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September 1, 2K ... Happy September, everyone! You should be happy because ... uh ... school is starting. No, wait. Because stores are starting to stock frantically for the overcommercialized holidays of Halloween and Christmas. Ack, no. Because summer is over in the Northern Hemisphere and we're starting to head into a time of extended gloominess and far too little sunlight. ... Uhm. Okay, anyone else want to suggest a reason to party?

Shameless plug: Go visit Aarnicomix Interactive, a Webcomic-type-thing making its daily debut. Aarnias is a fantastically talented artist with a great sense of humor. I hope to see Aarnicomix grow; it's a great concept in online art.

That's it for today's post. Because, as I quoted in alt.fan.dragons in other contexts, "Sometimes, you've just gotta have an URL to post and better things to do."

September 3, 2K ... I used to dislike Dungeons & Dragons.

Back when I first got into the game, AD&D (the original first ed.) was all the rage; I enjoyed it briefly, but that was because it suffered from a severe case of munchkinism, and I was ten. I lost interest quickly in the stratified class structure, the necessity of fudging stats to have even a remotely interesting character, and the pathetic attempts at a spellcasting system. Then second edition came along; they killed monks and psionics, and made druids and illusionists into clerics and wizards. Somehow they managed to take most of the fun of munchkinism out of the system while adding nothing to playability. I dropped AD&D for GURPS and never looked bax.

When I moved to Seattle, I quickly found my way into a local gaming group. I played AD&D because it's what they were playing. I didn't (and don't) see any merit to it other than the fact that it was the standard. Kind of like when Windows 3.1 ruled the PC world. The less mathematically inclined players among us also complained bitterly about the inscrutable mechanics; while I never had any problems picking up "THAC0" and remembering to roll low for ability checks and high for saving throws, it was quite an effort for some of my fellow players.

And then Third Ed came out.

The usual first-reaction complaints can be lodged against it; it's still AD&D. The magic system is still organized by levels instead of spell points. It still apparently has the static monster alignments ("Hi, I'm a green dragon!" "AAIIIEEE!! It's lawful evil!! Kill it!!"). Some of the things I didn't like about the earlier games are still there; some of the earlier abuses are still possible. But it's a far cleaner system. After having toyed with it for several days, when I compare it with earlier versions of AD&D, I can't find anything I actively dislike about the changes they've made.

It's still not GURPS, of course. Nor Shadowrun, Toon, Call of Chthulu, or Mage: The Ascension. I can easily name one aspect of role-playing that each of those does better than AD&D -- but what AD&D does, it does well. Which is a refreshing change. Some examples: The class system has been loosened -- as an experiment, I made a first-level rogue character who is practically indistinguishable from a ranger (except for 4 fewer hit points and the ability to pick locks). Magic is more flexible -- it's still based on spell levels, but now, clerics can "burn" uncast spells for healing spells, switching on the fly; and there are two mage classes, "wizards" and "sorcerors", who cast the same spells in different ways. Not to mention that they've created a real skill system, and high ability scores no longer guarantee success in skill checks; for example, a fighter with 17 dexterity in plate armor trying to walk across a foot-wide beam no longer has an 85% chance of success (2nd Ed: DEX check -- 17 or less on d20), but instead a measly 40% chance (a Balance skill check vs DC 10; +3 DEX bonus; -6 for plate mail armor).

And best of all, they've removed the ridiculous ability score restrictions and level limits for certain classes and races. In its place is a balancing act, where "basic" classes -- those without inherent special abilities -- get more skills, feats, or advantages to compensate. And humans get extra feats and skills, too; in our new group, everyone chose to play a human ... which may mean something to you 2nd Ed. addicts; AD&D games used to resemble a fantasy-world Rainbow Coalition meeting 'round here.

In conclusion ... well, not to whore for the game too much, but give it a try. I like AD&D again. They've made it much more easy to understand, much more flexible, and (although I can't guarantee this yet -- our new campaign's first game is next Friday) much more fun.

September 4, 2K ... The Baxil Weekly Name-Drop: I didn't actually go anywhere this weekend. (As you may have noticed by the post I made yesterday, opining at length about AD&D 3d Ed.) However, Dave dropped by on Saturday night, when he was bringing roommates Misty and Myles bax from a role-playing session. When Erin (aka Jia), Sarah and Walter returned from their downtown club-hopping expedition, much drunken discussing of role-playing took place. The story that sticks out is Dave's thief character misinterpreting directions in a duel and jumping his teammate before they finished preparing to fight.

On Sunday, in between bouts of Diablo (repeatedly kicking Mephisto's butt), Dave and Walter and Myles and I played a few rounds of Chez Geek, drawing the inevitable comparisons to roommates past, and laughing at the inexplicable synchronicity of Midnight always being the cat to mess on the bed. It was a fun, laid-back weekend.

In other news ... I've been in rather a funk lately. Not a serious one. But a very prolonged one. I'm not sure I can really put my finger on it. I'll keep ignoring it to the best of my ability, and keep trying to be productive (which is usually what snaps me out of it). Hopefully I'll move beyond this malaise soon.

September 5, 2K ... Good program design takes a lot more work than most people think.

It's one thing to say "I know! I'll program a turn-based 3-D tactical computer RPG!" ... and another thing entirely to figure out the specifics. How are units grouped on the map? What is the combat system? How does terrain affect units? At what level can the player affect development of the game world? How is information stored in the game data files? What information is stored in the game data files, and what is hard-coded? How will scenarios progress if the plot isn't strictly linear?

