Thinking Out Loud

all of my ideas are works in progress

What Ham Radio Could Learn From RPGs

Ever since I was a kid, I was peripherally interested in amateur radio. I think it was the idea of being able to talk to people from all over the world in the days before the Internet. But back in the day, Morse code was a requirement for even the most basic license, and I didn't have the focus to self-teach it, so that interest went on the shelf.

As an electrical engineering student who's interested in power grid stability, infrastructure resilience, and is a little paranoid about solar flares, I've circled back to ham radio from an emergency preparedness point of view, and lo, there is no longer a Morse section to obtaining a license. Because of logistics, I won't be able to take the exam for a few more months, but when I do, I'll be sitting for both the introductory Technician class license and the more robust General class license all in one go. (Heck, if I get bored, I may as well go for the ultimate Amateur Extra ticket—I have the time.)

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The Friday Five for February 17, 2017
1. Do you take any daily prescription medications?

No, but I'm supposed to. There's been a series of flubs between my doctor, my insurance, my pharmacy, and me, so I've been off my cholesterol medication for months.

2. Do you take any daily OTC (over the counter) medications?

No. I have taken fish oil and melatonin regularly, but I've lapsed.

3. Do you take vitamins?

Not as regularly as I should. I'm chronically vitamin D deficient.

4. When you are sick, do you take OTC remedies or immediately go to your doctor?

Usually OTC. Things have got to be pretty bad for me to take myself to a doctor. Not because I have a problem with them, just a time/money/convenience thing.

5. Do you take aspirin?

Not generally. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are my go-to drugs for that sort of thing.

From 2016 to 2017
Goals for 2016:
  • Reread more books - failed. I used to average a book a week, but I was also counting 20-page picture books I read for the kids. I set my goal low to account for not counting [most] children's books and for rereading books, and I still didn't read as many new books as I intended. Didn't reread a single one that I intended to.
  • Continue kicking ass in my engineering classes - partially complete. I felt I did well in Calculus I but got a poor grade - I'm pretty sure they actually lost my final exam. Felt I did poorly in Calculus II but got a decent grade. Did pretty-to-very well in English composition, public speaking, intro to engineering, physics I and chemistry. AS graduation and transfer pushed back to December 2017 - having trouble sustaining the courseload I would like.
  • Be more vigilant about recycling - completed, though still room for improvement with glass and white office paper.
  • Get a real-time RPG group going - completed, and will likely have an in-person group starting later this month. I'm currently learning Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition and writing up a worldbuild to that effect.

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About a year ago, I started becoming interested in Judaism. I had and still have this ominous but as-yet-baseless premonition that in the near future it's going to get really difficult to be a Mormon in this world, and if anyone knows the secret to maintaining your faith and cultural identity in the face of persecution...

So one thing led to another and we ended up observing Hanukkah this year. It was weird and awkward at first, because I've never known anyone who observed Hanukkah, but by the end of it, the kids and I were really getting into it. It led to a lot of great gospel conversations and it resonates deeply with a lot of important Mormon doctrines about temples, miracles, consacration, covenants, commandments, and being a light in the world. I think we're going to make it a regular part of our holidays, but we're going to need a real menorah, because the one I made is a fire hazard.

My Politics 2016

As mentioned, my political stances are kind of all over the map. I've been trying to make sense of some sort of underlying theme or logic that ties together. Then, when I was shopping for a third-party candidate, I found myself looking at specific issues:

  1. Are they Pro-Life?
  2. Are they pro-environment?


  1. Are they generally open-borders/free trade?

And guess what? None of the major or minor candidates or parties are yes on all. And now more than ever that strikes me as really weird because this is the pattern that emerges: in politics, I care about life and the quality of life, and beyond that I kind of don't care.

IssuesCollapse )

So, I'm voting McMullin tomorrow.

No, he's not a perfect candidate. He's more hawkish than I'd like and too friendly with fossil fuels, but if I wanted a candidate that perfectly matched me on every issue with no consideration of the chance of winning, I'd just write my own name in. I know my vote is not likely to make a difference in this district, but I can't in good conscience vote for either of the major candidates. So, the question for me is, who can I vote for that will best signal to the system that I'm dissatisfied with the choices that are offered to me? McMullin is the closest match to my views, and signals that 'I'm a voter worth courting, but the menu sucks' better than abstaining.

I think Clinton is a tolerable candidate. It should go without saying that she's vastly superior to the other guy. I'm certain she's capable of doing the job and if 'a vote for McMullin is a vote for Clinton' I can certainly live with that. Here's the thing, though:

Basically everyone is horrible, selfish, and petty, and we're only able to function in and as a society because we all pretend really hard and fairly convincingly that we're not.

Basically every politician at the national level is in some way corrupt. Saying Clinton is corrupt is like saying Trump is a misogynist. Duh, that's not news, everyone knows that already, everyone has always known that. But American politics is only able to function because our politicians can pretend convincingly that they're not especially corrupt and, as a courtesy, we all pretend that we believe them. Clinton fails to convincingly pretend that she's not corrupt. Nixon's facade came crashing down in his second term and rendered him unable to continue governing. If she's elected, it doesn't bode well. But, then, it couldn't bode any worse.


