Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Postal Service, Insurance Offered by

I am very suspicious of postal insurance. When the post office employee asks me "would you like to insure this," I am always tempted to ask "why, what are you planning to do it?" The trouble is, I always thought the insurance should be implied. I give them the package, they deliver it safely and intact. When I get in a taxi cab, the guy doesn't ask me if I want life insurance. It is implied that he will deliver me safely and intact to my destination.

The whole "would you like insurance" question always reminds me of a mob shakedown.

"So, what's in the package? Is it, ya know, valuable?"
"Well, kind of..."
"You should, ya know, insure it... packages like that can be very delicate. It'd be a shame if it had an accident."

While we are on the subject, what is it that they do the packages that aren't marked 'fragile?' And what is with the instructions not to 'fold, spindle, or mutliate.' I can understand the fold thing, spindling just seems archaically quaint right now, but asking them not to mutilate my package also seems like it should be an implied request. "I'd like to mail this, and please don't chop it into confetti."

Santa, Belief in in Christmas Films; Santa, Nonlocality of

I have been watching Christmas movies and specials lately. In movies in which Santa exists and actually delivers presents, why is it that adults still don't believe in him? Where do they think the presents they didn't buy are coming from?


I finally figured out the mystery of Santa Claus. He can deliver presents to all of the little children of the world in one night easily by exploiting quantum theory. Somehow, he is able to exist as a superposition of waveforms and is therefore nonlocal. I suspect he can use some form of Christmas magic to suspend self-observation. Not only does he deliver all of the presents on one night, he does so simultaneously and instantly. Provided he isn't observed. The moment he is observed, Christmas is ruined. That is why it is vitally important that children go to bed before Santa comes.

"I want to stay up and see Santa!"
"You have to go to bed or else you'll collapse Santa's waveform and ruin Christmas for the entire rest of the world. Is that what you want?"


This also explains how he can get down chimneys, even when no chimney exists. See: barrier penetration.

Friday, December 4, 2009

My New Project

I have been thinking a lot about time travel lately. Not so much about whether it is possible or how it could be accomplished, but how I could make money off of it without having to invent it. Unfortunately, I simply do not have the scientific aptitude needed to actually create time travel. But I have been hearing a lot of nice things lately about 'money' and I was thinking I should try and acquire some. The trouble is that I am, at heart, an idea man. That is to say, I am lazy and would like to be paid without having to actually do anything. So, time travel.

My first plan has already failed. I sent a certifed letter to Western Union to hold until it could be delivered and addressed it to "The Inventor of Time Travel." Inside, I politely requested a brief visit for an interview and that I would be available all day on November 30, 2009. He (or she) never showed, I assume because he checked the newspaper archives and discovered that I had never published an article about him and he therefore suspected I was up to no good. Touche, inventor of time travel. Touche.

But that got me to thinking about time travellers. I have seen enough movies to know that everytime someone goes back in time, the future ends up completely different (and usually worse). So, if time travel is ever going to be invented, the present has probably already been changed numerous times (for the worse) and that is why I am currently living the life I am now instead of the one I want to live. It is not that I am lazy and waste all of my time on get-rich-quick schemes involving the manipulation of time, space, and quantum probability, it is time travellers from the future. We're all victims, in fact, its not just me. You expected more out of your life, didn't you? Don't you think you deserve it? Its not your fault that the present is failing to live up to the promises of the past. Its all in my book: "Blame All of Your Problems on Careless Time Travellers from the Future." Coming soon to a book store near you. Reserve your copy today.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Save Money and Time by Being a Jerk

When you are on the phone with technical support, the moment you loudly and rudely assert that something cannot possibly be the problem because you checked it several times and have been working with it for years without issue and have done nothing differently today when the moronic company's worthless product stopped working and insist that the fellow on the other end of the phone must have his cranium lodged, impossibly, in his rect....


When you are on the phone with technical support, the moment you loudly and rudely assert that something cannot be the problem, you have virtually guaranteed the problem will turn out to be exactly what you said it cannot be. This is true even if you checked it three times and really do know what you are doing. This isn't news to anyone, I know. We know that nature abohors a jerk and will take every opportunity to embarass one.

But there is a way to make this work for you if you don't mind being a jerk anyway. And lets face it, after you have spent more than fifteen minutes on the phone with tech support, you're probably feeling pretty jerkish. So, whenever you call tech support, always become rude right away and insist, loudly and obnoxiously, that the problem cannot be something that is cheap and extremely easy to fix. For a computer, I suggest screaming at the person for even suggesting the computer is not plugged in, or perhaps that the problem cannot possibly be the "Hello, Kitty" stickers you have decorated the casing with.

For the same reason, when dealing a mechanic, never under circumstances say: "it can't possibly the transmission, it doesn't feel like the transmission, you moron" or "cracked engine block? I'll crack your engine block." Be warned, your better mechanics will actually try and bait you into doing exactly this.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Farewell Power Source Listeners

This is an open letter to all of those who have listened to me over the past two months on The Power Source. As of now, I will no longer be a part of the show. It was a fun ride, if a bit brief, and very rocky at the end.

