USA Today Needs a Content Editor

I was reading an article in USA Today (found sitting around the office), and went to look up more about it online. Which led me to an older article about the debut of variable song pricing in the iTunes Store. From that article:

As people got used to buying music online, Apple had trouble arguing that it was simplest if all songs were 99 cents; when it became clear DRM was on its way out, Apple let go of control over pricing in order to keep its service in line with competitors like Amazon.com Inc. [1]

Now, this is a perfect example of something that is grammatically correct, and the facts it provides are basically true, but they way in which they are presented totally misrepresents the relationships between those facts. At least, if every other story I can find on the matter is to be believed.[2,3,4,5] That is, the facts that every other story [a sampling of which I’ve sourced] I can find agrees on are: Continue reading

DC Shadows, session 4

This week, Lars was absent, and thus Sergei was mostly tied up assuaging the agents of the Sheriff and the Ventrue Primogen that Dmitri’s Hold wasn’t a liability to the Masquerade (and checking it for bugs). Also, I wasn’t take the notes, so there are a few more details than usual that I’m not sure I’ve gotten right. I’ve also interpolated from the notes and my [questionable] memories, so I may have imputed some motives, behaviors, or even events, that aren’t true.

Parry, through a supreme act of willpower, stays awake Fri, and sneaks into the morgue before dawn. He hides there during the day, in order to sneak into the ME’s office and mess with some of Nikki’s work, in the hopes of getting her in trouble. With a bit of luck, he manages to identify some important paperwork (an autopsy report in a criminal case), and absconds with it. He then returns to hiding until dusk. During the day, he hears a few voices whose source he can’t identify, but is unable to find Nikki’s brother.

When he gets up [Fri night], Dennis has a voicemail from the Sheriff. Since he was the last person to have talked to the Tremere primogen (Alexander Wright), the Sheriff wants to talk to him. Barry also has a voicemail from the Sheriff telling him to come and meet him at Elysium, and to bring “that Lasombra” [Opal] along. So Barry gives Opal a call, and tells her to head to Elysium.
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This Is No “95%” Movie

I know, I’m a little late to the game here. I’ve had other priorities. But Star Trek is nowhere near as good as Rotten Tomatoes might indicate. Oh, sure, it’s good. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s not the level of sheer awesomeness that a 95%-fresh rating might indicate. Here are some other movies that have a 95% freshness: Monsters, Inc., Pan’s Labyrinth, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit [man, it’s hard finding movies that i’ve seen with exactly a 95% fresh rating]. Probably a better measure of why this isn’t the right rating is to look at a few really excellent recent movies with lower overall ratings (in no particular order):

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Battle for Terra

Battle for Terra is an excellent science fiction movie that you probably haven’t even heard of. I say that because I didn’t see a single ad for it, print or TV, there were no trailers released with other movies as near as I can tell, and not a lot of other publicity. And it opened the weekend before Star Trek. When we went to see it opening weekend, there were fewer than 10 people in the theater, and i suspect the only reason it lasted a week was because they’d already contracted for it. Unfortunately, I don’t expect that to improve—it had been making the circuit of film festivals and the like for 2 years, before getting distribution, and doesn’t appear to have anybody lined up for DVD sales, either. Which is really too bad, because it’s pretty rare that we get a good science fiction movie, and Battle for Terra definitely is.

The basic story is a staple of science fiction—and a host of other sorts of films: it is the story of conquest, and conflict over limited resources. In this particular case, humans are trying to colonize another planet, which necessitates terraforming it and thus wiping out the indigenous life. Where it gets interesting is that it is told from the point of view of the invaded, which means the aliens. It’s War of the Worlds in reverse.

We start off by meeting the aliens, and their world is gorgeously realized. I don’t think I’ve seen a more-believable or better-detailed alien world since The Dark Crystal (though I can think of several others that come close, such as Kaena). Only once we’ve gotten a good overview of the world, seen what it is like, do the “aliens” arrive. And begin to wreak havoc.

The protagonists are brought to life in a way that aliens rarely are. I truly believed in these characters, despite their animated nature, despite their alienness. But, at the same time, they weren’t just men in funny masks, which is so often the failing of aliens in cinema. Also, unlike so many science fiction films, Battle for Terra sticks true to its premises, rather than just devolving into an action flick with funny-looking characters and unexplained technology.

My only complaint about the movie would be the ending. It could definitely have used a bit more of a denouement. As is, while the resolution is perfectly believable, it would’ve been nice to see a few more of the steps to get there spelled out.

Despite this one flaw, I still heartily recommend Battle for Terra—if you can find a way to see it.

