Randomness for 5/4


1) An Analysis of the Shift in Color Palettes Used in More Than 50 Years of ‘Avengers’ Comic Book Covers.

2) Pancakebot will print your pancakes in any shape you can draw.

3) Norway is planning to ditch FM radio.

4) Why are board game boxes so big? I assume the transport issue is the difference in weight between 10 games and 16; the fewer games stacked on a palette, the less likely the ones at the bottom will be crushed.

5) The website for the “landscape hotel” where they shot most of the movie EX MACHINA is gorgeous design porn.

6) “My daughter spent this whole week preparing to GM her first D&D game.

7) Every question in every Q&A session ever.

The Distance by Helen Giltrow #15in2015


The DistanceThe Distance by Helen Giltrow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book 9 in #15in2015

Charlotte Alton is a socialite with the money, manners, clothes, and a secret identity as, Karla, an underworld information broker and fixer who arranges impossible crimes, new identities for fugitives, and carefully leaked tips to government spy agencies.

Sound far-fetched? Well, that’s just the start.

I’ve been trying to read more thrillers lately, in an attempt to get a handle on the way they handle exaggeration. This one…

It’s a weird book. It has high thriller characters but for most of the book it’s a low thriller plot: Karla arranged a cover ID and temporary entrance into an experimental prison colony for a hit man she’s secretly in love with. He has a troubled past! The big boss in the prison wants him for his troubled past! His target is a mystery woman that everyone thinks is already dead!

Eventually, the plot turns it around to big stakes and state secrets, but it takes a long time to get there. In the mean time, there are a lot of dead end investigations, scary prisoners being scary, and our protagonist putting herself more and more at risk for her personal haunted tough guy.

Honestly, I would have given it an extra star if it had been shorter. I enjoyed it, but the plot had too much flailing. Still, it was fun.

Buy this book.

The Drowning City by Amanda Downum #15in2015


The Drowning City (The Necromancer Chronicles, #1)The Drowning City by Amanda Downum

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book 8 in #15in2015

I wanted to like this more than I did. There’s a lot of promise in the description (A necromancer and spy goes a city that on the brink of open revolution to offer financial aid to the revolutionaries) but the execution doesn’t have a lot of momentum to it.

Part of the problem is that too many of the names are similar. Part is that the protagonist’s mission does not seem particularly difficult to execute. Part is that the text feels awfully slack. There are betrayals, murders, bombings, magic duels, allies switching sides, forbidden attraction, and more, but I never felt that pull that makes it hard to put a book down. I was never powerfully attached.

The setting is terrific, though, and very well-realized.

I’m sorry I didn’t enjoy it more.

Buy this book

Spoiler-free Avengers 2: Age of Ultron


I’ll make this brief because the family is heading off to see a Georgia O’Keefe show this morning.

Last night was date night, so I did what I usually wouldn’t: went to the sneak preview with my wife. Sadly, my brilliant idea for dinner beforehand was ruined when we discovered the shawarma place was closed for remodeling. Instead, we ate at an Australian/New Zealand pub, in honor of the Australian actors we were about to see.

It’s a good movie but not a great one, even by the standards of a blockbuster action movies. The whole thing feels like it’s been stuffed to the breaking point: you get the six main Avengers, plus the Maximoff twins, plus the Vision, just as the trailers suggest. What they held back from the publicity is that the movie is also full of the supporting characters from the previous individual movies. As it should be, really.

And considering how full the movie feels, it’s amazing that they’ve managed to give the leads their own (tiny but effective) story lines, sandwiched between huge, destructive action set pieces. And there are so many great actors in this thing that they actually manage to sell the personal crises and miniscule human moments, even while wearing, say, a skin-tight black suit. And Bettany is excellent as The Vision.

There are some unfortunate choices, too, mostly around Ultron. Who’s idea was it that his metal lips would move when he talked? I don’t want to say much more, because spoilers. There were also several scenes that made me think That would make no sense to anyone who missed the first movie.

Still, the pieces seem to be much larger than the whole. I remember leaving the first Avengers movie feeling wow-ed by what they accomplished. This time, I loved all the individual sequences but they didn’t feel as though they added up to a truly satisfying whole. However, I plan to see it again, hopefully with my son. We’ll see how I feel about it then.

Added later: I forgot to mention that there’s a single mid-credits scene but nothing at the very end, so you don’t have to sit through the whole endless scroll of digital artists or whatever.

Wow! Now I’m in a completely different place! or grinding in fantasy games


From PC Gamer: Why too much combat hurts rpgs.

I couldn’t agree more. If I’m playing a game, I’m interested in the world, the supporting characters and the overall story. Fight? Sure. Let’s have some fighting.

But grinding away, room after room, where almost every fight means nothing in terms of the larger story? Boring! The conversations are more interesting.

Admittedly, I have more patience with a first-person shooter than a third-person like Pillars of Eternity, but even so, get to the plot. Get to the plot!

