Friday, September 28, 2007

A house a house my kingdom for a House

Or is it that a man's home is his kingdom, so giving it up for a house wouldn't make sense? I don't know. What I do know is that I don't really believe in owning property. Why? Well that is a simple question with a complicated answer. While growing up, my family moved an awful lot. While I don't think that was necessarily a bad thing, it did give me an extreme adversion to owning any property. How can you really think sinking a whole bunch of money (including opening/closing/commission/etc costs) when you move every 4 years? One thing is for certain, I almost never believe that it is a good deal.

But, not to get too hippie here, the American ideal certainly includes home ownership. Car, home, kids. I'm currently at 1 of 3. And you can feel the other 2 closing in from all sides. Friends all over Seattle are buying houses, and loving it. And to be honest, I do want to live in a house (though not necessarily own it). It's a little trying to have 2 motorcycles and a large dog with no garage and no back yard.

So in response to societal pressures and my own hidden desires (even if I think its actually a bad idea) I'm embarking on a house buying. I've been saving since april or so, and plan on actually sealing the deal in may/june of next year. I guess I'll start looking in February or so. But as soon as you say something like that, things start happening and you start having to make a decision. Where do you look? Well, if money were no object, Mercer Island, or some place on one of the lakes. Both of those places are upscale (nice) and fairly close to work (almost as close as you can get and be in a house). But, seeing as how I don 't have a couple of million dollars to spend (or borrow), I guess I'll have to settle for something else. So, if you take what my mid-west upbringing says I should pay for a house (80k - 150k), we get a very different neighborhood. So different its in Montana. So you pick some price range, size/features, and try to find a neighborhood. But the decision is so monumental. Will I live there for the next 20 years... What will it be like in 20 years? I know I don't want to move if I can avoid it, but that doesn't seem very likely, so you also have to look for a place that is appreciating.

At the end of the day, I'm currently thinking about: Greenlake, Ballard, Issaquah, Delridge, and someplace down by SeaTac that I can't remember. Don't worry, I think you'll be seeing a bunch more posts about this subject as the time gets nearer. I anticipate stressing about lenders, agents, inspectors, what books I should be reading, and the color of the door :).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Amazon MP3: w00t!

Amazon finally launched our Digital Music Store, and get this: the music is plain old MP3s. No DRM, no nonsense. I've already switched to using it as my primary source of music, going there first before iTunes. So far, I've been impressed with its selection. It has a bunch of independent artists as well as some of the more popular musicians I look for. In particular it seems to have a very good folk selection and I've already been able to discover several pieces I probably wouldn't've found otherwise (iTunes discoverability is abysmal, IMO, and its just the sort of thing we're (Amazon) is good at).

I'm super excited about possibly no longer having Apple's vendor lock in. For a long time I've had some ideas about a sort of programmable playlist program that could really let you tweak what songs get played. For instance... Most of the time I have about 2-4 songs that I want played a lot. These are songs I've generally just added to my collection, that I'm trying to memorize and enjoy. But, I really don't want to listen to just those 2-4 songs. What I'd really like is for half of the time to pick a song from that small set and the other half, choose from my regular playlist (of about 3k songs). Whats more is that I want to be able to do this for a play list or for a set of songs. Even more, maybe what I want is for from that 1/2 time playlist, 1/2 the time for songs to come from one set of songs, and the other half from another. And so on. You should also be able to apply specific percentages as well as timing "17% or every 5th time should both be valid. Also, I want to have the ability to easily "link songs" together. For instance, if you play one of these tracks you then must go on to the next song. These linked songs should be able to say whether or not you can play the second song without the first one as well. All of these rules should apply to playlists (which can contain other playlists) as well as individual songs. There are a couple of other ideas involving track splitting and track management, as well as volume management (tweak a song to be higher or lower volume all the time), but I think you get the gist. I've been wanting to do this for a while, but ever since I've been locked into iTunes, such a thing has been essentially beyond my control (yes, you can probably do it through AppleScript or some such, but the documentation for application interface with iTunes doesn't seem that good).

