Tuesday, August 31, 2010

SnoutCast #31: "Meanwhile, Up in Seattle..."

Featuring an interview with Nick Fang, Microsoft Intern Game (MSIG) mastermind!

[ Download mp3 - 34 MB ]

0:59 - "scrupulous"
1:33 - history of MSIG (featuring funny stories about broken legs)
6:28 - structure of MSIG (number of puzzles, travel format, GC size)
11:45 - the MSIG application process, and this year's theme
19:27 - changes over the years, especially technological
27:12 - DeeAnn's question: do you prefer running or playing Games?
30:50 - wanted: Seattle-area playtesters and helpers for future MSIGs
32:44 - a brief, post-interview digression on resource management
34:02 - upcoming events: PAX Prime, BANG 23 re-run, Ghost Patrol BANG
36:22 - The End

BONUS! You can also examine DeeAnn's handwritten notes from this conversation:

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn Nick

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: "Tunnellers"

Ghod willing, this is the closest I will ever come to writing Stargate fanfic.

Read "Tunnellers" at 512 Words or Fewer


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Write-a-Thon Wrap-Up

The Clarion UCSD Write-a-Thon 2010 ended a few weeks ago, but I neglected to tally up my donation numbers until now. Drumroll, please:

Total amount donated: $419
Total number of donors: 6
Mean average donation: $69.83
Largest single donation: $256
Total words written: 44,135
Putative amount donated per word: 0.9¢

...if that had been actual payment, the rate would be what professionals call "token payment"--or, euphemistically, an "honorarium." (Pro rates for fiction are, at minimum, five cents a word. And some pros won't even roll out of bed for less than twenty cents a word.) But it's over four hundred dollars that the Clarion Foundation didn't have before, and that's Good.

I didn't reach my arbitrary fundraising target of $512, but it was a "stretch goal" anyway. I know I'm a terrible salesman. 82% is still a solid B-minus, and I accomplished my primary goal: to stop being so damn lazy and write. It's also motivated me to continue my good habits with weekly goal-setting, so hey. Win.


SnoutCast #30: "And Now For Something Completely Different"

I'm not going to lie to you, Marge: this week's podcast kinda sucks.

[ Download mp3 - 30 MB ]

00:58 - "intelligent"
01:47 - banter: what your characters do while the plot happens
02:10 - "Is this a horror movie?"
02:55 - an anecdote
06:33 - let's talk about TV shows!
07:38 - our viewing habits
10:35 - now watching: Burn Notice and Leverage
11:27 - DeeAnn is dissatisfied with these shows
13:50 - what's different about Burn Notice this year?
15:55 - DeeAnn also does not like "reality" shows
19:49 - possible advantages of scripted television
20:55 - Curtis knows it's a lot of work to produce a show
23:23 - some actual facts (which we probably misread)
26:18 - semantics of the verb "watch"
29:22 - upcoming events: Burning Man, PAX, Puzzled Pint, BANG 23 re-run, Ghost Patrol BANG
30:58 - math is hard. RUN MORE GAMES
32:33 - The End

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "Tom Cruise Crazy" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn Jasper

Friday, August 20, 2010

Error Message of the Day

Oh no you didn't!

Aw Snap!


Friday Flash Fiction: "Stranger in a Strange Land"

Hey, did you know there's a new, two-volume biography of Robert A. Heinlein being published by Tor Books this year? Just thought I'd mention that. No particular reason.

Also, I really do like living in the Portland area. All my complaints are minor, and the biggest disadvantage compared to our previous life in the San Francisco bay area is that we don't get out and meet enough people--and that's really a function of our own laziness.

Read "Stranger in a Strange Land" at 512 Words or Fewer


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Report: The Yiddish Policemen's Union

This book was not to my taste.

Don't get me wrong: I respect Chabon's skill, but his particular style is not for me. Often, instead of drawing me into the narrative, I found the long descriptive passages pushing me away. I know others find them lyrical and mesmerizing, but I'm generally not a fan of prose for the sake of prose. Get out of the way and just let me enjoy the story, okay?