Anyway, interesting article.

Progress is being made: Fate Core style


Happy news to be shared: I finished the (very) rough draft of the Fate Core rpg supplement for The Great Way. First of all, yay. Fucking yay. Second of all, writing game supplements is really hard. I have never written anything this dense before.

Anyway, I need to finish the supplement for Key/Egg, too, then do another pass through before I pass the pages off to a GM friend of mine for inspection. Then there will be yet another pass, and it’ll be done.

And when it’s done, I can FINALLY move on to my new novel.

Waste into power


I don’t normally blog about this sort of thing, but I do maintain an active interest in it, but I was pretty excited to read that Audi has built a plant (a small one so far, but they have plans to expand) that creates diesel fuel out of water, atmospheric carbon dioxide, and renewable energy sources like solar or wind.

I’ve been waiting for this sort of thing to become feasible. Sure, people all over the world have been working on better forms of power generation using natural forces (like the people who are trying to drive turbines with artificial tornadoes, which seems like a cool idea but might work better in a story than in real life) but storing that energy for use in a mobile vehicle is still a huge issue. Better battery technology would be great, but 100% clean diesel would be preferable.

Then again, I’m still waiting for large scale versions of this guy’s machine that turns old plastic back into oil (video), except powered by wind or solar so some entrepreneur could start “drilling” the Pacific trash vortex.

Technology to turn waste products into power is pretty exciting, (says the guy who, many years ago, nearly bought a device that purportedly turned urine into household electricity).

You might know them, but they don’t know you.


So, apparently Anne Wheaton started to receive harassment because she offered cash support to Feminist Frequency, and once the inevitable creepy tweets started, she decided to donate extra for every jerk she had to mute.

Then, inevitably:

Apparently, this ridiculous threat is a copypasta meme, and that supposedly means that it’s not supposed to be taken seriously. Wheaton was supposed to recognize it, then dismiss it as a non-issue.

But really, even if she’d recognized it (I’d never heard of it before), why should she write it off? It’s coming from a (now-suspended) user account that she knows nothing about. Why’s the burden on her to make assumptions about strangers?

Yeah, a big part of the answer to that last question is “Sexism,” but other more knowledgeable people can address that better than I can. I’d rather talk about illusory internet friendships.

I’ve seen people on social media shit-mouth writers, artists, and actors as though they were old college pals who talked trash all the time. I’ve seen fans of a TV show criticize the creators in the most outrageous ways. And I’ve seen authors and other non-celebrities asking people not to glom onto them in public spaces.

Yes, the anonymity of the internet contributes to these problems, but too often I’ve seen people insisting they were not trolling, not trying to be awful. They’re just being friendly with someone they know, and were treating the person the way they treat their friends: with good-natured ribbing and straight talk. Sometimes the harassers act like casual acquaintances; not friends, but people who know you and feel they have the social capital to set you straight.

And that’s the problem: because they have someone in their social media, they think they have them in their social circle.

The thing is, it’s only friendly trash-talk if the recipient thinks it is. And while the trash-talker might have donated to cover a vet bill, or have closely followed months of complaints about a contractor, or a child’s learning disability, or a new job, the recipient might not know that person at all.

Now, to be clear, it’s unlikely that Wheaton’s harasser was simply misguided, treating her like a pal. It seems pretty obvious that he’s a straight up shit eater. The people I’m talking about are the hangers-on, who slide into her mentions telling her how she’s supposed to feel about a threat against her life. I’m also talking about the times John Scalzi has posted pictures out his hotel room windows while on book tours, then had to ask people not to track him down and stalk him in the lobby. I’m talking about the people who drove Damon Lindelof off Twitter because they didn’t like the last episode of LOST; in fact, if Lindelof’s harassers had faced, in real life, the sort of contempt they showed, over something as minor as their shoes or their haircut, they’d have been griping about it to their friends for a week. But they felt perfectly comfortable lashing out at him over a project he spent years of his life creating, which they got to watch for free.

This isn’t to say that people should never try to interact with others online–or that they should be obsequious about it–just that it’s important to understand that it’s the recipient who decides how “jokes” and criticisms will be interpreted.

Actually, that’s a useful writing tip in general, but never mind.

Randomness for 4/23


1) The day Hank Aaron’s bodyguard didn’t shoot.

2) Onlookers mistake fallen construction crane at Dallas Museum of Art as an art installation.

3) Yelp reviews of new-born babies.

4) A person is creating 3d printing templates for every creature in the Monster Manual.

5) The simple brilliance of David Aja. This dude is half of the reason that the Hawkeye comic has been so amazing. I really love the design sense that artists bring to comics now. They’re so much more interesting than they used to be.

6) Why don’t our brains explode when we see movie cuts? (What a sensible way to phrase that question.)

7) Pictures of food that very little kids “can’t eat” and why.