Anyway, now that there seems to be a good alternative, I may be embarking on this project in my spare time. Especially if I can convince someone else (like Keith) to help me out on the project.

So check out the new store, I think its pretty kickass. There is both a Windows and Mac downloader program (though you don't need it to download individual tracks), and a Linux version is said to be coming soon.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Palantir - To the Future and Beyond?

Recently, my good friend John Carrino stopped by Seattle to do some recruiting for Palantir, his new company (John used to work for Amazon, even on the team that I recently joined, but left this last June). It was really great to see John again, and evidently Palo Alto is treating him and Robin (his girlfriend) well. While he was in Seattle, he mentioned that his company was doing a recruiting event, so I decided to attend.

I've never been to a startup recruiting event before, but this one was pretty jazzy. It sorta felt like like dot-com late 90s. The event was held at an expensive downtown hotel (Hotel 1000), and it was very posh. The event was catered and had an open bar (I think they won over about half the people with just that fact). Josh (another former Amazonian) was also there, and it was great to have a very nice meal with both of them (as well as Catherine, one of Josh's BillMonk colleges). The niceness of the setting aside, the presentation was extremely compelling.

They started by talking about the development of one of their two products, the government application (I believe called simply Palantir). This is a program for government analysts, to try to make sense of large amounts of data to spot suspicious behavior. Very big brother, but awesome nonetheless. Just the interface alone was extremely cool. Evidently its all done in swing (java), but you really can't tell by looking at it. Everything was done up with images, slick opening and closing. But the real meat of the presentation was how powerfully they are able to work with the data. Every time we thought we had seen everything, they blew our minds again with a whole additional set of functionality, with a clear and compelling interface. The collaboration tools and the abstraction of work with metaphors familiar to the user is a really really powerful concept. It was extremely exciting, compelling.

After that they talked a little bit about the company life. They definitely have the excitement factor down. They also seem to be playing to the creature comfort desires of programmers. Two catered meals a day, great office space, a game room.. All the hallmarks of a fun startup.

After this they went on to the financial software. It used similar abstraction techniques to the government application, but was fairly obviously a less polished product. That's not a real knock, I believe its been in development for a lot less time, and the functionality looked incredible, once again, it was just that the shine wasn't quite there.

One thing that became quite clear to me was that their software was extremely focused. It seems obvious to me that without experience in the two target demographics, I would not be able to make the best use of the software, not even close. This lead me to wondering about the future of programming. Are we all going to have an extremely targeted application custom built for our field of work? I think we might, because a really compelling interface can be the greatest thing ever for productivity and general happiness.

I'm convinced that both products, and the company in general, is going to make it fairly big. If they can parley all their great talent into software useful for other areas (programming?? please!), I think they could be huge. John is in for an exciting ride :).

Monday, September 24, 2007

A History of a Roleplayer

I've been roleplaying for a while... Maybe not as long as _some_ people, but 16 years is still a long time. During that time I've gone through several of what I'll call stages for lack of a better term. At the end of each stage, my style of play / GMing changed in some significant way. Mainly because I want to and partially because I think it might be useful, I'm going to go through the stages that I've gone through.

I was introduced to roleplaying by a student teacher in the small, small town of Bethany, WV. See, in Bethany it was a regular thing for college students on the teaching track to mentor in some way a long kid. I was in fourth grade at the time, and had never heard of roleplaying, but Becky (I believe her name was) roleplayed with some other students at the college, and one day she brought me along. I can't really remember what the adventure was about, but I do remember playing a wizard and casting magic missile at least once. What I do remember is that the world they lived in seemed to be pretty cool. Everyone had an awesome character, and they got visions about the future, and where on some sort of holy quest of some sort. After playing with them (once and only once) I asked my parents for a DnD box set for Christmas. I remember being disappointed that I didn't get the monster manual (because monsters are what the game is about, right?!?), mainly because it was bigger and had cooler pictures, but I did actually manage to play a few times with my sister... I don't even consider this to be a stage in my gaming development, since so little was done, and I quickly lost most of my interest.

