Archive for December, 2010

Modern addendum to The Devil’s Dictionary

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Smoke alarm (noun): A highly dependable device which informs you that your food is almost done, but still needs a minute or two.

A Proposed Extension of the Fermi Paradox

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Given the Fermi Paradox and working ansibles, where is our interstellar Wikipedia?

On that note, I have an idea for a book.

Hot Brown Water

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

There’s another Lynx coming. Soon, even. I haven’t posted one in a few because Cataclysm came out and, erm, ate my soul a little. And then someone casually reminded me that I’ve got an obligation to the good people of Minecraft to keep helping build a great big honking wall, and it’s Christmastime with all that that implies, and oh yeah I’m writing a book, aren’t I? (The book is coming along fine, thanks for asking. I’m not going to get it done by the end of the year, but I know why and I’m at peace with that. Oh, and Kat has a job now, so yay! Income!)

Great big honkin' wall.

Great big honkin' security issue.

Buuut that’s not what I’m here to talk about this post. I’m here to talk about hot brown water in all its charming varieties.

See, this morning I got up and decided to have tea instead of coffee. Both are perfectly valid drinks, we have a variety of each around the house, and I’m frankly quite fond of both. For some reason, though, I’d mostly forgotten the tea existed. Which is a real shame, because yada yada, the point is it got me thinking. Some folks are very particular about what sort of tea or coffee they drink; some people don’t care; some people don’t care as long as it’s whichever one of the two they prefer, and not that other stuff. Then we get into speculative fiction in all its varieties, and you start seeing variants everywhere. People drink tea in some settings, coffee (often anachronistically) in others. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy we get kavajava, which turns out to be a real thing (more or less); we can add kava to the list of “stuff people drink in real life.” In Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series we have klah, for which you can find a recipe (of an Earth equivalent, at least) in the Dragonlover’s Guide to Pern. There seems to be some fundamental law that says, “No matter what, people will drink hot brown water.”

Naturally, as I wrote Derelict, it became necessary for there to be hot brown water in it as well. In this case, our hot brown water is called canna, and it’s evolved quite a bit since I started writing. Its original role was simply to act as a stand-in for coffee in the story. I didn’t, of course, want it to be just coffee, so I gave it a distinctive spicy scent and flavor, and for a long time I left it there.

In the process of trying to remember exactly when this stopped being good enough, I started poking through the Tor.com archives. I seemed to remember an article by Jo Walton talking about sci-fi and fantasy and their severe allergy to the “call a duck a duck” school of thought. It turns out it was actually an article on calling coffee coffee. Wouldja look at that. I seriously considered scrapping this blog post at that point; it’s always a little scary when I realize that something I’m writing bears a resemblance to something I’d forgotten about. But no, I’m going somewhere with this. (Also, she claims that klah is “clearly coffee.” Sadface.)

Reading over this article again, I can pretty clearly remember that it was the cause of the final turning point in my depiction of canna. Essentially, I decided that I wanted to figure out where exactly canna stood. Was it actually just coffee by a different name? If so I should probably call it coffee – after all, everything else is translated back to modern English. I could assume that coffee has evolved into something else; the amount of time between now and the time Derelict takes place is longer than the current span of recorded history. That’s a little cheap, though. Cats haven’t evolved into squidottles, so why should coffee evolve into canna?

At some point I realized I was coming at it from the wrong direction. I was trying to figure out whether coffee would still be the main drink, and then adapt the status quo in my story to fit. What I needed to figure out was whether I wanted coffee to be the main drink, and to then adapt the drink to fit. What I ultimately decided was that I didn’t want coffee to be the drink of choice. Extant, yes; but canna is something different. Having decided this, I put the question of exactly what canna is and how it’s different on the back burner to simmer while I worked on other stuff. This eventually bore fruit.

