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Today's random amusement: ancient CAD programs. [26 Apr 2019|01:09am]
[ mood | amused ]

This morning I did an hour-long class on OnShape, which is a modern spiffy CAD (computer-aided design) program that runs in your browser and stores documents in The Cloud and does all the heavy computation on the server side. It's pretty cool, and they have a free license for hobbyist use if you don't mind all your designs being public.

In the class, I mentioned that most of my previous experience was from the undergraduate mechanical engineering class on using CAD that I took in 1994, and I had imprinted pretty hard on the program we used then and still had a copy running in an emulator. This led to a bit of good-natured teasing about "something better than DOS-based CAD programs" later in the class, which inspired me to do a thing this evening to show off why I like it -- the UI is really quite excellent for quick usage by power users while still being usable by less-experienced people.

And so I did a short speed run, replicating the drawing we'd done in class:

There are all kinds of improvements that have come in the 25 years since this CAD program was created (particularly in what you can do with a drawing like this once it's drawn), but I'm curious if he'll manage to beat my time.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (original here), with comment count unavailable comments. Comment here or there; comments here will eventually be duplicated to there.

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So, that was rather a confluence of tiny mostly-amusing challenges.... [22 Mar 2019|11:48pm]
[ mood | amused ]

I was at a party this evening in a no-shoes house. When I went to collect my shoes from the pile, at the end of the evening, I couldn't find them. I did see a set of rather more beat-up ones that looked superficially similar and were the same size, but distinctly were not mine.

So, well, I was raised a country boy. It's been a few (ahem) years since I drove home barefoot, but no worries, I can do that.

Second problem is that I forgot to recharge my electric car at work today, and it doesn't have the range to get home from the party, so I need to go charge it. This shouldn't be a problem; I realized the issue before I left work, and confirmed that there was a fast-charge station in a Walgreen's parking lot a couple of miles away.

I found the Walgreen's, and the parking lot, and the charger in the parking lot, no problem. And I even figured out where the release was for the cover for the fast-charge port on my car, which I hadn't used before. So, I plugged the charger cable in, and looked at the screen on the charger, and it said something like "Wait a moment...."

I waited a moment. I waited a few more moments. It didn't do anything. I pushed the "start" button, which did nothing, and I pushed the "stop" button, which also did nothing. This did not seem promising.

However, there was a handy electrical junction box next to the charger, with a big switch on the side. After confirming that this looked like it only went to the charger, I tried power-cycling it. It turns out that turning a 60kW switch on or off makes a fairly satisfying ka-chunk sound. It also turns out that it does not solve this particular problem with the this particular charger, although when it booted it did have a nice little "This SD card is not connected" Windows-esque dialog box (with a little "ACK" button on it) on top of the "wait a moment..." screen.

Right, then. Next plan. I knew there were also some regular chargers a block away, so I went to find those.

Those turned out to be in a municipal parking lot that had locked gates at 11:30pm at night.

So. With modern networking (smartphone acting as wifi hotspot -- conveniently, I had specifically remembered my cellphone today -- and laptop), I was able to locate some more fast-charge stations a couple of blocks away, in a Walmart parking not. One of the two of them was even powered on, though I could not say the same for the other one.

It did not have a working credit-card reader, however. It told me to swipe my card, but then it completely ignored it. It ignored my other card. I tried all four possible directions. It continued ignoring them.

The charger did have a sign on it saying that one could also use the phone app from the company that runs it, so I started downloading that.

About this time, another person drove up in their electric car, also wanting a charge. I mentioned to them that the other charger wasn't working, and this one didn't have a working card reader, but they had the app on their phone already, and conveniently also they needed the other of the two plug types. So they started charging their car.

They also took a look at my feet, as I was standing barefoot on the damp concrete parking lot -- oh, did I mention that it's raining a bit? -- and asked if my feet were cold. I told them about the party and missing shoes, and they were very amused, and said I deserved mad props for being comfortable standing there barefoot, and asked if they could take a photo of me.

Then we discovered that the charger only has power to do one connector at a time, but they didn't need it for long. And so now they have left, and I have written this post and am about to post it, and my car is also sufficiently charged to head home.

Still no idea about my shoes, though!

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (original here), with comment count unavailable comments. Comment here or there; comments here will eventually be duplicated to there.

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In which I wrote a silly thing. [10 Mar 2019|08:43pm]
[ mood | silly ]

Simone Giertz is a lovely person who has lots of fun creating horribly ineffective robots and posting videos of them to YouTube, in celebration of the fact that you don't need to be good at something to enjoy it. She also has a Patreon where she shares videos and also has recently been talking about the process of having a benign brain tumor removed. In celebration of the last round of radiation treatment being done, she created a mural on the wall of her workshop/studio, and posted a video of making it.

