anticipate the next one.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Old Republic from a Certain Point of View: A CoH old-timer reviews SWTOR

City of Heroes was my first and only MMORPG prior to playing Star Wars: The Old Republic and it's still my gold standard for the genre. (Here's My CoH memorial post)

My friends Greg and Dave have been playing SWTOR for a while and I decided to give it a whirl when someone sent me an install disc in the mail as an early Christmas present.

I had to relearn a fair bit. Back when I played CoH, I had a bunch of bonuses because I'd been a paid subscriber forever. So I had travel powers early and enough bonus powers for a full attack chain at level one. Plus I knew the game inside and out. I could start a new character and have him at max level inside of a week. I was soloing Archvillains before it was cool. (Though it was never that hard with an ill/rad. It just took forever. Fucking Nightstar.) I was, in all modesty, really pretty good.

And my friends leveled slower than I did. I'd be closing in on 50 and they'd still be slogging through the teens. I'd shake my head sadly and would offer a silent prayer that they would someday just learn how to play the game.

Anyway, I was remembering this when I saw Dave's toons on SWTOR rocketing through the levels and I was thinking how much it sucks to be on the other end of the equation.

So, how does the Old Republic compare for a CoH grognard?

Grouping with your friends could be a little easier. CoH excelled in that area. I play mostly with Greg and Dave, and we have to go through a lot of contortions to find content that we can all play. By contrast, in City of Heroes, you could disable earning exp, you could artificially lower your level to the level of the mission, or raise your level to that of the mission owner. It was really well-designed in that respect.

The thing that struck me first at the Old Republic is how many time sinks it has. Little ones here and there, but the cumulative effect is enormous.

Four seconds to break down an item for components. Respawn timers when you die. Large Empty areas. (Fucking Tattooine) Waiting for the lift to rise. Traveling from your ship to an orbital platform and then finally to the spaceport on Balmorra, as if being on Balmorra weren't punishment enough. Running Alllllll the way back to the offices in the Senate when you complete a mission in order to get the next in the series.

Seriously, it's really annoying.

In City of Heroes, we used to bitch if it took more than three missions for a contact to give you his phone number so you could call him from the field. Also, our superspeed didn't shut down if we walked into a restaurant.

A trooper flies into a bar...

...and his speeder shuts off.

On top of that, it was trivially easy to teleport your teammates to your location, requiring only the selection of a single power available to every character at level 6, so only one person needed to go to the mission door and could just port the lot in.

Which brings me to my next point. Instances. City of Heroes used them ALL THE TIME. You would walk to the mission door, click on it, and enter your own little world. I recall the dev team lamenting at one point that they might have overdone it with instancing, but I never appreciated how much I liked instances until I started with SWTOR.

Coruscant is usually pretty crowded, because it's the second world for every Republic character. I was on a mission with Greg and Dave to kill 30 gangsters in a particular area, or some such thing. I forget the exact details, but it was something along those lines.

The problem was that there were two other groups on the exact same mission (either that or they were just a bunch of douches and they were killing our mobs just to be annoying. I wouldn't put anything past people on the Internets) The mobs respawned pretty quickly, and the thing that I remember about the whole thing is that they'd just pop into being, performing their milling-around idle animation. I imagined that they were talking about the game last night, or a recent date or their plans for the weekend or whatever. They just looked like they were standing around, shooting the shit, when, as they're turning to tap the ash off their cigarette, a Jedi would suddenly EXPLODE into their group from all the way across the room and FUCK THEIR SHIT UP!! with his laser death swords. The juxtaposition was just surreal.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that I would prefer more instanced areas and not have to compete with other players constantly for mobs and glowies. Why no, random guy, I don't mind if you loot that treasure chest while I'm killing the Elite that's guarding it. Just walk right up to the chest and open it while the robot is spraying me with rockets. You fuck.

From a graphical perspective, despite the Ultra Mode overhaul, City of Heroes was showing its age when it folded (having debuted in 2004) and SWTOR looks really slick next to it. However, the sheer variety of the CoH Costume Creator has never been matched. I made a dude with a pillar of fire for a head. Beat that, SWTOR!

