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Things to do after your last class

My (supposedly) last class at Strayer University (yes I know) is done. I probably failed, so no degree for me; I'm done with it regardless.

Time, now, to turn my attention to other things: my ailing mother, the many things wrong with our house that people point out daily, our tangled finances, my lack of any income whatsoever, my lack of a life outside this house and my mother ...

Since all this is too hard and too depressing, though, I'll spend the rest of this entry considering the ways I can use my spare brain capacity:

Books


Right now my room is cluttered with mostly unread books: fiction, RPG books, technical books, graphic novels, science, folklore, discredited science, ... Now that I don't have to pretend I'm a CIO or computer forensic technician I can settle down and read some of them. (And sell others. Seriously, I buy books the way some women buy shoes; Imelda Marcos comes to mind.)

Tabletop Games


Wil Wheaton's Tabletop reawakened an interest in hobby games. Back when I had a regular RPG group, more often than not we'd lack a quorum. (Which is why it's an ex-group.) On those nights, we'd play Arkham Horror, Elder Sign, Get Bit, King of Tokyo, Small World, Zombie Dice, and others. (Yes, I stopped to arrange the list alphabetically. What's your point?) I've bought many others that are still in shrinkwrap. (Imelda Marcos again.) Maybe I can drum up some interest in playing them ... outside this house, naturally.

Tabletop RPGs


I re-discovered role-playing games not long after I moved back to Texas. Groups have come and gone, but I'd still like to get a game of something together. In the moments I couldn't bear to think about information technology I've come up with possible settings:

Clearly I think about RPGs far more than I run them. Of these, only "Days of Judgement" got a one-session trial run. In the last several years I've run one-shots in LotFP:WFRP, Mongoose's RuneQuest II (a.k.a. Legend, a.k.a. RQ5), and Tunnels and Trolls. (The T&T game was meant to be the first in an ongoing campaign, but we never got that far.)

Writing Fiction


I've been a "wannabe writer" since I was 16, and it's high time I actually completed something I could be proud of. I've finished/abandoned a few things, but they're not that good.

Constructed Languages


This is my newest and weirdest interest, which grew out of my preceding interests. In my grandiose plans, one novel will need a fairly complete Elvish language and another novel will need a few sentences in a hypothetical sibling of Sumerian. On the RPG side, with even less justification, I'll need a language for mysterious Ancient artifacts, inscriptions in a town of secrets that exists in multiple realities, a Goblin language just for verisimilitude, and a few others just to tinker with. There's also almost a dozen "naming languages" just so that I can call people, places, and things something besides "Greenwood" or "the presbyter".

The "Ancient" language is closest to being "done", but really it's far from usable. For the others I've barely figured out the phonology and general grammar. Just like real-world languages, my stumbling block is vocabulary; a random generator would solve that problem, except I'd have to winnow out the silly or unpronounceable results.

At least now I'll have the time. Maybe.

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New obsessions

Especially since the latest run of Doctor Who ended, I've developed a few new televisual obsessions:

Archer: A rude, crude satire of 70's spy films and TV shows, Archer's plots revolve less around a dysfunctional agency's spy missions and more around office politics and the screwed-up private lives of its personnel. From the self-centered and irresponsible title character to the "only sane woman" with a hair-trigger temper to the tattle-tale HR director to the increasingly disturbed and disturbing executive secretary, the interplay between these lunatics, alternately sympathetic and reprehensible, puts many live action to shame.

Adventure Time: Yes, the kid's show. Despite the superficial kid-show elements -- a boy and his magical dog, a candy kingdom, princesses -- the adventures of Adventure Time are surreal and surprisingly dark. Its unfolding post-apocalyptic back-story includes tragic and even pathetic villains, one-sided romance, parental abandonment, and disturbing implications of candy people and a wizard that kidnaps princesses. Much like many past favorites, tragedy ambushes comedy, and dark comedy undercuts tragedy.

There's also a growing list of YouTube series/channels: "Tabletop" from Geek & Sundry, "My Drunk Kitchen", "Daily Grace", "5 Second Films", "My Gimpy Life", ...

Game Idea: The Chromatic Kingdoms

A tweet on my feed reminded me of a science fantasy location I dreamed up ages ago. It's inspired by post-apocalyptic fiction, medieval romance, Greek classics, colors from Magic: The Gathering, simplified Mendelian genetics and racism.

The Chromatic Kingdoms

The so-called "Chromatic Kingdoms" are two opposed kingdoms of several cities each, seemingly in a continuous race war with an implicit war of the sexes.

