Sunday, December 10, 2017

A modest proposal

After long and thoughtful consideration, I’ve decided to make this blog biweekly instead of weekly.

Now, I suppose I could just stop there—after all, if you’re taking my advice and are not, in fact, reading this blog, then I’m only talking to myself, and I already know why I’ve made this decision.  But there may be a few people out there who are interested, or perhaps I’m talking to myself, but in the future, when I may will have been forgotten why I came to this verdict.  Maybe future-me is thinking, hmmm, I should go back to doing blogs weekly ... it wasn’t that hard!  In which case future-me needs a dope-slap.  Or at least a good talking-to.  Which this post will have to serve as.

See, one starts a blog with the best of intentions.  It’s a way to keep one’s writing skills sharp, for one.  And you can put down all those pesky thoughts that are running your head liked trapped animals: get them out into the world where they might do some good, as opposed to making you crazy with unbirthed ideas.  And you pick a time interval—once a week, say—and you pick a rough post length—1,500 words, say—and you keep to that for a long time.  But eventually you miss one, and then it’s easier to miss the next one, and sooner or later you find yourself missing your goal regularly.  Because life happens.  Life pays no attention to your puny goals ... in fact, life often laughs maniacally in the face of those goals.  Life has a tendency to force you to prioritize, and, while I suppose there are some people who consistently prioritize their blogs over everything else (though I suspect those are only the people that don’t have any other job), most of us don’t.  We can’t all be professional writers, and I’m okay with that.  As I’ve said before, I originally became a programmer just to support myself while I worked on becoming a writer, but I’ve found so much joy in it that I have no regrets.

So, for me, a hard look at the priorities here means that the numbers don’t make sense to even attempt to prioritize this blog over other life stuff.  And such attempts would likely be fruitless anyway.  I mean, I’ve been trying to prioritize the blog over other things for quite a while now, and look how well that’s been going.  Prior to this one, I have exactly 400 posts on this blog, 37 of which are interstitials (that is, posts which essentially say “I’m not doing a post this week”) and 66 of which are partials (that is, shorter entries that I don’t consider full, “proper” posts).  That’s 26%.  But, if we look back at the most recent 100 posts (which takes us back almost exactly two years), there are 14 interstitials and 18 partials, which is 32%.  So the ratio of non-full posts is creeping up on me.  And, to add insult to injury, I still feel like I’m always scrambling to come up with a post.

I mean, I don’t mind if it feels like a chore.  It is a chore: I’ve set myself a goal to write every week, and it’s not always easy to do that, but pushing myself to write even when I don’t want to is part of the whole thing.  So if I was feeling pressure (only from myself, of course, but pressure nonetheless) to come up with 1,500 words every week, and it was a bit stressful, but ultimately rewarding because I was achieving that ... well, that might not be so bad.  But to be constantly feeling like I’m failing, and then to be actually failing on top of that ...

Plus there’s another issue as well, a bit more subtle.  When I first started out, I just put everything here in this blog.  Oh, sure, I labeled them all—gaming, or family, or music, or whatever—but there’s no getting around that this blog is pretty much a tumbled profusion of mismatched topics.  Anyone who might be interested in my music posts probably doesn’t care that much about my family, and may have zero interest in my ideas on business or technology.  Contrariwise, if someone thinks my posts on business are thought-provoking, how likely is it they will also dig my rambling explorations on gaming?  When I wrote my first post about Perl, I put it here.  By the time I got around to my third post about Perl, I started thinking it might make better sense to put it somewhere where Perl people might actually find it, and read it.  And thus my Other Blog was born.  Because it makes sense that different topics get different “faces,” and maybe even different locations, where they can perhaps better find their target audience.

So I’ve been pondering starting even more blogs, such as a separate blog for my music series, or a separate blog for gaming—hell, maybe even one targeted more specifically at D&D—and moving the existing posts over, and then new posts get to live in their respective homes.  On the one hand, this is not more work than I’m already currently doing, because I would never post to two differnt blogs on the same week.  I would still write one post every week, but it would just go to whatever blog happened to be the most appropriate.  It would mean that every blog would have a very infrequent posting schedule, but I’m okay with that.  But, on the other hand, it does require more work, at least at first.  I have to find someplace to put those blogs, and I have to set them up, and add some basic info about who I am, and what makes me qualified to write about the whichever-topic-this-is.  For the gaming blog, I would want to add some info about my experience with the various editions of D&D, perhaps; for the music blog, I might talk about my record-collector father and my introduction to “alternative” music, or my large collection of CDs, or whatever.  There’s a certain amount of look-and-feel that has to go into a blog as well: I personally have never spent much time worrying about that sort of thing (as I’m sure you can tell from the visuals here), but you can’t ignore it entirely.  Once all that stuff gets settled, then, sure: you don’t have to worry about it any more after that.  But you have to get to that point.  And that takes time.  And I’m already at the point now where I feel like I can’t devote any extra time to this whole writing/blogging thing at all.

So I’m going to give myself some breathing room.  I’ve made a decision that I will only make a full post (to whichever blog) once every two weeks.  My initial goal is that I will make either an interstitial post or a partial post—perhaps only a paragraph or two—in the off weeks, but I’m not making that a promise or anything.  Let’s play it by ear and see how it goes.  This will allow me to spend less time on blogging, but actually accomplish more (theoretically).  And with less pressure on myself.  And also I want to set expectations for anyone who might still be reading this, despite my best efforts to convince you that there are better things you could be doing with your time.  Because there really are.  But I thank you nonetheless for reading—I know you have many options for how to waste your time in today’s busy world, and I’m flattered that you’ve chosen me to help you fritter that time away.  So I thought it only fair to let you know that you should only come around biweekly from now on.

Hopefully this new schedule will breathe some new life into my writing, whether that’s here or in new vistas on other blogs.  As always, if I do post to other blogs, there will always be a pointer to it here.  This is my “master blog,” so to speak, and this is the place where I will always go to compile statistics and count words and get (and sometimes post) my overviews.  So, if you were inclined to want to read all my writings (and I know that’s a hell of a big “if”), you can still do so just by keeping up with this one blog.  And hopefully the extra time will allow me to explore new blogs, explore more topics, and explore the existing topics in more depth.  This could be an exciting change.

Or it could totally flop and I could end up missing even biweekly posts.  There’s really no way to know without performing the experiment.  So, here we go.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Multiclassing, Part 3: History of the Multiclasses (4th edition)

Last time, I raved on and on about how awesome multiclassing was in 3rd edition D&D (or “3e,” as it was affectionately known).  Lots of people hated it—lots of people still do, for that matter—but I loved it, and I haven’t been shy about saying so.  But then we come to 4e, and a serious bump in the road for multiclassing.

Of course, 4e was a serious bump in the road for a lot of reasons.  4e is the beginning of the “edition wars” and the impetus for the creation of Pathfinder.  And, regardless of whether you think 4e was a good game or not, there’s little argument that it’s a very different game from the other versions of D&D.  Even Pathfinder is more similar to all the other D&D editions than 4e was.

Now, as it happens, I’m not a 4e fan.  So you can feel free to throw out any criticism I have of it as being completely biased.  But let me just summarize my edition experience before you completely discount anything I have to say.  I owned 1e, but never really played it much.  When I got back into D&D in college, it was 2e, and 2e was better than 1e in every way.  Then 3e came out, and I’ve already noted how enthusiastic I was about that: 3e was better than 2e in every way too.  And then came “3.5e”: an update to 3e’s rules that were too minor to require an entirely new edition, but too major for all your old books to be any good any more.  There were many (mostly valid) criticisms of 3.5e—that it was a cash grab, that it consisted of just enough changes to spoil your rules mastery1but I never heard anyone to try to claim that it wasn’t better.  Even the things that got nerfed were arguably better for it, and again I felt that 3.5e was better in every way.  When 4e came out, I eagerly bought it.  There was just no way it wasn’t going to be better.

