Monday, December 31, 2007

Evil Vs. Good

Often, humans are unintentionally cruel, but sometimes, they are cunningly, knowingly evil. For example: Virus makers are targeting people who are looking up news about the Bhutto assassination (as well as a lot of other topics). This happened after the tsunami as well. [hat tip to Webb Alert]

This display of remorseless, unapologetic evil in humans is sobering. And, apparently, its true existence is now backed by some research, as described in the book Evil Genes by Barbara Oakly. I got this tome as a gift and am looking forward to reading it. The book's contention seems to be that, yes, though rare, some people really are just malevolent, and you may know one.

On the other side of the spectrum, people are doing good things all the time. Apparently, morals are more than something you must be taught--being helpful and cooperating with others is an instinct even babies possess according to one recent study, and I've heard other similar results.

Here's something that is totally good and cool, too: MIT has put up 1800 courses it teaches at its university for free for anyone in the world to download and take. This sort of changes everything. If you have an internet connection and the will to learn, you can take physics, astronomy, economics, so on and so forth. I've downloaded the lowest level physics course. We'll see if I have time to get through it all.

Finally, speaking of something that is 'good' not in the moral sense, but high quality, I want to recommend the book Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge. I downloaded a copy through iTunes (because of an iTunes gift card I got), but you can probably get it cheaper directly through if you are a member. This near-future tale is well-written, and the audio version is well-read. If you have some iTunes or Audible gift card money to burn, you won't go wrong by trying this.

Friday, December 28, 2007

XBOX Stream of Consciousness

My XBOX 360 displayed the three blinking red lights of doom on Dec 25th. Hardware failure.

The silver lining to this sad story of failed holiday bliss is that Microsoft has extended a 3 year warranty for all devices that exhibit this particular failure. So I'm covered. This is the second time a 360 has failed me.

I guess I'll have to do something constructive with the time I had set aside to practice my battle rifle skills in Halo 3. Like, work on a 2nd draft and exercise, maybe. I've been eating too many molasses chips and pieces of peppermint bark. I've fallen off the fitness/good-eating wagon, and now I need to climb back on. The sugar really nails me, but when I get a bite, I can't stop. I know, as soon as I finish off all the goodies in the house, I won't have anything left to tempt me . . .

Yeah, that's good thinking, Bruce! It's when I wrestle with food that I become particularly convinced that consciousness is a synthesis of personality fragments. To ourselves, it feels like we're whole people with a unified mind, but nope. We're a collection of competing ideas and needs, and getting a handle on those rooted in the deepest part of the brain is a battle that is never won.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I Wish My Chemistry Teacher Was This Cool

When my friends and I reminisce back to high school, some of our biggest laughs come when we recall how insanely poorly equipped our chemistry teacher was for teaching. I wish this guy had been our teacher.

(hat tip to Steven Sullivan for this heads-up)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tis the Season

Hektor wants to wish you all health, happiness, and hope for the season and the new year. He's philosophical that way. (click the photo to enlarge)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Gleemax Blogging and Forgotten Realms

It's been awhile, but I updated my gleemax game blog here about my progress on the new Forgotten Realms Campaign setting.

Although I didn't want it to become so, I find myself reluctant to write anything in that blog unless it bears directly on what I'm doing at Wizards. Once Gleemax leaves Alpha and becomes more wieldy, that may change.

Or, I'll keep this blog as my 'central clearing house' for all things Bruce whether gaming, writing, health, environment, or political cautionary tales, and only do game posts there. That way if you're interested in Bruce Cordell AND D&D only, you'll know that's the place to go. I don't know yet.

In any event, I'll continue to point there from here, as this entry does.

Ah what the heck, here's the whole text of the Gleemax blog post; you already had to click once to get here, and Gleemax isn't yet RSS capable:
We've been working away at the Forgotten Realms(R) Campaign for a few years now, off and on. Over the last three months especially, I personally have been doing little else. (Well, the 4E character sheet, but that's only an hour a day tops--in fact, I just did an update before the holiday break, and I'll do another when I get back.)

So, after this last bit of work, what do we have to show? We have the nearly complete first draft of a campaign setting that looks pretty sweet. As one of my co-authors Chris Sims said to me on Friday, "I can't wait for this to come out because it going to be so good." I agree. I had been thinking the same thing.

I'm really excited for the debut of the setting for many reasons. Here are just a few:

One, the art is going to be sick. As in, really good. I just finished compiling the art and map order Friday, and we’ve got some epic pieces planned.

Two, realms forgotten will be forgotten no more, and Ed Greenwood is personally behind that vision; who better? It is awesome.

Three, a lot of lesser-known and well-known regions have seen exciting updates, advancing stories to leave room for new heroes to take up sword and spell and defend the Realms and have fabulous adventures while doing so.