While I lived in Indianola, IA I did what I consider to be my first roleplaying. In many ways I consider this to be the most pure of my roleplaying... We had the Shadowrun rules, but only vaguely used them for anything (character generation mainly). Mainly this was pure far future fantasy, no rules. Our GM (Tony) would talk to us separately (this was a kind of PBeM where it was by phone instead of by eMail) and synthesize them into terns. And the scale was massive. Empires in space colliding, hundreds of years, etc. Rules did not bind us into a cramped pre-defined setting, and it was fun. That being said, it was little different from games of pretend, except that we kept developing the world and decisions had consequences.

After leaving Indianola, I entered into the second phase of my roleplaying career, the guns and grit stage. This was the most simulationist I ever played, and is the first time I ever used the real rules for a game. We were generally still playing shadowrun, and it was still fun, it was just a different kind of fun. Now it was more like playing a strategy game. You had to carefully balance points between equipment, stats, and skills. Your characters were more defined by their style of fighting and make of guns then they were by relationships or personality. This style of play is very seductive, and I know that some people prefer this style and never really leave it. Certainly, I think it is this aspect of roleplaying that causes me to enjoy Exalted, for the most part.

After high school, my roleplaying style changed yet again. I started concentrating more and more on the character and what it meant to play him/her. They became living people with thoughts, feelings motivations. While the external things where necessary for the rules of the game, it was mainly an internal thing for me. I longed for serious games where my characters would be challenged in their beliefs (I wasn't really ready to play these kinds of games, yet, but I knew I wanted to play them). I played a long time at this stage, and some of my favorite gaming moments come from college. For the most part, I still play at this level.

The final (so far!) stage of play for me was primarily a shift in my GM'ing style. My GM'ing had mainly followed in step with my playing style. Only recently have I come to the hard-hitting, fast paced style of game I'm running now. As I've discussed before, this style involves engaging the players at all times and making fast decisions. Also, concentration on the setting rather than plot. This basically happened post college, and it wasn't until then that I really felt like I was a worthwhile GM.

So where do I go from here? I'm always looking to improve my game, and I try to study the roleplayers I consider better than myself. Here are a few ideas:

  • Metagame. As a player, you need to share the responsibility with the GM of having everyone at the table have fun at the game. This means that sometimes you must compromise character to get someone involved or draw a shy player out of their shell. Of course, metagaming must be used sparingly, extremely sparingly, but I think it is also very important to recognize when to do it.

  • World Building. My worlds are almost always extremely simple (unless I've stolen it from a book or other source)... I primarily rely on making good decisions during play to flesh it out. This works for most things, but a really immersive, interesting and unique world can really engage players in a game.

  • Get Engaged yourself. I have this problem mainly in what I call theory games at cons. I don't normally feel like engaging myself in a game debating the theory of the universe. Also, if the GM doesn't specifically involve me, I tend to disengage, especially at cons. This is my top reason for disappointing con games, and is definitely something I need to figure out how to do smoothly.

I know there are other areas to work on, those are just the ones I'm concentrating on now.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Late Night Programming

I've just concluded a session of late night programming. I've gotta say, its one of the best coding experiences I regularly participate in. Its just so awesome to sit down and tackle a problem that can be completed in one night. I'm not always sure it results in the best code (and I try to never submit code that I've done at night until I can get a code review), but the feeling of accomplishment is awesome. Also the amount of work you can do in one go is just incredible. Day to day, I think its difficult to see how much the rest of your job interferes with you actually coding. Rather it be talking with teammates (something I think is strictly a good thing), going to meetings (bad), going to lunch (good), or just being distracted by incoming email (bad and good), my day life is pretty interrupt driven. When you have all these distractions, it can be difficult to really hunker down and get in the zone.

