Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The Unblinking Eye [review]

I'm a bit slow with this one, but I thought I should give this a good chance before I wrote my review.

Last month, Roger Taylor (of Queen drumming fame, for those not in the know) released a single "The Unblinking Eye (Everything is Broken)". I've always enjoyed the Queen songs penned by Roger and I don't get much of a Queen fix nowadays, so I bought the mp3 from queenonline the day it was released.



I'm really sorry to say it, but... FAIL.

Here's what annoyed me in detail:


  • It's understood that Roger's voice is not Freddie's (or even Brian's for that matter). That doesn't bother me normally, but the songs he sang as part of Queen (thinking "I'm In Love With My Car") were so much more rock 'n' roll than this track and suited his voice better. He seems to be trying to do too much and fails badly.

  • The music is all over the place. Was he trying to write a ballad, a rock anthem, a protest song (actually, I think he has said this was his goal), a symphony or what? I couldn't enjoy the tune or the rhythm because it kept changing at inappropriate times.

  • The lyrics. Oh dear. He was trying too hard to make his protest. Look at this: "This Kingdom's not united; Just a complicated mess; Are we in Europe; Half in Europe; Not in Europe; We're soulless, spineless, directionless" and this: "Why send our young men out to die in wars that we don't understand; Why on earth should we be meddling in places like Afghanistan" and worst of all (the first line of the song): "God would weep if he existed". God would weep if he existed? Please. It's the same sentiment, though much less eloquently put, than "Is This The World We Created?".

  • The politics. Not that I necessarily disagree with all of what he says in the song, it's just that he shoves so much of it into one song. And not even very well.


Out of what is probably misplaced loyalty, I tagged this track with 3 stars (it's a reasonable song) in my iTunes library, just so that it stayed in rotation properly. It probably deserved 2 (keep only for completeness sake). I'm hoping it might grow on me like the Queen + Paul Rogers album from last year.

Want to make your own decision? It's on youtube, I suggest you try before you buy. And I think I might be giving the upcoming album a miss.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

What do I like in my music?

If you have ever visited my last.fm page you might wonder random landscape you had stepped in to.

Eclectic. Yes, you could say that. Even just looking at my top 6 you'll see The Beatles, Iron Maiden and Jethro Tull. Who listens to all that?

So to cast off the rumour that my taste in music is actually no taste at all, I thought I would throw together a list of the things I look for in my music. A tick next to any one of them will get the music a listen. Two or more and I've probably found a new favourite.

So without any further ado and in no particular order (except perhaps #1).


  1. A beat that your head can bang along to. Self-inflicted whiplash? Yes, please.

  2. Unusual instruments. Think flute and mandolin (thank you Jethro Tull), operatic vocals in metal music, harpsichord, accordion (button for your Sharon Shannon, piano for Al Yankovic).

  3. Unusual voices. Ian Anderson, Kristin Hersh, Kasey Chambers, Mark Knopfler.

  4. Powerful voices. Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio, David Coverdale.

  5. Lyrics that tell a story. Mythical themes and folklore for an extra point.

  6. Creative blending of genres within an album (or even a song). Tull (again), Queen.

  7. Folk music (Irish and English and their descendants mostly) and anything that blends it with. Flogging Molly for Irish folk and The Currency for Aussie Folk.

  8. Sadness. Depressing stories and melancholy music. An offering for my inner emo if you like. I have a special playlist on my iTunes I just call "Melancholy".

  9. Surprises in lyrics or music. Things that you hear that you really wouldn't expect. Like when Ozzy Osborne sings "They should realize before they criticize that God is the only way to love".

  10. A bass line you can feel. Steve Harris is the master.

  11. A certain amount of obscurity. No one else has heard of this band? Gimme.

  12. Nostalgia. Some songs just remind me of a particular time in my life and will always be favourites, even if they aren't very good (hello, Duran Duran old friend).

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Nag me for NaNoWriMo 2009

Following on from this brilliant idea last year, I'm going to keep tabs on my progress in this year's challenge right here.

To all those friends and family who I have pointed in this direction, please keep an eye on me here and feel free to give me a hard time if I am looking like I need one. Have a look at my Progress Report if you are interested in the details. Please leave a comment here, give me a ring or a text message, send me an email or knock me over in the street with your car. Anything to remind me what I'm supposed to be doing.

