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December 29, 2004

NYE 04/05: How Dare We Not?

We have the radio on in the kitchen, tuned to 2GB, and being home ill today, I’ve been listening to it a bit. Chat host Luke Bona is taking calls on several subjects including binge drinking, but what held my attention were the calls decrying the continuing of the New Year’s Eve festivities in the face of the tsunamis that struck India and South Asia a few days ago. Several people have called in to say that the festivities should be halted or at least toned down, that to continue would be frivolous or in bad taste in the face of this huge natural disaster.

I won’t go into the facts of the disaster, as several news agencies have dedicated web pages to the tsunamis, with ready dates, times, facts and figures. But in my opinion, to call for the cancellation of the New Year’s Eve celebrations is in itself bad taste, and may well do more damage than good to this nation’s – I keep trying and failing to find a word or phrase less clinical or over-used than “psyche” or “morale” – at a time when we really need to heal.

Let’s have a quick look at our nation’s major events. Christmas Day commemorates an event held sacred by one of the major religions across the globe, and there are those, including Sydney’s lord mayor, Clover Moore, who object to the nation sanctioning a religion and forcing its rites on those who practice other religions or who believe the event is nothing more than myth. Anzac Day commemorates war and the death of Australian and New Zealand soldiers almost a century ago, and Australia Day can be seen as commemorating the start of two centuries of oppression, slavery and casual extermination.

By contrast, New Year’s Eve is one of the few, non-sectarian, non-commemorative celebrations we have each year. All it celebrates is the end of a year and the beginning of another. It’s a simple celebration for its own sake, a way for us to celebrate the simple fact that we, as people, as a city and as a nation can still actually come together, recognise and celebrate what we still have: our lives, our health, our sanity and, if one wants to get especially poetic, our freedom. I’ve long believed that major events are simply excuses for a party, and New Year’s Eve is the only excuse that we as a city and as a nation can have without feeling guilty, defensive or sombre. And we need something that we can all feel good about, that unites us on a greater scale than just a personal, family-and-friends get-together or local bonfire night.

That’s why we need the fireworks, that big, taxpayer-expensive, frivolous display. You see, this nation has very few truly communal experiences. Referring back to the list of national holidays above, some of us can feel, justly or otherwise, excluded, marginalised or persecuted by some celebrations. The New Year’s Eve fireworks display is probably the only experience outside any cultural, historical or religious division. Even annual themes or political contexts can’t dilute the sheer spectacle, the vision of light and sound. And we need that spectacle, that vision. We each of us are different; we all take away different things from different events. But the fireworks are probably the only central experience that gives everyone a common point of reference. Whether we’re looking from the foreshore, the rooftop pub garden, the comfortable lounge with the telly on or even just from the street, you’re seeing the same thing, and you can talk about it with almost anyone else who chose to participate.

Ultimately, it’s a symbol – it’s a little light in the face of the darkness. It’s our way of roaring at the world, at the universe: See us here! See our celebration of life! Are we so insignificant in the grand scheme?

Now, you’ve just read me establish why I think the New Year’s Eve celebrations are a good idea in general. It’s time I tied my opinion back to the tsunami. Frankly, what I find distasteful is the argument that we should cancel or tone down New Year’s Eve because of the tsunami when human drama occurs across the world all year. AIDS ravages Africa, floods devastate Bangladesh, war rages across Iraq, Israel and Palestine, yet the New Year’s Eve celebrations continue every year. Why should this natural disaster have any more effect on NYE simply due to its temporal proximity? Lives are devastated every day of the year across the globe, yet the New Year’s Eve celebrations continue every year. Would it be a double standard simply because Australians are involved?

We need the New Year’s Eve celebrations more than any other national celebration or holiday, more so now than ever. We need it because of our tragedies, our losses, our human disasters, not in spite of them.

If the day comes when those tragedies, losses and human disasters will be the only things we can talk about without offending, marginalizing or inadvertently persecuting someone, I will truly fear for the human race.

P.S.: I’d like to send all my best wishes to Phil, one of Vickie’s sons-in-law and a good friend. He’s a fingerprints expert who is part of the federal forensic team that flew to Thailand to assist in the identification of those killed in the tsunami. We’re thinking of you, mate.