So, sometimes (especially when I'm excited about some project), I just come in on the weekend or late at night. Everything is quiet. There are no emails, no teammates, and no Air Conditioning (they turn it off). Just you and the code (and music, if you're me). For me, it all comes together when you get done and you send your victory email. For me this normally takes the form of a code review request. Once I've decided I'm ready, I switch over to the email client for the first time in many hours, and I get to enumerate what I've been able to accomplish to someone. Its great.

Recently, I've been starting to obsess about these interrupt issues during the day. I've unsubscribed from several high-traffic email lists, and I try to force myself to not even look at the email client more than once every 10-20 minutes. But given what I feel like now, even that is not enough, so sometimes I work at night :).

Working at night can also lead to some bad things. For instance, you don't have the resources you do during the day. You can't ask your CSS master officemate questions, you have to look up answers. While this can make you better (much better) at solving your own problems or working around them (you quickly start ignoring things that touch other teams, for instance), it can waste an enormous amount of time. You sorta have to know when you've ratholled too long, and start thinking about ways of skipping that part of the problem until you can discuss it with others.

I'm not going to stop this behavior anytime soon, though... Its quite a rush.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thoughts on GM'ing

For proper understanding of this article, you will need to know that a GM is the GameMaster who creates the setting, plot, and other characters (Non-Player Characters) in a roleplaying game. I've probably already lost anyone who didn't already know the term, so 'nuff said about that.

So I GM. For some people, who knew me a while ago, this would be a revelation. Not because they wouldn't know that I roleplay (I've been doing that since 4th grade), but because before college, I really never GM'ed. I thought at the time that I didn't have what it takes to do a good game, and whenever I tried, I would fail utterly and miserably (miserable for both me and the players). These days, I think I do a passable job, but it hasn't been an easy road.

I used to think that the hard part about GM'ing was coming up with an interesting, intricate, enticing plot. One that got the characters hooked early and kept them coming back for more. I also thought it would be impossible to come up with a plot that would lead into a year's worth of sessions. Well, I still have problem with the latter, but the former I hardly consider an issue at all. Indeed, I consider plot to be the least of my concerns when I plan out a game.

When I think about GM'ing and what GMs I have liked in the past have done, I find things slotting into 2 big areas. 1) Things that you can prepare for before the game. 2) Things that you do during the game.

Things that occur before the game include that plot I was talking about (although it doesn't have to), and setting. Setting is where I spend most of my time before a game, and I think it is time well spent. The problem with plot is that players are experts at avoiding it. They'll miss your hook, kill your main NPC, or destroy your little plot-filled village without even blinking, and they won't even know they're doing it. See the GM and players roles are extremely different. GMs create wolds and characters, set plots in motion and try to guide players to interesting parts of their worlds. Players, on the other hand are generally out to play a character and interact with the world, and have little thought to what happens in the plot (besides wanting to get in it). This is why I only really have the sketchiest of plots for any of my campaigns. The long-range plan for my most recent campaign was literally "Benedict is a dictator, and the unicorn is actually a demon." This over-arching thought guided some fiarly complicated sessions. Most of the time, I would think of enough plot to last for a single session (generating just enough but not too much is a difficult thing to master), and that would be it. The setting on the other hand is very important to think a lot about, in my opinion. With a rich setting, you can have motivations for all your NPCs, which can guide you as to what they've been up to if your characters seek them out (or if you want them to show up). I have found this motivation planning extremely valuable, for it lets my cast of NPCs be doing things while the characters are running through the adventure. If you know why the mad old wizard isn't helping the kingdom in its time of need, then when the characters confront him about it, you can already know where he is and what he has been doing, and whether or not he will take kindly to interruption.