In this case, the actual story was fairly mediocre; one of the dangers of writing a pastiche is that you either remain too faithful to the genre, or spin it too far into either homage or satire. I feel like there was a lot of subtext here which might have been more significant to someone who'd been raised in Jewish culture, and who understood more about the rifts between different sects and knew the history of the various beliefs.

I also didn't completely buy the big revelation at the end, though the other members of our book club (DeeAnn, Kathy, and Brian) convinced me of its plausibility. I can believe in a lone gunman; conspiracies are a little harder for me to swallow, and the author just didn't sell it enough for me. Again, I think other people might have appreciated it more than I did.

Anyway, that was our first "virtual sci-fi book club" selection (we meet using Skype). I'm hoping our next one, Cherie Priest's Boneshaker, will be more fun.

Buy the book: Powell's, Amazon (affiliate links)


Comic Book Report: Checkmate Vol. 3: Fall of the Wall

I'm not really spoiling anything when I tell you that the "Wall" in the title refers to Amanda Waller, Checkmate's "White Queen." I mean, the cover image tells you that. And you know she'll be back. That gal always manages to land on her feet.

One of the major B-stories in this arc is the workplace romance between Mr. Terrific and Sasha Bordeaux, which, for my money, wasn't really necessary, but served as a nice counterpoint to the constant threats to life-death-reputation-career that these characters endure. Rucka knows how to torture his protagonists.

This volume ends with a standalone tale focusing on the Black Queen's Knight, Josephine Tautin, a.k.a. "Mademoiselle Marie;" and then there's a coda titled La Vie en Sang, and that alone may be worth the price of the book for some. Stories of heroic sacrifice always get me.

Buy the book: Powell's, Amazon (affiliate links)


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Hump Day Report

Woke up early-ish this morning to take Tye to the vet for another ECG (result: he responded normally to atropine, so apparently he just has a slow resting heart rate), then played hooky in the afternoon to go see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World--which, as I tweeted, totally f**king rocked or whatever and stuff. Go see it. You'll be happy you did.

Finished a puzzle prototype for next month's Puzzled Pint, met my writing quota for the day, then did a bit of research on home automation. D helped me locate a stash of X10 hardware--the appliance modules are what I was looking for--so I only had to order the computer interface module (which, mercifully, now uses USB instead of RS232) in order to have all the hardware we need to switch the cats' auto-feeder over to full computer control.

Now D's playing Dragon Age: Origins - Awakenings while she continues to recover from last week's migraine, and I'm going to see what's playing on Netflix streaming--which, amazingly, hasn't totally sucked the last few times I've tried it. Though tonight I think I'll pick something a little less depressing than No End in Sight.


Comic Book Report: Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come

It's an interesting idea: a nested sequel to Kingdom Come, using the ol' parallel-universe trick to tell a story in one reality which takes place in the blink of an eye in another reality. Using the Justice Society of America was also an interesting choice, and not entirely successful.

Frankly, the current JSA is overstuffed with B-list heroes from the DC universe, and though I do like many of them, and can appreciate the whole "legacy" theme--many of the characters are descendants of previous superheroes--I thought too many of the cast here were shorthanded into one-dimensionality. It's a common problem with "ensemble" shows, and even Master Whedon trips over it sometimes.

I am, however, a sucker for a good happy ending, and this arc puts a nice bow on the whole Kingdom Come storyline. I can recommend it for that reason, if nothing else.

Buy the books (affiliate links):


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

SnoutCast #29: "GC Karma's Gonna Get You"

It's not that we can't come up with original content on our own. It's just so much easier to read and respond to our listeners' insightful feedback. Thanks, listeners!

[ Download mp3 - 36 MB ]

00:00 - Random Teaser™: Superman is a dick, Space: 1999, and dog food
03:43 - "fightin'"
04:52 - Larry's feedback
06:18 - DeeAnn and Curtis are in the minority, per Red's GC Summit 2009 chart
07:27 - Statistic: 62.5% of Games since 1991 have been run by first-time GCs, and most of them never ran another Game
09:43 - Disclaimer: Curtis and DeeAnn don't believe in "GC karma" with respect to Game applications
13:26 - an anecdote about the assignment of "GC credit" in certain circumstances, followed by discussion
17:26 - splitting hairs: "karma" vs. "credit"
19:44 - a cautionary tale about "scoring" GC efforts
21:33 - DeeAnn's Free Advice™
23:09 - how to prevent us from reading your comments on the air
23:28 - Scott's feedback
25:13 - in which we do our best to completely misinterpret an analogy
26:40 - know your GC; know your judge
29:26 - Curtis guesses at the origin of Game applications
34:28 - "No, there is too much. Let me sum up."
37:47 - Upcoming Events: BANG 23 re-run (September), Ghost Patrol BANG (October); see also: 2-Tone Game notes from Game Control
39:13 - The End