Races of the White Kingdom

Kyrioi (Whites)

A fair-skinned and fair-haired people, males are tall and athletic, while females are small, frail, almost dwarfish. Reflecting this disparity, Kyrioi have a patriarchal, hierarchical society: men rule the women, and the king has absolute power over his dukes, who rule iron-fisted over their barons, who dominate their knights, who dominate free craftsmen and merchants. All Kyrioi, even women technically, have absolute authority over Khloroi serfs/slaves (see below) and a minority of enslaved Kobolds (see below), who do all the work.

Kyrioi hate all other human variations to a lesser or greater degree. They believe their benighted kingdom is the pinnacle of civilization, and demand that others accept their inferiority to the Kyrioi, at swordpoint if necessary.

Genetically, pureblood Whites have X chromosomes with a recessive mutation; two X chromosomes inhibit growth. The Y chromosome, shared by the Greens, turns off this mutation and gives White males their stature and musculature.

Khloroi (Greens)

Khloroi have subcutaneous algae that give them green or cyan skin. Males are as large or larger than Kyrioi men, and females are somewhat smaller but athletic and shapely. A Green heals faster (or recovers from fatigue faster) when resting in sunlight, and possesses amazing stamina. Most are serfs of the Kyrioi, but some are freemen and women.

Genetically, pureblood Greens have X chromosomes with a dominant mutation for size and health; the Y chromosome is the same as the Whites. Their green color passes from mother to child; the father's race doesn't matter. Because of these genetics, a White male can breed with a Green female and produce a child indistinguishable from a purebred Green. On the other hand, a halfbreed female who breeds with a White has a 1 in 4 chance to bear a small, stunted daughter, ill-equipped for a life of toil, and shame to the White in question.

Races of the Wilderness

Amazons (Reds)

Known for their copper skin and dark hair, the "amazon" tribes live in the wildernesses between Kyrioi settlements. Kyrioi propaganda insists that the Amazons steal men, become pregnant by them, and then eat them and any male issue. In fact, the males of the Amazon usually stay close to home, tending children, gathering food, and practicing necessary crafts, while the non-pregnant women hunt. The chief is always a woman, but a man runs the village while she's away. This has led to intra-tribal conflict, although both chiefs try to partition responsibilities between them as much as possible.

Women wear the tanned skin of their kills, either as a one-piece dress that comes to mid-thigh or a weapons harness with enough strips of leather for modesty's sake. Men wear woven ankle-length smocks, kilts with a short tunic, or simple loin cloths, depending on their trade and the time of year. Both sexes wear mantles in cold or wet weather, and leather armor as needed. Only women may wear leather against their skin.  Men wear cloth, and a young girl may wear cloth until her first kill when she becomes a woman. Women wear short hair or shaved scalps; men wear long hair, often tied back.

A male who shows an aptitude for hunting, or a female who shows promise in a particular craft (especially psychics and shamans), can opt for a "sex change" ritual, during which they shed their clothing and don clothing of the other sex. For all intents and purposes, save the inevitable biological ones, that person is now and forever their chosen sex.

Genetically, females carry a recessive gene on their X chromosome that makes them larger and healthier, not unlike the Green X. Male Reds have a mutant Y overriding the Red X that makes them smaller. Hybrids with the other races can vary greatly, based on their fathers' and mothers' races.

Kobolds

Kobolds are completely hairless, with indigo skin; they prefer cool temperatures, but in cold weather they must bundle up in fur, felt, or heavy textiles. Normal dress varies by clan, from simple furs to sophisticated textiles, and from stone-age arms and armor to ironwork that would make a master blacksmith weep.

Male kobolds stand about a meter tall and nearly that wide, with muscular arms, and well-muscled but short legs. Their heads look squashed by human standards, with large eyes that see in the dimmest light and small, upturned noses. Females are slightly taller and paler then their men, with longer legs, rounder heads, and narrower shoulders, and much less powerful arms; nevertheless few humans would call them beauties. For the most part, males do the stoneworking, metalsmithing, and hunting, while females concentrate on gathering, softer crafts, and social skills; women with a talent for hunting or men who weave clothes suffer no stigma, as long as they do it well.

Most kobolds prefer large groups of their own kind, in burrows, mines, or other dark and enclosed spaces. At one time the Kobolds had a civilization that spanned northern Mu, with feats of engineering that rival or exceed other empires' at their height. Today, they live in the safer parts of their ruined cities or in far more modest holes. Most kobolds lead a hunter-gatherer life, although some have cautiously taken up farming. Kobolds cooperate to a degree only found in human military units; internal disputes are often settled amicably by their chiefs or wise women, and inter-clan conflicts seldom escalate to war.