I've spent over a week now designing my latest work project (not completely by choice ... I need to get the map system down before anything else can run; the coworker who wrote that system has been on vacation, and the map editor is producing buggy files), and while it feels like I've done very little, I'm beginning to realize how much design time goes into a typical adventure game. Don't even get me started on the units list ... unit balance could probably eat up another week in itself.

Of course, with the product development cycle we're trying to stick by, I'm not expected to turn out a Diablo or Heroes of Might and Magic. But I hope that I can program a game that shows how much time went into its planning. As opposed to a game that does what it was supposed to do, but feels cobbled together on the fly.

Note to self: Keep good notes on code specs so that reworking troublesome subroutines won't be so painful. Plan ahead; leave myself more options than I think I'll need. And write an engine that lets me tweak game specs through scripting rather than code rewrites.

September 6, 2K ... It's amazing how much other people's behavior influences ours ... whether we admit it or not. Nobody is safe from peer groups.

For instance, take my music rotation at work. I hauled in a 15-CD holder; I've got perhaps the equivalent of another 10 CDs saved as MP3s on Tiamat. Now, I'm the sort of person who doesn't get tired easily of his favorite songs -- I'm quite content to listen to the same 25 CDs for weeks on end; I often loop CDs while I'm working and listen to the same five songs in a row for hours on end.

This, of course, drives other people crazy. So -- purely as a social nicety -- I've been rotating my CDs weekly. And I've got a collection big enough to be able to avoid repeats for a month or two, by which time the songs feel new again.

I suppose it's good that I'm listening to a broader selection of tunes ... certainly I'm no less happy with the music I hear (notwithstanding the tiny amount of extra work necessary to haul all of the CDs around). But it feels weird sometimes that I'm compromising my standard behaviors to such an extent. And it's occasionally annoying to want to listen to one of my favorite songs again, and having to stop myself because it's been in the playlist twice this week already.

I consider myself extremely lucky that I've found my social niche, and that the dragon community is such a tolerant and diverse place; I have no idea how I'd keep myself from going crazy if I had to constrain myself even further by trying to fit in somewhere that I didn't really belong. As it is, some days the only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that I have the freedom to make so many of my personal choices.

I think the same symptoms occasionally rear their head among the webmaster community, if such a thing exists. If anything, it's worse, because if a creator even vaguely cares what return they get on their site (read: "Anyone who tracks hit statistics") they need to create a page which other people will want to read. If they're not serving a niche market (as many generally cool and entertaining pages aren't) then it's even worse: they have to cater to "the average user." Plus advertise. Advertise, advertise, advertise. Cater, cater, cater. Not much of a release, is it?

For what it's worth ... I'm not trying to drum up sympathy here. Not for myself, anyway. Like the headline indicates, this is a "webjournal". I write it with the expectation that it will be read, but I write it for me, not for my audience. The stuff for my audience is the rest of the site. ];=8)

Oh, and when I buy candy at the store, I get Twix bars. Twix are kewl l33t chocolate. Kit Kats are for lamers. Duh.

September 7, 2K ... Every once in a while I feel koyaanisqatsi. Albeit without the Philip Glass music or the incessant time-panning.

I think it has to do with the way that I obsess over things in serial fashion. The biggest factor in my not suffering from some sort of monomania is that my focus tends to jump around rapidly; when I actually zone in on something, the outside world kind of disappears. In a roundabout way, that's what koyaanisqatsi (great film, btw) means: "Life out of balance." My idea of balance is akin to rowing a canoe: Paddle left, paddle right, paddle left, paddle right, and it'll balance out if you keep up the rhythm.

This also means that when I haven't done something for a while, it kind of disappears off of my scope. I have to kickstart myself bax into the habit again. I suspect that the funk I talked about on Monday was at least partially a result of getting too absorbed into stuff that didn't matter to me enough ... or, at least, getting absorbed into distractions while leaving too much important stuff undone. Now that work is kicking bax into gear, and now that I'm feeling magically active again, life seems a little fresher. Good indications that I was out of balance as far as those elements of my existence went.

Hopefully I can take my new, upbeat momentum and get some things done that have been crying for attention for a while. Like shifting more of my website over to Tomorrowlands, or finishing "Griffin's Flight," or sending out copies of Soup 2K to the people who I promised would get a CD two months ago. (If you're one, I'm sorry, I really am.)

September 8, 2K ... A discussion of social standards on alt.fan.dragons recently (which, as most serious discussions there do, ended up degenerating into Drakon and I nitpicking ];=8)) reminded me of a question that has bothered me for a while: With so many people suffering from bad eyesight, why is 20/20 vision considered average?

(It is. "20/20 vision is a term used to express normal visual acuity (the clarity or sharpness of vision) measured at a distance of 20 feet. If you have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly at 20 feet what should normally be seen at that distance." -- American Optometric Association, emphasis mine.)

Bax before contact lenses, when everyone with "substandard" vision had these huge frames perched on their nose, I knew too damn many people who wore glasses. I've been wondering for a while how one can call a value "normal" when it seems like over half the population doesn't meet that standard. Otherwise we'd be running into endless, pointless, and just plain stupid debates about whether the "normal" human was male or female. Vision is the same way. The only thing "normal" about 20/20 is that some people have better vision than the "standard," and some have worse. That makes it an "average" in the loosest sense, the same way that day traders are corporate investors.

Of course, this complaint begs the question, How many people actually do wear corrective lenses? Today's Friday Research Project sent me scurrying to the Web for statistics.

First stop: Redirected by an encyclopedia (www.britannica.com) to the Center for Disease Control, I grabbed a copy of their Vital and Health Statistics (1999). There I learned that corrective lenses account for over 6 million doctor's visits every year. But without knowing how often people visit medical professionals for such items (I have a pair of glasses, and haven't seen a professional about them for, I think, six years now), that means little.