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "Skullcrusher Mountain" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pastis Loves Feghoots

Because I'm usually checking my e-mail, playing with my iPhone, or staring off into space during breakfast, D tends to read through the morning newspaper much faster than I do. (She also skips the opinion section, but that's another story.)

This morning, while reading the Sunday comics, she did a facepalm, shook her head, and turned to me and said, "You'll enjoy today's Pearls Before Swine."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because it's terrible," she replied.

She was not wrong:


On a related note, I find that I often enjoy reading Stephen Pastis' blog more than his daily comics. I kind of wish he'd do more writing. Not that he's a bad artist, but his brand of humor actually works really well in a prose format. You can see it in the way he composes his panels. One might call him the Kevin Smith of syndicated comics: all about the dialogue (but without the constant profanity).

Compare that to, say, xkcd or Dinosaur Comics, which also feature minimalist artwork, but in which the art serves a specific purpose. xkcd wouldn't be the same if it featured people with faces, or full-color strips; the few times when Munroe does use color, it's to make things pop. Just as his stick figures say something about the nature of his work, so does Dinosaur Comic's use of the exact same artwork every single time make a statement about the malleability of interpretation. And when it does stray from the template, it's for a reason--like now, when Ryan North is on his honeymoon and guest artists are supplying their own riffs on his creation.

Those two webcomics also have something else in common: they make liberal use of ALT tags, which cause a little block of text to pop up when you hover your mouse cursor over an image. In some cases, it's a pretty big block of text. Sometimes that text is a continuation of the joke in the comic; sometimes it explains what inspired the comic; sometimes it's just a wry parenthetical. Geeks love making oblique connections.

What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, writing instead of drawing. I'm not saying Pastis should give up the comics thing, just that there's a big gray area where words and pictures meet. Just as people still call television "radio with pictures," due to the tendency of TV shows to emphasize dialogue over imagery, I find that the comics I enjoy most tend to punch with text more than art. Guess that says something about why I'm a writer.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: "Who's Your Daddy?"

Thank you for reading. I have anticipated your questions, and supplied answers below:
  1. I apologize for the title. Deal with it.
  2. This is the opening scene of a longer story (a work in progress).
  3. Maybe he's Jewish. Does it matter?
  4. Leah Shugan.
  5. Twenty-one.
  6. Yes.
Read "Who's Your Daddy?" at 512 Words or Fewer


Monday, August 09, 2010

SnoutCast #28: "Application Rumination"

That's right: this week's podcast is early. You're welcome.

[ Download mp3 - 34 MB ]

00:59 - "literal"
01:21 - Listener Mail: Rachel brings up some very good issues!
03:55 - reading list: Punished by Rewards, The Upside of Irrationality, Drive
05:13 - Curtis rejects your reality and substitutes his own
05:48 - DeeAnn explains the social contract
07:23 - on being exceptional
09:12 - how is The Game like a wedding?
11:22 - say again: You should run a Game because it's fun!
13:16 - why Team Snout prefers first-come-first-served (FCFS)
16:41 - the downside of FCFS
18:11 - and that's why they're called Game Control
19:10 - the Hogwarts Game application nightmare
22:09 - the Midnight Madness invitation anxiety
24:30 - splitting semantic hairs (for great justice)
26:00 - DeeAnn is the perfect counter-example
27:02 - possible side effects of running a Game
28:38 - enjoying the product more than the process
29:36 - where's Spock when you need him?
31:28 - speaking of The Goonies Game...
32:55 - Snout GC is always at least seven people
34:53 - TOMORROW: Puzzled Pint in Portland, Oregon!
35:31 - upcoming events: BANG 23 re-run (September), Ghost Patrol BANG (October)
36:31 - The End

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "The Future Soon" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn

Friday, August 06, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: "Out of the Frying Pan"

Did you know that one of Leonard Nimoy's first film roles was one of the titular space invaders in the Republic serial "Zombies of the Stratosphere?"


