On Pudding

The kitchen at work occasionally stocks kozy shack pudding in the small fridge.  Our NetOps group at work adopted kozy shack as some sort of weird mascot.  But no kozy shack this morning.  Sadness.

Gesturing to the window I ask: “Why not walk over to Wegman’s (across the street) and buy pudding?”

Can’t.  Kozy shack is downscale pudding. Wegman’s is too upscale for kozy shack.   Wegman’s only stocks upscale pudding.  

I ask around about the difference between downscale pudding and upscale pudding but everyone not in NetOps looks at me like there’s going to be a quiz.  Go away you crazy person asking me about pudding.  You’re weirding me out.

Only person who appreciates the question is Eric, who promptly recites this entire scene from The State:

 

 

I should worry that Eric can recite this scene from memory on the merest mention of pudding but this is not what is on my mind.  What I want to know is this: how much kozy shack can you buy for $240?

Being in the car, the only tool I have for the job is my iPhone.  I consult Wolfram Alpha which bills itself as knowing everything, ever, about anything.  I type into the search screen:

How much chocolate pudding can I buy for $240?

Wolfram Alpha doesn’t know.  Fuck Wolfram Alpha.  What is this shit?  Billing itself as knowing everything why the fuck doesn’t it know how much pudding I can buy for $240?

“Try Google,” Eric suggests reasonably.

Alright.  I figure out that the average bathtub holds 100 gallons of liquid substance — nominally water but I find no rigid definition of bathtubs and water exclusivity.  Check.  Then, poking around, looks like kozy shack goes for $3.09 for 22 oz of kozy shack.  Not a useful 32 oz, but 22 oz.  Google is also, now, proffering me kozy shack coupons.

We figure out we can’t get far on $240 of kozy shack.  It’s enough to fill a few inches of bathtub but not to soak in pudding.  It’d take $1800 worth of kozy shack to fill a bathtub entirely with pudding.  (Note the original math on twitter is wrong.  THIS IS DEFINITIVE AS DONE ON A REAL COMPUTER WITH A CALCULATOR.)

The can of peas pulls it together

“Not something you can casually do while drunk,” Eric points out.  You’d have to be out of your gourd to spend that kind of money on kozy shack to fill a bathtub.  But say, if you were, where would you go and how much would you buy?

Well, you could go to Meijer, the logical choice for buying so much pudding, but there’s no Meijer in Maryland.  The rigid straight jacket of East Coast grocery catches us once again.  One has no choice but to go to Costco, get a pallet, and fill it with enough 22oz kozy shack pudding pods to fill 100 gallons of bathtub with kozy shack.

“This,” Eric points out, “would look suspicious.”

That’s when we cook up the plan to add the can of peas.  Because while a pallet full of 100 gallons of 22oz kozy shack chocolate pudding pods might look a bit strange, adding the can of peas pulls it all together.  Sure one might ask about all that pudding but who would ask questions when presented with a simple can of peas?  It all makes sense.

 The very saddest thing is how much technology, how many millions of man hours of effort and innovation, I ruthlessly abused to get to this conclusion.  Behold!  What the Internet is truly for!

  

Review: Catching Fire

Catching Fire
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yeah, look. I don’t like the Two Towers as much as Fellowship or Return of the King, either. Because it’s a damn long dull travelogue where people travel alot and angst a bit and talk and sort of fill out the world and there’s this one giant crazy insane OMG battle right there in the heart of things. Just like Catching Fire.

Except in Two Towers, Helm’s Deep is not trying to actively eat the people within. And Gandolf isn’t a crazy drunk named Haymitch. There is a hot guy, but he has a trident, wears a net, and looks way better than Aragorn.

Granted, the LotR analogy doesn’t hold together upon even the most casual of examination… although Peeta does have a little Samwise in him. But, Katniss and Peeta do their As Required By Law (Literally) world tour where Awful Things Happen and things go from very dull to very very bad indeed with an additional pile of badness because this book wouldn’t be in this particular trilogy if there wasn’t a chance for insane mayhem and death with graphically and lovingly described spurts of gore at the hands of the sadistic masters Panem who, upon reflection, are also very bad at thinking their cunning plans through.

But that is, as they say, another story. Find out! Read the book.