As with last year, there are some pretty little images to show how things are going:

Country vs City Word War, Elsewhere in Australia vs Perth, North


North vs South Word War (race, really), Me in Esperance vs Kamu in Port Hedland:



As of just before midnight on 31st October none of these links and clever images are working. I'm sure the NaNo servers will get with it eventually! - Done. Images working now. Sweet. (edited 2009-11-06) - Of course now that this NaNo is well over and done with the images aren't available at all. I might have to remember to save them in future. (edited 2014-05-08)

Soundtrack for 2009

For an interesting exercise, I've created a soundtrack for the forthcoming film of my 2009 NaNovel.

We can dream can't we?


  • Love Lies Bleeding - Elton John

  • Julie's Been Working for the Drug Squad - The Clash

  • She's Invisible Now - Eurythmics

  • Would You Believe? - Roxy Music

  • Superman Main Title Theme*

  • He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother - The Hollies

  • You Know I'll Always Love You - Budgie

  • Flames of Fire - Machinae Supremacy

  • Super Steve - Machinae Supremacy

  • Laura - Flogging Molly

  • Liar - Queen

  • Blood Brothers - Iron Maiden**

  • Liar, Liar - Castaways

  • For All Tomorrow's Lies - Berlin

  • Ride of the Valkyries*




* I apologise in advance for the use of the Superman Theme and the Wagner. It was just too hard to leave them out, being a superhero story and all (My MC can't even fly!)
** I also apologise for the Maiden. But I'm fairly convinced that my muse comes disguised as Eddie, so I'd best make this small offering for the sake of a smooth and comfortable November.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Violet Crumble Cheesecake



Here's a nice recipe, minimally converted from a Tim Tam Cheesecake recipe to use Violet Crumble instead and to add some thermomix directions. It was a big hit with children and wife. Mum too, but she made me put more Violet Crumble in it the second time I made it (quantity below is this higher amount).

I love the way the honecomb "melts" if you leave this in the fridge for a while. I've never really been a big cheesecake fan myself (this was made primarily for my darling Linda, and then for Mum when she requested a re-do), but I could manage to eat lots of this I think.

Please excuse the copy-and-paste image. I'll update the post with a photo taken of the real thing once I get the camera emptied onto the computer.




Ingredients:

  • 250 grams plain chocolate biscuits

  • 80 grams butter melted

  • 375 grams cream cheese cubed and softened

  • 1/2 cup caster sugar

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

  • 1 cup thickened cream

  • 3 teaspoons powdered gelatin dissolved in 1/4 cup boiling water

  • 200 grams white chocolate melted and cooled

  • 150 grams Violet Crumble chocolate (3 regular bars)





Method:

  1. Place biscuits in a blender and process into fine crumbs (10 seconds in thermomix on speed 7)

  2. Add the butter and process to combine (5 seconds in thermomix on speed 5). Press the mixture into spring-form baking pan and refrigerate 30 minutes.

  3. Beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth.

  4. Beat in cream.

  5. Melt chocolate (in microwave, give 1 minute at 50% power, repeat until soft). Beat into mixture.

  6. Dissolve gelatin in boiling water and beat into mixture.

  7. Chop the Violet Crumble and stir into the cream cheese mixture then pour over the biscuit base.

  8. Cover and refrigerate until set.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Something to hate...?

Via Lifehacker, I was directed to an article entitled "Give Me Something To Hate". Go read it. Bottom line is much the same as the NaNoWriMo philosphy: better to get something down on paper that you hate (but can improve later) than procrastinate and obsess over and end up with nothing. Love it.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Mythic and NaNoWrimo 2009

We're well within two months of NaNoWriMo 2009 and I'm not really sure what I'm wanting to do.

Last year's story only told half of the story I had planned, so I was originally planning on doing a sequel. But now I don't want to. I was happy to leave it where it finished. In fact, the story I ended up telling started off being just the introduction to the story I first envisioned telling. It's funny how things turn out sometimes!

I need to come up with something else. That doesn't need to be hard, I've always got lots of ideas, I just need ideas plus inspiration. And a bit of interest developed in the subject matter.

So instead, I've come up with a completely different and very stupid idea that will have me doing almost everything differently to how I did it (successfully) last year.

