Monday, February 28, 2005

18 Reasons to Buy a Mac

We just bought a Sony Viao laptop for my wife. While I'm a Mac guy, Sue doesn't like the feel of the Apple laptop keyboards (for some strange reason, she's always dragging her thumbs across the trackpad, causing the mouse to jump around). There's also a highly specialized bead inventory program she wants for her business that only runs under Windows, so despite my own passion for the Mac platform, we decided to buy a Windows machine.

The Viao is a very nice looking computer (for a PC), with a huge 15" screen, three USB 2 ports, a FireWire port, a 3.2 GHz Pentium 4 processer and 512 mb of RAM. Once we got it out of the books, and stopped ewwing and aweing over it, I immediately ran Windows Update to patch the machine.

It proceeded to install 18 -- 18! -- "critical updates" onto her computer. I knew it was going to be bad, but man, 18 critical updates out of the freaking box? Can you imagine how many brand-spanking new Windows computers are bought and powered up each day, only to be instantly vulnerable because the user doesn't update the operating system? Windows XP does ship with a "security center" now that tries to alert people to the danger, but still -- 18 vulnerabilities?

In my book, those are 18 damn good reasons to consider -- seriously consider -- buying a Mac.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Critical Hits

I've got a review up on Nuketown of Bastion Press' Torn Asunder source book, which restores the mayhem of truly bloody critical hits to d20.

On a related note, Flying Buffulo Games is selling new "hit location" dice. Each side of these six-sided dice has a graphic showing location (head, arm, leg, torso).

Friday, February 25, 2005

Quote: "It's Easy to Find Something..."

"It's easy to find something worth daying for. Do you have anything worth living for?" -- Lorien to Sheridan, Babylon 5

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A Nuketown Podcast?

Ever since I heard about podcasting I've been contemplating doing one for Nuketown. Playing with audio is something I've always wanted to do with the ol'thermonuclear burg, but doing it via a streaming media like RealAudio or QuickTime struck me as clunky and awkward.

So after a few months of thinking about it, I'm finally playing around with recording and editing digital audio. I'm even seriously thinking of doing a Nuketown podcast. The big question though is this: what the heck would I call such a think?

There's the obvious -- Nuketown Podcast -- but that's a little awkward. NukeCast? Nice and short, but perhaps to derivative of the MacCast. There's The Atomic Breakfast, which has the twin charms of being different and paying homage to my old college radio show of the same name, but is a little too close to "The Atomic Age" (the name of this here blog).

I'm open to suggestions. If you've got an idea for a name, e-mail me or leave a comment -- I'd love to hear 'em.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Spycraft: Prometheus Update

My libertarian-themed Spycraft play-by-e-mail campaign -- Prometheus -- is moving along slowly but surely. It's taken us about four months to get through the initial conversations about the first full serial and gearing up, but such ponderous progress is an inevitably consequence of playing by e-mail.

I opened up the campaign with a sort of teaser trailer set a few years before the present day in Iran, after a strike on one of its nuclear facilities. After that, the real campaign began with "The Reinhart Papers". Here's a summary from the site:
Newly-discovered scientific papers penned during the Nazi regime have attracted the attention of fascist terrorists. The agents of CIG's Special Operations Team #9 must infiltrate the non-profit institute where they are being held and replace the documents with forgeries before the neo-Nazis -- known as the Brotherhood of the Spear -- can steal them.

I've been keeping an extensive mission log tracking the campaign's progress and the various responses; with a PBEM campaign I think good logging is essential. With so much time between moves, it's all to easy for the Game Control and Players to forget important details.

