Humpday Links for November 30

Posting has been giving me issues here on the blog lately, but some conversations with the helpdesk seem to have sorted out the issue.  Rather than slam you with three posts today, though, I’m just going to go ahead with my regular schedule of links.  I’ll post what would have been Monday and Tuesday on, well, Monday and Tuesday.

Enough blathering; to the links!

– If you live here in Edmonton and you love Terry Pratchett, then you need to make your way to Walterdale Theatre to catch The Wyrd Sisters.  Opening tonight and running through until next Saturday, this Stephen Briggs adaptation of one of Pratchett’s best works is going to amuse.  And even if you aren’t a Pratchett fan, this is a darn good place to start!

– Ever gone to a museum and seen a particularly cool model or maquette?  Chances are real good that White Room Artifacts built it.

– Thanks to Cracked.com, here are 6 baffling sci-fi tech flaws.  The one about AT-ATs I realized the first time I saw The Empire Strikes Back.

– If you are a gamer heading down to join one of the Occupy events, here is your sign

– Another one for the gamers; RPG Geek is running two holiday-themed contests, one for adventure writers and one for artists.  And if you are both, well, get to work!

– Joseph Devon has some very specific reasons why he hates George Lucas.  While I think “hate” is a bit strong, I did find myself nodding in agreement a few times…

– like moths to a flame, the Large Hadron Collider is already attracting the time-travellers

– I Tweeted this earlier because it was too great not to share right away, but in case you missed I present: The Sith Who Stole Christmas! (still better than Eps. 1-3)

– Yes, I know, not really sci-fi related.  But with all the flack some members of the police force are heaping on their profession, it is good to be reminded policing is worthy of our respect.

– This link if for anyone looking to craft a monster.  You know, as we all do from time to time…

– And here is new geek site Hypable, reminding us that Geek is Chic.  Well, yeah.

Geek girls are on the rise.  Yes, we knew that, but now there is a smidge of math to back it up.

– And finally, in the spirit of Christmas I give you all the Star Trek ornaments!  Well, not give, really.  Taunt with?  Whatever, enjoy!

On Dragonwing

If you follow the SF world at all, you know author Anne McCaffrey passed away yesterday at the age of 85.  And the world has a little less wonder in it for her passing.

Like most, my introduction to her work was through the Pern novels.  I discovered The White Dragon while perusing the shelves at my school’s library.  Having just moved to a new city, and feeling a bit strange in my new school I felt a connection with the characters of Ruth and Jaxom as they tried to find a place for themselves.  Once I finished I quickly checked to see if she had written anything else, and behold!  There were five other books already set in this new world of Pern.

Thus began my love affair with telepathic dragons, brave dragonriders and talented harpers.  For years I eagerly devoured every new Pern book that came out.  Eventually this led me into Anne McCaffrey’s other worlds; The Ship Who Sang, Acorna, the Catteni Sequence, The Crystal Universe.  But through it all I always came back to Pern, with its soaring dragons flaming thread from the sky.

Pern and Anne McCaffrey were the first to introduce me to the idea of expressing my fandom, with a book entitled A Dragonlover’s Guide to Pern.  Up to that point I was content to read SF, and that was about it.  But Dragonlover’s, a sort of atlas/encyclopedia of Pern, included things like recipes for dishes from Pern.  I could actually make bubbly pies and drink klah!  It seems a small thing now, what with all the interactive content, geeky t-shirts, fan videos and so on that can be found related to every SF subject imaginable.  But back then it blew my mind; I could actually bring some of what I loved from these books into my own life and share them with other Pern fans.  If I had to trace it back, that point was where I made the switch from someone who enjoyed SF, to an SF fanboy.

Her work also broadened my interpretations of what is sci-fi and what is fantasy.  Naturally, at the time I started reading The White Dragon and Dragonriders, I thought of them as fantasy.  After all, there were dragons, right?  And any D&D player worth his salt will tell you that dragons=fantasy.  But as I read more and varied works, every time I revisited Pern I had to let that narrow interpretation go a bit more.  With ever-changing eyes I started to see the science that was always there, obscured by my youthful ignorance.  It is certainly possible I would have come to these broader ideas on my own at some point, but Anne McCaffrey was responsible for the relative ease with which the ideas came.