Except it wasn’t.  Now, don’t get me wrong: parts of it were definitely better.  The changes to the skill system were undeniably an improvement; I was excited to see warlocks and dragonborn become core, it was awesome that healing was less of pain in the ass, and even the basic concept behind at will powers vs encounter powers vs daily powers was awesome in its simplicity.  But giving every class a slate of “powers” was too much: now every class had the same bookkeeping nightmare that was formerly reserved to wizards, and your character sheet was crowded with arcane abbreviations, and the difficulty of creating custom classes was increased by an order of magnitude (or two).  The overwhelming emphasis on tactical movement and miniatures was baffling, considering how rarely we’d used miniatures in the hundreds (if not thousands) of games my friends and I had played up to that point.  It seemed that what they’d borrowed from MMORPG games like World of Warcraft was the stuff that you didn’t really want in a tabletop game: the concepts of “tanking” and “soaking” and DPS (or damage per second), and specific roles like controller and striker, and so forth.  It all combined to give me the uneasy feeling that this version of D&D, more so than any other, was not about roleplaying, but only about killing stuff.

And then I tried to find the multiclassing rules.  And there weren’t any.

That was really the last straw.  I have never played a single game of 4e, despite the fact that I bought the books almost as soon as they hit the shelves, and the lack of multiclassing is really the single defining reason for that.  I’d waited so long for decent multiclassing, and 3e gave me that, and it was so simple and so elegant ... and now it was all gone.  This, to me, was not just a step backward but a giant bounding leap.  In retrospect, I can see that it was strictly reactionary—any time things get radically better, there’s an inevitable backlash and a hard U-turn2 (hopefully a temporary one).  But that doesn’t make it any less painful.

Now, I’ve read articles that talk about multiclassing in 4e.  These articles point to the limited list of feats that simulated multiclassing.  For instance, you could gain sneak attack by taking the rogue “multiclass feat.”  But the ability to backstab alone does not make you a rogue, and calling it a “multiclass feat” does not make it multiclassing.  Simulation is not reality.  No matter how many hours you log on a flight simulator, you are not actually flying a plane.  Oh, sure: taking the backstabbing feat meant you could now qualify for rogue paragon paths, but that was a pale sop, and completely overshadowed by the fact that you could never take a second (or more) multiclassing feat.  That means that even simulating the venerable fighter/mage/thief—a multiclass combo that had been around since first editionwas now impossible.  No, my friends, there are no multiclassing rules in 4e, and dressing up a few feats and giving them a fancy group name won’t change that.

Of course, I’ve just admitted that I never even played 4e, so once again you should take that under consideration when listening (or deciding not to listen) to what I have to say about it.  But my attitude at this point aligns with something I’ve read several times now in various blog posts and online forums: 4e is not necessarily a bad game ... it’s just not really a D&D game.  If you’re into the sort of game that it is—which is much closer to a tactical miniatures game than a roleplaying game—then it’s perfectly lovely.  And, hey: tactical miniatures games is how D&D got started in the first place, so I’m sure not gonna disrespect that as a foundation.  It’s just not my thing.  I’ve already talked about what my thing is: roleplaying is storytelling.  And I’m a storyteller.3  If I want tactical miniatures, I’ll play Heroscape: it’s super quick to set up,4 requires no more than an hour or two time investment, and can be fine-tuned to a specific genre if you really want to (but I think genre-blender is so much more fun, personally).  If I want more of an investment than that—if I want a story, that is—then I want to roleplay.  I want character arcs and overarching plots with juicy subplots and big baddies with evil plans to rule the world and a small, plucky band of heroes who are the only thing standing between the current, chaotic state of the world and total annihilation, or enslavement, or both.  I want a game that will enable me—no, dammit, I want a game that will encourage me—to be whoever I want, whatever my imagination can conjure up.  Multiclassing in 3e gave me that, and 4e took it away, and I wasn’t able to forgive it for that.

But 4e is very important to this history, because it taught me to appreciate multiclassing so much more than I had been.  You never know what you’ve got till it’s gone, they say, and it’s true here as well.  I knew that I valued story over combat, sure, and there were many features of 4e that seemed to lean in the opposite direction.  But I don’t think I ever realized how truly vital to my concept of story the multiclassing rules had become.  4e taught me that multiclassing is absolutely crucial to telling the story you want to tell.  You don’t always need it, but when you do, there’s no substitute.  Making your idea flesh involves finding a way to make the rules allow your character concept to live and breathe.  The more flexible those rules are, the easier that task is.  And I guess this exposes a fundamental divide between my approach to roleplaying and that of many others: I don’t give a crap about “balance” or simplicity of character creation or not bending the rules.  All that crap goes out the window, if necessary, to serve the story.  Remember the other part of my GM philosophy: character is king.  And, in order for that to be true, you have to be able to create whatever character you want.

Next time, we’ll polish off the history portion of the series by looking at how fifth edition made a pretty decent compromise between 3e’s multiclassing rules and 4e’s lack thereof.


1 “Rules mastery” refers to how well you know the rules; in other words, how often you know the answer without having to reach for the book.  When rules change, even by a small amount, it borks your rules mastery because you can never remember which way is the old way and which way is the new way.

2 For instance, America’s last president, who was followed by this disaster.

3 I even fancy myself a struggling novelist, remember?

4 Apart from building the map, of course.  But that’s why I tend to keep a Heroscape map on my dining room table at all times.  You know: just in case.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Apparently World I

"The Universal Language"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

When I first wrote about Numeric Driftwood, I talked about making mixes for my children.  That post contains this paragraph:

My middle child was never much into music.  I toyed with one idea for a mix for him for quite a while, though it too remains unfinished.  Then along came LittleBigPlanet, and consequently the Paradoxically Sized World mix, and that became his music of choice.

The idea I was toying with was based on a birthday trip we did for him at Sea World.  It was an “eat lunch with Shamu” type of thing that we’d paid extra for as a birthday treat.1  The food was average at best, but for whatever reason my son really seemed to get into the music, which was a mostly-instrumental, more-or-less upbeat take on worldmusic.

Now, “worldmusic” is itself a somewhat controversial term, and it means different things to different people.  It has similar issues to “alternative” or “post-<fill-in-genre-here>” in that it’s a bit overarching: isn’t all music found in the world?  But it clearly refers to “non-Western” music ... except now we have to decide what “non-Western” means.  When I was in school, it meant African, or Asian (except for Russia), or Pacific Islander (except for Australian).  But it’s a pretty flexible definition.  Is Romani culture non-Western?  How about Latin American or Caribbean?  What about Eastern European, particularly the Baltics?  For that matter, what about indigenous peoples?  American and Australian are clearly Western, but Native American or Aboriginal Australian?  Not so much.

To make it more confusing, many people (and I’m one of them) make a distinction between worldmusic and its cultural source.  That is, if you believe in this distinction, then when Frankie Yankovic plays polka, that’s not worldmusic; but, when Gary Sredzienski plays polka, it is.  That’s because Yankovic2 plays “traditional” polka, in a way that would sound very familiar to people who grew up in one of the Baltic states.  But Sredzienski plays a modern version of polka, which is generally either decidedly non-polka songs redone as polka (e.g. “Green Onions”), or classic polka tunes redone with a modern flair (e.g. “Hava Nagilah”).  And that is the essence of what makes worldmusic, to me: it’s a fusion of Western and non-Western.  It’s most often done, I think, by musicians who have grown up in Western countries but whose ancestors (often very recent ancestors) hail from non-Western cultures.  But sometimes it stems from non-Western musicians becoming enamored of Western music, or just from Western musicians and non-Western musicians coming together and forming unexpected musical styles.

In this volume, we’ll explore a lot of worldmusic, some electronica and dreampop that’s merely worldmusic-adjacent, and maybe even hit a few surprises along the way.  Although I originally thought this would be a mix that might appeal to my middle child, he hasn’t in fact shown that much interest in it, so I’m sort of adopting it into my stable of mixes.  However, the name, as usual for one of my children’s mixes, still has his name stuck in there somewhere, so that helps explain the odd choice.

We open with “Jaan Pehechaan Ho,” which is well known to Bollywood fans as the first big dance number of Gumnaam, a 1965 box office smash in India which was ostensibly a Bollywood version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, although of course Bollywood movies tend to defy being pigeonholed into a single genre.  For Western audiences, it’s probably better known as the opening of Ghost World in 2001 (the first time many of us saw Scarlett Johansson on screen), or an immensely successful Heineken commercial in 2011.  It continues to show up in various unlikely places because it is an insanely catchy tune, even for a Bollywood movie.  I didn’t appreciate it when I first heard it in 2001, but perhaps my musical tastes had matured by the time it popped up again ten years later, because I suddenly began to find it irresistible.  It was an early choice for this mix, and I think it makes the perfect opener.