The campaign was inspired by -- and to some extent, based on -- "Libertarian Gamer" columns I wrote about Spycraft. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 on Nuketown

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

New at Nuketown

Nuketown's overflowing with new content. I've posted part 1 and part 2 of my "Libertarian Gamer" column on Gamma World, I've got a book review of Robert Jordan's New Spring prequel, and a review of Toxic Bag's Battles soundscapes.

d20 Poisons

One of the things that always drives me nuts when playing D&D is how hard it is to surprise your players. Most gamers end up with an encyclopedic knowledge of their game after a few years of playing it, and as a result, when they trigger a trap, and see a gas rushing out at them, someone inevitably gasps "Burnt othur fumes ... 1 point of Con, and then damn, you're dead when you take that 3d6 Con a minute later man!"

Kind of ruins the suspense, don't you think? As a result, I'm always on the look out for new ways to surprise my players, and this is one area where the open gaming license has really helped, because there is a huge variety of niche products that deal with very specific topics. One such product is Bastion Press' excellent Pale Designs: A Poisoner's Handbook, which contains a staggering number of unique poisons for use in your game. Some are garnered from other Open Content projects, while others were created by Bastion. I haven't counted them, but at the very least there are dozens of new nefarious creations with which to terrorize my players.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Jordan's The Fires of Heaven Coming to Audible

The good news is that the fifth book in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series -- The Fires of Heaven is coming to as an audio book. The bad news is that it won't get here until April. I'm hoping that this is just the first in a bunch of releases in the series; when Audible The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn and The Shadow Rising in rapid succession, before hitting their current drought of new Jordan releases.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Quote of the Moment: "Give Me Your Best Shot..."

"Just remember what ol' Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big old storm right in the eye and says, "Give me your best shot. I can take it"-- Jack Burton, Big Trouble in Little China

Friday, February 18, 2005

That Little Eject Icon

A while back, I had a nice little "eject" icon on my Mac OS X menu bar that let me eject CDs and DVDs without having to hit the keyboard button (particularly nice, since Jordan tore off that particular key, leaving a stub that still worked, but which is a bit awkward).

During one of my various upgrades, it went away. Well, after reading Macworld, I figured out how to get it back. You have to open the finder, drill down through the various folders, and then double click on the "" file. That puts the icon back in your menu bar.

The exact path is: [your hard drive] System: Library: Core Services: Menu Extras:

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Internet Explorer 7

Microsoft has announced that they will be releasing Internet Explorer 7 in advance of Longhorn (reversing their earlier decision). At this point, it looks like it'll only work under Windows XP Service Pack 2. It's hard for me to get very excited about this, but I'm sincerely hoping that this release will mean better standards support in general, and better CSS2 support in particular. Read the Microsoft blog entry about the announcement.

Quote of the Moment: "The Matrix is a System..."

"The Matrix is a system Neo. And that system is our enemy. When you’re inside, look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters, the very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand. Most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so immersed, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.” -- Morpheous to Neo, The Matrix

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

You know you're a dad...

... when you reach into your coat pocket and find a broken-off crayon.

Keeping Track of the Wheel of Time's Menagerie

Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series is huge, having spawned 11 novels with no signs of stopping. Keeping track of the characters in all those books can be difficult, all the more so when you're like me and you listened to the books instead of actually paging through the dead tree editions. Heck, despite years of listening to the books, I still have no idea how to spell any of the main characters names, since I never actually see them.

That's where The Menagerie is helpful. It's a Robert Jordan fan site dedicated to indexing every character in the series. It's a work in progress -- while some characters from books as recent as Crossroads of Twilight can be found here, only the first four books are exhaustively indexed. Still, that's enough for me to at least find the proper spellings of the main characters and organizations when I'm working on reviews, and the amount of content that the site does have makes it well worth visiting for more casual fans.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Back at the Home Office

Faced with an ever-more disorganized office, and a backlog of reviews and e-mails that need to be dealt with, I decided to take the day off today and focus entirely on getting organized, and getting ahead.

