Category Archives: Monday

Something Cool for Monday

No gaming stuff today – Mondays are for reminding myself that there’s good in the world, and sharing a bit of that good.

I read a lot of stuff daily, just out of habit. Google Reader helps me maintain most of it – I have a fat stack of RSS feeds and searches that it all pulls into one place so I can go through it and see what’s to be found. This works pretty well, and I think most infovores have their own variant on this. However, there is one resource I like to hit that exists outside this automated process.

Arts & Letters Daily is a link site, but it’s one that is manually maintained by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Manually is kind of important here because there’s a natural culling to the process: has 3 categories, and at most adds one or two links per day to each category. Each link will be to something thoughtful and interesting, the kind of thing you may feel like you’re missing out on in a world of blog-post-backslapping. That combination of low volume and high quality makes for something delightful to read and easy to keep up with.

In some ways this seems positively archaic (in that way that only things on the Internet can truly be archaic) – a relic of an era of hand-crafted content, ruled by librarians with a quiet fist. But that’s what draws me back to it – there are precious few thoughtful, quiet corners of the Internet, and is far and away one of my favorites.

If you visit, do yourself a favor and scroll to the bottom of the sidebar to the “Classics” section, where they keep links to several must-read essays and articles, including Fukuyama’s “End of History”[1], Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” and many others.

1 – Fukuyama’s essay is worth reading from a purely historical perspective. Consider when it was written (1989), and then think that as odd as some of it may sound today, a lot of people really bought into this back then. It’s now far enough in the past that it merely makes me smile rather than, say, foam at the mouth, which was my usual response for Fukuyama for many years.

Cool Things on Monday: Terrible Minds

One of the nicer things about achieving some small success in game publishing is that it has completely changed my views on it. Prviously, it had been fairly abstract and distant, with a few banner names and products that sprang, fully formed, from the brow of their respective companies. Some of you are laughing, I know I am, but that’s what it looked like from the ground.

Nowadays, I see a very personal ecosystem, teeming with hundreds of folks all doing their bit out of a love of the hobby. I look at the guy working for a big company and the guy working on his dream game in his basement, and the differences between them are much different than I ever thought they were. It’s not a difference of passion, and usually not one of skill either. Mostly it’s just a difference of hours worked, and the willingness to work more.

Which is, as you think about it, just like everything else.

Anyway, I mention this because this change in perspective has made it possible for me to actually meet people in the gaming industry as fellow gamers rather than as some sort of crazy icons. This has been awesome (though I’ll say right now, I swear to god Half the people I met at Gencon 2008 were named some variant on Jason or Justin, and I remember NONE of the names) and it leads directly to the gentleman I’m hoping to point y’all at today.

Chuck Wendig was at Dreamation (or maybe Dexcon, I mix them up a lot) to promo the upcoming Changeling: The Lost and to do a little panel work. I was there for my usual hippie indie reasons, but I was very curious about this new Changeling – I’d loved the old one in a conceptually-wonderful-but-unlikely-to-play-it sort of way – so I grabbed a slot. It ended up being a lot of fun. Chuck runs a tight game, and it showcased a lot of the things which ended up really exciting me about C:tL. So, when the game wrapped up, we chatted a bit, and I asked if he was interested in a meal. Turns out he was, so he joined a number of us hippies at the restaurant, where I think everyone was a little surprised that no one burst into flame at this pro & indie mix.

Anyway, the universal assessment was Chuck was a cool guy, and as a result he had a small posse show up at his panels (which was hopefully not too weird) and a good time was had by all. Plus, we got to meet Mrs. Chuck, who was charming and seemed possessed of infinite patience.

I mention this as framing for a much simpler point: You should read Chuck’s blog at He’s actually had one for a while, but it used to be a terrifying monstrosity, which I’d have to select-all to read because on anything but IE, the text was black on a black background. It had no RSS, and this made me sad. Thankfully, he’s been dragged into the twenty-first century, and has upgraded to a wordpress blog with all the appropriate bells and whistles, so now the rest of the universe can actually read it.

So why should you? Well, sure, you could read it because Chuck’s done some awesome game designs, having recently wrestled the new Hunter: the Vigil to the ground like a bear and having a trail of credits that sparkle like stars in the sky. But if that was all there was to it, it wouldn’t be as interesting. See, Chuck also writes, and writes about writing, and does both of these things with a unique, compelling, and sometimes profoundly useful style. His stuff is insightful, and it’s genuinely fun to read; check out his posts on writing in the weeds, blogging about blogging and fake writing for a start. Plus, he occasionally throws in some really spectacular macro-lens photography, which makes for lovely (if sometimes disturbing) eye candy.

With all that, the fact that he’s a cool guy is just a bonus.

More Good Things on Monday

So, this runs the risk of sounding like an advertisement, but I’m ok with that. If a product makes you excited, it’s worth saying so, and that excitement is what the advertisers are trying to sound like.

