Thinking Out Loud

all of my ideas are works in progress

They "Joy" of Joy School

Because of our geographic and economic circumstances, it's difficult for our kids to get a lot of mid-week social interaction with other kids their age. It's not stunting their development, but it would be nice to have a playdate or something. So when a group of stay-at-home moms from a different congregation that shares our church building made overtures to Stephanie about running a Joy School (for the uninitiated, a sort of low-key home-school preschool where parents take turns teaching so the other parents get a break of a few hours), we were interested in participating.

The thing is, Stephanie works and I'm a stay-at-home dad. A few weeks ago, I brought Kaylee to the 'intro' class and everything seemed to go fine.

Then the other moms had a secret meeting wherein they decided that a father taking a preschooler to the bathroom was the scariest thing ever, and that I would need to be chaperoned in my own home. They sent the alpha hen to convey this decision to me, and I said, yeah, I understand, I wouldn't want anyone to feel uncomfortable. But then as the real start date approached, I realized that, I'm actually not okay with being treated like a sex offender when I'm not, in fact, a sex offender.

So I got back with alpha hen and said, no, you can either treat me equally with everyone else, or you can kick me out. So they had another round of meetings behind my back, because heaven forbid I should be allowed to present my point of view, or hear anyone else's point of view first hand, or in general be treated like a grown-up.

I tried to find out what the heck was going on. I kept getting told, "It's because they don't know you well," which is BS because Stephanie is as much a stranger to them as I am and I'm absolutely sure she wouldn't have been subjected to the same scrutiny. Not that any of them made any effort at all to get to know me before passing judgement.

So, frustrated with both being treated like a second-class parent and being kept in the dark, I dropped an explanation of my position in the group message on Facebook. I was expressive, but I wasn't burning any bridges. I even suggested that, hey, everyone could use a co-teacher for general preschooler-wrangling. But if something is mandatory for me and optional for everyone else, I'm out.

I was told that's just the world we live in and that we should all just accept double standards.

Alpha hen called me up tonight in a last ditch attempt to manipulate me into accepting my parole.

"You want Kaylee to be able to participate, don't you?"

It won't cost much, just your sense of justice.

"I see from your Facebook that you like to cook. What if you just brought snacks?"

Would that be treating me as an equal with the other parents?

"How about if you let Kaylee come and you don't have to teach at all?"

That addresses my concern how?

"Well, if you want to be a part of the group, you have to compromise something."

"You know, last year they considered inviting your family but decided not to. I'm the only one that's reaching out to you."

"That's just how things are in our culture."

And I ran out of different ways to say, 'no, thank you, I'd like to be treated as an equal' and being deflected with reasons why I should accept the terms and be grateful that they would even stoop to include me, so I accused her of being more concerned with what her friends think than what is right, and she countered that the real wrong here is that I was sarcastic in the group chat and that I was being stubborn.

And that's how I got disinvited from Joy School.

Now there's a flurry of chatter on Facebook, alternately trying to smooth things over and accusing Stephanie and I of being oversensitive.

Alternate Casting Attributes

Since time immemorial (or, you know, at least the early 1980's), Dungeons & Dragons and its successors have handed down a framework for spellcasting that has remained largely unchanged.

The core casting classes are:

  • Wizards, who learn magic by studying books or other magical writings, run off of Intelligence.
  • Clerics, who get magic from the god(s) they worship, and Druids and Rangers, who get magic from their relationship with nature, all run off of Wisdom.
  • Bards, who get magic from their music, Paladins, who get magic from a Lawful and/or Good god, and Sorcerers, who get magic from having weird ancestors, all run off of Charisma.

To boil down the mechanics:

  • Intelligence correlates to more book learning, more languages, and more skill points (in the editions that use them). This offsets a wizard's low skill-points-per-level (all the pure casters have poor skill points) and tends to make them well-read on all subjects, not just magic.
  • Wisdom covers a grab bag of abilities like animal handling, wilderness survival, non-magical healing, and interpersonal and situational awareness. It also feeds into Will saves, which let you resist all sorts of mental attacks. Most pure casters have strong Will saves regardless, but clerics and druids get a double dose of incorruptibility.
  • Charisma covers the social skills, meaning that sorcerers often wind up as the face of the party, even though there's nothing else mechanical about the class that would suggest it otherwise. (Bards are stylistically a natural fit for 'face' role, and paladins can go either way.)

Okay, so what? Well, each of those attributes ties in with other game features and even character personality. This has led to baked-in stereotypes that don't necessarily make sense, and a lot of mechanical weirdness:

  • The wizard is probably better at boat-building, beer-brewing, and blacksmithing than anyone else in the party, even though she's spent most of her life in a library.
  • The sorcerer whose undead nature is so strong that even zombies think she's a zombie is probably more pleasant to be around than a cleric of sunshine and daisies.
  • An amoral druid is more resistant to temptation than a consecrated paladin.

The three mental attributes aren't equal in value, but there's nothing particularly game-breaking if we decided that a class' spellcasting ran off a different attribute. Let's explore a few alternatives:

  • The Intelligence Bard Bards already get Bardic Knowledge and ample skill points. Boosting it with high Intelligence makes them almost all-knowing, enough skill points to actually put them in all of their class skills, and languages get them in as ambassadors and translators. This is a bard more interested in memorizing all the lore than being at the center of a crowd, really a living library. Possibly OP, but perhaps less annoying than the bard that needs to be the center of attention all the time.
  • The Intelligence Cleric Clerics of more legalistic faiths might as well get their spells through Intelligence, exercising their faith in theological argument. They'd be slightly more prone to temptation and corruption because they're better able to see both sides of an issue. This is an urban and urbane cleric, cosmopolitan and erudite.
  • The Intelligence Ranger This is a little odd, but this ranger is less 'Lord of the Wilderness' and instead focuses on knowledge of favored enemies. This dovetails nicely with urban ranger archetypes, this is a guy who knows all his enemies' weaknesses, speaks their language, and uses their own nature against them.
  • The Wisdom Paladin This is a quieter, more introspective paladin. Not always out in front as the shining knight, a wisdom paladin manifests simple devotion and as a result is even more resistant to temptation. This paladin is more equipped to care for mounts, tend to the sick and needy, and live self-sufficiently, while still able to smite for righteousness.
  • The Wisdom Sorcerer A sorcerer's power comes from her bloodline - her magic comes from within. What if accessing that magic required a lot of meditation and introspection. This sorcerer has iron will and an eclectic set of knacks, and can be a wallflower if she wants to.
  • The Wisdom Wizard Obvious cognates aside, there's no particular reason a wizard would have a lot of skill points and be good at foreign languages. Maybe knowing magic is like knowing RPG rules: a whole lot of study to understand something with an internal logic but no cross-disciplinary application.
  • The Charisma Cleric This is the firebrand preacher with the silver tongue. This cleric can preach a sermon and unify a congregation. May be a little more vulnerable to temptation.

Other than the casting stat (and the assumption that the player will invest their highest stat roll into the casting stat), nothing has changed mechanically about these classes. I'm tempted to just let players pick a mental attribute to be their casting attribute for a given class (within reason - as Sporelord1079 put it, "I mean, a wizard can't charm more spells out of his book.".)

I'm also experimenting with swapping spell lists - though I'd be even more cautious with this than swapping casting attributes.

  • Cleric and druid spells are mostly comparable. Swap them, and you get a cleric that can transform into animals, or a druid that can channel energy.
  • Ranger and paladin spells are pretty comparable. I don't see a great advantage for the paladin, but a ranger with paladin spells becomes the ultimate demon hunter.


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.

Media Ratings RecapCollapse )

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.


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