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January 30, 2006

clunk WHAM "Fuck."

The good news is, our front room is almost put together again. The painting in there has been done, we've repopulated the bookshelf and the computer desks have been put back into place, with all the cables neatly (well, semi-neatly) sorted and off the floor.

The bad news is that, in the process of tidying the cables, plugs and powerboards up, it seems I managed to break the power unit for our Speedtouch ADSL modem somehow. I have the feeling I may have let the unit fall to the floor after I unplugged it from the powerboard. It would only have been a foot or so's distance, and usually those things are fairly rugged.

I know it's the power unit and not the modem itself, as after I re-organised everything I had the plug for the modem in the Netgear router and vice versa; the modem worked while the router was offline. When I put the plugs in the right devices, the router started working while the modem wouldn't power on.

So, everything else is working, we just can't get to the Internet from home.

I'm going to be calling Telstra tonight. I would've done so last night except I forgot that the support line is open 24/7 and I was buggered after getting all those cables sorted out.

January 29, 2006

Aaaaand Cyclone Season is On!

Well, ladies and germs, it's official: The first tropical cyclone of the '06 Cairns Monsoon Season has been identified. Tropical Cyclone Jim is one thousand kilometres off the Innisfail coast and slowly heading out to sea. He's a Category 2 at the moment, and forecasters reckon that as Jim proceeds East he'll build into a Cat 3. Whether he'll about face and come back West again, we'll leave to fate.

January 28, 2006

Too Busy Being Dead To Vote

Of course, the one main downside to the Service Guarnatees Citizenship model in Starship Troopers is that it can create a minority of voters, and as there's no guarantee that you'll actually survive your service, especially if you're in the armed forces, the potential minority shrinks even further. Not only that, the uncertainty of battle may well mean that the people best fit to wield the vote or hold office after they complete their service may well wind up dead on the battlefield.

Elitism? Snobbery? Arrogance? Even more possibility for corruption as Those Who've Proved Their Worth ignore Those Who Haven't? (I imagine a ruling culture of ex-servicemen may differ significantly from the culture within the services.)

I'd hope not, and Heinlein seemed to think that the nature of the service itself plus the Easy Way Out would be more likely to promote patterns of behaviour that would run counter to those tendencies, even after the term of service is completed and citizenship is awarded.

Again, I suppose it's just one of things we won't know for sure until a nation tries it.

Old Men's Problems

I read a line somewhere recently about how war is just young men fighting for old men's problems. While it's easy to get incensed and argue whether Hitler was an "old men's problem" (or an old man himself), it's not hard to be cynical in light of recent, flimsy-seeming and ultimately erroneous justifications for armed conflict.

Part of me is also cynical enough to believe that as long as one human being reckons he or she deserves something more than the other human being who has that thing, you're going to wind up with wars (which usually happen when you replace "he or she deserves" with "his or her people deserve"), and young people, being on average more physically capable than old people, are going to fight and die in them.

I also read something a while ago which struck me particularly. The rest of the text wasn't particularly thrilling, which is probably why that particular bit leapt out at me, and it was basically thus: The commanders of any fighting force can do only two things with the lives of those who serve under them; spend them or waste them. And I think, ultimately, that's all (beyond reasonable basic conditions) that a soldier can ask of his superiors, be they generals or government.

In my mind, those old men who send the young men off to die have to have served as soldiers themselves, so that they know exactly the hell they're sending their young men into and will have an investment in not wasting their lives.

Of course, there's no such thing as a sure thing, especially when it comes to warfare. Even battle experience and a firm grasp of strategy and military tactics doesn't guarantee you, our hypothetical commander, certainty that you're spending, not wasting, your men's lives until they're executing your orders.

It all comes down to trust, I suppose. And I reckon I'd be more inclined to trust someone who's been right there in the trenches themselves to decide how best to spend my life.

Now, Why Does This Look Familiar?

Just checked out the tailer for an upcoming SF film, UltraViolet, starring Milla Jovovich. Watching it, I couldn't help but feel like I'd seen this somewhere before.

You know what? The same man wrote and directed both films.

President Halves Pay

Okay, so it's the newly-elected President of Bolivia, one of the smaller South American nations, but boy, do I hope it sets a precedent: Evo Morales made an election promise that he would halve his pay cheque upon election, and when he was elected (as the first indigenous President of Bolivia) - he kept his promise.

