A friend and former employee of mine bought one of the early Segway Personal Transporters back in 2002. Remember those? I got to ride it one time and thought it was fun. He used it to commute several miles daily, at least in the summer. The inventor, Dean Kamen, said they were going to change the world, and he started to do some urban design prototyping of the wider sidewalks that he thought all major cities would need to support the massive amount of Segway traffic, once they replace cars.
But they didn’t. The product was expensive. People laughed at the idea of riding around in the city standing upright on an electric wheeled contraption. Sales were nowhere near what Segway hoped, and they eventually sold the company to the Chinese. People kept driving.
Fast forward almost 20 years. Now, there’s someone on an electric scooter on every block in Denver, usually several of them. What one generation thought was stupid the next generation thinks is a great way to get around. Of course, the price has come down by a factor of 20, and you can now rent one with your smartphone for a dollar rather than plunking down several grand to buy your own. Maybe that’s the differentiator.
Someone has made 12 fraudulent charges on one of my Visa credit cards since May 31, including buying 6 airline tickets on Allegiant Air, renting U-Haul trucks several times, and staying in a couple hotels.
Now, of course, the bank has canceled my card and are sending me a new one that’ll arrive Monday or so. What a hassle.
I normally don’t make New Years resolutions. I figure if a change is worth making, why not start right now, instead of waiting until some arbitrary date on the calendar? Besides, most New Years resolutions are broken anyhow, and if I’m going to make a change in my life, why do it in a way that’s expected to fail? I guess I’m superstitious like that. But this year, I made one. I just didn’t tell many people. My resolution was to break up with Facebook and Instagram.
Anyone reading this probably already knows a dozen reasons to leave Facebook. For me personally, there are two main reasons. First, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram is dishonest, and I can’t justify being an enabler anymore. Second, I’m disappointed with how far they’ve let – and even encouraged – online communities to devolve. I’m not gonna go into the reasons in any more depth. The internet has a steady stream of news articles about why.
So, what next? Well, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I get out of Facebook. When I first signed up in September 2007, the site didn’t do much. But now it serves a lot of purposes. The company’s key to success has been being the “one stop shop” for a lot of different features. It’s convenient to have these things all in one place, but it’s not really essential. Here are the different benefits I feel like I’ve gotten:
a way to stay in touch with friends and family
a way to share experiences and information with others online who have the same hobbies and interests – games, sports, travel, food, etc.
a way to read about important local, regional, national, and international news, and opinions from experts
a way to share my own opinions and experiences to whoever is interested
a way to schedule and plan events with friends and family
That’s a lot of benefits all under one roof. So how am I approaching getting rid of all that? Well, I’m learning about what other services exist that help with each of these things. In fact, I started reading about alternatives back in October 2018, and have been trying several of them since then. My hope is that by using other online services, I can fill each of those gaps to some degree. For example, there’s no need to rely on Facebook for the daily news, even though a lot of people use it for that. There are a dozen other ways to learn about important news from a variety of perspectives.
What do I expect to miss?
Facebook has spent billions of dollars refining their service to keep me and you engaged as long as possible. They have used every trick in the book and invented several news ones to get people to keep reading for longer and longer amounts of time. So I don’t expect that whatever set of replacement services I put together will “engage” me to the same degree. And actually, that’s a good thing. I spend too much time on social media as it is. So I’m hoping that this change increases the amount of free time I spend on more productive things.
I think I’ll make a new set of online acquaintances, most likely. And I’ll go back to getting news from better quality news sources. I hope to read books more and read Facebook less.
My check lists
As I said, I’ve already been working at this for several months. Here’s what I’ve accomplished so far:
Read a whole bunch about how to do this – see the bibliography below, if you’re curious
Unfriended about 200 Facebook “friends” who really weren’t friends
Deleted all my weird fun Facebook pages (I made up a fake band, a fake Russian fake US patriot site, and a few others)
Imported all my Facebook photos into Apple Photos, mirrored to Amazon Photos
Tonight I hung my biggest, most wonderful piece of art. And it’s got a story. The photo is of the back side of Pluto, which had never been seen by humans until the New Horizons spacecraft passed by on its way out of the solar system in 2015. Here’s the story behind the image.
