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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

I'm saddened and awed by the stories coming out of New Orleans and the surrounding area. More or less by coincidence, a few weeks ago, I started reading Erik Larson's haunting, riveting Isaac's Storm, the story of the hurricane that devastated Galveston, Texas, on September 8, 1900, one of the deadliest storms in history.

The details of the book have, of course, many parallels with the stories I've seen in the headlines over the past few days. I'm very grateful for the many advances of the past century in understanding storms. The hurricane that struck Galveston in 1900 caught most of its victims unprepared. Even the meteorologists on Galveston Island, watching the barometric pressure drop, studying the changes in the wind and the waves, didn't recognize the sheer power of what was coming. With Hurricane Katrina, most people at least had warning. Areas were evacuated and preparations were made. But of course it still wasn't enough. Far too many people have died and thousands have lost their homes. It's tragic.

And on a minor note, it's making it hard for me to finish reading Isaac's Storm. That 105-year distance that helped to make its stories of lost lives and lost hopes a little more bearable has been swept away by the storm in the headlines.

My thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones in this latest hurricane, with the people waiting for news from their families and friends, and, too, with those thousands lost in Galveston all those years ago.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

April showers... a load of bile on her viewers

Every episode of Big Brother frustrates the heck out of me these days. The show is a paean to mediocrity. The skilled, intelligent players are consistestenly voted out by the lesser lights. First Kaysar was booted because of the machinations of the pathetic, spineless Jen, and now April, a boring, sanctimonious, self-righteous, annoying player if ever I saw one, has managed to set things up to "back door" James, one of the better players the game has seen. Pfui.

I could rant about Jen at some length, but I'll sum it up pretty quickly. When America voted by a whopping 82 percent to put Kaysar back in the house, he ended up in a head of household ("HOH") competition within minutes. Fourteen hours later, it was down to him and Jen, and he could have easily gone longer. But (probably trying to position himself as a nice guy and not a huge threat) he offered her an alliance instead of waiting her out. She agreed to it, and then, days later, went back on what she'd said. If she'd been lying to him at the time, out of strategy, I would have probably respected her for playing the game that way. But she wasn't lying. She meant it, then proceeded down a path of rationalizations for going back on what she'd said and screwing him over. What a weasel.

What was particularly interesting about tonight's episode, though, was the America's Choice feature and the emotions it brought up in the players. To put it simply, viewers voting on their cell phones (and maybe on the web site--I didn't vote on this one) could decide which player they wanted to receive a phone call from a loved one. The voters picked California girl Janelle, probably because they thought it would be entertaining to see her receive a call from Michael, the player she'd "hooked up" with earlier in the game. The players in alliance annoyingly christened "the Friendship" were incensed. They have somehow painted themselves as the "good guys" of the game, blissfully unaware at how disliked they generally are by the viewers. They couldn't imagine that voters would pick slightly trashy Janelle over one of them. Yvette, known around our house as "the Mouth" was reduced to tears.

But April's reaction was the most entertaining. She was convinced that the contest was rigged and went so far as to say that anyone who voted for Janelle was a "piece of sh!t" and that the American public must be stupid. Way to respect your audience there, April!

Eh. Enough time spent on Big Brother tonight.

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Door Number 6: Trying out a new name

Well, I haven't decided to the point where I'm ready to change the URL or anything, but for now, I'm going to go with the Door Number 6 name. The name ties back into a short story I wrote about half a lifetime ago. I don't have it handy, and it's been years since I've even read it, but it always meant a lot to me. The essential meaning of the "Door Number 6" phrase went back to the concept of the story:

A very down-on-his-luck man stumbled, drunk, into a bus station, ready to give up on his life. There he met another man, somewhat angelic, who seemed to offer him the opportunity to restart his life in a series of magical worlds. Passing one at a time through five different doors, the protagonist found himself briefly in El Dorado, Camelot, Oz, Shangri-La, and one other world I can't remember at the moment. In each, he found a measure of peace, serenity, and hope. And yet, he ended up deciding that none of them was right for him. Turning his back on the magical worlds, he headed back to reality--door number 6, the door he'd come in. The story was a little naïve, but earnestly felt, and it's got a soft spot in my heart.

