2013 in review

December 31, 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 28 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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2012 in review

December 31, 2012

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 9 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.


TV Tropes is an awesome resource.

April 30, 2010

TV Tropes is a site (not just limited to TV shows) that lists the many tropes we encounter over and over in fiction. In the Action and Adventure category, here are a few examples: Action Dress Rip, Break Out the Museum Piece, Ferris Wheel of Doom, Last Breath Bullet, and Sleight of Tongue. There are dozens and dozens of tropes (with examples) from all kinds of genres.

I loved this quote, from the entry entitled “Applied Phlebotinum,” which is defined as “the magical substance that may be rubbed on almost anything to cause an effect needed by a plot.”

If the phlebotinum in question is something that needs to be mined you may well be dealing with the element Unobtainium.




Earth Day, 1970.

April 22, 2010

In 1970 I was a sophomore in high school. I participated in the first Earth Day event. A team made up of me and several friends walked about a mile of Interstate 70 in St. Louis.

We picked up trash and put it into 30-gallon plastic bags. I remember nearly filling a bag with cigarette butts. That experience certainly taught me to never throw trash out the window of my car again.

You have certainly seen the way that crap builds up along the curbs of any city. You should walk a mile along an interstate sometime. It’s unbelievable what people throw out the windows of their cars.

Be nice to the Earth. Maybe we’ll get less earthquakes. I think she’s angry.


My day at Excelsior Youth Center.

April 1, 2010

We are going to Disney World in October. A few months ago, I signed up for something called “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” in which you give a day for a local charity and Disney gives you one day free admission to the parks. The website was helpful and listed dozens of opportunities. I selected Excelsior Youth Center and their “Holiday In a Box” promotion. Spend 3 hours assembling holiday boxes.

I got notice long ahead of time and used one of my vacation days at work (it was a Thursday). I didn’t really know what to expect as I headed east to Aurora and the assigned location. I found a sprawling campus without a sign out front identifying it. However, it was at a dead-end and was surely the right place.

Following a small sign that said “Main Entry,” I went in and was warmly greeted by all the workers there. “We love our volunteers!” they said. Not for the first time, I felt sheepish about getting something for myself out of the deal.

As I sat in the waiting room, I noticed a sign on the wall that said, “Residential Treatment Center for Young Girls.” I saw a teenager bid goodbye to her family there in the waiting room, and it seemed rather sad. The people at Excelsior were so nice and upbeat, but there was a sort of a depressing vibe about the place.

My contact Marisa came to get me and walked me to the other side of the campus. They have room for 180 residents, in dorms with nearby exercise fields. It looks like a nice, new junior high. I walked through the actual school portion of the facility and saw a few more of the girls walking between classes. They looked pretty sullen.

My job for the day was to assemble eight holiday baskets, to be given to the girls for Easter. Each basket had about eight components, including egg-dying tools and candy bags. Does that sound like three hours work to you? Me neither. I even slowed down a bit, but it still took me less than two hours. “Boy, you’re really fast!” they said.

Marisa also asked me if I was nervous. I said yes, that I’d never done anything like this before. And I didn’t know what to expect. What I got was a couple hours of my time spent helping some disadvantaged teens. I think part of the whole project that Disney had set up was to get people like me who had never volunteered before, and show them how it feels to help. It felt good.


SORAG: A fond memory.

March 29, 2010

In 1981 I partnered with the dear, departed Don Rapp to create a company called Paranoia Press. We made supplements for the Game Designers’ Workshop (Illinois, not GW from England). science-fiction roleplaying game Traveller. (Paper and pencil, not a video game, kiddies.) The company was named for the fact that we made Marc Miller, one of the game’s creators, paranoid. Or so Don told me.

We specialized in new character generation systems for the game, and had already done a couple when I had the idea to do a spy/espionage kind of thing. I didn’t know I’d be doing almost all the work on this little production.

I worked for a printer in the art department (actually, I WAS the art department) so I did the layout, artwork, typesetting, and pasteup. (If you don’t know what pasteup was… oh, never mind.) For this book, I also shot the negatives, stripped them, and burned the plates. As it turned out, I did even more than I bargained for, but more on that later.

The name of the product was influenced by my friend Steve Vice, who was staying with us at the time (this was just before my son Brian was born). He had worked for an organization called SOG (Studies and Observations Group) in military service in Vietnam. (You can see their cool skull logo at the link, which shows you they do more than study and observe). Inspired by his tales of plans to drop plague ridden rats on Hanoi, I christened my new project SORAG.

The look of the product was the result of a book I received from another friend at the time, Robin Rhodes. Also with the military, he was stationed at Fort Campbell. He knew I was interested in all things military so he gave me some old manuals of all kinds; tactical dissertations, weapons operations, even a pilot’s manual for an F-4 Phantom jet fighter (this is where I got the term “canopy knife,” which I’ll explain another time). One of these books was about operations in Vietnam. It had a red cover with black lettering, presumably because that was impossible to photocopy at the time. I guess. Anyway, much of the look of the cover of SORAG came from this book. It looked so evil and secret and angry.

Obtaining that red cover stock was very difficult. It had to be special ordered from the paper company. Even the people in the print shop oohed and ahhed when it came in. (At the time, we owned not one but two red cars, and LWC and I have a fascination with red that continues to this day.) Needless to say, the book was quite striking on a game store’s shelf. It would be even today, I think.

I wanted the book ready for Gen Con, which was coming up soon. It had been printed, but not cut, folded, stapled or packaged. When I told the print shop workers that I needed it this weekend, they said, “I’ll show you how to use the folder and stapler.” So in addition to all the other work I’d done to produce the book, I did all the finishing work for about 500 copies. Everything but print the damned thing. And I took it to the convention, and it was a big hit.

Some other fun facts about this book: I included on page one “pronounced SOAR-ag” when somebody in playtesting called it SO-RAG. That had to stop immediately.

The idea of exactly what the Zhodani alien race in Traveller was just beginning to be properly formed. You’ll find that my book describes an intelligence organization much like the CIA or Army Special Forces. Not a lot of psionic telepathic alien flavor there. In fact, I had named a character “Colonel Flagg” (a tribute to M*A*S*H) and GDW made me change that to “General Preshezdanratl.” Zhodani names were always a mouthful.

The credits for the book are what I called “movie credits” with my name prominently featured at the top in larger type. Look, I’m proud of the work we did, but the term “vanity press” is not far off.

I credited one of the illustrations to “Art Clip.” Of course, that was clip art.

SORAG is dedicated to my dear friend Dan Hillen (also unfortunately departed), and I’m proud to have his name on one of my most favorite projects. Dan got me into hobby gaming. Period. He sat me down with another friend to play Stalingrad (“Play one of these board games, you’ll like it”) and told me to run D&D (not T&T) when I moved to Fort Wayne. My many many hours of running and playing paper roleplaying games with him (after I returned to St. Louis) was “Game Designer 101.” That’s where I learned about game balance and how to make the players happy.


I’m excited about “Justified” a new TV show from Elmore Leonard.

March 8, 2010

One of my top five favorite writers, Elmore Leonard, gives his blessing to this new show on FX. It’s called “Justified” and it stars Timothy Olyphant, who played Seth Bullock on Deadwood. Described as the story of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens of Kentucky, who is featured in Leonard’s books Pronto and Riding the Rap. I haven’t read those (there are dozens of Leonard books I haven’t read… he’s written a ton, get off my back), but now I think I’ll wait till after I see the series.

I AM EXCITED! And hopeful. Praying, you could say. If they capture even half of the way Leonard writes, with Olyphant as the lead, it will be terrific.

Thanks to LWC for spotting this one!


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