Wednesday, October 31, 2001
Yesterday / Blogger scrambled what I had to say/
Wouldnít load it up no how no way / So Lex-i-fab went un-up-day (ted).
Suddenly / This ainít half the joke it oughtta be /
There are murmurs of hostility/For my pathetic pa-ro-dy /
Oh I believe Iíll leave it thereÖ
The blunt observation of one of my co-workers upon my arrival this morning. And I was forced to agree with the assessment. I managed to spill petrol all over my pants while filling up the bike on the way to work. I considered going home to change them, but in the end decided I just couldnít be bothered. I should have, though. I really do stink.
Just this morning finished re-reading the five-part Chronicles of Amber series by Roger Zelazny, which have been collected into a single volume as part of the Fantasy Masterworks series. I first read the series quite a few years ago when I became interested in the diceless roleplaying game (this is a pretty good review of the game) and I donít think I really appreciated it for what it was at the time, that is a multilayered murder mystery disguised as a mildly trippy feuding family fantasy*. Zelazny has taken a lot of care with what is a very complicated story driven by the interests of a large cast of Machiavellians bastards (literally) who spend much of their time lying about what theyíve been doing and who theyíve been doing it with and to, and he brings it off with style. Offhand I can only think of one plot thread that I would describe as having been left dangling** and for all I know it may be dealt with in the sequel series (which I may or may not ever read. It doesn't seem to have been included in the Masterworks series). Mostly, though, we get a series where every major character is operating on two or three levels, nobody knows who to trust and everything the lead character knows turns out to be a lie at least twice. I do advise reading the whole thing straight through though Ė even though Zelazny frequently devotes several pages to a recap of the previous booksí plot developments, theyíre no substitute for remembering who said what to whom last book.
I do have a couple of complaints, though. The characters often veer between faux fantasy ye-olde-worlde speech and (now dated) colloquial American. Itís sort of justified on the part of the narrator, but the Amberites repeated references to "Dad" was irritating. Second, all but one Ė no, two Ė of the female characters are completely worthless wastes of space. They do nothing, have no material effect on the plot and barely even rate as window dressing. Considering that most of the other characters are duplicitous and murderous, I suppose you could ascribe the womenís sidelining to Zelazny being gallant, but Iíd take some convincing. It's a minor niggle, but I would have preferred that all of the characters be there for a reason, and when the hangers-on are all females, it does point to certain biases of the author. (Honestly, in an early scene in Rebma, why on earth make two characters out of Moire and Llewella? Neither of them do enough in the rest of the series to warrant their existence. Was it just so that Corwin could meet a non-related woman to have sex with? If so, it was kind of a waste).***
* I donít care what you say. Alliteration is fun.
** For those of you who have read it, Iím referring to the nature of the Unicorn and what she has to do with anything. Thereís a partial explanation to do with the family tree, so to speak, but Zelazny never goes into details. Considering the partial explanation though, maybe thatís a good thing.
*** Just a small rant that occurred to me as I typed it. Inconsequential perhaps, but I so rarely do any critical thinking**** that I decided I'd better leave it in as evidence.
**** As opposed to criticism, with which I am intimately familiar.
Monday, October 29, 2001
The fiercely competitive Canberra public service cricket series kicked off yesterday, with AusAID opening the account with a one-wicket loss to the Defence Signals team. Aw bugger. Actually it was a very close match, coming down to us needing to get one more wicket or them getting one run to tie or two to win. Unfortunately their batsmen managed to keep their heads and we missed out narrowly, but considering they had dominated for most of their innings, I think we did well to get as close to them as we did. We have a much stronger batting side this year than we have in the past, so if we can shake the rust out of our bowling (especially mine) and fielding, we should be a show.
For the record, my figures were no wickets for 29 (off five indifferent overs) and a contribution with the bat of 2 runs. And one dropped catch, although it was purely a reflex thing that I consider myself lucky even to have stopped, let alone caught Ė my brain didnít even register that it was a chance until about two minutes later. So, some room for improvement thereÖ
Lexifab gains legitimacy!
