Can’t Stop the Serenity!

I’m nearing the busiest and nerdiest point in my week, but I needed to jump on here and remind you all about something fantastically awesome.

In its sixth year, Can’t Stop the Serenity season is here again!  In support of Equality Now!, this is probably the best example of geek activism out there (No? Prove me wrong, children!)  I have been enamoured with it from day one; the vibe around it has always been great.

Edmonton has its own CSTS event, running this Saturday, noon, at Metro Cinema (632-7 Sir Winston Churchill Square).  If you are a fan of Firefly, Serenity, both, neither or women’s rights (Really? You going to go on record as opposing women’s rights? Look at the grapes on you…) then you need to attend.

I am volunteering at the event as well, so if for some strange reason you want to see me in person here in #YEG you should come out.  And since I’ll be there, I’ll know if you don’t show…


A Geek by Any Other Name

I am a huge geek. I’m working on becoming a large and then a medium geek, but that is a post for another time.  See, ‘cuz I’m overweight, but I’m getting in shape so I’m getting small…er…let me start again.
I am a huge geek.  I have been all my life.  Even before I found D&D at age 10, I was the nerd in the corner reading tales of King Arthur, Ivanhoe and Scheherazade.  I loved math.  I did multiplication tables to 20×20 in my head, because I thought that was cool! (I still do; can any of you figure a bar tab with tip in your head? Didn’t think so…) I’m probably one of a handful of guys that considers the lyrics to “Modern Major General” a shopping list of knowledge (hard acrostics, check! Pretty taste for paradox, check!)  Dungeons & Dragons didn’t turn me into a geek, it simply gave my geekdom a focus and a place from which to grow.
And grow it did. As the title of my page indicates, I was in to it all; movies, literature, music, gaming…there was nothing geeky I wouldn’t try out, nothing that didn’t excite me about our nerdy little subculture.  To put it in medical terms I was a General Practitioner of dorkiness, and I was happy to hang my geek shingle anywhere.  But then I noticed something.  More and more I was running into the Specialists; people whose geekdom ran deep instead of wide.
I also noticed that, while I had no problem with them (I like talking to experts any chance I get), the Specialists certainly had a problem with me.  More and more I ran up against dorks who felt I didn’t measure up to their estimation of geekitude.  Since I could easily be outclassed when discussing their specific area of expertise, obviously my geekiness was just a pose, a clever ruse designed to let me fit in.
I was not a true geek.
Complete horseshit, of course, I know that now.  I don’t want to brag, but I have enough geek cred to get two degrees and rock the Master’s thesis.  But back then it stung.  I was somehow not geeky enough to belong to the culture that had first taken me in and given me my first taste of inclusion.  I don’t want to pull out the psych terminology, but it sucked hard! And to make it worse I was getting this exclusionary crap from people that really had no excuse;they knew, as I did, what it felt like to be bullied because of our hobby.
That is why, when I heard about all the geek rage over Miss USA claiming to be a geek, I felt that familiar anger and sadness.  Is this seriously the point we are still at?  Yes, what was once marginal and secret is now being thrust into the mainstream, and that will be scary for many of us.  For a long time it was never really that “safe” for us geeks to be out there in the spotlight. Hell, I was playing D&D right smack in the time where folks wanted to burn my hobby to the ground (not hyperbole).  I know that it can be frightening to let something you have felt a need to protect for so long, out into the public’s scrutiny.
But, guys and dolls, it has been happening for a while.  Like it or not, geek is popular and it looks like it will stay that way to one degree or another.  There are no longer “ugly” people and “beautiful” people on opposite sides of our hobby.  There are just people, trying to enjoy something that I believe is worth enjoying.  We have to release that fear that may have once kept us safe, and embrace the opportunity to revel freely in our geekdom.
My dorkiness in general, and my gaming in particular, has afforded me the chance to spend varying amounts of time being brave, noble, stalwart…a hero, if only for as long as the dice were rolling.  And I would be lying if I said that didn’t affect me outside of the game, even if all it did was make me aware of how far I have yet to go in living those virtues.  How could I not want others to have that same experience?  Why would I want to exclude anyone?  I mean, sheer pragmatism here: there are billions of people on this planet.  Would it not be in every geek’s interest to have more of the population sharing in the ideals our hobby generally embodies?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could take our subculture of heroism, and turn it into a culture instead?  I think that would be frakking awesome.
Okay, I’ve rambled on long enough.  All of the preceding is meant to say this: if you are a geek, a dork, a nerd…then you are my brother or sister or hermaphroditic sibling. Period.  You are welcome on my blog, at my gaming table or in my secret screening of “Smurfs 2: Gargamel Boogaloo” anytime.  Just call first so I know how much Coke Zero to stock…
There a few other people that have written about this topic in the past while, and I would like to point you towards them:
First up is @GeekyJessica, with a post that is much more succinct than mine would ever try to be.  And if you haven’t seen her work on “Awkward Embraces”, treat yourself to some rom-com shorts aimed directly at the heart of nerds everywhere.
Next is Nerdy Bird over at “Has Boobs, Reads Comics”.  Her post has a bit more of the background on the whole Miss USA BS, as well as packing quite a punch for the exclusionarily inclined.  If her words make you cry, well, they were probably supposed to.
Lastly, for a somewhat dissenting/apologist opinion, head over to Josh Benton’s blog.  I like how he says what he says, while agreeing with almost none of it.
So what do you figure about all this, my geeklings?  Open your thoughts to me…