So, at any rate, welcome to Door Number 6. Reality, but with a bunch of glimpses into other worlds...

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Character of the Week: Small Wonder

Here's a fun character I created for the Hero City campaign I run in the Global Guardians PBeM game. He's already given the PCs some headaches and likely will return at some point to bedevil them. I enjoy him because he's cute and innocent-looking, cherubic, even. And he's always got a painted smile on his face. But he's as foul-mouthed, vicious, spiteful, and just plain evil-hearted as all get-out.

Here's an excerpt from his background:

On the beautiful July morning when the Hero City theme park was opening its gates to visitors for the first time, the technomancer Daemon of the squad of hackers and thieves called the Comets had one important job: to create distractions in all of the entertainment company's theme parks in the area. The distractions would help his team fulfill its real mission.

Daemon found himself on an air-conditioned boat ride through a world of small dolls, all moving to the sound of singing children. He rather liked the music, though he hated to admit it, and used his magically enhanced PDA to cast spells on literally dozens of the dolls via IR beams. He was confident that when the time came, they would do what he needed them to do.

Most of them would. One, however, reacted somewhat differently than expected. Not even it knows why. Perhaps the magical effect was enhanced somehow. Or perhaps a temperamental demon or poltergeist got caught up in the spell.

Whatever the reason, although dozens of the dolls became animated, one in particular was stronger, more intelligent, more aggressive, and more perverse than the rest. One of them became a free-willed powerhouse with a knack for destruction. One of them became Small Wonder.

You can read the rest here.

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Friday, August 26, 2005

Back from vacation

Dina, the boys, and I spent the better part of the past week on vacation in Galveston, Texas. This was our first real family vacation, where we were weren’t also attending a wedding or visiting family, or somesuch. Not that those aren’t wonderful trips, but it was nice—and neat—to be on the road, just the four of us. And it was wonderful to introduce our four-year-old and nine-month-old sons to the beach. By my grandmother’s good graces, we were able to stay in a timeshare condominium on Seawall Boulevard, Galveston’s main strip. So I’ve been slow to post, but plan to post some anecdotes about the trip and about Galveston itself over the next few days.

The only picture of all four of us was one on the beach, and I'm a little hesitant to post a swimsuit photo of myself just out of the gate, so I'll hold off on that and treat you to an image of my lovely wife Dina and our sons (that's Alex on the left and Zack in Dina's arms) at the Rainforest Café. More later, and I'll try to post the character of the week today, too.

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Friday, August 19, 2005

Character of the Week: Nordkapp Man

I've only got a few minutes to post, so I'll direct you to one of my favorite PCs, already housed on the Global Guardians site. I'll post his image here, though, too. A great amateur artist going by the handle Mangog on the Hero Games web site created his image for me. He drew both images and colored the one in the blue shirt; I colored the one in the orange shirt.

Here's an excerpt:

On March 15, 1964, a team of Norwegian geologists investigating a glacial fragment that had recently settled against a fjord on the North Cape of Norway, near the town of Nordkapp. They made a startling discovery, one of the most amazing archaeological finds of the twentieth century. Frozen in the fragment, perfectly preserved, they discovered a Neanderthal hunter. His pale skin was intact, his arms outstretched as if trying to catch himself. Wanting to preserve the specimen, they proceeded carefully, leaving the ice around his body. They’d all heard stories about wooly mammoths broken free from the ice, their bodies beginning to rot almost as soon as the air and the heat touched them. They wished to risk no such destruction of their Neanderthal, who they dubbed "the Nordkapp Man." Quickly, they contacted a team of archaeologists to help them preserve the body and study it properly. Late that evening, though, something rather amazing shook them up even more than their initial discover. Beneath the ice, the Nordkapp Man’s eyes opened.

To read the rest, click here.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Limas, limas burning bright--the follow-up

As I reported last week, we had some fireworks inside our microwave when we tried to heat up some lima beans for Alex (hey, he likes lima beans!). We've avoided using it since, and were concerned that we might need to replace the entire unit.

Dina called GE and the customer service rep told her that it was likely a faulty magnatron tube, which was covered under a 10-year warranty. So she arranged for a repairman to come by today to take a look at it. If it were the magnatron, we were told, the part would be free. If it were another part, we'd get a discount on it. We were responsible for a $50 visit fee, plus labor.