She also challenged us to write our "loftiest art reviews" in the comments, and so I wrote one, which I figure some of you might also be amused by.

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I was basically pulling all that out of thin air or dark orifices, so I'm not sure what to make of the fact that after writing it I half-believe all the stuff I wrote about the "obvious" symbolism in the piece.

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Things that I said on looking at the listing for a $3.4-million house. [10 Mar 2019|12:53am]
[personal profile] suzannemoses was randomly looking at house listings, and came across this $3.4-million house north of Boston, not too far from where [personal profile] kiya lives.

There are many things to say about this house. Among the ones I actually said were:

"When your closet has an emergency-stop button, your closet is excessive."


"I have never seen a four-poster Jacuzzi with a fireplace before...."

(She also found this rather nice hotel -- spoiler: not actually a hotel -- which was just sort of random overdone mansion, until it got to the closeup of the ceiling and I said, "Oh. It has cherubs in.")

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (original here), with comment count unavailable comments. Comment here or there; comments here will eventually be duplicated to there.
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The "How I Actually Cook" Chronicles: The Mussels Episode [26 Feb 2019|08:24pm]
[ mood | cheerful ]

Tonight was one of those nights where [personal profile] suzannemoses is out, and there wasn't anything in the fridge that was particularly collated into "dinner ingredients." There were leftovers, but I was not really wanting most of them.

What there was, primarily, was a large bag of mussels from our community-supported fishery. I've specifically opted out of getting bivalves from them, because Suzanne doesn't like them and so they often just go bad in our fridge rather than being eaten. But someone else forgot to pick theirs up, and so (being the person who cleans out the delivery cooler at the end of the day) I ended up with them.

There was also a half-eaten takeout box of cucumber salad from a local Chinese dumpling place. I took this out and ate the rest of it while pondering. This will be relevant later.

Clearly, though, the solution was to cook the mussels. The fishery had suggested this recipe for mussels in white-wine broth, so I looked there for inspiration.

Mussels, in most recipes, annoy me. This recipe was no exception.

The recipe called for cooking the mussels, making a cream/broth/white-wine sauce, and tossing the mussels with the sauce while still in their shells. The result is that you have to pick the mussels out of the shells at the table, and you get lots of lovely delicious sauce on the shells that you're not going to eat, and a plateful of shells only produces a tiny amount of actual mussel meat.

On the other hand, the recipe did give me a basic idea of how to cook the mussels -- clean them, put them in a pot with about a cup and a half of liquid, and steam for 6-10 minutes until the shells open. The recipe suggested a mixture of chicken broth and white wine, but I had no chicken broth and figured watered-down white wine is probably a waste of wine, so I just used water.

And then, since the container for the cucumber salad was handy, and had a couple of tablespoons of liquid in it that seemed to mostly be a sort of miso-based briny liquid with a good bit of diced raw garlic in it, I dumped that on top. Why not?

Once the mussels were done cooking, I took them out of their shells. From a full 3.5-quart stockpot, I ended up with a 6-ounce custard dish of shelled mussels.

I noticed that the remaining water in the cookpot was fairly cloudy, so I tasted it, and it turned out to be a fairly strong shellfish-broth. (And more of it than the water I'd put in; I think there was some salty water in some of the mussel shells.) Score! I poured it into a tub to freeze for later use, and pondered what to do with the mussels, because a 6-ounce custard cup of meat is not really a dinner.

It occurred to me that a thing one usually finds with shellfish to bulk out the meal is pasta, so I hunted around and found a half-used bag of casarecce pasta (sort of dense little twists) to use. Now, for some reason -- presumably lots of Rice-a-roni meals -- I keep thinking of Kraft Mac-and-Cheese Dinner being cooked with just enough water for the pasta, rather than being drained. And thus I thought of doing this that way, using some of the mussel broth. So I put a cup or so of the broth back in the pan, along with a pat of butter since the recipe I'd looked at suggested it, and put in the pasta, and then -- predictably -- remembered that that was how boxed rice dinners work, not boxed pasta dinners.

Oh well. I remembered an article I'd read a couple of months ago on testing various ways of cooking dried pasta, which concluded that so long as there's sufficient soaking time and the right amount of cooking time (which usually overlaps with soaking but needn't necessarily do so), it basically didn't matter. And so I figured that doing it sort of like risotto -- adding bits of broth when it needed more, but not too much so it ends up absorbing most of it, and stirring often -- should be fine anyway.