The inability to add a player as a friend account wide is such a shocking omission that I have to conclude it's a deliberate decision and not something they merely overlooked.

If you'll excuse the digression for a moment, a character named Positron was one of the Signature Heroes in City of Heroes, a high level ally who would sometimes show up in missions, and who also served a trainer in one of the zones. He was the character of one of the devs, who had played him in a tabletop game and who occasionally took on the identity for in-game events and posted under that name in the forums.

One day a player wrote a tongue in cheek post titled "DO SOMETHING POSITRON!" where he complained that he had died to an ambush, literally at the feet of Positron the trainer, who didn't lift a finger to help.

Positron the Dev wrote back with the quip "All that crap is grey to me, no XP", which became famous on the boards.

I was thinking of that when I was walking through Coruscant. Mobs aggro on me long after they stopped being worth experience points. City of Heroes did this better. You only had to be three levels higher than a mob for it to ignore you. It's annoying being swarmed by a bunch of goons that don't give you any rewards, but which will slow you down and occasionally knock you off your speeder.

I'd probably never have given SWTOR a chance had CoH not gone under, and I think I do prefer it still. That's not to say I find it superior in every way.

The legacy system in particular is really neat. It's been my experience that a lot of gamers give their characters extensive backstories in video games, and it's pretty nifty to have mechanical support for that.

The spoken dialogue in SWTOR really adds an extra element, and is always solid and occasionally spectacular. They did get some of the best talents in the field, and it shows.

Plots are engaging, if occasionally nonsensical. I may have missed something or it may be revealed later, but one of the missions features a scientist who is secretly a Sith. He developed one of the super weapons that litter the Star Wars universe for the Republic, and he goes through all these machinations like faking his kidnapping to get the plans to the bad guys. That just seems needlessly complicated. Couldn't he just cut out the middleman and deal directly with the bad guys and say "Hey, let me build you a super weapon", rather than fucking around with the Republic in the first place?

Still, that's a picayune complaint. They're fun to play and a fair number of CoH's missions fell apart when viewed critically too.

I like that every class has some mez protection, as blasters were insanely squishy in CoH right up until the very end, and for a long time, mezzes dropped all your toggles and you were as good as dead. At the other end of the spectrum, tankers were almost unmezzable. I would have liked to perhaps have seen some greater differentiation between the classes in SWTOR, and maybe some extra oomph for the front line fighters/tanks, but I think this is probably preferable to CoH.

PvP was added to City of Heroes well after launch. It gained a small, but devoted following, but underwent heavy revision in the interest of game balance with one update and was abandoned by the hardcore PvPers. There was occasional talk of tweaking it again, but mostly it just languished on the back burner. I played a little, but mostly when I went into PvP zones it was for badges or the really solid temp powers that were available there. If I'd see one guy on the /whoall, I'd grumble "What does this asshole want?" before taking off for the nearest exit.

I LOVE PvP in the Old Republic. It's like playing a game of Battlefront! Sometimes you get a shitty team, but hey, then the match is over quickly and you get a new team for the next match.

Though, while we're on the subject of shitty teams, I do seem to be drawing more than my share lately. I'd be on a team with three or four other teammates in the center room on the Ancient Gate map. The other team would focus fire on me, four or five of them, and I'm pretty decent at staying alive on the sage, between breaking LoS, using heals and Force Armor, etc, and I'd last a good twenty or thirty seconds before they overwhelmed me. Thing is, nobody came to help in that time.

It's the slow ganking that gets me. Yeah, if a bunch of dudes jump me and I die before you can intervene, well, sucks to be me. If a bunch of dudes jump me and ping away at me for a half a minute and you're just standing there like Kitty Genovese's neighbors, well, then, dear, I fear, we're facing a problem.

On the other hand, I kept the other team tied up for a couple man-minutes when they could have been working towards objectives, so go me!

And it's fun being on the other side of this dynamic, if you're on a halfway functional team and the other guys are coming at five of you in your entrenched position one at a time, like goons in a kung fu movie.

