Thursday, May 28, 2009

My First Dragonchess Set

About a year ago, I made a set with which to play dragonchess, the three-dimensional fantasy chess variant invented by Gary Gygax for a story in the 100th issue of Dragon magazine. I made the pieces out of polymer clay, painted gold and scarlet. Rather than copying the conventional Staunton chess piece design of the 19th century, I based the design on the original Persian designs that entered Europe at the beginning of the Middle Ages.

Although the first chautaranga pieces from India were representational, Islam's proscriptions against iconography caused the pieces of shatranj to assume a very abstract, nonrepresentational form. Since chess came to Europe through the Islamic world, the earliest Spanish, French, and Viking chess sets had more abstract shapes. I thought it would be an interesting variant—especially with my primitive sculpting skills. Also, I gave the pieces for the lower, upper, and middle boards different shapes (cubes, cylinders, and pyramids respectively) to help distinguish the pieces. The boards are posterboard and watercolor.

Rather than the 8x8 board of chess, dragonchess uses three 12x8 boards. Each player, both Gold and Scarlet, has 6 Slyphs, 1 Dragon, 2 Griffons, 12 Warriors, 2 Oliphants, 2 Unicorns, 2 Heros, 2 Thieves, 1 Cleric, 1 Paladin, 1 Mage, 1 King, 6 Dwarfs, 2 Basilisks, and 1 Elemental. That's 15 unit types and 42 individual figures, compared to the 5 unit types and 16 figures of orthodox chess.

I've played a few games of dragonchess since putting the set together. It is a very complicated game. Some of the pieces move similarly to orthodox chess; others move slightly differently; and nearly every piece that can move around the board does so in a different way. These moves are not at all systematic. It is confusing to keep straight the moves, blockable and unblockable and special powers of each piece, and it usually involves a lot of referring to the instructions.

Apparently Gygax didn't spend a lot of time playtesting this game.

The Lower Board...

The Middle Board...

The Upper Board...

The pieces of conventional chess...

Arranged for a game of conventional chess...

The lower board pieces (basilisk, elemental, elemental, & basilisk; dwarves in front)...

The dragonchess-specific middle board pieces (thief, paladin, cleric, & thief)...

The upper board pieces (griffin, dragon, dragon, & griffin; sylphs in front)...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cycling, Luck, Preakness...

Last Friday was Bike-to-Work Day. I always ride my bike to work anyway; I live in Old Louisville and work downtown, and most often a two-mile bike ride in the morning is very pleasant. But I support cycling to work in general, so I registered for the event.

One of the official rides into downtown ran from Iroquois Park to 4th Street Live, which is basically along my usual route. So I decided to join the cyclists as they passed by, but since the official ride departed at 7:30am, while I leave for work a few minutes before 9am, the roads were empty of bike-to-work riders by the time I left. There were events at lunchtime at 4SL, but I forgot to go until it was nearly over.

Later that evening, I got an email from the bike-to-work organizers: "Congratulations!" it said, "Your name was drawn by Terry Meiners to win a Trek 7000 commuter bikes for registering to Bike-to-Work Day!"

I was completely dumbfounded.

The next day, I went on a cycling trip to Mike Linnig's out in southwestern Jefferson County. We took the long route around the Riverwalk, had a flat tire, a detour, and a mild crash, and made much slower time than I had hoped. We got there around mid-afternoon, and I had a plate of fried gator and turtle soup to recharge. My wife drove us home because we had evening plans, and I made a few quick wagers on the Preakness before we headed out to dinner at Rocky's acrosss the river in Indiana.

We had a great table with fantastic views of the city; it was a great time to go, and they had a TV with the race on. We watched the Preakness, and I said: "OMG! I think I hit an exacta!" When I got home, I checked my tickets: not only did I hit an exacta, I hit the trifecta! I won about $150 on that race.

Of course, he whom Fortune's wheel lifts high will soon be cast down, so I was wary of coming unluck. But on the bike ride, my front tire hit a patch of mud at the bottom of a hill, and I flew over my handlebars and slid along the muddy path upside for a couple of feet. I was unharmed but for skinning my elbow, but it's at least a little bad luck to leaven what good fortune I had this weekend, aha.