If you use multiple computers, then you should consider taking a look at dropbox. Here’s how it works – you sign up with dropbox and install a (very small, pretty innocuous) bit of software and it creates a folder on your machine called “My Dropbox”. Anything you save in that folder is also saved online at dropbox, and can be accessed through their website.
That’s all well and good for automated backups, but where it gets useful is that if you install the software on a second machine, it will create the folder and copy the contents of the original. That is to say, every machine that has this folder has the SAME information – change it in one place and it changes everywhere. [1] The second and subsequent folders are all on your machine so you can access them offline – the connection is only used for syncing up.[2]
What’s most amazing to me is how smoothly it works. This has entirely replaced me carrying around a usb drive for backing up all my work – if I write it, it gets saved in my dropbox, and I know it’s backed up. Then, when I crack open my netbook out on the road, I can get at the same files and pick up where I left off. Plus, if I need to grab something from another computer entirely, I can do so through the web site.
That would be enough for me, but there’s one more feature that I have only scratched the surface of. Dropbox allows you to share files as well. At its simplest, this means you set a sub-folder public, and people can logon to dropbox to download the files you’re sharing, but if you’re also a dropbox member, you can add the shared folder to your existing folder, and it becomes part of the sync up. In practice that means that if you and a friend are working on a cookbook together, you can have a shared, remote, backed up folder called “Cookbook” on any machine either of you needs to use which has all the files you both need. If you’ve ever collaborated on a writing project before and dealt with mailing files back and forth, you can imagine what a lifesaver this is.
Now, there are a lot of other services that offer similar benefits, or tangential ones. There are file-sharing sites like senduit that let you pass around much bigger files, and sites like 37signals have more collaboration tools, and they’re all well and good. Dropbox is pretty simple in terms of what it does and how it does it, and that simplicity makes it robust. You could get a fancier, more expensive tool and maybe use it, but dropbox makes itself so simple that it becomes hard not to use it, and that’s the mark of a great tool.
For all this, I still just use the free service. Not that this isn’t something I’d be willing to pay for, but I’m not a graphic designer or a media guy – all the files I need to back up and sync are buckets full of words, and those just don’t get very big. If I ever find myself pushing the 2 gig limit, I’ll probably look at their pricing plans, but I don’t see that coming anytime in the near future. I admit, I feel a little bad about that, but I shouldn’t. They’re smart guys, and every user of the free service makes their product more valuable to the people who are paying for it – like fax machines, the value goes up as the network expands – because the ability to share files is more valuable with more users. Plus, given that price point, why not give it a try?

1 – Mechanically, it does this by virtue of the local copies looking for updates from the remote copy. As anyone whose dealt with remote backup knows, that does introduce one potential problem, where a document is saved in 2 different versions on two different machines which aren’t connected. The fear scenario here is that one version overwrites the other, but thankfully dropbox handles it pretty intelligently – if it detects a conflict, it will spawn an additional version of the file so you can fix the problem.

2 – Yes, that means files are stored redundantly, which may not seem incredibly futuristic-elegant, but it turns out to be incredibly practical. And compared to other things, storage is cheap.

Because Monday Needs Cool Things

I read a fair number of webcomics, and while the majority of them follow the standard comic format (and thank god for it) and others have a bit of plot in the background, some of them are genuine narratives, simply telling a story one comic at a time. There’s a lot of meaty stuff here, but one that I am especially fond of is Ursula Vernon’s Digger.

It’s the story of a Wombat caught up in the affairs of gods, and while a lot of elements will be familiar to fantasy fans, there are enough tweaks to things to keep it fresh. Some are twists within genre, like oracular slugs, or the title character’s engineering bias in a magical world, but some are a step outside those. Most notably, this is technically a “furry” story, in that the main characters include many humanoid animals, but the art is the exact opposite of what you would expect from such an endeavor. Not to put to fine a point on it, there’s nary a balloon-breast to be seen. In fact, while the cast is predominantly female, you really wouldn’t know that just by looking – they look more like animals than not. Even more, no mention or emphasis is put on the balance of females and it’s not a big deal. For me, this is infinitely more delightful than waving a stick around.

But in my emphasis on this meta-stuff, I risk moving away from what really makes it work: Strong characters, solid (sometimes hilarious) dialog and a mythology that really feels like it hangs together well. Digger is a joy to read from the first strip on, and I warn that there’s a danger that doing so will eat up most of your day.

As a personal aside, I’m a big fan of Vernon’s art in general. Specifically, when my son was born, we bought a large stack of prints of pieces we thought would be well suited to a child’s room. The thinking was that we wanted art that would delight a child, but we weren’t interested in marketing for Disney. We were delighted with the pieces we got, and I’ve already started telling Jamie stories about them (though he’s still a bit to young to get what’s going on).

(That’s Vasquez. He’s the luckiest bird alive because he pays attention – total nod to Lloyd Alexander there. So far he figures most often in things, though his friend and fellow fez-wearer, Cornelius, is close behind)

Images are, hopefully obviously, copyright Ursula Vernon.