And, indeed, that worked out. About halfway through I switched from broth to water. I also adjusted the temperature up a bit at the end because (as with risotto) I always forget that it is much slower taking in liquid when it's almost cooked and so I need to add smaller amounts, and so there was a bit of extra liquid to boil down.

I confirmed (by tasting a piece) that the pasta was in fact basically done, and then added a little more butter and the third of a cup of cream that was left in a container in the fridge from some cooking last week (or possibly week-before-last; cream keeps rather longer than milk) and cooked that down a bit, and put in a bit of pepper (also recommended by the recipe), and stirred in the mussels.

The end result was really, really good. The reduced broth and cream and starch cooked off the pasta made a silky-rich sauce, with a robust shellfish taste even in the bites without bits of mussel in them.

And so that's how I made dinner tonight from basically five ingredients including a bag of mussels, some leftover takeout cucumber salad, and a half-empty bag of pasta.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (original here), with comment count unavailable comments. Comment here or there; comments here will eventually be duplicated to there.

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Random funny technology things. [10 Feb 2019|07:18pm]
I just calibrated my computer monitor with one of those fancy light-sensor dealies. I had hopes that it would improve things, as I've known that everything brighter than a light gray was getting pushed to white -- and, for some reason, this was happening on two separate monitors I had, on two independent computers.

I was surprised how much difference this made, though. It's striking -- the grays that were getting shoved up into "white" are a significant range. I can now see the tabs on my Chrome window! Google maps actually shows the roads clearly! There are so many more gradiations! I had no idea!

This probably means that all the highlights in the photo editing I've done in the past several years has been way off, though.

(Also, this did confirm my impression that the default brightness on my new monitor is absurd, though. After taking a room-brightness measurement, the software said basically, "That's bright! Maybe turn down the room lights a bit?" And then it turned out that the monitor should have the brightness dialed down to about 33% to match anyway.)

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (original here), with comment count unavailable comments. Comment here or there; comments here will eventually be duplicated to there.
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Gaming: Epic Battle is Epic [06 Feb 2019|11:01pm]
Today was a day that, by the end of it, I rather needed to be smashing some fictional undead hordes. Conveniently, today was a day in which our gaming campaign delivered.

Today was a day in which our gaming battle had a Metallica soundtrack. Literally.

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...and that was the end of the evening.

The warrior-druid's player mentioned to me, on the ride home, that I should come up with a playlist of my own for next week. Especially since I'm planning to go down the list of thematically-appropriate spells, and the next one up is "Song of Thunder".

So, thoughts? I'm pretty sure Red Rider's "Lunatic Fringe" is the opener, but then what?

Given the start of the battle, obviously I need some Queen in there, but "We Will Rock You" is a bit too obvious.

Also, I'm thinking this lovely bit of style mashup is going to have to go in there just for completely throwing the Thünder off their game.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (original here), with comment count unavailable comments. Comment here or there; comments here will eventually be duplicated to there.
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"Steering into the skid" [15 Jan 2019|11:52pm]
[ mood | damp ]

A person might think that a post with that title was using it as a metaphor. This would be a reasonable thing to expect; it is a quite useful metaphor. However, this post is about the literal meaning of the phrase.

This came up because [personal profile] suzannemoses and I were driving on highway 101 recently, and it was quite wet from the rain, and I saw (and Suzanne heard) a car three lanes over spin into the sound-block wall at the side of the road. We were in the far left lane, and the relevant vehicle was in the exit lane on the far right, just slightly ahead of us. I presume I glanced over because they started spinning; by the time I had actually glanced over, they were somewhere between sideways and backwards, and obviously doing a reasonably-lazy slide into the wall -- the sort where there was an audible crunch as the front bumper hit the wall and had its cover pulled off, and probably the side of the car would be banged up, but probably slow enough not to cause injury.

Anyway, in the "What was that?" conversation immediately thereafter, I mentally looked back at the split-second image I had of them sliding, and realized that the front wheels were turned in a direction that would make the skid worse rather than better.

Using the common phrase that people use for this, I said that they were "steering away from the skid, rather than into it."

Suzanne was quite familiar with the phrase, having grown up in snow country and thus having had it firmly drilled into her head that it was what one did in case of a skid on an icy road, and asked the confirming question of, "So they were turning like this (with gesture), not like that (opposite gesture)?"

Actually, no.

At which point she pointed out that approximately nobody actually explains what "steer into the skid" actually means, and that is a real problem because it is ambiguous!

And so it seems useful to actually explain....