Fried gator and turtle soup at Mike Linnig's...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Twilight" Reviews

I went to go see "Twilight" with my sisters &c. around Christmas. It was really beautifully filmed in the Pacific Northwest. And the premise of the film was delightfully ridiculous.

Not only is it a love story between a human girl and a vampire... The vampire is a sparkle-vampire. Srsly. He can't go in the light because everyone will see that he's a glitter vampire. It's amazing.

Book Review: Twilight (Prettier than Napoleon): Twilight is an evil book. A bad influence. Something that should be kept away from children for reasons of content and prose style. There is, as one Jezebel commenter noted, Harry/Draco fanfic that is better written. ...The problem with this book is it sums up exactly what it is to be a teenage girl, and teenage girls are callow and dumb.

...I haven't even addressed the horrendous sexual dynamics and messages in the book: guys lose control, girls have to monitor their behavior at all times lest they cause a guy to lose it and kill/rape them, and sex = death. I understand it only gets worse in future volumes, as hot-blooded Bella pushes for them to get it on and Edward argues that he can't unleash his sexual feelings without losing control and hurting her (thereby normalizing the idea that being hurt during sex is an unavoidable consequence of intimacy with a man, instead of an example of a guy being a weak-willed, inconsiderate jerk who "can't help" but cede all autonomy to his lizard brain once you take your clothes off).

What Girls Want (The Atlantic): Twilight centers on a boy who loves a girl so much that he refuses to defile her, and on a girl who loves him so dearly that she is desperate for him to do just that, even if the wages of the act are expulsion from her family and from everything she has ever known.

...The erotic relationship between Bella and Edward is what makes this book—and the series—so riveting to its female readers. There is no question about the exact nature of the physical act that looms over them. Either they will do it or they won’t, and afterward everything will change for Bella, although not for Edward. Nor is the act one that might result in an equal giving and receiving of pleasure. If Edward fails—even once—in his great exercise in restraint, he will do what the boys in the old pregnancy-scare books did to their girlfriends: he will ruin her.

And then...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Keyboard of Made-Up Languages

Or at least, alternate orthographies.

I took a $10 USB keyboard, popped off the keys, painted some of them with a $1 can of white spray paint, and drew on new characters with a fine-point Sharpie. Aside from the spray-painted keys, lots of other keys have been rearranged to preserve functionality and for other reasons: the numpad is arranged like a phone keypad rather than a computer numpad. Ukulele helped me create Unicode keyboard layouts.

The keyboard types Quikscript for Thoth Uni, and my english mode for cyrillic (mostly because I was working on it around the same time). The position of the cyrillic letters mostly match the Quikscript letters.

It took a little fine-tuning, and repositioning some of the control keys was pointless, because Ukulele can't remap all of them. But it's interesting.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

So the Henriad Begins

I have always wanted to watch a series of productiong of Shakespeare's histories, featuring some of the same actors in the same roles. Finally I have discovered "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare," produced by the BBC and Time-Life Video. So I'm watching the plays by regnal order.

"King John" was first. The production quality is not great by contemporary standards. The acting is somewhat spotty; although George Costigan was a good Philip the Bastard.

"Richard II" is much better, with Derek Jacobi as Richard, John Gielgud as John of Gaunt, and Charles Gray as the Duke of York. The fight scene at the end is somewhat dated.

The exchange between King Richard and Thomas Mowbray (Act 1, Scene III) is perhaps revealing to consider: faced with lifelong exile, Mowbray most mourns his chance to speak the English language.

King Richard II:
Norfolk, for thee remains a heavier doom,
Which I with some unwillingness pronounce:
The sly slow hours shall not determinate
The dateless limit of thy dear exile;
The hopeless word of 'never to return'
Breathe I against thee, upon pain of life.