Here's the weird science part of the story: The friendly repairman checked out the microwave for a few minutes and pronounced it fit as a fiddle. We were out of lima beans, but he tried to reproduce the problem with the same plate and mixed veggies. No go. He was convinced there was metal in the microwave somewhere, and when we discussed it some more, he finally concluded that the flames we saw were caused by the high iron content of the limas. Who knew?

Here's the "they're always out to gouge you" part of the story: In addition to the $50 visit fee, he attempted to charge me an additional $50 "customer education" fee. When I protested, it turned out that he was actually trying to save me money. If he charged us for 20 minutes of labor for his time checking out the microwave, he'd have to charge us an additional $100 instead.

At that point, trying not to take out my frustrations on the affable repairman, I called Dina on the cell phone to make sure I had all the details of her conversation with GE straight. She'd gone over everything very carefully with the GE customer service rep. If they needed to replace a faulty piece, then we were responsible for the labor. But all the man had done was test the microwave. He ended up calling GE customer service. The rep eventually asked to talk to me, and was quite rude. The best offer he would give me would be a $25 rebate. I asked for his supervisor and was put on hold indefinitely. All the while, the repairman was standing there waiting to go on to his next call.

Ultimately, his concern about getting to the next customer paid off. He called his boss, telling him I was willing to pay the $50 fee, but not a penny more. The boss took about half a second to say "okay," and that was it. Once we cut out the corporate machine and its set procedures, we arrived at a fair price.

Education fee. I ask you. Phooey.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Keep them close

I went to the mall today during my lunch hour to pick up some California rolls (mmm! mall sushi!). Before I made it to the food court, I noticed an elderly couple bent over, talking to a young boy, about two and a half, who was standing there with a perplexed expression, clutching a bag of M&M's. I walked on past into a store, then thought better of it; something in the couple's manner indicated that they weren't grandparents or great-grandparents watching a beloved descendent. The child was lost.

I chatted with the couple for a few moments to confirm my suspicions, offering to ask a clerk to call security. This agreed upon, I darted into a CD store, where the clerk indicated that he was brand new and had no idea how to make the call. Someone at Lenscrafters did, but before the security arrived, a frantic woman came trotting up--the kid's mom, adrenaline clearly pumping, relieved when she was able to spot the boy. She'd come from the food court, about a dozen store lengths away.

The boy seemed a bit out of sorts through the whole thing, but he never cried or seemed particularly upset. He was trusting that everything was sorted out. The mother tried to give the M&M's "back" to the couple, then was surprised to learn that the boy had had them when the couple had discovered them.

As the father of a four-year-old and an eight-month-old, I was very relieved for the mother, but taken aback, too. Just how did he manage to get so far away without her noticing? And where in the heck did he get those M&M's?

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Friday, August 12, 2005

Character of the Week: Mung

One of my favorite hobbies is playing role-playing games, especially when using the Hero System. I don't get much opportunity to play face-to-face games anymore, but I do get to play games by e-mail now and then. It's usually not too hard to find a few minutes here and there to post a turn or describe your character's actions. The games move at a much slower pace than face-to-face games (an adventure that might take four hours to resolve sitting around a table with a few other players, some dice, and a pizza might take months to resolve via e-mail), but players also can take the time to use more characterization, to play off each other a bit more, and to think through puzzles or tactical situations. It helps to indulge my writing bug.

At any rate, I end up creating a number of characters--both player characters, or PCs (characters that I plan to run as a player) and non-player characters (background, supporting, or antagonistic characters run by the gamemaster, a role I also fill fairly often). Some of them get shared with others, but a number of them end up languishing on my disk drive for one reason or another.

I thought that it might be fun to share some of these characters on this site from time to time, to see what people think of them, or to give people the opportunity to use them in their own campaigns. Let me know what you think.

I'll start with an old favorite of mine, Mung. You can read about him here.

Here's an excerpt from his background to whet your appetites...

