Zed Lopez

If Only Some Company Would Take on Making Information Easy to Find

Hey, what’s the version number of the current release of Chrome? I’ll just google for “google chrome.” Nope, no version number. Oh, wait, there’s a link for browser, that must be it. No. OK, surely if I select “Download Chrome” it’ll tell me. (Terms of Service agreement dialogue box pops up.) Nope. OK, what’s the filename of that? No help, it starts “google-chrome-stable-current”. Hey, there under “Latest News” there’s a Chrome Blog. They’ve got to mention new releases, right? Nope!

Gave up and went to Wikipedia which is generally really useful for finding out when what versions of major software were released.

Also today, I wanted to see all my comments on Google Plus. Never did figure out how to do that through the web page.

Gadgets and Cables

I tried a couple of digital audio players over the years, but none of them stuck until, based on a lot of love at MeFi, I got a Sansa Clip+ and became one of the people giving it love.

It’s about the size of a matchbox, which is somewhere around the bottom limit of how small you might want it lest it become too easy to lose. (Hmm. What would kids these days use as a comparator to something matchbox-sized? An MP3 player?) It can handle any music format you want. (Well, it doesn’t do AAC, but anyone for whom that was a deal-breaker already wouldn’t be looking at anything but an iPod.) That includes FLAC and Ogg. (Yeah, FLAC isn’t a sensible first choice for format for a portable device, but it is my preferred format for acquiring and storing audio and I’ve occasionally put them on my Sansa when I wanted to listen to something before it was convenient to convert it.)

Its storage can be extended via a microSDHC slot. I’ve scarcely used it, but it has FM radio, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never used it, but it can record audio, with a built-in microphone even. It holds a charge for a long time. It connects to your computer by USB as a plain storage device, so it’s compatible with everything. It’s got great support from the free 3rd-party replacement firmware, Rockbox.

Not long after I got mine, Malasada took to borrowing it regularly. Not long after that, we get one for her.

But my use was intermittent until another gadget entered by life–a Fitbit Flex–along with my jumping on the 10,000 steps a day fitness fad. So now I’m commuting by foot most days, and listening to podcasts, so far mostly Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff. (And Rockbox lets you speed up and pitch down the playback for faster listening without people sounding like chipmunks.)

With all this newfound use, I was carelessly exposing my Clip+ to enough banging about that the clip finally broke. (Malasada’s already had.) The clip makes a difference in how useful it is – having it clipped to the outside instead of in a pocket makes the controls a lot more accessible.

I’m disappointed that it didn’t occur to me that there could be a good way to replace the clip. But it didn’t, so I splurged and bought us two refurbished Clip Zips. It’s a tiny bit broader, a tiny bit thinner, has a larger, color screen, and it starts up noticeably faster.

And there’s another really trivial-sounding difference that has felt surprisingly relevant.

It uses a microUSB cable. The Clip+ needs a miniUSB cable. The only two miniUSB things in our lives were the Clip+ and our iRiver Story HD e-readers. So travel always means making sure to have both cables along. I even have a 2 USB-port charger with one each of retractable microUSB and miniUSB cables in the standard gear I carry almost always.

All of that collective thought and effort that’s gone into making sure to have both cables had me thinking… a current e-reader like a Kobo Aura or a Nook Glowlight or a Kindle Paperwhite would get me a faster device (the iRiver is slow to start up), a front-light, and miniUSB cables out of my life forever!

But the iRiver is still perfectly good, with as nice a screen as the others (203 PPI to the others’ 212). And I’m not that much of a spendthrift and would hate the waste of replacing a perfectly good device. And I’m not made of money.

And yet, now that it’s down to the last device that needs it… that miniUSB is really feeling like a pain in the butt.

Stupid Dice Tricks

Roll a d8 and a d10.

Add 1 for each 4 or 5 you get, add 2 for each 6, subtract 1 for each 2 or 3, and subtract 2 for each 1. Ignore any other dice.

Or ignore 7-10, subtract 1 for each odd die with an additional -1 for 1; add 1 for each even die with an additional +1 for 6.

What you get is a nearly perfect fudge dice distribution.

RPG Birthday Sales

Steve Jackson Games rarely has sales, but through next Wednesday, 8/27, GURPS stuff is 23% off (because GURPS 4th edition turned 10.) Suppressed Transmission 2, Horror: the Madness Dossier.