Merry Halo Day – er, Christmas 2004 Everyone!

I know I’m a few days late on this – I offer stress and Christmas busy-ness as an excuse – but I’d just like to wish everyone here a Merry Christmas. I hope your day was smooth, easy and fun-filled. The New Year’s Best Wishes will be delivered on time!

We spent most of our Christmas Day at Dad’s place, braving the Family one last time. There was an unavoidable tension in the air unfortunately: it was the first Christmas since Mum died, and she loved this time of the year. Dad was, of course, really feeling it, which meant that he got inebriated and took some pot-shots at me again, but I wore them as best I could. I’m not always good with other people’s pain, especially when the relationship is as strained as mine’s been with my family since Vickie and I moved in together, so I didn’t handle some things as well as I could have. But, we managed to leave in the evening on fairly good terms.

With the Christmas Party out of the way, Vickie and I have been frantically packing the joint up. We reckon it’s easier to get as much done as possible, as early as possible, so we’re not running around like chooks trying to get the entire house packed away with but a few days before the removalist’s van turns up.

I’ve had a few people asking me what I intend to do work-wise in Cairns. My usual response has been, “I’m keeping myself open to new things, but ideally something I enjoy and pays enough to keep Vickie and I in comfort.” That’s my guideline, but it’s comfortably non-committal and non-specific. I can tell you that I’d prefer to avoid IT support – I did that for a year or so when I was working for Advantra and it drove me nuts.

One thing I’ve been thinking about over the past few days, though, is teaching at TAFE. I have a firm grasp on setting a PC up and the Microsoft Office suite, so I might see whether there are opportunities teaching entry-level computing.

In the meantime, I have my name with a few Cairns agencies, who’ve told me that they can’t do much for me until I’m available for interviews.

And yes, I did get Halo 2 for Christmas. Yes, it’s fun. I had a nasty bout of insomnia last night (which is why I’m off sick today), so I wound up polishing off the single-player campaign on Normal difficulty. I’m fighting the temptation to go back in and play through it again; its eye-candy is as good as Chronicles of Riddick. If I’m lucky, I may even be able to talk Vickie into playing co-operatively with me!

Xbox Live is definitely a tempting prospect, but it’s going to wait until after we get to Cairns, I get myself a job and we establish a regular budget.

Vickie just asked me what I was doing, and I replied with “I’m writing a post of my own.” Sort of an odd answer, eh? As Vickie pointed out, who else would I be writing for?

That’s an evil thought – ghost-writing for a blog.

I wonder how much it pays?

December 23, 2004

Those Guys Must Have Too Much Free Time On Their Hands...

I've posted this up on the RPGnet Roleplaying Open Forum, and am making it available in slightly edited for my readers to comment on:

As you may know, I've started reading a bit of RPG theory stuff lately. Thanks to The 20' By 20' Room, I discovered and printed off the free-PDF version of the Finnish collection of RPG essays, Beyond Role and Play. Just today I stumbled across The Forge's article section, and am brewing over Ron Edwards' breakdown of his GNS theory while reading some of his other stuff. (When I met Jared Sorensen, he compared Ron Edwards to Scott McCloud, and having read a little of both, I'm inclined to agree.)

A few minutes ago, Vickie asked what I was reading, and I told her it was Ron Edwards' "A Hard Look at Dungeons and Dragons" article. I contrasted him to the intensity of some of the Finnish stuff (apologies to the Finns reading this) and tried a basic description of what Ron was trying with his GNS theory (i.e. to analyse the many ways in which players enjoy RPGs and find a way of communicating those ways in order to reduce the number of gamers out there who aren't enjoying their hobby). Part way in, Vickie said, "He must have too much free time on his hands."

Now, I bristled at this a bit. I find it fascinating and, frankly, a little affirming that someone is willing to put some time and effort into identifying how the fun is (and can be) created within a roleplaying game ('cos it ain't as easy as the game-books make out). But Vickie went on to frame her comment in terms of all the gaming he must have to do or have done to be able to sit down and work out some theory around it all (not to mention the time required to theorise).