Welcome to a link-filled post on this rainy, rainy Monday in #yeg.  I am buying time until I finish writing more serious posts, so let’s get on to the distraction!

– For those with a bit of a dinosaur fetish (that’s all of us, right?), Japan has you covered.  Nothing says romance like a Jurassic-themed love hotel.

– If you love your sci-fi web-comic with a wonderful blend of action, humour and pathos, then Spacetrawler is the web-comic you need to be reading.

– Courtesy of Kynn’s LJ here is the scoop on Uri Kurlianchik, a “special” person with a “unique” perspective about inclusion in gaming.  Finding a guy like this is like finding a brand new Betamax; I get puzzled that they are still around.

– If you are a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, then head over here to download his complete works.  It was lovingly compiled by Cthulhu Chick and is absolutely free.  And you should also head to Amazon and up-vote the negative reviews for the guy that stole it and is trying to profit from her work. **Update: Looks like he was pulled down, since the link to his page seems to be broken.

– Live in #YEG and want to know more about podcasting? Then pick-up your ticket for the #YEG Social Media Breakfast this Friday, and let Adam Rozenhart tell you all about it.

– On the ever-growing list of cool things I want to own someday, is this gem of a globe.  Maybe I’ll wait for the price to come down…

– So Bioware got hacked by a special brand of idiot.  This is the equivalent of breaking in to someone’s house and stealing their letters from high-school.

I’m really hoping that this is a sign that the 3D movie fad is on its way out again.  Hey, why don’t we take the money wasted on formatting for 3D, and spend it on good writers?  Just a thought.

– From the “Are You Effing Kidding!?” file, I present Deep Fried Kool-Aid.

– Only a matter of time; Weird Al’s Lady Gaga parody, “Perform This Way”.

– If you have despaired that you would never be able to combine your love of Chinese history and web-comics, despair no more!

– This will be part of a longer post soon, but I am so excited I couldn’t wait: plans for the Gary Gygax Memorial move ahead!

All for now!

Convention Time is Here!