The getting organized bit is going to the hardest thing. While my desk is badly cluttered, what's worse is that my virtual workspace is a disaster area. I've got files scattered across four different machines, and while that isn't a hinderance when writing new articles or reviews, it does make backing up my files a freaking nightmare. So today, while Sue and Jordan are at play group, and then running errands, I'll be imposing order upon what my two year old would describe as "the messy mess".

Over on the writing side of things, I've got a bunch of stuff I want to do for Nuketown. I've had a reviews of the Halo 2 Soundtrack and Robert Jordan's New Spring for weeks, as well as a new "Libertarian Gamer" column that's been in limbo for ages. If nothing else, I want to finish them today. The focus at Toxic Bag were nice enough to send me a review of their latest RPG soundeffects disc, Battles, and I definitely want to get that up on the site as well.

Oh well, the work of a sci-fi geek is never done. Particularly one who loves to write.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Weighting to Lose

Like most thirtysomething geeks, I've gotten a little rounder around the middle as the years have progressed. And like most, I've long thought about doing something about it. Well, the time for that has come.

Actually, it arrived back in the fall, when I found that I was starting to press the limits of my 38 waist jeans, and realized that I really, really did not want to jump to a 40 waist. It became my line in the sand, and after stepping off the scale -- and seeing that it had registered 220 lbs -- I decided to take action.

Now mind you, at 6'2", I was far from portly -- just a little rounder in the face, with a gut that extended further than I'd like.

My solution to this problem is not to go on a crash diet (which I've never tried, but which never seem to work with other folks) but rather to slowly modify my own behaviors. I've greatly reduced the amount of soda I drink, going to about one can a day, and drinking either water or watered-down apple juice instead. With Sue's help, I've been packing a lunch, which helps considerably -- if I skip lunch, I'm too hungry when I get home, and eat more than I should. I'm also making a conscious effort to eat smaller portions.

Diet is only part of it though -- I'm also trying to get more excercise. That's hard to do in the winter, and harder still with a kid around, but I've been able to get some in by doing little things. Instead of parking next to my building at work, I park on the far side of campus and walk. When I have meetings, I make an effort to go to other people's offices, and if it's nice, I talk a lunchtime walk.

Basically, it comes down to eat least, eat better, exercise more.

What has this yielded me? Well, I'm now down to 205 lbs. My guess is that I can probably lose another five pounds or so by continuing to do what I'm doing, which should allow me to fit comfortable into my 36 waist jeans (I can fit into them somewhat uncomfortably now).

My goal though, is to get down to 185 lbs, and that's going to take some actual work. As in ... actual exercise. Sue and I are talking about how to fit that sort of thing into our schedules, but I think it's doable (particularly if I can get to work early in the morning, and get some consistent exercise in, followed by a good walk when I get home). The plan -- and I don't know how realistic this is -- is to get down to 185 (or at least into the high 180s) by June.

So why blog about it? Well, it increases the pressure a bit, and gives the whole endevour a focal point -- now it's not just something I've talked about in my head, but something I've actually written about. And that could make the difference.

Firefox Rising

It looks like Firefox is gaining ground in the latest battle of the Browser Wars. According to this article on the scrappy little open source browser is up to 4.5 market share, while Internet Explorer is down to around 85%. Not bad for a brwoser that only been out of beta since November.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

NukeHavoc: The Signature

I've got a nifty new sig graphic for my posts on GeezerGamers, courtesy of fellow Geezer (and all around cool and froody guy) Zedhead.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Monday, February 07, 2005

Documenting Your D&D Session

The folks over at have been podcasting their way through the World's Largest Dungeon, recording every glorious moment to audio for the enjoyment of their faithful fans. Alas, I do not have time to listen to the 2+ hours of audio, but fortunately they've started posting adventure summaries to their web site.

I really like the format of these summaries; they hit the highlights of the adventure, and let you know what happened, without having to extensively document every spell cast, every critical dealt, and every copper hoarded.