DriveThru RPG has sales all the damn time, but H.P. Lovecraft turned 124 on 8/20, so a bazillion Cthulhu-related things are 25% off (even if the relation is just “another thing from a company that published some Cthulhu stuff”), and the same at their comics and fiction sister stores. The RPG Adaptation of Charlie Stross’ Laundry, Trail of Cthulhu, Miskatonic River Press’ oeuvre, Delta Green games and fiction, The Unspeakabable Oath, and of course Call of Cthulhu games and Chaosium’s Mythos fiction.

In not-celebration of Lovecraft’s birthday, there’s a petition to change the World Fantasy Award’s Howard statue to one of Octavia Butler.

Sounds good to me.


“The perfect is the enemy of the good” is the enemy of having a reasonable discussion about costs and benefits and risks.

Friendly Advice

In an article on Washington Post’s Huffington Post section, PostEverything, a former cop offers a comforting mixed message. Here’s a dance remix excerpting two consecutive paragraphs:

You don’t have to submit to an illegal stop. Don’t tell me that I can’t stop you. You can refuse consent to search your car or home. Don’t argue with me. Cops are legally prohibited from using excessive force. Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you.

(My friend Johnzo pointed out the juxtaposition.)

New Domain

Hello, diehard RSS subscribers! I’m moving my blogging to zedlopez.org. This one has a real host and won’t go down because, say, I left the server powered off or my DSL modem died. Y’know, hypothetically speaking.

Honest-to-donuts, more to come.

A Useful Reminder About Trusting Random Tech Blogs

I’m setting up some Red Hat VMs and I thought I’d add a grub password to get access to the recovery boot options that would automatically log you in as root. There frankly isn’t a lot of value to it – it’s a very minor obstacle for an attacker with half a clue, but what the heck, I thought – it doesn’t cost much.

Or so I thought. RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) 6 still uses the “GRUB legacy” bootloader (RHEL 7, in beta, finally makes the leap to GRUB2.) But the example of how to specify a secondary password-protected boot menu just wasn’t working.

password PASSWORD /boot/grub/menu-admin.lst

My problem was that /boot was its own partition and the config specified a root parameter that rendered all filepaths relative to /boot, so I needed /grub/menu-admin.lst instead. The documentation isn’t actually wrong, but it could stand to lean on this point a lot more heavily: putting /boot on its own partition has been the norm for a long time.

Googling around, I found page after page of “How to configure grub” articles including the example from the manual, and not a damn one of them mentioned this point. Not even when the rest of their example configurations did the same thing as mine and would have had the some problem, i.e., not a damn one of the authors had actually tried it. They were just regurgitating documentation to puff up their article count.

Here’s my pledge of quality: I don’t give a damn about my article count.

New Machine

So Malasada’s computer was acting flaky and the hardware’s old enough that I didn’t want to keep relying on it. In keeping with the laws of geek/non-geek mixed marriages, that meant I got to buy a new computer and hand mine down to her.

And I was indulgent, getting an i5 quad-core CPU and a fast SSD.

But then tragedy struck. After taking my old machine apart and installing it into the case for her machine, it didn’t work. Not wanting to let her suffer for my computer-building ways, she then got the spiffy new hardware and I went without.

Her machine had been running Ubuntu 12.04 with an XFCE desktop; for the new one, I gave her Mint 16 Cinammon. Getting the relevant bits of the old environment back was fairly easy. I was disappointed to find I couldn’t set up a vertical panel, apparently due to a limitation of Gnome 3. Yay progress. I tried a couple of dock apps, but they were so visually cluttered and noisy and determined to reproduce some of the worst mis-features of the Mac dock that I gave up.

The only thing she’s really hated about Mint: Yahoo as the default search engine. But that’s easy to fix.

The hardware from my old machine was good enough that I didn’t want to give up on it, so I ordered the cheapest motherboard compatible with the CPU and the cheapest CPU compatible with the motherboard so I could figure out what had failed. Then tragedy struck again. I’m used to using New Egg’s cheapest shipping, advertised as 4-8 business days, but getting it in 2 or 3 because it’s coming from their warehouse in the City of Industry in SoCal. But the motherboard came from New Jersey and actually took 7 business days with two weekends in the middle, so I’ve been computerless for a while. (I tweeted about this with the #firstworldproblem hashtag…)

Finally, it arrived. I could finally do the testing to find that my old mobo and one stick of memory had gone bad. I suspect my comically oversized heatsink (and concomitantly heavy) put too much flex on the board on its way in or out of the case. Mental note: remove comically oversized heatsinks before removing the board; install them after mounting the board. (This had been an unattractive option due to how hard it was to get to one of the mounting screws, but thanks to my beautiful new precision screwdriver with a 6” shaft, it’s not a problem anymore. And it’s a much better tool for the motherboard mounting screws than all my old screwdrivers and I wish I’d had it years ago.) I don’t have an explanation for the memory stick.