I could delve into all the little nuances of how her work affected me or helped me.  But at the end of the day all that matters is this:  Anne McCaffrey told great stories.  They were stories of love and honour, stories of bravery and strength.  They were and still are just the stories we need to remind us of those qualities inside ourselves.  That she has written so many that I can return to gives me hope; that she will write no more saddens me beyond reckoning.

I’ll leave you with this, Song for Petiron, from one of my favourite Pern books, Dragonsinger:

The tears I feel today
I’ll wait to shed tomorrow.
Though I’ll not sleep this night
Nor find surcease from sorrow.
My eyes must keep their sight;
I dare not be tear-blinded.
I must be free to talk
Not choked with grief, clear-minded.
My mouth cannot betray
The anguish that I know.
Yes, I’ll keep my tears till later:
But my grief will never go.

Three Browser Games You Should Like

I will admit to having a love/hate relationship with browser games.  On the one hand, there are any number of fun, quirky little games out there ready to amuse and titillate.  But then there are the browser games that are simply the computer equivalent of playing the slots; do the task, press the button, look at the shiny lights and oh! a prize!  Yes, I know, browser games are meant to be little time wasters, something to occupy a few idle moments.  But my current and ongoing addiction to Bejewelled Blitz notwithstanding, when I get right down to it I prefer a browser game with a bit of meat to it.  If it can amuse me beyond basic “action+reward=pleasure” models, that is the game I stick with over the long haul.

With that in mind, here are three browser games that have wowed me enough that I either don’t stop playing them, or they keep me coming back even when there might be more sparkly alternatives.  By all means check them out, and friend me on them if you dare!

Kingdom of Loathing – Not your typical browser adventure game, players take on the role of heroes in the Kingdom, fighting evil monsters and stealing their stuff.  Sounds like a typical adventure game, right? Well, with character classes like “Pastamancer” and “Disco Bandit” don’t expect the same old tired adventures.  Okay, no, expect them, but expect that they’ll be presented with that very special KoL twist.  The writing for this game is superbly ridiculous, and it actually turns the stickmen art-style into a strength.  I haven’t played it constantly, but I keep coming back to it whenever I need a taste of silliness.  Be you a Sauceror or Accordion Thief, a great way to waste some time.

Echo Bazaar – Welcome to the dystopian pseudo-Victorian world of Fallen London!  You play a newly escaped prisoner (wrongly or rightly imprisoned, doesn’t much matter) trying to make your way through the oft-times dangerous and thrilling streets of this post-apocalyptic city.  I love everything about this game, from the steampunkish sensibilities of the world creation, to the writing and NPC interaction.  What I love most is that social interactions such charming or tricking someone are just as viable an option as strong-arming them; you can literally live by your wits down in the Echo Bazaar.  Trust me, if you start playing you’ll count the minutes until your candle returns (you’ll see what I mean)!  And if you like Echo Bazaar, check out the same company’s latest offering, The Night Circus.

Bejewelled Blitz – Okay, I wanted to maintain some of my geek cred, and I was going to round out this list with some other browser game oddity.  But you know what?  For sheer time-wasting potential nothing can beat Bejewelled, and given how much of it I’ve been playing lately it would be hypocrisy not to include it.  The bright colours, the countdown clock, the little “plink” every time I complete a row…PopCap knows their craft, and they definitely crafted a winner.  And let’s face it, sometimes you just want to shut your brain off for a bit and connect sparkly gems.  Curse you to hell, Bejewelled, you give me what I want…

That’s it for today, gentle readers!  Give these games a shot, and foe the love of gawd set an alarm or something before you start Bejewelled!  And if you can stop playing long enough, share your favourite browser game below.  Until tomorrow!

 

The Dork Round-up!

It’s been a relatively eventful time for this Renaissance Dork, so I thought I’d recap a few developments from the past several days.  Seems like a good way to get this cold, dark Monday started…

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The Pure Speculation Festival was a lot of fun this past weekend; those of you who made it out know what I mean.  A highlight for me was the Saturday Morning Cartoon panel with Joe Wos, the man behind the Toonseum.  He dropped a little knowledge on us about the origin, rise and decline of the Saturday Morning Cartoon, and it was great to watch some clips of old favourites as well as a few I’d never heard about.  Great presentation by a super-friendly and knowledgeable guy; very glad I took it in!