In 2006, an Atlas rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral, carrying a small spacecraft called New Horizons. It was the fastest object ever launched from earth. New Horizons‘ mission was to fly to Pluto, gather photos, and then fly onward to the Kuiper Belt and hopefully get photos of one or more objects there, before leaving the solar system forever.
New Horizons quietly traveled through space for most of the next 8 years, being awakened for an annual checkup before going back to sleep to conserve power. On December 6, 2014, New Horizons was brought back online to start getting ready to visit Pluto.
In 2015, it passed close to Pluto, getting incredibly detailed photos of the surface of the dwarf planet that nobody had ever seen before. After it was done with Pluto, it went on to get close up photos of Ultima Thule in early January 2019. That got a lot of press, and was the main focus of an episode of my favorite TV show NOVA, called “Pluto and Beyond“. The episode was broadcast live on January 2, 2019, to coincide with the flyby of Ultima Thule.
A couple weeks later, I saw that NOVA episode. And though the Ultima Thule stuff was cool, it didn’t strike me like the closeup photos of Pluto itself did. The part of the show that left the most impact on me was three scientists talking about their final and favorite image of Pluto from the New Horizons mission.
Here’s the segment of the video I’m talking about:
As its historic flyby comes to an end, and the tiny spacecraft leaves Pluto, New Horizons looks back to take one last breathtaking image.
Joel Parker, Planetary Scientist, New Horizons Mission:
My real favorite, favorite picture is one after we flew by Pluto, and we’re looking back, and we see the horizon of Pluto with the Sun lighting the atmosphere from behind. You can see layers of haze and shadows of mountains streaming across the surface, and that is where you really understand that Pluto is a world.
Marc Buie, Planetary Scientist, New Horizons Mission:
Whenever I see that picture, it’s as if I’m sitting on the spacecraft looking out the window, as Pluto goes whizzing by. And it more than any other picture that we took puts me there.
Alan Stern, Principal Investigator, New Horizons Mission:
That photograph for me is the crowning achievement. We were really there, and we really did it. And we made our own little contribution not just to science, but actually to history.
So of course I searched for that actual image, and soon found it. And I decided I must have a print of it.
For me, like the scientists, it’s something special. This was almost certainly the only time in my lifetime that humanity will visit Pluto. When I was young, I was inspired by science fiction and wanted to be an astronaut. Then, when I realized that’s not likely, I switched directions to being an aerospace engineer. And that never really happened, either. But I still love the idea of space exploration. Having a faraway planet in my home makes me happy.
I got a high resolution version of the photo from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and had a local Denver print shop called Infinite Editions make a print for me. It’s 36″ by 52″ and it’s gorgeous.
There’s only one place in my small condo for a piece this big. I had to rent a van to get it home, since it’s too big to fit in my car. Also, it’s my first piece of art that requires a French cleat to hang. So I don’t have to worry about it getting crooked or anyone bumping it off its hanger.
So that is what I spent my tax refund on this year.
Once upon a time, there were two piglets playing in the tall grass under a tree on a hill not far from Farmer Joe’s house. One piglet was named Verne, and the other was Flick.
“Look, Flick,” said Verne, pointing to the sky. “The full moon is coming up.”
Flick turned to look up. “It’s so beautiful! I hope it comes closer. Chip, the rooster of the yard, told me the moon is made of Gouda cheese. And I love cheese!”
“I love cheese, too,” replied Verne. “Really, who doesn’t? But I’ve got some bad news, Flick. The moon is not made of cheese. It’s just made of rocks and dirt.”
“What? Why do you hate cheese?” asked Flick, quite disturbed by this turn of events. “It’s so soft and melts in your mouth. Yum.”
“I don’t hate cheese. I’m just saying that the moon is made of rocks. People went there in a rocket long ago, and they even brought some rocks back. It’s a fact you can look up in a book if you want.” Verne had even seen an old movie of the moon landing on TV. The people dug up some rocks and took them back inside their rocket, but they could not eat the rocks, so they had to return to earth before supper time.
Flick continued, “But Chip told me the moon is cheese. And why would a rooster lie? Roosters likes cheese, too!”
