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September 26, 2004

Where's Homestar?

These photos are of a set of towers that are part of a concrete mixing plant in Thornleigh, just down the road from us. I first spotted this rather unusual piece of graffiti several months ago, and only got around to taking some photos of it just this afternoon.

I cite these as evidence of the general spread of the Homestar Runner meme.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

My point is this: Of all the bits of graffiti that could have made it to the top of that concrete tower, how did an Icon of Geekdom beat out some punk's personal tag? Heck, when do you ever see an Icon of Geekdom graffitied anywhere?

September 25, 2004

Speaking of posthumous continuations...

I just entered an "I Own It" check-mark and a rating against Amazon's catalogue entry for The Great Book of Amber, and all of a sudden I'm getting recommendations for a series of books by John G. Betancourt, called Roger Zelazny's The Dawn Of Amber, a trilogy set prior to the original novels, establishing the rise of Oberon. Reviews appear to be mixed, but generally positive.

Doubt I'll bother, though.

September 23, 2004

DVD Days: RvB and/or Firefly

Well, as the Battlestar Galactica and Pitch Black DVD Day suggestions didn’t go down well due to the lack of interest in/aversion to the subject matter, I’m having another shot – this time with some stuff that I’m pretty sure will keep people’s interest!

First off: Red Versus Blue. You know it. You love it. I have the Official DVDs of both Seasons 1 and 2, and want to organise a double-bill. That’s right; approximately two-and-a-half-hours of the worst soldiers this side of Gomer Pyle, back-to-back, plus Public Service Announcements, Out-Takes and Other Goodies!

Secondly: I’ve had a few people asking when they can borrow my copy of Firefly: The Complete Series. Well, take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand, but you can’t take my Firefly from me – at least, not for the length of time I know it’ll take you slackers to watch the entire thing, then get it back to me so the next guy can borrow it (okay, you probably won’t be as bad as Boots’ mate Seb, but still). Instead, you can all come over and watch it at once! So there!

I know at least three of you on this list have seen the pilot episode and are as hooked as Vickie, Gav and I are (Gav was first, and returned the favour for me hipping him to Babylon 5), so if anyone else wants to see the pilot episode, Serenity, I can organise something, then everyone can get stuck into the series, starting with The Train Job. As there are twelve forty-minute episodes, I imagine this will require multiple get-togethers, which, considering Vickie and I don’t see you mad lot half as much as we’d like, can only be a good thing, eh? (Joining in on the chorus of "The Man They Call Jayne" is optional but recommended!)

Okay, so I'm really trying to organise a conversion party. So what?

So: How does Saturday, the 16th of October sound as a date, and what’s the vote: RvB or Firefly?

UPDATE 14 October: As things have been a little all over the place lately, Vickie and I decided to keep the weekend of the 16th for ourselves. So we've postponed the DVD Day to the 23rd, and as Steve Darlington of Places To Go, People To Be, RPGnet forum and There Is No Spoon fame is going to be in town, it's most likely going to be more Firefly than Red Vs. Blue.

The New PS2

Sony has just released details of their redesigned, smaller Playstation 2. It appears to be less than half the size of the original design, apparently without sacrificing any functionality.

One wonders whether Microsoft will consider a similar re-design of the Xbox, or even incorporate the idea into its next console?

September 2004 Update

Hi, everyone. I’m quite a bit overdue on a general update post; Ich bin ein slackbugger lately.

Firstly, thank you to everyone who called or wrote or dropped over or sent a card or otherwise gave emotional support over the past few weeks. Life really seems to have been dealing some body-blows lately, and we (Vickie, me, Dad, family, friends of family) have been trying to roll with them as best we can.

By and large, Vickie and I haven’t been doing too much aside form working over the past few weeks. A little while ago, we went to see The Bourne Supremacy. I’ve been meaning to write a review, but in the meantime let me give you the short version: Knowing what I was in for, I enjoyed this film more than the first film, and would have thoroughly enjoyed it had it not been for the motion-sickness-inducing handheld camerawork.

With general angst a little bit behind me, I got around to knocking over the novel trilogy by polishing off the heavy fictional angst of The Bourne Ultimatum. Let me just say now that if the Bourne novels are any indication – them and The Parsifal Mosaic, in fact – Robert Ludlum loved putting his characters in the pressure cooker. I mean, seriously, the novels didn’t let up until the end, sometimes not until the last ten pages!