One thread I do like about Katniss throughout these books is, in the face of competent adults with a plan, she’s a seventeen year old girl who doesn’t have the experience. She doesn’t suddenly acquire years of wisdom from the sky. She doesn’t become Super Katniss. She stays a seventeen year old girl. And although she manages to resist the charms of Fan Favorite(tm) Finnick Odair — how can one not love Fan Favorite(tm) Finnick Odair with his intense and unending awesomeness? — she is still seventeen, way out of her depth, and she’s not going to level up through sheer prose. She’s Katniss, she’s good at what she’s good at, she’s terrible at what she’s terrible at, she’s amazing at shooting people with her bow, and the story rolls forward through her oftentimes confused first person perspective.

Middle book syndrome is a downer. Book doesn’t have an oooh aaah beginning. Book doesn’t end because the book after it has the story climax. It has some especially interesting fireworks along the way and fills out the story quite a bit. The broken economics of Panem don’t get much better. Terrible things do happen and characters with actual names die. But it cannot possibly live up to the books before it or after it because it’s entire job is to carry the story along.

And it does. Story carried. Mission accomplished. Bonus points if you bought the trilogy because book 3 starts on the very next page…



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Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book should come with a helpful Public Service Announcement:

“While reading this book, you will not eat, drink, sleep, or go to the bathroom. If you do go to the bathroom, you will take the book with you. May cause stress, loud meeping noises, insomnia, and an intense need to grab the next book.”

Thankfully, it’s a short book. Otherwise, I’d have to work out some sort of cunning bathroom-based scheme or come down with a terrible case of one day ebola to get the book done. There’s no reading it over multiple days. This is an official One Day Book where that’s what you do on that day. You read the Hunger Games.

Pretty much everyone knows about this book: dystopia future, brave girl fighting for her life in a sadistic arena, courage in the face of great odds, science fiction, etc. My interest while reading the book was to pull as many sources I could without resorting to the tvtropes page. I recognized:

- Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”
- Stephen King’s “The Running Man”
- Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”
- Raiders of the Lost Ark (“Bad Dates.”)
- Theseus and the Minotaur
- Imperial Rome
- Etc.

I have a quibble. It’s not all rosy rainbows. The economy of Panem doesn’t… work. Normally, in a science fiction novel this would bother me but, here, the problem is easily brushed under the rug by reminding oneself that a) this is a Young Adult Fiction Novel and not Foundation or Childhood’s End here b) the economics are not the point of the story and c) why are we dwelling on the internal politics of Panem when oh my God that guy JUST DIED HORRIBLY DID YOU SEE THAT???!? In my book, which, to be fair, is a pretty big book, a good blood splatter covers a multitudes of sins, and a well-written blood splatter written in a tight, snappy, almost Elmore Leonard-like prose covers the sin of failed internal economics. I’m okay with it, and when you read the book, you’ll be okay with it, too. Trust me on this one. It’s a mere quibble.

So I like the book. I liked it I went diving into the next book immediately on finishing the first. Now, granted, I am expecting Peeta Mellack to burst into some John Savage to Mustapha Mond like lecture about the uselessness of the Capital and the trueness of the rest of the world (and not Katniss, Katniss is established as open mouth, insert foot, and I appreciate that about her so it has to be Peeta). Without this, it won’t be Brave New World enough.

I don’t know if I would read it a second time. I’ve read Brave New World something like seven times, a world record in my reading, and it’s not up there. It’s not a great dystopian novel. But it’s one hell of a story and it’s written in snappy, fast prose. Five stars.




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PAX East

We’re heading up to PAX East for the third year in a row.  We’re in the hotel attached to the convention center meaning — yes!  Booze!  The plan is to drive up on Thursday and drive home on Monday so we won’t miss the opening remarks this year.  Also, I will get another scarf because PAX scarfs are important.  And swag.  I need swag.

The only work I’ll be bringing with me is a) my phone which will die trying to pull work mail in a convention center with no coverage and b) my work branded bag as it makes an awesome con bag.  I might also wear my work logo t-shirt maybe.  I will not talk to you about work or my job other than yeah I have this bitchin’ bag maybe I stole it.

If you want to hook up at PAX East give me a shout.  Otherwise, we’ll wander around aimlessly until we run into you in some weird uncomfortable awkward way in a hallway and go all “OH HEY YOU’RE HERE TOO” and “WE’RE GOING OVER THERE” and “YOU ARE GOING WHERE WELL SEE YOU LATER MANG” and then we don’t see you again and we complain all over twitter about not getting together and how that sucked so say something.  Also, a bunch of Folks I Know are On Panels so We’ll Be Attending Some Panels and Yes We Are Stalking You.  And Eric has made noise about attending the concert.