You may be aware of my ambition to have the word ďlexifabricographyĒ spread virally to all parts of the collective conscious via the Internet. While I admit that I havenít done all that much to promote that ambition, efforts have taken a huge step forward this morning with my discovery (via commentary by Adam Spencer and Wil Anderson on Triple Jís breakfast program of a web site actually devoted to the craft of lexifabricography (ie making words up): Pseudodictionary.com. Iíve only posted my word there this morning, so donít expect to see it up there for a few days, but I reckon weíre now well on the way to Total World Domination of my made-up word.
Did I mention that Iím in pain all over this morning? And that my lips are sunburned? Well, now I have.
Thursday, October 25, 2001
All Damon-mauling action
I just have to share: in the flashback-heavy and guest star-laden Torg adventure I ran last night, I got to fulfill a years-old dream of describing Matt Damon being torn apart by a giant dinosaur. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what escapist fantasy is all about.
It was fun. It was short (about three hours) and sweet (dinosaur arse was kicked, and Simon used a particularly inventive cadge to finish off the ridiculously tough carnosaur that I threw in as a light diversion). I donít know what Iíve been worrying about. After the game we chatted about handing the Rod of GMship around and everyone seemed reasonably keen to take their turn. Iím looking forward to finishing off my rather light-hearted and silly adventure and seeing what Linda comes up with next.
Holding our manhoods cheap
Today being Saint Crispinís Day, Greg has organised his annual get-together at the Wig and Pen Pub so that he can recite Henry Vís Agincourt pep talk at us and pick fights with anyone professing to be of French ancestry. I rather like the Wig & Pen, which from the name was presumably conceived originally as a watering hole for lawyers and students. They brew their own beer on the premises, and I highly recommend both the Creamy Ale and the Irish Red. For Harry!
Wednesday, October 24, 2001
Fi and I took sickies yesterday because wejust didnít want to get out of bed. Tired, sore, couldnít be bothered. In my case, it was, I think, just the accumulation of various bits of strenuous effort (gardening and a resurgence in enthusiasm for various sporting activities) catching up to me. I woke up feeling more tired than when I went to bed. Blah.
Eventually we got around to doing something, so that the day wasnít a complete write-off (not that either of us would have minded a day of complete book-reading vegetation, but it was pretty nice outside). We explored another nursery, spent another truckload of cash on plants, and then completed our restoration project in the front yard. Highlights included the transplanting of Fionaís Mumís rose bush, which has spent several years gamely struggling its way up through the dense cover of the oleander tree and deserves a bit of a break, putting in a bed of lavendar so now we can have many more bees than at present and yet another shot at creating a herb garden in which more than one plant dominates.
Having forked out five or so hundred dollars in a possibly misplaced attempt to raise the value of the entire house by several thousand (like the real estate brochures say will happen) weíve decided to put the brakes on our lavish and fairly random spending for a while. We have plans to do equally major renovations to the back yard, but it makes sense to leave it for a while, at least until we find out whether our efforts to date have resulted in a thriving explosion of colour or a bereft wasteland.
Thursday, October 18, 2001
Anatomy of an eveningís entertainment
We picked up our much-postponed Torg game again last night, indulging in a truly deranged and uninspired infiltration of a badguy-infested oil rig. (Not that you would but) donít ask me to explain the plot Ė Jimbo was making it up as he went along and we were transparently going along with it until we could start a fight. It was Torg after all Ė on the ďLunatic Plans Designed to Go AwryĒ scale, itís lower even than our past games of Shadowrun.
I made a hamfisted attempt to use an ďinternal monologueĒ roleplaying technique Ė lifted from the rather excellent free-on-the-net InSpectres and grafted onto the Torg Monologue card * Ė but the somewhat lazy and silly mood I and everyone was in meant it was never going to happen. This game suffers a bit from only being played on weeknights, when everyone is tired and has trouble engaging. Itís light and familiar, which ought to make everyone comfortable, but our big problem with it is that by the time weíre all there and have arranged dinner and gotten the table set up, itís usually past eight and we only have maybe a couple of hours of decent focus in us. Iíve noticed that our group often needs an hour or more for everyone to get into the mindset, especially when the game is not clockwork-regular. That leaves barely an hour of quality gaming Ė and thatís only on nights when nobody is being openly disruptive or distracted.