Overall, I like it a lot. Slowly working my way up with my sage. Having friends to play with makes a lot of difference and I hope to be at level 50 by the time they raise the level cap so we can all do the new stuff together.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Doorways in the Sand - Revised Review

My intent was always, upon finishing my main body of Roger Zelazny reviews, not, as a casual reader of the blog might assume, to review increasingly more obscure stories about which nobody particularly cared (Go Starless in the Night and Deadboy Donner and the Filstone Cup, I'm looking at you guys), but rather, after a sufficient period of time had passed, to return to the major works, in order to see if I could glean anything new from another reading, or simply to revisit those reviews in which I was disappointed.

My goal was also not the writing of astoundingly convoluted run-on sentences, but one could certainly be excused for thinking so.

Among these disappointing reviews is Doorways in the Sand. I like the book, but you'd never know if from reading my review, which focuses too much on trivial details and endless digressions about me. And these elements are present in most of my commentaries, and I think they work towards making an entertaining review to a greater or lesser degree (I'm entertained, at least) but I feel that they overwhelm this one, so I'm going to give it another go.

DeVito wrote in the comments something I wish I'd said: "One of the things that makes Doorways in the Sand so appealing to me is that it does NOT have the Huge Theme, the Saving of Humanity or whatever, you know, all those Deep Thoughts; it's simply and unabashedly about one very intelligent but somewhat flawed and shallow character who becomes a bit less flawed and shallow over the course of the novel. I wish Zelazny had written a sequel."

The entry for Doorways on Wikipedia is phenomenal (98 references as of this writing, plus some analysis of the Lewis Carroll references that I had missed entirely!), but it also notes that the book was poorly received. I think that's a real shame. A Night in the Lonesome October is frequently cited as an underrated Zelazny book, but I don't think that's entirely accurate, in that it's almost universally beloved by those who have had the chance to read it, but the number of people who have read it is not nearly as great as it should be. Doorways, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have gotten the respect that I think it merits. It was different from his earlier works, certainly, and may have been judged by the critics not for what it was, but for what it wasn't. Not finding another Sam or Corwin, they were perhaps harsher than it deserved. 

It's the story of Fred Cassidy, eternal student, thirteen years and counting as an undergraduate . His uncle had set up an endowment that would provide Fred with a hefty allowance, but only for as long as he was a full-time student working towards his first degree. Fred, being lazy, but no dummy, decided to milk this as long as he could, as illustrated in this exchange with his new adviser.

"An acknowledgment would be redundant. Mister Cassidy. The record speaks for itself. Once you had all the general requirements out of the way, it was still relatively simple for you to avoid graduation by switching your major periodically and obtaining a new set of special requirements. After a time, however, these began to overlap. It soon became necessary for you to switch every semester. The rule concerning mandatory graduation on completion of a departmental major was, as I understand it, passed solely because of you. You have done a lot of sidestepping, but this time you are all out of sides to step to. Time runs, the clock will strike. This is the last interview of this sort you will ever have."

"I hope so. I just came to get my card signed."

Heh heh. Good old Fred. His adviser is determined to graduate Fred, but Cassidy will have none of it:

"The hours are wrong."

"No. I need twelve and there are twelve."

"I'm not disputing that, but-"

"Six hours, personal project, interdisciplinary, for art history credit, on site, Australia in my case."

"You know it should really be anthropology. But that would complete a major. But that's not what I'm-"

"Then three hours of comparative lit with that course on the troubadours. I'm still safe with that, and I can catch it on video-the same as with that one-hour current events thing for social-science credit. Safe there, and that's ten hours. Then two hours' credit for advanced basket weaving, and that's twelve. Home free."

"No, sir! You are not! That last one is a three-hour course, and that gives you a major in it!"

"Haven't seen Circular fifty-seven yet, have you?"


"It's been changed."

"I don't believe you."

I glanced at his IN basket.

"Read your mail."

He snatched at the basket; he rifled it. Somewhere near the middle of things he found the paper.

Clocking his expressions, I noted disbelief, rage and puzzlement within the first five seconds. I was hoping for despair, but you can't have everything all at once.