In part, I can kind of take Vickie's point. Our mutual experience of gamers is that organising a session is like herding cats, so much so that we consider ourselves lucky to get a game in once every two weeks. Frankly, though, we'd probably be exhausted by gaming at any higher frequency, and we tend to grumble if we "have to" game more than once a month (then again, we're rather grouchy homebodies anyway).

Yet I regularly see postings and hear discussions about groups whose weekly game sessions are the rule, not the exception, and while I'm a little envious, I'm also amazed at the amount of time that must go into prep (especially for the poor GM) before each session.

So I suppose my questions to the broader gaming community are:

  • How much time, say on a weekly basis, do you invest in actual, active gaming (not reading your rulebooks and dreaming, as I do most of the time)? How much of that is prep time, and how much is actual play?
  • How do you make that time?
    • What activities, if any, are you sacrificing in order to do the work of gaming? Housework? Non-school time study? Overtime? Weekend sports? Significant Others/Families?
    • If you're maintaining an active non-gaming social life, how do you manage everything?
  • Do you ever find meeting up with the same gang every week and/or the prep-time required irritating and/or exhausting? In other words: Do you ever wish you spent less time gaming than you do?
  • And what about you folks who've stepped over the threshold and gone into writing RPG theory or designing your own games (or both)?
    • How much gaming experience did you need to get you to the point of writing theory/designing your own game?
    • How much gaming do you still do in between designing/writing?
    • Again, how do you achieve that work/family/gaming/other stuff balance?

Please note that my intent isn't to attack the gaming community; in fact, I'm rather hoping I can show Vickie the answers and say, "See? They don't have that much free time after all!" Ultimately, I'm honestly curious - perhaps as a gamer who doesn't get enough.

Gaming, that is!

December 19, 2004

Manners Redux

Around this time last year I put a post up on this web log (which has yet to be restored) regarding manners. Specifically, we’d sent invitations for our Christmas party out to friends three weeks ahead of time with “RSVP ASAP” on them.

One week beforehand, we had to chase all but a handful of the thirty-odd people we sent invitations out to just to find out whether they were coming or not. From that post: “One or two have said they'll see if they can maybe make it, as they have other things on, and if they do deign to turn up, they'll be late - like near midnight.”

This time, we sent our invitations by mail and e-mail, and we gave our invitees a month’s> notice and an RSVP date of two weeks before the event. Thankfully, things were better in terms of replies this year, but we still had to chase some people, still getting a few maybes even by the RSVP date. As of last Wednesday, we had fifteen people confirmed attending. Based on that number, we went shopping for food and supplies.

Of the fifteen who told us they’d be coming, nine showed up last night. Two of the other six had unfortunately taken ill. The remaining four told us “What, it’s tonight? Oh, I/we can’t make it.” (Of those, only one was good enough to get in touch of their own volition; the rest we had to call and nag.)

Now, Vickie and I know Christmas is a crazy time of year; everyone have conflicting family commitments, work schedules, all sorts of shit going on. But is it, and I mean this seriously, too much to ask that you organise your schedules when we give you a month of notice and two weeks to let us know one way or the other?

You may think we’re asking for some sort of special consideration here. After all, it’s our last Christmas in Sydney, our last chance to get all our Sydney friends in one place at once.

But think about this: When Vickie and I organise a party, we spend a significant amount of time, effort and money in order to ensure that all our guests (plus any extra who might suddenly turn up out of the blue) are fed. We believe in the true meaning of hospitality; we care about you and we like to see you leave our house with a full belly and a smile.

In case you’re wondering, let me spell out the investment Vickie and I made for the party in terms of what we have left over after last night:

  • Non- or semi-perishables: an unopened bag of chips, an unopened container of dips, an unopened box of cheeses and almost an entire slab of Tooheys New that I bought today because we’d forgotten to put “BYO” on the invitations.
  • Perishables: almost half a leg of ham, enough of two chickens to make almost a whole one, antipasto veggies, opened bags of chips, pretzels and mixed nuts, an opened container of dips, an opened box of cheeses, opened jars of olives and cocktail onions, not to mention all the food made at home by Vickie: a loaf of bread, a large bowl of salad, a container of fruit salad and a quarter of a large ice cream Christmas pudding.
  • On top of that, two of our guests contributed sweet biscuits.