"Gray-skinned Tarmyk Firebristle was reputed to be the most taciturn and stoic of Khazak minstrels, if not the most skilled, yet even he was known to lift a calloused hand to his leathery cheek and brush away an unashamed tear when he related the tale of the fall of the Harralind Mines. The story sat heavy on Dwarven hearts, and was generally reserved for the gravest of occasions—funerals, visits of states, times of war, and nights when the listeners were all already very, very drunk."

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

What's in a name?

I'm still struggling with a "cool" name for this site. Let me toss a few out there and see if any of them stick. There are various reasons behind them, but most people wouldn't pick up on them, so I'll just run the names without the explanations.

Door Number 6
Folding Paper
Dread Pirate Rob's Blog

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What's in this blog?

I was telling a coworker that I'd started a blog and he asked, quite legitimately, what kind of content I planned to have on it. My answer to him was fuzzy and I'm going to try to clarify things in my own mind with this post, as a kind of statement of purpose.

I'm sure that this site will evolve over time, but for now, I see it as a repository for a variety of comments on things that interest me. I might write about what I'm watching on TV, about books or comic books I'm reading, about role-playing games, about customer service, or about writing and editing.

For now at least, I will probably stay away from more inflammatory topics. I'm not likely to talk about my work much. Nor am I likely to talk about religion or politics. One of these days, I might venture onto that ground, but for now, I think I'd rather try to stick to debates about the virtues of Star Trek: Enterprise vs. Battlestar Galactica and when to use "which" and "that" rather getting caught up in the elephant/donkey theater.

One of my favorite blogs is Mark Evanier's News from ME site and I plan to take it as a model (with the exception that I'll veer away from politics for now). He writes about dozens of varying topics that interest him--the pioneers of the comic book industry, old game shows, Broadway, restaurants, the media, and even animals that visit his backyard. There's probably no one out there who's interested in all of the same topics he is (although, of course, he writes about most of them engagingly), but he's essentially writing for himself. He writes about what interests him and all of those things resonate with some of his readers. So I might be the only person in the world interested in play by e-mail role-playing games, Big Brother 6, snowmobiling, and copyediting, but when I write about those topics, I hope that at least some will resonate with people visiting the site.

Time will tell.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Going mercenary

I'm experimenting with a couple of new things on this site. Specifically, I've added an Amazon.com search bar and a Google ad to the right navigation menu. For the most part, this is just me tinkering around, but both could, eventually, have some benefit for me. If visitors to the site click the Google ads often enough, I get a few cents. By the same note, if someone uses my web site to search for something on Amazon and buys it, I get a small percentage as a gift certificate.

Neither of these prospects has me rolling up my sleeves and reevaluating my economic future, but I'll be interested to see if anything comes of them. In particular, I'm planning to write occasional reviews of books I've read and to reference things I recommend. I can also provide appropriate links to those items, so if they interest you, and you care to buy them from Amazon, please do so from my site. I assure you that I won't oversell anything in the hopes of someone buying it. In fact, when I get a chance to write it, my first such review will probably be a pan.

I'll keep you posted on how these things work out. They're more an experiment for me than anything else.


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Things that drive me nuts about Big Brother, part 2

In my earlier post about Big Brother, I forgot to mention a doozie: the fact that people in the house talk as though people who are voted out of the house are actually dead. This fluctuates for me between being melodramatic and being just plain creepy. Notice the lovely image of James at the left, munching down on the show's ubiquitous PB&J (I'd be screwed if I were on the show, by the way, as I can't stand peanut butter). His quote practically vibrates with melodrama. "You can't kill me!" Hello! Eviction from Big Brother does not equal death.

Still, I'm hoping that they resurrect Kaysar this week. :)

By the way, the "annekat is not here" blog (which I discovered after she posted a comment here--thanks for visiting!) has an interesting, if merciless, post about Julie Chen. I don't mind Julie as much as Anne apparently does, but she's not exactly the most scintillating host in reality TV history and it drives me nuts that her scripts are so repetitive, unoriginal, and wooden.

EDIT: Fixed spelling of Kaysar's name.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

Limas, limas burning bright in the microwave tonight

We were heating up some lima beans for Alex's dinner tonight, when the limas suddenly caught fire. They were in the microwave for less than 10 seconds.

An interesting sight, but I'm afraid that it means that we're going to need a new microwave, unless someone knows some mysterious rule of lima combustion that I'm unfamiliar with.

