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Journal Archives - August, 2003

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           August 6, 2003 ... What's been happening .................. (Permalink)

It's been a long week. There's been the typical disbelief at California's electoral politics -- the latest examples of which are Arnold Schwarzenegger surprising everyone by entering the recall race as a candidate; and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante responding by breaking ranks with Davis and entering the race himself.

Of course, this hardly surprises me, because several days ago I travelled forward in time and saw the results of the recall election first-hand. Don't believe me? Take a look for yourself.

In other news this week, I've been struggling to get phpBB installed as a replacement for the now-defunct YaBB that powered the Tomorrowlands Forums.

The good news: It's vastly more unlikely to have the sort of memory issues that killed YaBB, because the back-end is built on an actual database instead of a PERL approximation thereof. The bad news: I have no prior experience with PHP or MySQL (both of which it uses) and will be doing equal parts "learning along the way", "crossing fingers and praying" and "contacting my system administrator." However, back in Good-News-Land, there is in fact a converter from YaBB to phpBB, so it seems likely that I'll be able to preserve the messages that existed on the old forums. (But not necessarily the user information, because some of the board modifications -- especially the password security one -- might break the converter.) And, of course, the bad news is that this means I have to set aside like 48 or 72 hours to really get things up and running (which is the big reason it's taken me this long in the first place).

Meanwhile, in the realm of the utterly frivolous, I've been playing -- and vastly enjoying, more so than I expected -- two computer role-playing games that snuck up on me and earned my respect.

One of them is (*shudder*) on Microsoft's X-Box; it's a new console RPG called "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic." Yes, I'm playing a Star Wars game. But it's set thousands of years before the movies and requires no real knowledge of the universe, so it's all good.

I wasn't expecting to like it, because, y'know, it's X-Box, and on top of that, it's Star Wars. Most Star Wars games made thus far have been crap (with a limited exception granted to Super Star Wars for the old SNES console, which was annoying but at least fun). But this one gets points for using a tweaked version of the d20 system rules popularized by 3rd edition AD&D. That appeals to the gamer geek in me, and appealed even more once I realized that they'd simplified the system but hadn't broken or changed it, a feat which I had thought was damn near impossible. They just yanked out all of the irrelevant rules, rebalanced the rest to compensate, and the only technical complaint I could muster was that a high Intelligence no longer buys you bonus skill points when you level up. If that's the worst nitpick I can find, they've done a fantastic job.

The other thing that struck me about the game was a feature that it strongly shares with my other recent addiction, which is as good a segue as any, so here it comes: Alter Ego (requires Javascript), an online game that's two parts "The Sims" and one part well-written biography. I picked the link up from Auryanne, and I must pass on her warning here, adding my own capitalization for emphasis: DON'T CLICK UNLESS YOU'VE GOT A FEW HOURS TO SPARE.

What the games had in common was that, in a very economical way, they both created very strongly humanized characters. With a few sentences or paragraphs they could draw you into a character's problems and emotions. Neither of them did anything particularly original, but it was definitely effective. I'll try to expand on this in a later entry, because it's something I've been thinking about lately regarding my own writing.

           August 13, 2003 ... A little philanthropy .................. (Permalink)

Walking laps around a track under a starry sky probably isn't going to be the weirdest thing I've ever done at 1 a.m., but it's probably going to be among the most civic-minded.

Odd as it may sound, I'm walking for charity in a little bit more than a week's time. The American Cancer Society hosts events called the "Relay for Life" nationwide -- the many participants, organized in teams, walk continuously for 24 hours to raise cancer awareness and funds for the organization. The newspaper I work at has assembled a team. They were scrounging for people to walk in the middle of the night, and it seemed like a natural idea, what with me working that evening and getting out of the office around midnight and all.

So, yes, I'm going to ask for money (not for me -- on behalf of the charity). I'm donating at least $30 or $40 myself. Cancer is not a cause that hits especially close to home for me (although there were a few moments that had me worried), but it is a good cause, and I support it strongly.

Rather than get too long-winded in a plea for donations, though, I'd just like to leave it at this:

(PayPal button removed)

... and refer you to the page of details if you have any further questions (or want to donate via non-electronic means).

Please -- even if you're broke, or otherwise reluctant, consider pitching in a dollar. Drink water instead of a soda next time you're thirsty. You can afford a dollar, and it's still a meaningful gesture.

Thank you.

           August 18, 2003 ... Space .................................. (Permalink)

On Sunday, for the first time in over a year, I sat down around a table to do some paper-and-pencil gaming. I'll spare you the details, because hack-and-slash stories are almost universally of the "you had to be there" variety. However, I do need to note: Damn, that's the cleanest house that I've ever role-played in.

There's an old saying that goes "There are two types of people -- those who classify the world into two types of people, and those that don't." (There is also its equally well-known sister, "There are three types of people -- those who can count, and those who can't," but I digress.) Though often used as a clever epigram, there's underlying wisdom to it -- that the sort of reductionism that neatly boxes up humanity into classifications is grossly simplistic, and that any attempt to draw a dividing line on the broad spectrum of human experience is going to be arbitrary and of limited utility.