(The interesting bit is, it's apparently Bolivian law that no public sector official can be paid more highly than the President, so now that he's taken his pay cut the rest of the government and branches of the public service will have their salaries reviewed.)

I've been reading about this President Evo Morales recently, and there seems to be a lot of hope surrounding him - if there's anywhere in the Americas with nowhere to go but up, it may well be Bolivia. He is a Socialist, for what that's worth, but as long as he is a humanist as well, I think Bolivia will be okay. He's also doing his darnedest to cast himself as a man of the people, even wearing llama-wool sweaters on the job.

The knee-jerk reaction is to immediately start lobbying our pollies to take cuts in salary. Not that I know how much they earn, but it's a tempting thought.

I remember, though, hearing Alan Jones on the radio one morning back in Sydney talking about the PM's pay. I don't remember the exact words, but I think I have a pretty good handle on the sentiment - that you couldn't pay enough to the person whose job it is to make sure our country runs. On one hand, I can understand that sentiment. I have no doubt that, as much as we like to savage politicians, heck, probably in no small part because we like to savage politicians, their job must be one of the worst jobs a person can earn money for doing. I have no doubt that the recent shock resignation of Western Australia Premier Dr. Geoff Gallop was due in no small part to the stresses of the position and a career in politics. Hell, as much as we really hated the Carr administration for letting Sydney and New South Wales get so run down, I can't help but feel some sympathy for the grey-haired, stress-lined wreck who fronted the cameras to tend his resignation last year.

On the other hand...

You know, I keep coming back to Starship Troopers whenever I think about shit like this, and no matter what you may think about the political model the novel lays out, I usually find it's a good springboard when I think about politics.

For those of you who don't know, Starship Troopers presents an interstellar society whose franchise - the right to vote or hold office - is restricted to those who undertake Federal Service for at least two years (which can be extended until retirement if the government requires it). As presented in the novel, Federal Service is either military service or one of "a whole list of dirty, nasty, dangerous jobs" that will make prospective citizens "remember for the rest of their lives that citizenship is valuable to them because they’ve paid a high price for it."

So, basically, you're putting yourself into the service of the government doing highly dangerous work until your term comes up or you retire (and in at least some positions you can choose to go career, which means you're in until retirement and - in the military - can apply for commission), with basic pay and only the vote and the opportunity to hold political office as a reward. You can quit at almost any time, though (in the novel's Mobile Infantry, this is any time you're not on a mission), but you never get another chance to apply. The idea behind this is that resultant citizens have exhibited a pattern of behaviour that demonstrates a willingness to accept unpleasant duties for the greater good, and are as such likely (not guaranteed, mind you, but as they've had an easy out throughout their service and refused it, I'd say such a system is as close as you can get) to vote against comfort for its own sake when it comes time to exercise their franchise.

And if you wind up with political parties filled with such people actually working for the public good, instead of "career" pollies who are in it for the power and / or benefits, I think you might wind up with jobs that, while still not paying enough, people would do even if they weren't paid, jobs where the stresses were manageable instead of backbreaking.

Of course, the Yes, Minister TV series did a very good job of showing through satire how the non-officeholding members of a government administration can bend said government to their will. But, I suppose the question is then, would a government like that of Starship Troopers, where the actual officeholders are unlikely to act out of pure self-interest, reduce the impact of such corruption on the running of a nation?

I guess we'll only find out when a nation tries it.

So, going back to Bolivia for a second - I suppose President Morales' move, although perhaps discouraging corruption on one hand, might encourage officeholders to seek out / accept kickbacks and gratuities to supplement their now-reduced incomes. Here's hoping he's a good enough man and President to attract staff who'll be in it for the work rather than the money. Of course, when I mentioned the pay cut at the office, someone made an offhanded about how he probably makes it up through corruption anyway, which I was initially a bit thingy about - until I read that one of his intended policies is a relaxation on restrictions of growth of the coca leaf, the source of cocaine, in the name of allowing the indigenous population to continue "traditional uses" of it. Might Morales' wage reform send some of his own people into the arms of the drug trade in order to supplement their newly-reduced wages. especially those forced below a livable wage as the new wage ladder shakes out?