It's something I think more gamers (myself included) should think about doing. It satisfies the need to have some record of what happened during a given session (all the more important if you're only playing monthly, but still useful for weekly games like mine) without forcing the DM to get bogged down in paperwork. Plus, it looks much nicer -- and reads better -- than the adventure notes I've been posting about my games.

Sleepless in Easton

So the last time I fought with insomnia, it turned out to be a prelude to a nasty cold. I wonder what this week's bout foretells? The funny thing is, I was just talking about my occasional forays into the sleepless at a Super Bowl party last night. At the time, I had no idea I'd be up blogging on this very topic just a few hours later. I guess my subconscious was just having trouble dealing with the Eagles' loss.

On the plus side, as is often the case with my insomnia, I'm been very productive. I've posted a dozen or so netheads to Nuketown, and I'm catching up on some long-over due e-mail, fixing some problems on the site, and generally being hyperefficient.

Yep, I'm definitely going to need the 20 oz. coffee for my commute this morning...

Saturday, February 05, 2005

iPod Invasion

This wire service article -- subtitled "High-tech addiction quickly turning into social annoyance" -- claims that the iPod is turning people into audio addicts, incapable of doing anything without their earbuds in. And, of course, these technological addictions inevitably lead to destruction and death as oblivious users walk in front of buses.

If only there were some sort of more primative, widely used portable musical device that could have prepared us for this assault of too-cool gadgetry. Think of all the lives, loves and careers that could have been saved if we'd only known the horror that would be wrought by freeing music from its phonograph!.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Fuzzy Dice

I've got to get one of these. Oh, and some of these too.

Quote of the Moment: "The Future is Not Set..."

"The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves." - John Conner, Terminator 2

Wednesday, February 02, 2005's Buried RSS

I enjoy reading, but I've never understood why they go out of their way to bury their RSS Feed. Oh, they've got a link to "RSS and News Feeds" from their home page, but that's dedicated primarily to adding the feed to your site, rather than accessing it through a reader (which I'm guessing is what most of their readers would want to do).

Instead of including a prominent link for their feed at the top of the page, it's buried at the bottom, with a cryptic message saying "You may also syndicate our articles by using the file backend.php", which doesn't even reference the fact that yes, this is their rss feed.

For those who don't want to wade through all of this just to find the RSS file, use this link to go directly to it.

Shocker: Study Reveals MTV is Sleazy!

Might I suggest that the real problem here is not that MTV has so much sleaze on it, but that some parents need a study to clue them into that fact?

Plot vs. Game Play

I've posted a opinion piece on Nuketown answering the question "Are Plot Heavy-Games Bad?".

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Jeffreg Suth, Artificier

Here's my character for the upcoming: Eberron: Revolution PBEM campaign I'm going to be playing in. I'm pleased with the way he turned out -- I particularly like his backstory, which I think does a good job of explaining why he's never risen about 1st level as an artificier; he simply hasn't had the time, the money, or the opportunity. But all that is about to change...

Jeffreg Suth Level 1 (Artificer1), Medium Humanoid; CR 1; HD 1d6; hp 6; Init +0; Spd 20 ft/x3; AC 13 (+2 armor, +1 shield), touch 10, flat-footed 13 (Leather armor, buckler) Base Atk/Grapple -1/0; Full Atk -1 One-handed (1d4-1;19-20/x2, Dagger), +2 Ranged (1d4;19-20/x2, Dart), AL NG; SV Fort +0, Ref +0, Will +3; Str 9 (-1), Dex 10(+0), Con 10(+0), Int 16(+3), Wis 13(+1), Cha 17(+3)

