Not only don’t we look far enough into the future (which is hard), we don’t look far enough into the past (which is easy)

I was listening to BBC World, which sent a reporter to Georgia [USA] to check out the claims of tea party folks. Specifically, they were focusing on the plight of the middle class. And I was a little disappointed since, (1) the BBC doesn’t have a horse in this race and (2) their reporting is usually so good, that they didn’t press people a little more, forcing them to support their claims.

Now, I don’t think there’s any debate that the middle class is disappearing, with the rich getting richer and median income declining. The debate is over causes and solutions. And here’s where reality and many tea party advocates part company.

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Uncanny [Interface] Valley?

As I type this, I am deleting Microsoft Office from my computer. I had downloaded the free trial, in order to catch myself up a bit on the programs, for all the job listings that “require” “familiarity with Microsoft Office”, or words to that effect.[0] In some ways, they’ve vastly improved over the last version I used. On the other hand, I’d still take MSWord 5.1 (that’s vintage ’93, for those of you too young to remember) over any version I’ve seen since, if I had the choice. In fact, IMHO, the only application in the bunch that has actually improved in the last few versions is Excel—which is also the only one that is probably superior to its competitors. (I say “probably” because I’m less confident that I’m familiar with all of the options where spreadsheets are concerned.) It looks like the latest versions have stopped moving menu items around, at least—none of that “adapting” to how you work, which completely undermines the muscle memory of where commands are. And, I have to admit, the interfaces really have gotten better.

And yet…

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da Veni, da Vidi, da Vinci — da Verses

One of the Four Colors al Fresco scenarios that I’ve run a number of times is “da Veni, da Vidi, da Vinci”, or “I came, I saw, I conquered [Leonardo] da Vinci” (loosely translated). This scenario features The Daring daVincis, a bona fide superhero team (a rarity in the world of Italia). They are all artist friends of da Vinci’s that he has recruited, granting them superpowers with his phenomenal scientific and naturalist knowledge, so that they can Fight Crime!.

Their superhero, or “Omega”, identities are based on insects that da Vinci studied, granting them powers related to their artistic talent. Cricket is a master thespian, whose suit enables him to manipulate sound. But that’s not really important. What is important is that he always speaks in rhyme. Well, for convention games, we don’t really expect someone to actually speak in rhyme for the whole game—the character may, but that doesn’t mean the player has to. I provide a rhyming dictionary, should someone desire, but, really, I just expect a player to get into the spirit and do what they can: interject a few rhymes, or focus on alliteration, or give an iambic lilt to their speech most of the time. A couple players have managed to speak in iambic pentameter for the whole game, and a very few have, in fact, stuck to rhyming for the whole game. Unfortunately, this tends to cut down on their verbal participation, and thus their overall participation, and I’d much rather someone drop the poeticism altogether than be left out of the game.

But it’s great when someone really pulls it off—not a lot of people can essentially spontaneously compose verse, blank or otherwise, outside of professional hip-hop/rap artists. A few years back, someone really went above and beyond, however. He didn’t speak much during the game—though when he did, it was mostly rhyming. But what he did do was make a record of the game. He composed a poem in rhyming couplets, chronicling the course of the story, in real time while we were playing, and while still participating in the game. The result is a fun poem–mostly iambic, with only a couple forced rhymes. I’m amazed, at any rate. I meant to do this ages ago, but I’ve finally transcribed his poem, so here it is for all to read:

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Abusing Magic in Rolemaster

I was looking at the spells available to my Rolemaster ranger, and thinking about all the cool things I could do with them. Mind you, “cool” in this case is more about entertainment than effectiveness. 

Arcane Pouch let’s her create an extradimensional space where she can put things and retrieve them at will. Balance Weapon let’s her “balance anything to increase its suitability for becoming a thrown weapon. For example…a chair….” Combined, she can pull bar stools out of nowhere and chuck them at her enemies. [ok, not really–the space is limited to small objects and shortish durations. Oh well.]

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Playing With [Lots of] Blocks

Warning: this post contains a couple spoilers for Inception. For that matter, it pretty much presupposes you’ve already seen it. So, if you haven’t seen it yet, proceed at your own risk. I will say that it is a movie that you owe it to yourself to see with a blank slate.

Something we’ve talked about almost right from the start is “can we play with the tower itself?”—as in, alter the block stacking from the standard Jenga configuration. A few weeks ago, I read about someone’s Inception-inspired Dread game, and two things jumped out at me. I mean, in addition to the inherent coolness of that game concept.

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Website Compatibility

I decided not to put something like this into my last email to the tech support person regarding a broken job-seeking and -application website, since it’s as likely to piss them off as to help my cause. But I needed to say it:

You really shouldn’t be supporting browsers in the first place, you should be supporting standards. By every measure I’ve seen, simply doing so would basically guarantee compatibility with Safari, Firefox, & Chrome, and provide functional-if-not-pretty support for Internet Explorer, OmniWeb, and Opera. And I know it’s not the tech geek’s fault—it’s a policy decision. But that’s why there are standards, and I’m really getting sick of companies’ solution to their website not functioning being “use Internet Explorer”—as if that’s even an option if you don’t use MSWindows, or an appropriate response when barely half of people are using IE any more.

It’s doubly annoying when I discover that the only reason the website requires IE is because they’ve hard-coded it to check for IE. I’ve had 100% perfect functionality using Firefox on all but one “IE-only” website, just by having it identify as IE8 running on MSWindows 7. [And the one site I never tried that on was also claiming compatibility with IE5! Really? You’re maintaining compatibility with a webbrowser that was obsolete 9 years ago, and hasn’t seen 1% browser share since 2006? And yet not bothering with current webbrowsers that make up 40-50% of browser share?]