The Dungeons & Dickens panel with Mike Perschon was well attended by an enthusiastic crowd of steampunkers and RPG enthusiasts.  Though I got the sense the crowd was there more for the Steampunk than the RPG, I think I managed to hold my own talking about my old Eberron and Cthulhu campaigns and how steampunk informed them.  In any case I had a blast, so thanks again to Mike Perschon the SteamScholar for allowing me to take part!

Most of the rest of Pure Spec for me was Pathfinder-related.  Sadly, my scheduled Saturday game was cancelled when all the players decided to go home.  But that just meant I had more energy for Sunday, much to the delighted chagrin of my table.  With their characters in mortal danger right from the start the group had a fun ride as they tried to prevent devilish hordes from destroying the city!  Amid much cephalopodic shenanigans they finally succeeded in saving the city and received their just reward.  A good time had by all!

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I’ve spoken before about the Aurora Awards, and may have mentioned that I was nominated for one.  Well, the award ceremony happened yesterday at SFContario/Canvention 31 and…I didn’t win.  But it was honour enough to be nominated and have Pure Spec acknowledged for the fine Festival it has become.

Here are your 2011 Aurora Award winners, my geeks!

  • Best Novel – English: WWW: Watch, by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Best Short Form – English: “The Burden of Fire,” by Hayden Trenholm
  • Best Poem/Song: “The ABCs of the End of the World,” by Carolyn Clink
  • Best Graphic Novel – English: Goblins, by Tarol Hunt
  • Best Related Work – English: The Dragon and the Stars, edited by Derwin Mak and Eric Choi
  • Best Artist: Erik Mohr
  • Best Fan Filk: Dave Clement and Tom Jeffers
  • Best Fan Organizational: Helen Marshall and Sandra Kasturi for Toronto SpecFic Colloquium
  • Best Fan Other: John Mansfield and Linda Ross Mansfield, Aurora Award pins

I recommend picking up some of the winning works, you won’t be disappointed.  Thanks to everyone that voted, your support of excellent Canadian SF is appreciated.  Keep your eyes open for next year…

*     *     *

My Venture-Captain duties are ticking along nicely; I’ve already fielded requests from several people for help starting PFS in their areas including Calgary.  I can see a great deal of fun busyness in my future, spreading the good word of Pathfinder (Can I get an Initiative roll!?).  But keep it coming; if you are a store looking for a great organized play game event, track me down.

*     *     *

That’s it for this Monday.  It is dreary and cold out there today, perfect weather to huddle indoors and work on my freelance projects.  Of course I’d still work on them if it was sunny and bright, but this way it seems like less of a sacrifice.  So until tomorrow, my tens of readers, when I will regale you with  daring tales of browser games!  Cheerio!

What I’m Doing at Pure Spec

Yesterday I told you all about the wonders of Edmonton’s premiere geek even, Pure Speculation.  I’ve been busy prepping for the weekend, so I’ll keep today’s post short.  But I wanted to let you know two things I was up to at the festival:

Dungeons and Dickens: How to Steampunk your RPG – What happens when a Game Master mixes two of his favorite writers into one gaming world, and those writers are J.R.R. Tolkien and Jules Verne? Come find out how to apply the brass goggles, airships, and clockwork automatons to your roleplaying campaign through a discussion of online resources, a brief review of some of the steampunk RPGs, and a look at the best miniatures for steampunk campaigns.

I’ll be talking about two campaigns, one Eberron the other Call of Cthulhu, that I steampunked in different ways.  even if steampunk isn’t totally your bag, this is a great panel for any GM looking for tips on how to switch things up in your campaign world.  The panel runs Saturday at 1:15pm in the Omega Room.

Pathfinder Society Organized Play – No surprise, really; I’m GMing some PFS at Pure Spec.  There is a morning session starting at 11am, but the two I’m GMing run Saturday from 4pm until 9pm, and Sunday from Noon until 5pm.  If you have wanted to give Pathfinder a try this is the perfect opportunity; we are running introductory scenarios and we’ll have pre-generated characters, PFS memberships cards and dice.  All you have to do is show up on time and play!  And I promise, no one has ever left a table I’m GMing without having fun…

Besides those two things I’ll be wandering around, checking out the merchants and displays and taking in some panels.  If you see me, please don’t be afraid to stop me and say hi; the secret word is “goblinoid”… 😉

See you at Pure Spec!