Four, the format for the release is going to be the most useful we've ever utilized for a campaign setting (I may be biased). The campaign book design is both approachable and bursting with directly useful information about Abeir-Toril. What’s more, you can begin running a campaign with the book about ten minutes after you pick it up. Bang, welcome to the Forgotten Realms!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Legal Rebellion

Looks like David Brin's blog is being flagged as containing 'inappropriate material' on many government computers. Why? Because he:
[...] called upon the professionals of the civil service, the intelligence services, the many agencies of law and accountability, the scientific community and the U.S. military officer corps, to remember their oaths -- to protect the people from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Apparently, that's too dangerous a message for our professional elite to hear.

However, as Brin notes, whether Democrats do anything else constructive when they win the White House in '08, the one thing they could do that would turn this country around would be to:
[...] fire 5,000 Bushite political appointees and take their boot heels off of the pros’ necks. He or she will then replace the petty hacks, to a large extent, by promoting from within the services. (While rooting out the neocon shills who “burrow in” by transferring to the Civil Service.) And that one action -- just enforcing the laws we already have -- may restore America.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tiefling and the Gnome

This is quite funny. Really. Check out this link and watch the animation featuring a D&D 4th Edition tiefling and gnome. One of the best lines, "I'm a spokes-gnome for fey rights!"

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Apple-lanche in Stardeep

In the novel Stardeep, a chase scene through a market bazaar disturbs a stacked display of red fruit. One might think the result would be an avalanche of apples. But, thanks to the quick wit of my sister-in-law Wendy Wilcoxon*, the result is actually described as noted below.

From the pages of Stardeep:
"Behind Raidon, a call went up. Chun’s voice, bleary but loud, followed. “You’re dead! Dead! You’ve crossed the Nine Golden Swords, whelp! You can’t hide from us! Nowhere in Thesk is safe for you!” The man’s half-hysterical threat faded behind Raidon as he ran. But Chun's words rang with truth. The yakuza made examples of those who crossed them. Raidon was a marked man.

Raidon Kane dashed through the market throng, swatting a fat man from his path. The man fell, his arms windmilling, into a fruit seller’s cart. One hand knocked out the bottom row of a perfectly stacked display of red fruit, causing an apple-lanche."

*Wendy is still on the lam owing to her involvement in the legendary Apple-lanche Incident of 1995.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Black Hole Energized Matter-Energy Beam

When supermassive black holes tear apart suns as they feed, they can release beams of energy and particles that slam through space near the speed of light. Prospects for any planet, solar-system, or galaxy in the way of that beam are dim. If our solar system fell into line with such a black hole energized beam, it'd be history for us. (Much less likely is what happened in the book by A. A. Attanasio, Radix, where psionic creatures that ride the line of such beams manifested on earth to form god minds...).

I've included a picture of recently taken of such a beam. Go here to Bad Astronomy to read an in-depth account of what the various stunning colors in this picture represent).

Friday, December 14, 2007

Google Seems Great!

I use google all the time, for all my searches, for my directions, for my reviews, for my email, and now, for my blog! It works, and I love it! Plus, we all know the famous Google catch phrase, "Do No Evil." Sort of a nice security blanket. And why not, Google has so far been awesome. Not only have they initiated the Google Lunar X-Prize, they've also thrown their hat into the alternative energy field. Go Google!

But what if some future incarnation of Google departed from that philosophy?

Perhaps you'd get something like this Cory Doctorow story, Scroogled. Take a read, it's a quick 4 pager, and brr, slightly chilling.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Monied Interests Vs. Humanity

Monied corporate interests are demanding their puppet politicians sabotage the EPA's authority to regulate CO2 as a pollutant. This hasn't yet happened, but some are trying to give DOT authority over fuel economy – which would also strip EPA of authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions that the Supreme Court recently declared was within the EPA's purview.
"It is a poison pill that, in the dark of night, would reverse the landmark decision by the US Supreme Court affirming EPA's power to regulate global-warming pollution," says Ms. Patton of Environmental Defense.

Read all about the unfolding battle here in this excellent Christian Science Monitor article.

Improve Your Life By Reading

This sounds good at first blush:
The National Endowment for the Arts finds in a current report, To Read or Not To Read, that frequent readers are more likely to vote, participate in sports, visit museums and get high-paying jobs [...]

The problem is, the quote goes on to say:
[...]-- but that with cable TV and internet competition, the rate of "literary reading" (i.e., reading books out of interest and for personal pleasure, rather than because one must read them for school or work) is falling in all American age-groups.

Turns out that reading rates in America have dropped 10% in a little over two decades. Read the rather depressing report here. Let's hope that we've found a new bottom, and that it's not a trend that'll continue too much further.