After that, I bought Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Legacy, the new novel written by Eric van Lustbader at the behest of the Ludlum Estate. It was an interesting read, but there was a definite difference in tone, and van Lustbader’s portrayal of Bourne is often jarringly at odds with how Ludlum wrote him. Still, it kept me interested – if not as hooked as Ludlum’s original novels – to the end, which left me with a smile.

Lauren will be glad to know that I purchased The Great Book of Amber – all ten of Roger Zelazny’s Amber fantasy novels – and pretty much ploughed through it during our honeymoon. Fun, but kind of odd; never quite what I was expecting, even though I’d picked up the general details of the Amber universe via osmosis from the RPG crowd.

Speaking of RPGs, Dan ran another session of his Bubblegum Crisis campaign last Saturday, which was fun; it looks as though the next one will probably be on Saturday week. I’ve still got to sort out what’s happening with the Corsairs Campaign; I want to get an e-mail out to my players by Saturday at least.

Also on the same topic, I happened to notice that one of Military Simulations’ current crazy specials is the entire Blue Planet v2 product line, going for $75. It’s an interesting acquisition to consider, especially as Fantasy Flight Games discontinued the line, and it might be worth a bit more than $75 on eBay in six months to a year… but there are also a couple of fun-looking computer and video games on their way at the moment: Evil Genius and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. (I’m not including Halo 2 as I already have a pre-order on it.)

However, all of the above (excepting Halo 2) are on hold until after Christmas. Vickie and I are instituting a restructure of our bank accounts that will cut down on impulse spending of money that should be saved to pay off the bigger, more irregular bills (like rego and repairs, electricity, subscriptions, etcetera).

Speaking of impulse spending: in the same purchase as The Bourne Legacy, I picked up the second, third and fourth DVDs in the Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles series. Vickie and I had good fun watching through them, and I’m still looking forward to the RPG!

We also have a fair few birthdays coming up in October that we’d prefer to divert our disposable income toward. Unfortunately, we’re going to be a bit too exhausted to attend Lauren’s party on Friday night, but we plan to swing by her place on Saturday and help consume the leftovers.

On the general blogging front, I know I still have to add in the rest of my absent history, especially as the activity log shows a few searches for old posts that aren't back up yet. I should have done some over the past few days while Vickie was working, but I decided to slack off instead! :-) I'll get to 'em!

September 19, 2004

Game Dream #14: He's Dead, Jim!

There’s been an issue with many roleplaying games that’s been bothering me for a while, and I managed to turn it into a potential Game Dream topic for Doc. (I'd say he liked it!) Simply put, it’s the consequences of player character death in a campaign.

    Many "traditional" RPGs incorporate the possibility of the irrevocable death/disabling injury of a player character into their basic mechanics, yet often skirt the issue of what happens to the game in such a case, instead encouraging the GM to "fudge" the results if the GM doesn't want a given PC or PCs to die.

    How has your gaming group, current or previous, handled character deaths due to system-legitimate causes, i.e. combat or traps (assuming no intent on the part of another GM/player to kill a given PC or PCs)? Which methods worked well, and which didn't?

While a character appears no more than a set of statistics on a piece of paper, it is, of course, more than that; not just the alter-ego of a given player, but over the course of the campaign it becomes a significant investment of time, emotion and the coin of the realm, “experience points”.

That’s why it’s bothered me, especially lately, that many roleplaying games allow the possibility of and opportunity for in their systems, but very few seem to invest any column inches in discussing the metagame consequences of the sudden nullification of that investment by dint of the dice. I’m not talking about paced, dramatically appropriate death here, just a legitimate in-game situation where character death is risked and a character’s number comes up.

What happens to the group? If the player in question wants to continue with the campaign, how do you look at including a new character? Does the GM “penalise” the player by giving his or her character a portion of the total XP his or her last character earned, or does the GM treat XP as player-earned instead of character-earned and let the player create a new PC with the same experience, and does doing so mitigate the “risk” of combat? Should a GM open system and campaign “lethality” to discussion with the play group, or simply factor it into campaign planning and inform the players of how things will be without discussion?