Kobolds distrust strangers, especially Tall Folks like humans. They plan their homes, even the humblest, with traps, murder holes, and other defenses not readily apparent. Despite the difficulty of gaining their trust, they prove to be staunch allies in all but the most dire circumstances.

Kobolds cannot breed with other humanoid species.

Races of the Dark Kingdom

Heretics (Darks)

The "Dark Queen", supposedly a Kyrioi woman, founded a kingdom in a wilderness, and drew to her those dissatisfied with the Kyrioi order: runaway Khloroi and Kobolds, Amazons tired of Kyrioi harassment, even Kyrioi women and men looking for a better way to live. Declaring themselves free citizens of Egalitas, the Queen and her refugee subjects founded a walled settlement, later a city, in phenomenal time.

Legend has it that the Queen always travels with two huge Ancient-made constructs, who foil any assassination attempts. Despite her Kyrioi ancestry, in public she appears nearly as tall as a Kyrioi man, albeit dressed in concealing robes. Her declared intent is to overturn Kyrioi breeding laws, and indeed cross-breeding among Reds, Whites, and Greens has led to a new race, the Darks, with dusky skin and male-female proportions close to the human norm. The Kyrioi have declared her and her kingdom abominations. Despite their onslaughts, not only has Egalitas survived, it has prospered and won some baronies -- and one duke -- to its cause. Rumors attribute her success to borrowed or stolen Ancient technology; the White King blames interference from "outsiders".

Valkyries (Yellows)

Recently the Dark Queen's breeding schemes have produced the Yellows, women with pale golden skin proportioned more like Greens. (Male Yellows resemble largish Whites except for the slight golden tint, easy to pass off as a tan.) From genetics known since time immemorial, the only way that could happen is if a White female bore a Green's child, which is even more of an abomination to the Kyroi patriarchy. Dubbed Valkyries, this new generation of tall women form the core of the Dark Queen's elite guard.

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Phrases for doing something amazing

I'm going to ask my non-existent readership a question: what are some phrases from movies, TV, or literature that emphasize how amazing a feat is? Two examples might illustrate:

"Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave ... with a box of scraps!" -- Obadiah Stane, Iron Man

"Faster than light travel with two diagrams and a joke." -- The Doctor, "The Eleventh Hour", Doctor Who

Any others?

I hate Windows

My MacBook Pro was literally falling apart, so I purchased a refurbished Win7 machine on sale. I hate it.

It took a while to install all the software I'm likely to use, including Cygwin and MinGW to emulate the OSX/Linux world. I also bought a McAfee Antivirus subscription. At this point I think I'm used to the interface, and it's not too bad. Text isn't as sharp or pretty on this machine, and despite having a processor as fast as the MacBook (2.2 GHz) and twice the memory, it's occasionally slower.

What I'm NOT used to, however, is the CPU suddenly going above 50% -- Windows Task Manager credits the CPU to "SYSTEM" -- and frequently hitting 100% when I do something difficult like paging through a PDF or loading a YouTube movie. Sometimes it get stuck for minutes like that, and it's faster just to reboot. (Hey, customers hate waiting for their computers to reboot all the time ... let's speed up boot time!)

I only see this behavior after the computer hibernates. Either I have a really subtle virus or something in the hardware or OS is messed up. In any case, if I hadn't spent so much time setting this bastard up I'd just install Ubuntu.

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A traveller and an emperor

[Based on two different copyrighted properties. Kudos to those who know the other one.]

In the most powerful city in the greatest intergalactic empire mankind had yet known, The Temple loomed over all.

From orbit the Old City resembled a human figure with outstretched arms, with a nimbus of urban sprawl. The Temple roof, atop glass-steel shoulders, bore an orichalcum image of a square-jawed face smiling beatifically. Anyone in the Empire would recognize that face from countless icons and medallions: the God-Emperor of the Empire of Man.

Within the Temple's sanctum sanctorum, crablike robots tended ancient machinery which no human hand had touched for centuries. Faint indicator lights barely illuminated the cavernous hall. Every pipe, every cord, every crystal rod of that vast machine terminated at a dust-covered sarcophagus of transparent aluminum. A hand had wiped a window in the dust and revealed the scarred, desiccated face and a glimpse of a once powerful body below it. The face looked hauntingly familiar.