Heh. I like Fred. He seems like he'd be a good friend. He enjoys his life and has no particular demons driving him. That all changes when the star-stone is stolen. The story is set in the near future and earth is slowly taking its first steps into a larger world. We have swapped the Mona Lisa and the Crown Jewels of England for alien cultural artifacts. Except it's not exactly a trade. One of the characters explains it thus:

The kula is a kind of ceremonial voyage undertaken at various times by the inhabitants of the island groups to the east of New Guinea-the Trobriand Islanders, the Papuans of Melanesia. It is a sort of double circuit, a movement in two opposite directions among the islands. The purpose is the mutual exchange of articles having no special functional value to the various tribes involved, but possessed of great cultural significance. Generally, they are body ornaments-necklaces, bracelets-bearing names and colorful histories. They move slowly about the great circuit of the islands, accompanied by their ever growing histories, are exchanged with considerable pomp and ceremony and serve to focus cultural enthusiasm in a way that promotes a certain unity, a sense of mutual obligation and trust. Now, the general similarity to the exchange program we are entering with the aliens seems pretty obvious. The objects become both cultural hostages and emblems of honor to the trustees. By their existence, their circulation, their display, they inevitably create something of a community feeling. This is the true purpose of a kula chain, as I see it. That's why I didn't like the word 'trade.' "

I like that explanation and the whole concept. 

Fred first learns that the stone is missing when his old geology teacher comes by looking for a replica. He's willing to rough up Fred to get it back. 

Things escalate, but Fred mostly dodges the problem by taking off for Australia for his art history course. He runs into trouble with some hired thugs and meets Charv and Ragma, two alien police officers, my favorite characters in the book, and among my favorite Zelazny characters, period. I mentioned once that I'd really like to see a police procedural with Charv and Ragma and I dearly hope someone is writing one for Shadows and Reflections

We get some more adventures. Much has been made of the flash-forwards Zelazny employed in the book. Each chapter would open with trouble unrelated to the story at the end of the previous chapter, and we'd backtrack a little to see how Fred got into his current mess. I think it is a little bit of a gimmick, but on the whole, one that enriches rather than diminishes the story. It wouldn't save a bad one, or ruin a good one. It's just one of the components that makes Doorways what it is. 

Fred learns that he has accidentally absorbed the star-stone into his body. It is a sentient thing and it convinces him to send himself throw the reversing Rhennius machine so that it may better communicate with him. He does so, and I don't know why I love the Rhennius machine sections, but I really do. They, and Fred's meandering and observations while reversed, are my favorite parts of a great book. 

Fred is awarded  a PhD. in Anthropology in absentia and begins the slow process of taking on adult responsibilities. An alien telepath figures out that Fred has absorbed the star-stone and Fred is instrumental in the climax by thwarting the representative of an alien faction that wished to delay Earth's entry into galactic civilization.

I love the book. I think DeVito hit the nail on the head with his initial comment. Fred's just this regular guy, not this immortal √úbermensch. He's smart, but not otherwise remarkable, save for the circumstances in which he finds himself, and he grows and changes through his reactions to them in a way one doesn't often find in Zelazny's heroes.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Lost" Jack Kirby Lord of Light art found

So....Buzzfeed has reported that some lost Kirby concept art for Argo had been unearthed and I was excited. Then I clicked over and thought the art looked awfully familiar.

So I clicked over to see when I had posted my Lord of Light review, because I remember linking to the website where the very same images were available for purchase as prints. I had found the site after some very cursory searching in 2010, and the images were RIGHT THERE.

It's just so weird that this is suddenly news.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Bat-Valentine's Day!

Everybody's getting into Valentine's Day, even the people who didn't want to.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On the subject of princesses, by Lily

Lily asked if I could post the following so everyone could see. How could I refuse?

"I like princesses who are brave, and pretty but not too fancy, and don't always wear their crowns.

Like Wonder Woman, even though she usually wears her crown.

From Lily

(Wonder Woman looks nice. I'm kind of envying her hair.)"

She didn't want me to include that last part, but come on. Wonder Woman does have nice hair. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Gravity Falls Episode Review: Boss Mabel - P-ABRACABABRA!