Pure Speculation

If you are a geek in Edmonton, there is really only one place for you to go this weekend: The Pure Speculation Festival (Pure Spec to its friends).  This is our city’s Nerdvana, our Geekrala, our Dorkapalooza.  (Hyperbole?  Never in a million years!)  Seriously though, this is the event to let you geek flag fly and celebrate that dorky thing you love, whatever that might be.

It may sound like I’m over-selling it. And in the interest of full disclosure, it is an event that I conceived and started back in 2005, so it does and will always have a soft spot in my heart.  But many hands since have helped this festival of nerdery grow so much from its initial faltering steps that first year, and I’m really excited to see how the new organizers have continued its growth.  At seven years it is still a relatively young festival, but it is growing up fast!

You don’t have to take my word for it, of course.  Here is a quick rundown of some of the special events at Pure Spec:

Friday

A TASTE OF PURE SPECULATION (Alberta Place Suite Hotel party room @ 7:30 pm) – This is the opening ceremonies for the festival, as well as your first chance to meet and mingle with the Special Guests.  Each guest will also show off some special talent, something you might not normally see them doing.  A geeky amuse-bouche for the rest of the weekend.

Saturday

Costume Contest (Grant MacEwan Robbins Health Centre @ 4pm) – Whether you are an old pro or an eager amateur, come on out and strut your costume best!  Register at the Separate Worlds/Bonaventure booth (Booth 22) prior to the contest start, and be ready to go 20 minutes before the contest start.  Great prizes and good times; full details can be found on the Pure Spec website or at the booth on site.

Pure Speculation Shindig (Alberta Place Suite Hotel party room @ 9:30 pm) – A sweet little party to keep the celebration going, this year’s shindig feature’s local musician Sarah Lillian and improv troupe #YEGprov for your delight and edification.  Plus you get to party with your fellow nerds, so what’s not to love?

Sunday

Guests of Honour Mega Panel (Grant MacEwan Robbins Health Centre @ 1:30pm) – Like the title says, this panel will feature all of this year’s Guests of Honour, holding forth on a variety of geek subjects as well as answering your questions.  Not to be missed!

Guests of Honour

Every year Pure Spec brings in fantastic guests to meet the fans of Edmonton.  This year is no exception, and they’ve really stepped it up: Sci-fi and Fantasy author Jo Walton; Jo Wos, cartoonist and the founder and Executive Director of the ToonSeum in Pittsburgh, PA; Earth: Final Conflict and Stargate SG-1 actor Will deVry; Dark Shadows and Port Charles actress Rebecca Staab; costume designer and creator Holly Conrad; CCO of Popcap Games, Jason Kapalka; and joining the festival via Skype this year, writer and author Mike Resnick.  Seriously, that is a lot of high-powered geekdom all coming to Edmonton this weekend.  You’d be a fool not to come out and meet these people!

What, that still isn’t enough to entice you?  Okay fine.  There are also panels on everything from Alan Moore to the Zombie Apocalypse; a merchant area featuring the geekiest merchants and artists we could find, like Dragon Chow Dice Bags and Weregeek; all sorts of gaming, from board games and RPGs (I’m GMing some Pathfinder, natch) to a Streetfighter IV LAN tourney and Magic: The Gathering TCG tournament.

Tell you what, if you are there and for some bizarre reason you are not having fun, you come find me. I’ll be the big blonde guy with @RenaissanceDork on my badge.  I will direct you to something going on at the festival. But here is the kicker; you have to go to what I tell you.  Festivals and cons like this are the perfect place to experience things you might not otherwise give a second look.  I don’t promise you will love everything, but get out of your comfort zone and try something new.

And if you don’t come to the Dungeons & Dickens panel on Saturday at 1:15pm in the Omega Room, you are dead to me.  Never mind that I’m on it, Mike Perschon is a bloody steampunk genius (check out his website) and you need to hear him talk. Heck, sleep during my bits, just don’t snore too loud.