A figure sat next to the sarcophagus. His left hand absently wiped dust on a maroon greatcoat. The figure's hairstyle and clothes would remind a man of the Empire of ancient fashions, although in truth his clothes had never been fashionable in any era. The figure examined the instrument in his right hand, and he spoke, apparently to the body in the sarcophagus:

"That's as much life support as I can squeeze out of this rig, old friend. Under the screams of a million deaths I heard your words, what I suppose are your words, and I'm so very sorry it took this long to come here ... but seriously, nobody else caught your message? In your vast empire, nobody obeyed? Tell me I have it right; say it with your own lips, and I'll do it."

The apparent corpse opened its eyes: clear blue eyes, human eyes. Its thin lips twitched, and unseen apparatus amplified its whisper: Let ... me ... go.

The man from another time nodded grimly. He raised the object in his right hand, like a cylindrical tool. From its end light flared briefly, and a high-pitched piercing sound broke the silence. A moment later, all indicator lights went out.




Father Ilon strapped the sacrifice into its chair, like he had done twenty times today and countless times over his past three decades serving the God-Emperor. The Impure had to die, but their sacrifice to the God-Emperor demonstrated the devotion of His servants; through this service His Divine Light remained at the heart of His Holy Empire and guided the faithful.

The sacrifice sobbed like a ten-year-old girl, which she was. (It, it, the sacrifice was an "it".) After routine adjustments to straps and soul extractor dish, he strode solemnly to the control console, and muttered the brief prayer written for these sad yet joyous occasions. Without further delay, he pulled the lever that would speed the sacrifice on to his God.

Some act of the God extinguished all console lights, and all interior lights but ceremonial candles. The sacrifice's fear gave way to confusion.

Angrily Father Ilon left the Booth of Reunification to find a Machine-Priest, and to his surprise met a cluster of Machine Priests and fellow Brethren of Spiritual Union milling around the Inner Court. Some shouted angrily, others muttered in low voices, a few looked stricken. "What's going on here?" Ilon shouted. The babble in reply suggested that all the Booths of Reunification had ceased, and the Angels of the Machine no longer danced. The implications eluded him at the time.




Zora watched the man in robes step through the doorway and join the shouting outside. She hated shouting. She and her mother could talk to each other without making a sound, without anyone even knowing. Long days in the factory passed more quickly. Then the priests came, and took Mama and her away in separate cargo holds. More priests gave her tests, which she failed. She heard Mama in her head one last time, an outpouring of love and reassurance before a brief but unforgettable agony as the priests extracted her soul and fed it to their god.

When it was her turn, she tried to act brave like Mama had been, but she was scared: how long would it hurt? The Old Religion claimed that virtuous souls reunited in Paradise, but the Priests promised only death for disobedience. The last moment of Mama's life destroyed any hope of ever seeing her again, of growing up, of getting married. (She vowed never have children; bringing a new life into the Empire doomed it to a lifetime of suffering and toil.)

Now the man in robes had left, and she wondered how much longer she would live. Was this one last punishment, this waiting?

Zora gasped as something swept over her, not a sight nor sound nor feeling but the other sense that she and Mama shared. For a brief second she thought it was Mama, but no: it was a man, far more powerful than Mama, well-intentioned but used to being obeyed. Help him, the Man said.

When Zora returned to the senses that did not blaspheme against the God-Emperor, the straps holding her felt looser. She wormed one arm free, then unbuckled the others as quietly as possible. She crept closer to the door and watched the milling crowd for an opening.

Shouts at the far end of the hall drew her attention, and everyone else's. A man in a long coat ran down the corridor, dodging through the crowd. Is that "him"? she wondered. Behind him four soldiers fired Beatifiers. Everyone in the crowd ducked, although a few unlucky ones exploded into soggy chunks of meat.

Near her the man in robes who almost fed her soul to his god pulled out a needle gun and aimed carefully at the man. The man ran on oblivious, getting closer. The man in the coat would die.

Zora remembered her mother's dying agony in painful detail. She dropped the memory into the robed man's head.




Tech priests rushed around in panic. The Temple had lost power. All the temple had lost power, including the ancient machines that kept the God-Emperor alive. A few calmer ones ransacked scriptoriums for schematic diagrams. Others strove mightily to open access hatches sealed shut for millennia. No one living had the knowledge to repair the Sustainer of Life at the Temple's heart, but for the sake of the Empire they had to try.

The pearly white glow began subtly, first outlining doors to the Sustainer, then seams in the walls, then the walls themselves. Within the Sustainer a howling sound grew louder and higher, rising to an unnatural scream.

Then the real panic began.