Over doing plot or setting planning can both be bad as well. If you over do your plot planning, then more than likely your characters will feel railroaded into your story, and it won't feel like they have any control or input into what is happening. They will resent your plot hooks and actively avoid them. If you over do setting, then you can have the tendency to let your characters just waltz through adventure after adventure. You know what else is happening in your universe, and you can't understand why the players are rushing for it. Meanwhile your players have completely sidetracked into building businesses in the capitol city, which they can do because you've already fleshed out 10 different competing grocers in the city.

So, once you've done your world preparation, you still have to run the game itself. This is the hardest thing to do, mainly because the only way to get good at it is to run a lot of games and get used to what it takes. A lot of it can also be specific to how your group likes to operate. Do they like fast paced epic, heroic adventures, or do they like scheming, plotting adventures that build over time? Either way, as the GM its your job to make sure everyone's having fun.

There are four big areas I think a GM needs to consider during a game:

  1. Controlling players

  2. Make it interesting for the players and characters

  3. Engage players all the time

  4. Make decisions fast

Since this post is going fairly long, I'm going to fishing up, and if anyone actually wants to read more on this, they can ask for it.

Controlling players - There are two forms of this: Making sure one player doesn't ruin the fun for the other players through rules-lawyering, table behavior, character actions, etc. The second form is getting the players/characters into your plot without destroying it. I with a friendly group (and if they aren't your friends, why are you playing?), this shouldn't be an issue, especially if you do the other things here

Make it interesting for the players and character - More than likely you'll have 2 competing sets of goals inherent the audience of the game (the players). One set is what the players want to have happen (make a dent in the world, get their character killed gloriously, have a duel with someone, figure out some mechanics of the system), and what the characters want (to make it home, to find love, to kill the dragon). I've found that the best games get both the players and the characters interested. You can get the players interested by playing with the universe, having a twisty plot, or by just having a fun universe to play in. But even if the players on on board 100%, you can have problems if the characters don't have a good reason to be in the plot. You've got to appeal to their motivations, their desires and wishes. Even if the players want to take down the dragon and free the princess, if the characters are a bunch of farm boys who are unambitious, there are going to be issues. You could have the dragon burn down their farm, kidnap their wife / children, place a curse on them, etc. These are all clumsy examples, but I always try to identify what the motivations of the PCs (Player Characters) are, and play to them with the adventure.

Engage Players all the time - This is really tough, and I mess this one up sometimes. Some GMs you never notice the camera time (the time when the GM is listening to you or your characters), and sometimes your trying to find something, anything to kill the time until they get back to you. So, its very important to keep the players engaged as much as possible. If it is at all possible, let your players talk to each other while your GMing someone else. Even if its improbable, I generally let players talk as much as they want. Another facet of this is that everyone should get to do something new. I've played under some GMs where if you make the wrong decision at one point, you are stuck doing that for a long time (real time). For instance say the PCs, are hunting werewolves in the rural Oklahoma town, and one of them decides to walk to the next town to get supplies from the hospital. What you should not do is GM the rest of the PCs for a hour while the unfortunate PC is walking to the next town. My policy is the next time I talk to a player, they have finished whatever it was they were doing before, that or something interesting has come up. So the next time I get to the walker, maybe werewolves are attacking him. Maybe he found a truck and is already at the hospital. Maybe he just walks really fast. Anyway you slice it, that player deserves some more camera and decision making time, and if you don't give it to him/her, then they are going to be bored.

Make decisions fast - In general this means letting the players get away with murder. But it also means dropping the hammer in a big way too. Did the players just uncover your big secret that was supposed to last 10 more sessions? Don't cover that up, run with it! What does it mean? How will the world/NPCs react to the discovery? Don't hesitate to let players do what they want, even if you're worried about the consequences, just get into the mode that the whole world is fluid and subject to change, once you learn to go with that, I think you become a much better GM. By the way, this is one of the reasons that I do the NPC motivations thinking ahead of time. If the world changes out from underneath them, you quickly extrapolate how NPCs will react, if you know why they are doing things.

Well, thats all for now... Let me know if any of you like this kind of stuff, I'm interested to hear people's opinions :).