So, there’s the haps.  You can find me either playing board games until my eyes bleed or in the check out and play video game area or watching the Street Fighter tournament.  

Quote for a Primary Day

“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.” 

David Foster WallaceUp, Simba!

The quote was about John McCain and the 2000 South Carolina primary but it still holds truth.

 

The Agony and Ecstacy of Mike Daisey

I was one of those people who were affected by This American Life Episode #454, Mike Daisey and the Apple Factory, adapted from his show, “The Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs.” It was enough that it gave me mild pause over acquiring the new iPad3. If the device is made in slave-labor-like conditions, regardless what Apple says, do I really want to get one?

It turns out most of the report was fabricated. Listening to the Retraction this morning was heart wrenching. It’s always been clear This American Life holds itself to the highest journalistic standards. It’s one of the few places to go for interesting and non-biased stories across the spectrum. So when they ran Mike Daisey’s piece, they gave it a vetting but they gave him the benefit of the doubt. And he lied.

When Ira Glass calls Daisey out on his lies, the dead airspace tells more than ten thousand words of excuses.

Is it okay to tell a lie to get at a greater truth? No. It’s not. Daisey tarnished the reputation of TAL for his own greed and his own ego. He’s set back worker rights movements in China. He has set ground to dismiss all sorts of worker abuse stories — because, if this one was fabricated, all others must be, too. It’s unclear if there are any abuses at FOXCONN or, if there are, what Apple’s role in correcting them should be. It’s become a horrific muddle.

Ink spilled all weekend on this topic, so there are people better than I to pontificate on what fabricating journalism and passing it off as fact means. It’s all a massive disappointment. One thing for certain: some reputations have been destroyed and others severely tarnished for one big display of hubris.

(I’d like to several Atlantic pieces on this but the Atlantic seems to be down.)

Roller Skating

20120318-225353.jpg

Okay, mostly I’m just demoing doing a blog post off my phone. Tonight I went roller skating for the first time in 20+ years. The muscle memory was willing but the arthritic knees were week. The attached picture is proof! My feet clad in a pair of seriously ancient roller skates.

And to think, as a kid, I went to the roller rink twice a week for years. Now? I’m old and feeble and sad.

Presidential Politics and Sports Fandom

Sorry, political post, but this has been jostling around in my brainmeats for the last few weeks and I’m finally tossing it up on my blog. It started with the Bill Simmons interview with Barack Obama on sports fandom and why it pushed certain buttons in my brain and percolated into this itch. 

I like my leaders to be sports fans.  I don’t know why. I don’t have a rational reason.  Their sports fandom or lack thereof does not impact their ability to make decisions on foreign or domestic policy in any conceivable way.  But it’s one of those things I like.  I like sports, they like sports, even if we hate each other on every other topic we have a common ground to share.  I want my leaders to be honest rabid fans of something.  I want to read their diatribes in interviews.  I want to know they care about stuff I care about.  It’s a thing.

I’m not the only one and it is not only this election year.  Frex, Nixon was a notorious rabid professional football fan.  Here’s an old clip from a Hunter S. Thompson interview about Pat Buchanan, Richard Nixon and football:

Oh, boy. The Raiders were playing against the Packers, which was Nixon’s team, and nobody else on the press bus could talk about it, they were afraid of Nixon on football. He was known to be a hard rocker and very involved. And (press secretary) Patrick Buchanan — I’ve always liked Patrick Buchanan — he was looking for somebody to ride with the boss and talk football, and these other guys, political wizards, nobody volunteered. I was the only one on the press bus who volunteered.

You know, Gerald Ford played Center for University of Michigan. Ronald Reagan played 4 years of college ball, did sports broadcasting, and played Knute Rockne in the biographical movie (thus “The Gipper.”) Bill Clinton never met a golf ball he didn’t like — dude still sponsors the Bob Hope PGA Classic every year. And George W. Bush, say whatever you want to say about the guy, was some sort of Rhodes Scholar of Baseball. Guy could go in depth on the impact of All Star games from the 40s and 50s on how they play ball today. Hate the guy’s politics, I’d totally listen at his feet for his Baseball Wisdom.  He’s like the Baseball Buddha.*

Obama is a basketball super-fiend.  I keep hoping, when he’s done being President of the United States, he gets a rotating spot on ESPN Sportscenter.  When he was running in 2008, I appreciated a completely random rant on the BCS and why it should die in fire.  I thought, okay, on this, man, we are totally on the same page.  McCain’s responses to the BCS were weak and flaccid but Obama?  Dude thought about the Greatest Issue Facing Us Today and had OPINIONS.  Say what you want, but when it comes to sports, well, I don’t agree with Obama on his love for the Tar Heels and I’m not as big into the Bulls but hey, we can’t have everything.  (I picked the Wildcats to win Tourney.)