I've been playing around with the Mythic Game Master Emulator (demo here and yahoo group here) for my role playing games this year and I am considering using that to completely "wing it". The GME book says this:

Finally, Mythic: GME can be used as a writing tool. The architecture that creates dynamic adventures is really an automated story-telling system. It will work just as well without any games or formalized characters attached. Just set the scene, ask some questions, and start writing.


If it works the way I see it, I could just come up with a general concept (or even make one randomly) and then use the system and appropriately phrased questions to let the plot work itself out.

Some years ago, I did some rough outlines of an alternate-history Earth. Very little of it got detailed, but the setting has a reasonably defined place in my mind. The idea of writing a novel set there, and having the Mythic Fate chart to help me flesh it out really appeals to me.

I'll keep you informed as to how it goes...

Meet Phil the Pharmacist



My name is Phil and I'm a Pharmacist, you bring me your medicine list.
Cough or cold, I can fix your issue, I can even sell you a box of tissues.
To be like me study is intensive and these drugs back here are rather expensive.
So at night to help sleep sound, CGU is the best all round.
Whoever you are - PHIL
Whatever you do - PHARMACIST
we put the U in CGU.

I wonder if I would find this as funny if I didn't go to uni with another Phil the Pharmacist?

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Some cool CC images

I've recently taking to putting an image with most of my posts, both here and at the pharmacy web page. Unless there is something more specific (like a photo I took), I tend to use the Creative Commons search plugin through Firefox and find an appropriately licensed image. Because I often want to use it on the business page, I make sure it is something licensed for commercial use.

In my travels, I often come across some images that I think are really good, but that aren't what I am looking for. That's what this post is about. Here are a few images I have found over the last few months that I would like to use, but I haven't got anything to use them with. Some of them might go nicely in printed products. Perhaps later.

For now, enjoy. If you like the work, click through on the image to get more details and a link to to the original page (usually somewhere on flickr) where you could download a better quality image.

(Edit 2014: Sorry about this but I cleverly used the [gallery] function in wordpress to show these images but that got completely messed up when I came back to blogger. Bottom line is that I have no idea what these images were. If you care, have a look here or here for similar posts)

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

D&D game magic doesn't always have the mystique it deserves

The title to this post is from an article by Dan Joyce in Dragon Magazine #200 entitled "The Colour of Magic". If you are interested, there is a copy of the article on the Vaults of Pandius.

The Colour of Magic was a great article and is one of the few that I often see references to on Classic-D&D related sites even now, roughly 15 years after it was published. The core concept was that the relatively small spell lists in (RC-era) D&D meant that everyone who had ever read the books would know all the spells and as you know, familiarity breed contempt. Joyce's solution to this was simple: Still allow the same game effects (mechanically) but allow different magic users to describe their spells differently. For example:

Grimfang is a 3rd-level goblin magic-user, the shaman of a small tribe that uses spiders of varying sizes as guards, mounts, and totem animals. All her spells have an arachnid theme.

First level: Shield (Chitin). Grimfang's skin turns into tough, articulated chitin for the duration of the spell, giving her a spider-like appearance.

Sleep (Spiderbite). Range: Nil. Duration: Special. Grimfang can inject sleep-inducing poison by biting. This requires a roll to hit in combat. She can put 2d8 hit dice worth of creatures to sleep for 4-16 turns (determine the duration secretly when the spell is cast). Any creature bitten that has over 4 + 1 hit dice, or more hit dice than Grimfang has hit dice worth of poison remaining, is unaffected (the magic-user still loses the relevant hit dice worth of poison, however). ... The victim of this spell is affected as per the standard version of this spell: sleep for 4-16 turns, no saving throw.

Second level: Web. Standard spell.


Get the idea? You could take any concept (fire magic, ice magic, animal magic, ghost magic or anything you could think of) and reimagine the descriptions of any spell to match that concept. Imagine this: the party is coming up on a single magic-user. He holds his hands out and balls of flame form in his hands. They panic. They aren't tough enough to handle fireballs! But is it a fireball, or is he just a bog-standard fire mage preparing to let off a small volley of magic missiles (that just happen to have a very similar appearance to the more deadly fireball)?