So back to the Web at large. Next stop: Anecdotal Evidence Land. Survey Central's extremely unscientific and quite-probably-more-biased-than-personal-observation corrective lenses poll "confirms" what I've already suggested that I see: Of 69 respondents, only 21 answered with some form of "I have perfect vision" (at least they had the decency to call it 'perfect' instead of 'normal). This suggests that 2/3 of us have "below average" vision. If this is the case, it's not much of an "average."

Another tourist trap in Anecdotal Evidence Land: A page of unsourced statistics says that "100,000,000 Americans are visually disabled without corrective lenses." That's about 40 percent of us. And that's only people who are legally blind without glasses (if I read it correctly), i.e. 20/400 vision or worse. I'm not in that category, and wonder how many people it excludes.

Next stop: Straight to the source, the Holy Grail of statistics: The census bureau. A check through the Statistical Abstract of the United States turns up little, except for the curious statistic that there are 527,000 Americans using "vision assistive technology devices" (page 150). Does this mean glasses and contacts? As 527,000 is roughly one-tenth of the number of Americans who use canes (ibid.), I kind of doubt it. So no help there. (Although I did learn that America collectively spent $13.9 billion dollars in 1997 on "vision products and other medical durables", that "other" category covering such vision-related items as hearing aids and wheelchairs.)

And that's where the Internet runs out of steam. No luck on Usenet FAQs, and nothing much on my fave search engines. All we've learned is that a value based on "normality" is something which a whole damn bunch of us just don't fit.

Did they ask anyone's opinion when they defined "normal," boys and girls? Doesn't sound like it. Think about that one the next time that somebody wearing corrective lenses tries to pressure you into conforming.

September 9, 2K ... Ah, September 9. One of only 12 days in a (non-leap) year that both a European and an American will write in the same way; one of only 233 days that you can unambiguously identify even if you don't know whether it was written by a European or an American. (11-31-00 and 31-11-00 are not the same, but they're definitely unambiguous.)

Ah, September 9. According to The History Channel's Web site's "This Day In Technology History" section, it's the anniversary of the world's first documented computer bug. (A moth.)

Ah, September 9. 252nd day of the Gregorian calendar's year. Twelve days before Mabon. (If you don't recognize the name, clicking the link will give you an alternate way to describe September 21, one which will be more meaningful to about 98 percent of Americans.)

Ah, September 9. If I'm not mistaken, date of my first-ever Saturday Tomorrowlands Journal post. Rejoice, fellow sapients. ];=8)

September 11, 2K ... The Baxil Weekly Name-Drop: Another laid-bax weekend, although not entirely by choice. I was going to go to the "Adult Friends of Korray" birthday party over at Dave's house, but in a colossal and really quite sad display of synchronicity, everyone canceled. The party will probably be pushed bax to the 23rd. (Everyone, you ask? In our house of 6, two slept through the event, two had made other plans because they somehow didn't hear about the party until that evening, one fell ill, and the last -- me -- called to ask for directions and was told that I was the only invitee still attending. As Amazon hasn't gotten around yet to delivering the gift I'd ordered for Korray two weeks ago, I negotiated with Dave a rollback on the celebration. So Korray's birthday comes late this year.)

Later that evening, Kiala called and suggested we take in a movie; the Cinerama was having a midnight screening of "Aliens". I wasn't particularly interested. I did, however, spend the evening (finally) smudging and warding my room.

Oh, almost forgot: Friday night was the kick-off game of our house AD&D 3rd Ed. campaign. Walter's GMing led us through a brief bar fight in a mining town, into an abandoned, haunted mine, and up against two (rabid) Rodents of Unusual Size. Considering that we had a party of 6, it wasn't much of a surprise that we dropped 'em in the first combat round. Which is to say, the round in which they surprised us. Walter muttered something about scaling up the encounters for next session before we quit.

And then, on Sunday, I went to work. Not much progress in the programming department (which is OK, because I wasn't getting overtime pay; I was putting in completely voluntary extra hours as a salaried employee), but I did get to overhaul Tomorrowlands (see yesterday's "news") and catch up on alt.fan.dragons (and the latest round of philosophical nit-picking with Drakon).

Oh, and I've fixed the Contact page. (It took me a while to realize that I had a placeholder in there; it should have been working long before now. But the good news is that now you can drop me a line quickly and easily if you want to comment on my journal. ]B=8))

September 12, 2K ... I don't need to whack you over the head with a moral every time I make some observation about life; as such, I'll present the following story without commentary.

On my way to work today, I stopped by the Wizards of the Coast main store in Seattle, there to peruse gaming materials and -- hopefully -- to rid myself of two game tokens that have been occupying my pockets for weeks. (WotC has a video arcade; I'm not much of an arcade game player, but someone gave me the tokens, and I figured, what the heck.)

I ended up not spending the tokens (what can I say; video games haven't been the same since "Assault"). But, along the way, I noticed something. It was kind of hard to miss, actually. The machines were all clustered right next to each other.

They had no less than six Street Fighter games. Not street-fighter type games, but games involving the SF characters. To wit:

  • "Street Fighter EX2 Plus"
  • "Street Fighter Alpha 3"
  • "3rd Strike Street Fighter 3: Fight for the Future" (now there's a title)
  • "X-men vs Street Fighter"
  • "Marvel vs. Capcom"
  • "Marvel vs. Capcom II"

There were perhaps 20 people in the arcade. The entire time I was there, I saw only one token spent on any of the above. ("Marvel vs. Capcom.")

As previously mentioned, interpretation of this fact will be left as an exercise to the reader.