Thomas Mowbray:
A heavy sentence, my most sovereign liege,
And all unlook'd for from your highness' mouth:
A dearer merit, not so deep a maim
As to be cast forth in the common air,
Have I deserved at your highness' hands.
The language I have learn'd these forty years,
My native English, now I must forego:
And now my tongue's use is to me no more
Than an unstringed viol or a harp,
Or like a cunning instrument cased up,
Or, being open, put into his hands
That knows no touch to tune the harmony:
Within my mouth you have engaol'd my tongue,
Doubly portcullis'd with my teeth and lips;
And dull unfeeling barren ignorance
Is made my gaoler to attend on me.
I am too old to fawn upon a nurse,
Too far in years to be a pupil now:
What is thy sentence then but speechless death,
Which robs my tongue from breathing native breath?

Excerpts from President Reagan's Speech in Berlin, June 12, 1987

As transliterated into my English mode for Cyrillic.

"Ѡи към ту Бърлын, ѡи Ъмэрыкън прэзыдынтс, быкъз ытс ар дуди ту спик, ын ѳыс плэис, ъв фридъм.

"Бъхаинд ми стѣндс ъ ѡал ѳѣт ынсърклз ѳъ фри сэктърз ъв ѳыс сыди, парт ъв ъ вѣст сысдъм ъв бэриърз ѳѣт дываидз ѳъ ынтаир кантынынт ъв Юръп. фръм ѳъ балтык, сѣѹѳ, ѳоз бэриърз кът ъкрас Ѕърмъни ын ъ гѣш ъв барбд ѡаир, канкрит, даг рънз, ѣнд гард тѣѹрз. фарѳър сѣѹѳ, ѳэыр мэи би но вызыбл, но абвиъс ѡал. бът ѳэр рымэин армд гардз ѣнд чэкпоитс ал ѳъ сэим—стыл ъ ръстрыкшън ан ѳъ раит ту травъл, стыл ѣн ынструмынт ту ымпоз ъпан ордынэри мын ѣнд ѡымын ѳъ ѡыл ъв ъ тотѣлытэриън стэит. Ет ыт ыз хыр ын Бърлын ѡэр ѳъ ѡал ымърѕыз мост клырли; хыр, къдынг ъкрас йор сыди, ѡэр ѳъ нуз фодо ѣнд ѳъ тэлъвыжън скрин хѣв ымпрынтыд ѳыс брудъл дывыжън ъв ъ кантынынт ъпан ѳъ маинд ъв ѳъ ѡърлд. стѣндынг быфор ѳъ Брѣндынбърг Гэит, эври мѣн ыз ъ Ѕърмън, сэпърэидыд фръм хыз фэло мын. Эври мѣн ыз ъ Бърлынър, форсд ту лѹк ѣт ъ скар.

"...ын ѳъ 1950з, Крушчев пръдыктыд: "Ѡи ѡыл бэри ю." Бът ын ѳъ ѡэст тъдэи, ѡи си ъ фри ѡѹрлд ѳѣт хѣз ъчивд ъ лэвыл ъв праспэрыди ѣнд ѡэл-биынг ънпрэсыдынтыд ын хюмын хысдъри. Ын ѳъ Камюныст ѡърлд, ѡи си фэилйър, тэкнълаѕыкъл бѣкѡърдныс, дыклаинынг стѣндърдс ъв хэлѳ, ивън ѡънт ъв ѳъ мост бэисык каинд#151;ту лыдл фуд. Ивын тъдэи, ѳъ Совиът Юнйън стыл кѣнат фид ытсэлф. Ѣфдър ѳиз фор дэкэидз, ѳын, ѳэир стѣндс бъфор ѳъ ынтаир ѡърлд ѡън грэит ѣнд ынъскэипъбл кънклужън: Фридъм лидз ту праспэръди. Фридъм ръплэисыс ѳъ эиншънт хэитрыдс ъмънг ѳъ нэишънз ѡыѳ камыти ѣнд пис. Фридъм ыз ѳъ выктър.

"Ѣнд нѣу ѳъ Совиътс ѳымсэлвз мэи, ын ъ лымыдыд ѡэи, би къмынг ту ъндърстѣнд ѳъ ымпортынс ъв фридъм. Ѡи хыр мъч фръм Маскѣѹ ъбѣѹт ъ ну палыси ъв ръформ ѣнд опыннэс. Съм пълыдыкъл прызънърз хѣв бын рълисд. Съртън форын нуз брадкастс хѣв бын пърмыдыд ту апърэит ѡыѳ грэидър фрыдъм фръм стэит кънтрол.