I took apart Malasada’s new machine again, and put it back together with the newly arrived replacement CPU and motherboard but with the same drive. And finally I could assemble the new machine as I’d originally intended.

And, oh, is it conspicously fast. I’m running the current Debian Stable (Wheezy); my setup hasn’t changed a lot. Maybe I’ll start mining some digital currency just to give all those cores something to do.

Building quiet computers doesn’t even offer a challenge anymore. Malasada’s is dead quiet – the power draw is so low and the power supply so efficient that the power supply’s fan doesn’t even go on. I’m not loving the noise from the fan that came with my new comically oversized heatsink, but I think that’s due to it being clipped to the heatsink without any padding. I’m going to try some thin foam at the corners, or just going without a heatsink fan and using a case fan. Maybe I’ll even use the 200mm fan in my comically oversized case.

Plenty more excitement to come: this whole process has left me with some parts left over. Which means… more computer building!

So that’s part of why the blog has been silent.

A Root-ing We Shall Go

I’ve noted before that I’m no early adopter when it comes to hardware, for reasons of frugality. The people on the bleeding edge can do the bleeding; I’ll generally stick to 3rd generation or later when it’s cheaper and more reliable. I didn’t have a cellphone at all until maybe 1999, and didn’t have a smartphone until early 2011 when Virgin Mobile was offering an unlimited data 3G plan for $25/month, locked in indefinitely (so long as you stick with the same phone and plan) with this LG Optimus V (a VM670).

But I never bothered becoming anything like an expert user of the phone. Calls, texting, occasional web-surfing, alarm clock… that’s about it. I knew there were hackers out there rooting their phones and making custom ROMs and doing other interesting things, but I never cared enough to look into it.

But in recent months my wife and I have both been having problems with our phones running out of storage, and we were struggling to flush enough data to keep them functional. And one of the biggest culprits was the crapware the phone came with, like Twidroyd, a Twitter app that hasn’t even worked for a long while. For your convenience, these couldn’t be uninstalled or shifted to the SD card. A few months ago, I consulted my AskMe peeps about what to do about it, and the clear consensus was that the first step was rooting it.

This weekend I finally bit the bullet and figured it out. It reminded me a lot of modchipping and installing an alternative OS on my Xbox, to no surprise… in general, it’s not difficult to do when you figure out what to do. But it’s a pain in the ass to be sure what that is, when every guide and piece of software involved is a moving target maintained by hobbyists and they get out of sync with each other more often than not.

Anyway, this is what I did, following this guide and a number of other things. My phone was old, so I didn’t have to worry about the exceptions noted for ZV9 ROMs.

Rooting itself was surprisingly easy. Install OI File Manager or anything else that lets you install packages from your SD card. Download GingerBreak APK 1.2. Put it on your SD card. Enable USB debugging under Settings > Applications > Development. Use the file manager to install GingerBreak and run it. After running, it’ll reboot your phone. And that’s it – your phone is now rooted and you’ll be able to permit applications to do things you couldn’t before.

I could have installed Link2SD at this point, which would have let me move the previously unmovable things to the SD card and solved my storage issues, but I decided to go ahead with replacing the ROM.

First I installed Titanium Backup, which requires a rooted phone. It lets you backup all your apps and data to the SD card, which I did.

Next I had to replace the recovery image, which is what your phone runs when booted into recovery mode. There’s more than one choice here, but I used ZenGarden Touch for VM670. I put the .img file on my phone’s SD card, along with the free version of Flash Image GUI and the files I’d need later, the zipfiles for the 2013-07-13 build of Mirage, a derivative of the CyanogenMod replacement ROM, and the 2011-08-28 build of Google Apps. There were other replacement ROMs I could have chosen, but cursory research suggested it was a good choice for my old phone and that going for Android versions more recent than 2.3.7 could be problematic.