September 13, 2K ... You know, in retrospect, yesterday's post did whack its readers over the head with a moral: that whacking people over the head with a moral is beneath me and should be avoided.

My common sense wishes to apologize to you on my behalf.

September 14, 2K ... Allow me a moment of self-pity. I am a diplomat in a world of debaters. I sometimes (as with my web surfing yesterday) feel goaded from all sides to abandon the principles that enable me to understand the world's true complexity. I am an intellectually honest subjectivist: it is an honest-to-goodness effort for me to argue against anything.

This is not to say that I believe everything, or that I believe every statement/worldview is equally valid. Don't bother waiting for me to defend the statement "2 + 2 = 5" (in base 10, with traditional meanings of 2, 5, plus, and equals). But so many people believe that this is what subjectivism means, and of course, objectivists are more than willing to slam us at every opportunity.

A little lesson on philosophy for y'all. Subjectivists still believe in true and false. Subjectivists can still "rate" belief systems as useful or worthless. How, you ask? Two factors: internal consistency and correspondence with observations (from the point of view of the person that made them; correspondence with my observations tells me how useful the worldview is to me, but that's another issue).

If someone says "God exists, and created the world 6,000 years ago," the garden variety objectivist will start foaming at the mouth; I could care less, since none of us were there 6,000 years ago to check. (Heck, for all *I* know, God created the world in 1976, and gave all of the humans alive at that time memories to match the "missing" years of their life. I have no personal basis to disprove that observation. I can tentatively say that He didn't make the world within my lifetime, although if someone wants to show me a coherent belief system saying so which explains the world better than my current paradigm, I'll listen.)

But if someone says "God created the world 6,000 years ago, and dinosaurs lived before the Great Flood, and scientific fossil evidence proves it," I'll do what I can to help whack 'em with a clue-by-four: in my opinion, creationism is a Frankensteinian hybrid of religion and science that is not only wholly inconsistent with the scientific theories it drags in to make its point, but wholly inconsistent with most observations made in its "support." (Before you ask: creationism is very much an objectivist view. The universe works in a specific way: if God created the world, and Joe believes it was the Big Bang, Joe's wrong.) What makes it "wrong" is that it takes two mutually contradictory ideas and tries to believe them both at once.

That was an example -- let's not get sidetracked in details here. The point is that subjectivism doesn't mean throwing out the intellectual toolbox; subjectivists think critically, and construct valid, workable worldviews. But we can't really defend them, except on their own grounds and on the grounds that they positively affect our life; we can't really evangelize them, except in the special case where someone else's experiences are close enough to ours that our interpretations of our own experiences make sense to them. The objectivist, with his willingness to discard inconvenient personal observations of others (who supposedly work under his own rules, and therefore must be incorrectly interpreting the things which don't support his theory -- try telling a hard-core skeptic that you had a flash of precognition yesterday, and watch his reaction), sees this "lack of extensibility" as a weakness, and spends far too much free time criticizing a system which -- for him -- doesn't work, on the assumption that it also can't work for the subjectivist, who really is quite happy with it.

Sure, it's possible that there really may be a "master set of rules" that create our deterministic, clockwork universe (whether the clockwork is purely mechanical, or theological, I leave to the reader's opinion). So? If there is, we don't know it, and if thousands of years of scientific precedent are any indication, we probably don't even have a very good guess as to what it is yet. Without a real yardstick for this hypothetical "objective truth," I can only find one measure of a person's life that matters:

I dare say I've made the world a better place, regardless of whether my personal notions about the universe are right or wrong. I wish more objectivists would start looking at life that way instead of taking their little mind games so seriously.

September 15, 2K ... To clarify one point from yesterday's philosophising:

It's fairly common to run across worldviews that are both (A) internally consistent and (B) consistent with all available observations. (Especially the worldviews that, by nature, talk about things that can't really be observed.) Take the statements "(the Christian) God likes chocolate better than coffee" and "(the Christian) God likes coffee better than chocolate." Neither of those really contradict any other axioms or deductions of the standard person's worldview (unless the "standard" person already has beliefs on that subject, which I find pretty improbable). And I haven't had the experience of asking (the Christian) God directly, nor is there any guidance in the Bible on this point, so there aren't any observations to draw inconsistencies from.

So on what grounds should the subjectivist choose to believe one over the other? The answer that I've used for some time now is: In the absence of contradictions listed above, choose whatever makes oneself and others happier. I heavily weight this in favor of myself, and I don't think it's really healthy to do otherwise. (But then, I've always been suspicious of conformity for its own sake.) And, of course, by "happier" I mean doing things in one's own ultimate self-interest; I tend to take the long-term view rather than the immediate-gratification view.

In the example above, neither alternative particularly appeals to me. Would these beliefs affect others' happiness? Perhaps, if these "others" preferred coffee or chocolate themselves, but the subject hasn't ever come up in conversation. My other guiding principle is that if even that is equal, the question isn't worth wasting time over; it has no discernible effect on my life. So I consciously choose to take a non-stance on God's caffeine preferences. If internal contradictions, evidence, or questions of happiness come up, I reserve the right to change my mind on the subject.

Another example, to illustrate a situation where my (and others') happiness does influence what I believe: The perpetual liberal-versus-conservative-Christian question of whether God (should He exist) sends non-believers to a place of eternal torment. More specifically, the Jack Chick theory of "believe in Jesus Christ and you're saved; otherwise, you're in soooooo much trouble." (Not to pick on Chick here, but I'm sorry, he's an easy target.)

What are the logical consequences here? That God doesn't care what we do to each other, as long as we believe in Him. So what would a hypothetical Heaven under such a deity be like? Much like Earth, except filled only with people who believed in God. There would still be jealousy, pettiness, social cliques ... perhaps even lawsuits or muggings. (Or would God throw out everyone guilty of any of the above? Leaving ... what ... three people up there?)