Skills: (Int) +6 (Ab+3, Rk+3), Craft (alchemy) (Int) +6 (Ab+3, Rk+3), Diplomacy (Cha)* +5 (+3 Ab, Ft+2), Disable Device (Int) +6 (Ab+3, Rk+3), Knowledge (arcana) (Int) +6 (Ab+3, Rk+3), Knowledge (architecture and engineering) (Int) +4 (Ab+3, Rk+1), Knowledge (the planes) (Int) +4 (Ab+3, Rk+1), Open Lock (Dex) +2 (Rk+2), Profession (alchemist)(Wis) +2 (Ab+1, Rk+1) Search (Int) +5 (Ab+3, Rk+2), Sense Motive (Wis)* +3 (Ab+1, Ft+2), Spellcraft (Int) +7 (Ab+3, Rk+4), Spot (Wis)* +1 (Ab+1), Use Magic Device (Cha) +10 (Ab+3, Ft+3, Rk+4); * Cross-class skill

Feats & Proficiencies: Exceptional Artisan (Reduce time for item creation by 25%), Negotiator+ (+2 on Diplomacy, Sense Motive checks), Scribe Scroll*, Skill Focus: Use Magic Device+ (+3 to skill checks) Proficiencies: All simple weapons, light armor, medium armor, and shields (except tower shields), Languages: Common, Dwarven, Draconic, Terran; * Class feat, + Bonus feat

Infusions: 1st Level: 2 -- typically used in shop: identify, skill enhancement; typically used in combat: shield of faith; magic weapon.

Class abilities: Artificer Knowledge (An artificer can make a special artificer knowledge check with a bonus equal to his artificer level + his Int modifier to detect whether a specific item has a magical aura), Artisan Bonus (an artificer gains a +2 bonus on Use Magic Device checks to activate an item of a kind for which he has the prerequisite item creation feat), Craft Reserve (An artificer receives a pool of points he can spend instead of XP when creating a new magic item), Disable Trap (An artificer can use the Search skill to locate traps when the task has a Difficulty Class of higher than 20), Item Creation (An artificer can create a magic item even if he does not have access to the spells that are prerequisites for the item. The artificer must make a successful Use Magic Device Check (DC 20 + caster level) to emulate each spell normally required to create the item).

Equipment: Identification papers (standard), Alchemist's spark (flask), Warforged Repair Kit, Artisan's Tools, Thieves Tools, Artisan's outfit, Leather armor, Dagger, Darts (4), Buckler, Sack (empty), Flask (empty, Parchment (5 sheets), Scroll Case, Ink vial, Ink pen, Lantern (hooded), Belt pouch, Signet Ring

Background: Jeffreg began his career as a magical creationist working in the Creation Forges of Breland in the metropolis of Sharn during The Last War. Initially eager to be contributing to the defense of what he knew to be Khorvaire’s greatest bastion of freedom and liberty, he grew disenchanted as his supervisors routinely dismissed his innovative ideas for improving armor and weaponry. Frustrated, he instead decided to take a more active role in the war by joining Breland’s army and serving in its ranks as an artificer. Despite the rigor and demands of army life, he found it much more to his liking as his fellow soldiers appreciated his innovations far more than his old master’s in Sharn ever had, and the bureaucracy of the army rarely followed him to the frontlines. He served there for five years, until the war finally reached its almost inconceivable end.

With the battles fought, and the peace treaty signed, he took small nest egg accumulated during the years of fighting and returned to Sharn intent on establishing his own business, and finally being able to pursue his magical research to the fullest. He opened a small shop in the lower levels of Sharn’s great towers, and discovered a new source of frustration. Initially, his overseers in the Creation Forges had prevented him from innovating, then his lack of time on the front kept him from developing any but the most basic of techniques. Now, finally back in Sharn, he found that a lack of money was keeping him from realizing his dreams.

In his shop he was able to eek out a barebones existence identifying magic items for adventurers, creating alchemical compounds for sale, and occasionally conducting repairs of a damaged warforged. It was a living … but it was not his dream. Now, two years after the war, and nearly a year and a half in Sharn, he finds himself eager to follow his patrons on the path of adventure. He hopes to accrue enough funds to allow him the pursue his wildest flights of fancy, and to live in luxury in a workshop on one of the upper levels.