Unless of course this report fails to take into account all the reading people do online. I wonder what the statics for voting, high paying jobs, and museum visits are for folks who spend an hour or so a day reading blogs, news sites, and writing there own?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Presidential Science Debate

Would you like to see all the presidential candidates in a whole new light? Would you like to see them talk specifically about issues with a little more depth than the various wedge issues that show up in debates year after year? Would you like to see a
[...] debate devoted to policy surrounding what may be the most important social issue of our time: Science and Technology?

Yeah, me too: I'd like to see them debate science and technology. And so would
[...] Nobel laureates and other leading scientists, presidents of universities, congresspersons of both major political parties, business leaders, religious leaders, former presidential science advisors, the editors of America's major science journals, writers, and the current and several past presidents of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, among many others.

Yep, there's a group working to make this happen, appropriately titled ScienceDebate 2008. Check them out here and join the cause!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Though we have several cats, the one who I think of as "my" cat is Raina. 

I was the one who suggested we bring this stray into our house, and apparently Raina picked up on this because unlike most of the other animals that seem to prefer my wife, Raina prefers me. Which sounds good, but Raina isn't one of those cats content to lie peacefully in your lap and purr. She constantly kneads and and seeks out your hand for more active petting with impressive head butts. Which means that typing at the keyboard can sometimes be a challenge.

Anyhow, the impetus for this post: My wife thinks that if Raina could choose an accessory, she'd wear big designer sunglasses.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Oprah Backs Obama

Oprah Winfrey has long backed Mr. Obama, and she recently appeared with Obama at a rally promoting him for president.

I've previously indicated my initial fervor over Obama has faded somewhat. Since then, it strikes me as strange that Obama has become so careful in his language that he never ends up saying much of anything (other than his desire to cut NASA funding). I think what's really moved me out of his camp, however, is my realization that if Ms. Clinton gets the nod, she'll have years more contacts and experience than Obama can hope to bring to the table. I mean, her First Man will be a former sitting president whose time in office was the last generally positive period of our nation's history.

Anyhow, I don't fault Winfrey for backing Obama. Oprah certainly backs a whole slew of other worthy and laudable causes, so many it makes my head spin. However, sometimes she trots out psychics, ghost hunters, and mediums as if these shysters were legitimate instead of grief-predators the evidence indicates. Not that I liken Obama in any way to a medium! Nope, far from it, if he gets the nod, I'll support him. All I'm saying is, like any human being, Oprah is not above making less-than-ideal choices.

P.S. Of course, if Clinton is elected and she turns out to be a corporate-controlled drone, or Obama gets elected and becomes a man led by reason and compassion, then I'll eat these words. Or, you know, admit I was wrong.

P.P.S. Grief predator. I've just coined the term! Do you like it? Oh, nope. I'm wrong. A search reveals at least one other person has used the term, describing 'psychic detectives.' Ah well.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I'm No Electrician, But . . .

Our exterior outlet simply stopped working a few days ago. All the pretty christmas lights went dark.

A trip to the fuse box revealed no tripped circuits, so the problem was filed for later.

A few years back I picked up a book called Wiring 1-2-3 so I could learn how to change/install a doorbell, change a chandelier to something more modern, add a ceiling fan, etc. (all things you want to eventually learn how to do as a home-owner if you want to save yourself some coin).

Well, I got out the book today when a had a few free minutes. First, I learned outlets are called receptacles (by electricians). Then I learned all the various ways one might wire and ground a receptacle into one's home. I had a tester from my previous foray into wiring, so I pulled that out preparatory to sticking the probes into the socket to make sure the wires were cold. Turns out the battery in the tester was dead so I had to take that apart and charge a 9V battery to get it up and running.

Anyway, about 45 minutes in I was standing in the garage again looking at the fuse box, when the idea struck me that perhaps the exterior receptacles were on a circuit with a GFCI outlet located elsewhere in the house. Sure enough, on the other side of the garage I found one, pushed the reset button, and ta-da, exterior christmas decorations are back to being festive twinkling lights.

Wife thinks I'm smart but really, I'm just lucky.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Who's Got Environmental Policy

This post by Adam Stein is so good, just go here to terrapass's blog and read it.

But if you've got click-fatigue, read on:
Thomas Friedman is one of the most important national writers on green issues – maybe the most important. Which is why this quote from a recent column is so confusing:

[N]one of the leading presidential candidates has offered an energy policy that would include a tax on oil or carbon that could trigger a truly transformational shift in America away from fossil fuels.

The column is framed as a mock assessment of America's security program from the point of view of an Iranian intelligence agency. It's a clever enough conceit, and in the middle of it Friedman drops in the line about carbon taxes to underscore the point that America isn't serious about energy independence.

The problem here is that the statement isn't true. Of the three leading Democratic candidates, 100% have offered strong plans for taxing carbon emissions in the form of cap-and-trade programs. On the Republican side, it's a bit hard to figure out who's leading these days, but two candidates (McCain and Huckabee) have at least endorsed the idea of a cap-and-trade system. This is pretty thin gruel, but it's not nothing. McCain has actually pushed for passage of such legislation in the Senate.

