Showing posts from October, 2015

Remembering FASA's Doctor Who

Back in the 1980's I remember seeing FASA's Doctor Who RPG at my local Waldenbooks. Being a boxed set I couldn't flip through it but I remember being intrigued by the back cover text: The Master has stolen a weapon that will give him ultimate control of the universe and of time itself. The Daleks are invading Earth. The Cybermen are terrorizing the space lanes. And the Sontarans and the Rutans are battling to see who wins the galaxy. Only YOU, the Time Lords and Companions of the Celestial Intervention Agency, can stop these villains from changing the course of history. Your weapons are your wits and your TARDIS. To join the Doctor in his adventures to defeat the foes of the universe, you only need your imagination, a pencil, some paper, and this game.  I wasn't familiar with the television show but my father would sometimes watch it on our local PBS station, WEDW Channel 49. I eventually picked up the game and was pleased to discover the rules were remarkabl

Non-Fiction Review: A Universe From Nothing

I've been on a bit of a philosophical journey over the past few years. Always of a scientific bent, I've wrestled with some heavy-duty ideas, the biggest of which being "why is there anything?". I can handle the fact that life exists. I can handle the idea of this being the only life - I don't recall existence before I was born as being unpleasant, but if this is it I have to confess to being disappointed all the things I'll not get to see. What I find the most challenging is the fact the universe exists at all. And if there was no universe, what would there be? What is nothing? That makes the end of one's consciousness seem trivial. The religious postulation of God as first mover, made most famously by Thomas Aquinas, is unsatisfying to me. Ignoring the question of the existence of a supreme being, it seems to just shift the goalposts. (And yes, I've spent time going over Aquinas' Summa Theologica .) In A Universe From Nothing  Lawrence Kr

Exploring Some Open Issues in Dracula

I'm not sure if its's the season of the year or something else but I've definitely been in a bit of an undead kick of late. The picture here shows what my front yard looks like as we approach Halloween, with a nice zombie apocalypse in the making. Tragically, my elder daughter has told me I'm not allowed to keep the zombie display going until Thanksgiving, even with my offer of equipping them with pilgrim duds. Though my yard is decorated by zombies I've been thinking more about vampires. I recently reread Dracula  and I've been going through some of Pelgrane Press' vampire-centric Night's Black Agents , especially the Dracula Dossier . One thing I've been thinking of is some open issues introduced by the novel Dracula , all possible fodder for gaming or stories. It's worth noting that books like The New Annotated Dracula  has some great ideas for some of these open issues. One thing I wonder about is just what Dracula was hoping to achieve b

Fiction Review: Dracula

Dracula  is a novel which has entered western culture so much that even those who have not read it are familiar with many of its essentials. However, it is a novel absolutely worth reading. Dracula  is written as a collection of journal entries, newspaper clippings, letters, etc. The narrative switches from perspective to perspective. It begins with Jonathan Harker, solicitor, narrating the tale of his visit to Count Dracula of Transylvania. The villagers of the area try to warn him against going there, warnings he of course should have heeded. Dracula appears to be an older gentleman, very friendly, who is in the process of acquiring property in London with the intention of moving there. Over the course of the first chapters Harker becomes aware that he has never seen any of Dracula's servants and he only interacts with Dracula at night. He also notices he never sees Dracula eat. And worst, he realizes he is a prisoner of Dracula and contrives a plan to escape. The narration

Volkswagen and the Case of the Rogue Engineers

Wesley: I'm a Rogue Demon Hunter now. Cordelia: Wow. What's a rogue demon? - Angel , "Parting Gifts" So here's the short version of the story. At a Congressional hearing on October 8th, the head of Volkswagen's US business operations, Michael Horn, was being asked about the defeat devices on Volkswagen's diesel automobiles. Essentially, when the car was plugged in for an emissions test the software in the car would change the engine profile to drastically reduce CO 2 emissions (and reduce fuel efficiency). When not plugged in fuel efficiency and performance would be high but so would CO 2  emissions. He further elaborated, as detailed by Forbes magazine : Management knew nothing about it, of course. “No supervisory meeting authorised this,” said Mr. Horn. “This was something individuals did.” So a handful of software engineers in Wolfsburg were solely responsible for a problem affecting an estimated 11m vehicles worldwide. Seriously.