The underlying idea of the advice is that you only have control of a car if it is going forward and the front wheels are rolling. If the wheels are sliding, the car is just going to slide and you have no input on where. Thus, if you are driving a car and it is starting to spin and skid off the road, the right thing to do is accept that the car is going the direction it is going (at least for the moment) and turn the steering wheel so as to get the car to point so that that direction is "forward" -- ideally before the car is completely sideways. And then, once the car gets back to being under control, you can deal with controlling it to not go off the road.

This is sort of counter-intuitive if one's sliding sideways off a snowy road -- you want to get back to the middle of the road, so if the car is sliding to the right, a person might instinctively turn the wheel to the left to get back onto the road. And so then the car slides sideways off the right side of the road.

On the other hand, for a spin where the problem is the car is going the right direction but pointing the wrong way, it's actually what feels intuitive (at least to me); the car is turning clockwise and I don't want that, so turn the steering wheel to make the car turn counter-clockwise.

Or, going back to the initial phrase:

The wrong interpretation: "Steering into the skid" does not mean, when the car starts spinning or skidding, steer to make it turn in the rotational direction that it's spinning.

The right interpretation: "Steering into the skid" means, when the car starts spinning or skidding, steer to make the car point in the positional direction that it's moving.

This clarification also has me thinking about what that means as far as properly applying the advice metaphorically, but as I noted at the beginning, that is not the subject of this post!

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (original here), with comment count unavailable comments. Comment here or there; comments here will eventually be duplicated to there.

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Also in tonight's gaming session [02 Jan 2019|11:09pm]
Also in tonight's gaming session, we had an excellent example of the "fail forward" style of gamemastering.

In trying to infiltrate the inner sanctum of the evil cult that I mentioned in my previous post, we needed to acquire some red robes that the cult elders wear. We had two already, but with five of us, that was insufficient even with the proposed "I'm literally a halfling standing on the shoulders of a dwarf" plan to require only four of them.

We had determined that these are not regularly washed (it being that sort of evil cult), so that there was not a central laundry that we could infiltrate. However, they still had to be being manufactured somewhere, and since this was pretty much a self-contained cult city, it had to be somewhere in the city.

The party then started debating how to best steal some of the robes.

This debating went on rather long, so my character -- being a dwarven spy -- just went off in the brown robes of a normal cult member to steal some, taking the more severely-damaged one of the red robes we had with him. His plan was to simply walk in and say, "I was sent to return this one that's damaged beyond use, and get a replacement and three more for new recruits."

However, I then rolled a 1 -- a complete and total failure -- when trying to do this.

The gamemaster decided that what had happened was that when my character walked in, they had said the traditional greeting of "May the [Evil Monster] be with you," and he had replied with "And also with you," which was entirely the wrong response, and the elders that had also been there had sentenced him to ten lashes with the Cane of Correction for not remembering that it was supposed to be "And also with your spirit."

Before I could decide whether to accept this or attempt to run away, the "action archaeologist" monk walked in wearing the other set of red robes, and attempted to bluff her way into being the one to give the punishment. She didn't roll a 1, or even any sort of failure, and thus succeeded in doing this.

There was then a bit of scene of her character attempting to not actually hurt my character while making it look good, and my character squealing like a stuck dwarf.

So everyone else I think presumed that plan was done, but my character said in a small defeated voice, "Okay, now can I get the robes I was sent for please?" and after the rest of the players finished laughing, the monk led my dwarf by the ear back to the robe manufactury and said sternly, "Now take your replacement robes and remember the doctrine next time, heretic."

And thus we obtained the robes we needed for infiltrating the sanctum of the elders.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (original here), with comment count unavailable comments. Comment here or there; comments here will eventually be duplicated to there.
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Well, this will end well. [02 Jan 2019|10:52pm]
Our gaming session this evening ended on a bit of a cliffhanger.

At the end of the session, we had successfully infiltrated one of the deepest sanctums of the evil cult that is trying to control the evil monster that we are trying to kill before it devours the world. And we were quietly grabbing all of the important books while trying not to wake the cult elder who was asleep on the couch in the middle of it.

Then some of us noticed that this sanctum wasn't just any random giant floating gold cube in the middle of a cave -- it was a millennia-old magical flying machine.

Specifically, our "action archaeologist" character who is basically Indiana Jones if Indiana Jones were an anime Wushu monk noticed this.

She noticed this, and since she has intelligence as her dump stat [1], she immediately got very very excited and started trying to quietly get the attention of our wizard to point out the control lever to him with flailing hand gestures of excitement.

Our wizard, who has wisdom as his dump stat.