Convention season is upon us, gentle geeklings! Actually that statement is false, but false in a good way. Time was, the bulk of gaming, sci-fi and anime cons fell into the spring/summer range, with a few straggling into fall. Such is no longer the case; any weekend can see the opening of another geeky con somewhere. In fact, if you were to find a weekend that was entirely geek-con free, I would eat my hat (Disclaimer: Hat may or may not have been made out of tasty bacon minutes prior.) Despite this, June always feels like the start of the season for me and as arbitrary beginnings go (and for the purposes of having a blog post today) it will do fine.
It is no secret I love conventions. You can do all the gaming, all the sci-fi movie/Doctor Who watching, all the “running starkers through the wood armed only with blue woad and a foam sword” you want. But until you have attended a convention in the company of the (sadly) unwashed masses of your fellow geeks, you have not truly embraced all that is dorkly in your nature. Your hometown dorks are comfortable by dint of long association; even the ones you can’t stand are less annoying because of prolonged exposure (much like taking small amounts of a poison to develop immunity). A true geek needs to get out among the unfamiliar, expand his/her boundaries. That means gaming with new people, watching screenings you might not pick for yourself, and yes, forcing yourself not to turn away from the 300lb hirsute man dressed as Sailor Moon (he sounded like he was wearing snow pants…*shudder*).
If you have never been, conventions can be a fun and crowded, noisy, tiring place. But there are some things you can do to make con-going easier and more awesome. So take a seat, rook; it’s Training Day.
Book Your Room – The vast majority of cons are held in or near hotels. If the con is in a hotel I can not stress enough how important it is to get a room in that hotel. There is nothing better at the end of a long con day than knowing you are an elevator ride away from your room, instead of a bus or cab ride away. If cost is an issue, or if the con is held in a non-hotel setting, then get as close as you can. You will rue the day you decided to save $10-a-night on the hotel room that is a 30 minute drive from the event, especially if you forget your dice or autograph book in your room. And if possible, get a hotel room with a kitchenette. Being able to cook a few meals over the weekend or even just make sandwiches, will save you some time and money which you can then put to better use at the con.
Pack your bag – Hikers don’t go out without the proper gear, and con-goers shouldn’t either. Specific equipment, like dice or Spock ears, will depend largely on what type of con you are at. But I’ve compiled a list of general-purpose gear that all geeks should carry, just to make their con experience a little better. To save space I’ve posted the list on a separate page, entitled Con-Goer’s Survival Kit. Feel free to adjust the list based on your individual needs, but don’t go too crazy in packing for every contingency.  Remember two things: you will be carrying this bag everywhere, all day; and you will want room to stash various purchases throughout the day.  Pack accordingly.
Eat – It is tempting, when caught up in the rush of a convention, to want to avoid the things that take away from your con-time. And meals are usually the first casualty of this time-stretching attempt. I won’t tell you that you have to peal yourself away for three squares every day, because I know you won’t listen. So what I will suggest is, make sure to have a good breakfast and a good evening meal. A good breakfast packed with proteins and fibers will get you most of the way through those long morning sessions; the snacks you have packed in your bag (you have read the list, right?) will get you through the rest. And most cons slow down around dinner time anyway, so why not take that time to have a sit-down meal with some of your fellow geeks? Good dinner with fellow dorks can lead to new friendships and great con stories, two of the best reasons to go to cons in the first place.
As for the middle of the day, keep that flexible. That may be the time to grab a quick something from the vendors, or chow down on the protein bar and fruit in your bag (you really should read that list). But lunch is probably the one meal you can afford to skimp on if necessary, as long as you packed those healthy snacks to offset the unhealthy ones we both know you are going to buy.
Drink – You are likely in some sort of convention-hall set-up. Air-conditioning is running, air is being circulated and re-circulated, and as a result you are in a fairly dry environment. You need to hydrate. And nope, sorry, downing a dozen energy drinks is not hydration (plus, yikes!). You need water, rook. Luckily you have a water bottle, right? So fill it before you leave your room, fill it again at breakfast, and remember to fill it throughout the day. All this filling of course implies that you are drinking from it as well. While it may result in a few more trips to the washroom, you will feel much better at days end and will likely not feel as hungry throughout the day; turns out that a lot of the times we “feel hungry” we are actually just dehydrated.
Wheaton’s Law – Well known among geekdom by now, “Wheaton’s Law” was coined by the majestically-bearded Wil Wheaton as a simple codification of behaviors designed to ease relations between people. Or in his words, “Don’t Be a Dick!” Pretty simple, right? Look, rook, you are going to live amongst hundreds, maybe thousands of fellow geek-kind for an entire weekend. And a convention is not the internet; you are responsible for your words and actions. So why not be responsible for good words and actions? Just think how much more awesome the weekend would be if everyone followed Wheaton’s Law, and kept it wholly. Or life for that matter.
Try New Things – You are likely attending the con in the first place because it has a bunch of stuff you like. But look past that stuff for a second, and plan to try some things you would normally avoid. Why fill your weekend with the things you can already do at home? So go to that anime panel, play a game you would never have tried, LARP like a wild man! After all, what happens at the con stays at the con (internet excepted, and remember Wheaton’s Law) so get out there and get Geek Silly, my friend!
Talk it Up! – I have never heard a convention say, “No, please, we don’t want any more attendees, stop telling people about us!” So if you had or are having a good time at a con, talk about it. Blog it, post it in your FB feed, Tweet the hell out of it. Cons take a lot of hard work by a huge number of people, and good cons should get all the support and encouragement you can give them. And in between tweets, take time to thank the volunteers and organizers. Your notice of their hard work will be appreciated.
Okay, rook, that’s all for now. Get on out to that convention. And hey, hey! Let’s be geeky out there.
Do you have any con-going tips or tricks? Don’t be shy, share them in comments below!