New addendum Tim has pointed out an interesting article in this same vane.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Arr, it be talk like a pirate day!

Don't believe me.? Let the God of Knowledge (wikipedia) impart knowning to ya.

Avast me scurvy dogs. Ya dinna know how 'ard it be to be writing technical emails while trying to balance on a peg leg!

I could try to parley this into something more serious about expressing technical problems in a language other than their native format. But natives are fur plunderin', there be no serious thinkin' on Talk Like a pirate day!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Joy of the Road

I really love motorcycling. I can't tell you what exactly makes it so very great, but I can tell you about some of the constituents.

I used to hate driving. I think this was mainly due to the way I approached it. Driving was always an obstacle to be overcome, like some sort of proving ground. It was as if the universe were saying: sure, go visit interesting places, but to get there, you're going to have to suffer. It didn't help that many of my first experiences with longer distance driving were done with little preparation and little forethought. When I finally discovered that taking along music or a book on tape was a good idea, my driving became much less labored. But I don't think I'll ever really enjoy driving for driving's sake. Especially not as long as I know I could be driving a motorcycle.

There is something raw and intensely physical about riding a motorcycle. The wind's loud, ever present roar, the thrill of never quite knowing if the cars nearby have actually seen you, and the manual muscle memory twitches of every little pieces of the bike all contribute to the feeling of really being present on the road. It also helps that you're generally riding in extremely scenic places that are off the beaten path.

One of the best rides to do around the Seattle area is the backside of Mount St. Helens. This is just an incredible ride, scoring off the charts in all of the categories: scenic, twisty (very, very twisty), and traffic. I've been up 3 times now, and each and every time it doesn't disappoint. If you're interested in seeing more pictures take a look at this gallery and I think you'll get a feeling for the kind of beautiful scenery and perfect roads you can experience there.

One of the more unexpected things I enjoy about motorcycling is the food. I almost always hold out for mom and pop cafe establishments, hopefully ones that are frequented by the locals. I almost always have a burger or pasta, and I always eat well. Motorcycling can take a lot out of you, and since I don't go on long rides terribly often (maybe once a month) I indulge myself a little bit. While the food is not always of the legendary Jane and Michael Stern level of quality, it is almost always good, and always filling.

Another thing that is great about motorcycling is the isolation. Sometimes I ride with friends, but often I can't get anyone to spend a whole weekend riding. I used to regret not having anyone along, but I've gotten to where I actually like it. I don't have to stop when I don't want to, or continue when I want to stop. I get to think a lot, engage my introspective side a little bit. I always bring along a couple of good books and a DVD or two, and I get to relax and luxuriate in a hotel room at night. Its one of the few times I truly get to be alone, without even a dog to keep me company. And since you're riding most of the day, you miss all your phone calls as well, and don't even have to feel guilty about it. In the busy, busy, cellphone using world of today this is a rare thing indeed. I'm not saying I'd want to be on the road all the time, or even be disconnected like that every weekend, far from it, I would go crazy if it didn't have a definite end.

In the end, motorcycling has taught me how to appreciate two things I don't think I ever would've truly appreciated: driving, and being alone. Both of these things must be taken in moderation, but they are definitely big pieces of why I look forward to climbing on my bike.

Programming and Arrogance

When you live and work in a culture of programmers (as almost any unmarried Amazon programmer seems to), its easy to see some trends emerge that are both interesting, cool, and/or troubling. The trend I was really forced to notice is a culture of Arrogance that seems to permeate the culture at Amazon. This culture is really not limited to Amazon, Google practically oozes arrogance, and it is much the same with every company that believes in itself that I've talked to. Part of this is the difficultly in hiring good programmers, exemplified here Why Can't Programmers... Program. Everyone has this problem, and most people do reject 199 out of 200 applicants (as the article mentions), but as that discussion indicates (follow some of the links), rejecting 199 people doesn't mean you're hiring the top 0.5%, just the top 0.5% of the applicant pool. Most programmers aren't looking for jobs, and companies try to keep the good ones anyway.