Needless to say, he cheerfully pulled the lever.

We'll find out what it does next session, but surely no serious harm will come from this, right?

[1] For non-gamers: When creating a character, one typically assigns a set total number of points among the various attributes (e.g., strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma) that determine their abilities. A character's "dump stat" is when a character has a very low value in one characteristic so as to have more points for the others, and also so that they can fail in entertaining ways.

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Some really fascinatingly-alien deep-underground life. [13 Dec 2018|12:49pm]
Per this article in The Guardian, scientists at the Deep Carbon Observatory have discovered some really nifty life forms deep underground.

What I find fascinating is not just that these organisms are living deep underground (where "deep" is measured in kilometers; this is well below dirt levels), but the adaptations that this low-energy environment means as far as timescales. Some of them -- and these are microbes (it's not clear if they're singlecellular or multicellular) -- live for thousands of years, barely moving. One methanogen is described as using the tiny amount of methane it can produce "[not] to reproduce or divide, but to replace or repair broken parts." The rocks move on geological timescales, and so, it appears, does the microscopic life living on them.

Other interesting datapoints are that we're only recently discovering this because of a combination of advances in deep drilling and "improvements in microscopes that allow life to be detected at increasingly minute levels". The depths where the scientists have found life are only limited by the depths of the boreholes, though they've currently not found anything that lives in places hotter than 122C.

Oh, and based on their numbers, they're estimating that this deep-subsurface biomass is about 3-4% of the total biomass on the planet. It's not just a tiny bit of stuff.

There's a bit more at "Science Daily", too.

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Small things that give me happy feelings. [07 Dec 2018|12:27pm]
I am visiting a dear friend this week. The morning after I got here, I was adjusting the shower water, and noticing that the knob is one of the sort that one turns about a turn and a half to get to "hot", and then turns it back some amount that's really kind of dependent on the vagaries of the particular valve to get to the right temperature. So, I made a guess as to what would be right, and turned it there.

Then I noticed that, just a little bit off from where I'd turned it, there was a small blue pointy sticker. And so I thought, "Aha, I know what this means," and turned it to that point, and indeed a moment later the water was at the perfect temperature.

This makes me very happy.

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Finding interesting people on Dreamwidth [03 Dec 2018|10:47pm]
So, Tumblr has started taking down icons with nipples sold itself to the Russians declared intent to start taking down photos of nipples and everything else they deem an NSFW photo or movie ("But not art! And not non-female-presenting nipples!" they say1), and demonstrated that they're doing this with an AI that is clearly illustrating all the well-known reasons why doing this with a current-tech-level AI is problematic. It's quite the train wreck, and many fandomly people are responding by saying "we know how this story goes" and establishing community in safer places. This train wreck is also not quite the subject of this post, merely a cause for a cause of it.

What this post is actually about is, with people from Tumblr joining in droves: How does one get a Dreamwidth reading page that's full of interesting people writing interesting things? I started answering this on [personal profile] gallusrostromegalus's introductory post, but I figured it might be useful more widely.

I'd also like to hear other people's thoughts on the matter in comments -- this is just me tossing out some ideas for things that have worked for me, but I've had pretty narrow experience mostly from years ago, and fandom changes quickly sometimes.

Anyway, with that said, here's what I had to say in the comment:

I mostly found interesting people by commenting on other people's posts (which, unlike Tumblr, stays on their post rather than being a separate post on your page) and then following other people who made interesting comments on people's posts. That means there can be an advantage to going back and looking at older posts -- usually from the last day or so; things seem to taper off a bit after that unless a really interesting conversation starts -- to see if there are new comments. Also, if an interesting conversation starts or a post looks likely to spawn interesting conversation, you can click the "track this button" (which looks like a little bell in my default style; I'm not sure how universal that is) to get notifications when people make new comments on it.

Unlike Tumblr or Twitter, there isn't really any way to see all the comments that a specific person is making -- but you can see their "reading" page using a link like http://brooksmoses.dreamwidth.com/read (or click the "reading" link on their main journal page) to get an idea of what the people they're subscribed to post. That won't include private posts that you couldn't otherwise see, and if they use a lot of circles to have specific narrower reading pages it won't show you what those are, but it is still pretty useful in finding other interesting people.

Finally, on things I have actual experience with: I'd note that my friend [personal profile] jenett does weekly "salon" posts which are basically just forums for people to have conversations in the comments. The most recent one is at https://jenett.dreamwidth.org/1794110.html, to give you an idea -- and you could either join the conversation there if it looks interesting and looks like a group of people you want to join, or you and other people reading this could start your own if the idea looks useful but there's less community overlap.