Canna, as it turns out, is not a stimulant, nor do people normally drink it when they’re waking up. Canna is a depressant, and people normally drink it when they’re going to bed. It also has some other interesting properties – it acts as a slight suppressant for psychic ability, which makes it attractive to people such as receptive telepaths who want to shut out the world for a while. Indeed, one of the main characters in Derelict uses it for exactly this purpose. Furthermore, research into this psychic suppressant quality gave rise to psyn, a psychic stimulant – and while that has no bearing on Derelict, it makes a world of difference in some of the later stories I have planned in the setting.

This is the sort of worldbuilding that I really enjoy doing. I could have just left canna as it was – a somewhat spicy coffee analogue – and I’d probably have been perfectly happy that way. But, having taken the time to develop it more, I have something that interests me much more (and pays for its existence in the bargain).


qThose who know me in real life might find it more interesting that I was up in the morning than that I decided to have some tea. Coffee is actually more of an evening drink for me, but then I’m usually going to be up all night anyway.

Klah is brewed from the bark of a tree indigenous to Pern. Coffee, if memory serves, did not survive on the planet. I’d give her a pass and assume she meant “close enough to count,” if she hadn’t given another series mentioned in her article a pass for their hot brown water turning out to be separate and distinct from coffee in the stories.

Apropos of nothing

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Though it hasn’t been used since BC,
It’s time now to learn how to CC.
If you break all my traps
So the mobs don’t take naps
There’s a chance that I might fake a DC.

-Erich T. Wade

Sans signature, this is now my dungeon macro.

The Daily Lynx, Netherhad of Gor

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Over at Righteous Orbs, Tamarind and Chastity have weighed in on the portal discussion.

I should totally do this with my wireless network.

Patrick Rothfuss is running his annual Worldbuilders fundraiser for Heifer International. This is my second-favorite fundraiser, right after Desert Bus for Hope. Worldbuilders has actually been running for a while, but it doesn’t end until the 13th, so take a look if you’re interested. In related news, he’s asked for the word to be spread regarding a signed Brett Favre jersey that was donated, since it’s a bit off the wall for the sorts of things usually given away at Worldbuilders. To be honest I don’t actually know who Brett Favre is – my interest in football is generally limited to the occasional Superbowl commercial – but I gather he’s popular or something.

A group in Canada enjoys charity status, despite their primary goal being to “cure” homosexuals. The good news is that a number of Canadian politicians are working to remove said status.

Awesome air cannon is awesome.

Also via Lifehacker, how to make hand-pulled cotton candy. See, the problem with Lifehacker is that they put up a ton of posts and most of them are interesting – every once in a while I just have to say, “Well, hundred interesting Lifehacker items, I’m just not going to get around to you. Sorry.” This is actually why I stopped watching BoingBoing. It’s like Lifehacker on crack.

I recently caught back up on Shortpacked! after losing track of it for a while. (It has an RSS feed now!) I have to link this page (which in and of itself holds no plot spoilers which I can think of) because I can’t stop chuckling every time I see it. Ooh, this one too.

Not a link, but a quote from my friend Blake H.: “Life is a series of newspaper clippings strung together by the time it takes to read them. “ He pretty much just popped that out while we were chatting, in between linking me music on Youtube and gently chiding me for my soft rock addiction.

Writing Progress (Derelict): Er, none today. But I wrote a blog post! Yay me!

Current Music: Nothing, I’m on my laptop and left my headphones in my desktop. But I listened to a bunch of stuff on Pandora earlier, so it’s all good.

Webcomics and RSS feeds

Monday, December 6th, 2010

When I read webcomics, there are a few things I really like for them to have. Useful archives are great; I really like the ones with the little calendar pages so I can say, “Ah, yes, I stopped reading right about July of ’09, I’ll just pick up there.” Forward, back, first, and last links are quite handy. Not having a unique and special snowflake of a flash-based viewer is a basic prerequisite for me to even bother reading it. (The other day I found a webcomic that looked interesting enough for me to give the Flash viewer a try. Believe me when I say that the page loaded, then the first word bubble loaded, then they gave you time to read it before loading the next one. I found myself switching to other tabs waiting for the word bubbles until I deduced that I just didn’t care any more.)