The triumphant return of Gravity Falls!

I enjoy the fake tv shows on Gravity Falls. My daughter and my adult friends have integrated "Girrrrrrrrrrrrrlllll, why you ackin' so cray-cray?" into our conversations.

This episode opens with Stan and the kids watching a Wheel of Fortune parody called Cash Wheel.

But then a bus full of tourists shows up and Stan puts the staff to work fleecing them. Dipper claims Stan just sees tourists as wallets with legs, an accusation he denies.

However, look at this carsick little boy. 


Vomiting gnomes are still funnier than vomiting wallets.

Mabel gives away a free bumper sticker, precipitating a confrontation between her and Stan. He says you can't make money being nice and Mabel insists you can. So they make a bet. Mabel will run the Mystery Shack for three days and Stan will go on vacation. If he makes more money, then she has to wear a loser shirt all summer. If Mabel wins, she gets to be boss all summer and Stan will have to do an apology song and dance number. 

So Stan leaves on vacation and weasels his way on to Cash Wheel.

"That man is a self-centered attention hog with no regard for human decency.  Get him on TV!"
Meanwhile, Mabel is running the Mystery Shack in her inimitable style.

She encounters early success, but soon her easy-going management starts costing the Shack money.

Dipper is frustrated. He's captured a real supernatural monster to exhibit at the Mystery Shack, but it fails to be as popular with the punters as are Grunkle Stan's fakes.("Real magic just freaks people out!")

"When fighting a Gremloblin, use water-"

*turns pages* "-only as a last resort, as water will make him much, much scarier!"
AH! Who writes sentences like that?!
Frustrated by this turn of events, Mabel embraces Stan's methods and starts barking out orders and bilking tourists.

 Why's that fez featured so prominently?

That was subtle.

So when Mable shifts into Grunkle Stan mode, so does Dipper, and I like this part a lot, if I read it correctly.

I wasn't thrilled with the characterization in this episode up until now. I'm more a fan of one-off one-liners and Mabel's enraptured "It's beaaaautiful..." seems well on its way to becoming a full-blown pull-the-cord-to-make-the-doll-talk catch phrase and the bit with the fez could hardly have been less subtle had it been discolored like the bit of cliff that was slated to fall off in the old Roadrunner cartoons. 

However, Dipper's remarks, coupled with the fact that he dressed up like a mini-Stan for this sequence, got me thinking. The end of the first episode almost comes right out and says that Stan knows more about the town than he lets on. The bits with Blendon Blandon appearing in the background before he gets a proper introduction show that the show is tightly plotted. Something about the way the sequence was framed, suggested that Stan himself was somehow transformed from an idealistic Dipper-esque young man to the curmudgeonly shyster he is now. 

The team pulls together, but after costs and expenses, they've only netted a profit of one dollar. Stan returns, apparently triumphant, but he reveals that he lost all of his winnings when he was unable to guess a six letter word used to ask for something politely.

Host: "For example, 'may I ______ have that?'"
Stan: "Do I look like an idiot, folks? The word is 'gimee', two e's!"
Host: Ooh, you know, because you've gone this far, we're going to give you one more chance. Let's try again. It's a "P" word. Some might even say it's the "magic" word.
Stan: P-ABRACABABRA! Final Answer!

The credits sequence is Stan performing his apology dance, and I was certain that this was what it would be from the moment the bet was made.

Do the kick! Jazzier!

Monday, February 11, 2013

[Amber] In which my daughter walks the Pattern

The UU church that my wife and daughter attend occasionally has special activities, and even though organized religion isn't a part of my life, it is a part of their and I try to attend these activities.

Today they did a dragon dance for Chinese New Year and it was nice, but the thing that I'm going to remember is Lily walking the Pattern.

I never had a clear visual for the Pattern of Amber. Zach said the one on the Corwin card that Inquest mocked up back in the day served as his reference for the Pattern. I recall reading that issue now that I've had a chance to look at the cards again, but the color on the Pattern seems so wrong that I just couldn't buy into it.