I'm basically being told that if I fight to suppress myself, destroy every shred of individuality, then when I get to heaven I can look forward to ... more of the same. While this in itself doesn't contradict anything in the Christian worldview, nor any personal observations, it fills me with revulsion. The alternative, in their view, is even worse: if I'm a secular Mother Teresa, bringing peace and joy to the world and creating a legacy of human happiness, but commit the single sin of not believing in Jesus as my personal savior, then my reward for a lifetime of good deeds is ... eternal pain.

I have no direct evidence that this isn't how the world actually works. However, should the above scenario actually be reality, I would consider it a personal duty to fight this "kind and benevolent God" tooth and claw. If he's willing to reward a life of kindness with eternal torment, and eternal torment is the worst he can do, I might as well deserve that damnation and join the infernal freedom fighters.

However -- and this is where we get bax to the original point -- the hypothetical Chick-ism above leads to a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenario. The eternal oppression and condescension of heaven, or the eternal torment of hell. There is no possible way for me to be happy in such a universe. Thus, on that basis alone, I choose to believe that it is not the way the world works.

Am I taking a risk here? Not really; like I said, I'd be miserable in that world no matter what I did or believed. So all I'm doing by refusing to believe in it is giving myself a chance to be happy. Simple pragmatism.

This line of reasoning is also why I choose to believe that I am a dragon, rather than the equally compelling and probable theory that I'm flat-out bull-moose crazy. (By which I mean "crazy enough to not be able to trust my judgments on my observations on the matter": that my spiritual contacts are not merely manifestations of my subconscious mind; that my astral projection experiences aren't just rampant imagination; that my encounter with Thideras wasn't just my id slapping my superego around.) And from the way that draconity has improved my life, I rather doubt that there's any reasonable counter-argument on the matter.

September 18, 2K ... Today's Baxil Weekly Name-Drop will be postponed due to tragic breaking news ...


I stepped out of the door this morning, heading to the car so I could depart for work, and walked into a killing field.

Bodies lay strewn about, gruesomely ripped apart. A few early insects bobbed and weaved over the dead, disrespectfully feasting on their still-fresh carcasses. The foul scent of their bodily fluids permeated the air.

Some, more jaded, of you might have called this act of destruction by a more mundane name, trying to pass it off as an act in the natural order of things, rather than the tragedy it was. Yes, some of you might have tried to tell me ... our lawn was mowed. But, my friend, that speaks of a horrible prejudice. Does grass deserve to be mowed just because it's green and in someone's yard? Even if some of these patches of grass are "lawns" and resign themselves gracefully to their fate, does that excuse the wholesale slaughter of their more wild brethren?

For I can tell you one thing with utter certainty: Our house does not have a "lawn". Lawns are well-maintained, pristine things, creations of Man, miniature civilizations of bright, homogenous green. Like dairy cows, they're bred with their fate in mind. Our "lawn" wasn't even a free-range bull -- it was more of a Great Plains buffalo. It was full of knee-high, reedy grasses; small, stringy shrubs; and flowers.

This "mowing" that some would so readily ignore left our back yard strewn about with three-foot stalks and smelling of bitter sap. (Even if it was a legitimate action, it was quite obviously done with a weed-whacker rather than a mower.) What will be left when the fallen plants are cleared away? -- A thin, sickly, half-yellowed fuzz on a large patch of bare dirt. Natural grasses are nowhere near as thick as their cultivated counterparts. And now the flowers are gone.

Compounding the heinousness of this crime is the fact that our little patch of untrammeled field was in the back yard ... so it couldn't have been done under the pretext of "beautification". Someone went out there, quite deliberately, and hacked down 400 square feet of defenseless vegetable matter.

And someone is going to answer for it.

September 19, 2K ... The day-late Baxil Weekly Name-Drop: Much happened this weekend. Many things, excluding sleep.

Most of these many things involved computer games. On Friday night, I stayed at work late, hooked on an arcade game called "Power Stone." It's a fairly standard fighter, with a twist: Actual 3-D fighting arenas. Not just the "duck in a circle around your opponent" type: huge rooms filled with all sorts of furniture to pick up and throw; poles to spin around and duck behind; scattered weapons and power-ups; multi-level terrain ... in short, the works. Quite a novel little game, and cleanly animated. I had fun (and beat the game with 7 of its 8 characters within a few hours).

Saturday, I staggered out of bed, did some reading ("The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell" -- Harry Harrison is a fantastic writer, and I love the series, but now I remember why I'd forgotten about that one book), and packed up for the monthly pilgrimage to the local Furry Writer's Circle. Many more stories got read, discussed, and dissected, none of which stand out in my mind. I brought my Powerbook this time, and read "Vector" near the end of the meeting -- receiving some outstanding feedback on how to improve it. These people know what they're talking about.

When I got home, I sat down to "Diablo II." To make a long story short -- "long" meaning "Saturday night until the sun rose, and half of Sunday" (I could have done it in half the time, but found a lovely little bug in the game's quest tracking system, and had to redo most of Act IV) -- I beat the game. Yay!

That -- and my hours-long phone call with Keh'tel on Saturday, during which we planned out things to do for the YBWC, soon appearing at a Tomorrowlands near you -- explains why I wasn't journalizing over the weekend. Not that I've ever seen my Web work as anything more than a sideline. ];=8)

(Some weekly name-drop ... I mentioned one name. Hey, Keh'tel, you've got this week's Name-Drop completely to yourself. Now don't you feel special? Aren't you glad you bought that phone card?)