"Ар ѳиз ѳъ быгынингз ъв пръфѣѹнд чэинѕыз ын ѳъ Совиът стэит? Ор ар ѳэи токын ѕэсчърз, ынтындыд ту рэиз фалс хопс ын ѳъ Ѡэст, ор ту стрэингѳын ѳъ Совиът сыстым ѡыѳѣѹт чэинѕинг ыт? Ѡи ѡэлкъм чэиѕ ѣнд опыннэс; фор ѡи бълив ѳѣт фридъм ѣнд сыкюрыди го тъгэѳър, ѳѣт ѳъ ѣдвѣнс ъв хюмын лыбърди кѣн онли стрэингѳын ѳъ каз ъв ѡърлд пис. ѳэир ыз ѡън саин ѳъ Совиътс кѣн мэик ѳѣт ѡѹд би ънмыстэикъбл, ѣнд ѡѹд ѣдвѣнс дръмѣдыкли ѳъ каз ъв фридъм ѣнд пис.

"Ѕынъръл Сэкрътэри Горбъчав, ыф ю сик пис, ыф ю сик праспэрыди фор ѳъ Совиът Юнйън ѣнд Исдърн Юръп, ыф ю сик лыбърълызэишън: Към хыр ту ѳыс гэит! Мр. Горбъчав, опын ѳыс гэит! Мр. Горбъчав, тэир дѣѹн ѳыс ѡал!"

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Compleat Magic Shop

In a d20 world, a store that caters to mages, wizards, and sorcerers will have a wide variety of strange items, but none matches the variety of the Compleat Magic Store, which attempts to stock every spell component a wizard could need.

Every magic store will stock spell component pouches, spellbooks, parchment, and rare inks worth hundreds or thousands of gold pieces. A magic store that caters to divine spellcasters as well as arcane ones might stock some other things, such as papers scribed with holy texts and more expensive incenses.

Some components may be difficult to carry portably. Blood should be alchemically preserved, and other items that can spoil should be dried or pickled. Live insects can be carried in wire or wicker cages. Colonies of phosphorescent moss should be packaged in dark stone jars with a pamphlet on their care, including daily watering and sunning.

In most stores, the most valuable items carried will be gemstones, including 100-gp pearls, 1,000-gp black sapphires, 1,000-gp sapphires, 1,000-gp diamonds, 1,000-gp jacinths, valuable onyx and black onyx gems, as well as many hundreds of gold pieces worth of powdered diamond, emerald, ruby, sapphire, opal, jade, amber, crushed pearls, silver, and gold. Every magic store serving even a small number of adventurers should stock barrels full of diamond dust and crates of enormous diamonds.

The compleat magic shop should have several shelves with porcelain jars of tallow, gum arabic, bitumen, soft clay, brackish water, and vinegar, as well as one-ounce vials of sweat, tears, alchemically preserved blood, alchemically preserved black dragon blood, mercury, pitch, water, aqua vitae, aqua fortis, molasses, sweet oil, honey, giant squid ink, potions of bull's strength, and whitewash. Remember, there are eight drams to the ounce!

In addition to the above, the compleat magic store's inventory will consist of at least the following...

Groceries, including: wine, pork rind, butter, fat, raw meat, lumps of alum, and tiny tarts.

Tailored items and equipment, including: spools of thread, spools of string, spools of knotted string, small silk squares, squares of red cloth, patches of cured leather, gauze, miniature cloaks, tiny bags, small bags, soft cloth gloves, sturdy leather gloves, snakeskin gloves, and small leather loops.

Metalwork, including: small iron rods, small silver rods, silver pins, one-pound silver bars, thin sheets of lead, thin sheets of iron, bar magnets, copper wire, silver wire, gold wire, tiny bells, small pieces of mirror, small silver mirrors, tiny silver whistles, tiny steel razors, miniature brass hearing trumpets, small metal speaking horns, and brass keys.

Glasswork and ceramics, including: small glass rods, small sheets of glass, glass beads, glass cones, glass eyes, crystal beads, crystal hemispheres, crystal marbles, porcelain spheres, and porcelain cones.