So it’s agreed, I’ll see you all at Pure Spec this weekend!  I’ll also be blogging over the weekend, so if you do miss out I’ll make sure you know what you’re missing. I’m a pal like that…

Humpday Links for November 16

It is with great humility that I present these meagre humpday offerings to you, esteemed readers.  I can only hope they offer you some small diversion on this most humpiest of days.

– Courtesy of Jill Pantozzi and The Mary Sue, some new stills from Pixar’s upcoming Brave.  And another look at the teaser trailer, because it looks like fun!

– Yesterday the BBC released the 15th Anniversary edition of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.  Thank-you, BBC, thank-you.

– Ever wonder what Twilight would look like with Muppets?  Yeah, me too.

– Via @bingofuel comes some important safety tips regarding toast

– Otis Frampton gives us a delightful animated version of our favourite Firefly crew.  Anyone else want to see this animated? Yeah, me too.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On has returned!  Rejoice! And if you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, watch the first one. You’re welcome!

– I promise you, The Peter Jackson Diaries are waaaay better than The Vampire Diaries…

– I know what you want, and it rhymes with, “Nazgul shot Office-style“…

– So it looks like Canadian currency is going hi-tech. And by “hi-tech” I mean we are adopting a ten-year-old technology.  But whatever, our moneys are going to look cooool!

– And now, a story about the only George Bush not full of sh*t… (But seriously, Navy, fix the damn ship.)

The Whovian Prayer. Not much else to say, really.

– Apparently Frank Miller had some stuff on his mind recently. To be fair, he had to get it off his mind; it was blocking the 300 sequel…

– In case you need to creep yourself out (and who hasn’t needed to do that from time to time) here are 136 Wikipedia links to get you started.  Please note, I’m not telling you you should click them, just that they exist. Your mental health is your responsibility.

– To end on a happy note, I will have this shirt.  Oh, yes, it will be mine someday…

Okay, that’s it for today. Share your own links below if you like, and we’ll see you all tomorrow!

Of Pathfinder and Venture Captains

If you follow me on Twitter (@renaissancedork, you’ll love it, trust me) you know that I’ve been hinting at some amazing geek news I couldn’t talk about yet.  Well, Paizo made the official announcement yesterday so now I can (metaphorically) shout it from the rooftops!

I am the newly minted Venture Captain for Pathfinder Organized Play here in Edmonton.

Okay, so a handful of readers will know what that means, but some explanation is required for the rest of you.  Settle in with your hot cocoa, as I tell you a story…

In-game, the Pathfinder Society is a group of explorers and adventurers united only by a common purpose: to gain knowledge about Golarion’s (that’s the game world) past.  Their members number anyone willing to work towards that goal, regardless of personal ideologies.  So the Society has “evil” Pathfinders as well as “good” Pathfinders, and all flavours in between.  Technically the Society is a neutral organization, but sometimes the side-affect of their exploratory meddling is an averted crisis, so they do some good.  But that good is not the goal, and sometimes they inadvertently cause harm.  So while the organization is generally well liked, there are areas in Golarion which range from indifferent to wildly hostile towards Pathfinders.  Add in some competing groups with different agendas, and things are never boring in the Pathfinder Society.

Back here in the real world, when Paizo started the organized play program for their popular Pathfinder RPG, using the Pathfinder Society as the framework for both the in-game scenarios as well as the real-world structure of the OP model made a lot of sense.  After all, organized play brings together a wide variety of players focused on a common goal, completing the scenario.  What better way to simulate a group of Pathfinders who may never have met, coming together to complete a task?  And the fans would seem to share that opinion; now in its fourth year Pathfinder Society Organized Play is enjoyed by thousands world-wide.

But back to Venture Captains. In-game, VCs are responsible for assigning tasks to Pathfinders, arranging for materials and artifacts to get shipped, negotiating with sometimes hostile locals for access and generally keeping the Pathfinder Society in motion.  They are the organizers, the behind-the-scenes people that make things happen inside the Society.  Here in the real world, VCs perform much the same function.  We help organize Pathfinder game days, act as the local point of contact for anyone interested in Pathfinder, help out GMs and players as needed and generally keep PFS Organized Play running smoothly.  Think of us as Head Volunteers.