September 20, 2K ... Today's journal entry, more or less, has been cancelled. Sorry.

I'm serious about wanting the T-lands journal to be a daily offering. I'm also equally serious about, and committed to, not writing "filler." (Some might say the "Baxil Weekly Name-Drop" qualifies, but remember, this is a journal. If I allow myself one day a week to talk about my personal life, and you don't like it, don't read my journal on Mondays. ];=8))

As I get more organized, and find a little bit of free time, I'll write a few articles ahead of time -- maintain a baxlog -- so that I can make quick posts on days when I'm fresh out of (A) time or (B) inspiration. We both win. I get to feel good about having a daily journal, and you aren't subjected to "My favorite kind of soda"-type fluff.

I think I'm going A/C here. (Not that this is a bad thing.) Actually, I'd like to think I've always been. I've just finally got a name for it.

September 21, 2K ... An update to last week's harangue against objectivity.

Web surfing can have the weirdest effects; I found the page I'm going to refer to here by cruising around the site of a professor who presented an overview of logical fallacies, who was linked to in an argument over the DeCSS legal battle on Slashdot (warning: page takes a LONG time to load), which I found through the site of one of the defendants in the case, 2600 magazine; I got their link from Chuck McKenzie, whose pages I was referred to by a coworker passing around an URL for "You Might Be A Redneck Goth If ..."

Phew. But anyway. To refresh your memory, my earlier journal entry complained about objectivist attacks on people like me who think the universe is just too complex for a "Single Unifying Truth" (tm). Having strenuously separated myself from the objectivists, I proceeded in my next entry to equally distance myself from "canonical" subjectivism, i.e. the belief that because everything is relative, nothing is false. (Which, still, is just an objectivist straw man. There's no non-contradictory way to believe that and to hold ANY opinion; I've never met anyone who has so much as tried.)

Which did kind of leave me in ideological limbo. But lo! On the Web, everything has been written before, and through the sequence of links listed above, I stumbled on the idea of rational pluralism. The more I read, the more perfectly it seems to describe what I already believe. No one worldview will ever explain everything; there is no single truth. And yet truth is possible, and on an individual level, rational argument and observation can help us sort theories into "better" and "worse." (It still seems that my position is on the subjectivist side of the pluralist argument; I have some more synthesis to do yet.)

Having been stuck with the false dichotomy of "objectivist" vs. "subjectivist", I saw the former as the worse evil; but rejecting the black-or-whiteness of the argument allowed me to end up classifying myself as something which fit my beliefs much more precisely. Let's hear it for the Information Age. ]B=8)

September 22, 2K ... Insert appropriately witty one-liner here.

Again I find myself wishing that I had a backlog I could pull a post from; but no such luck. See you tomorrow, when I've had time to breathe.

September 23, 2K ... I hate self-conscious posts. They say little of consequence and subject the audience to the writer's insecurities. They're the literary equivalent of a stand-up comedian walking out onto the stage and cracking jokes about how his material is completely un-funny.

Self-conscious posts are the bane of the online journalist. (Journal writer. You know what I mean.) And the pitfall of the E/N -- "everything/nothing" -- site. It's not so much that they're a waste of space as that they're a waste of bandwidth. They perform a valuable service for the writer -- allowing them to hack up some of their feelings, remove an emotional hairball from their throat -- but like a hairball, their potential value to others is completely overwhelmed by the fact that they're slimy pieces of garbage hacked up in public spaces.

And yet, as with cats and hairballs, journal writers have an almost physical need to spew them out.

Perhaps the self-conscious journal entry comes from not having a clear topic in mind when one sits down to clear their thoughts; certainly, the act of writing does provoke thoughts about the process of writing. Perhaps it comes from a reluctance to say, in public, those things which the writer truly does find important. It's certainly exacerbated by the feeling of "I've got to write SOMETHING!" that a daily journal provokes.

I know that I've stated repeatedly that this is my space, that I write for an audience of me, and maybe that's part of the problem, too. It certainly complicates things. This isn't a space for me. I don't feel like I can talk about my self-doubts (which are a different thing entirely than self-conscious posts). Nor about certain elements of my life which might draw ire from moralists protecting my theoretical under-18 audience. No, this isn't my journal, it's the journal of my public persona. Much of the time, the things they wish to say are the same, but, to paraphrase some famous guy, I am not all contained between my e-hat and my e-boots.

I don't really know what I want to write here. The scattershot "philosophy, random questions about life, and odd items of general interest" approach has worked thus far, but it's reached its half-life, and every day I keep it up increases the probability that I'll grab for a post and find nothing there. You've observed this over the last few days.

So, it's time for a change. I don't know what quite yet. I'll do some thinking about it while I hack together some improvements on the rest of the site. (Like finally cleaning up all of those sidebar images. Grrr.) And, in the meantime, I'll get a few spare posts written, so when the self-conscious urge comes about, I can let it runs its course while continuing to post items of relevance.

September 24, 2K ...

I am a statistical aberration,
an anomalous data point,
out of step with my time,
outside the dominant paradigm.

This does not make me special,
this does not make me unique,
this makes me a reminder
of our essential infinitude.

Measure me all you want,
but remember that your instruments
or your theories may be
inadequate, or that

no matter how perfectly
you define your average,
someone always lives
three standard deviations
from the mean.

September 25, 2K ... The Baxil Weekly Name-Drop: About the only name of consequence I could have dropped this weekend would have been "Delirium" of the Endless. While non-"Sandman" readers may not appreciate the subtle humor of this reference, you can probably imagine.