Dungeon Fever

Let me tell you about my campaign.

Except for a couple one-shots and a lot of bad PbP, I haven't had anything that could be called a proper gaming group since Texas, about six years ago. Because of geography, work schedules, and baby stuff, an in-person or real-time online group wasn't an option. Then, nine months ago, I joined Reddit, which has a lfg community. I happened to be online at the right moment and was the first to respond to a request for players for an online game, and I got in as a player. For about the past six months I've been playing Pathfinder using Teamspeak and roll20, which is about as close as it comes to a proper gaming group without being in a room together. And it was good to play again.

The other guys in the group were a bunch of university students that mostly all knew each other in real life. Their philosophy of play was pretty much, 'start drunk, end drunker'. A lot of genital-related stabbings. They weren't new at it, but even the GM was fairly vague on the rules - not in the, 'oh, I'll just fudge it' way, in the 'wait, how do I calculate spell save DCs again?' way.

(For the non-gamers, imagine an amusing, friendly, but also mildly annoying co-worker came to you three or four times a day, every day, to ask you to explain to them how to print a document. That's what they were like.)

After just one session, I knew this wasn't a group I wanted to commit myself to for the long haul, but I wanted to stick with it a while to get back into the groove of things. The original plan was to play every other week, but everyone wants to play more, they caught on that I was an experienced GM, and asked me to run a second campaign for them in the alternating weeks. It actually ended up being one of my longest-running campaigns.

This wasn't a group interested in my worldbuilding, carefully-crafted plots, or deep roleplaying. So I came up with a campaign that would just let them kick down doors and get cool treasures and powers.

The premise of Dungeon Fever was that a group of phenomenally wealthy and powerful adventurers had retired and set up a series of dungeons and organized dungeon-crawling as a professional tournament sport. The PCs were one team participating in the competition. I had created opportunities for them to interact with their team manager, trainers, fans, sponsors, and rival teams, but mostly they just cut straight to the dungeon of the week.

A lot of groups start at 1st-level and die out in what seems like a long slog between 2nd- and 3rd-level, so I started them off at 4th level and just leveled them up every tier of the tournament - no XP tracking, very rapid advancement, max hp each level. I had a different theme for each dungeon (jungle, desert, arctic, hell, underground, volcano, etc.), and a different objective (navigate a maze, rescue a captive, capture and defend a location for some amount of time, etc.).

It actually turned into a good boot camp for them. Since most groups seem to die young in the first few levels, they never have to learn to face more interesting enemies or use more interesting powers. For some reason (maybe the alcohol) they still have trouble remembering what to roll when, even when it's something like an attack roll that's the same roll several times a night. But they have learned that some enemies are immune to fire, you will need to bring more than fireball, burning hands, and scorching ray to the table. Some enemies have damage resistance, so now everybody knows to carry a cold iron backup weapon in case I drop an evil fey on them. The fighter started wearing Wisdom-improving gear so he doesn't get mind-controlled by vampires again, and everyone now carries antitoxin, scrolls of remove curse and potions of restoration. Now, when someone has an idea of how to solve a problem, he will usually tell everyone what his idea is before implementing it. I'm kind of proud of how much they've improved under my tutelage.

The campaign wrapped a couple weeks ago. Right now I'm focusing on classes and writing a set of simple pregenerated adventures for an event that I'm running for the local library. When that's over, there's a strong chance I may be able to get an in-person group cobbled together. And if I can't, roll20 has a large enough community that I can likely find a real-time game made up of actual adults who don't disappear for three weeks when the next cool video game comes out.


School Bureaucracy

A few years ago I took anatomy and physiology at Central Virginia Community College in preparation to apply to the radiography program before I learned that you can't do the radiography program through any combination of night and online classes. I had them read in my BYU transcript, but at the time I was 'not a degree-seeking student' so they did the quick version.

I switch to Northern Virginia Community College's electrical engineering program because I can do it online, and since it's all part of the Virginia Community College System, I don't have to deal with transferring or transcripts. But they still only have the skimmed evaluation of my BYU transcript, so I have to fight with someone every time I sign up for a class because they can't be sure that a BA in Humanities is equivalent to having taken first-year English composition. Now that I am a degree-seeking student and I've discovered that this is the root of the problem, I've done the paperwork to have a full evaluation of my transcripts done, and I shouldn't have to do this again.

I have some computer knowledge, my engineering program suggests I should be able to get into a class that improves my birds:stones ratio without prerequisites, but the course catalog begs to differ.

Advisor gives me the email of the dean in charge of the program, tells me he's in charge of deciding whether to let me into the class.

I write an email detailing a bit about what I do and don't know about computers. He says it "sounds like you have some engineering experience" [snrk] but it's not his decision, ask the guy who actually knows about computers and engineering.