“I don’t know, Flick, maybe what Chip meant was that he simply wishes the moon was made of cheese?” Verne, being a piglet, couldn’t think of any good reason for the rooster to make up a story about the moon being cheese.
“Fuck you, Verne. I thought you liked cheese like the rest of us. Fuck you!”
Verne’s eyes got big. The piglet was shocked by Flick’s sudden anger and foul language. At that moment, another piglet walked up, named Spork.
“Hi everyone. What’s going on here on the hill?” asked Spork.
Flick tried to explain. “Verne here hates cheese. Must be a member of the Anti-Gouda Brigade.” Flick and Spork both looked Verne over. They hadn’t noticed it before, but now Verne did look like the kind of piglet that would hate cheese, and maybe all dairy products, for that matter.
“Whoa, wait a minute. I do like cheese. I just don’t think the moon is made of it. See the difference?”
Flick and Spork looked at each other. Spork spoke first, “Nope, if you don’t want the moon to be made of cheese, you’re a cheese hater. Anti-Gouda!”
“Cheese hater! Cheese hater!” Flick shouted all over the barnyard.
Spork joined in, pointing at Verne. “Cheese hater! Cheese hater!” Verne wandered off to the barn, wondering why his friends preferred to call him names rather than taking the time to understand his point.
Spork and Flick high-fived each other. Their friendship grew that day. Later, when they saw Verne eating some cheese in the hay, they felt vindicated. Clearly it was they who convinced Verne that cheese was so delicious. Clearly this proves the moon is made of Gouda.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been four whole months since I wrote anything here. I guess you could say I’ve been busy! Let’s see, can I give a reasonably quick recap?
I’m pretty well settled back into Capitol Hill now. My apartment, while still needing lots of work, is liveable and in nice enough shape that I’ve had friends over a few times without great embarrassment. One of the best features is the huge balcony, especially now that I have moved most of my camping gear off it.
I’ve been on a couple camping trips to the mountains this summer. One was my first visit to the Apogaea arts and music festival, and the other was a Bradley family reunion. Those were nice long-weekend getaways. I also took several days off in the spring to work on a photography project around Denver with a friend who visited from Austin.
I still run into old friends and acquaintances who don’t know that Beth and I are separated. It just happened again at a party last Saturday night. I haven’t talked about it much online, and I’ll probably blog about the whole thing sometime. In short, Beth and I decided in September 2015 to split up, but we still finished our Eastern Hemisphere travels. We said our goodbyes after we landed back in the US. She moved to Kansas City in early February, which explains why my apartment is really MY apartment, as in just mine. Getting used to being single, living alone, etc. has been strange after all this time. Like I said, more on that later.
I’ve been working from my office in Broomfield less and less, often going in only once per week. Working from home (or a coffee shop) is so much nicer. I really hate the commute each way. It’s just such a waste of valuable time that I’d rather spend doing something fun, or productive, or just relaxing. Sitting in a car in traffic is none of those things. But the Honda Civic I bought earlier this year is just about as nice of a commuting car as I can imagine.
I’ve been working on a short film series called “Welcome to Earth, Shorty”. I had hoped it would be farther along by now, but writing has been slower than I thought it would be. My main writing partner and I have tried a few experiments that haven’t worked out quite as we hoped, and I’ve been way busier than I expected to be. I hope to have more to tell you about on that later.
I have also done some dating, for the first time in 24 years. That’s definitely weird. Most of the people I’ve met have been through a dating website. Meeting people that way is new to me, and dating in middle age is new to me. But I’ve always liked meeting new people, so even though it’s awkward and strange, it’s been fun, too.
Well, that’s the shortest summary I can give of my spring and the first half of summer. I should make a point to write more often.
After a week or so, I went back to work full time. That was a little hard to get used to. Not only had I not done the same thing every day for a long time, but I had six months of progress at my job to catch up on. I tried working on three different projects at the same time initially, but once it was clear that one of them was on track I cut back to two projects. And now I’m mainly working on just one.
