Friday, June 04, 2010

Questions for God

Rather than "why?" I'd ask "how?"

If I knew "how" I could do it myself and then I could figure out "why."

But then again my reasons would be different than His.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Artificial Intelligence

A higher difficulty level in a strategy game should mean that I'm playing against a smarter opponent who makes strategically sound moves.

It should not mean that the rules of the game alter to favor my opponent, who is still playing as dumb as he was on the easy setting, but now with fuzzy math that means things end up in his favor more often than not.

How is this so hard to program?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Attention Criminals

I would like to see the following threats to American security report to Guantanamo Bay Prison immediately:

  • Every employee of British Petroleum, and their agencies;
  • Everyone connected to the Bush administration and everyone who voted for them;
  • Everyone who purchased a vehicle that gets less than 20 miles to the gallon between the years of 1993 and 2010
It is time to be held accountable for your crimes against this country, the environment, and the human race.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Anyone who interacts with me long enough will have the pleasure of hearing my Sean Connery impression. It's just part of what I do, no different than breathing or washing my hands twenty times a day.

I often have strange dreams when my wife is out of town, which she is. That is important to our story.

Last night I dreamed I was at at dinner party, and one of the other people at my table was Sean Connery. I inadvertently did my Sean Connery impression in front of him and then tried to play it off as a joke. Sean was not amused. In fact he got very mad and I had to start running away from him.

I hid in someone's house but their dog found me and started chasing me. Then the owners of the house chased me.

Good times.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A Question of Character (and System)

I'm getting back in the groove of running a regular role-playing game, and I chose a very different genre for me: a sci-fi game set in the universe of Richard K Morgan's Altered Carbon books. I also decided to give a new system a spin: Eclipse Phase. I've had a really good experience with the Eclipse Phase team (they helped me out when I really needed it - seriously, excellent customer service), but it doesn't look like the system is going to work with our group's style. More importantly, with my GMing style.

I thought about this after reading a list of story-driven RPGs on The Mighty Atom, many of which I've at least read if not tried. My GMing style tends to be very story focused. I see the game as a chance for a group of friends to sit down together and tell a collective story, and the game system has to be an enabler for this. The system is designed to give the game some structure and resolve conflicts that arise in the story in a reasonable way (characters fighting other characters being a common conflict.)

Eclipse Phase turned out to be slightly too clunky for my tastes. It's not a bad system at all. It's a very good system, but it focuses a little more on simulation over story. This fits some people's playstyles perfectly but not mine. One of the reasons I was happy with the d20 system was that I knew it very well, including its limitations, and it did a fair job of simulating a character's abilities without getting in the way. The system was easy to push aside when you simply wanted to focus on story.

I've been thinking a lot about this in relation to other game styles that I enjoy. I agree about 99.99% with Shamus Young's comparison of Saint's Row 2 vs. Grand Theft Auto IV that he published on Twenty Sided. The money quote for me:

    In GTA IV, the mission designer has all the fun, designing something for you to enact. In Saints Row 2, the designer just fills the world with toys and you get to do the creative part.

This carries over into the characterization as well. In Saint's Row 2, you design your character from the ground up. He (or she) has no name. His history is painted with broad stokes, allowing you to fill in. In GTA4, your character is so specific that I'm certain there's a 100-page biography sitting on some brand manager's desk somewhere in Rockstar headquarters. It's fine for a movie. It's awful for a game.

RPGs, especially online RPGs, have had a hard time walking this line. Early RPGs like Bard's Tale or Wasteland had no 'stock' characters. You rolled your own, decided your class, named them, and they simply interacted with the world. This is the same model that most offline RPGs use, except all of the hard math stuffs are automated. The funny thing is, most of these early RPGs were very light on the story (if it existed at all.)

Eventually this changed, notably with games like Baldur's Gate or Planescape: Torment. The character was still largely up to the player but he or she had a defined background and history. You were no longer playing a character that was your own. Japanese RPGs are even worse in this regard, essentially plopping you in the role of an anime character where the only customization they allowed was swapping of gear or possibly changing the name. Which is fine if you want an interactive film, but not so great if part of the joy of playing the game is imagining yourself in the role.

RPGs have since swung back towards the Baldur's Gate or Torment models. In Fallout 3 players can define their character and even play through and define some of his or her background (within a set of parameters) and are then presented with a series of puzzles, missions and quests that they can solve pretty much any way they wish.

This is the design ethic I like to use in the games I run. I admit that it's been a long personal road getting to this point (what do you MEAN you're not going to do what I thought?!? There's four hours of planning down the toilet!!) This may not be a universal rule, but I'd be willing to bet that the system one chooses will match one's playstyle and storytelling style as well.

Does it matter in Just Cause 2 whether my character, a CIA operative with unlimited parachutes and a grapple wire-thing attached to his arm, is skilled in an AK-47 assault rife, an M16 assault rife, or a pistol? No. He can pick up any of these guns (in fact, assault rifles are just 'assault rifles' in the game) and blaze away at his enemies because it's more fun than him picking up one of several kinds of guns, looking at it stupidly and saying 'well, can't shoot this! without a -20 penalty! before dying in a hailstorm of enemy lead. Why? Because that's lame. It isn't any fun for the player.