A couple of friends are dropping over tomorrow afternoon to share some of this excess food and spend some quality time with us, but most of the food, and therefore most of the money and time we spent on it, will go to waste.

Vickie and I seem to get the short end of the stick from some of our friends when it comes to our parties. Let’s face it; we’re not party animals ourselves and have turned down a few invitations this year. But we’ve always done so promptly.

No, we don’t want special consideration. We just want to be treated as we think you’d want to be, in our position.

Is this too much to ask – again? Even for the last time?

December 17, 2004

Alien Summit

Although hampered by vague writing, Alien Summit does what it intends – facilitates interesting conversations and arguments – and does it well. Well worth ninety-nine cents as a before-the-main-event activity or something different for jaded die-rollers.

This review is hosted on RPGnet.

Yeah, and a Merry Fucking Christmas to You, Too.

So, yeah. I'm home a bit early today. Call it a protest against the management of the firm I'm resigning from.

See, a couple of weeks ago, my new manager holds his first department meeting. At the end, he talks about plans for Christmas Eve, and says that he'd like to organise a Christmas lunch. However, the company won't chip in; we have to fund it ourselves. Afterwards, we can all rack off early.

Now, I figure this is the closest thing we're going to get to a Christmas party this year. We had one last year, but the company Social Club funded that, mostly on staff donations. The Social Club hasn't had too much luck this year, and there's been no word from them. There have also been stories of Christmas parties over the last couple of years, being funded entirely on the empolyees' dime, getting canned by management.

So just after I have lunch, one of the guys from another department pops around to our area. It seems he couldn't get in touch with half his team, who work in North Sydney, via regular channels - and when he finally got in touch with one of them, he found out that all of North Sydney and the City offices, plus the Account team for our largest client, had all been invited by the new head of Asia Pacific South to a Christmas party at the Domain from lunchtime onward. Not one person at the Burwood campus - four buildings' worth of people - had been invited. I managed to confirm his story, thanks to a colleague in one of the city offices.

I suddenly thought, "I'm buggered if I'm sticking around here for the rest of the day."

In the middle of redundancies as jobs are outsourced to Malaysia and record-low morale, upper management pulls a stunt like this. From my perspective, it's just the latest in a series of events that have convinced me that my decision to take Vickie and I back to Cairns was correct.

December 12, 2004

Halo 2 Caption Comp Winners!

Ladies and genlemen, after careful deliberation over the entries received, the Judges are glad to announce the winners of the IMAGinES Halo 2 Caption Competition!

Our winner is Sim "SimLauren" Lauren, with the first place entry:

Sleep? - you need to EARN sleep! - Pick that controller back up!

SimLauren has won the Halo 2 Series 1 Warthog!

In second place is Jake "EvilHayama" Surman, with:

Halo 2 will have to wait till I finish this dancing game, sorry. Woo! Get down!

EvilHayama has won the Halo 2 Original Soundtrack, Volume One!

And coming in third is Richard "Rantinan" Winters, with:

Put down the controller and back away.  Let a professional show you how it's done.

Rantinan has won Our Personal Collection of Spider Robinson Novels!

The winners will be contacted privately to organise pickup/delivery.

December 11, 2004

The Other War Of The Worlds Movies

Well, this is intersting! Back in 2001, a small UK film studio named Pendragon Pictures was working on a War of the Worlds film, doing a modern-day adaptation like the Cruise/Spielberg one. After 9/11, though, they decided to re-vamp the production to be more faithful to the original novel.

When Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg announced their War of the Worlds project, I assumed that the Pendragon Pictures venture woulld probably have quietly faded away, especially as there was nothing new on their website on it. Not so, as it turns out - principal photography has wrapped on H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, and they're expecting to have an FX-inclusive trailer later this month.

I was hoping that one or the other would have Jeff Wayne's soundtrack - but now it looks as though neither will, because Jeff's working on his own bloody movie, entirely computer generated and also set in Victorian England.

Plus, his Musical will be remixed by Sony in 5.1 for re-release and, it would seem, presented in an Interactive Theatre Experience!

They must be invading! I mean it! It's sorta like what New Jersey said: it's the ultimate cover!