I was hoping that the Amber RPG or the Visual Guide would have a representation of the Pattern, but I later read somewhere (I want to say the Visual Guide?) that it was by design, as it were, that the Pattern was left undefined in such a fashion.

So I had the vaguely imagined Pattern in my head right up until today, when my daughter unfurled the labyrinth they use for Sunday School classes. She was telling me about it, in that lecturing style that little kids have, that labyrinths are different from mazes in that there is only one path through them.

And two things came together for me.

1.) Her exact wording was something like "There is only one way through"
2.) The way she stepped on it to walk it was exactly like I imagined the characters in the books doing it.

I think the only logical conclusion is that her mom is an Amberite. She does have green eyes after all. I should have suspected sooner.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

9 Princes Board Game now for sale?

Okay, apparently you can now buy the Nine Princes in Amber board game from this store.

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it's nice to see more products based on Zelazny's work. On the other, their site still reads that they're trying to secure permission to use the copyrighted Amber stuff, and I feel very uneasy about it under the circumstances.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Picture Pages

A significant percentage of my friends are very talented photographers. My friend Jen sells her work online at this site, my buddy Tim has a tumblr of his work, my friend Karen also shoots professionally, and my next door neighbor reminds me exactly how great pictures taken by a talented photographer with a real camera can be.

I like taking pictures, but come on. Everybody likes taking picture. Having a phone in my camera has made it convenient to take pictures on the spur of the moment, so I take a lot of pictures, and due to the sheer volume I take, some of them are bound to be decent,but for me, composition extends only to making sure that I get what I'm photographing in the middle of the frame.

Lily likes taking pictures too. I'm not sure if she'll be like me or my more talented friends.

My old phone was kind of crapping out on me. It was more than three years old, which is an eternity for a smartphone, and it was suffering the degradation that accompanies long-lived phones.

I had the idea that I would upgrade at the end of my contract and pass my older phone on to Lily. It wouldn't make phone calls, but it was still a camera/mp3 player.

This is what I did, and it actually wound up working out better than I expected. I cleaned up all the programs I no longer needed (it seemed unlikely that Lily would make use of a Battlenet authenticator or Words with Friends) and set it to Airplane mode and it runs pretty well and the battery lasts a fair length of time without all that crap drawing on it.

Lily is wildly enthusiastic about it. She has a few songs (TMBG's Here Comes Science Album, All three Royal Guardsman's Snoopy vs. The Red Baron songs and A kid's bop version of "Hey there Delilah"), but she really loves it for the camera.

She decorated the phone one weekend. Seeing the job she did with it makes me believe that she'll surpass me. Her work was so precise and so diligent.

We were at an indoor farmer's market this past weekend and she saw some geodes, which she had never encountered before. She asked if she could take a picture of them. We said she would have to get the shopkeeper's permission. She asked if we would ask for her and we told her she'd have to do it herself. She's sometimes shy around strangers, like any kid, and it was a good test to see how serious she was about it. It would just be easy to say "Never mind" and just not take the pictures.

But she did it, asking in her biggest voice, "Excuse me, can I take some pictures of your crystals?"

And she took a ton of pictures. She was patient about it. She lined up the shot, took the picture, took a second one if she didn't like it and then moved on the next one. She was extremely fastidious about the whole thing. I thought she snapped seven or eight pictures, but she took over twenty.

I'm very happy that she's so meticulous. Perhaps we can upgrade to a grown-up camera in a few years if she's still interested. Having a real camera will put her one-up on me.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Search Results, part 5

The latest in a series of bizarre or disturbing searches people have used to find the site.

  1. "cartoons" "plunger" "harpoon"
  2. Wendy from Gravity Falls wearing a diaper
  3. Trumps of Doom it's a pain in the ass. (I particularly like this one, because it happens to sum up my feelings for the Trumps of Doom very neatly.)
  4. weird rainbow monster thing giraffe
  5. How to have a hairstyle like dick grayson
  6. Gerard Depardieu young, which is not in itself unusual, but it was the number one hit by a huge margin for a brief period
  7. prince eric and gaston sex
  8. superhero "his severed penis"
  9. Fetish site superman being eaten
  10. The heaviest weiner dog