January 25, 2006

Sure Sign Vickie Is A Gamer, #12

Right at this moment, my Vickie is playing a game she downloaded from NineMSN, called Jewel Quest. According to her, she's been playing it since half past three today.

She has ignored the Santana CD I bought her earlier today.

She has missed dinner (which I bought for us from Red Rooster).

She is currently missing Judging Amy and may well miss Third Watch.

It'll be confirmed if I wake up tomorrow morning and she's still playing it.

Out of Victoria by Barbarossa

Those of you who admire Tyr Anasazi as much as Vickie does will be pleased to learn that Keith Hamilton Cobb has his own website. It seems he's between gigs at the moment, but fingers crossed not for long.

January 23, 2006

Intimate Gaming...

You know, I just realised something today, after all my whinging and bitching about not being able to get game: At least a couple of my games could quite easily be played with one player and one GM. Dogs in the Vineyard rather stands out as good for one player / one GM, with the added bonus that Vickie is positive about the game. I asked her about a little one-on-one time, and she seems all right with the idea!

What? Post details about it? Actual Play? What are you, some sort of voyeuristic freak?!?!?

(She's gonna kill me for posting this, I know it.)

My Civic Duty

Vickie called me at work today to let me know that the Queensland Government had sent me a letter in the mail: It looks as though my name's been drawn out of the hat to serve jury duty sometime in the next few months.

Vickie asked whether work would continue to pay me while I was on jury duty; if they didn't we would have serious financial difficulties and would likely need to claim ineligibility. But I checked with payroll, and they said they'd continue to pay me as long as they received my juror's payment ($30/day).

One of the first things I was asked by my supervisor when I told her was, "Do you want a letter?" I said no. I figure if I ever (God forbid) wind up in front of a jury, I'd prefer the jurors were there because they believe in their duty to our system of law, not because they couldn't get a decent excuse or because (and this might be snobbish of me) $30/day was better than what they'd get otherwise. How can I ask that of someone else if I'm not willing to do it myself?

Beyond that nothing goes beyond the courtroom, I have no idea what the legalities of the situation are, so I may well be limited to posting "Yeah, I went today." And I mightn't even do that; even if the case is minor, I'd prefer no one decided a good way to serve themselves would be to threaten either of us.

January 22, 2006

Hey, You Guys Aren't Junk Mail...

Several of you may have noticed that your comments ot the site have sat unapproved for a while. That's because, for some unknown reason, Movable Type 3.2 classified them as junk and didn't let me know you'd submitted them.

I only noticed your comments when I got another honest-to-god junk message waiting for my approval and I decided, rather than just delete it, to mark it junk and see what happened. It was moved to the Junk Messages list, which I finally decided to check - and horror of horrors, as well as around fifteen actual junk comments, I discovered comments from Salidar, Mandi, Gav, Lauren, Cheryl, Marcus and more, some as far back as the days after the upgrade to MT3.2!

So, as you should now be able to see, your comments have been approved and restored. I'm very, very sorry, and I promise to keep a weather eye on the junk bin from now on!

"Training Wheels" Rules for Rules-Free Play?

Well, after admitting to a possibly unhealthy interest in RP forums, I've gone and started a topic on one of them. I think it's an extension of this whole "GM-less/Player-less" business going on at the moment. I've asked the questions:

  • Are you aware of any texts, guidebooks or sets of rules that, either intentionally or otherwise, serve as a "training wheels for freeform" guide / set of rules? How do they work as training wheels, and how do they guide participants toward doing without them?
  • Have you, personally, had a "rules-free success story" similar to SteveD's (late last year, he admitted on RPGnet that his gaming group for his Buffy: The Vampire Slayer campaign was actually doing swimmingly without need for either the Buffy rulebook or himself as GM) with a traditional rules set? Did you find it happening in spite of the RPG rules you were using, or did it occur as an extension / result of those rules?

You can find the thread here. Responses are welcome on it.

RPG Porn

I'm starting to think that reading RPG-oriented forums like RPGnet and The Forge isn't doing me much good; all these folks talking about the game they're getting while I've just had frustration and twiddling my thumbs for most of the past year.

That's probably one of the big reasons Vickie's suggested I start reading news sites more...