There is a secondary part to the article, one which is even more related to the "mystique" of the magic user.
Xeno the Enchanter can conjure a fireball by waving his arms about, but he cannot light his pipe by snapping his fingers.
This is important. A magic user is a breed apart, messing about with the very building blocks of nature. He should be able to do slightly fey things just because. So Joyce suggests that they can. Just little things, like lighting a pipe or a fire or swatting a bug out the air. The article does make it clear that allowing magic users to do these little "extras" shouldn't allow them to do things that they couldn't otherwise do without magic. But in the case of the mysterious wizards how they do it is more important than what they do.

Think of Gandalf and his smoke rings, or even his fireworks. Even Raistlin managed this sort of stuff (if I'm remembering rightly, Dragonlance has been long neglected around here).



On a related issue, James Maliszewski (of Grognardia fame) has posted a list of Minor Magical Effects related to currently memorised spells.

This is a slightly more potent version of Joyce's "bonus effects", but one that fits in even more closely with the Vancian roots of the D&D magic system. (As an aside, I have only read Jack Vance's Dying Earth very recently but I can tell you it was a serious "aha!" moment when it came to understanding what Gygax and Arneson did when it came to spells).

I'm not sure where I read it, but someone suggested that Vancian spells have an almost sentient nature to them. Your magic user spends a great deal of time and effort into cramming them into their brains and they are bursting to get out again. Maliszewski's idea fits in beautifully with this concept. With the spells packed inside his head, the magic-user would just be radiating the very nature of that spell, almost struggling to hold onto it. It seems appropriate that the effect should be almost visible.

Note that the Minor Magical Effects are related specifically to currently-memorised spells, rather than just general-concept bonuses like the Colour of Magic suggested. I'm not sure that both systems would work that well together. Perhaps if you created a concept-mage (a la Colour of Magic) many of the Minor Magical Effects would be similar for all the concept spells. For example, the fire mage would have a fire-Magic Missile, a fireball, a Wall of Fire, a fire Shield and probably a lot more memorised at any one time and so he could probably always light his pipe by snapping his fingers.

Other than sharing two articles I found very interesting, I don't think I'm really suggesting any particular course of action here. I'm not really even doing much along these lines in my own games (such that they are). Hope they might just get some thoughts flowing (for myself and others).

By the way, issue 200 of Dragon is one of my favourites. Not least because I had a letter published in it, leading to an interesting couple of years of play-by-mail games (but that's an idea for yet another post).

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Coffee Cat gets what it deserves!

With this post, I would like address what I consider to be one of this generation's most serious injustices. :-)

The fact is, Coffee Cat does not get enough love on the net.

Coffee Cat is a part time coffee van that parks itself on the shore end of the tanker jetty in Esperance. You'll find it there Thursdays to Mondays and only until 2pm. But most days, regardless of how terrible the weather they will be flat out barista-ing for the loving people of Esperance.



They have no net presence of their own, though there is a Coffee Cat Appreciation Society fan page on Facebook. If you google a little bit, you might find some short posts on a travel blog site or something similar. Our local paper, the Esperance Express will (whatever else its faults) occasionally print an article on the Cat, or its staff or its biscuits or even on how hard it is to find someone willing to make you a cuppa when you're in Esperance. (sorry: all the links to those articles are dead. The Express got rearranged at some point. I'll leave to URLs in place just in case they reappear)

I remember when they first opened. I've lived in Esperance for the best part of 14 years and I've lost count of the number of cafes that have opened, closed, changed owners and closed again in that time. While that article linked above might suggest that we live in a coffee wilderness, the fact is that more coffee places go out of business down here than manage to do it right. So when Coffee Cat first parked down by the jetty I thought it was an inspired move. It was just something different. Still just somewhere to get a cuppa, but not just another cafe. And to tell you the truth, the money my wife and I have spent on coffee since they opened compared to before just doesn't bear thinking on. And why not? Who really wants to take seven children down to the cafe? But the beach, that's another question!

Anyway, I just wanted to put the word out there that I think Coffee Cat is fantastic. The location, the coffee, the staff, the customers and even the ridiculously shortened trading hours. Shane and Lara... thanks.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Looking at Saving Throws in BFRPG

In the last year or so, I have read quite a few different ideas about the nature of saving throws in RPGs. A few have just been flamebait (usually related to save-or-die effects) but all have got me thinking.

In his Musing on gaze effects, Philotomy says this about saving throws:

I look on saving throws as a "last chance" or a "disaster avoidance." That is, your character is in a disastrous situation, but he gets a chance to slip out of circumstances which would spell doom for most men.