The question is whether it will be better to try to repair the microwave or buy a new one. I suspect the latter, but sure would prefer not to have to mess with it. Besides, we like the microwave we have now.


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Sunday, August 07, 2005


With a little trepidation, I'm going to try out the comments feature for a while, just to see if I get feedback and, if so, what kind of feedback I get. Feel free to post as long as you're not flaming or here to be a troll. I haven't really told many people about this site yet, but have started including it in the footer of my e-mails from my gmail account, so I'm wondering if anyone will get curious and check it out. Time will tell.

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Friday, August 05, 2005

Obligatory Martha Stewart joke

I'm sure I'm not the only one who saw this commercial and wondered to myself, "Hey, where's her ankle bracelet?"

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Things that drive me nuts about Big Brother

Okay. True confession time.

Dina and I watch Big Brother 6. I'm not particularly proud of it, but there you go. Like the other Big Brother shows (we've watched all except Big Brother 2), it's somewhat addictive--the shenanigans, the shifting alliances, the silly games, the attempts at surprises (this year, the "Summer of Surprises," has so far failed to surprise much). And it's something we watch and chat about together during the summer.

But there are things that drive me nuts about the damn show, too. For example:

  • Every time Julie Chen says the words "send shockwaves through the house."
  • Stupid nicknames (in this case, Eric being called "Cappy" all the time).
  • The way that players mangle the English language: "me and Kaysar have gotten to be good friends in the house" or "James and myself have formed an alliance." Argh!
  • The way that Julie Chen mangles the English language (although I guess I should blame her script writers). Folks, "they" is not a singular pronoun.
  • The way the show keeps trying to pretend that its secrets are still secrets. The players figured out the first week that they all had secret partners, but the game tried to milk it for weeks, acting as if the players should be surprised at this great secret they figured out early on. Or this week, when the "big reveal" is that one evicted player will return to the household. My dog Callie saw that one coming. Sigh.
Eh. I'll undoubtedly have more soon.

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Rob's Blog

So I did a Google search for "Rob's Blog" and came up with 247,000+ hits, none of them mine. Clearly, I am not the first to come up with this illustrious name. I'm trying to come up with something cooler, but for some reason, I'm coming up dry. A name like Lunar Adventures would be cool if my friend Andy hadn't come up with it instead of me.

I'll keep trying to think of something cool...

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Wedding Crashers and the copyediting geeks

Okay. I hinted at a Wedding Crashers anecdote, so here it is. Dina and I went to see the movie a couple of Saturdays ago. I recommend it, by the way. It's crude, but very funny, especially during the first half.

Fairly early in the movie, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn were reading about the wedding of Secretary Cleary's daughter (with Secretary Cleary played by Christopher Walken). The newspaper story was flashed on the screen for maybe a second and a half. During that time, I spotted a sentence that said something along the lines of "The Cleary's are expected to have...." Seeing it, I clucked silently to myself. That apostrophe should never have been there. Then I shrugged it off. It was only on screen for a second or so. I was probably the only person in America to notice the damn thing. What kind of geek was I to catch a misplaced apostrophe in a newspaper flashed onto a movie screen for that short of a time?

Then Dina turned and whispered to me, "There was a really bad apostrophe error in that newspaper."

Clearly, we were made for each other.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

SaveDisney.com update

I'm not sure how long the site will still be up, but SaveDisney.com has put up a series of articles celebrating Walt Disney, his musings, his philosophies, and his family. I haven't had a chance to go through much of it yet, but it looks like there are some really neat articles there. Take a look if you get a chance.

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Slow posting

Sorry for the slow posting of late. I've been very busy and it's been difficult to find the time to send a cogent post. I've thought through posts on Big Brother 6, The Amazing Race season 1, a Fantastic Four graphic novel I found at the library, the new Harry Potter book, an amusing anecdote from when Dina and I saw The Wedding Crashers a little over a week ago, and more. But I'm always away from the computer or totally tied up when they come to mind. Maybe some of those, at least, will make their way up here soon. (I'm listing them here less out of a desire to tantalize--yeah, right, like anyone's dying to read my latest musings anyway--and more as a memory jogger for myself).

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