January 18, 2006

It's True - I'm Planning to Play Amber

You may have read some scurrilous lie over on Salidar's LiveJournal about me - Rob Farquhar, of all people - being interested in playing the Amber Diceless Role Playing Game via Skype. This is the same me who has long expressed disinterest in this whole "diceless" shit, who read all ten of Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber and thought, "So... what, that's it? That's all the shouting's been abut all this time?", who passed up an opportunity to buy the RPG in an eBay auction.

(Admittedly, the top bid skyrocketed to around $70, but still.)

But yeah, the bastard sends me this PDF of the book and damned if it's not got me interested and intrigued.

So, as Gav's going to tour Middle Earth (ahem) New Zealand in a couple of months, and his sister has kicked him out of the house in the meantime, our Primetime Adventures campaign is on hiatus, and Vickie, Salidar and I have been kicking ideas around of what to do in the meantime. As Salidar wrote, I suggested Dogs in the Vineyard, but he's not entirely thrilled by the idea. (I didn't know that he was actually raised Mormon!) I'm not sure whether Vickie's particularly interested in Amber, though; she's never been keen on reading the stories and what little she knows thus far hasn't thrilled her. (Then again, it hadn't really thrilled me, anyway...)

The ultimate question is, I suppose, what sort of character would I like to play? "Develop your dream character," the book reads, "the one you have always wanted to play - the one you have always wanted to be." Which is great, thank you very much, book, but it's not necessarily helpful. I mean, it could quite easily be said that my dream character is our old pal Slamdance, but I really think I ought to be writing him instead of playing him.

On one had, I feel like I ought to be plying something other than my dream, "Big Hero" character - it doesnt seem quite fitting for the immortal politicking that characterises an Amber Throne War.

On the other hand... both the RPG ("Two Great Characters", p.35) and Salidar's post extol the virtues of character growth, and feature "pure and noble" characters who go through very interesting and dramatic change and growth, and I'd really like a shot at that.

I wonder if being able to have a character from anywhere would draw Vickie in?

Your Character? Whose Character?

There's been an interesting progression on various RPG discussion sites over the last few months. A little while ago, the Hot Topic was Immersion, i.e. the ability of a player to submerge him or herself in their character and the imaginary situation that character occupies and the opportunities various RPGs offer/don't offer players to use this ability.

Recently, it's shifted into the more fertile (in my opinion) topic of Identification, i.e. the player's ability to identify with really need Immersion to have enjoyable play, but I can utterly understand the need to Identify with my character, because it helps me make consistent, sensible (in the context that they make sense, not that they're safe or not reckless) choices for it.

The discussions are also interesting because some of them point to a few of the games that I'd like to play, such as Primetime Adventures, whose shared narrative control approach to story-making has been accused of creating distance between player and character, making it harder for the former to identify with the latter.

(Personally, I am of the opinion - not backed up by actual play, mind, which is one of the reasons I'm hot to get some PtA play under my belt soon - that this is bollocks, or else we wouldn't be able to identify and empathise with the stars of our favourite TV shows, over whom we have no control whatsoever.)

But most recently, a couple of theory-heads and game designers (including Vincent Baker, writer of Dogs in the Vineyard) has suggested an interesting inversion of the recent drive at GM-less play - player-less play, a loosening of the control each player has over his or her character. Now, there's no practical way to discuss how this actually works yet, as (to my knowledge) a game based around this idea doesn't yet exist - but it's still interesting to read the suggestions and conversations, and watch the slow development of the games that will utilise playerless play.

I'm personally curious as to how those who prize Identification may feel that the resulting games are even less for them than Primetime Adventures.

Anyway, some posts:

January 17, 2006

"Life, Liz. Life happened."

If, like me, you've been wondering what he heck happened at Dream Pod 9 that turned it from a seemingly-successful RPG company with a sideline in miniatures to a movie company with a sideline in miniatures (which still publishes its existing RPG stock but isn't writing aything new), you will be very interested to see this post on the web log of Marc-Alexandre Vezina. Marc created the original Jovian Chronicles "Green Book" supplements for Mekton II back when Dream Pod 9 was itself a subsidiary of Ianus Publications and oversaw its establishment as a standalone RPG using DP9's Silhouette rules. He's answering a query by a gent on RPGnet, who asked the question that's been bugging me for a while: "... what the hell happened to Heavy Gear and Dream Pod 9?!"