When I see stuff like this  I just wince.  Romney, after gaffs about “knowing NASCAR team owners” and “knowing the owner of the Miami Dolphins” coughs up this gem:

The Republican presidential candidate said Tuesday he won’t fill

out a bracket — an annual tradition for tens of millions of Americans — because he hasn’t been playing close enough attention.

“I’m not plugged in well enough this year to do that,” Romney told reporters in Missouri.

He said that in Missouri where Missou is a #2 Tourney seed.  I’m running around going dude stop now.  It’s bad enough he sounds like Richy McRich, but he couldn’t even find some intern on his staff to fill out a bracket for him and brandish it around showing University of Missouri winning.  To even pretend.  For Christ’s sake, dude! And I get from him that in his gilded, closeted life, the guy has no passions about anything — and he went to BYU, a legitimate basketball school.   And Stanford.  And Harvard.  From none of this did he get one ounce of love for Tourney.  The mind boggles.  He is a Rombot.

I have no idea if Santorum or Gingrich watch sports or like sports or even conceive of An Exciting Sporting Event.  What would I talk to these guys about?  As much as I deride the whole “I could have a beer with the President,” I couldn’t have a beer with these guy.  I just… don’t… know.  Do they watch Sportscenter?  Do their eyes glance over the Sports Illustrated page or try to call up one of various apps to get the scores while on the road?  Would they do that sort of thing?  I just don’t know!

What I’m saying in a roundabout manner is that this stuff is important.  I like the passion.  I like the interest in something other than the job.  When they talk about “connecting with voters,” it’s this kind of thing.  It’s NCAA Brackets.  It’s having a Super Bowl party.  It’s Dubya choking on a pretzel during a Rangers game.  It’s being Nixon on the bus terrifying people with his insane football Eyebeams.  

* Buddha was neither short nor fat.  Just so you know.

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game

While I’m not a big fan of the Leverage TV show, I am a fan of the Leverage RPG and the unfathomable malleability of the Cortex Plus system.  In the hands of a mad post-it note-er, the game is a fast, wild ride through the rampaging dark caverns of a gamer’s id.   Yeah, it’s a damn fine game.

I come to the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game thinking hard about ways to make it do things it shouldn’t.  When I introduce my list of nerddoms, my affinity for comic books lists ahead of video games or RPGs; comics predates any of those pithy things.  I have comics in my bookcase I bought when I was 10 years old (Ambush Bug vs. Superman!) so ragged and torn they hardly look like books and identifiable only by their iconic Hostess advertisements.  

I’m not primarily supers fan.  The last book I read was “Joe the Barbarian” by Grant Morrison a whole two days ago.  Vertigo is my go-to imprint 80% of the time.  But I do confess… when I reach for supers, I reach for Marvel.  X-Men first, mostly, then Avengers, then Spider Man, then everything else.   

In this framework, knowing Cortex Plus is putty in the hands of the overly imaginative, I read Marvel Heroic RPG and found it… more a comics roleplaying game than a pure Supers game.  I’ve played, much to my eternal sadness and stains upon my soul, certain Supers games and they… were Super games trying valiantly to keep the comics unbalance in powers, relations and cosmic silliness.  Marvel Heroic RPG waggles its hands at this problem and says hey, look, you can play all kinds of Marvel and to hell with worrying about if Kitty Pryde is on an equal level as Captain America in the comics.  Everyone on a level playing field!  We’re going to roll some dice and punch things!

I start thinking… could I use it to play Fables? Could one fight off incursions into Fabletown? How about more abstract? Could one do one’s own version of a new current fav of mine, the Unwritten and stat up dice for characters from literature? Or even more abstract — The Walking Dead? Here’s the thing — Cortex Plus is malleable and adaptable.  These rules for comics.  I think so.

What about the game?

The Cortex Plus system, as a stand alone system, is fast and simple.  Roll some dice, pull out the 1s as HORRIBLE DIRE CONSEQUENCES, add up the top two dice and pick a die as the “size” of the result and compare on a contest.  That’s about it.  One can do fun tricks to add dice to one’s pool to juice the result (including tossing in d4s to encourage horrible dire consequences).  The system is stunt driven — the more a player tosses in wackiness, the more dice they roll, the crazier the result.  