The best advice many RPGs seem to offer to GMs is that they should make rolls behind the game-master’s screen and “fudge” the result should it be “unfavourable”, which to me doesn’t seem fair to GM or players. It’s something of a cop-out, and it takes away that element of risk that many players find attractive, often without their consent. A game’s rules are geared to a specific style of play, and if that style doesn’t suit a particular play group, the best advice the game product usually offers is “ignore or change what you don’t like” without any recommendations on what can be changed to suit given styles, or how.

The Corsairs Campaign uses the Second Edition Heavy Gear rules, which can be quite unforgiving at times. Thankfully, though, we’ve not had any player deaths so far. There was one during sim-training, which was mainly due to me forgetting a couple of important rules that should have kept him alive. (This is actually one of my big worries; I tend to not have a good memory for the rules of a game and regularly mis-read my own statistic crib-sheets. I keep waiting for someone to die, we get halfway through the adventure and I suddenly say “Oh shit! Gav, you shouldn’t be dead!”) We also had another serious injury, but that was due to meta-game causes, when one of my players went to China for a year. Because of the Heavy Gear rules, though, there’s likely to be a legitimate, rules-based PC kill sooner or later during the campaign, and while I’m not looking forward to it, I hate the idea of having to “fudge”.

September 17, 2004

From Space Marines to Starship Troopers

Intriguing news on the RPG - well, miniatures wargaming, actually - front: Mongoose Publishing of Swindon, U.K. (home to the stunningly attractive Roger) has signed on none other than Andy Chambers, late (and to my knowledge, still) of the mighty Games Workshop, to develop their upcoming Starship Troopers wargame!

Would you like to know more? I would: I'd like to know whether Andy's been allowed to grow back that long-haired, mutton-chop-and-mo old-skool James Hetfield look, or is he sticking with the clean-shaven and short-cut Gaming Industry Professional look. Answers probably not forthcoming in this publication!

Me, I just can't wait until the RPG comes out.

September 14, 2004

Just Glad It Wasn't Worse


Just went over to SimLauren's LiveJournal and found this bit of bad news.

Lauren, I know you'll probably have seen the comment and the SMS by the time you read this, but Vickie and I send all our best and are very glad that you managed to escape relatively unscathed and very sorry to read that Dorothy will probably be written off.


If you have any illusions as to the impartiality of the media, read this.

Okay, this is something of a knee-jerk post. I've not read Wil's book, although I'd like to, and even though Wil's a pretty darned good writer, and has never in my opinion "whined" in his web log posts that I've read (a good chunk of 'em). I also, as much as I and many other WWdN readers like to think so, don't really know the guy. So maybe the writer was just calling it as he saw it. Then again, something like "Whiner of the Week" is pretty inflammatory.

At least it looks as though Wil's decided to let it go.

September 13, 2004

Grand Theft Auto 3 vs. Privateer

NOTE: A slightly different version of this post has gone up on my GameSpot journal.

Many moons ago, back when I bought Grand Theft Auto III, I promised that I’d give a report on my impressions. Well, it’s been – what, three four months? – since I bought it, and I’ve clocked up ten hours on the game in total, if that. Frankly, while I was impressed at first, I round up rather… blah about the game quite quickly.

I think my problem with the game is that it’s so open-ended that, most of the time, I find myself doing pretty much the same tasks over and over again for seemingly little reward. Sure, I can jack a car, drive it around, do missions, drop the car, hoof it for a while, pick up a taxi and do jobs – but aside from maybe pulling off stunts on generally-located ramps, there was no sense that I was really doing anything worthwhile.

I kept contrasting the experience with probably one of the first “open-ended” game experiences out there, Wing Commander: Privateer (itself the spiritual successor to the original space trading sim, Elite), which I played and enjoyed almost eleven years ago. Fair enough, it’s a science fiction game, and we all know that I loves me my SF in spades. The core gameplay of Privateer and GTA3 are similar: Tour around a space (sector/city), do missions (cargo, bounty hunt or crime/chauffeur, murder or jacking) or your own thing, get paid.

I liked Privateer because not only did the missions have an in-built risk/reward system – risk damage to your ship (or death and utter loss of cargo) for the reward of money and more lucrative missions – both risk and reward actually meant something. If my ship took damage, I’d have to decide on how much I wanted to spend on repairs (Can I hold together with a beaten-up shield generator until I can afford to fix it?), which of the components of your complex ship I should fix (Am I all right with a beaten up shield generator, or should I fix it and leave off reloading my missiles?) and whether I ought to sell of some of I precious components to repair others.