I think this is an important way of looking at things. Take a poison save for instance, say a character has been hit with a poison dart. Your average peasant is going to fall over dead, no question. A PC adventurer, even at first level is not your average peasant. He's a hero. Granted, he's only got a 10-20% chance of not joining the peasant, but it is a chance. And it gets better as he does up in level, as it should.

Check out these quotes from the 1E DMG (via Grognardia):

The term saving throw is common enough, coming to us from miniatures wargames and D&D. It represents the chance for the figure concerned to avoid (or at least partially avoid) the cruel results of fate. In AD&D it is the same. By means of luck, skill, magical protections, quirks of fate and the aid of supernatural powers, the character making his or her saving throw takes none or only part of the indicated results ...


Yet because the player character is all-important, he or she must always -- or nearly always -- have a chance, no matter how small, a chance of somehow escaping what otherwise would be inevitable destruction. Many will not be able to do so, but the escapes of those who do are what the fabric of the game are created upon. These adventures become the twice-told tales and legends of the campaign.


A couple of years back when I was playing more Neverwinter Nights than tabletop RPGs and researching all the maths and calculations around 3E, I found this discussion on Uncle Bear's blog about saving throws. In it, he suggests that:

The very fact that saves increase as a character goes up in level implies that they are learnable and theoretically trainable.


I think that logic works perfectly well for d20-based games with all its skill slots and feats and all the rest. It doesn't fit quite so well with the earlier games. I see it more now as some sort of "Hero Roll". My character, as an important hero, has an inherent ability to avoid nasty things happening to him. This ability gets better as he goes up in the level because a higher level character is (for lack of a better way of putting it) a better hero.

Now in BFRPG there is already a one-table mechanism for such a thing, though it isn't really expressed as such. It is the Ability Checks rule in the optional rules section near the end. With ability checks, you roll d20, add the ability modifier (if any) and try to roll a target number or higher which is functionally identical to a saving throw.

User Nazim on the dragonsfoot forums said:
It's a sort of universal saving throw chart, and I like it a lot. Thanks.


So my plan is to get rid of saving throws as written and replace them the Ability Checks. Though I've referred to them as Hero Rolls here, I think that sounds really stupid and I intend to keep the term Saving Throw.

I had a look at the statistics and how the two systems compared. I took the average saving throw for each class at each level bracket and compared them to the Ability Check they could achieve. They are actually very close (and I guess that may have been what Chris may have been looking at when he wrote the rules). At 1st level, the average saving throws are about 3 points better than the ability rolls. This narrows down to even at 16th level, and even a bit better for the ability rolls above that.

Those three points at first level are significant, but given that they are ability rolls and get to have ability bonuses added to them I fell it should even out a bit. Every saving throw now has an ability adjustment (not just certain spells). I'm also thinking that we can allow each save to perhaps choose the best bonus available from a certain list. This idea is stolen from a 3.5-hack Kim D&D, but I still think it is reasonable.


  • Death Ray or Poison - STR or CON

  • Magic Wands - INT or DEX

  • Paralysis or Petrify - STR, CON or CHR

  • Dragon Breath - WIS, DEX or CHR

  • Spells - INT or WIS


Alternatively, a system like Erin Smale's approach to saving throws could work. Not the mechanism, but the list of save types. For example, WIS for Charms. If there is nothing specific in a save description that gives a clue as to which ability to use, you could either rule that no adjustment is allowed or that the character may use the adjustment from their Prime Requisite (whatever that happens to be - I think this fits in nicely with the hero roll concept).

If you've made it this far, I'm sure you're asking "Why?". Why replace one system (which has worked perfectly well for 30+ years) with one almost exactly the same? Two reasons. First of all, I like how it streamlines the process. That by itself isn't reason enough, my second reason is that I can see the other side of Hero Rolls. That is, allowing characters to do amazing things just because they are heroes. But that is for another post.