As a pure Marvel game, while I haven’t played yet and only read the examples, my gut tells me Marvel Heroic RPG works.  The new Cortex Plus mechanics of the Doom Pool took a few passes to get the gist of how consequences compound, and I worked through the stress tracks a few times, but I cannot find any obvious gotchas or breakdowns.  I’m struck how the game solves the worst problem plaguing Supers games, the “Superman and Batman” problem, by simply saying Hey, They Have Their Strengths, Let’s Play Them Up and Move On.  Game feels simple, lightweight, and fast.  All good things in my book — I get frowny at games heavy with their own importance.  

The meat of my post — a good things/bad things comparison.

Good Things:

- Cortex Plus is fun! 

- Operations Manual’s layout is sane.  It progresses from basics to Doom Pool to consequences, stress, resources, et al and ends with a helpful “how to play” chapter with a lengthy example.  Only after the book explains the game does the book meander off into how to run the game, how to write scenarios, example scenario, and goodies.

- Game is light, fast and cinematic.  Everything for a character is on a single sheet; no need to paw through stacks of source books to figure out how one stat or power works.

- I found the Cyclops and Emma Frost examples running through the book helpful, despite having no love for Cyclops.  The examples are in blue call out blocks directly after the demonstrated rule.  I did end up reading some examples several times. 

- Dude, one of the two example scenarios is Avengers vs. Dinosaurs.  While yeah, I know this comes from a Bendis run, it’s still Avengers vs. Dinosaurs.  With stat blocks for dinosaurs!  I admit: I didn’t read the Avengers punch mobs of Bad Guys scenario. I did read Avengers vs. Dinosaurs.  Dinosaurs are awesome.  

- Book is quite nice upon the eyes, for lo, it is a nice looking book.

- On finishing reading the book, I knew how to play (if not run).  Victory for the good guys!  A technical manual that conveys information to the reader!  A mark of a superior product!  How many RPGs have a I read and had no clue?  Answer: most of them.

Bad Things:

- The Doom Pool is a tad confusing.  Another example crammed into the book would have done me a world of good.  It’s my “oh god a new mechanic WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE” instincts kicking in a bit.

- This book will not please the diehard Supers gamers for so many reasons it will take another 1300 word post to fill.  (I’m not one, so all good.) 

- The mix of Marvel PCs is real off.  I understand the need to sell future supplements and give a broad taste of the Marvel ruleset but we’re left with a handful of Avengers, Cyclops and Wolverine with no Jean Grey, etc.  I chalk up the extensive Emma Frost to someone’s fanboyness of the Grant Morrison New X-Men run.  I felt like I bought a Magic starter set and now had an eclectic mix of half-made useful sets and combos.

- References to Characters Not Appearing In This Book in Rule Blocks and/or Art:  Mystique. Ghost Rider. Dazzler(!!). Professor X.  To name a few.   Game is clearly not a contained game but the core rules ala the nWoD core rules with expectations one will buy the add-on packs.  ”If you like this you will LOVE the Civil War Expansion!”  This is unbelievably awkward but unavoidable with the architecture of the core book and planned expansions.  The core book has to have all the core “stuff” but needs to sell expansions.  It cannot be a compendium of the top 100 Marvel characters. So we end up with, say, half of Quicksilver’s stats in a random example.  Quicksilver isn’t that useful in the first place and half of him is pathetic.  This left me with the feeling of editorial sloppiness and some poor choices.

- NO DOCTOR STRANGE.  -10 points.  As a huge Mighty God King fan, this is unforgivable.  My tiny fist, it shakes!  Seriously, the lack of a Dr. Strange is sad.  I would have dumped any of the example PCs for Dr. Strange.

- The MWP website for the game is tragic.  Yeah, okay, not a game thing, per se, but honestly: the website is tragic.

LOOK, A CONCLUSION!

May be a little skinny on meat and substance for some die hard Supers gamers to get going right off the bat and will become more interesting with later supplements but for $13 at Drive Thru RPG, I can think of no rational reason not to buy the game.  It’s ridiculously cheap so go buy it.  I like it and I feel it has some deep, untapped potential.  It’s a more accessible gateway into Cortex Plus than Leverage or Smallville.  

So yeah.  Excepting a few small quibble, it’s a great game. Good job, guys.