Guy who actually knows about computes and engineering says sounds good, but he can't give me permission because the computer science classes are in the school of business [?!], so ask him.

Guy in the school of business says sounds good, go ask my administrative assistant to make it so.

I'm taking 13 credits this summer, which I think officially makes me a full-time student for the first time in just over 10 years. I've finally got enough prerequisites out of the way that I can take two or three required classes at a time, and once my transcripts kick in I shouldn't have to worry about generals any more. After this summer, I have 29 credits left to go (possibly fewer), so I should be able to complete my AS by August 2017 and transfer to Old Dominion University to finish my BS.



Everyone shut up.

Pie crust. Greased muffin tin. Circles. You know the drill.

Approximately equal amounts: dried, chopped Mediterranean fruits (e.g. apricots, dates, whatever); chopped nuts (e.g. almonds, pistachios, whatever); sugar

A couple shakes of cinnamon, a couple splashes of lemon juice.

375°F, 10-12 minutes.

Pesach Sameach.


Kaylee 2, South Dakota

We had breakfast soft tacos for dinner the other night, because we had a lot of eggs we needed to get through and also that's just how we roll sometimes. Kaylee loves tortillas and anything in them.

Kaylee picks up her taco with one hand. "Two hands!" she says enthusiastically.
Promptly dumps out contents of taco onto plate. Eats empty tortilla with delight.
"'Tia!" she demands, reaching for another full taco from the serving dish. We gently suggest she eat the eggs and sausage from her first taco, now cooling on her plate. Kaylee voices the opinion that this is a bad idea and that suggesting it is a major tragedy.
"'Tia!" she screams. I fetch her an empty tortilla. She again announces that this course of action is wholly inadequate and probably the worst thing that has ever happened.
I take the empty tortilla from her hand, scoop the spilled contents of the first taco into it, and hand it back to her as a full taco.
"Two hands!" she announces, gripping the taco with one hand.
Promptly dumps out contents of taco onto plate. Eats empty tortilla with delight.

Stephanie's paternal grandmother passed away the other week. We drove to South Dakota to attend the funeral. We celebrated Kaylee's second birthday the night before leaving because we were going to be on the road on her birthday. Then Stephanie's parents had a little birthday celebration for her when we arrived, late evening in South Dakota. Then the night before we left to come home, we observed Stephanie's mother's birthday while the whole family was there, so it's just been birthday, birthday, birthday.

Kaylee is a more stereotypical toddler girl than Emma was. She has big tantrums about every two weeks, shows interest in roleplaying with dolls and stuffed animals. Mostly, though, she's into stacking things and doing whatever Emma's doing.

Magic Beyond

I'm going to start running a twice-monthly real-time RPG online. I'm not quite sure when it will start yet - probably late February or early March, after Sanzo's born and things have stabilized. I've already got the campaign introduction set up and applications are open.

It's a high-magic setting. Most of what I've written is little more than taking Pathfinder magic to its logical extreme. Kinda like the idea behind Eberron, but not as dark.

What I'm concerned about is, I've never run a high-magic setting like this before, and I may not have thought out all the implications. I'd like to invite people to look this over and pester me about, "If they have so much magic, why don't they x?" or "If they have so many people, how to they y?" so that I can polish off any rough edges before I start recruiting in earnest.

Magic Beyond Campaign Reference (comments open)

2015 in Review

Lots of big changes. Got out of debt, applied to library science programs, got rejected by library science programs, planned a move to China, cancelled move to China when we found out we're pregnant, met my savings goal, quit my retail job, started my engineering program, bought a minivan, bought a house in the suburbs, did a lot of renovation, diagnosed myself with some variety of seasonal depression, and started self-medicating with St. John's wort and phototherapy.

It has not been a good year for movies. The best:

  • My Girlfriend is an Agent 3.5/5
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron 3/5
  • Big Hero 6 3/5
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3/5
No real honorable mentions.

Anime's been okay.

  • Magi: The Kingdom of Magic 4/5
  • Yona of the Dawn 4/5
  • Fate/stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 3.5/5
  • Chaika: The Coffin Princess 3/5

Pretty good year for books:

  • Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliott Friedman, 5/5
  • Proofiness by Charles Seife, 4.5/5
  • The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher, 4/5
  • Phoebe and her Unicorn by Dana Simpson, 4/5
  • Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, 4/5
Though it doesn't really meet most of my criteria for being a great book (e.g. would voluntarily read again), I was surprised how much I enjoyed and got out of The Odyssey.

It is my intention to reread more books in the new year. Books like 1984 which I read in high school but may be more relevant and meaningful to me now, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I thought was so hilarious and so subversive when I was a teenager but I'm not even sure I would find funny now, and Feist's Riftwar Saga, which may have played an important role in forming my tastes in fantasy fiction and I want to know why.

My primary goal is to continue kicking ass in my engineering classes. I also intend to be more vigilant about recycling. And somehow or other, I will get a real-time RPG group going now that I'm not working nights (it will probably still have to be online).



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