Friday, 21 August 2009

The Demolition Man

What does the man do when the whole world collapses?
There was a foundation, now gone
Sure and sturdy it was, unmovable and firm
Now nothing more than vapour

For years it had been built upon
Room by room, brick upon brick
With the slab covered by builder's guarantee
He took care with every extension

But was it just imagined? Was it ever really there?
His own wishful thinking made flesh?
Or piece by piece, day by day was that flesh eaten away
Until the world was left on dirt

So now he is holding up the walls, fighting the shifting sands
That fight all that is left
"My house still stands", he screams to any who would hear
"For how long?", he keeps to himself

Those who could be holding up the walls, inside and out
Are now the demolition contractors
"It is far too late to stop", they say
And they make plans for the fall

So all alone, he watches the walls come crashing down
The house once loved, now despised
Crocodile tears shed for the demise of that grand old place
And the remains of the one who would not leave

Saturday, 1 August 2009

The Portrait

It was poor art, the drawing of a child
A figure of a man
Feet spread apart, his arms open wide
Tears rolling down his face

Not a stick man but still just flat
No hair to speak of
Thick neck and small empty eyes
A line for a mouth. Pointing down.

Would I be weeping if it were me?
Left flat in the notebook
No way of sharing my distress. All alone.
Forgotten by the one who put me there

And what of that artist, with juvenile skills?
His own work imperfect
Did he leave to be with the Masters?
Surrounding himself with perfection.

Does he know how much he is like his man?
Mute to the world
Like a child with no language to share
It was he who drew the tears.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Low tech pancreas transplant



I was doing an image search for a diabetes handout at work the other day when I came across this beauty.

The photographer has quite cleverly knitted a pancreas-shaped pouch to carry all of her diabetes paraphernalia around in. Clever because:


  1. Anyone who can knit is clever in my book

  2. The bits and pieces all together perform the function that the pancreas should be doing in the first place.

  3. It also shows a particularly good sense of humour. Like one commenter said: "You just have to use humour in life sometimes, don't you??"


If you or anyone you know has diabetes you might be interested in visiting Diabetes WA or have a look around for your local diabetes support group.


Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Frothy Masala Chai for Thermomix

Here's a recipe I've converted for use in our Thermomix. I hope to make these sorts of posts ongoing, but we'll see how I go

Original Source: Super Food Ideas May 2009

Ingredients:

  • 10 whole black peppercorns

  • 10 whole cloves

  • 10 cardamom pods

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 10 teaspoons black loose-leaf tea

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1250mL water

  • 1/4 cup raw sugar

  • 1 cup skim milk powder

  • ground nutmeg to serve


Method:

  1. Place peppercorns, cloves and cardamom pods into thermomix bowl. Grind for a few seconds on speed 10.

  2. Add tea, vanilla, cinnamon and water. Cook at 100C for 10 minutes.

  3. Strain mixture into a separate container. Rinse TM bowl then put tea back in. Add milk powder and sugar.

  4. Cook for 3 minutes at 70C on speed 4 or until frothy.

  5. Pour into mugs or Irish coffee glasses. Sprinkle with nutmeg, serve.


Number 2 son especially liked this. He fancies himself as a bit of a tea drinker. It was a bit too sweet for me, but as I understand it, Masala Chai is supposed to be sickly sweet. But you could easily halve the sugar without any problems.

And just a note: I highly recommend the Super Food Ideas magazine. It's quite inexpensive and there's always good looking recipes in it.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Why did I win last year?

Another post that spent far too much time in my drafts folder. The original title was "Why did I win this year?". Sorry 'bout that.

I am speaking of course, of my finally winning at NaNoWriMo. It was my third attempt last year and I think it would be quite a stretch to call my efforts in 2006 and 2007 "attempts" at all!



So what did I do differently? What made the difference?

Here's what I reckon (in no particular order):


  1. I got started straight away. In previous attempts, I fell behind on day 1. I don't think I need to explain this further :-)

  2. I got involved in the community. My primary community was the "Elsewhere in Australia" regional forum (we have even continued our association at the new Elsewhere Wrimos forum. The Fantasy Genre Longue was just too busy.

  3. A bit of competition. Had a month-long word war with my writing buddy Kamu. She got to 50K first, but I was never more that just a good day's work behind. It kept me motivated.

  4. Used my bread maker to keep me up. We eat home-made breadmaker bread at home. I set the bread to cook every night so that it finished at about midnight. Once that is done, I can't do to bed, otherwise the bread will be soggy in the morning. I have to stay up to get it out. This saved me from quitting early (for the night, not the month) on more than one occasion.