In brief, the other night, I was informed that I had misunderstood my role on the show and that it would be continuing without me.
It began in late September when I was lurking on the D&D Community forums and saw a post by Jared Glenn seeking a cohost to help start up a new D&D podcast. Podcasting is something I have wanted to try my hand at for a long time, but I have always been something of a 'someday' podcaster. Someday, I'll do it. Well, someday was today.

We met, via Skype, a few days after I responded and instantly hit it off. Jared had clearly been planning this endeavor for a while, had purchased some sound equipment, and had rough outline already. But he was open and receptive, fun, and easy to talk to. I pushed for some things I wanted to hear, some things I wanted to be a part of the show. Some ideas were imitative of other podcasts, others were uniquely our own. We cobbled together ideas for the segments, building on his idea of outlining the show with various power source titles. I helped fill in some of the segments that were blank on his side. We went back and forth, talked about what would work and what wouldn't, what we belong where, and what would make us unique. In the end, together, we created the format that would become the core of the show.

Things came together very smoothly after that, for the most part. There were some creative differences, but nothing that we couldn't work out. We joked on the show once or twice about our bloody preshow meetings. We had a great on-air chemistry and a workable off-air chemistry, fueled by our differences as much as by our similarities. And by every measure, we were fairly successful right out of the gate. I was riding high and so was Jared. We would talk about our download numbers, check our reviews and average ratings obsessively, and refresh our e-mail boxes ten times an hour. I was finally convinced to join Twitter.

Last week, just before Thanksgiving, Jared and I had a bit of an argument. I really have no desire to go into it, but it amounted to a question of ownership of the show and acting as partners instead of as individuals. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I had misunderstood the nature of the relationship and that I should not have thought of myself as an equal partner. That is why I had been referred to as "and joining me once more" rather than as a host or even as a cohost. We hashed even this out, proving that reason and compromise could win the day. Because, of course, we both had a stake, our names were side by side on the podcast. We had divided the work as evenly as possible given that I could not really help with the sound editing. We had divided the costs involved, except for the sound mixing equipment Jared had purchased, but we had agreed this would be all right given that he would keep it if the show failed.

On Sunday, November 29th, I was told that I was no longer a part of the show due to my misunderstanding of the terms of my participation; Jared had not been seeking a partner and felt he had been clear on this all along. I was told that the show would continue without my participation or approval. Jared had laid claim to everything I had brought onto the show as his own. And, as he has so bluntly put it, I have no recourse.

Sadly, this is true. There truly is nothing I can do except roll over and accept that something that I helped built had been taken from me over a senseless argument as to whether it was 'our' show or 'Jared's' show. In time, my name and my contributions to the show will be forgotten, though they will continue to be built into the very foundation of the show. I am not going to hash out which segments and ideas are mine because that turns me into Jared. Every idea of how the show was put together was something that evolved through our collaborative effort.

To all of those who have listened to me, I will truly miss you. I loved reading each and every e-mail, reading your tweets, reading your reviews, every bit. And that is why I wish Jared all of the best in continuing this project. Although the mean spirited, spiteful part of me wants revenge, the rest of me knows that the foundation that Jared and I laid down together will make for a great show, whether I am there or not. I would not deny any D&D fan out there the right to enjoy it. Unfortunately, slighted and betrayed as I might feel, knowing full well that I have been robbed of my time and creative energy unfairly; it is still all about the game and the fans.

And so I say: best of luck to all of you, happy gaming, and thank you for listening. Being a part of your lives is the only real loss here for me.

Feel free to drop me a comment here or follow me on twitter at

And happy holidays.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

D&D Patch Day Makes Me Feel Like a Grognard

A couple of weeks ago, Wizards of the Coast released a major rules update for Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition (yes, this is one of -those- posts for all of you non-gamers). Instantly, the D&D Community forums lit up with angry protests (from players) and relieved cheers (from DMs). As an occasional, casual MMORPG player, I am no stranger to 'patch day' on the forums. It was just a little odd to see it for D&D. Just like I still find it odd to see people arguing about how a certain rule should be applied based on the choice of one tiny word over another. These debates often quickly turn into people bludgeoning one another with circuitous legalese interpretations of what should be pretty natural language and, of course, accusations of logical fallacies.

During the 2nd Edition years, the internet was just getting its start and I wasn't anywhere near it. Even during 3rd Edition, I was pretty well insulated from the 'gaming community' on the internet. I played with my friends, occasionally hung out in the game store and swapped war stories, and ran my home brew games without any real awareness of the fact that there were other DMs out there.

But now, in 4th Edition, I am suddenly trying to be an active (semi-active) part of the community and this whole thing is really bothering me. Not just the arguments, but the whole patch day idea.

Whenever I have run a game in the past, if there was a contradictory spot in the rules, I made my best guess and kept the game running. Oh sure, occasionally we would argue the point a bit after the game and sometimes things got heated if someone felt they had been cheated, but there was never this sense that there was a RIGHT ANSWER and that we deserved to have it. Interpreting poorly worded or contradictory rules was part of the game. It was the job of the DM.