In the category of expats or children of immigrants harkening back to their roots, we have Stellamara, a California duo with roots in Serbia, Hungary, and Turkey.  We’ve seen them before,3 but always in the context of their more reflective modes.  “Baraka” is a bit more upbeat, but still with the strong Balkan roots we’ve come to expect from this Magnatune artist.4  Then there’s Asian Dub Foundation, a group of Brits of mostly Indian descent, who sing rap-infused Jamaican-inspired ragga, with some Indian influence.  While I’m not a huge fan of their music in general, I always found “Real Great Britain” quite hooky: it plants itself in your brain and doesn’t particularly want to let go.  I’m also going to throw Shiva in Exile in here, primarily because I feel certain I read somewhere that Stefan Hertrich had some Indian ancestry, although I can’t confirm that now, so perhaps I dreamed it.  The German electronica artist certainly shows a lot of Indian influence in Shiva in Exile, though, with a somewhat darker tone that is sometimes referred to as “ethnogothic.”  We’ve heard from this band before, also on Shadowfall Equinox I,5 and likewise my selection here (“Odysseia”) is a more upbeat tune from them, although in this case it tends a bit more bombastic.  It’s got a great, swelling sense of drama that makes for an excellent penultimate track.

On the other side of the street we have non-Western musicians adopting some Western styles, and chief among them is the insanity that is Psio Crew.  You won’t find anything about them if you look on Wikipedia ... unless you go to the Polish version, where an article (helpfully run through Google Translate in case you don’t speak Polish, as I don’t) tells us that they hail from Bielsko-Biała (a fairly large6 industrial city in southern Poland), and their music combines elements of rap, trip-hop, and ragga with traditional Balkan melodies.  This is another band that I can’t say I dig all their tunes, but “Hajduk” is really catchy, and makes you want to sing along with it even though you have no clue what the words are saying.  And then we have the mad genius of Kutiman, who we first met back on Smokelit Flashback IV.  If you recall, he’s the Israeli auteur who scours the Internet for interesting bits of other people’s YouTube videos, usually featuring a single instrument or a small group of them (such as a horn section or a string quartet), then stitches them together, Frankenstein-style, to produce entirely new compositions.  At some point, the tourism bureaus of cities started asking him to do this featuring videos which showcase the music of that particular city.7  He’s done several of these at this point, but the one he did for Krakow, Poland is hands down the best, in my view.  It ranges all over the musical map, weaving together klezmer, jazz, pop, and even opera, but all with a distinctive Balkan style.  And somehow Kutiman makes it all gel (which is his particular brand of brilliance).

And then you have the one-person poster children for multi-cultural groups.  One of my favorite examples of this is Lou Bega, as I discussed back on Salsatic Vibrato IV.  In a footnote there, I mentioned my other favorite: Azam Ali, who was born in Iran, raised in India, educated in California, and now lives in Canada.  Even better, Ali has 3 faces: as part of Vas, with college friend Greg Ellis, she sings eclectic worldmusic, with strong Indian and Middle Eastern flavors, in a variety of languages; as part of Niyaz, with her husband Loga Ramin Torkian,8 she sings more traditional fare, but still with some electronica and trip-hop infusions, mainly in Persian; and as herself, she sings Middle-Eastern-inflected dreampop, in English.  We showcase two of the three here:  Vas gives us “Izgrejala,” with Ali singing in a combination of Turkish and Bulgarian (if the Internet is to be believed), harmonizing with herself in double-tracked ululations which are both haunting and beautiful.  Then from Ali’s solo album Elysium for the Brave we have “Endless Reverie,” an almost gothic piece of slinky dreampop that also showcases her amazing vocal talent.  Ali is yet another artist whose work doesn’t always appeal to me, but when she’s on, she’s on, and these are two of her best.

Then we hit the unlikely combo groups.  Skyedance I’ve talked about before,9 with their Scottish fiddler, Canadian flautist, jazz bassist, Medieval/Renaissance percussionist, and bagpipe player.  I finally have a chance to showcase one of their more upbeat tunes here, and I think “Way Out to Hope Street” (the title track from their first album) is a fantastic example of what makes them great.  It’s primarily a Scottish reel, but the bass, percussion, and keyboards give it something extra.  Then there’s Outback, founded by Cornish guitarist/mandolinist Martin Cradick and American-born half-Australian didgeridoo player Graham Wiggins, but also featuring French violinist Paddy Le Mercier and Senegalese percussionist Sagar N’Gom.  The buzzing of the didgeridoo (similar to the buzzing of the bagpipes, actually) provides an interesting backdrop for this jazzy, mildly Middle Eastern selection, “Aziz Aziz.”

Of course, there were also some obvious choices.  Thievery Corporation’s mainly Caribbean-focussed electro-world10 branches out to a slightly Middle Eastern vibe for ”(The Forgotten People),” while Transglobal Underground’s dancier, rap-and-sample-based electro-world really hits its peak with “Temple Head,” which also gives us our volume title.  (What is the universal language?  Why, music, of course.)  Both were no-brainers.  As was TranceVision, primarily purveyors of downtempo and trip-hop, but with a decidedly worldmusic bent.  I was introduced to their CD by the same workmate who turned me on to Skyedance and Transglobal Underground, and, while much of it is too mellow for inclusion here, “Nebula” is just upbeat enough to slot perfectly between Asian Dub Foundation and Azam Ali.  And what would a worldmusic compilation be without a contribution from Dead Can Dance?  After all, DCD vocalist Lisa Gerrard sings in something like a dozen different languages, and occasionally invents her own.  “Radharc,” from their best album Aion,11 is slightly medieval, slightly Middle Eastern, and just upbeat enough to work well here.

Apparently World I
    [The Universal Language]

        “Jaan Pehechaan Ho” by Mohammed Rafi [Single]
        “Palm Village” by Monster Rally, off Return to Paradise
        “(The Forgotten People)” by Thievery Corporation, off Radio Retaliation
        “Mix Krakow” by Kutiman, off Mix the City [Compilation]
        “Way Out to Hope Street” by Skyedance, off Way Out to Hope Street
        “Real Great Britain” by Asian Dub Foundation, off Community Music
        “Nebula” by TranceVision, off Lemuria
        “Endless Reverie” by Azam Ali, off Elysium for the Brave
        “Radharc” by Dead Can Dance, off Aion
        “Marco Polo” by Loreena McKennitt, off The Book of Secrets
        “Baraka” by Stellamara, off The Seven Valleys
        “Izgrejala” by Vas, off Feast of Silence
        “Hajduk” by Psio Crew [Single]
        “Temple Head” by Transglobal Underground, off International Times
        “Aziz Aziz” by Outback, off Dance the Devil Away
        “The Wayward Camel” by The Karminsky Experience Inc., off The Power of Suggestion
        “Odysseia” by Shiva In Exile, off Ethnic
        “Forgotten Worlds” by Delerium, off Karma
Total:  18 tracks,  77:19

Our less obvious candidates are not really that less obvious.  Monster Rally is a one-man band from Cleveland which focusses on exotica-infused trip-hop and downtempo.  Not all of his tunes have a worldmusic vibe, but many do, and “Palm Village” is a great, dreamy track which is just barely upbeat enough to make the cut here.12  Likewise, British trip-hop DJ duo the Karminsky Experience only dabbles in world occasionally, such as in their Arabic-inspired “The Wayward Camel.”  I’m not sure it really counts as worldmusic, but I thought it fit nicely here, bridging the musical gap between Outback and Shiva in Exile.

The centerpiece of the volume is Loreena McKennit’s instrumental piece “Marco Polo,” from her Book of Secrets album, which I would say is her best.  It too has a bit of Middle Eastern flavor, thanks mainly to the use of the oud, but also a bit of a medieval feel, no doubt thanks to the use of the shawm.  The combination is the perfect musical expression of the title.

And that just leaves us with Delerium’s “Forgotten Worlds,” which is also the volume closer.  We met Delerium back on Shadowfall Equinox III, where we explored their darker side.  Here, though, we showcase their penchant for worldmusic-inflected downtempo.  “Forgotten Worlds” is ostensibly too slow for this mix, and probably too long to boot, but it’s such a gorgeous tune, fronted by extended sampling of more of Lisa Gerrard’s powerful vocals—these are from “Persian Love Song,” and they’re featured so prominently you could almost consider “Forgotten Worlds” a remix of that song.  Of course, since “Persian Love Song” is a capella, this version is completely different, and quite enchanting.  I said that “Morpheus” is probably Delerium’s best work, and I don’t retract that, but “Forgotten Worlds” sure gives it a run for its money.