Breaking Up is Hard To Do

Dear Facebook,
This is a hard letter to write.  We’ve been together for years now, and we’ve had some pretty good times.  But I have to be honest with you, because you deserve that much.
I think I need to break up with you.
I realize that must be tough to hear.  Believe me, it is even harder for me to say.  And I know people will think I’m crazy for even considering this.  You are so popular, after all, and all those people couldn’t possibly be wrong, could they?  What makes me better than them?
I’m just not feeling it anymore.  When we first met, I loved scrolling and clicking through your pages; updating my profile, uploading and looking at pictures, making pithy comments on the pages of my friends, joining group after group…  God, those days were the best!  I still smile when I think about those times, logging in every day (then 2, 3, 10 times a day) to see if I had new Friend requests or Pokes.  Oh, the Poking we used to do.
But you’ve changed, Facebook, and I don’t know if we can ever get back to those good times again.
I wish I could point to just one thing, but it isn’t that simple.  Maybe it was your growing obsession with your looks, the constant Facebook-lifts, the little nips and tucks that made no sense.  Maybe it was the lack of communication.  I mean, sure, when we first got together I liked that you had secrets; it made learning about each other that much more exciting.  But it quickly became obvious that, while you wanted to know everything about me, you weren’t being entirely honest about yourself.  And, okay, I get it, everyone has things they’d rather not talk about.  But when you won’t talk to me about the things that affect our relationship, or when I have to learn about those things from friends… That just isn’t fair, Facebook.
And if it was just that, we might be able to work through it.  But it’s the Friends you keep suggesting I like, the groups you want me to join.  My Profile changes!  I had some really good stuff on there, things that were unique to me.  You went and changed it all, and now I look just like everyone else you hang out with.   Is that what you really wanted, Facebook?  I thought you liked me the way I am!
But the most hurtful thing?  You broke your promise.  When we met you promised that I’d still keep in touch with my friends; in fact, being with you would help me stay closer to them.  I think we both know that isn’t the case.  Sure, you helped me get in touch with some old friends I hadn’t seen in a while.  But you know what?  Maybe there was a good reason we weren’t in touch anymore.  Maybe it is natural for some friendships and acquaintances to run their course and end.  Did you ever think of that?  Of course not!  You just kept throwing people I hadn’t spoken to in decades at me, never thinking that in most cases I considered that lapse to be a good thing.
Look, I don’t want this to turn into an angry rant.  I’d rather we part on good terms.  If it makes you feel any better, I really think that it’s me, not you.  I’ve been spending more time on the internet since we’ve met, and it’s opened my eyes a bit to what is possible.  I’ve met other sites, helpful sites like Flickr, Blogspot, and Twitter.  And I know you are going to say that you can do all the things they can do.  But sometimes a generalist isn’t going to cut it, Facebook; I need a site that really understands me and what I need.
And yes, I won’t lie, I have been spending a lot of time with Twitter.  But don’t start thinking this is her idea.  We’re just friends, and she isn’t telling me anything I haven’t been thinking for myself for a while now.  So don’t start blaming her.  Maybe you should take this as a chance to look at yourself instead.  Ask yourself, do you like what you’ve become?
I don’t really have anything else to say.  I don’t think there is anything else to say.  Look, I’m not rushing you.  I’m going to take some time, download my photos, read over old Notes to see if anything is worth keeping.  I’ll do a proper goodbye when I have everything in order.
We’ve had a good run, Facebook.  I want you to know I have no regrets, and I’m moving forward thankful for having the chance to know you.  But I have to move on, and I can’t take you with me.  I hope that someday you can forgive me.
Dammit, I promised myself I wouldn’t cry…
Sincerely, Renaissance Dork

Dice! Ah-aaaah! They’ll Save Every One of Us!