Where was I going with this? Beats me. I think the problem may go away as and when everyone starts to feel involved in the game, which often doesnít happen with us for several sessions. Normally what I see is that enthusiasm for a new campaign will be driven by one person Ė the GM - for the first four or five sessions, with the players typically passive at first. Then it will either gain momentum as the players flex their muscles and get involved in the setting, or the campaign will die in its infancy. And even when it does get going and the players are enthusiastic, the GM will lose steam and it will fall over that way (my popular-with-everyone-but-me 7th Sea game was an example). Thatís happened to us a lot in the past couple of years.
Maybe if it happens again what we should do is deliberately design mini-campaigns of between 6 and 12 sessions Ė long enough for that level of player engagement to kick in, but not so long that the game outstays its welcome or collapses under its own over-plotted weight. I dunno -what do you think?
* Before you say anything, I know there wasnít enough information in that passage to render it intelligible to anyone but me. What, you think I update this blog every** day just to keep you informed?
** Loosely speaking.
Wednesday, October 17, 2001
No monkeys. Just dirt.
Contrary to Tedís otherwise excellent suggestion, we have decided not to go with a simian look for the garden. Knocked off work early yesterday to get into some heavy mattock-and-spade work before the rain arrived. We planted about 17 things, shrubs and ground covers mostly, each one selected and positioned according to colour constrast with its neighbours. The plan is to have something flowering in the garden throughout the year. Weíre mildly hampered by the fact that the extent of our gardening knowledge is limited to what we read off the plant labels. Plus guesswork, and lots of it.
Hereís hoping, possibly somewhat optimistically, that in a few short months we will have a flourishing collection of not-dead vegetation. And in a few short years, a nigh-uncontrollable jungle of densely-packed azaleas et al threatening to trap us inside our home. At which point we will sell it to pruning enthusiasts and start all over again.
Monday, October 15, 2001
Adventures in landscaping
We somehow managed to rope Jimbo and Simon into coming over on Saturday and helping us with our new front yard refurbishment project. Well, I say ďsomehowĒ, but it was probably the promise of beer and tacos in return for hours of backbreaking labour that talked them into it. We dug out the old concrete edging, broke up the clay soil and then made interesting landscape mounds with the bit of broken concrete and packed clay. And we replanted the wild daffodils, because we decided we didnít want them wiped out in the frontyard holocaust (about 50,000 worms were less fortunate).
We also visited a nursery looking for pretty flowering shrubs and ground covers Ė Fionaís vision is of a wild, rambling collision of colours and shapes, and who would argue with that? The trip turned out to be an expensive one Ė lots of things were on special, so we bought them (we came back the next day and bought more of them, as well). Now we have some sort of rambling miniature rose, several shades of azalea, and, uh, some pink things and yellow things and purple ones. Well, donít ask me, Dadís the plant man of the family. Iím just going to concentrate on keeping the poor little sods alive.
I just got off the phone to a quarry, having ordered what I think might be a couple of tonnes of topsoil, which we are going to turn into flowerbeds and a landscaped feature. Jimbo suggested making it the shape of Queensland, Simon suggested something even more stupid which happily escapes me now, but I think we will end up going with the ďpiles of dirt with plants in themĒ motif.
Friday, October 12, 2001
And thrust and parry and so!
My fencing night has shifted to Thursdays, which I think will suit me better, since most Monday nights Iím teetering on the point of exhaustion after Sunday night gaming marathons. Theyíve also stepped up a notch in pace Ė the warmup stretches were quite a bit more vigourous than usual (I donít know how much that had to do with the trainee instructor who took us through a by-now-familiar routine) and the big rubber ball exercises (just like Space Hoppers*, only without the handholds) were just plain exhausting.