I didn't go to work on Friday. Well, I did. But I didn't. And I spent over two hours in traffic to not get there. In exchange for this little fragment of commute hell, I agreed to put in a full workday on Sunday. Which I did, uneventfully ... uneventfully except that everyone in my studio, for reasons of their own, put in some overtime, and so my corner of the building was crowded. The place felt like Monday. And since Friday didn't feel like a day off, my weekend went by in a mad rush. Plus I get the added bonus of guilt over looking like a slacker: I was there on Sunday because I had to be, not because I wanted to be. Ye gods.

As if that and the three hours of weekend stress on Friday wasn't enough (did I mention that I drove with a no-fuel light on for most of the hour-long journey home?), I spent Friday morning picking up a bed from some friends of the household who were moving. With a pick-up truck and kindly traffic, it would have been a half-hour errand. As it was, in between trying to find 50 feet of rope in an unfamiliar section of the city, tying the box spring down to the top of my car, and driving home at 25 with one hand out the window holding the thing steady, the bed wasn't worth the time I spent picking it up. Did I mention that I moved the bed into my room by myself when I got home? I'm surprised I didn't throw out my back. At least I'd have been able to sleep it off on a proper mattress.

On Friday night, after the bed-pickup triathlon and the 1500-meter crawl commute, I sat through a marathon role-playing session. It was a good game, really, just far too slow and full of nothing. Our merry band of six went through one "single-player-gets-pulled-aside-by-the-GM-for-ten-minutes" scene after another. I spent most of my time reading, with a quick break to smash down a door and kill three prison guards. Just like I did in real life, except for the bit about the guards.

Saturday ... was Saturday. I ate dinner with the roommates and Sarah's mom. We went out to a Japanese place, which is normally cause for rejoicing, but I wasn't impressed; the decor was strictly college-student scunge, and the sushi arrived at our table ALREADY SMOTHERED IN WASABE. I have nothing against the stuff, but when it's all I can taste, it's too much. And when the first six pieces are tolerable but #7 has a huge chunk, enough to make my eyes water, it really ruins the experience. At least the tempura was good ... but sushi makes or breaks a Japanese dining experience. With as much choice as we've got restaurant-wise in the university district, I doubt I'll be going back.

Sunday ... at least I managed to get object picking working in my current project. So the weekend wasn't a total haze.

September 26, 2K ... When I stepped out the door this morning, it was warm and sunny. Cloudless, in fact. I didn't really register this until I remembered that I live in Seattle ... and it's the end of September.

I got in my car and drove to work, and along the way, thought "Gee, I need to turn on the air conditioner." Until I remembered that I live in Seattle ... and it's the end of September.

I turned on the air conditioner anyway, just so I could say that I had.

As I mused on this irony, and the car's internal temperature dropped from a steamy 70 degrees to a soothing 69.9, I noticed an odd smell. Not odd-worrisome, just odd-unusual. It was, of course, the air conditioner; having not turned it on in two months, and being only a sporadic user of it at best over the summer, I should have expected that plenty of interesting grime would settle on the insides of the air ducts. Prodded on by simple curiosity, I tried to place the smell.

This isn't the place for a full examination of the inadequacy of the English language in describing smells. I'd just like to point it out as background. I don't believe there are any abstract words for smells at all: words that relate conceptually only to scent, words that describe general classes of odor instead of being specific relational phrases. Take "dusty": While something can "smell dusty," it can also "look dusty." This is because we're relating properties of an object to our concept of "dust". Whereas "loud" is an abstract property unique to hearing, or "purple" is an abstract property unique to vision. (Perhaps "acrid," although that's a fancy way of saying "bitter," which is a taste property. Either way, it's a step in the right direction; we need a smell vocabulary.)

The air conditioner smelled ... voluminous. This isn't objective fact. It's just the word that popped first to mind. It would also be correct to say it smelled dusty (because it did), but those aren't the images that came to mind. I think "voluminous" came up for me because I tend to associate dust with the outdoors; I'm sure someone who worked in an old, underused library would come to associate "dust smell" with claustrophobia or intellectualism or some such.

That air-conditioner smell recalled for me memories of SCA events and Renaissance Faires. Of huge grassy fields temporarily converted into parking lots. Of a thick, gritty atmosphere full of shiny happy people and massive clouds of dust from that RV pulling in two aisles down. And my mind catches on the people. The simple joys of relating to friends, soaking in the huge street-faire atmosphere, haggling with merchants over pseudo-medieval baubles, admiring hand-made costumes and suits of armor. And going home covered in so much dust that you have to take two showers in a row.

Small wonder, then, that I didn't notice I'd started shivering until I got out of the car and walked into work. I live in Seattle ... and it's the end of September.

September 26, 2K -- #2 ... I am worthless. Nothing I ever do will make any difference. Which is some consolation, because all I can ever do in my life is fuck up. My home life is a pathetic mess inside a fragile shell of normality. My employers haven't fired me only because I'm skilled at pretending to be something I'm not. My philosophy is a shambled mockery of reason, vaguely self-consistent, but patched together with spit, shoe polish and optimism.

I'm a poor excuse for a writer. But there's nothing else I can do with any degree of skill. I guess it's good people are so easily fooled; that the world is so collosally shitty that someone like me can be seen as a role model by anyone.

I am a dragon. Big fucking deal. Riding on past glory. Getting mired on past mistakes. Why make the effort; there are so many current mistakes that I could be so much more proud of. If pride is the word.