At the very top of the list, though, is an RSS feed. Seriously, if you’re writing a webcomic and you don’t somehow include an RSS feed, I will probably not bother with it. It’s nothing personal; your webcomic is probably quite good, and in fact I know of several RSS-less webcomics that are fantastic. But the only time I don’t mind a webcomic not having one of these is if the webcomic has already ended.

See, the thing about webcomics is that they tend to update – sometimes regularly, sometimes not. I read over sixty of them. Actually, let me give you an exact count: I read sixty-nine webcomics at the moment. (Really. I counted.) Of those, sixty-eight have RSS feeds. The other one I really, really like.

Let me tell you about my webcomics addiction before I started using Google Reader. Back in those days, my regular webcomic list fluctuated around 30 or 40 webcomics, a reasonably low number, and every day I middle-clicked my webcomic folder in Firefox, stood up, walked away, and made a sandwich. (Notice how much healthier this was for me. Exercise and regular eating habits!) Five or ten minutes later I came back, sat down, and started closing tabs until I came to a webcomic that looked different. Then I’d click the “back” link to make sure I wasn’t missing anything before I started reading.

These were dark times. Sometimes it took Firefox ten seconds to close a tab. To be fair, my computer at the time was what I like to call a Garage Sale Special; parts from about ten old computers cobbled together and sitting on my desk, sans case, wheezing merrily away when I tried to do something crazy like play Half-Life 1. At any rate, life was especially awful if I missed a day or two of checking my webcomics. I had to open the webcomics and check for updates, then move back several pages (ten seconds at a time) looking for the most recent page I’d read. It was awful, I tell you.

Now days, life is a bit simpler. Once I subscribe to the feed – which isn’t always easy to find – I just do whatever it is I do until it updates. Then when fifteen or so have updated I read them all and go on with my life. If there is a very good webcomic which updates rarely or irregularly – Lackadaisy Cats, say – it’s not a problem. I don’t have to close its tab every day for a month because I don’t want to forget to check it. I don’t gradually start to resent it for being so good I want to check it but never having any updates. I just rejoice every time a new page or two comes out.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some great webcomics out there that don’t have RSS feeds. There are. Several of them I’m quite fond of. With one exception, I don’t read them any more (although to be fair there were a few other webcomics which I loved enough to keep track of that have since gained RSS feeds). Every few months I pick one or two and, if the archives are well-organized enough that I can figure out where I left off, I catch up on them. If I’m lucky the site will have updated with an RSS feed – I recently regained Shortpacked! and Girls with Slingshots this way – and sometimes I dig around a little and find an RSS feed I didn’t know about. (In this category fall Kagerou and Punch an’ Pie, which I now follow via their Livejournals, and Sinfest, which has an RSS feed but doesn’t seem to actually link it from anywhere on the site.) On the other hand, there are some pretty decent webcomics I haven’t gotten around to doing this with in over a year. Also, if a webcomic has a feed and is just starting out (or is new to me) I’ll often subscribe for a while just to see if it wins me over. This frankly doesn’t happen when the comic doesn’t have a feed.

Right, so rant over. Webcomics. Feeds. Rar.

The Daily Lynx 12/01/2010

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

In video-related news, I meant to link my friend Shaltha’s crafting videos in the last Lynx, and didn’t. How dumb of me! Check them out, they’re really quite cool. I watched the one on wire-wrapping crystals and immediately began inspecting my desk for potentially wrappable items. (A spoon, a flash drive, and a bottle of Tums, in case you’re interested.) While you’re at it, take a look at her site, Alternative Dreams – I linked it last year sometime, and it’s come a long way since then.