Now, don't get me wrong, I see the value of DMs and players talking about specific interpretations and things, but on the D&D Community, the arguments always seem to follow this pattern:

Original Post: This came up in my game and the rules weren't clear. I made this ruling. Was I right?
Response 1: Well, I can see why you made that ruling, but I think you should have done this because of this rule here.
Response 2: I disagree with Response 1 because of this wording which seems to suggest they meant it to work differently.
Response 3: I think Response 1 is better, but you handled it okay too.
Original Poster: Yes, but what is RAW?
Response 4: I think RAW means this.
Original Poster: Well, where does it say that. Can you give me a page number?
Response 5: Customer service said that Response 2 is right.
Original Poster: Customer service is never right. What is the RAW?

For those not well versed, RAW means "rules as written," and its similar to demanding to see exactly where the Constitution actually guarantees that you can take out your boobs in public as a form of protest against people keeping lemurs as pets.

This worship for the Rules As Written frankly has me baffled. It frankly means that people have kind of missed the point of having a human being adjudicating the game rather than a computer. The point is that any set of finite rules cannot possibly cover every situation that will come up in the game or every particular combination of peculiar closet-case circumstances. Any rule system that tries will become an overcomplicated nightmare. For example, remember that scene in "The Two Towers" when Legolas hopped onto a shield and surfed it down a set of stairs while rapid-firing his bow into a horde of orcs. Well, there aren't rules for that in D&D, but some player should be able to try it if they want to. The DM is there to figure out how to make it work. That possibility and all of the other infinite possibilities are the things that set tabletop RPGs apart from video games like World of Warcraft. It hardly needs to be said that a video game limits you to only the things that the developers thought of (or were capable of programming).

Now, I agree that the DMs true role is to provide infinite story possibilities so that the players can decide that they want to kill the king and sieze his kingdom instead of rescuing his daughter from the dragon. Again, no matter how freeform the video game, ultimately, the story is limited to what has been programmed.

But isn't rules adjudication a part of this?

Okay, so I understand that there is a question of whether a character should be allowed a saving throw when a forced-movement power slides him into and then out of and then into again the damaging area created by a firewall spell, and maybe the rules could be a little clearer on that point, but they aren't. So you, the DM, are going to have to make a call. And you might make a good call or a bad call, but you aren't going to ruin the game if your interpretation isn't the one the designers had in mind. And other DMs may call it differently (I am pro-save). But exchanges like the one I've paraphrased above signal that some DMs seem to think there is actually a right answer and that they might be doing it wrong if they don't get that answer. This makes me sad.

It makes me sad for the same reason that watching DMs struggle with the format of skill challenges or arguing about whether the DCs are too high or too low makes me sad. They are just guidelines. The format is anything special or magical and it isn't even always the best format. Three failures does not always have to mean the challenge failed. The DCs don't always have to be 5/10/15. You're supposed to fiddle with it. You're supposed to push it to its breaking point. You are not supposed to just fill in the blanks. "Level 1, Complexity 3, Diplomacy (Hard), Insight (Moderate), Intimidate (Moderate), Bluff (Easy)."

Oh sure, you can if you want to. You can just fill in the blanks and you will have something that works okay most of the time. But if you are just going to fill in the blanks and follow the form, you are cheating yourself and your game out of something great. And if you are complaining that filling in the blanks and following the form isn't a shortcut to a great game, you have completely missed the point.

Anyway, this is really nothing more than a rant. Because, in the end, I can promise that my game won't go this way and that's all I really care about. Except that, suddenly, by virtue of hosting a podcast that has become a bit popular, I am an authority figure and people are starting to listen to my opinions and ask for them. I am just starting to get the sense that some of my answers are unsatisfying because the best answer I can give in any situation is: 'I don't know what the developers were thinking, but here's how I would handle it. Of course, your way is good too. Whatever keeps your players happy is good.'

I guess I can't really claim to be part of the old guard, though. I am part of the aging guard, but I was just being born in the late '70s, so I don't remember the original editions. I do remember endlessly discussing in AD&D Second Edition exactly when a thief was entitled to actually backstab someone. The rules helpfully pointed out that if the thief could approach a target unawares, he could cause a very serious injury, but they didn't bother to spell out how to determine when a victim was actually unaware, particularly when a pitched battle was already underway. We made do with what we had and had a lot of fun. And best of all, the players tried a lot of crazy and outlandish stunts and they let me do a lot of wild and crazy things to them in return.

This rant was supposed to have a very different point when I started and go in a completely different direction. It was also supposed to be a witty and fun jab at the idea of patch day and changing attitudes toward the game. Sorry about that. But its too late to write something else.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wikipedia and the Previous Post

I have also made a very interesting discovery about wikipedia. I have always dismissed it as unreliable, no matter how many citations there appear to be. Lately, though, I have had to revise my opinion. There is actually an inverse relationship between how complex a topic is and how inaccurate its wikipedia entry is.

That is, the more mainstream and well-known the topic, the more likely wikipedia is to be inaccurate, apocryphal, or flat-out wrong. Conversely, the more complex the topic, the more likely it is to be completely accurate and fully comprehensive.