Using OI File Manager again to install Flash Image GUI, I used it to write the ZenGarden recovery image to the phone. Then I powered off the phone and had to hold down the home key, the volume down key, and the power switch until the LG logo appeared and disappeared. Then it booted into ZenGarden.

First thing was to create a “nandroid backup” of my existing ROM, under “Backup & Restore > Nandroid Backup”. Between that and the Titanium Backup above, it ought to be the case that I could revert to where I was before attempting to install the ROM.

Then I picked “Wipe/Format > Prepare for New Install”, which cleans up where the ROM will be written. Finally, I did “Install Package > Install with Gapps” and chose the Mirage zipfile. And after a reboot, I was in something like a new phone.

I manually replaced some of the basic configuration, like turning off the GPS by default, and adding my home wifi password. I installed Titanium Backup again to restore my contacts, but I found there were a lot of problems with restoring things from the old phone to the new one, especially with directly re-installing the old applications from the backup. After trying to replace my old Swype and having it crash constantly, I ended up starting over from scratch (not that hard – I only had to boot back into the ZenGarden recovery image and repeat the steps of the previous paragraph). Easiest thing is to just sync all your data elsewhere, re-install the apps, and sync it back.

So now, with a few apps installed, I have 243M free. With the original ROM and crapware, I started with only 160M free. And I’ve got some neat new features like tethering my phone so I can connect my laptop to my phone by wifi and my phone to the net by 3G and have net access from my laptop wherever I have 3G. And with the custom ROM, it starts out rooted, so there are all the possibilities that offers.

I suspect I just got several years’ more life out of my phone.

Found Poetry. Okay

My friend Sumana (hey, Sumana, did you know you’re the #1 google search result for ‘sumana’?) has been examining Spam as Folk Art from way back.

A while ago, I let a whole lot of spam pile up without purging. Looking through it raises a lot of questions.

Remember the first time you applied for a credit card? Can I invest in your country in any profitable venture? Why pay more for the same or better auto insurance? Do you need to find a new dentist? What you think of my new hair color? What do you think of my new hair? What you think of this picture? Playing Lottery with 98% Prize Winning Odds? Could you qualify to get money for school? Do you shop at Sam’s Club? Have you or a loved one used Yaz or Yasmin? What do you know about Medicare Supplement and Advantage plans? How does $3.00 a week auto-insurance sound? Do you need a quick financial fix? Why Get Auto Insurance Quotes From Us? You got into difficulties with monney? With 2 airfare tickets courtesy of Southwest, where will you fly? Getting The Lowest Rate? Picture of you??? Our Team Has Lost a Million Pounds, What’s Your Goal? Should I upload this picture on facebook? CAN I INVEST IN YOUR COUNTRY FROM ALI MOURAK? Did you invest? How much would you pay for a higher education? Its real..? Tired of Cooking? Can I trust you? How much life insurance coverage do you have? Do you want crazy nights? Which window company gives you the best deal? Free consultation:You build career? You wish to get good work? Ready to recharge your options? Do you want to amaze your female partner today? What if your dreams could become a reality in 48 hours? How interesting is your love life? Volume is Increasing, possible Breakout? Hey, you want to eat a big old lobster today? This company is Being Talked About a Lot Today, Why? Tired of dealing with that timeshare? Having Trouble with Your Mortgage? Can You Believe This Is Happening? Why is your mortgage payment so high? Could your future begin with earning a college degree? Can You Please Assist Me To Work For God? Do you love to design? How much could you save on your mortgage? Could this stock be the next buyout candidate? Do you have painful arthritis? Welche Armbanduhren gefallen Ihnen: Sportlich oder fur das Business? Does the world of design await you? Do you suffer from back pain, muscle pain or joint pain? Comment vous choisissez les montres ? Le cafe et le catalogue… ? do you suffer from back pain? Do you wish to satisfy your girlfriend at night? Would you like a better deal on car insurance? This Company Rallied Huge in the past, could it do it again? How much would you pay for a higher education? Who’s Ready For A Sub Penny Alert? Craving for more intimacy? Why havent you switched? Ready for some football? Did you research this company yet!? Want to know the secret of learning new languages fast? Has your score changed? Does an education in graphic design await you? Did you know you only have three weeks for Medicare enrollment? Have you or a loved one been injured by a dialysis treatment? Why Wait Until Black Friday To Get Great Deals? CAN I HAVE CONFIDENCE IN YOU? Wish to add more fire in your bedroom life? Do you have unsightly skin tags that you want gone? Have you or a loved one used GranuFlo or NaturaLyte? Want that new or used ride? What does it take to succeed in an HR studies program? What’s stopping you from earning a degree in Human Resources? Want Best-value packages for Satellite TV? Want to rent or sell your timeshare fast? Can you earn a pharmacy assistant degree online? Queres Ganar mas dinero? How Can Refinancing Help You Save Up To $3,000/ Year? CAN YOU ASSIST ME? Whats up? Do you have a passion for graphic design? Do you wish to amaze your lady at night? Qual a sua cadeia de supermercados preferida? DID YOU AUTHORIZE MRS. JANET MILLER TO CLAIM YOUR FUND?? Could earning a Human Resources degree help you get ahead? Do you get frustrated trying to find the right gifts for your kids? Do you speak english? Still need a job this winter? Ya pensaste en hacer publicidad por email? Who Is She To You? If you only had a single wish, only one, what would it be? Could you clothe the world in your creativity? Have you started your holiday shopping? The U.S. Average CreditScore Is 680. What Is Yours? DISTURBING: Is FEMA Storing 500,000+ PLASTIC COFFINS Near Atlanta? DISH v.s Cable- Who wins? Does a future in medical education await? Can I count on you? Do you love graphic design? do you suffer from muscle pain? Want to increase your knowledge by earning an HR degree? Could your hobby translate into an education in the arts? What’s your satellite game plan? Do health issues limit your mobility?