When I got my reward, I had options: I could either save it up for a ship upgrade (or future repair costs) or, and this was my favourite part of the game, speculate some of it on the commodities market: buying stuff at one stop and trying to sell it for a profit elsewhere. As the prices fluctuated all the time, I was rarely guaranteed a profit, and I’d have to weigh up whether to just dump the goods and recoup not just some money, but also ever-precious cargo space, if the planet/station I’d arrived at had a potentially more lucrative cargo for sale. (Frankly, I think that’s all the heir to Privateer, Microsoft’s semi-successful Freelancer, needed to do to remain addictive: make the fixed commodity prices fluctuate.)

Basically, even though I was probably playing the same few mission types over and over, there was always a reward to gee me on.

I couldn’t find that risk/reward system in GTA3. I didn’t feel as though I was being particularly encouraged to do my own thing. Hijacking vehicles got old quickly, the missions rapidly descended into what felt like repetition, running from the police was more annoying than thrilling and the “money” I earned ended up being a fairly meaningless score system; I couldn’t spend it on vehicle upgrades or new cars, just maybe on some new personal weaponry and (I think) paying off the cops.

Privateer also had a fairly interesting story to it. The voice-over may have been occasionally hammy (especially with the bartenders and ship merchants all having the same voice), but the characters had character, especially the storyline ones. Although the ending was rather ho-hum, the storyline missions were varied and the overall plot intriguing. It added even more variety to the changing ships, cargoes and opponents of those same basic mission types.

What I saw of GTA3’s story… wasn’t one, really. I just kept doing missions for various (fairly interesting) mobsters, rewarded only by the continuing experience of cruising around the city. Yawn. Speaking of which, while Liberty City was touted as a “living” city, it never really felt alive. You’d drive around the same districts, hear the same voices saying similar things; my crook avatar rarely interacted with anyone. Even the mission characters just gave (interestingly-delivered) orders to my strong, silent thug. Maybe that has something to do with it. I’ve mentioned the upgrade options in Privateer, which allowed me to look at the universe every so often from within a new cockpit (and behind a new set of guns). GTA3’s avatar never changes either appearance or capabilities (well, except in terms of weaponry), and neither do the cars; although the performances between the models vary, there’s not really that much you can do besides just drive ‘em around.

The environments of Privateer were static and somewhat repetitive, but even now I remember them well; ironically enough, they actually made the game’s sector of space feel like a real place. Every destination had its own name, and those fluctuating cargo prices made each one seem a little different. I’d want to head back to the special locations and check out their hangar bays and central hubs, not to mention the odd special location or two. (That’s another thing: GTA3 doesn’t, strictly speaking, have destinations; you can’t enter any of the buildings and do things inside. You’re restricted to the city streets only.) Although many of the characters you’d run into (i.e. the above-mentioned bartenders and ship merchants) had the same problem as GTA3’s major story characters, the dialogue for the principals in the story was lively, with quite a lot of banter. And, as said above, changes to your ship (or even purchasing a new one) often meant a fundamental change in your gameplay choices, so much so that spaceflight never got old, even after the end of the Privateer campaign.

I think, when it comes down to it, I have a problem with “sandbox” universes: I find that there’s only so much that can be done with sand.

September 10, 2004

Volunteers Required Tomorrow Night to Eat Food

After a small family dinner this evening, Vickie and I have a heap of leftover roast pork and other grub that need to be eaten. All you need to do is turn up at our place tomorrow evening after, say, six.

For an added incentive, I can do a screening of Seasons 1 and 2 of Red Vs. Blue or even Firefly (which more people must watch).

We have enough for us plus anywhere from two to five, so e-mail or call us if you're interested and available; first come, first served. Transportation can be provided if required.

Intergalactic Overlord's Advisory: Earth

As I have no doubt Gav can attest, some interesting stuff comes out of the RPG.net forums. This, unfortunately, didn't come out of a note from Gav. Instead, Bryant Durrell posted his RPG.net Thread Of The Week over on The 20' by 20' Room, a reference to a crazy RPG setting idea dubbed to by its proposer "Toonpunk".

