Zed Lopez

Die in the Corner Alone

So I managed to get myself to the gym again for the first time in a long time. As I began to unload my stuff, I spotted a red 12mm d6 on the floor. Now I had moved my red 12mm d6’s to a new home recently, so I thought for a moment that there’d been some unlikely series of events in which I’d fumbled one and it had landed in a fold of my bag and somehow survived the trip to the gym… but, no.

See, mine are your basic 12mm red with black pips and this one was actually a dark orange flecked with yellow: Fire Speckled, if I’m not mistaken (spoiler: I’m not.)

I’m sorry for your loss, my fellow geek who worked out this morning. If you see this and can tell me where in the locker room you lost it* and what side was facing up, I’ll be sure to get it back to you.

* Must be more specific than “in the corner”

The Carbon Grail

For some decades, a persistent bit of engineering vaporware has been the super-fast, super-cool carbon-based CPU. Researchers at Stanford have now managed a carbon nanotube CPU of comparable power to 1971’s Intel 4004.

Scaling it up poses a lot of challenges, so I wouldn’t call carbon’s ascendance inevitable, but getting vanishingly close to silicon’s limits in the next couple or three decades is inevitable, so alternatives are going to be a very hot research topic.

Getting the Work Done

This post on a NY Times Blog sings the virtues of YA compared to some adult fiction:

If there is one truism of successful Y.A., it’s that the book’s unrelenting emphasis must be on character and event, and not the brilliance of the author’s viewpoint. For me it was a humbling experience, trying to shed the essential narcissism of my writer’s project because my teen readers wouldn’t tolerate it. But on crawling out on the other side, I saw that what Y.A. novels value above all else is storytelling. It took me even longer to realize that that needn’t lessen a book’s complexity — it just prioritizes the reader’s experience. Ultimately, if there’s a refrain I hear from the many adults turning to Y.A., it’s not that the books are any simpler. They’re just more pleasurable.

A reading experience I dread is to invest hours in a heralded and beautifully written book, only to have the curtain pull away and reveal that the novel’s purpose all along has been to serve as an elaborate proof of the writer’s specialness, that the pen kept writing long after the content ran dry. “I didn’t quite get the story the author was trying to tell” is the more polite reader’s version of, “Screw you, author, for making us come to a restaurant you picked, making us order what you wanted, and then not even letting us get a word in edgewise.”

As a genre reader, it’s a little hard not to notice that most of what he describes applies as much to genre fiction as compared to so-called adult fiction.

The Man Who Shot Joseph Curwen

Ken Hite presents an interesting thesis: the central conflict of Lovecraftian horror is the same as that of Western movies:

Barbarism can only be defeated with the gun. All those who pick up the gun are barbarians. […]

Those Outside can only be defeated by understanding the Mythos. Those who understand the Mythos have moved Outside.

I Heart the Command Line

Via Metafilter I found Five Great Comic Book Adaptations Of Movies (And One That’s Just Really Cool But Kind of Terrible). Sienkiewicz did the art for a Dune movie adaptation? Web searching brought me to a blog post with scans. It’d be a pain to point-and-click each page though. I saved the source as dune.html and looked at it.

perl -ne 'while (/href="(.*?sienkiewicz.*?\.jpg)"/g) { print "$1\n"}' dune.html|xargs wget

Blogspot’s doing something a little peculiar though – those look like links directly to jpegs, but they’re really returning html pages that have img tags requesting the actual jpeg. So…

perl -ne '/src="(.*?sienkiewicz.*?jpg)"/ && print "$1\n"' *sienkiewicz*jpg|xargs wget

wget automatically appended .1 to these jpegs because they would have had the same filenames as the html pages.

rm *sienkiewicz*jpg
rename 's/\jpg\.1$/jpg/' *sienkiewicz*jpg.1

After the fact, I realized I could have just changed the s1600-h’s in the original html page to s1600 – oh well.

Easiest way to read the result is to zip it into a cbz file.

zip -r dune.cbz *sienkiewicz*jpg 

Installed a cbz reader and checked it out. Oops. Page 1 is screwed up – it was still the html.

rm *001.jpg dune.cbz
wget http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_Rf9S3GkkeyI/SU4jMy6nGQI/AAAAAAAAIqM/JdvMxNup3_0/s1600/bill+sienkiewicz+and+ralph+macchio.+dune.+page.+001.jpg
zip -r dune.cbz *sienkiewicz*jpg 

Done. Hey, Steranko’s Outland is even easier.

wget http://www.forcesofgeek.com/2013/06/read-jim-sterankos-outland-adaptation.html
fgrep s1600 read-jim-sterankos-outland-adaptation.html|perl -ne 'while (/href="(.*?\.jpg)"/g) { print "$1\n" }'|xargs wget
zip -r outland.cbz IMG*jpg

Directory Listings the Way I Like Them (Some of the Time)

ls -lgohtrF --time-style=long-iso --group-directories-first |tail -n +2|cut -c1-13 --complement

Human-readable size, last modified time in ISO 8601 format, directories first, but otherwise sorted with most recently modified last, with suffixed symbols indicating directories, executables, etc., and without the initial total blocks line.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggedy-jig

Back from a trip to the east coast. I am one lucky Bay Area-ite: I took BART to the airport the last day before the strike, and I took BART back the first day it resumed. I made it from the SFO BART station to Berkeley in an hour. If the strike had still been on, I’d probably have been in a shuttle approaching the Bay Bridge just at the heart of rush hour and god knows how long it would have taken.