I think a fair amount of the arrogance comes from the art itself. When you sit down to code, normally you have some idea of the shape of the solution you want to implement, and it seems to me that a large portion of getting that solution written is being so stubborn and unable to give up on that idea that your willpower literally bends the electrons in the computer to your will making little slaves of them. How can you not be arrogant when every day you're conquering your computer all over again, programming something that (at least most of the time) no one has written before.

Another portion of the equation is the attitude of other programmers. Whatever you might say, about nature or nuture or genes making a person's profession, something attracts a lot of smart but socially challenging individuals to programing. These people are used to being right (see the previous paragraph), and are not ready for you or even Linus Torvald himself to tell them they are wrong.

I think most good or great programmers (at least in a commercial setting) have to learn to put away this arrogance, but its not something that comes easy (at least for me). Admitting that you might be wrong about a proposed solution is extremely difficult. Paradoxically, I find that once a solution is implemented, most programmers are willing (and even eager) to admit to the solutions failings or even to start over and reimplement everything differently (this happens a lot during development and is called refactoring, at least in some way). Being a decent company programmer I think also means learning to work around these foibles in others (in addition to suppressing your own instincts).

Thats all I have for now, but I have some more thoughts for later... How does aggression fit in? What about the programmers that seem to be naturally immune to these kinds of feelings? How does this affect the gender inequality in the profession?

Music - The Language of the Soul?

Ok, so I couldn't come up with an original post title, but I do have some thoughts on the subject.

I really enjoy a good story. So much so that I think it directly contributes to the amount of roleplaying, the massive number of books I own (and yes, have read), and even what video games I end up enjoying. I love hearing about daring deeds, love at first sight, or really anything dramatic and interesting. The biggest area where this predilection of mine comes up is in music. I love story-based music. This leads to some odd tastes.

I love almost any piece of folk music, since they are basically only story. In the car, though, I can't generally get a folk only station, so I switch to Country. I love a good sad/happy country song (check out "Skin" by Rascal Flatts to see what I'm talking about). Sea shanties have the same quality as folk music - almost everything tells some kind of story. You'll, of course, notice that I haven't mentioned any type of music that would allow me to stay in the "cool" crowd. At the end of the day, I have favorite songs in almost every category of music. Even heavy metal ("Master of Puppets", "The Gods Made Heavy Metal"), electronica ("Winter Born" by Ethernaut), and even dance music ("Tarzan & Jane").

But, you'll never find me listening to certain kinds of music. Despite what I consider a fairly wide ranging collection, I have absolutely 0 tracks of classical, and very few instrumental (I delete them whenever they sneak in).

Because most of my music tells stories, I normally group them based on what I'm feeling like right then. If I'm happy then I want to hear happy, high energy songs, if I'm angry, well its time to crank up the volume and descend into some rock music (though musicals have a good selection of that kind of music as well). I love the effect this has. When I really hit the correct emotional note, I almost instantly drop into that "zone" that programmers talk about so often. Rocking out with code is evidently synonymous with rocking to the beat, at least in my head.

Perhaps I can share with you some of my favorite lines from songs I love:

  • 'So this is Beauty's finish. Like Rodin's "Belle Heaulmière"' - Lies by Stan Rogers

  • "How did we we get here? How the hell?" - Halloween in Rent (musical)

  • "Now is the time to sieze the day!" - Seize the Day in Newsies

  • "They say the sky's the limit, but we both know its the ground!" - Pirate Bill & Squidly by Heather Alexander

  • "I still feel your touch in my dreams. Forgive me my weakness..." - Every Time We Touch by Cascada

Music is so much more than just words sung to notes, its very interesting that it can cause dizzying highs and hellish lows. What is it about notes and words that make us want to shout to the heavens?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Roleplaying, the beginning

Roleplaying is a great passion of mine. I love sitting down with some friends, and being able to journey to another place for 4-6 hours. Sometimes its difficult, sometimes its not fun, but most of the time it is neither of those things. Its difficult to describe what makes roleplaying so much fun. Some of it is definitely the camaraderie, even though its all in our heads in reality, nothing quite compares to sitting down week after week, facing the challenges of the world (whatever world that happens to be).