Now, you're probably familiar with the idea of putting a cool quote in your e-mail or forum signature. Sometimes, the RPG.net folks take their quotes from other posts in the forums, and that's where I found this little gem (I confess, I assume it's a quote from a forum post and not some other source, but the way the signature is formatted makes sense) in rbingham2000's signature, credited to a gent by the name of Mark Mohrfield, that sums up Earth's place in popular science fiction very neatly:

    The Earth is the greatest repository of Bad Luck in the Universe. Even if you've been around for billions of years, this little planet will screw you up like nothing you've encountered before. Your aeons-old law enforcement organization will fold. Your loyal scouts will suddenly start deserting you like there's no tomorrow. If you eat planets, you will not be able to digest this one. The queen of your vast empire will fall for a guy from this world.

UPDATE 2.10PM: Aha! Found the source. I was right; it's another post in another RPGnet Forum thread.

September 08, 2004

Oh God, do I want this game.

Just read ye GameSpot's review of Burnout 3: Takedown.

Last Night's CSI and Cold Case

I know, I know, I'm posting dring work hours, but this is a matter of life and death. For some reason God only knows, I set everything up last night - properly - tape was rewound, program set up, I even made sure to switch the VCR off with the remote (which is what actiates the time-record) - and still the damned VCR didn't run. I have no idea why.

As a result, Vickie missed CSI and the premiere episode of Cold Case, which she was very much looking forward to seeing. So is there any chance any of you taped them last night? If so, can I get my mitts on them ASAP, please? I can even drive around and pick them up from you tonight or tomorrow night.

September 07, 2004

Game Dream #10: Tangled Webs

Paperwork tends to be the bane of the average Joe’s existence, and this is no less true in roleplaying games. Doc’s tenth Game Dream is given over to examining how much work we need to put in when maintaining our campaigns.

    During games, how do you keep track of the various plot hooks, hints, and people? Are you a master of the arcane memory arts and keep them in your head? Or, are you a mere mortal who must put them to paper?

I tend toward the “mere mortal” side of the scales. One of the nifty things in the 2nd. Edition Heavy Gear Gamemaster’s Guide was an event tracking sheet, which I try and fill in after each adventure. It includes space for a session summary, notes on pertinent events, prominent NPCs, player actions and what happened off-scene that the players don’t know about. It’s a little cramped, but it does the job well.

I keep the completed papers, as well as notes, NPC sheets, equipment stats, maps and the like in a three-ring folder. Most of the notes therein are hand-written, so I’ll occasionally go through and make typed-up summaries that are easier to read in a hurry.

I’ve also bought myself a packet of (I think) 3”x5” file cards that I want to use for NPC summaries, so their important information (name, affiliation, pertinent game stats, opinions o the players) is at my fingertips. Finally, I carry a notepad with me most of the time, so if I have a campaign-related idea I can jot it down rapidly.

As this is a late response, I’ve noticed a few other respondents mention that they’ve made use of wikis as online data repositores for themselves (as GMs) and their players. This is an idea I’d like to put into practice. I do/did have a homepage for the Corsairs Campaign in the form of a blog, but I’d like to have a wiki available as well; I’ve noticed that the structure of a wiki is a bit more conducive to group input than a web log.

    How much notekeeping is too much?

I think you get to the point of too much notekeeping when you can’t quickly or readily find something you made note of. There’s a tendency to obsess over recording the details when you’re running a campaign, but little inconsistencies are a part of life and I think most players will either not notice or let slide that you’re less than accurate on a minor detail.

    Do you find you are more or less organized in game than in real life?

More organised in game, I think. Then again, we haven’t done much gaming in the past few months, so I’ve not had to do much maintenance lately.

Game Dream #9: Positive Reinforcement

Doc’s taken an introspective turn with Game Dream #9, in looking at the effect gaming has had on one’s life:

    What is the most positive thing you have gained from your gaming experiences?

This one’s not too hard to answer, although the first answer that comes to mind is sort of sidestepping the issue: I’d say that the most positive thing I’ve gained from my gaming experiences has been a damn solid group of friends. Most of them I’ve met through cons, clubs, friends or RPG discussion lists on the Internet. I wouldn’t trade any of them in for quids. We’ve not done as much gaming as we’d perhaps prefer, but it’s made up for by the fun we almost always have when we’re in the one place at the same time.