BigBadCon is exactly what I want from every game con. Great games, great GMs, great players, great organization. The biggest problem is all the other games I had to miss by choosing the game I was in. My gaming group has gotten used to my saying to them after a con “I’m really grateful to have this group” because normally I had at least one horrible game at the con. Not at BigBadCon.

I started musing on trying to re-create some of that at smaller scale… say, one weekend, five people, five games – everyone runs one game with four players, one Friday night, three on Saturday, one starting Sunday morning… something kind of like a LongCon house event (but I was picturing the sessions as independent, not part of a larger story line.)


Y’know, if the federal government was going to shut down over demands for compromise, I wish we’d at least gotten single-payer out of it.

And speaking of anti-social idiots, the Cal campus was evacuated last night after an explosion owing to thieves stealing copper grounding wires. Some buildings remain without power.

Today’s an unusually good cheap Kindle book day. Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth and The Long War, Laird Barron’s collection The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us, Chuck Wendig’s new novel Under the Empyrean Sky for $2 each, and Brett Talley’s That Which Should Not Be for $1. And RPG fans may be interested in the new Bundle of Holding, currently offering five PDFs for the influential over-the-top Hong Kong action movie RPG Feng Shui (this bundle is short-lived, with just two days left.)

Bryan Hitchcock played in my Monster of the Week game at Celesticon Labor Day weekend and had some kind things to say, which is gratifying ‘cause he’s a great MotW GM. (Both of us have GM-ed more than we’ve played and were pleased to be able to play for a change.)

Zed’s mystery was awesome, with a perfect mix of monster fighting and investigation. The conclusion was not a cookie-cutter monster slaying. The local setting added to the realism, and Zed kept it tight with some intense NPCs and great Keeper moves.

It’s October 1, and that can only mean one thing. I’m finally going to listen to the audiobook of Roger Zelazny reading his final book, A Night in the Lonesome October, whose 31 chapters each span one night.

Things Not to Take for Granted: Digestion

My blogging and a lot of other things were interrupted by the nastiest bout of gastroenteritis I’ve experienced. It’s clear in hindsight that I was suffering mild symptoms for weeks before they became severe symptoms, and I am very grateful it ultimately succumbed to antibiotics.

Each time I’ve added a food back to my diet and didn’t get sick, it’s been a thrill.

It’s unnerving that we’re increasingly less able to expect antibiotics to work.

Anyone out there with a chronic digestive condition managing to get on with things – I salute you.

From Map to Territory

RPG scenario writing advice tends to be about the situation – the characters, the setting, and a broad plot that can provide interesting outcomes to player characters’ choices on the way (it’s to be hoped) to an outcome that feels satisfying. And certainly all of that is crucially important stuff.

What I haven’t seen so much about is how one organizes the material and designs the document to facilitate the understanding of the scenario the gamemaster will need, and the easy access to the appropriate information the GM will need. The problem Robin Laws notes in The Threefold Path of RPG Reading applies to scenarios as well as game corebooks: they need to function as both tutorial and reference. In fact, I’ve get to find any scenario whose presentation I found particularly satisfying.

It’s a problem that needs information architecture and interaction design that it hasn’t gotten, and isn’t especially likely to. There’s not much money overall to be had from the industry – even the seemingly big companies tend to have one or two full-time employees and a bunch of freelancers doing work-for-hire. And amazing, wonderful works are being created and published under those circumstances!

I’ve been giving the matter thought as I’ve contemplated how to construct a scenario for others’ use. I’m neither an information architect nor an interaction designer, but my tenure as a software engineer in places that had neither has given me a little experience with both.

Here are some things I’ve found thought-provoking, most of which are more about what than how, but several of which overlap the how:

Mapping the Investigation like a dungeon (previously)

Esoterrorists design document PDF

The New Columboism

For the final write-up of the game, I went through every scene that I’d written, and I thought about that scene until I had determined

  1. A “clue” that could be found in the scene
  2. A way of directly introducing the scene (I used a variant of a timeline for simplicity, but there are other approaches)
  3. A way of railroading the scene to a conclusion (so that they did not drift on interminably; though this was not a problem in any of my runs)
  4. A conflict between PCs that could be sparked in the scene
  5. A conflict between a PC and NPC that could be sparked in the scene

Analyzing Call of Cthulhu Module Chokepoints/Railroading

Don’t Prep Plots

Three Clue Rule

Node-based Scenario Design

Advice on Running Mysteries in RPGs

Creating RPG Scenarios PDF

Using the 5x5 Method for Adventure Design

Creating a scene in an RPG

Five elements of commercial appeal in RPG design

Designing Good Roleplaying Adventures

Love IS His Craft

It’s a well known story in fandom that the first science fiction writing couple met when Henry Kuttner wrote to C.L. Moore, expressing admiration for Moore’s fiction, and discovering only upon her response that she was a she. What’s less known is that H.P. Lovecraft occasioned the initial letter.