I know I just linked Epic Meal Time in the last Lynx, but I make a point to watch their videos when they come out. What can I say? They amuse me. So yeah, they have a new one up.

PC Gamer has been running a Minecraft series on their site, and the latest installment cracked me up. If you want to start at the beginning, it’s here.

A nifty demo video, also at PC Gamer, led me to an even niftier blog post on piracy. Fundamentally there’s not much there I haven’t read before, but it’s well-stated and well-researched, and well worth the read.

For someone who claims not to watch many Internet videos, I sure do have a lot of them to link lately. Found via Geeks are Sexy, this TED talk by Jason Fried discusses why work is a bad place to get work done.

On a side note, if you’re trying to find a discernible rhyme or reason to the order in which I link things, don’t bother; there is none. I pretty much just toss them into a file until I have enough to post, and while they sometimes wind up in the order I find them it’s not really very common.

Writing Progress (Derelict): A whopping -10 words today, which is better than it sounds.  I ripped out an old scene that was doing more harm than good, cannibalized it, and used it to shore up the replacement for that truly horrible scene I mentioned the other day.  And some other stuff, I’m sure.

Writing Project (secret project): None.

Current Music: “Hey There Delilah” by Plain White T’s, because I love this song. Every once in a while I get on a one-song kick where I’ll spend a day or two listening to one song on loop. I’m pretty sure headphones are the only reason I haven’t been found dead in a ditch yet. Oh, hey, while we’re on the topic, how ’bout one last link?

Oh, hi, class trainers. You wouldn’t happen to have a parachute . . .?

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

This post is entirely about World of Warcraft, so if you’re not interested you can leave now.  I really won’t mind.  :)

A fellow commented on the last Lynx regarding the Dalaran portals, and my reply to his comment turned out so long that I decided to write a blog post instead. It turns out I have more to say on the change than the small paragraph I afforded myself there.

Even with the portals removed, the world is definitely more connected than it was pre-BC. Old world zones have flight points everywhere now, which is really bloody nice, and Northrend now has flight points straight from the ports to Dalaran. (I hadn’t noticed this until Stephen, the commenter, pointed this out, but it’s actually a really nice change.) Hearthstones are on a 20 minute cooldown, down from the original 1 hour. So getting around isn’t nearly as difficult as it used to be. I’m still of the opinion, though, that the removal of the portals took a bit too much away. WoW is a very social game, and I believe that in an MMO there should be as few barriers to people playing together as possible.

You’re where again?

Consider a hypothetical person building a Tempest Keep run. She finds a person willing to heal it, but they’re off doing Argent Tournament dailies. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that this healer is at the tournament grounds right now, and their hearth is either on cooldown or set somewhere silly (such as near the tournament grounds).

Before the patch, when Dalaran still had portals, it was a pretty quick trip; about two minutes’ flight down to Dalaran, portal to Shatt, and then fly to Tempest Keep — I’d guess about five minutes’ flight there. All told, it was a seven- or eight-minute trip.

Post-patch, you instead need to fly from the tournament grounds all the way to Valiance Keep, then take the boat to Stormwind. Once there you ride up out of the docks to the mage district, portal to the Blasted Lands, run through the Dark Portal, and head for Tempest Keep — preferably flying there manually, since the flight paths there are rather circuitous. My memory puts this at a pretty annoying length of time, but just to make sure I’m not crazy, I did a test run.

From the Argent Tournament grounds, the flight to Valiance took six minutes. I just missed the boat to Stormwind as I arrived, adding about five minutes to my trip while I waited for it. (I did try to fly after the boat and catch it, but it barely got away.) Once I caught my boat, the trip was pretty straightforward; but the clock still read 15:48 when I landed at Tempest Keep. Note that for this test I was using 280% fly speed (I’m going to do the achievement instead of paying 5k for 310) but I had the Beast Mastery talent that adds 10% mounted speed. I also had to use a ground mount in Stormwind, because Cataclysm isn’t quite out yet.