  5. Realised I can write 2000 words in a stretch without too much trouble. Once that clicked, I knew that I could do it. Good days could net me 4K or more, but I knew that on any one day I could the minimum required without any trouble

  6. Made and kept to a writing quota plan. I set up a spreadsheet table. Calculated how many days I had and how many words I had to write. Each day was given a weighting: either 1 for a normal day, 0 for a day I was not going to write at all or 0.5 for an easy day. It turned out a normal day was 2.5K (see above) and 1250 words for a lighter day and I had planned days off (eg Friday nights). I never fell behind in my total plan (I kept track of that too) though I did have a couple of days where I didn't quite make my required total for that day. But because I knew where I was (and I had a great day 1, see #1 above) I could do that safely.

  7. Almost killed myself in the first week due to lack of sleep (funny how the headaches went away during week 2).

  8. Listened to the podcasts. I even got my voice on one episode! I was always looking forward to the next one coming out.

  9. Plan. I'm a bit ambivalent about this one. It was good knowing where the story was supposed to go, but I think with all the other positive things that went right this time I might have managed without it. For this year I am tempted to start blank with the Mythic Game Master Emulator. Don't ask me to explain now, I've got a Mythic post in my drafts folder too!

  10. Jer's Novel Writer. To be fair, I used JNW in 2007 and yWriter in 2006 (when I was still a Microsoft slave), so this is not a new thing. But I could not have managed this without the appropriate software.

  11. Mini-goals with cheese. What? I set myself little goals through the night. "You can't have your first coffee until you hit 500". "No toilet break until you finish another 100". "You can listen to the podcast once you've done 1000". That sort of thing. The cheese was Blue Castello cheese. My favourite (actually, red is my favourite but no one sells it!) and I couldn't have any until I had done 2000 words.


Please don't take this as a how-to-win guide, you can find plenty of those around the place. This is simply a list of some of the things that gelled for me in 2008 and helped me win! Roll on NaNo '09.

Since November, I have finally read my novel and on reflection it is a lot less pathetic than I first thought. If there are any masochistic readers of derivative fantasy out there who would like a look, just leave a comment to that effect.

Monday, 8 June 2009

2008 chart-toppers

OK, this is old news and not terribly interesting, but I'm posting anyway.

2008 was my first whole calendar year using iTunes as my primary music player. I've set up a plethora of smart playlists and the like to manage my music (I've got plenty of posts to come about that) but at the end of the year I decided to do my own Countdown.

Unfortunately, each of the lists I made ended up being dominated by one or two albums so I'm left with not very much to say. Instead of a top 10 (with 5 being much the same), I'll just share my most played songs of 2008:

At the end of this year when I do this, I think I'll make a rule that only the best song from each artist makes it onto the list. It might make for a more interesting post.

Sorry.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Score 1 for affirmative action



Edit 2009-05-27: I thought I should try to give credit for the above. I found it posted in a recent discussion at dragonsfoot. Now I don't know who to blame for the "inspirational poster", but I think that the artist responsible for the Orc Chick herself is Ursula Vernon. I couldn't find this specific image anywhere, but Ursula has painted the same "model" on Elfwood (warning: NSFW) and I reckon they match. As per the FAQ giving permission to post images to the net, I hereby give credit to the appropriate recipient!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Spiced coffee



I like coffee. I like spices.

The idea of mixing them together seemed quite appropriate. There is such a thing as spiced tea (Masala chai) which I have had and enjoyed, but I like coffee more and wondered how I would go about making a nice spiced coffee.

At home, we tend to use the stove-top espresso maker. I find it gives a stronger brew than our home electric coffee maker and has the added advantage of making a nice big batch than you can go back to for seconds.

So here's what I did: Filled the basket up with coffee, added in a couple of cloves and a piece of cinnamon. Worked wonders! My standard batch now also includes a small amount of ginger (I keep grated ginger in my freezer so that I can use if for my ginger beer). It gives just enough kick to make things interesting.

Note 1: we have black unsweetened coffee in our house. I imagine that this would still be nice even with milk or sugar, but you might perhaps need to use a bit more spice.

Note 2: I've also tried nutmeg and star anise. The nutmeg is a bit too pungent for my liking (though in small amounts is OK) and the anise was tasty (though my wife would disagree) but it leaves the pot tasting of it for a few more batches afterward. YMMV.

In hindsight, this whole idea seems to be something much more common than I had thought. For example, I found the photo here after only a minute of searching and this looks exactly like the way I make it. Perhaps I'm not as insightful as I sometimes like to think.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

They have got to be kidding

Yeah. Right.