Animal products, including: wool, beeswax, honeycomb, white chicken wing feathers, hummingbird feathers, owl feathers, eagle feathers, bat fur, cat fur, bloodhound fur, bull hair, fox hair, horse hair, dried bull dung, dried eagle droppings, dried fox dung, dried owl dung, dried bat guano, powdered animal hoof, eyelashes, basilisk eyelashes, rakshasa eyelashes, ogre mage eyelashes, pickled raptor eyes, pickled hen hearts, chicken bones, chicken eggshells, snake eggshells, snake scales, dried adder stomachs, dried snake's tongues, dried tentacles from a giant octopus or squid, powdered herring scales, spider webs, chameleon skins, turtle shells, dried grasshopper legs, dried fireflies, empty cocoons, and rotten eggs.

Vegetable products, including: phosphorescent moss, forked and straight twigs, dried rose petals, short reeds, licorice root shavings, powdered corn extract, powdered rhubarb leaf, powdered dried carrot, powdered garlic, skunk cabbage leaves, wood chips, wood splinters, powdered peas, nut shells, sesame seeds, mushroom powder, and saffron.

Mineral powders, including: soot, salt, sand, loam, grave dirt, earth from a ghoul's lair, powdered iron, granite dust, powdered lime, powdered charcoal, various colored powders, powdered mica, mica chips, talc, powdered sulfur, and powdered chrysolite.

Stones, including: flints, lodestones, granite cubes, square stone chips, copper pieces, zinc, iron pyrite, brimstone, agates, clear quartz prisms, sunstones, and pebbles.

Miscellaneous items, including: wooden statues of archery targets, darts, crystal rods stuffed with phosphorescent moss, clothing worn by ghouls, shards of bone from undead creatures, small candles, tiny fans, sponges, small clay models of ziggurats, tindertwigs. sticks of incense, will o'wisp essence. live crickets, live spiders, live fireflies, and pieces of iron from an iron golem, war machine, or hero's armor.

Many of the more expensive items a magic shop might sell will not be stock, but commissioned items. A well-run magic store should be able to contract craftsmen able to construct masterwork rings, wands, weapons, armor, staves, and most of the following: an exceptionally well-crafted an expensive chest, worth 5,000 gp, and a small replica; a jade circlet worth 1,500 gp; a doll of the mage, worth 5 gp; four strips of ivory worth 50 gp each; an ivory plaque worth 50 gp; a statuette of the mage carved of elephant ivory and decorated with gems, worth 1,500 gp; a miniature portal carved from ivory, worth 5 gp; a small piece of polished marble, worth 5 gp; a tiny silver spoon, worth 5 gp; a mirror of highly polished silver worth 1,000 gp; two statues, black and white, of canines with small iron bars attached (worth 50 gp altogether); a tiny lens of ruby or sapphire set in a small golden loop, worth 1,500 gp; a miniature platinum sword with a copper grip and pommel, worth 250 gp; and small forked metal rods of various sizes and materials.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

2009 Derby Disclosure

Dunkirk and Pioneerof The Nile, and either Friesan Fire or Mr. Hot Stuff.


Pioneerof The Nile placed, but watching Mine that Bird run from the back after getting slammed out of the gate was some great racing.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Oaks 2009 Disclosure

Justwhistledixie scratched, so I have to go with Rachel Alexander, the crazily popular favorite.

For exotics, I'm thinking Stone Legacy, Nan, and Flying Spur.


W00t! It's not been a good day for picking horses, but the Rachel Alexander-Stone Legacy exacta has me up for the day.

I'm a runner

Today is my birthday. I am now 30.

I'm at home watching the horseraces on TV; I have a growler of BBC American Pale Ale, some Ommegang Rare Vos, and my wife is bringing home Mexican food for dinner (I associate Mexican food with horseraces for some reason; I think its coz of Sante Fe Cafe around the corner from Churchill Downs). My sister and maybe some friends are coming over later, we're gonne watch "Logan's Run" and "The Wicker Man" after the Oaks.

That's the way for a great birthday.