According to my research and best guesses, this mix has featured vocals in Hindi, English, Hebrew, Irish, Turkish, Bulgarian, Polish, Russian, and Persian, as well as quite a few wordless vocalizations that transcend language altogether.  I haven’t tried to do any sort of comprehensive overview of the many cultures covered by the very inclusive (some would say “overly inclusive”) worldmusic label, and I’ve been willing to stray from even my fairly broad definition to chase things that just caught my ear in an “ethnic” manner, but I still think that this mix could be a good jumping-off point for anyone who is firmly rooted in popular Western music but wants to dabble their toes in more worldly waters.  Hopefully you thought so too.

Next time, we’ll see what happens when you turn a song inside-out.


1 This was, obviously, before Blackfish.  If I had known about that film, I probably would have been too terrified to take my kid to see an orca performance.  But let’s not get distracted from the point of the story.

2 No relation to Weird Al, by the way.

3 Specifically on Shadowfall Equinox, volumes I, III, and IV.

4 I told the story of how I discovered Magnatune in Rose-Coloured Brainpan.

5 And they’re also a Magnatune artist, coincidentally.

6 For comparison purposes for Americans, it’s about the size of Sioux Falls, which is the largest city in South Dakota.

7 I believe the original one in this series was Tel Aviv, which makes sense in that it’s located in Kutiman’s native land.

8 Fun side note: also involved in Niyaz is Carmen Rizzo, who we’ve already seen once (on Smokelit Flashback IV) and will be seeing much more of in the future.

9 Back on Numeric Driftwood I, where I showcased one of their slower tunes.

10 We first met Thievery Corporation on Smokelit Flashback III, but also encountered them on Paradoxically Sized World IV and Zephyrous Aquamarine I.

11 I originally raved about Aion back on Smokelit Flashback II.

12 Side note: I first heard Monster Rally when my cable provider’s “Zen” channel played “Panther.”  That channel has provided a surprising number of useful music discoveries.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Heart is where the Home Is

Things around our house are finally getting back to normal after the Smaller Animal’s surgery.  Make sure you’ve read last week’s update, if you haven’t already.  This will be the final update here, barring anything new and major coming up.  Next week I hope to get back around to entirely-surgery-unrelated topics.

And that’s primarily because there just isn’t much to report.  He’s been to both his regular cardiologist for a standard check-up, and back to the hospital for removal of suture, staple, and steri-strips.1  Everyone who’s seen him agrees that he’s doing amazingly well.  He’s almost completely back to normal, aside from repeated attempts to scratch his chest (which we have to discourage, according to the docs and nurses).  We’ve finally started putting the brakes on lording it over his siblings, and, while they can’t go back to physically trying to kill each other, they’ve pretty much all graduated from the “we’re being nice to you because you might have died” phase and have moved on to the “I’d forgotten how much of a pain in my ass you can be” phase.  Which is actually sort of nice, oddly, in that it represents a return to normalcy.

Of course, he still has to wash his chest with two separate washcloths and can’t allow the shower to spray directly on it.  That keeps up until the scabs finish forming and then fall off.  He also can’t submerge the incision (so no baths or hot tubbing) or put any cream or lotion on it2 until all the pinkish-redness fades completely.  And even then, no riding in the front seat or doing anything that might involve falling or getting hit until a full 8 weeks has passed, which is also when his sibling can go back to tackling him and sitting on him and whatnot, presumably.3

During this healing phase, his skin is being held together by that dissolvable stitch, and his bones are actually held together by a thin wire.  This wire is now a permanent fixture of the Smaller Animal’s body.  It’s not enough to set off metal detectors,4 but we have to notify anyone that wants to give him a CAT scan or MRI in the future that it will produce a blurry area in their readouts.  I believe I reported previously that his elder sibling was pretty jazzed about him now having a bit of a dead person in him.5  The demonspawn had already proclaimed that this made their little brother “undead.”  Now that they know there’s a bit of metal in him as well, they’ve proclaimed this makes him an undead cyborg.  What more can one ask for in a brother?

I suppose this is the point in a life-changing experience where we typically stop and reflect on what we’ve learned.  But I’m not entirely sure what that is, other than how incredibly lucky we are.6  Lucky to live in a major metropolitan area, where it just so happens that one of the best cardiac valve replacement surgeons in the country—if not the entire world—is also living and practicing medicine.  Lucky to have made it 11½ years on a leaky valve, to the point where my kid is nearly 5 feet tall and just over a hundred pounds, which gave him a much better shot at a positive outcome.  Lucky to have a kid who’s put up with all this massive amount of pain and discomfort with hardly any complaining at all.  Lucky to have friends and family who have been very supportive, a job where I could take as much time as I needed, a homeschool group who’s been feeding us for two weeks now so we haven’t had to cook.  All of these things have contributed to this experience being far gentler than we had any right to expect, and I thank all of you folks reading this, all those folks not reading this who nonetheless contributed in some way, and whatever engine runs the universe—be it random, kharmic, or divine—for having this play out as it did.

It’s possible that we were supposed to learn to be kinder to each other with the limited time we have on this earth.  But then I think that lesson was already pretty much in our faces from the time the kid was born, so I’m hesitant to fall back on that old chestnut.  It’s also possible that we were supposed to learn that it pays not to rush into big life decisions, particularly those that are medical in nature, without doing lots of research (which we obviously did, in this case).  Or maybe there’s no lesson at all—maybe Patton Oswalt is right and everything is chaos and we should just be kind.  I’m okay with that too.  It’s just that, if the universe were trying to tell me something, I’d hate to miss it.

At the end of the day, our kid is home, desperately trying to beat Breath of the Wild on his new Nintendo Switch and chilling out by watching the new Punisher series with me.7  He’s sleeping well, which I know because he’s sleeping with me, at least temporarily.  We all feel better if there’s someone next to him in case he has an issue in the middle of the night, and his old sleeping place—the top bunk in the demonspawn’s room—is not really an option right now.  While he was in the hospital, I started reading him a book—the first book in the Wednesday Tales trilogy.8  Now, at night when he goes to bed, I’ve started reading it again, trying to finish it up.  It’s been a long time since he was willing to sit and listen to me read to him.  I hadn’t realized that I missed it.  But I guess I did.  It’s nice.  I’m really enjoying it now.  Not sure that counts as a lesson, but ...

I think I’ll take it.


1 For those who like medical details:  The suture was to close the hole where his chest tube was poking out.  The staple was at the bottom of his dissolvable stitch, and I assume it was just there to keep the stitch from unraveling prematurely.  The steri-strips were basically just little strips of packing tape that were holding the incision closed along with the stitch.

2 Not even neosporin, which is making me crazy.

3 Fun fact: 8 weeks from his surgery date is exactly January 1st.  So I fully expect the day after New Year’s Day to be pretty crazy around here.

4 Currently.  The doctor pointed out that they it’s always possible that they might make more sensitive metal detectors in the future.

5 This would be the cadaveric valve installed as part of the Ross procedure.

6 If you are religiiously inclined, you may wish to substitute “blessed” for “lucky.”  Go ahead.  I won’t stop you.

7 Both highly recommended, by the way.

8 Also highly recommended.  Even more so, really.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Heart Homecoming

Well, I’m a bit tuckered out tonight, but I have time for a quick update on the Smaller Animal’s surgery.

We brought him into Children’s Hospital at 7am on Monday; they took him back for surgery around 9:15am.  By that point he was already doped up and feeling pretty happy.  By 1pm he was back in ICU, his Ross Procedure a great success.  His surgeon stopped by to let us know that all had gone well, but it was a very short conversation—Dr. Starnes is a man of few words.  The patient was, as expected, very groggy for most of the rest of that day, although he could recognize us and answer questions ... well, yes or no questions, at least: they didn’t take out his breathing tube until around 1am.  By the next morning he was sitting up and playing his new Switch; by dinner, he was already up to eating meatballs and peas.  After dinner, they removed the chest tube—it was the only time that he would cry (or even complain) while in the ICU.