There are only a very few dichotomies that still seem useful to me after having been put through the test of experience, dichotomies like "introvert/extrovert." (There is no dividing line based on how many friends has, of course; the difference is whether one finds isolation to generally be emotionally draining and social interaction to generally be emotionally recharging, or vice versa.) The edges of those boxes are still porous, naturally, but to find someone with a foot in both seems to me to be rare. And such is the case, I realized this weekend, with the dichotomy of the Cluttered and the Non-Cluttered.

You probably have met both. The Cluttered are the hoarders, the scattered, the hobbyists. To Cluttereds, the phrase "table space" is an oxymoron. Their living rooms are laid out like Boot Camp obstacle courses, possibly complete with those rows of tires. Meanwhile, the Non-Cluttered are the rest of humanity -- those who can buy a new couch as an impulse purchase because there's actually room to put it somewhere. They are the ones who, not counting furniture, can fit their belongings in a single pick-up truck. If they have moderately large houses -- as the hosts of my gaming group did -- then standing at the far edge of the living room and looking into the kitchen is like gazing through the endless wheat fields of Kansas into Nebraska.

Experience suggests that the vast majority of humanity can be easily pigeonholed into one of these two categories. I have met several people with large amounts of Stuff but clean houses, but invariably these turn out to be Cluttereds in a stage of transition -- for example, everything's still boxed up because of a recent move; or they've just unloaded many possessions at a garage sale, and are in the process of restocking.

In other news, I've received a heartening response from my recent plea for charity. With a few days left before the Relay for Life event, outside donations have totaled $47.00. A big thank you goes out to Delcan, Max, Zephyra, Kedrayama, and my parents. Would you like to be added to that list? Will you be the one to bring my total up to my $50 fundraising goal? Donate! 100 percent of funds collected go to the American Cancer Society. Give 10 bucks, or $5, or even $1 if you're poor -- everyone reading this can afford $1, and every little bit helps.

One note: Please, if you choose to make an online donation rather than contacting me about sending a pledge through the mail, don't pay by credit card. I have now learned the hard way that PayPal only lets you accept credit card payments if you upgrade to a "business account," and for the amounts that I'm taking in, the cost of doing so is simply not worth it. ... But don't let that stop you; donate!

           August 20, 2003 ... Quick plug ............................. (Permalink)

I normally chronicle true-life events here in my journal. However, sometimes they get so epic that I feel they deserve a page of their own.

Such is the case with The Battle of Rat Corner. Go read.

In other news, life continues. Further updates forthcoming. For now, I have to get to bed, having stayed up too late working on the website as it is.

           August 27, 2003 ... Results ............................. (Permalink)

Okay, my poor journal has been staring at me all week with big puppy dog eyes, desperately wanting a few scraps of attention. I'd have loved to oblige, really, but my arm was in the jaw of the 100-pound slavering Forum Beast; the Relay for Life event ate up Saturday night, and almost continuously since then I've been bogged down in getting the board up and running. I think it's been worthwhile, though.

Speaking of the Relay for Life, I would like to take a brief moment from my sleepless schedule to acknowledge everyone who pitched in to my collection fund. In total, I turned in $96.00 to the American Cancer Society, $66 of which was solicited purely online, and the other $30 of which was my personal contribution. My gratitude, and a few extra good karma points beyond the ones you've already earned, goes out to: My parents; Kedrasix; Jagil; Zephyra; coworker Jane Smith (who slipped me some cash after reading my website); Soreth; Delcan; and Max.

My fundraising goal was $50 in outside donations, and my big nutty ideal was to hit the $100 mark, so I think it's safe to say that the drive was a success. Thank you all.

An event write-up is high on my priority list, and will be my next post once I'm free of forum maintenance chores.

In the meantime, my actions at work seem to have drawn a little bit of attention recently. Specifically, a headline I wrote has been making the rounds of our readership. It was singled out at a recent news meeting for praise; I got a message left on my answering machine at work about how wonderful it was; someone took the time to write a letter to the editor about it ... all this over a derailment of a railroad shipment of corn, and the light-hearted "A rain of grain falls mainly off the train" that a sleep-deprived mind came up with at 10 p.m. to describe it.

Still, for all the back-patting I've received, I have to say that none has meant quite so much as one compliment that snaked its way through the grapevine back to me: "By George, I think (he's) got it." The reason this was so flattering was the fact that it was run in a column printed by my employer's biggest competitor.

You know you've done good when you get an attaboy from a rival.

           August 29, 2003 ... Reality check ............................. (Permalink)

So I just learned, via my forums (where someone quoted boingboing), that Robert Anton Wilson is running for governor as a write-in candidate.

He's running as the "Guns & Dope Party" candidate (planks include: "Guns for everybody who wants them", "Drugs for everbody who wants them", and "Lotsa wild parties every night by gun-toting dopers"). First order of business on assuming office? "Fire 33% of the legislature (names selected at random) and replace them with full-grown adult ostriches." I was seriously considering voting for Larry Flynt, but I'm afraid I may have to switch loyalties now.

But anyway. That's not the point. The point is that I discovered this while at work, burst out laughing, and promptly shared the news with the rest of the office. The unanimous response:

"Who's Robert Anton Wilson?"

Except for one brave lass, who misheard me from across the room and asked, "Robert Mitchum's running?"

I corrected her, and said, "Who's Robert Mitchum?"

They all looked at me strangely.


Where did my people go? Did they all move on to the next planet on the list while I was lingering a little too long at the water cooler?

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