On things I don't have experience with, Dreamwidth also has communities, which are essentially communal journals where multiple people can post -- those were a big thing in fandom in the LiveJournal days and I believe still are here now, but it's been a long time since I've had time to seek those out. There are also the "interests" lists in people's profiles, which become links to lists of other people with that interest listed.

[1] Yes, this proclamation on their part led to creation of at least one community where people are posting things like a photo of a naked nipple with two eyes and a very distinctive mustache inked onto the surrounding (rather large) breast to make a cheery face. Obviously.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (original here), with comment count unavailable comments. Comment here or there; comments here will eventually be duplicated to there.
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Why is "morsepunk" not a word? [01 Dec 2018|01:59pm]
I was explaining elsewhere how I had gone down a small research rabbithole and discovered that although "early 1993" is a reasonable date for the birth of the Web given that the software was made available for open royalty-free use then, the first server was actually turned on in 1990. Except that I made a typo, and said "1900" instead.

This led me to imagining circa-1900-ish web servers, which would obviously be Morsepunk, along the lines of steampunk and such. But apparently nobody else on the web has used the word yet.

So, here! Morsepunk should be a thing! We already have real-world stories of telegraph operators starting friendships and romantic relationships via Morse code, as well as the paradigm shift of how cables changed the world by making instantaneous communication a thing. Certainly there is fertile ground here, for something that uses electrons and wires and radio waves the way steampunk uses steam and clockwork.

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Small child is delightful. [31 Oct 2018|12:12am]
There is a certain "things being right in the world" feeling that comes of watching our two-year-old happily pushing the Kik-Step stool across the floor to the other room, and doing the occasional half-stumble that happens when one is small and leans slightly too hard on a Kik-Step stool and it stops rolling for a moment.

(I have many emotional memories tied up in Kik-Step stools, apparently.)

Also, I'm told that once she got it into the other room, there ensued this conversation:
T: I on tep tool!
S: Yes, you're on the step stool.
T: I tall! I taller dan you!
T: I taller dan cat!
T: I taller dan Mama. Dan Mommy! Dan Papa Brooks!
S: You're really tall!
T: I taller dan Papa! And I jump on youuuuuu!

A bit before this, she'd also come into the dining room to carefully fetch the large heavy book of Christmas songs off the dining table -- it was just at the edge of her reach, and also heavy enough that it took most of her small-child concentration not to drop it -- so that she could play the game she invented of picking random pages in it and asking Suzanne to sing the song thereupon. Which, as far as Suzanne is concerned, is the best game ever.

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Random artistic scribbles [11 Sep 2018|12:14am]
[ mood | cheerful ]

A while ago, I bought an inexpensive computer drawing tablet to use for making random computer art. It then sat next to my desk, in its box, for quite some time, as such things tend to do for me.

This week, though, I have been setting up a new-to-me computer [1] as a "creating things" workstation, and meanwhile [personal profile] green_knight had mentioned that Clip Studio Paint was having a 50% off sale, and more-importantly said that "this is, by far, the best application for drawing and artistic endeavours I have found." Half-off was only $25, so I bought a copy, installed it on the new computer, hooked up the tablet, and had just enough time to play with it for a few minutes before bedtime.

One of the great things about having kids is the reminder that one can enjoy doing artistic scribbles without doing Great Art or even doing anything particularly skillful, and that there's no shame in doing that. Also the reminder that, if one doesn't know what to draw, houses or stick figures or stylized animals are a good starting place.

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Dreams are frustrating [26 Aug 2018|09:57am]
[ mood | wistful ]

Ah, that feeling of waking up from a really amazing Broadway-style song at the end a dream, and realizing that not only can you not remember enough of it to recreate it and so will never hear it again, but the the bit you do remember from the peak of the crescendo in the chorus doesn't even actually scan.

The lyrics I do remember are mocking me about this. "Nothing's ever truly lost, nothing's ever gone." The melody is roughly (with some tweaks to make it scan) C C B C high-C C B, A B high-B B A.

I would also like to know how, when you're having a sing-along of a newly-written Broadway song while riding in a car, the composer who's sitting in the back seat with two other people can manage to have a piano with her. I don't think that bit actually works either.

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Chronicles of Cal the Bard, episode 2 [24 Aug 2018|09:26pm]
(Continuing the tales from my gaming sessions from the last couple of years....)

Well, most of us woke up on the pile of straw in that room of the catacombs. Enwe, being Countess of the Eldrich Mists and thus not a commoner like the rest of us, woke up in an adjacent room in a marble niche, with several of her organs in nearby canopic jars. She took this somewhat better than one might have expected, which is not to say that she took it well, but.