On Wednesday he started doing walks around the floor.  That night, they finally removed his dressing and we got to see his cool new Frankenstein scar.  By Thursday morning, they were prepping him to go home.  A little after noon, we left the hospital.  (This, by the way, was more than a day earlier than we were told was the absolute minimum stay he could expect.  Which is pretty positive, overall.)

Life at home was a little better than in the ICU, as you might imagine.  He had his familiar food around him, no one was telling him he couldn’t eat bread because it’s made with milk and his stupid parents made the mistake of mentioning he’s lactose-intolerant (for the record: lactose intolerant does not mean you can’t consume anything that’s been waved near a cow), and everyone was falling over themselves to do things for him.  He got to sit on the reclining couch and he didn’t even have to put the legs up (or down) himself.  We finished up the new season of Stranger Things in 2 or 3 marathon sessions.  The Lasix (a diuretic) they had him on was killing us, because it made him need to pee every 15 minutes (if not more often), and getting up and down off the sofa when your breastbone has been cracked in half and jammed back together and wrapped up with a wire is not so easy.  But it wasn’t so bad, and he never complained, or even asked for more pain meds.

Which brings us to today.  Early this morning he developed a headache that was so bad it made him cry—and, remember, this was only the second time he had cried since his surgery, and the first time was when they pulled a big tube out of his chest and cinched up the skin around the hole by just yanking the sutures taut.  So it was obviously pretty bad.  Then he started complaining of nausea, and then the barfing commenced.  Needless to say, we took him back to the hospital.  Now, in general, going to the emergency room with a sick kid is a pointless exercise that consumes hours upon hours of your life and, in the end, your kid just gets better on their own and the doctors do absolutely nothing you couldn’t have done yourself.  I would love to tell you that it’s different when you have a kid that just had heart surgery under a week ago, but unfortunately that would be a lie.  But, on the plus side, they took another chest X-ray, which indicated that all the fluid is out of his lungs, which means he can get off the Lasix, which was probably the source of the problem all along.  Guess what happens when you’re peeing every 5 to 15 minutes?  You get dehydrated.  Know what the symptoms of dehydration are?  Major headaches and barfing.  So I guess that was something we couldn’t do at home after all.

Anyhow, the upshot is that, tonight, he’s been more animated than I’ve seen him in quite a while.  (Because, you know, even in the days before the surgery, the nerves and stress meant that he was a bit more subdued than usual.)  But tonight he was joking around with his siblings, doing a lot more things on his own, actually excited about eating for a change ... actually showing some signs that this whole ripping-him-open-and-putting-him-back-together thing might have left him better off than before.  Which we’re all pretty excited about, obviously.

So, it’s been quite an ordeal, and a very stressful week where none of us got much sleep—and the sleep we did get was absolutely terrible: I’ll probably have to go to the chiropractor every day next week to unkink all the joints that I’ve ruined from sleeping at the hospital—but I think the end is in sight.  We would like to thank our doctors—Dr. Starnes, who did the operation; Dr. Leong, his regular cardiologist; and Dr. Wong, a partner of Dr. Leong’s who visited him in the hospital several times and had the final say on getting him out so quickly—and our nurses—Kristen, Nicole, Natalie, Amber, and Sofya—and Leon, our respiratory tech who got his breathing tube out so he could talk again.  And we’d like to thank all of our friends and family who sent us their positive energy, in whatever method they were most comfortable doing.  Plus a big shout-out to our homeschooling group, who’s been feeding us since we got home by dropping off food every day so we don’t have to think about cooking.  All of you have been a great help and have made it much easier to get through this.

Looking forward to happier days ahead.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Final approach to heart repair

First, a recap, so you know what we’re talking about:

So, this post is reaching you in between our pre-surgery appointment, which was this past Friday, and the actual surgery, which is tomorrow (as you read this).  Since we’ve had another trip to the hospital—far more medical than our last one, which was mostly about talking to the doctor—I can now also give you an even more thorough

Brief medical breakdown (for those who like gory details):

  • The exact procedure being done is called the Ross procedure.
    • Side note: the nurse practitioner said that Dr. Starnes will attempt to do an aortic valve repair, which would theoretically obviate the need for a replacement valve altogether.
    • Of course, Dr. Starnes himself never mentioned this; presumably that’s because the chances of success are slim, and he didn’t want to get our hopes up.
    • Therefore, we’re not getting our hopes up.
  • The replacement valve will be a cadaveric valve, also called a “homograft.”
  • The surgery will take about 4 hours.
  • We will be arriving at CHLA at 7am.  No food after 11pm the night before (not a problem, as he’ll be asleep by then), and no liquids after 5:30am.
  • He will come into the ICU with chest tubes and wires; hopefully already extubated.*  He’ll be on morphine until the tubes and wires are gone (which will hopefully be in under 24 hours) and then on Lortab (i.e. oxycodone) and OTC painkillers (e.g. Tylenol) after that.
  • He’ll be getting back to solid food as quickly as he’ll tolerate it.  Also, they will encourage him to get up and moving as soon as he can; it helps with drainage, apparently.
  • He will most likely be in the hospital for a total of 5 – 7 days.
    • During this time, mother, father, and older sibling (who is over 18) can be in the room at any time.
    • Younger sibling will not be allowed in at all (due to “flu season”), so hopefully he can get out of bed and come to her when she visits.  Otherwise, Google Hangouts.

Practical stuff, if you’re here to see what our schedule will be:

  • I will be completely off from work for the week (I actually started as of Friday, due to the pre-surgery appointment).  I may poke my head into the chat rooms, just because there will be lots of waiting and I may get bored.  Or then again I may not.  Nice to have the freedom.
  • The following week I will return to work, but perhaps not physically.  I’ll probably work from home at least part of the week, depending on where we’re at with the recovery period.  I’m very lucky to have a job where I can totally play that by ear.**
  • Similarly, I will probably not be doing anything related to any of my online responsibilities, including but not limited to my position as admin at, my various CPAN modules, and this very blog.***  But then again I might.  If I get bored.
  • The Mother will likely not be doing anything for the entire two weeks (if not longer).
  • The demonspawn (our eldest) will be missing classes on Monday (already cleared with the professors), but returning to class on Wednesday.
  • The sprite (our youngest) is just on extended vacation for a few weeks.

Final thoughts:

Time is winding down until this whole ordeal is over, one way or another.  I hope for a good outcome.  I even go so far as to expect a good outcome, as best I can.  I would like to believe that the universe is not done with my son, even if it’s only to keep teaching me valuable lessons about what’s important in life.  But the truth is, anything can happen.  And, as I pointed out in one of those other posts above, it’s ostensibly true that anything can happen at any time, and I try to remember that as much as possible.  But having that “anything” shoved down your throat with a bunch of fatalistic (literally) medical forms is an unusually stark reminder of the mortality of your loved ones.  Bit of a signpost for the fragility of life, and routine, and family.

Except that’s wrong.  Family is not fragile.  This past week the two younger kids (or “the littles,” as we sometimes call them) went to CostCo with The Mother.  While there, they picked out giant teddy bears (not quite as big as they are, but pretty close): one with a dress, and one with a T-shirt and jeans.  These were promptly named after themselves, and it was agreed that, when the Smaller Animal went to the hospital, he would take the girl-bear with him, and the sprite would keep the boy-bear with her.  You know, as traveling representatives.  So that, no matter how far apart they are in the coming week, they’ll have each other, via proxy bear.  That’s the strength of my family.

No matter how difficult it may be for me to remain positive, my son has no such problems.  He continues to smile regularly and make jokes.  As I write this, he’s in the other room playing video games with one of his best friends, who’s spending the night with him in a tent on the floor of our front room.  He’s having fun.  I’m doing my best to be inspired by how well he’s taking it.  I’d like to tell you I’m being strong for him, but I think it might actually be other way around.

So we’re going to keep on supporting each other, and clinging to each other, and we’re going to get through this.  I can’t yet see how it’s going to come out in the end, but I know that, whatever happens, we’ll be stronger for having had each other, and for having had this wonderful child.  Now it’s time to see what the future has to offer.

For those of you who know us personally—and/or who just feel so inclined—we will gratefully accept your positive energies, be they in the form of prayers, rituals, spells, or just good vibes, should any of those be a thing you believe in.  And, even if not, thank all of you for your support and friendship throughout the years.