After a dry spell, I’m backing a bunch of kickstarters lately…

Custom Dice for Horror themed Arkham and Eldritch Games I don’t even have the game for which this is intended (though I’ve played it and it’s very good.) I’m just a sucker for interesting dice. And the blue “blessed” ones would work for Lady Blackbird and hacks thereof.

4 dice sets compatible w/ Dungeon Crawl Classics +D9 D11 Doesn’t that name just sing? A sequel to this kickstarter, it’s for a whole lotta crazy weird dice – a d5, a d9, a d11, a d16 that isn’t ugly, a round-ish d24 (though I kind of like the existing ones, a d30 that’s smaller than a golf ball. When this is fulfilled, one could have dice from d2 to d12, with the range incrementing by one. What’s it good for? Well, nothing yet, but it’s begging for implementing a step die mechanic.

The Doubleclicks’ New Album “Dimetrodon” + Weekly Songs! The Doubleclicks perform “nerd folk music for nerdy folks”. I saw them at a concert at EndGame in Oakland, because they do things like perform at game stores. John Harper of the aforementioned Lady Blackbird wrote a free role-playing game based on one of their songs, Lasers and Feelings (which it now occurs to me is kind of the flip-side of Jonathan Coulton’s The Future Soon). They have dice with guitar, cellos, and velociraptors (and new dice for the kickstarter with a dimetrodon, a suspiciously meowsic-looking cat, and them).

TimeWatch: GUMSHOE Investigative Time Travel RPG This looks to be a well-done gonzo time travel game, which I’ve always loved the idea of but have never played. Plus time raptors!

Project Dark is a cool sounding card-based stealth role-playing game by Will Hindmarch, whose Always/Never/Now cyberpunk Lady Blackbird hack I’ve been playing in, perpetually one session from the end while we try to get six players and a GM in the same place at the same time, and one of the authors of Eternal Lies, the massive Trail of Cthulhu campaign I’m currently running.

And Tales of the Crescent City is a collection of New Orleans Call of Cthulhu scenarios from the people who previously kickstarted Island of Ignorance: The Third Cthulhu Companion. (“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”)

I admire several of Dice Empire’s dice designs, but they’re pricey enough that and I’m backing enough other things right now that I’m sitting this one out.

Florence Kahn

Barring one two-year term when he lost his election, Julius Kahn was a Congressional Representative from San Francisco from 1899 to his death in December 1924. He had already been re-elected to serve in the subsequent Congress; in the special election to fill his seat, his wife Florence Kahn was elected.

She and Mary Norton were the fifth and sixth women elected to the House; she was the first Jewish woman in Congress and the second woman to win re-election to Congress1, serving 6 terms from 1925-1937.