K'tang's did confirm that they were indeed her organs, and they were still functionally involved in keeping her alive, and her health didn’t appear to be affected by the removal of her organs to the canopic jars, and beyond that if we asked any more questions we did not obtain any more answers.

So Enwe peevishly gathered up her canopic jars, and the rest of us gathered up our wits, there being nothing else for us to gather up, and we set off to try to find a way out of the catacombs and also find out where exactly "out" might take us to.

I don’t remember a lot of details of the initial exploring, but we did fairly quickly find out from some ghosts that we ran into that we were inside the Stone Thief.

Which ... I see that I need to back up, and explain a bit of this setting. As I put it in a comment on a post before I started writing all this up:
There is a class of living entity in this universe ... that is, as far as I can tell, made primarily out of non-Euclidean geometry and probably magic. I don't mean that it exists in a realm of non-Euclidean geometry; I mean that its presence in the world as perceived by "normal" beings is basically just bubble-like warps in space. Also, it generally lives underground and surfaces every so often to swallow cities somewhat like a Sarlacc swallows bounty hunters, and is capable of manipulating sizeable chunks of rock or city within itself so that entire buildings or city blocks may end up within it unharmed or may be combined into absurd and strange new architectural edifices.

Luckily, there is no more than one of these in the world that is large enough to swallow cities.
Unluckily, there is one that is that large....
Basically, this is 13th Age's variant of D&D dungeons, with explanation of why they're full of bizarre stuff and treasure and monsters, crossed with being an epic monster.

It transpires that this is not the first time the rest of the party (except maybe Claire?) have been inside this beast. K'tang's even has a book from some people who were inside of it many ages ago, describing what they found there. Er, here. Also he seems to have a voice in his head from someone who may have been one of the authors of that book? It's not entirely clear, but what is clear is that he effectively has several other people in his brain, and given that he's a necromancer, one can't really rule out the idea that they're more than figments of his imagination. Especially when they sometimes seem to give him useful information.

So, we found our way out of the dungeon, and through a number of other creepy rooms, including one that was guarded by lines of some kind of mold in the floor that would release toxic and probably hallucinogenic spores if touched, and another that looked like a church but with rows of stone troughs of some sort of embalming fluid containing cadavers and also a lot of jars containing angry no-longer-sane ghosts. K'tang's was quite disturbed by the ghosts -- particularly by the fact that there was neither time nor space and materials for him to do the appropriate rituals to put them to rest. He did bring a few along with him, and Cal brought a couple of dozen more and fed them into his diplomatic pouch as fast as it would take them (which was maybe two or three a day) for headquarters to take care of.

I am sure I am omitting many other creepy things as well. It was pretty clear that the Stone Thief had a very strong sense of the macabre, and we were pretty sure there was also at least one ancient necromancer down here that was providing influences as well. Luckily we didn't run into him directly.

At a different point in this exploration, we did run into a small chapel-room that appeared to be a tiny enclave of D&D "good"-alignment in the middle of all this. In there we found a large paladin laid out on a bier, in suspended animation that even K'tang's was unable to easily lift. With some exploration we found what appeared to be the remains of a co-explorer, and in his pack we found a scroll of lifting of suspension spell. There was some debate among the party about whether to use the scroll to revive the paladin. White they were debating, Cal in proper spy form attempted to make a forged copy of the scroll on grounds that it might be useful later, and rolled a critical success on it, and I've been waiting for two years since then for a chance to use it since I'm pretty sure a critical success means he got a working duplicate out of it.

Anyway, we did use the scroll and revive the paladin, and thus a new PC joined the party. He turned out to be very pure of heart and somewhat empty of mind, in the stereotypical "the muscle of the party" way, and IIRC the mini we used for him (in the few fights where we used minis) was a prepaint that was actually supposed to be Thor from The Avengers. He was fairly helpful at swatting undead, which was good as that seemed to be his calling in life. His player only stuck around for a couple of sessions, though.

And I shall stop this post here, because at this point I am not entirely sure I remember the sequence of what happened next, and will need to ask my co-gamers if they remember!

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Chronicles of Cal the Bard, episode 1 [24 Aug 2018|09:01pm]
In which actual plot progression happens!

Once Cal joined the party and introduced himself, we all went wandering off to Minister Li's house to see what was happening there, as the rest of the party had just reached town and apparently this was a bit of a "home base" for them. What was happening was primarily a lot of people bringing by politically-expected gifts for Minister Li on this occasion (I believe, in addition to the wedding, he had just been promoted to Prime Minister Li), and so his wife and concubine were having to deal with accepting all of those and finding places to put them and so forth.