Once we have further news, I will be disseminating the information as best I can.  If you’re connected to me on Facebook, there will likely be a post there, as well as one in the chat rooms at work.  Barring that, I may try to return and edit this post with the outcome at some point.  Worst case scenario is you’ll just have to wait a week.  But probably not.

Thanks again.

UPDATE: As of Tuesday morning (11/7/17), the Smaller Animal had a successful surgery, is back in ICU, and finally got his breathing tube out (at around 1am).  The surgeon said the procedure went well; he did look at repairing the valve, but it wasn’t feasible, so they went ahead with the Ross procedure.  (Or, as his older sibling put it, “there’s a little piece of a dead person in him now ... it’s kinda neat.”)  He’s talking, more or less alert, and surprisingly not complaining about the myriad of tubes still sticking out of him.  So he’s a trooper, and he’s doing great.

Thx to everyone for your positive energy.  We all appreciate it.


* That means with the breathing tube removed.

** And thank you very much to my bosses, who have been extremely supportive throughout this process.

*** For more info on my online responsibilities, you could read my posts about Heroscape, CPAN, and the masthead paradox.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Fun Times

This weekend we celebrated my birthday.  It’s not actually my birthday yet, but next weekend will not be particularly useful in terms of celebrating anything (see also the surgery announcement).  So we decided to do the birthday weekend thing a week early.  We didn’t do much, really.  We watched Baby Driver, which was quite good.  We completed our rewatch of season 1 of Stranger Things and got about 3 episodes deep into season 2.  We played a game of Munchkin Wonderland and started a massive 2v1 game of Heroscape: snakes and wolves working with elementals on offense, vs a vast legion of Romans and Cathars on defense.  We ate out at a new(ish) Italian deli, which was pretty nice.  And I got to sleep till noon both days and my family did all my chores for me.  So, you know: can’t complain.

Disneyland on Thursday was, mercifully, not as hot as we feared.  It was, however, a comedy of errors in practically every other way.  We left late, and we had to get gas first.  I accidentally drove to the wrong gas station—the one where they refuse to take any credit card—and then when I said, fine, just run my card as a debit card and I’ll pay your moronic 50¢ fee or whatever it was, it didn’t work anyway.  So we had to drive to the proper gas station anyway and start over.  I plugged my phone into the car charger to make sure it stayed fully charged despite the fact I was running Waze the whole way, but it turns out it wasn’t plugged in all the way, so I started out the day at 50% battery, which started dropping rapidly.  (Yes, my battery is pretty well borked.)  Still better than my eldest, whose phone is completely dead and not yet replaced (on account of being 19 years old means your parents are no longer responsible for fixing everything for you, so things have a tendency to just not get fixed).  We decided to start the day at California Adventure, since it closed at 8 (the main park wasn’t closing until 11pm).  We heard that the new(ish) Cars-themed ride was closed, which was a bummer, since we’ve never ridden it, but we decided to head over to the even newer Guardians of the Galaxy ride, which we’ve also never ridden.  When we got there, they’d just closed “to switch over to the Hallowe’en theme.”  So we figured we’d get a Fastpass time and come back later, but they’d closed the Fastpass too.  So we dawdled a bit in A Bug’s Land, then decided to check out Radiator Springs even if the main ride was closed.  But they’d actually reopened it, and the wait time was only 60 minutes, which is long, but not that long, especially for a good ride that you’ve never been on before.  After 15 minutes of waiting, they announced that the wait time was more like 90 minutes.  15 more minutes and the wait time was officially up to 105 minutes.  It turns out that the problem was, if you have a Fastpass time but the ride is closed then, your Fastpass becomes officially good for any for the remainder of the day.  So all those people with Fastpass times while the ride was closed were now coming back, on top of the people who actually had Fastpass times for that actual time window.  With the end result that they were letting more Fastpass people than “regular” people in, so us regular folks got screwed.  You know how frustrating it is to get 3 people away from the final lining up and then get stopped while 50 Fastpass people go streaming in ahead of you?  I mean, it was a good ride, in the end, but still.  After that we decided to go back to the main park and the littlest one starts freaking out about buying a balloon.  Not now, we say: wait until we’re on the way out.  We’re not lugging a damn balloon around while we’re trying to ride rides.  So that was a thing.  Then the Smaller Animal insisted we take the train to New Orleans instead of walking, which is fine, sort of, except that, by the time you have to wait in line for the stupid train, it ends up taking longer than it would to just walk.  And we’re all hungry as hell because it’s past dinner time at this point.  So I try to get us into the Orleans Café, but they’re only doing reservations.  So, fine: the French Market Restaurant—they don’t have the gumbo, but at least I can get red beans and rice.  Except, no, they took that off the menu.  Sigh.  Okay, fine, give me the “New Orleans beef stew,” whatever that is.  I’ll try something new.  Actually, we just ran out of that; sorry, sir.  Seriously?  So I just got a salad.  Then we were going to go into the Haunted Mansion, but the wait time was 90 minutes and we just couldn’t go through that again.  So then the Smaller Animal wanted to do the Winne-the-Pooh ride, but only because he’d heard there was someplace on the ride where you can see “an animal or something” if you turn around and look behind you at some point on the ride.  (For the record, it’s 3 stuffed-and-mounted heads way up close to the ceiling: moose, bear, and something else ... wolf, maybe.)  But he couldn’t remember when you were supposed to turn around.  So we spent the whole time craning our necks around, which was a real problem for me because I’d already developed a weird crick in my neck from sleeping badly the night before or something.  So then we figured we’d give Pirates of the Caribbean a shot, ’cause the line wasn’t too bad, but it was still 45 minutes of more waiting.  Then we had to get back on the train because the Littles demanded to see the dinosaurs (the littlest one informed us that she hadn’t seen dinosaurs “for 6 minutes—maybe more!”  By that time, it was after 10:30, so we figured we’d call it a night.  Time to find that balloon the little one wanted ... except the balloon sellers had apparently already packed it in for the night.  This engendered a good 15 minutes’ worth of panic, as we desperately tried to avoid a full-blown meltdown.  We finally compromised on buying her a Little Mermaid bubble wand, because, you know: bubbles.  Then we left the park, with Waze telling us that we could be home in a little over an hour: well under half as long as it took us to get there.  Great, we figure.  Maybe just make a quick stop to get a couple milkshakes or something to help us stay awake.  Trying to get Waze to point you at a useful McDonald’s, though, can be tricky.  It forces you to pick which McDonald’s you want to go to, which isn’t very helpful if you have no idea where you are.  I want one that is right off the freeway, and has a drive-through, and isn’t located inside a Wal-Mart, and isn’t already behind us.  How the fuck am I supposed to know which of the 5 McDonald’s-es in the list that is?  We eventually ended up at an In-and-Out (probably a better milkshake anyhow), except we were behind like 20 cars and we didn’t move for 10 minutes.  So we gave up and found a McDonald’s.  Started to order and they said sorry, we’re out of ice cream; what else can I get for you?  Nothing.  You can get nothing for me, because I WANT FUCKING ICE CREAM.  So we finally find a different McDonald’s, and they do have ice cream, but they’re only accepting cash, because their cash registers are all down (literally, they are using pen and paper to calculate the order totals).  So now we’re all scrambling for enough cash and The Mother is pointing out that we actually would have been home by now if we’d just driven straight through, and of course we don’t know how much cash we need because they have to write everything down and carry the 2 and all that shit, and, long story short (HAH!) we ended up getting home at like 1am.

So that was a fun time.  I mean, really it was, and I’m glad we went one last time, but I can’t help but feel like fate was sort of thumbing its nose at us or something.

And now we’re on final countdown.  5 days till the pre-surgery appointment.  7 days until we find out what time the surgery will be, and if they have a room for us at the Ronald McDonald House.  8 days until surgery.  Should be a fun time.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Counting down

Well, we’re winding down the long, stressful march towards the Smaller Animal’s surgery.  Next week is our final trip to Disneyland on this year’s season passes.  This past week I gave a talk at LA Perl Mongers (a.k.a., despite coming off the tail of a 24-hour bug that kept me home from work that day.  Hopefully I didn’t get any of the fellow Mongers sick.

The Smaller Animal and I are trying to work through the new Defenders series before the surgery, and the whole family is rewatching Stranger Things in preparation for season 2.  And of course The Mother and I will be glued to the tube tonight for the Walking Dead season premiere tonight.