I am a pathetic, inexcusable, insignificant, waste of space. There's no rational reason to bother. I pride myself on rationality so much; I might as well do something about it and let the last act of my life be leaving a big, bloody, rational mess in the living room.

just a side note to my friends:

please don't be concerned for my health or safety. i am not going to act on these impulses. i promise. i'm going to go home, and i'm going to sleep it off, and i will feel better in the morning.

this has happened before; i just wanted a written record this time, because we all know how ludicrous a philosophy looks once it finds words and gets set down in black and white.

now, i really do feel like shit; it hasn't been a bad day, not in the slightest, but who's to say depression has to strike for a reason? so to heck with this ... see you tomorrow.

Oh, and I finished rearranging the old journal entries. If you'd rather read something a little less alarming, go cruise through the archives.

-- Bax

September 27, 2K ... As odd as it may seem, what I wrote yesterday cheered me up immensely. The thing is, seeing it on paper makes it so much less personal. And if anyone else tried to tell me those things about myself, I'd get a good laugh out of it; so why should I take myself so seriously when the same phrases bounce around inside my head?

Speaking of which ... in an indirect way: You know, I've been going about this philosophy thing all wrong. I've been working under the assumption that people can make their own decisions, trust their own observations about the world; that science (while not THE answer) is indeed worthwhile, and dialectic and rational argument can get us somewhere in discovering the world around us. But I've seen the light now.

The solution isn't to let people make mistakes in pursuit of the truth -- it's to remove their ability to do anything stupid! Nobody can be wrong if we're all unthinking, unseeing machines! Now why didn't I think of that before? It's a good thing that David McNamara's home page is out there; I'd have never thought of the following solutions to the world's great philosophical conundrums on my own:

  • The death penalty for adultery!
  • Prison sentences of up to 25 years for anyone possessing a single ounce of alcohol or tobacco!
  • Allowing police entrapment and random warrantless searches!
  • Removing the Constitutional rights to be presumed innocent of a crime and to be tried under impartial arbiters!
  • Banning Libertarianism! Censoring anything critical of the government!
  • 10 years in jail for viewing pornography! (And since entrapment is legal, the police can open "Playboy" under your nose, and you're guilty!)
I mean, think about it ... the eight people left after the purges would lead clean, pure, wholesome, completely moral lives! No more worry about "right" or "wrong" or "the betterment of mankind." And here I am thinking that the solution to the world's problems is open-mindedness and self-education. Guess I'll have to turn myself in for termination.

Does he even realize the irony of stating his views on the Internet, the single biggest threat to fascist regimes worldwide, and the single biggest vector for at least four of the things he claims are destroying society? What a pathetic excuse for a human.

September 28, 2K ... A recent 1 1/2 hour-quest for a hardware store, and some role-playing later on that evening, got me to thinking. (I know. Dangerous. I promise to stop soon.)

I imagine my audience mostly consists of inveterate gamer geeks. Many of you probably can even tell me off the cuff what "THAC0" stands for. Well, then, let's see how good you really are.

No. None of this talk about how your 37th-level character waltzed through the nine pits of hell, spit on Beelzebub's face, and forced Lolith to say "You're my daddy." I'm talkin' bout how good you are, how prepared you are to do the things that you send your paper-and-pencil avatars into every weekend.

That's right, it's time for the Dungeon-Crawl Preparedness Quiz!!! Simply click on the provided link, run down the list, tally your points (a pencil and the back of an old character sheet could be helpful here), and find out your score! Minutes worth of amusement!

Got that pencil yet? Gird your loins, adventurers, and go to: http://www.tomorrowlands.org/misc/dungeon.txt! Can you beat my score of 70? E-mail me -- I'll post reader high scores in the next Baxil Weekly Name-Drop!

September 29, 2K ... How many people will I ever reach with this page? It gets me down occasionally that I don't have the hit statistics that I would like to be seeing, and that above and beyond that, that I can't seem to maintain my content well enough to deliver any messages to those who do drop by.

And then I remember "The Villain."

This was a comedy Western that premiered shortly after I was born. (See the description at Amazon for more details.) It starred Kirk Douglas and a young Arnold Schwarzenegger as the black-clad villain and white-clad hero, respectively, tromping through the sagebrush in ludicrously stereotyped ways. The movie took a sharp left turn from reality when Douglas started setting Wile E. Coyote-esque traps. It was completely unsubtle, decently funny, and mostly memorable for having Arnold Schwarzenegger play "straight man" in a comedy.

None of my friends have ever heard of this movie. I watched it once, at the house of a friend of my mother's. But it seems to be basically invisible in the pop-culture landscape.

And I watched it about six years ago. But I remember watching it, and enjoying it, which is a whole lot more than I can say for pretty much any other movie I watched before 1997.

So. Consider: It was a piece of junk. (It was, really. The Amazon editorial review calls it "breathtaking in its dreadfulness". We're not talking about "Blazing Saddles" here; we're talking about a movie with far more star power that has nevertheless faded into oblivion.) It's only really known about out on the fringes. And yet it reached me, and (by virtue of my having enjoyed it) influenced me positively in a memorable way.

Consider: My pages are highly fringy, and cater to a very specific (and small) audience. They're currently a piece of junk. (Sure, I've got the star-quality writing -- if you want to grant me that kindness -- but the maintenance and presentation are, at best, tolerable.) And ... I can't let myself forget ... I have influenced people positively. The letters that trickle in are testament enough to that. I still get a few letters per month on the Draconity FAQ, despite having not touched it in two years.

Posterity may not treat me kindly, but my message is being heard by that small minority of people to whom it matters. And if there's any sense of duty involved in running these pages, it is to those people, not to posterity. So it's all good.

Sorry for the late update tonight; I was out all day at a company-sponsored party-thing. I'll write about it in Monday's BWND. (Speaking of which, have you taken the Dungeon Crawl Preparedness Quiz? Go do so. Send me your score. You'll get a mention in the Name-Drop!)

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