I eventually did find an apartment in Denver I liked. I decided to go with location over size, and started a lease in a unit at the Florentine Condominiums on March 15. Moving is happening in fits and starts. As I write this, I’ve spent three nights in the new place now. But I still have stuff in the old place, the room I was renting from my friend.
The apartment is at 700 Washington St, which is in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, only about block from the place where we lived before. There’s a great comfort in knowing the neighborhood pretty well. And it’s especially convenient to be able to walk everywhere again. As I wrote in my blog a couple years ago, within a half mile, there are four supermarkets, nine or ten coffee shops, several restaurants and bars, at least three cleaners, and so on.
But 7th Avenue is a quiet street, so even though the density is pretty high here, it’s a calm place to live. And now it’s especially so because I live on the 8th floor. I’ve got a big balcony that faces east, and I can see for miles and miles from up here.
I’ve been running a regular Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG game for the past several months. But a different group where I’m a player recently asked if I would occasionally be a “judge” for that game, too. I was flattered and said yes.
DCC has a strong zine community, and one of those zines is called “Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad“. There have only been three issues so far. I’m waiting for the third in the mail, but the first two are hilarious and inspirational. The zine, from what I understand, is mostly just stuff from this one particular campaign that these guys somewhere in the midwest (???) play. In issue #2, there was an article called “Secrets of the Serpent Moon.” It’s not a fully-fleshed adventure, but is more of an “adventure kit” — a template and some various ideas that you can put together to build your own adventure.
Well, one group of PCs in the gaming group I was asked to help judge had just finished play testing a funnel that one of the other two judges had written. And that funnel adventure had a heavy serpent-man theme. So what better thing to chain onto the end than an adventure about serpent-men on the moon? I got to work writing my own adventure based on the adventure kit from the magazine.
One feeling I’ve been getting from the other DCC game I run is that when I create custom-made adventures, I spend too much time writing down every little detail into a nice word processing document. I think I’ve been trying too hard to imitate the really good 3rd party adventures on the market for DCC RPG. But more detail isn’t really making the game better.
So I decided to swing the other way. I wanted to run a game that was 100% true old-school, with no electronic technology whatsoever. No smart phone, no iPad (despite the fact I love Purple Sorcerer’s Crawler’s Companion app), no laptop, no pretty module created on a desktop publishing system. I wanted to write an adventure that would all be presented from a stack of 3×5 note cards, printed (or hand-drawn) maps, the zine, and regular old dice. “Party like it’s 1974” is one of the slogans of Dungeon Crawl Classics.
The rest of this blog post is about how I did it. Other people will take the “Secrets of the Serpent Moon” template and go a totally different direction, of course.
The article from the zine talks about how to put together a basic plot for what the PCs need to accomplish on the moon. They start as recently-thawed-out mammals that the reptile-men captured some time in the past (57 years ago, in my case, I decided — some of you sci-fi fans will know the significance of “57 years“). There’s a problem at the serpent-men’s moonbase, you see, and only the PCs can solve it.
I broke my story up into four sections, a Prologue and three Chapters. The Prologue section was just meant to update the characters in a couple ways. You see, the serpent-men have been experimenting on the party, and they’ve all had modifications that take them far from the norm. For instance, some have extra limbs, or a parasitic twin, or a new locomotive system instead of legs. Then with the Prologue out of the way, there are three Chapters. I’m thinking each chapter will be roughly one game session. But as I write this, we’ve only finished Chapter 1. The key points of each chapter went onto a 3×5 card.
Then I needed a master map. The zine article provides tables to randomly generate the different areas of the serpent-man base. I decided it needed to be bigger and more structured, so I broke the base up into different “sectors”. Some of the sectors have the randomly-generated rooms from the zine, and others have other stuff. Rather than making some kind of detailed map, I just took one 3×5 card and drew a very basic flow chart on it, to show which sectors connect to which other sectors. The PCs would start in Sector F, where they were thawed from the cryotubes (“F” stands for “frozen”), and continue through the base to Sector X. Sector X is where the threat/challenge/danger is (“X” for “unknown, of course, and it sounds cool). The zine article has a table to randomly generate how each sector is connected to the next, so I rolled and wrote those in on my 3×5 map: “matter trans.” and “living door” and “monorail” and “space whale”.