Last night we also started doing practise bouting for the first time. It might seem strange that Iíve been training with Finesse for more than a year without doing more than cursory bouting, but in fact I hadnít realised that I missed it until last nightís lesson. Iíd been so used to concentrating on technique that I forgot about the actual cut-and-thrust fun of a Ďrealí bout. As expected, all that technique weíd been working on these past 13 months went straight out the window the moment Julian said ďEngageĒ, but I did notice a few things about my style that I will need to work on. For one, my footwork, which has never been a strong point, is pretty appalling. I rely too much on natural balance and reflexive corrections and not enough on maintaining a stance that doesnít get me off-balance in the first place. I also tend to leap into a lunge, which telegraphs the move by the better part of a second Ė thatís also a fault that could be corrected with better stance. And I also pull my attacks, so that they end up as indecisive hits. Thatís purely a defensive instinct, where Iím concentrating too much on being in position for the parry and not enough on seizing opportunities for attack.
After the bout, I worked with Julian in one-on-one training and he demonstrated (with impressive subtlety) that even at very slow time engagements, my brain is second guessing itself, looking for tricks and feints when it should be just grabbing the chance to run my opponent through. Ah well, something to work on. I need to be better at running people through. You never know when that skill's going to come in handy.
* I tried to find a decent link to Space Hoppers, but the only page I could find that had a picture was devoted to- er, fetishistic use of said implement. Needless to sayÖ
Thursday, October 11, 2001
Okay, this is just fucking surreal
Take a look at this. I know that by the time youíre reading this, this will be another one of those viral memes thatís all over the internet* like an ebola outbreak and I hate to contribute to the waste of electrons, but some things are just too weird to pass up.
* Remember ďAll your base are belong to usĒ and "Someone set up us the bomb"? What about "I Kiss You" Mahir, the piano-accordian-playing Turkish lothario? No? Good.
Done and done, most likely
The last few days have been spent in frantic yet grudging commitment to my so-called career. Itís spring again, which at AusAID means itís that time of the year for the graduate recruits Ė and, oh yes, you other little people too, why not? Ė to apply to become big, grownup APS Level 5s (somewhere around the junior management level for you private industry types). This is a bit of a trial for me, because the graduates are all highly motivated, super-efficient, sparkle-eyed golden boys and girls of development, and competing against them is incredibly demoralising. Last year, in spite of what I felt was a comparitively poor field, I didnít even get an interview. Mind you, Iíd only just been through the last promotion round and there were about 180 applicants for maybe 10-12 positions, so it was disappointing but maybe not so surprising. This year, though, the known competition is mostly depressingly awesome, so Iím not looking forward to it much.
Still, in a way it wonít bother me that much not to be promoted. Iím quite enjoying the work in the Philippines section and I donít really want to have to move again, which could happen if the application is successful. But I would like to be paid more in the leadup to my wedding, so I felt compelled to at least try. Ideally, Iíll get through the promotion and stay where I am, since Iím already doing the equivalent work of higher-level (and better paid) officers, in typically AusAID case of exploita- er, provision of opportunity.
Iíve been meaning to put in a plug for Otherleg head honcho Amandaís extremely entertaining and engaging online game Cryptic Drifter. Itís a moderated roleplaying exercise hosted on a bulletin board-style web site. Iíd tell you about my character, but the players are all still anonymous and Iím having too much fun trying to work out who (of the people I know or suspect to be playing) is who to spoil anyone elseís fun. Itís going very well so far though Ė Amandaís doing a great job of keeping the plot moving forward and spooling out the secrets and mysteries a bit at a time. I can only imagine that itís a lot of work.
Being fascinated with different forms of roleplaying, once the gameís over I plan to pin her down for the technical details and see if I canít get something similar up and running. Of course if thereís too much work involved I wonít go through with it, but itís sparking lots of cool ideas. Itís similar in many ways to the style of freeform roleplaying that happens chiefly at conventions, with the added advantages of being able to think about your responses before making them.
Anyway, go scan the message boards and see if you can work out which character Iím playing. And if Amanda runs another one, and youíve got daily access to the net, join in. Sheís good.