The summary of Marc's answer, in his own words: "Nothing sinister, nothing evil, just life taking its course."

It's worth reading just to see what the old crew have been up to since they left the Pod.

January 14, 2006

You Probably Saw This Coming.

Yep, Gaming Night crashed and burned. One of the folks who was coming called at about half seven. He'd only just got home after working back. He even asked if something might be happening if he tried to make it out, but as it's an hour-and-a-half trip, I figured we'd probably be buggered by the time he arrived. (And an hour and a half back again if it doesn't pan out? That's a bit much to ask of him...)

I wound up calling the other guy at his home (found his number in the White Pages) - he and his friends tried to get out here and got lost, and he didn't think to write our phone numbers down; his friends said 'screw it', so they all went home. He was about to write me an e-mail when I called him. So, yeah, whatever back at you and your friends, other guy. At least the first guy had the good graces to call.

And you know what? He offered before and I was pretty non-committal (the dungeons and the dragons and all that), but if the first guy wants to do some Eberron sometime, I'd be up for it. He's got good manners, I'd like to play at his table.

Vickie suggested inviting Deena and her man Pete over; we might be able to get a little Chez Geek in after all.

I'm just damn glad I told Vickie she didn't need to cook for the party...

[UPDATE Sunday 15 Jan 1:30AM] Yep, Deena and Pete had fun with Chez Geek. We got two games in: Deena won the first, I won the second.

RPG WikiProject on Wikipedia?

Here's one for all you Wikinuts out there: Jonas Karlsson, occasional commenter on this blog, is proposing a serious Wikipedia WikiProject on roleplaying games.

Now, I must admit, I'm probably not the best person for a WikiProject - after all, I drifted away from the first and last one I tried to kick-start myself due to lack of energy and eventually interest. But, if Jonas can attract more than one other person (and so far I'm the second to express interest), then I'd say we'd be able to put something solid together.

It's interesting that this comes at around the same time as I start doing some serious revision of my "What is a Roleplaying Game?" article on my wiki.

So would any of you guys and gals be interested?

Gaming Night Tonight

Remember the gaming night that I mentioned last year? (Shit, 2005 is "last year" already...) Well, it's January the 14th already, and three people have replied to the e-mail I sent confirming they'd be here. (Technically, it was five, but two had to pull out due to family commitments.)

Exactly what'll happen tonight, I'm not sure, but I'm hoping it involves some play of a roleplaying game. I'll let you know how things go.

Painting the Computer Room: Almost Done

Finally, here are the photos I took of the emptied computer room:

Room before Painting

So, no carpet, no floor padding, no wallpaper or glue paper, just bare floors and walls. (You'll note the perspective is from the other end of the room than the one I took the Before photos from.

Now, here are the results of Rhys' paintwork so far:

Computer room after painting

Once again, this is back at the same end of the room as the Before photos. The paint we've used on the walls is a colour called "cocoa parfait", and we've noticed that, depending on the light, it can look cream, light chocolate or even almost mauve.

And, yes, we've moved our PCs back in already! :-)

Computers up and running

We've also taken the paint to the hallway, which looks much better as a result. Hell, almost anything woudl have been better than that drab, dark brown...

We're still waiting on Rhys to do the windowsills and door frames in white enamel; however, he managed to ding his foot on a concrete block the last time he was here and is resting it.

January 10, 2006

Still Painting

We've employed Rhys, Vickie's grandson and an experienced house painter, to give our computer room a coat of cocoa parfait (a light coffee colour) paint. He arrived bright and early this morning - while I was out walking Zelda, in fact - and is getting the job done as I write.

The computers, of course, have been out of commission since Saturday. with any luck, we should be back online tonight, but I'm not counting on it - even if the painting gets done, I have the feeling the room wil still be quite paint fume-y for a day or two. Vickie's taken measures to reduce the smell, namely a bowl of vinegar on top of one of the bookcases, and it's succeeded; the only place that particularly smells of paint is the PC room.

We're also having a good look at the dining room, figuring out exactly what needs to be done with it. Rhys' mum (and Vickie's daughter), Deena, turned around one day and told us she's a good tiler, so we may well wind up saving some on having the kitchen splashback tiled. We're still to decide on what tiles we want, though.