And that’s pretty much it.  Working on a few financial things this weekend to get that stuff out of the way, and happy that there’s not something big going on.  Next weekend we’ll get my birthday celebration out of the way a bit early, and the weekend after that, it’s surgery showtime.

Watched Patton Oswalt’s latest Netflix special last night.  He says his late wife hated when people said “everything happens for a reason.”  There’s no reasons (she would say), there’s no order; we just have to be as good to each other as we can every day because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.  Or, as Patton put it:

Everything is chaos; be kind.

I kinda like that.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

NHSD 2017: Quick Results

As expected, there’s still no time for a proper post this week.  However, I can comment just a bit on our National Heroscape Day tournament.  As per last year, let’s start with a few refreshers:


Last year I brought 6 participants to make a total turnout of 11, plus one person who arrived late; this year I brought 7 for a turnout of 13, but one person had to leave early.  Which is fairly promising, all in all—we’re increasing or at least remaining steady, for a game that has been out of print for 7 years.  Not too shoddy.  We’re keeping the dream alive.

Anyhow, this year I lost all my games, which was even more crushing on account of they were all against people I brought to the tourney.  First the demonspawn beat me, then the Smaller Animal beat me, then the Smaller Animal’s best friend beat me, thus leading to this conversation between me and my oldest:

“You got beat by a nine year old!”

“Hey!  He’s ten!”

But I don’t mind.  I don’t go to the tourneys to win; I go to have fun, and I think we all had a great time.  The Smaller Animal was a bit disappointed in his performance, but I say he did pretty damn well: in his first game, he managed to take out half the army of the person who ended up winning the entire thing, and he only lost the last game because his opponent had a bit of a run of good luck.  Not really all that bad for an 11 year old.  This year he played an army consisting primarily of Quahon, the big blue dragon who breathes lightning bolts; Sujoah, the giant dragonfly with a poison stinger; and a few squads of giant spiders.  It’s a pretty solid army overall, and I’m sorry to see him get down on it.

The demonspawn did better, winning two games with an army composed of Morgoloth (the demon darklord), mezzodemons, and wolves.  But the day went to our old friend “hivelord” (his forum name), who won every game, beating out his own dad in the final round.

After the tournament, we went on to play a quite cutthroat game of Exploding Kittens, which the Smaller Animal and his best friend won: they deicded to work together after the best friend killed the SA by accident while trying to knock off his brother.  All in all, a long day, but totally worth it.  Hopefully we can manage to get together sometime before next year’s tournament.


* If you do read that, remember that “Xotli” is my codename there.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Busy busy month

This week, instead of giving you a proper post, I’m going to tell you why I don’t have time to give you a proper post.

As it turns out, this month is turning into quite the crazy one.  There are many factors contributing to that; obviously the biggest one is the Smaller Animal’s upcoming surgery, which is right at the beginning of November.  So a lot of crap has to get taken care of prior to that.  For instance, the surgery is the day after my birthday.  So obviously that weekend is not a particularly good one for a birthday weekend celebration.  As a result, we’ll be celebrating my birthday the weekend before, which is actually before Hallowe’en, even.  Hallowe’en, by the way, is another thing that we have to spend some time preparing for: our eldest was never candy-motivated the way the younger two are, so this level of dedication to dressing up and begging strangers for food is a bit more recent for us.  So there are costumes to buy, routes to plan, etc.

October is also the month for National Heroscape Day.  Due to a convergence of a few factors, we’re getting a pretty late start on prep for that annual tournament.  And it’s not a “preparation light” sort of event.  As small as it’s been getting lately, there’s still quite a bit of work to be done, and I haven’t really started yet.  And I’m down to a week and a half to get it all done (as I write this; even less by the time you read it).  It’s going to be tight this year.

I also got an invite from the moderator of our local Perl group to speak this month.  Well, it serves me right for writing a Perl blog post a few weeks ago and then posting on Facebook about it.  But, it’s been a long time since I did a talk there and I can probably handle this one with mininmal prep time.  Which is a good thing, because minimal prep time is all I’ve got.

Right now, though, I don’t have time to do any of that prep, because I’ve got to finish my online traffic school course before the court-appointed deadline, or else I won’t be able to afford my car insurance any more.  Yeah, I got another ticket.  First one in a while ... my incidence of traffic tickets went way down after I bought that radar detector.  Best investment I ever made.  But, you know, every once in a while, your reflexes just aren’t quick enough to hit the brakes before the cop tags you.  Still, one ticket in 5 years: that’s a definite improvement.  For me.

Still, the big ticket item is getting ready for that upcoming surgery.  We’re hoping to get one last trip to Disneyland out of our season tickets before the date, and pretty much anything else the kid wants, he gets.  We’ve also got one mental health appointment scheduled, and I’m hoping to get another.  I’m not really sure there can be really be too much mental preparation for this sort of event.  But there’s also more mundane aspects to worry about: The Mother just recently reminded me that we need to start compiling a list of all the people we need to update once the surgery is done.  Lots of folks to call or email, posts to social media to make, etc etc etc.  So surgery prep is pretty overwhelming all on its own, never minding all the other prep I’ve been pondering.  And of course it’s not like life in general stopped: there’s still dishes to be done and bills to be paid and children (furry, scaly, and smooth-skinned alike) to be fed and work hours to be worked and clothes to be washed and groceries to be bought and ...

I suppose I could bow out of at least some of those things.  But, no: that’s what I’ve decided to do with this month.  I rather think that keeping as busy as I can physically manage is the only way I’m going to remain sane.  If I give myself too much time to ponder what’s coming up, I may not make it through.  So it’s a busy month, and the downside of that is that you’re not likely to see too many proper blog posts this month ... maybe even none at all.  But I will try to put up something every week, even if it’s only a few sentences.  But, honestly, I’m not even promising that much.  We’ll just have to see how it all plays out.  In the meantime, wish me luck.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Wisty Mysteria I

"Silent Sunset Orange Cloud"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

You may remember back when we talked about Rose-Coloured Brainpanover 2 years ago, now—that I mentioned Depression, the first of the “proto-mixes.”  One of the biggest reasons I refer to anything from that period as “proto” is because those mixes were just random collections of songs.  There was some small amount of thought as to theme, but no real coherent throughline, nothing that would tie the songs together to form something like an album.  By the time I got to college1 I understood that a mix tape needed to be more than a loosely related collection of randomly ordered tracks.  I started to make mixes that were much closer to an album: tracks that fit together to form a picture, and were laid out in an order that told a story.  Now, I still hadn’t learned what the inimitable Hearts of Space was to teach me a few years later—all the stuff about transitions and thematics that I’ve discussed many times beforebut I was making progress.  These were what I call the “pre-modern” mixes, and the very first one I made was an attempt to create a refinement of Depression.

So, as I’ve said before, the biggest problem with Depression is that its picks were all over the place.  The songs from that proto-mix are now scattered across several modern mixes, such as Rose-Coloured Brainpan, Tenderhearted Nightshade, and Darkling Embrace.  Each of these captures a much narrower slice of the range that Depression was trying to examine.  But before any of those mixes, I started with something that would be a little sad, but not too much—sort of wistful, so to speak.  Something where many songs would have a bit of a creepy or mysterious vibe, but again not too much so.  So it would be a little bit wistful and a little bit mysterious, and the first thing I came up with was “Misty Wisteria”: the mist provides the mystery factor, and the wisteria provides the association with sadness via scenarios like doomed gothic romances.  But eventually I just swapped the initial consonants and ended up with far more direct analogs of “wistful” and “mysterious,” but the fact that neither is an actual word encourages the listener’s ear to do the transposition and end up with the original phrase anyway.  Wisty Mysteria was not only the first of the pre-modern mixes, it was also the first to use my weird naming convention.2

The pre-modern mixes were developed in the early 90s, so, just as we saw on HipHop Bottlerocket (whose songs all lived in the very narrow timeband of 1988 – 1990, except for 2 throwbacks to the late 70s), we have a similar situation here.  This time we widen the band somewhat: 1986 – 1991, with a single mid-70s throwback.3  But you still need to be feeling nostalgic for that period from the late 80s to the early 90s to properly enjoy this volume to its fullest.  We even have several crossover artists from HHB, such as Fishbone, Dramarama, Concrete Blonde, and Jane’s Addiction.  Which is pretty strange if you think about it ... Wisty Mysteria is nearly diametrically opposed to HipHop Bottlerocket, thematically.  But that just shows what range some of these bands have.