Bad Blogger, no biscuit
Blogger's playing up. Hope it doesn't crash and eat this whole message.
Tuesday, October 09, 2001
Oops, Iíve been slack again, havenít I?
Okay, okay, but I have some good excuses. No, really, I made a list or something. Itís here somewhere. Okay, look, never mind about that, itís not important.
Good lord, is that a spaceship?
Anniversaries of Doom! Part One
Friday marked the Negative First Anniversary of my marriage to Fiona, which is to say we will be getting hitched this time next year. , A little earlier in the week we made a trip out to the Hyatt, where said shindig will take place. Our little reconnaisance mission was mainly to check out the flower situation, to see what was in bloom and what would look good in a photograph with us standing in front of it. Turns out that things havenít really started to get into full bloom yet Ė the Lavendar Garden and Rose Garden were both obstinately unflorescent Ė but thereís certainly enough picturesqueness to be getting on with.
On Saturday morning we made the rounds of several speciality paper shops, looking for funky (which is to say ridiculously expensive) stuff to make our wedding invitations out of. Yes, we know itís roughly nine months too soon to be sending out invites. Stop interrupting. We have almost settled on a design now, it just remains to be seen if our preferred choice Ė the exotic Orange Silk Ė can actually make the journey through a laser printer without shredding. Assuming that it can, you are hereby officially cautioned that any wedding invitations that you may happen to receive from us in the near or distant future should only be opened after affixing appropriate safety equipment. Specifically, sunglasses.
Anniversaries of Doom! Part Two
Mister Simnoís most recent incarnation anniversed* by an increment of one on Sunday, in alarming turn of events that sees him flung ever more distant from his now-forgotten youth. What became of the hopes and dreams of that long-ago, more hirsute figure? We could only speculate, over a piece of rather yummy chocolate cake that Fiona made.
Si and Jimbo came over on Saturday night for dinner, nominally to celebrate the forthcoming birthday, but actually more as an excuse to get them out of the house. They've been looking paler than usual ever since Simon bought a DVD player. Hector and Kath showed up just before they did, so we invited them to stay too, since we were just having do-it-yourself homemade sorta-pizzas. With fetta and olives, I hasten to stress. A very pleasant evening of just sitting around and chatting inconsequentially, which is the best kind of chatting in my book. We would have given Simon his present, but unfortunately the bastard of a thing has been on back order for about six weeks and hasnít arrived yet. Never mind, Iím sure heíll be entirely underwhelmed when it finally gets here, especially now that Iíve built it up.
I donít like cricket, no
Itís that time of year again, when a young* manís thoughts turn to leather and willow and getting burned.
What? No, Iím talking about cricket, what are you talking about? Anyway, the fearless AusAID stalwarts gathered on Sunday morning for the first training session of the year, an occasion that traditionally leads to agonising shoulder and back pains two days later. But Ė aha! Ė this year I have bucked tradition not only by adding to that list some excrutiating ankle pain after stopping a quickish drive with my shoe, but also by having the muscular soreness set in something like two hours later. Now I canít cough without feeling like someoneís laid a baseball bat across my sides. Hurrah for mycomplete lack of physical fitness, and here's to four more months of pretending to be vaguely athletic!
* Itís a word. Look it up. But donít bother with one of those Earth books you call Ďdictionaryí.
** Hey, indulge me, okay? At least Iím not as old as Simon.
Wednesday, October 03, 2001
Ah, now I get it
For the past month or so, Iíve kinda been wondering what Iím supposed to be doing in my new job, apart from reading the odd report and paying the odd invoice. So far most of the stuff Iíve been doing to pass the time has involved actually going around other (deeply overworked) people in the section and asking them if they have anything theyíd like me to do.
Today they got their act together. Now Iím handling two more projects, organising a conference for several regional governors, drafting two contracts and doing a presentation in three weeks on stuff I heard of for the first time today. Ooo-kay! Iíll just be standing over here quietly panickingÖ
And as promised, a mini-review of Stir of Echoes
This movie did not suck, except presumably for the producers when they saw The Sixth Sense. Ha ha.