UPDATE 23 March 2005: It seems that my original surmise that Pendragon is a UK firm may be incorrect. One of the guys over on the RPGnet forums did some digging, and it seems Pendragon was incorporated in Seattle.

Still, I do have to give Pendragon and Hines a nod for setting (and filming) their porduction in the UK, with a British cast.

War of the Worlds Trailer Up

That's right, Martians: The teaser trailer for Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds has arrived. And boy, is it a teaser. It gives almost nothing away, while setting a suspenseful mood and promising action.

I like its handy paraphrasing of the first paragraph of Wells' novel, although I think they could have done better with their choice of voice-over guy. I'm not too sure abut the poster, though - either it's an early homage to the 1950s movie or they're going to be using that movie's Martian design over Wells' Martians. And I'm also a bit miffed that there's no music so far - I have no idea whether Jeff Wayne's score is going to be used or not. (It probably won't, but I'm still holding out hope.)

December 10, 2004

A Solution to the Surround Sound Stumper?

Interestingly enough, it was a piece of comment spam that hipped me to the little gadget that could be the solution to my surround sound problem. I had around five spams to clean off the web log this evening, and one was entitled "Creative Labs Creative DDTS-100 Decoder". My interest was immediately piqued. If anyone would have an unamplified digital decoder, I figure it would have to be Creative, makers of sound cards and PC surround sound speakers (which are also powered by an amp in the subwoofer).

I cleaned off the comment spam, but immediately went to Creative's web page and started browsing. Sure enough, the dingus exists, and if the online PDF manual is any indication (which it jolly well should be), it does look as though it will accept digital input from several sources and output it to unamplified 5.1.

A few Australian web retailers sell the gadget at around $300-350, which is still $150-200 cheaper than the lowest commercial hi-fi amplifier/receiver/decoder.

So, yeah, Boots: Any chance yould order me one of these with the Netgear wireless bridge after Christmas, mate? Buddy? Pal? Absolutely awesome, y' know, righteous dude? (Is this enough sucking up? I can always provide more...)

December 07, 2004

Which Book Are You?

You're Invisible Man!
by Ralph Ellison
Most of your life, people have either ignored you or told you that you were wrong. You've been duped, mistreated, misled, and neglected. Maybe it was because of your race, or some other uniqueness that people were quick to condemn, but now you just want to crawl into a hole and disappear. After all, nobody knows your name. But you just might speak for everyone.
Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

December 06, 2004

Post-Paranoid Delusions

Well, Saturday night’s Paranoia XP game went off pretty darned well. It was nice to have the lads over for One Last Game, although I was rather naughty in excluding Vickie through the choice of game (she’s not keen on a roleplaying game that takes backstabbing, betrayal and deceit as its core concepts; [she claims] she’s just not that kind of person). I just wanted to play The Game With My Name In It at least once.

I can’t quite claim that it went to Paranoia standard; we wound up calling on account of time rather than everyone’s clones being wiped out (although we had at least two players who were on their last clone). Although I was aiming for Classic, the game wound up very much in the Zap style. I think the guys enjoyed having a chance to pass notes and unleash their pent-up playing fury on each other.

As for me, although I think need to pick up on pacing control – I was hoping we’d get through the whole adventure, but instead we had to call it just before the big shootout/chase – I definitely had a good time encouraging the mayhem from behind my Wall of Fear and Ignorance – er, I mean GMing it. It was easy enough to just wing, although part of me would like to brush up on the rules a bit more.

Interestingly enough, no-one used their mutant powers and one, maybe two of them actively attempted to fulfill their secret society missions. On the other hand, they were more than willing to use their lasers; I think I should've been enforcing ammo restrictions a little more strictly. :-) I was also rather surprised at how few pre-game questions there were; I suppose half the players figured I wouldn't be tellign them anything important anyway! :-D

The main downside was that the nifty little red notepads I’d procured just hours before for the purposes of note-passing somehow managed to deposit some of their red dye onto the table, and (as Vickie discovered the next morning) even metho wouldn’t get the damned stuff entirely out. It’s a double-bugger, as we want to get rid of that table. (Speaking of which, might anyone be interested?) Still, I spent some time earlier that morning getting everything back in order (including shredding everyone’s character sheets – a little gimmick I’d love to actually use during a game sometime); Vickie was half expecting to get up in the morning and find a huge mess to clean up.