If I'm remembering correctly, Vattu used some sort of magic to skip the line of people trying to get in, and we got directed around back to the servants' entrance, with the clear implication that we were certainly not reputable enough to use the main entrance. We rested, and Cal made introductions and determined whether we could be of any assistance with the gift-wrangling. Cal was also introduced to Enwe's tree, which was a twisted viney carnivorous thing that kept trying to eat the gardener, and which Mrs. Li had clearly put in the least-visible corner of the garden. I don’t recall if it was then or later that Cal learned that if Enwe were to be killed, the tree would regrow her a new body in a week or so.

The party also buried the diamond in a reasonably good hiding spot in the garden, guarded by the tree, because carrying it into the wedding would obviously not be the thing.

The biggest bit of gossip around the Imperial Wedding was about who the Emperor was going to marry. This was being kept a tremendous secret -- only a very few people knew, and we were not in that group of people. We were fairly certain, but not entirely certain, that the (young, a bit inexperienced) Emperor was one of the people who knew. Speculation included a number of the other Icons -- the Blue Dragon, the Elf Queen, the Black Dragon, and the Diabolist were the ones I remember as prime contenders. The Priestess was in charge of arranging the ceremony, so it seemed unlikely (but plausible) that she was the bride.

We then got sucked into helping out with minor arrangements, helping Claire -- who was all in the thick of this, being a cleric of the Priestess -- with some various things and thus also being able to avoid all the crowds getting into the ceremony when it started.

And then, at the start of the gaming session where we (the players) expected to be playing out the actual wedding, we (the characters) instead found ourselves walking up on a pile of straw in a dark catacombs, with no recollection of anything since the previous gaming session.

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Gaming: Chronicles of Cal the Bard, episode 0.1 [23 Aug 2018|11:26am]
This is still introduction, I suppose. Next episode will have things actually happening!

The initial pretext for Cal meeting the rest of the adventuring party was that he was assigned by the Dwarven Diplomatic Apparatus to guard them. Or, more precisely, to guard a treasure they were carrying and make sure it got to its destination -- they had a head-sized diamond which was the temporary resting place of a guardian stone-spirit that they had recovered, and they were returning the guardian spirit to the Dwarven city it had long ago been stolen from. For some reason they seemed particularly attached to the diamond, however, and were unwilling to entrust it to the Dwarves for the transport. And, as the Dwarves did not have an appropriate alternate vessel to hand, this remained the status quo.

Furthermore, for inexplicable reasons, this adventuring party was insisting on bringing this diamond into the capital city -- Axis -- on the eve of the Emperor's wedding. Everyone and their assassin was in town, so of course the party had to be there too, but it was clear that appropriate measures needed to be taken to ensure the safety of the guardian spirit.

According to Cal's briefing, the party members were:
  • Enwe, Countess of the Eldritch Mists. Sources were conflicted as to her heritage; she claimed to be a High Elf, but she looked at least as much like a Drow, and had a large draconic tail that was distinctly not elven at all. No strong entanglements with the Elven Court, but well positioned.
  • K'tang's 83rd Error, informally known as "K'tang's". A dragonborn necromancer of indeterminate but long age, who held the position of Mandarin of the Dead in the Emperor's court. Well-respected, but typically from somewhat of a distance on grounds of his being a bit creepy. Dwarven sources have been unable to identify who K'tang is or was, and have found a few older references to the same person as K'tang's 84th Error and, prior to that, K'tang's 85th Error.
  • Vattu. A halfling sorcerer, well known for his power (reputed to be the most powerful of the age by many), and for his attention to parties rather than studies while in college. The professors had grudgingly let him graduate -- he did, after all, have undeniable talent, and it was also the most expedient way to keep him far away from the remaining flammable portions of campus.
  • Claire. A cleric of the Priestess of Light. Sources suggested she had particular devotion to her cause, and her connection to the other three was not entirely clear; perhaps she had adopted them as being in need of a guiding hand, as clerics often do. She had also studied law, and contracts in her hand were exceedingly thorough.

The party was also closely connected to Prime Minister Li, the Emperor's right-hand man (and occasional quasi-PC played by the GM). It seemed that one cynical Dwarf assigned to research his weaknesses had considered him a personal affront, as they had gone to great lengths to find any evidence of corruption that he could be blackmailed with, far more than the job warranted. As a result of that investigation, though, the Dwarven Diplomatic Apparatus considered him to be essentially the last remaining completely honest bureaucrat.

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