What is the Essence of Goblinness?

Several years ago, as part of a still-unfinished project, I decided that it would be cool if there was more to races in D&D than there currently is. In most D&D versions and variants, race might limit what classes you could take, or give you some bonuses/penalties that are either explicitly for certain classes, or stack particularly well with certain classes. And some races might give you some nifty abilities, or even the equivalent of a couple levels’ worth of abilities (at the cost of a level ajdustment, or XP penalty, or some other such compensating mechanism). Though in most core rules, they deliberately avoid that, up to and including watering down a race in order to keep it at that power level.

And that, in fact, was the real genesis of this thought process: I’ve always preferred verisimilitude to balance, but, more importantly, i prefer verisimilitude to sameness. AD&D1/2 had some real problems with this, however, with elves, in particular, being noticeably overpowered. I don’t recall, now, how they dealt with really powerful races like drow in 2nd ed, but i know that 1st ed didn’t really balance them at all. So, along comes D&D3E, and introduces a much more robust system, with a lot more room for compensating and balancing things, and even the level adjustment mechanism. So, finally, we have a way to balance elves: we give them some meaningful penalties, or a level adjustment, to make up for all their nifty abilities. But, instead, they thought that keeping everyone at the same level was more important, so they watered down their elf-ness. And while I understand their reasoning, given the choice between very folkloric (or Tolkien-esque) elves with a LA+2, say, and which therefore can’t be played at 1st level; or LA0 elves which don’t feel much like elves, I’ll take the former. IOW, I think that their solution throws the baby out with the bathwater.
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How to Confuse Motorists

Recently, I’ve witnessed a really strange phenomenon: people deliberately crossing against the light at traffic-light-controlled intersections. I’m not talking about coming up to the corner while the light is red, and deciding to cross anyway (with or without waiting for a break in the traffic that has the light). I’m talking about specifically waiting until the light turns red, then crossing.

So, something like this: the person gets to the corner, and the light is green in the direction they want to go. They stand there and wait. As soon as the light turns red in the direction they want to go, they start crossing the street. It seems to be on the rise. I’ve witnessed numerous incidences of this, and several variations:

A group of middle-aged people cross half of a street, to the median, with the light. But that was the half that traffic could conceivably be turning into (and, in this particular case, traffic that wants to make a left turn into that street is just coming off a hard left on a high-speed road, and thus has poorer-than-usual visibility). They then, rather than cross the other half of the street—remember, this is with the light at this point—stand around on the median, until the light changes. Only then do they start to cross the rest of the street. And, in fact, they don’t even start crossing as soon as the light changes, they start crossing as soon as the traffic begins to roll, thus necessitating everyone coming to screeching halt, just as they’re starting up. So, to recap: they crossed the half of the street where turning vehicles might be a danger, without any concern. They did not cross the half of the street where the traffic was stuck at the light, unmoving. They did cross that half once said traffic was moving (and had the green light).

A young woman comes up to the corner and stops. She waits until the light in the direction she wants to cross is red, and then begins to cross. Upon reaching the other side, she then waits, once again, until the light has changed, so that she can cross the other direction, also against the light.

Is there something going on that I should know about? Or are they just stupid? Is this some sort of misguided overblown fear of getting hit by a right-turner? ‘Cause, you know, vehicles can still turn right on red, so you still have that worry. In addition to all the traffic that has a green light and might not be looking for folks crossing against the light.

Why Do We Create Our Characters?

So, I was reading Reactions to OD&D: Character Sheets, and I came upon

The counter-argument, of course, is that nothing stops me from making a wizard with his highest abiltiy score in Wisdom. True. But there is a distinct difference between facing a challenge and dealing with a self-imposed handicap. Just as there is a difference between being given a character and seeing what you can make of it and carefully scultping every detail of the character for yourself.

And I think there’s also a tendency to read the word “challenge” and think that I’m merely talking about the gamist side of the game. But I’m also talking about a creative challenge. The act of creation does not always have to begin with a blank slate. In some cases, deliberately eschewing the blank slate will give unexpected and extraordinary results which might never have been achieved if you limit yourself to a tabula rasa.

Which reminds me of something I’ve always wanted to do, but have mostly not managed to make happen. I’m pretty sure I read it somewhere else, so I won’t take credit for the idea, but what I want to do is a fantasy game where we all use minis to make characters. That is, everybody goes to the store, or digs through a website, or whatever, and finds a miniature they like, and buys it. And then makes a character to fit that mini.

The appeal of this, for me, comes from 3 different aspects:
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