December 04, 2004

Righteous Fury

The Penny Arcade lads are taking shots at the sequel to the recent Prince of Persia remake today. In his posting, Tycho pretty much explains why Vickie doesn't like my killing of Grunts (although she'd already done a pretty good job of explaining it herself):

"They've got these Raider guys that are essentially the Cannon Fodder of Time ... The problem with these guys is their voices, which are hilarious, and not grim. You can't feel tough when you cut these guys. Halo has those little grunts, and I guess I'm supposed to feel like a bad-ass when I destroy them but I actually just feel like an asshole. They both seem like races that just fell in with the wrong crowd. What they need are compelling after school activities, not death."

Well, I can sorta see what both Tycho and Vickie mean - but God-damnit, those little genocidal monsters should get themselves the heck out of the wrong crowd, or else they deserve the righteous Master Chief fury they've got coming to 'em!

You know, I think that's why I like violent video games. I'm not a great fan of righteousness in real life, it just gets in the way of rational thought. But hell, everyone gets righteous sooner or later, and I'd much prefer if I got righteous against a bunch of pixels instead of real people, even if I'd only be getting righteous with an attitude against said real people and not with a gun.

December 02, 2004

Everybody's Doing It

No no no, you dirty-minded Huns! Caption competitions! Everyone's doing caption competitions!

Okay, this one's not quite a caption competition, but it's close. Steve Jackson Games is working on a supplement to their Ninja Burger game, and Evil Stevie himself needs some help with a title. Enter, and if you submit the winning entry, you get free copies!

Oh, and speaking of caption competitions, the total of entries to the Halo 2 comp has gone up - to three! Ladies and Gentlemen of my reading public, I ask you, are you going to let these people walk away with a prize just for entering? You don't have to enter three captions, you know; one or two will do fine! You have just over a week left to go, so you'd better not let it slide, or else you might realise too late that the deadline, which is, I'll remind you, ten PM, Friday, December the Tenth, has slipped by!

Beyond Fear and Ignorance

I'm getting all geared up to run my first Paranoia session in over - it must be, what, twelve years since I ran (or tried running) Into the Outdoors with Gun and Camera from the Second Edition Paranoia rulebook? Yeah, twelve years, maybe thirteen. I tried running it fro a bunch of friends in high school, including the Hayama and the Cazman. I remember Caz was unfortunate enough to get saddled with the "big, dumb lunk" character of the team (Steve-R-STN-1) and had something of an allergy toward paying big, dumb lunks afterward. Might've been what put him off RPGs in general too.

Anyway, this weekend I'm going to be running Mister Bubbles from the Paranoia XP rulebook. Thankfully, I have a full complement of six players. I've been printing character sheets and photocopying handouts over the past week, and I'm fully expecting those poker chips I bought a month ago to get a workout; they're used to track Perversity Points (which the players can spend to add to or subtract from their or each other's rolls). I am really looking forward to this; although Paranoia is free-wheeling enough that I don't have to stress about detail, the mood - that uniquely Paranoia atmoshpere of fear and ignorance - is going to be the real challenge.

Thankfully, there are no big, dumb lunk characters this time.

I was thinking of running a bit of Alien Summit beforehand for thse who turn up early, but I'm not sure - even if I'd like to playtest it for an RPGnet review, I think we'll probably have enough to talk about (what with Vickie and I heading North in under two months) without need for a conversational RPG.

Speaking of RPGs, here's an interesting PDF book you might want to get your hands on. It's called Beyond Role And Play: Tools, Toys and Theory for Harnessing the Imagination, and it was the book that was published for a Finnish roleplaying convention, Solmukohta 2004. (Don't worry; it's entirely in English.) It's heavy on theory and quite LARP-centric, but having read some of its essays, I recommend it as a worthwhile read if you're interested in the "work" of roleplaying and LARPs.

You'll also probably come away with the idea that these Nords not only have some crazy ideas when it comes to gaming, but also that they probably take RPGs way too seriously. Then again, it's gratifying to know that someone is willing to invest time and effort in serious investigation and study of what many of us consider "just a hobby".