    How have games helped you with personal growth?

Games have helped me better my capacity to think on my feet and my skill in presenting to an audience, both things I’ve had problems with in the past. I’ve also found them to be good lessons in planning, thinking ahead and keeping a commitment for something long-term; many’s the time I’ve been tempted to ditch campaigns I’ve been playing in the face of some seemingly-insurmountable obstacle up until a solution presented itself.

    How do you feel about your children (if any, now or in the future) eventually playing role playing games?

Speaking strictly hypothetically, I’d be more than willing to encourage and join any young ‘uns of mine in the hobby. I wouldn’t try pushing the hobby on them, as from personal experience it’d be a sure guarantee they wouldn’t be interested. But if a child of mine ever started sneaking RPG books in brown paper bags to his room, I’d probably drag my old books off the shelf, just to make him feel more comfortable.

As I wrote, the above is a hypothetical exercise; I see myself becoming a “Crazy Uncle Rob” instead of a Dad. :-D

Game Dream #8: I'm Late! Rewind!

Well, now that server moves, marriages and other issues are out of the way, I can do some catching up:

    How have the games you've been involved with dealt with the passage of time? Has it been primarily linear, skipped around a lot, or even reversed?

I remember that a lot of my early games featured some of the sort of backtracking due to misinterpreted situations Mitch uses in his example, and I think a little of it happens still; I’m sure it’s happened at least once in the Corsairs campaign.

Aside from that, the passage of game-time time in the Corsairs campaign has by-and-large been linear. There was that one “in the past” episode I tried last time, but from a GM perspective that wound up being something less than intended. Still, I think my players had fun anyway!

September 06, 2004

Rob Is A Married Man

Now, I think almost everyone who wanders in here on a regular basis already knows that Vickie and I got married on August the 14th. I've been a little hesitant to make the news public on my own website, as my family didn't know, and as they aren't particularly keen on the whole idea of my relationship with Vickie, I wasn't sure when would be a good time to tell them.

After recent events, though, I told Dad last Friday, so I figure it's now safe to publicly acknowledge the union of Vickie and I! I'd also like to say here and now that it's probably the best thing I've ever done (it's up ther with moving in with Vickie in the first place).

Vickie's latest posting on her website tells you all about the wedding and the honeymoon. You can also follow the link to her online photo album and see the event for yourself!

I love you, my darling wife Vickie!

Local Wildlife

It's the last day of leave before Vickie and I go back to work today, and we've been sitting in the computer room doing web-log stuff. For the past couple of hours, we've been hearing the local plover family, who usually forage across the road in the grounds of the boys' high school, making their odd, high-pitched call - and just an hour or so ago, I thought I heard it from a lot closer than usual. I looked out the window, and I was right - the whole family, Mum, Dad and the three little'uns, was foraging in our front garden!

Plover young are so cute that Vickie and I couldn't resist getting some photos:

Aren't they just great?

September 05, 2004

The Rebuilding Process

Well, all of our previous web logs are now back up and in something resembling operating order again. I've brought across all of Vickie's old content and made it available, and am working on mine now.

There's still a bit of work to be done, though. Quite a bit, in fact. Getting the category and monthly archive pages looking the way they were is turning out to be a pain. I'll have to go over the HTML structure of my backed-up archives to figure out how I set it up previously.

Speraking of back-ups - as Marcus and I are still having problems getting the old server accessible, it looks as though I'm going to have to re-enter each post prior to the move manually. Now, I won't have to re-type everything, but I will have to do quite a bit of copying and pasting, especially when I have around four hundred old posts that need to come back across.

You'll probably notice that there are only six posts total on this blog at the moment. This is because I made several drastic changes between the January export (which I used to populate the blog after I installed Movable Type on Marcus' new server) and the backup I did prior to the move, and I think it'll be easier to just do the copy and paste job rather than try to figure out which posts I kept and which I didn't.

I still want to implement the combined comment/trackback listing for the individual post archives that Mitch Evans provided.

I'll most likely start making inroads into this over the next week. I have one more day of leave before I go back to work, and Vickie and I will probably be spending it sorting things out around the house (heck, the lawn is starting to demand a mow).