While tidying my sidebars recently, I updated my token adsense ad (surely an act of purest optimism to even bother). Probably because my topics here are all over the place, I can never predict the sorts of ads that might turn up.

Have a look at one that I noticed today:

"Novel Writing Software. Guaranteed To Have Your Novel In A Month Working Only 1 Hour a Day."

1 hour a day? For a month?

I don't think so. It took me three goes at nanowrimo to even get a crap 50,000 word story happening.

That'd want to be some super magic software. Don't think I'll be clicking on it.

Monday, 18 May 2009

BFRPG supplements

I've recently been involved in preparing a couple of supplements for Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game.



One of these is all my own work; a selection of pre-generated equipment packs designed to make the already easy character generation even easier. Check it out here: Equipment Packs: A Basic Fantasy Supplement.

The second is a bundle of options for Backgrounds (that is: what your character did before adventuring) and Specialties (what your character does in addition to general class duties). These rules just give a few small changes to what your character can do. Of course, you could (and should) just write all this stuff in your character back-story but this supplement puts a few things in concrete for you.

Note, 99% of the work in this supplement was done by James Roberts, I just took the stuff off the Dragonsfoot workshop forum and formatted it. The publisher (+Chris Gonnerman) just decided that was enough to get my name on the credits! Get it here: Backgrounds and Specialties: A Basic Fantasy Supplement.

And while you are there, check out Quick Character Generation: A Basic Fantasy Supplement by +Chris Kutalik which does much of what the other two supplements do and more!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Where have you been?

It's been almost three months since I've posted. A far cry short of the 15 posts in the month of August last year and even less than the two I managed during NaNoWriMo (when I managed to finish a 52k+ novel as well).



You know why I haven't managed anything? It could be that I had nothing useful to say (I'm sure there would be plenty out there who would say that most of my posts were also made when I had nothing useful to say). I could perhaps have been too busy. Having a rest?

No, none of those.

Simply put, every time I do into the admin section, I fiddle. Fiddle with the plugins, the themes, the widgets and whatever else looks interesting. Tweak things to make them look or work better. Generally procrastinate.

From someone who makes a point of saying that presentation is a lot less important than content, this was a bit of nasty revelation. It wasn't that long ago that I was telling my #2 son off for writing a project with colours and fonts and everything organised as he went (didn't help that he kept getting grumpy with it when it wouldn't work like he wanted) instead of worrying about what he wanted to say first.

So I won't make any promises, but from here on it, I'll try to post more often than I change the theme!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Top 3

This was really hard. How do you say which is your favourite song of all time? My wife was asked hers today and she had no more idea than I did of mine.

Instead, I went to my 5-stars playlist in iTunes and narrowed the 150+ songs there to a top 3. So without any further introduction, here they are (in no particular order):

Friday, 16 January 2009

I have a confession...

OK, so it's not my confession, but I'm happy to confess it too.

Actually, its been a long time since I've been anything like a D&D addict. But this is a great read anyway.

For more, check out the Christian Gamers Guild.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

A final serve of fish and chips

This one has been sitting in my drafts pile for a while, so you'll have to forgive its lateness.

As you may be aware, my Dad died in September last year.

When I got back to Esperance after the funeral and went back to work I found an envelope in my pigeon hole. I opened the envelope and in it was a $50 note. Most puzzling.

I asked B1 (boss #1, not to be confused with B1 of "are you thinking what I'm thinking B1?" fame?) what it was about.

On the same Sunday afternoon that I had rung to say that Dad had died and that I wouldn't be coming to work the next day, a woman had come in wanting to pass on some money to me.

It turns out that some time previously, Dad had loaned this lady some money for a taxi fare after a conference or something similar. Rather than work out some complicated way of getting the money back he simply told her to come into the pharmacy when she was next in Esperance and pass the money on to me. Along with the message that I was to buy a meal of fish and chips for the family.

Of course, when B1 explained why I was not around to give the money to, she was as shocked as the rest of us had been.

Two weeks on, we did just as Dad had asked. Bought a big serve of fish and chips. Bought a jar of pickled onions to go with it too... Dad always loved his pickled onions with fish and chips.

So thanks Dad for a final serve of fish and chips. It seems appropriate somehow that even now that you have gone, you are still spoiling us.