Some Kickstarter Loot - Tunnels & Trolls and The Dracula Dossier

Hey look more stuff to distract me! I came home today  to a pair of packages, one with the new Tunnels & Trolls Deluxe Edition and one with The Dracula Dossier , a campaign for Night's Black Agents. My experience with Tunnels & Trolls is fairly limited - I've played a few one-off games way back in middle and high school. It's a game that looks a lot like D&D, with a series of stats that are generated by 3d6. It has a small number of classes - warriors, wizards, and rogues are the big three. Warriors and wizards are pretty self-explanatory. Rogues are anyone else - they can learn to use magic, they can fight decently well. There's also the warrior-wizard, a class really difficult to qualify for (but one I saw a lot of now that I think of it...). The Deluxe Edition is expanded from this baseline with more difficult-to-qualify for classes. Unlike classic D&D stats go up over time - they go up a lot. Since wizards used to expend strength to cast spells, y

Art Spiegelman's Maus

For some reason I have to chuckle as I consider the first of Art Spiegelman's creations I encountered was not his masterpiece Maus  but rather his Garbage Pail kids - hideous trading cards that my brother and his friends obsessed over in the mid-1980's. I think that goes to show we're all capable of all sorts of creations. I might be delaying diving into what I'm planning on writing because Maus is not an easy read. It is a story within a story, telling of Art in the 1970's and 1980's interviewing his father  Vladek about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. Art was born after the Holocaust to his parents who both survived - though Art finds himself competing with older "ghost" brother Richieu, who did not survive the war. Maus  makes use of a convention of assigning the various ethnic groups a type of anthropomorphized animal. Jewish characters are mice, Germans are cats, Americans are dogs, Poles are pigs, etc. It's difficult to describ

Always Watching You...

There's been a lot of talk about the NSA watching everyone's every move. While there's absolutely a legitimate concern there it's amazing the amount of information we share freely (or for access to Candy Crush). I'm not exempting myself - googling myself reveals a ton of information, some going as far back as the mid-1990's. There's not anything particularly embarrassing out there, but that's not fully the point. I've begun pursuing my Master's Degree at Brandeis University in Strategic Analytics, dealing with a ton of data science related topics. One of the topics we are going over this week is ethics in data science. Our source material included an Alessandro Acquisti Ted Talk on the loss of privacy. It's a really engaging video - I'd absolutely encourage checking it out. While this video is in some ways filling me with an urge to buy a small cabin somewhere in the Northwest Territories of Canada, it does serve as a useful

Film Review: The Martian

"Houston, be advised: Rich Purnell is a steely-eyed missile man." Last December I read Andy Weir's The Martian . My blogging frequency was pretty low back then, so alas, no review was ever written. Last Friday my group at work went on an outing to see film version of The Martian  at one of those funky luxury theaters with reclining seats and everything. Must talk with the wife about securing such a setup at home... Like any good geek, I love space. I knew everything there was to know about the Apollo missions, all but two of the moon landings happening before my birth, and the space shuttle, which I eagerly awaited the first flight of (and was disappointed by countless delays). I had my Space Shuttle Operator's Manual as well as the fictional Mars One Crew Manual . I've also devoured The Case For Mars . I'd like to point out I'm massively disappointed no human has walked on Mars. I'm 44 years old folks, I'd really like to live long enough

Rewind to Star Frontiers

I first saw Star Frontiers on the shelves of a Kay-Bee store in the Naugatuck Valley Mall. Neither the store chain nor the mall exist anymore. I remember being a bit confused as the box (the back cover I believe)  indicated it contained the "Expanded Rules". I assumed that meant there was a basic game I needed to get somewhere. I eventually picked it up and discovered that, yes, that boxed set was all I needed. So what was Star Frontiers? I guess you could say it was TSR's answer to GDW's Traveller RPG. It wrom the vaiouas a science fiction RPG set in "the Frontier", where the four main species of the region came together to form the United Planetary Federation (UPF). They were opposed by the vile Sathar, a worm-like alien race which was pretty much pure evil. They committed suicide rather than be captured and had a tendency to have spies from the various Frontier races. The Frontier was a loose alliance - a later adventure showcased a war breaking out

Ho-Hum, Another Mass Shooting

Image Oh look, another mass shooting, this one at Umpqua College in Oregon. Let me see if I know the script: "I'm offering my thoughts and prayers." "More people are killed in automobile accidents. Or by cancer." "Criminals don't follow the law." "2nd Amendment." "Background checks (or some other regulation) wouldn't have stopped this incident." "Now is not the time." So one at a time: I'm offering my thoughts and prayers. That's wonderful. Mass shootings still seem to be happening though. I don't think your thoughts and prayers are doing anything. More people are killed in automobile accidents. Or by cancer. I've got a ton of thoughts to this. First of all, as a nation we seem to be more than willing to work at improving automobile safety. And we also are willing to fund cancer research. But we're totally unwilling to tackle anything to do with firea