It will require a lot of work and planning, but I’m excited to get started on broadening the PFS fan-base here in Edmonton, and possibly the rest of Alberta as well.  My first move is to get PFS running in some new stores here in the city.  So if you are a comic book or gaming store that has in-store gaming, and you’d like to add Pathfinder to that list, please contact me here or through email at: pfsedmontonvc@gmail.com.  I love just about everything about the Pathfinder RPG, and PFS Organized Play is a great way to introduce new people to the game.  It has a structure that lends itself to action, so new players can jump right in and have fun.  Organized play also allows you as a player to take your fun on the road; you can play in any PFS game anywhere with your character, and still get a great experience.

So you will likely see me posting a bit more about Pathfinder in the future.  And hey, if you want to try out PFS just drop me a line.  I’m sure I can scrounge up some Pathfinders that aren’t busy…

SAD and the Renaissance Dork

I’ll keep this brief, since I want to get back to posting fun things around here and I’m pretty sure you’d all like to read fun things, too.  But I figured my tens of readers deserved an explanation for my unplanned and unexpected hiatus.

In a nutshell, I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.  As the name suggests, it is depression that only affects me seasonally, in this case (and in most cases reported) the change into winter.  I’ve had it since I was about thirteen, and been diagnosed with it since I was eighteen.  For those keeping score, that is officially a “really long time”, and over that time I have learned habits to control and manage it.  Habits that keep me from, oh I don’t know, ditching on a blog I love for days at a time.

What happened last week then?  This year, an extremely mild autumn and the fact I’m working from home these days combined to allow the SAD to sneak up on me.  Meaning that none of my habits were in place yet, leading to the SAD equivalent of being lead-piped in the back of the head down a dark alley.

But never fear, my loyal readers.  SAD ain’t gonna fool me twice.  My usual winter protocols are in place, helped by the fact that we just had our first snow-dump of the year yesterday.  It can’t sneak up on me again, so like years past it is under control.  You can expect my usual run of geekery here at Renaissance Dork, designed to keep all of us warm through the long winter months ahead.

So without further ado, on to the nerdery!

Humpday Links for November 2

Not even NaNoWriMo will keep me from providing the freshest, most delicious internet links for you Humpday feeding pleasure!  Let us link, anon! [Exeunt, linking]

– Remember those science kits you played with as a child?  JBox and Gakken have teamed up to bring you adult science kits! One mad science lab coming right up!

– If you are a Pathfinder GM with a game night looming and nothing to run, Adventure a Week has your back.

Shirt Punch will make sure you have the chance to buy a new, geeky T-shirt every day.

– Did you ever feel that there needed to be a rock love song inspired by Silence of the Lambs? Yeah, me too.

– From the “Cooler than the Da Vinci Code” files, computer scientists crack a 250-year-old secret society’s code.

– The new web series Shelf Life shows us what our action figures get up to when we aren’t around. Wait, so mine have seen me naked? Excuse me, I need to rent a wood chipper…

– I’ll have a longer post on this later, but for now you need to head over and start reading Joey Heflich’s 700 Hours of Yelling.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…

These cosplayers just want us to be excellent to one another.

– So you thought it was pretty cool when Joss Whedon announced his Bellweather production’s Much Ado About Nothing, right?  It gets better!

– If, like me, you plan to support small geek businesses this Christmas, Geek’s Dream Girl has some good advice for you.

– Jen Page and Monte Cook are teaming up to bring us Geek Seekers, a web series investigating the paranormal.  See their totally real and not at all apocryphal origin story here.

– From The Nerdist, two little bits of Who behind-the-scenes fun!

Doctor Who is now poised to educate our children. And who better, really?

– This article may be three years old, but I happen to agree with Simon Pegg about why zombies don’t run!

I will give a prize to anyone that does this to their water coolers at work. Pics, of course.

– So Halloween is over and you are wondering what to do with your leftover pumpkins; got a slow motion camera?

– And finally, if you need a timey-whimey clock I think this will be sufficient to your requirements.

Enjoy the rest of your humpday, and if you have links to share by all means pop them into the comments below.  Me, I’m off to write some more…