Seeing as how spend something like 10 - 16 hours in any given week, I have some resources that I thought I'd share here. First Jane Epenson's blog. Jane is a TV writer on such great shows as Battlestar Galactica, Buffy, and others. More interesting than her credentials, however, is the insight she brings to the writing process. She talks a lot about how to discover and develop emotional arcs, which is really important in roleplaying, since that is the meat of any great game (IMO). Other than that, I've been following These Are Our Games. This blog covers the very interesting game Polaris, and a game I have incredible hope for Bliss Stage (playing children mecha pilots in a dreamland where your mecha is made of your relationships, AMAZING!). And of course, check out Tim Kopping's roleplaying site. He's written the very good and interesting Hero's Banner, and wrote up Persona, me and Mike's most successful game to date.

For those of you not in the know, Mike Hewner and I have developed a couple of games on our own. The Rules of Conduct, which has a playing card based mechanic a-la Magic the Gathering. TROC as it is known (trawk) had some interesting features. For one, only a few skills (1-3) and no attributes are present in the game. Our intention with this game was to make a system that really made you feel like a badass by naming all of your techniques and maneuvers. TROC, however, was too complicated, mainly due to character generation, which could take an half hour for a random NPC.

Another game Mike and I developed was Persona. This was our second system, and really our best. Tim has even written it up. This game had two things going for it: Just In Time character generation (genius!), and anything goes attribute/skill/fragment dice modifiers. No longer are you limited to a preset list of skills or attributes. Want points because you're fighting your father's killer, no problem! Want points for your awesome combat maneuver "Death of a Thousand Swans", also no problem. Mike and I have run Persona games for just about anyone that will sit down through one, and almost everyone has liked it. I'm even going to be trying to run a game at Ambercon North West using Persona.

The third system of note (we developed a persona-esque system that defined 3 axis of combat for any roll called Insight, but it never really hit it off) was Menagerie. Menagerie did a couple of things wierd. You were given the names of animals for your skill. Each of these animal names was a technique in your skill. In any test, you would select a technique to pit against another animal. You didn't know the point values of these techniques, you got a random one-third of technique between 1 and the level of your skill (so if you put 60 points into a skill, you would get 20 animal techniques, distributed between 1 and 60). You didn't want to open with your best animal, since allowing anyone to see your techniques gives them an advantage if you don't instantly dispatch them. Another twist to this system is that even the GM doesn't know the ratings of these techniques. Everything was done with a computer, and only it knew the point values of your techniques. The idea was you would try to build up knowledge (you the player) of the other skills, building a kind of skill yourself as you discovered more about the in game world. Unfortuantely the Menagerie game was lost in my harddrive crash last year, but it wouldn't really be hard to resurrect.

The most recent system (developed last month) is Chrome Dawn, a system with a cyberpunk setting. I'll post more on that at some later time.

Blogging at Last

So here we go! This is my attempt at a blog... I'm finally joining the likes of Slashdot, Joel Spolsky, and eighth graders everywhere. I'm not really sure how successful this will be, but I figured it was time to join the year 2003 and start blogging!

My plans include posts on roleplaying, programming, and motorcycle riding. And of course, whatever else I feel like. In particular, we have weekly gaming sessions that I plan on posting about, and I want to post (hopefully with pictures!) all of my motorcycle rides. For those of you who don't know, I do have a picture site: Check it out!

Other web presences I have: Me and Mike's BESM Character Generator, its written in Smalltalk, a great language, and for the Big Eyes Small Mouth roleplaying system. The only other thing I have is a twiki, mainly for an Amber game I ran recently.