In my case, I decided that Sector X is where a base expansion project was undertaken, but the serpent-men doing the excavation ran into some unknown creatures that killed them all. Let’s call those creatures “Selenites” for the sake of argument (and because they’re actually the same Selenites as in the H.G. Wells story). So Sector X leads to the Selenite caverns, which is a sprawling complex of caves containing moon calves, Selenites, a stoner wizard stranded on the moon, and a few other things.
Example Dungeon Geomorph
So for the caverns, I printed out the pages from the PDF of “Dungeon Crawl Classics #9: Dungeon Geomorphs” that a bought a few months back. Then I chose the geomorphs that looked most like what I wanted, cut them up, and arranged them how I liked. I used a black Sharpie to color over the caves that I didn’t want, since the caverns would continue literally forever otherwise.
After I got the entire cavern complex set up, with improper exits removed, I numbered each printed geomorph on the back with its grid number. I called them A1 through D5. Here’s what the whole thing looked like when assembled:
Lastly, I wrote up 3×5 cards for a few other things relevant to the game, like these:
Several cards explaining what’s in each of the areas of the cavern complex
Descriptions of NPCs the party meets along the way
Key points of ether ships the group may encounter or use
Details on treasure items
And that’s pretty much it. That’s how I turned the “adventure kit” for “Secrets of the Serpent Moon” into a runnable adventure with all low tech pen-and-paper components.
My main inspirations:
“Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad” zine
Paranoia, the role-playing game
“Jason of Star Command” on Amazon Instant Video
“Land of the Lost” reruns
“Aliens” by James Cameron
“Message from Space” the Japanese Star Wars ripoff from the 70’s
I thought this phrase was a common idiom, but judging from the Google results, now I’m not so sure. I had a boss years ago who taught it to me. The phrase comes from surgery, as I heard the story. If you’re a surgeon and you’ve already gone to the trouble of sedating a patient, sterilizing the room, and cutting open the patient’s body to repair one thing, if you see another thing that needs fixing right next to it, you might as well fix the second thing, too. Otherwise, you’ll have to sew the body back up and let the patient recover from this surgery, only to come back and do another surgery to fix the second problem in the future.
This idiom applies really well to software maintenance, in my experience. Suppose you’ve done the work to analyze and understand a piece of existing source code well enough that you can find and fix a bug that’s been reported. If you see there’s a related bug in the same section of code, it’s cheaper to just go ahead and fix it while “the body is open”.
Have you ever heard this idiom before? Does it apply to your field of work?
Beth and I moved from south Boulder to central Denver about a month ago, but I think it didn’t fully sink in until just today how wonderful it is being in a real neighborhood of a real city. I’d seen some small signs over the past month, like the fact that I calculated there are seven coffee shops within a half mile. And, of course, the fact that it takes 30 minutes to drive to an actual suburb. And the fact we can easily walk to the Fillmore Auditorium, the state capitol, Voodoo Doughnut, Cherry Creek, the Denver Art Museum, and four different supermarkets.
But today’s experience was special in how mundanely urban it was. I needed to go to King Soopers pharmacy to pick up a prescription refill, but Beth took the car today. So I set out on foot, Audiobook in my earpods. I wanted some lunch, so I decided to stop in at a pho restaurant that I hadn’t visited before. After lunch I walked up to the pharmacy and got my prescription. But then I realized I was next door to one of the coffee shops on my checklist, so I stopped in for espresso and a scone. Refortified against the spring snowstorm, I set out for home.
But then I passed by a little neighborhood Ace Hardware I didn’t even know existed. It’s the exact opposite of Home Depot, more employees than customers, a small shop where you can buy everything you need in 5 minutes, and no parking. I remembered we needed a few things for the new apartment, so I stopped in and picked them up. Then I set out again. Oh, but wait, Beth mentioned the other day we’re out of tonic water, and there’s a liquor store right next store. Another stop. After that I passed by a cleaners (the fourth one I passed on this walk), an antique store, the mysterious walled-off premises of an international religious cult’smansion, and some other mansions, before finally getting back to our apartment.
I’m glad to be here, in a real neighborhood in a real city.