Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Brief Comment on Dungeons & Dragons 5

I currently do not have any plans to pick up the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons that is being released starting next month. There are two reasons for this:

  1. I am not currently a part of a regular gaming group.
  2. Core set of books cost $150.
I did look over the preview Wizards of the Coast put out, and it looks to have serious potential. Hard to really judge without a monster stat block or three, but it appears to have dispensed with some of the complexity and scaling issues that plagued the recent versions. If either of those two conditions were not the case, I might be interested to see if the set would be worthy of succeeding my old D&D Rules Cyclopedia (available again in PDF) as my  preferred edition of D&D.

Over the past decade or so, the internet has supported a great deal of competition with versions of games reformulating the older, simpler versions of D&D itself as well as Pathfinder taking over the popular v3 D&D niche on the high end. Not to mention Savage Worlds, a very low cost of entry generic system,  or Fate and Apocalypse World type games with their more storytelling style. All of these are available in PDF for very low costs, and even if you prefer the real books, there is a great deal of play to be had for far less than $150. I suspect I am not alone, and Wizards is taking a pretty big risk re-launching their flagship at such a premium price.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bookworming: Red Storm Rising

Red Storm Rising, Tom Clancy, ***
Back in the late 80s when this book came out, it was deemed a chillingly plausible scenario of how World War III might play out with the conventional weaponry of the era. Times have changed, I have grown up (a little), and now it's easy to see the Cold War bigotry, the fetishization of technology, and, as one might expect of military fiction of that day, its complete failure of the Bechdel test. Co-author Larry Bond, uncredited on the jacket, was best known at the time for his Harpoon naval warfare game. As such, the action is largely in the air and at sea. It is often called a techno-thriller for a reason: this is not a novel about people, it's a narrative look at the tools of war and the strategies used to employ them. The characters are mere names who's personal stories go from non-existent to wholly subservient to the grand sweep of the war, and pretty much nowhere else. Know what you are getting into with this book: it's military strategy fiction, all the way down.

With all that said... I love it. For better than 25 years it has remained one of my favorite "beach book" reads. It's a summer blockbuster of a novel, shot throughout with tension punctuated with action scenes. I am giving it three stars here because it will absolutely not be for everyone. For fans of speculative military fiction or grand strategy however, it's an easy one to recommend.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Quote of the Moment

"If I were to give up Sarcasm, that would leave interpretive dance as my only means of communication."
—Bill Murry via Twitter

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Apocalypse Watch: Remember Max?

"My life fades. The vision dims. All that remains are memories. I remember a time of chaos. Ruined dreams. This wasted land. But most of all, I remember The Road Warrior. The man we called "Max".
— Narrator, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Entertainment Weekly, The Apocalypse Issue cover

If this keeps up, I'm going to have to add a new tag to the list.

Aereo Fallout, Well That Didn't Take Long

"In  Aereo's Wake Fox targets Dish's TV streaming service"

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Grist for the Post-Apocalypse Mill

Ebola outbreaks and antibiotic resistant disease, wars and revolutions, fear of terrorists... is it any wonder why both super-hero and apocalyptic media is going strong right now? So what makes for a good apocalypse? It's an interesting question pondered in the video below, in between the parts decrying the overuse of zombies. I can't really disagree with that either, but I'm mostly linking it for the thoughts on the end of the world stories. Anyway, here's Dodger with "How To End The World".

The Incremental Approach and Aero

Back in the late 90s when the mp3 format became popular for music listening, I spent some time pondering where the line of illegality was for sharing such files. Before I get into this, please note it was a thought exercise by someone who is very, very not a lawyer.

So me listening to a CD I bought is legal.
Me listening to a CD that I borrowed from a friend is legal.
My friend and I listening to the CD together is legal.
Me ripping a CD onto my computer is legal (there is no data protection on the disk, so it doesn't fall under DMCA protection).
Me listening to a CD I borrowed from my friend after he ripped it is likely not legal, but it's hard to say which one of us would be in violation.
We can presumably play a CD through a computer's speakers and both listen to it. However, if we both listen to an mp3 on, say a networked hard drive, even if we are still in the same room, that somehow becomes illegal.
What if only one of us listens at a time? What if we aren't in the same room? What if we are neighbors listening in different houses? The point is, once you introduce a network connection into the distribution of data, it seems the copyright question goes haywire, even if there are limits on who can access when.

Which brings us back to 2014 and the case of ABC vs. Aereo. Aereo's business was renting an antenna and a DVR to subscribers, one antenna per subscription. Their customers could then access their account to set up when and what channel to record and play back any recordings on their various internet connected devices or watch live. Now it is perfectly legal for me to set up a DVR in my home and record over-the-air broadcasts for later viewing. In 2008 it was established that the so-called "cloud DVR" is also legal. But the Supreme Court has now ruled that Aereo is performing the same function as a cable company and thus subject to the same copyright restrictions as cable companies. And they explicitly state that the differences in how the broadcasts are delivered (e.g. 1 antenna per customer vs. cable's multi-cast to all their customers) do not make a difference.

Aereo was splitting the hair pretty fine in following the letter of the law, and they succeeded all the way up to the high court. But with this reversal, the question now turns to what the effect will be on services that duplicate other kinds of potentially copyrighted data across the internet. What does it mean if one were to put an e-book into Dropbox or a cloud backup service to then access from multiple computers/devices? Is that really different from Aereo's service?

In any case, I have rambled too long here about something better summarized by real journalists (see the article linked above and this further analysis), but it highlights how the rapid rise of networked computers poses a problem to a slowly evolving society. Frameworks like the legal system, the economy, and the government are having to adjust to a more complex and technological reality. And sometimes the answers just aren't going to come easily.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bookworming: Skin Game

Skin Game, Jim Butcher, *****
Hey, a new Dresden Files novel! Standard rules apply: don't start the series here and if the formula has worn thin for you, then don't bother. Speaking of the formula, it is in full force here. Prepare for beat up Harry followed by hurt Harry followed by too tired and hurt to do magic Harry. Even though the basic formula is in play, this one brings back some favorite villains, further illuminates some of Harry's recent changes, and for my tastes is one of the better stories of recent Dresden Files books.