At a time when other Republicans were arguing for isolationism and military reduction, characterizing Democrats as war mongers, she was a steadfast supporter of military strength, saying “Preparedness never caused a war, un–preparedness never prevented one.” She was the first woman on the Military Affairs Committee, on the Appropriations Committee, and the first woman on the board of the US Naval Academy. She introduced the legislation leading to Moffett Air Field, the Alameda Naval Air Station, and federal funding for the Bay Bridge. For her support of widening the FBI’s authority, Hoover called her the mother of the FBI.

Why in heck is there no biography of this woman?



Wikipedia calls her the first woman to win re-election, apparently discounting Mae Nolan’s re-election because her first term, by special election, was only three months.

Reading Round-up

J.K. Rowling’s pseudonymous The Cuckoo’s Calling is satisfyingly twisty and complicated, with everyone having someone to hide… and then falls apart at the end when you realize that everything hinged on the killer having done something incredibly stupid and unjustified.

Robert Goddard’s Into the Blue was similarly complicated, and I’m happy to say it holds together.

Mark Waid’s The Unknown and The Unknown: Devil Made Flesh feature the good old hyper-rational supernatural investigator who disbelieves in the supernatural and they’re a decent read, but are somewhat undermined by the setting being so chock full of the supernatural as to render disbelief hyper-irrational.

I finally read the Angel: After the Fall books that precede Buffy Season 8 (but you need Spike: the Complete Series if you want to understand why Spike shows up in Buffy Season 8 in a spaceship crewed by giant cockroaches.) Then I caught up on the Buffy Season 9 collections. Willow’s quest to restore magic to the world is the most interesting plotline.


I’d heard of the InSpectres RPG a while back, probably through having heard of UnSpeakable, a hack of it for Cthulhu gaming. But UnSpeakable isn’t usable without InSpectres, and $10 for a PDF seemed like too much to check out what sounded like a GhostBusters clone – heck, the official licensed Ghostbusters RPG was actually really good.

I played a game ot Con-Volution last year, and it was fun, but seemed slight.

Deeper in the Game called my attention back to it: InSpectres keeps getting deeper, Mini-games night, ShadowRun via InSpectres. And with some web searching, I noticed it was a darling of The Forge (review, Winging InSpectres, First Try at Narritivism, InSpectres: Explain it to me, please) and Story Games (First game of InSpectres coming up, I need to know how to GM InSpectres). And besides UnSpeakable (and the aforementioned ShadowRun hack), it’s been bent to a lot of purposes: InSpace (science fiction), Legion of Superscience (Venture Bros), In-Speckers (kid ghostbusters club). And the rules themselves mention a supplement called NightWatch (paranormal tv show), and in searching for that, I found a bunch of other references to Ward 13, a supplement for hospital drama.

These seemed to have disappeared entirely, but I’m stubborn, so: NightWatch, Ward 13. While I was web-spelunking, I ran across some other games and game fragments by Scott Knipe: Wyrd (heroic tragedy in the world of Nordic myth), Scab (a game of fantasy labor disputes and strikebreaking, see also The Skeleton Company Employees’ Orientation Handbook), Kagematsu (torrid romance in feudal Japan), Le Héros Émergent (a hero arises in 16th century France), The Hour Between Dog and Wolf (you play wolves in 18th c. France hunting a Beast for whose killings wolves are being blamed and slaughtered), Golden Age Guardians (supers), Charnel Gods (a sorcerer supplement – the game itself doesn’t appear to ever have been posted, but despite being an award winner, it doesn’t have much web footprint and is apparently only available by directly paypalling the author.)

Team Loki

On Sunday, I finally saw the second Thor movie. And it was elevated above being just another bombastic action movie by one thing: Tom Hiddleston as Loki. The two minutes of Thor and Loki walking and talking were by far the best part of the movie.

Forget Thor. Give me a movie of Loki doing pretty much anything – I don’t care if it’s real estate development in Svartalfheim.

Three Dice to Rule Them All

While I can appreciate the elegance of having dice in the shapes of all five regular polyhedra, the sad truth is that tetrahedral d4’s don’t roll worth a damn, making them terrible as dice. The only d4’s I carry are these dodecahedra labelled 1-4 three times (in Roman numerals, which avoids the problem cited here plus I don’t have any other dice in those speckled colors.)

This Doublesix Dice kickstarter proposes to give d6’s the dodecahedral treatment. Cubes with rounded corners aren’t bad at rolling, but obviously the more sides a regular polyhedron has, the closer it is to a sphere and the better it’ll roll.