Read "Out of the Frying Pan" at 512 Words or Fewer


Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Comic Book Report: X-Men: Kitty Pryde - Shadow & Flame

Meh. This was an "impulse buy" at the library (wasn't looking for it, saw it on the shelf, checked it out), and while it wasn't bad, it didn't knock my socks off or anything.

I'm not a huge X-Men fan--I was always more of a DC man myself--but I enjoyed a lot of the Ultimate X-Men trades and Joss Whedon's stint on Astonishing X-Men, and I feel like I know enough backstory to jump into the current continuity without drowning. The point, though, is that I shouldn't need to know what happened six issues or six years ago in order to understand and care about what's happening now in the story.

Here's the example I always use. In 2003, my wife and I went to see Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World on a whim, knowing almost nothing about the movie or the book series it was based on. I've never been rabid about costume dramas, or pirates, or old-timey sailing ships, so I was not particularly predisposed to love this movie. But I did love it, enough to buy the DVD later, because it worked as a standalone tale. I didn't need to know anything about Aubrey and Maturin or the Napoleonic Wars in order to enjoy the adventure.

Anyway. This story relies on a lot of Kitty's backstory, and features a few characters from her past in pivotal roles, but doesn't invest much in fleshing them out in the present. I suspect it would have been a more satisfying read for someone who was more of an X-Men fan, and there are plenty of those, but it didn't do much for me.

That said, I'm still hoping for a Kitty Pryde movie starring Ellen Page. And so are you. Trust me.

Buy the book: Powell's, Amazon (affiliate links)


Comic Book Report: Outsiders/Checkmate: Checkout

There's a certain talent required to take a character as ridiculous as Egg Fu and turn him into not just a plausible villain, but an actual scary motherfucker. Some of that is the art, certainly, but Greg Rucka's take-no-prisoners writing style doesn't hurt.

One of the interesting things about reading the same characters in different comics is seeing how their portrayal changes depending on who's writing them. Sometimes it's nice to see underused characters get their day in the sun; I really enjoy how Mr. Terrific is an actual person in Checkmate, as opposed to just a face in the crowd of, say, the overcrowded Justice Society of America.

Of course, the danger is that you'll get inconsistencies or outright contradictions in concurrent titles, but having the same person on the same book for a long time helps minimize that. There's also no substitute for planning, and I get the sense that Ruck and Winick did a fair amount of work breaking this story. All the pieces come together in a sensical and satisfying fashion.

Buy the book: Powell's, Amazon (affiliate links)


Tuesday, August 03, 2010

SnoutCast #27: "Feedback Loop"

Wherein we use listener mail as a jumping-off point for further discussion. Thanks, listeners!

[ Download mp3 - 27 MB ]

01:00 - "pensive"
02:09 - Skott's comment re: a Game-less summer in 2010
03:01 - three strikes and you're out!
03:50 - the disadvantages of not having a central puzzle hunt authority
05:18 - what will puzzle hunts be like in a hundred years?
07:02 - Jeff would like to have an exploding plane puzzle "FTW!"
07:43 - Greg mentions "reasons to not run a game"
08:56 - DeeAnn has had enough of the Frozen Chosen
10:00 - there are no bad days; it's all about attitude
11:49 - Greg (continued) tells us about Seattle events and rumors
13:01 - demand and the supplying of demand
14:05 - we're saving Rachel's comment for next week!
14:40 - Larry blogs about "that puzzle is too hard"
16:17 - a concrete example... and a slip of the tongue
16:46 - a meta-comment on Larry's blog post
18:39 - designing for novice solvers
20:36 - how many layers is too many?
22:28 - Curtis pigeonholes Gamer personality types
25:36 - next Puzzled Pint: August 10th in Portland, Oregon
26:24 - upcoming events: PAX, BANG 23 re-run, Ghost Patrol BANG
29:29 - The End

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "Chiron Beta Prime" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

CKL DeeAnn