There are surely differences between a straight carbon tax and a cap and trade system, but the distinctions aren't really strong enough to support the column's contention. And it's true that the line is just a small piece of an article that covers a lot of ground, but I think this sort of thing matters.

Here's why. It's good to hold politicians' feet to the fire, particularly during a campaign season. But there's a flip side to this: when politicians actually take bold positions, it would be nice to see them rewarded for their courage. Otherwise, why should they stick their necks out? Several leading candidates have great -- even transformational -- energy plans. They should reap the political benefits.

Which raises a secondary, related problem with the column: the careful evenhandedness. A lot of candidates don't have great, transformational energy plans. And that so-called "green gap" is a perfect place for a columnist with Friedman's megaphone to focus his attention.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Halting State by Charles Stross

I'm in the middle of reading Halting State. I had to laugh at the homage Stross paid himself when the protagonists were attacked by slaad in an online RPG. It wasn't really like a snake biting itself on the tail after 20 years of circling, but, you know, something like that.

But hey, if that doesn't make you smile, I bet this will:

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

US Still Puts Profits over Climate Change

I guess we need a few more shocking disasters to hit our shores before politicians in the US will wake up. It seems the upcoming CAFE standards will continue to allow the SUV loophole where cars and light trucks are categorized separately.

Actually, as long as politicians are allowed to take money from corporations whose profit motives push aside moral considerations, I question whether we really have the ability to respond to real, actual pressing needs in this country anymore. Sure, we can respond to fabricated needs, needs fabricated by those few set to make big bucks on cost-plus contracts. I suppose if Haliburton were in the business of wind, solar, and biomass energy production we'd see more of an Apollo-project-like fervor on this topic, as opposed to what we've currently got, which essentially amounts to lip service.

Ok, here's something positive about to balance the negative points of the previous 2 paragraphs: it looks like the professionals may have taken about enough from their commander and chief--the CIA downgraded Iran's nuclear threat, throwing cold water in the administration's latest drumbeat for a new war in the mideast. Apparently, Bush only found out last week.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Seattle Humane Society Ain't What It Used To Be

If you've read my blog for a while, you may recall I've said really great things about the Humane Society for Seattle/King County (located in Bellevue).

What you may not know is that there has been a lot of changes over the last few years. Some of those changes led to my wife's departure, but she still has friends that work there so we have heard a lot of distressing stories.

I don't want to go into all the details, but it seems like this organization that once boasted an adoption rate of 80+% has changed its policies so drastically that they've turned themselves into a no-kill shelter.

You know what evil can lurk below that heart-warming-SOUNDING label (read my post on what no-kill really means here). Lest there is any confusion on this claim, click here and search the page for 'humane' to see that the new CEO is on the Coalition For No-Kill King County's board! Based on what we're hearing from the inside, the behind-the-scenes bad things that can happen at a no-kill shelter are happening now at the Humane Society for Seattle/King County.

The folks in Operations are incredibly devoted to the well-being of the animals and their care. But they must abide by the decisions made by the new CEO and the board that supports her.

There are still a lot of great animals there that need homes and I wouldn't want to dissuade anyone from adopting a shelter animal from them or anywhere else. However, you might want to consider sending your animal-shelter charitable donations to a shelter that appreciates its staff and whose decision-makers care about animal welfare.

Monday, December 3, 2007

First Drafts and Visitors

We had a visitor over the weekend--one of our old foster dogs came and stayed with us for a day (as Dee recounts in her blog entry here). Although Dee says "destiny stepped in" to save Gracie, it was Dee who made certain Grace got all the chances she needed until she was adopted.

In other news, I finished the first draft of a novel yesterday at about 5 pm. I love doing the dance of done-ness. Nothing quite like that feeling of finishing off a 9-month long project. I guess the feeling is best described as giddy.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Earthcore Minireview

I just finished listening to Scott Sigler's free audio novel Earthcore.

The fact that the book was free influenced me to try it, I have to admit. I listen to a lot of audio, and sometimes I need a diversion from the regular lineup. However, I ended up enjoying Earthcore so much that I donated $6.00, about the cost of a paperback. I think Scott ends up with 75% of that. Pretty good compared to my royalty percentage.

Anyhow, I recommend this book, probably give it 4 of 5 stars. I don't want to go into the plot, because I actually enjoy movies and audiobooks a little more if I know nothing about them when I begin; prevents my mind from spinning its own story. So, I knew nothing about Earthcore when I started listening. Well, there was a picture of a weird, crescent shaped knife on the download page.

Give it a listen, it's free!

(iTunes download here; I looked around a bit for somewhere else to download this from, but came up withing nothing. Sorry, time is short, I need to write the last 1,500 words of a novel of my own today!)