If there is anything that identifies someone as a gamer, it is dice. Without them, you could just be a bunch of guys and gals sitting around a table, reading big colourful hardcover books or staring at laptops/datapads. But as soon as the dice come out, everyone knows your secret; you are gamers, your imaginations inextricably conjoined and sometimes ruled by polyhedral fate.
It may come as a great shock to my young gamist brethren and sistren, but it was not always so. When I began playing Dungeons & Dragons (dinosaur-skin edition) there were no dice companies selling buckets of shiny, sparkly polyhedral gems to waiting gamers. And TSR was not yet packaging the game with a set of extruded plastic dice. No, my friends, the box set I started with contained sheets of chits, numbered 1 through whatever, depending on what range of results you wanted to generate. We cut them out and sorted them into film canisters (what do you mean, what’s a film-!? Never mind, Google it.). When we did something in-game like attack a monster, we gave the canister a shake, reached in and the number we pulled out was our “Roll”. Woe betide the person that accidentally dropped the canister, spilling chits all over the place, especially if we lost any. Game stoppages while we, ahem “got our chits together”, were not uncommon.
In fact, the first time someone brought a set of dice to the table, we were a little leery. There was a brief period of monkey/monolith squabbling before we figured out that this would (barring imperfections in the die casting) be as random as picking out chits. And, as I’m sure every gamer out there can attest, there was something ultimately more satisfying about rolling a die, as opposed to drawing a chit. I’d pulled the “20” chit during combat before, and was excited. But the first time I rolled a “nat20” on the die, I felt a little physical thrill run up my spine.
Or should I say, “nat10Blue”. Another bit of dice trivia, the earliest twenty-sided dice (or icosahedrons, if you want to get all mathy) were not numbered 1-20, but 1-10 twice. Why? Because that allowed the twenty-sider to double as percentage dice, generating a number between 1 and 100. You simply took the die and coloured one set of numbers, usually by rubbing coloured crayon into the number stamp. If you needed to roll a “d20” you announced which was your “tens” colour (11-20) and rolled. In my case, if I rolled a green 2 it was a 2, but if I rolled a blue 2 it was a 12. And if I needed a percentage number I simply rolled the die twice, the first number was my “tens” and the second was my “ones” ( a roll of 2 and 7, for instance, became 27). Simple, right? Eventually the ten-sided die came along, and the d20 was numbered as we see it today.
If you wonder why the d10 was late to the party, you can get more info here and here. It has to do with mathtastic things like platonic solids and such.
Despite being small lumps of plastic formed along precise mathematical and engineering principles to generate random numbers, there is a great deal of mythology and superstition associated with gaming dice. Every gamer out there has his or her own version of “dice etiquette”, and the heavens shall rain fire upon you if you violate it! Some are simple and even reasonable, like “don’t touch my dice without asking” or “don’t get your dice mixed up with mine”. More extreme rules I’ve encountered? Things like, “if a d20 fails me (usually by rolling a 1) three times in a session I destroy it”. Yikes! That guy is the dice industry’s favoured son. I’ve encountered people who will not buy their own dice, because it is unlucky; instead, they give the money to someone else to buy the dice for them.
And it doesn’t stop there. “My d20 is all out of twenties” is a common lament heard at gaming tables. It is considered normal to beg, plead, demand and cajole dice to generate the desired number, despite a lack of any apparent aural apparatus on the die’s part. It is not uncommon for players to name sets of dice, and even individual die themselves, in a totemic gamble to make the die look upon its wielder more favourably.
Understand, I say none of this mockingly. I am a gamer, sunk just as far in dice-related rattle-shaking as all the rest. I have sets of dice for each game I play. I will not lend out these sets, though I keep spare dice around for others to use as needed. My dice are not named, but I know from long experience which die will do the job when I need it. And I will retire dice for the evening if they are not performing well, like subbing out the pitcher after some bad innings.
And I admit, I may have a dice problem. I can’t go to a con or game store without picking up “just one more set”. I buy them in all shapes and sizes. I buy them for games I may never play, and I buy dice for games I will likely never play again. And I don’t stop at dice, oh no. Dice accessories are just as bad; I have more rolling cups, dice trays and dice bags than I know what to do with and I keep looking for more. Admittedly, I have more or less successfully hidden the worst of my addiction from my fellow gamers.  But when I die and historians explore my room…
Do I regret it? Not a little. As addictions go it is pretty tame and harmless (unless I lose a d4 in the carpet, then its caltrop city). Really, who am I hurting with these polyhedral jewels? No one but the monsters, baby, no one but the monsters.
So tell me, what is your dicing etiquette? How superstitious are you?

Hey, Listen!

I find myself oddly busy today, so today’s post is full of links (now the title makes sense, right?).  Don’t fret, I have something more substantial in the works for tomorrow.
On to the internets:
– my pal @britl has posted a 99% spoiler-free review of X-men: First Class that is definitely worth the read.  Pay special attention to her suggestions for the X:FC sequels. There is wisdom there…
– presented without comment: How to Play Settlers of Catan, set to music.
– if you are a gamer like me, without the power of art, you look for every conceivable way to improve the look of your gaming maps.  Here is a great tutorial to help with that.
– Thanks to my Coffee Brother @Doctor_Teeth, I am now reading Pants are Overrated, all because of this comic.
– I love Doctor Who, and I swear if this ever happens I will burn Disney to the ground!
Tales from the Table is a fun little series in the same vein as The Gamers, but with Aussie accents.

That is all, folks!  Stay tuned tomorrow…