There’s a wonderfully ludicrous die out there called the d-Total. It’s a 24-sider, a deltoidal icositetrahedron, with each face bearing 6 to 8 labels (clearly, they needed more space than a tetrakis hexahedron’s faces offered.) It boasts that it’s 17 dice in one, but it’s no better a d2 than any other die with an even number of faces, and for all of the claimed functions beside d3, d4, d6, d12, d24, you might have to reroll. Still, five dice in one is kind of neat.

A notion I’ve had, and would kickstart if I had an urge for adding big complicated projects to my life, is: Three Dice to Rule Them All. With appropriately labelled and colored octohedra, dodecahedra, and icosahedra, you could satisfy all your dice needs save for any that are really trying to be weird.

Obviously, octohedra could be labelled to be: d2, d4, or d8; dodecahedra: d2, d3, d4, d6, d12; icosahedra: d2, d4, d5, d10, d20. Another popular die in this modern world is the Fudge die or dF, with two blank sides, two sides labelled ‘-’ and one side labelled ‘+’.

So let’s say the dodecahedron’s faces gets five labels, one in each corner of the pentagon, permitting reading it as a d3, d4, d6, d12, or dF. (I mentioned this in a comment on the DoubleSix kickstarter; the creator mentioned in an update the possibility of pursuing it, but I’d consider that a long shot.) A dF can be considered d3-2 so in one sense having labels for both d3 and dF is redundant, but we want to make life easy (we wouldn’t want to over-complicate things). If I could only have one of them, I’d keep the dF and let you add 2 if you really want a d3.

If the dodecahedron is already providing the d4, all that would be left for the octahedron is d2 and d8, so let’s make them ubiquity dice: three versions in three colors double-labelled 1-8 and, respectively: 0,0,0,0,1,1,1,1; 0,0,1,1,1,1,2,2; 0,1,1,1,2,2,2,3. Ubiquity dice make systems like Lady Blackbird or (no surprise) Ubiquity in which you roll a bunch of dice and count evens to determine your result easier. The first kind counts as throwing one die, the second as two, and the third as three, and then instead of counting evens you just add the results (which is easier with large dicepools.) Of course, this scheme is patented and would require a license.

Every gamer of a certain age (i.e., adolescence predating the widespread availability of pentagonal trapehezohedral d10’s) knows how to read a d20 as a d10, and maybe has even used different colored crayons to hand-color the numbers. You can probably still find d20’s with faces labelled 0 to 9, and +0 to +9 to indicate reading the latter as 20 and 11-19. And every gamer knows how to read 2 d10’s as a d100, e.g., by throwing separate colors and counting one as the tens digit and the other as the ones. But there’s a reason everyone’s switched to 2 different 10-sided dice labelled 00-90 and 0-9: it’s easier. So here things break down a little: either rely on the two-color scheme, or have two different kinds of icosahedra, one of which is dual-labelled to be read as 1-20 or 0-9 and the other of which is double-labelled to be 1-20 or 00-90.

And if we already have three different kinds of octohedra, we’re actually now up to six dice to rule them all. Might as well just dispense with the double-labelling of the 1-20/00-90 and just make it 00-90.

Alert readers whose eyes haven’t glazed over by this point may have noticed that this scheme has actually left us with no d2, but rolling any die and counting odd as 1 and even as 2 is as easy as it ever was.

So, having, say, 3 of each octohedron, 12 of each dodecahedron, 1 icosahedron labelled 00-90, and 10 of the other leaves you prepared for:

  • rolling count-evens dicepools of up to 18
  • rolling up to 9d8
  • rolling up to 12d3, 12d4, 12d6, or 12d12
  • having three standard sets of fudge dice, i.e., 4dF
  • rolling up to 10d10 (for those one-roll engine games) or 10d20
  • rolling d100

Of course, it’s common enough to want d6’s in two colors for, say, Fiasco or three for, say, Don’t Rest Your Head or Technoir, so better make that a dozen each of white, red, and black. So now we’re up to just 56 dice that’ll make you ready for everything, a plan that is sheer elegance in its simplicity!

And speaking of potential dice kickstarters, besides the five regular polyhedra, there are many candidates for fair dice that have never been manufactured as dice. And Sicherman dice and two other variants (that allow zero) to produce pairs of dice with different values on the faces but still produce a proper 2d6 result. I see a great need. (There are some Sicherman dice available, but they’re not that pretty.)