January 06, 2006

Life is Live

I'd just like to direct your attention to a posting by my man Sallidar on his LJ regarding his own post-Xmas splurge. He's gone and bought himself an Xbox, and is considering various methods of connectiong to other players across the Internet. While he was considering Xbox Live, he wasn't really keen on a blind purchase of a 12-month subscription.

Thankfully, I had an unused 2-month Trial Subscription card that came with Crimson Skies, which is now on his way to him. With any luck, he'll be all hooked up with a gamertag by the middle of the week.

Now, I know there are a few of you out there with Xboxes, and I'm pretty sure most of you Xbox owners known to me also have broadband connections. My questions are:

  • Have any of you also subscribed to Live?
  • If so, would you be interested in hooking up with Salidar and myself (just a reminder: my gamertag is "Type 9") sometime soon (but no later than March)?

January 03, 2006

Empty Room

I wish I could post the photo of the front room as it looks at the moment, but as our PCs are still both in our bedroom, I can't upload the photo from our camera. Suffice it to say, though, that the front room - the one in the last two photos in my previous post - is absolutely bare at the moment. We decided that, while we had everything out of the front room so that we could tile the floor, we'd also take the old, peeling wallpaper off of the walls and prep the room for a paint job.

Unfortunately, in buying the flooring tiles and the tools to get the walls clean (gap-filler, sandpaper, putty, etc.), we ran out of money, so the paint job is going to have to wait until after I get paid on Thursday (then, I'll actually be able to get some paint). In the meantime, any posting I do will have to be from work.

The good news is I've actually developed a decent hand at filling gaps, and Karl was able to borrow a belt sander which wiped the leftover padding on the floor out (the scraper wasn't able to get it all off).

The bad news is, Vickie's starting to eye the kitchen and dining room again...

January 01, 2006

Scraping and Tiling

How are you all spending your New Year's Weekend? Vickie and I are doing a little bit of renovation.

On Friday, we got a catalogue from Crazy Clark's, which featured some wood grain-patterned vinyl floor tiles going for $10 per box of 22. After replacing carpet and some old lino in the kitchen and dining room with a great wood pattern covering, the tiles looked like they'd go well for covering the hallway between the kitchen / dining room and the computer room at the front fo the house. We did some measurements, and figured that eight or nine boxes would cover not only the hallway, but also the computer room floor. All in all, it looked like a darned good deal, so we went out yesterday morning and bought nine boxes.

Well, we've done most of the hallway floor, and you know what? It's still looking like we got a darned good deal. We made two pleasant discoveries - that there's a layer of Masonite between the floorboards and the carpeting, were pleased to discover that the layer between the carpet and the actual flooring wassn't glued padding but a rubber-and-hessian underlay that was stapled down. It all came up very easily.

Laying the tiles was a bit tricky; we had to do some cutting on the near end of the hallway to make one of the sides fit properly. We've also left one of the sides undone, as we'll need to cut a lot of tiles to get it looking right. I'll get stuck into that today. You can see how much we've done so far here, and as you can see, someone's already enjoying the new surface:

Won't get up for less than 3 Bone-Os a day

We're also aiming to get the computer room done this weekend. From the looks of things, though, the computer room carpet's layer of padding is glued down. However, we also bought ourselves a large floor scraper from Bunning's that should go through that like a hot knife through butter.

The problem is going to be shifting all our crap out of the computer room. Here are a couple of Before photos:

The Computer Room Before - 1

See that big bookcase? Yep, gotta get all of the books out of that before we can move it. And then there're our PCs...

The Computer Room Before - 2

PARANOIA: "Mister Bubbles" Mission Briefing!

Hey, Boots, Christian, Dizzy, Gav, John, Seth: Remember that Paranoia session I ran for you guys way back in December of 2004? Well, the guy who does the Flash animated versions of various Knights of the Dinner Table comics has created an animated version of the mission briefing from that adventure!

If I ever run "Mister Bubbles" again, you can bet I'm using it!

CORRECTION 4 Jan 06: Rog wasn't even in the country when this was played; Dizzy was the person whose name should have been there. I've fixed the entry.

Happy New Year 2006!

I hope 2005 has brought you joy without too much pain, and that 2006 brings you everything you need!