One small detail in Lovecraft’s letters to Kuttner proved to be of great moment in the subsequent history of weird, fantasy, and science fiction. In May, he casually asked Kuttner to pass on some photographs of Salem and Marblehead to C.L. Moore once Kuttner himself had finished with thim; and it was in this way that Moore and Kuttner became acquainted.

And in 1942, when Bob and Leslyn Heinlein moved for Bob’s Philadelphia Naval Shipyard job, Kuttner and Moore stayed in the Heinleins’ house in Laurel Canyon. From Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, vol. I:

She [Leslyn] even practiced witchcraft – “white witchcraft,” in the old pagan tradation of northern Europe, though she didn’t (so far as Robert knew) belong to an actual coven. […]

First she had placed wards around the house to protect against the ghosts the Kuttners had noticed in 1942 – “especially one against a thing that keeps trying to come up the basement steps.”

Interest Rate Models – Theory and Practice, and Also the End of the World

While searching for a quotation from Grant Morrison’s JLA, I stumbled on this book. Glimpsing up and down this page, my first thought was that it was some sort of spam lit automatically generated by random content from the net.

Martian Manhunter: All is lost.

Batman: I don’t believe that for a second. What should I expect to feel?

Martian Manhunter: Despair. Cosmic despair. Telepathic contact with Superman is only possible through the Mageddon mind-field that holds him in thrall. It broadcasts on the lowest psychic frequences… horror, shame, fear, anger.

Batman: Okay, Okay. Despair is fine. I can handle despair and so can you.

But, no, it’s a real book by a couple of real quantitative analysts who are geeky enough to extensively quote comics and give a shout out to a couple of comics forums in the acknowledgements.

The quote is from what is one of my favorite sequences in literature: the Justice League’s final battle against Mageddon, and Batman talking Superman through his dark night of the soul through the Martian Manhunter’s telepathy. As is often the case with Morrison, the story suffers from feeling rushed as he tries to cram so much in. But the image on the sixth page below is sheer comic book poetry. It requires knowing not only the famous tragedies underlying Batman’s and Superman’s origins, but J’onn J’onzz’ less famous one. Like Superman, he’s the sole survivor of a doomed planet, but he didn’t escape as an infant and learn about it later – he saw everyone he loved die horribly.

Pages 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 (from JLA Vol. 3, #41, page numbers for the purpose of this sequence, not having anything to do with their numbering in the issue or any collection.)

Monsters You Can Feel Good About Killing

A trouble with a lot of fantasy, like The Lord of the Rings or Dungeons & Dragons: the existence of races of intelligent beings who are inherently, irredeemably Evil and whom it’s always Good and righteous to kill. It’s hard not to notice how closely this maps to the belief systems of the most disgusting racists. Here one gamemaster attempts to anti-redeem the monsters so you really can feel good about killing them.

It’s summer, and the kiddos are out of school - it’s high time for another family game! […] Here’s the thing - kids and Gygaxian Naturalism don’t mix. There will be no orc babies or crying goblin moms in the game, mewling that the adventurers just killed their husbands. […] Ergo, it’s time to whip up some alternate origins for the humanoid races, ones that put them firmly in the realm of monsters, and not as misunderstood, hairy pseudo-people. […]

Ogres: The oldest crime, the oldest prohibition, is against cannibalism, and there is a spirit that sometimes takes root when a man eats the flesh of another man, transforming the forbidden diet into an addiction while changing the transgressor - body, mind, and soul - into a hulking man-eater that lumbers off into the wilderness to indulge its dark passions far from torches, pitchforks, and angry villagers. Possession by the ogre spirit leads to an immortality, of sorts. […]

Hmm, upon rereading, I notice they’re not quite as “kid friendly” or whimsical as I would have hoped. Perhaps I watch too many horror movies to run a kid’s D&D game. But kids are tough, and real fairy tales are pretty scary, right? They’ll be fine, right?


Past the Tipping Point

After The Tipping Point, I was a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell, and continued to be so through Blink and Outliers. Then I started hearing some of the stories about how his conclusions were corresponding closely to corporate interests he was getting big money from. And when big banks’ reputations were hurting most from the financial crisis, he straight up shilled for Bank of America to attract loans from small business owners. And then the Ask a Korean! blog demonstrated that he just plain cooked the data supporting his argument in Outliers that Korean culture was to blame for Korean airline crashes.

It’s over, Malcolm. It’s not me, it’s you.

Artifacts of a Former Future

Mars Explorer Barbie

Some days it seems like the only science fictional visions we ever get in the real world are phildickian absurdity, cyberpunkish triumphs of materialism over humanity, or dystopian tyranny. So it actually becomes kind of refreshing to see something that feels like it’s from the science fiction of 1951: Mars Explorer Barbie. (Yes, yes, Barbie, per se, didn’t exist until 1959.)