While I was out there, I clocked the trip back to Shatt at about 3:40 (it would have been better if I’d gotten a slightly better bearing at the beginning). So correct the pre-patch estimate to about six or seven minutes. In other words it took me twice as long to get out there. It would have only been about eleven minutes if I hadn’t missed the boat in the most time-consuming way possible, but that’s a perfectly valid thing to have happen on the trip. The point remains that fifteen minutes is a very reasonable estimate.

Playing Together

For an actual TK run, that might not be so bad. Getting a PUG together can take an hour or more anyway, especially for old content, and by that time there should be a few folks out that way to start summoning people. I’m more worried about what this means for more casual players. If a friend of yours logs on and says “Hey, I only have twenty or thirty minutes but do you want to do some questing together?” there is a very real possibility that the answer will be “I’d love to, but we don’t really have time.” This is crazy. There are a lot of reasons I play WoW, but one of the big ones is that I get to hang out with friends I haven’t seen in the real world in years, or haven’t ever seen in the real world. Sometimes, when I log into an MMO, I want to play with other people.

To be fair, I used something of an extreme example – though I doubt it’s much worse than someone in Stormwind wanting to meet someone in Silithus. (Also to be fair, at least among my friends, it’s quite common to have one person farming rep in Stranglethorn, one grinding in Silithus, and one working on Tournament dailies when someone wants to do something.) If I’m playing for a few hours anyway this might not be a big deal, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want the means to reliably play alongside friends within twenty minutes of logging on (and still have time to do something). So what could be done to fix this?

My personal preference, as noted yesterday, would be to simply link all the capital cities with portals. This way players would choose whichever city they liked best as their home; Stormwind for its scenic canals, The Exodar for its surprisingly good layout (once you learn where everything is), Dalaran for its historic fountain. One of the stated purposes for the change was to make the Old World cities feel a bit more lived in, and this would certainly accomplish that. But, as was brought up yesterday, the ability to skip between the capital cities quickly is a major feature of the Mage class. It was suggested that a few staggered portals could be added, so that you don’t go straight between capital cities – just close to them. I actually really like this idea, though I’d take it a little farther than he did – his suggestion was a port from Dal to the Shattered Sun, and from Shatt to either the Exodar or Silvermoon. This sounds good, but I’d extend it so that every capital city had portals going elsewhere; as soon as one capital offers more options than another one, everybody will flock there and set their hearths.

If, on the other hand, we did get portals in every town, what would we do for the poor mages? Well, for starters, mages still have the quite enviable ability to get to the capital cities from anywhere, though anyone else would only have to run through town to get where they’re going. One possibility would be to put the portals somewhere mildy out of the way, so that the time savings are fairly noticeable; another might be to give the mages more locations to ‘port to. Alliance mages already get Theramore; the Horde gets Stonard; with Cataclysm, both factions get Tol Barad added to the list. Why not a few more? Perhaps a couple of Goblin towns – Booty Bay and Gadgetzan come to mind. This would have the added advantage of making it a bit more comfortable for mages to use the cross-faction auction house.

Ultimately though, I think the chances of any of this happening in the near future are kinda slim. I could be wrong, and I hope I am, but in the meanwhile we’ll just have to get used to the new way of getting around. We’re not without options. Those still interested in doing Northrend content may want to start with the Tournament, where for the cost of only a few days’ worth of dailies you can get a tabard that teleports you to the tournament grounds. Engineers can create a wormhole generator with a similar effect. If you’re on a character that got lucky during Brewfest, you can summon a mole machine that tunnels through the ground from . . .er . . . Outland to the Grim Guzzler? Don’t question it. Overall, even without these it’s not that bad, in a “I just spent twenty minutes of my life watching my character get to somewhere I can play” kind of way. A lot of the terrain in Azeroth is very pretty, and if I point my drake just right, I can turn to the other monitor and read an article or two while I wait.