The former sacrifices gathered around the Sanctum Sanctorum, the Sustainer of Life, the Sarcophagus of the not-quite-dead God-Emperor.

The soldiers had left. Most of the priests had fled glowing walls. Those priests who remained lay unconscious or dead where the Power or some more prosaic tool struck them.

The man in the coat died from an archaic slug-thrower one of the soldiers carried as a side-arm. Prisoners arranged his corpse in a more dignified position, for there was nothing else to do for him.

Together men, women, and children in rags and prison-issued tunics watched the eldritch transformation of the holiest sight in the Empire. Those with the Power felt something die, and something else being born.

An incomprehensibly vast explosion rocked the sarcophagus. Buttresses held the sides together, but weak points in the roof -- carved eyes and mouth -- ruptured under the strain. Pillars of pearly-white light streamed into the sky, spreading as they reached vacuum. The light, and whatever else it contained, grew more tenuous but not weaker as it spread across interstellar space.

Unseen and lost in blinding white light, the tastefully arranged body of the man in the coat glowed a faint gold. Golden plasma streamed from his exposed face and hands, and the stream grew ever stronger. When the brilliant light ceased, prisoners looked for the body of their deliverer, and found nothing. A different man in the same greatcoat slunk away, unseen.

From orbit the Old City still resembled a human figure with outstretched arms. The ruptured Temple roof bore the face of a square-jawed man, eyes open, shouting in triumph.

HEADS!

While I still have a few details to work out, I WILL go to the Reason Rally. My extended whine a few days ago persuaded me to stop being a wuss.

Dithering cost me hotel discounts in DC, but I made hotel and flight reservations at comparatively reasonable prices for Mar 23 and Mar 25. I probably won't have a lot of time to see DC, but it's not like I can stay a week.

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Flipping coins on Reason Rally

The Reason Rally collects prominent secular advocates and atheists together to protest the irrationality of U. S. politics. Part of me wants to go, and part of me argues against it.

PRO: Chance to meet Richard Dawkins, P. Z. Myers, Jessica Ahlquist, James Randi, and Cristina Rad, among other luminaries.

CON: Chance to gibber like an idiot in front of Richard Dawkins, P. Z. Myers, Jessica Ahlquist, James Randi, and Cristina Rad, among other luminaries. My encounters with Howard Waldrop and Summer Glau are fresh in my mind.

PRO: Travelling to the nation's capital for a historic event.

CON: Standing in a crowd of total strangers in an unfamiliar city, possibly being harangued by religious folks.

PRO: Being nowhere near Dallas for a couple of days.

CON: Paying for air fare, hotel, and other expenses out of my own pocket. (Have I mentioned I'm still unemployed?)

The last one is a crap excuse, considering that some guests come from the U.K., and at least one from Romania. I still have money in savings, and spend it regularly on crap I don't need.

Still, my pseudo-agoraphobia and general laziness keeps me from buying the tickets. There's only two weeks left to decide, but I suspect I'll make one of my classic non-decisions and let the clock run out.

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New time-waster

Somehow I discovered Face-Maker, a limited but still useful program for making anime-ish character faces. It allows you to save faces as a long numeric code; to save the actual faces requires a screen grab. Here's a few faces I've worked up and their codes:


Me:

002007033005001001013015001001001001003004001001100100100100055054088100100100100100100100100100038026020086100100100100000000060100100100100100100100100061100100100100100100100000


Ming the Merciless (the politically correct, green-not-yellow version):

005004017026001001014001001005001001005001001001079100063100100100100100100100100100091085063100020020020100080060040100100000000100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100


Yavandir (Warhammer Fantasy, High Elf Thief):

005003028009001002007003001001001001002001003001100100100100100100000100100100100100100100100100020020020100080060040100080080060100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100


Orianna (D&D 4e, Tiefling Warlord):

001002004022002002004022001001001007005001001001040040040100040100000100062000061100040040040100100000000100080100100100100100100100100100040100100100100100100100100100100100100100


Seventeen (Midnight d20, Elfling Defender ... essentially a hybrid Elf-Halfling Martial Artist):

007007035026001002009004001001003001003001001001100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100040020000100100100100100100080060100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100


The Doctor (10th):

005003020016001001013015012001001001001001001001100100100100040100100100100100100100100100100100020020020100080060040100100040000100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100


The Doctor (11th):

008003020010001001007015019001001001001001001001100100100100040100100100100100100100100100100100020020020100080060040100100040000100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100100



P.S. Yavandir, Orianna, and Seventeen are characters I've played in various role-playing games, in case anyone was confused.

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