I think this is a fairly faithful recreation of the original Wisty Mysteria, though theoretically the original should have had more tracks.4  Plus I threw in an extra track at the end: “The Last Resort,” by the Eagles.  I just felt like the mix needed a stronger closer, and “Last Resort” is a melancholy, slow tune that makes good use of Don Henley’s voice to make some stinging commentary on commercialism and religion.  And it’s just a good closer.

So, on the “wisty” side, the saddest song on here is perhaps “Walking in the Woods,” by the Pursuit of Happiness, a Canadian band who are best known for their insanely catchy 1989 hit “I’m an Adult Now.”  Musically, the song is not as downbeat as you might expect, but listen to the words at your own risk: they’ve been known to bring an actual tear to my eye on occasion.  Second might well be a-ha’s “Manhattan Skyline,” where Morten Harket sings “I don’t want to race this pain.”  I also tend to find “Heart of Stone” (by the highly underappreciated Dreams So Real) a bit tear-jerking; certainly the lyrics “she’s gone away ... I’m so alone, and all I own is a heart of stone” is a big clue.  And yet there’s something that’s also not-sad about this tune: its power chords are cathartic, somehow.  And that tends to be where a lot of the choices here land.

“You’re Still Beautiful” by the Church, for instance, with its ode to fading beauty, or “Little Conversations” by Concrete Blonde, which I’ve always felt is a perfect recollection of late-night chats with a member of the opposite sex who isn’t really attracted to you and is too oblivious to notice your feelings for them.  Or perhaps “Part of Me Now” by the Lucy Show, which seems to warn “please don’t break my heart,” or “How Could You Want Him (When You Know You Could Have Me)?” by the Spin Doctors, which expresss all the puzzlement that its title implies.  Even “The Ballad of Jenny Rae” by the BoDeans, which is clearly a story of abandonment (“Jenny Rae left me late last fall; didn’t say much, she just left, that’s all”), is somehow not particularly sad about it.5

On the “mysteria” side, some of the songs here are more obscure; it’s not always clear what they are about.  Is “Blue Green” (by local-to-my-college-town band Hearsay) about drowning?  Does “The Woods” by the Call symbolize a tangled forest inside one’s heart?  Is the echoey, repeated call of “home” in “Up the Beach” by Jane’s Addiction supposed to be welcoming or ominous?

“Obsession” might be about sitting alone with someone you care about in a candlelit room ... but then why does it sound so gothy and dark?  (Probably because it’s from goth-master Ronny Moorings, during his Xymox phase.6)  “Fireplace, Pool & Air Conditioning” by Dramarama is ostensibly a song about seduction (“I’ll take you home ...”), but its surreal lyrics (one of which provides our volume title) hint at something more.

Note that most of these bands are more noted for upbeat songs (or at least mid-tempo), but these tunes showcase their softer sides.  Just as the band that sings “Manhattan Skyline” is the same one that brought you the ultra-pop 80s hit “Take On Me,” so do many of the tracks above share bands and even albums with much more upbeat songs: “The Last Resort” is from the same album as “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Little Conversations” shares a disc with “God Is a Bullet,” “How Could You Want Him?” accompanies the so-poppy-it’s-almost-silly “Two Princes” ... hell, even Dramarama, not necessarily known for hard rockin’, was last seen in this series belting out “Last Cigarette” on HipHop Bottlerocket.  Also on that mix was “Bonin’ in the Boneyard,” by the amazing (and eclectic) Fishbone.  Here they provide our opener: “Pouring Rain.”  This is not really a sad song, but it sure ain’t a happy one.  A taste of the lyrics:

He had one foot in the gutter,
Another on dry land.
His ship had sailed without him.
Across life’s burning sands,
He cried out in the distance.
And no one, no one heard a word
For a prophet’s not respected
in his own world.

Even Walter Kibby’s trumpet has a lonely feel to it ... hell, even Norwood’s bass sounds like it’s echoing in a vast, empty space.  I always thought it was the perfect opener here.

Wisty Mysteria I
    [Silent Sunset Orange Cloud]

        “Pouring Rain” by Fishbone, off Truth and Soul
        “Obsession” by Xymox, off Twist of Shadows
        “Velveteen” by Transvision Vamp, off Velveteen
        “Part of Me Now” by The Lucy Show, off Mania
        “Manhattan Skyline” by a-ha, off Scoundrel Days
        “You're Still Beautiful” by The Church, off Gold Afternoon Fix
        “How Could You Want Him (When You Know You Could Have Me?)” by Spin Doctors, off Pocket Full of Kryptonite
        “Little Conversations” by Concrete Blonde, off Free
        “Blue Green” by Hearsay, off Triggerfish
        “Heart of Stone” by Dreams So Real, off Rough Night in Jericho
        “Fireplace, Pool, & Air Conditioning” by Dramarama, off Stuck in Wonderamaland
        “Walking in the Woods” by The Pursuit of Happiness, off Love Junk
        “Up the Beach” by Jane's Addiction, off Nothing's Shocking
        “The Ballad of Jenny Rae” by BoDeans, off Outside Looking In
        “The Woods” by The Call, off Into the Woods
        “The Last Resort” by Eagles, off Hotel California
Total:  16 tracks,  79:33

In closing, I’ll tell you two more things.  First is a bit of background on one of the bands I only briefly mentioned above.  Hearsay definitely qualifies for my definition of “very obscure band”: AllMusic’s “entry” is so impoverished that it doesn’t even have an overview (because there’s literally no info to overview), and Wikipedia has nothing.  They were in fact a small, local band from a suburb of the town I went to college in ... which is itself just a glorified suburb of Washington D.C.  I scoured the Internet for a digital copy of their magnificent album Triggerfish, but found nothing; the link above will take you to an Amazon page, but you’ll actually be buying a copy from private sellers, and paying anywhere from $15 to $60.  Not saying it’s not worth it; just opining that it’s unlikely too many of you are going to bite on that type of deal.  Perhaps one day I’ll get industrious and upload some of their music to YouTube myself.  In the meantime, you’re mostly going to have to take my word for it that they exist at all; about all I could find other than the Amazon page was an old article from the Washington Post.7  So just trust me when I tell you that lead singer Jeny Nicholson’s vocals are angelic, and Doug Kallmeyer’s bass work is phenomenal.

And, finally, we have “Velveteen” by Transvision Vamp.  Velveteen the album is the lackluster follow-up to the far superior Pop Art; it’s an inconsistent affair whose highlight is a song carried over from its much better predecessor.  “Velveteen” the song is a long, overblown bit of melodrama that drips with cheese ... but I find it irresistable, for some unfathomable reason.  If I were assigning it to a mix today, I would no doubt slot it for something a bit more operatic,8 but at this point it’s become integral to my mental model of what Wisty Mysteria actually is.  It’s not sad, per se, although there’s a sense of yearning at its core.  It’s got way too much in-your-face sexual innuendo, but that’s pretty standard for this band (which after all has “vamp” right there in the name, so you knew what you were getting into).  It can’t really decide what style it wants to be, and its sense of what seduction means is about what you’d expect from a Twilight novel.  And yet ... and yet there’s something about it which captures my imagination, in between the cheesy lyrics and the bombastic strings, something perhaps in the interplay of Wendy James’ sultry bark and what I assume is Nick Sayer’s throaty whisper.  Let’s call it a guilty pleasure and leave it at that.

Next time, we’ll head out on a world tour.


1 For the second time.  I had a weird college career where I attended for 2 years, dropped out for 3, then went back for 3 and finished up.

2 And, yes, I realize I’m being very generous in calling it a “convention.”

3 Again, count on future volumes expanding on that.

4 All the original pre-modern mixes were on 90-minute cassettes, so modern mix volumes are generally about 10 minutes shorter.

5 In fact, this is probably the most country-ish song the BoDeans have ever done that I can still stand to listen to.  And yet, despite that, I’ve always really liked this particular track.

6 That would be after his Clan of Xymox phase, but just before his Clan of Xymox phase.

7 Fun fact: see how the final paragraph of that article says: “if you miss them at the Bayou, they’ll be at Fat Tuesday’s in Fairfax Thursday”?  I was actually at that show.

8 A mix which we shall come to in, as always, in the fullness of time.