Just Cause 2, much like Saint's Row 2, presents you with a bunch of options and lets you do things and solve things pretty much any way you want - it knows when to get the hell out of the way in favor of a fun time and progressing the game along. That's the kind of system I need in the games I'm running.

I'm not trashing Eclipse Phase - I have nothing but respect for the designers and the team. With a different group (and someone else as GM) I would absolutely love it.

The kind of game I want to run will hopefully be as fully defined by my players' imaginations as my own. Here's some stuff, you guys come up with a way to overcome it, hey that sounds reasonable, this is how it all plays out. It's the foundation for all RPGs but games of all genres too often get hung up on the fiddly parts and forget the fun parts.

Friday, April 30, 2010


I hate that phrase. Really hate it. It equivocates obstruction of business and loss of profit, or at worse destruction of property, with the taking of life for a political gain. I guess it's simply a matter of perspective, and the ultimate utilitarian argument: I agree with the ends, therefore I can justify the means.

I find myself becoming more utilitarian in this regard, mostly because I feel a room full of Kantians would never accomplish anything. Progress is often predicated on a strong sense of ideology, but also a willingness to enter into compromise.

This is problematic in and of itself. If Gandhi or Martin Luther King had compromised, would they have accomplished as much?

At what point does a stubborn 'right' turn against itself? Is Paul Watson, for example, a terrorist? If he had strictly used peaceful means, would he be a Gandhi, or pejoratively compared to Osama bin Laden? Just because I agree with his goals am I overlooking what is a form of terrorism, by definition?

I have no answers to these questions. I'm just tossing them out there because I haven't made up my mind, and I'm not sure what to think.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Last night I went out for dinner with a team visiting my office from Korea to a local seafood place. On the menu: oysters, crab legs, a little bit of fish, and some bread.

Normally oysters are something I eat in my mom's stuffing at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I don't dislike them, but I've always found them kind of gross.

Last night I eschewed that and had quite a few (for me) oysters. And in retrospect, they weren't half-bad.

As I get older, I find my palate changing, accepting things I would not have eaten before. I love bananas. Black pudding in the UK was good. The Beautiful Competition even turned me on to fois gras, which I admit is really damn good. I feel like there's a new world of culinary delights out there yet to be discovered as I open my mind and taste buds more and more.

Still not going to eat any raw oysters on the half-shell though.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

40 Years

Today is the 40th Earth Day. Today, I rode the bus to work for only the second time since I've been back (this was not planned, it was a coincidence.)

I admit that most of my efforts are token at best. I recycle, I owned a hybrid car (but now drive a far-less efficient Jeep.) I carpool when I can and I compost, but still continue to directly participate in a system that encourages wasteful and unmitigated consumption that is ultimately unsustainable.

I'd like to think I did my part this morning. Our secretary was going to drive three hours south to Portland to pick up 3 iPads because there aren't any left in Seattle, then drive three hours back. iPads. Calculate the carbon footprint on that.

I convinced her that if she really had to go 200 miles to pay $600 a pop for some fashionable gadget, she should at least take Amtrak.

She also had no idea it was Earth Day.

40 years from now, I'll blog that today is the day I truly felt and understood the meaning of the term Phyrric Victory.

Edit: here's something a little more positive.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fundamental Beliefs

Health care is not a luxury item. It is not an iPad or a BMW or a bottle of nice wine. It is not a vacation to Fiji or a seven-bedroom mansion.

Health care is a utility, like sewage and sanitation, police protection, fire departments, good roads, a strong military and other utilities that keep society safe and operating well.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I've made a lot of mistakes in my life. Most of them are the sort of laundry I don't care to air on this blog, but I will admit to and apologize for this one.

When I was a freelance writer trying to make my name, I sold out my integrity as a movie reviewer, Star Wars fan and as a writer by penning a good review of Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones in exchange for the chance to see the movie a week before the rest of the world.

I'm so very sorry.

Monday, April 19, 2010


I'm now about 99% certain what the Bible was referring to in the story of the loaves and fishes.

Jesus said, bread and anchovies? Awesome. Let me get a little red sauce and I'll show you guys a real miracle - of flavor!

You heard it here first kids.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chicken Coop For The Soul

So one of the things that Elizabeth and I found in London was a thriving locally-sourced food scene. Locally-sourced foods are great for many reasons: fewer preservatives, healthier, you know what's in them and how they were grown, and it bolsters the local economy rather than massive corporate farms that are good for no one except investors. We decided to become very serious about looking into the possibility of entering the scene as more than just consumers, and although we still don't know what that will look like we decided to try to start 'easy' with a few chickens for eggs.

So we now have five hens, a chicken coop and 9 eggs after two days. A small portion of our yard is taken up with the chicken run, but apart from a long weekend of hard work and a lot of Internet research on the part of the Beautiful Competition most of the intensive labor is done.

I'll post more about this as things develop but 'going local' has always been a priority of ours, and this is the first step to becoming that change we want to see.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Horizons

I've been fairly tight-lipped about this but for good reason. The 11th was my last day at Edelman, as I accepted a new position with a gaming company. Today we announced ourselves to the world, so I can say that I work for En Masse Entertainment, an MMO publisher, on their first title TERA.

I'm the Community Director here an En Masse, and we're putting a huge focus on community before, during and after the game's launch. It's an amazing opportunity for me not only because I'm back in the games industry and working with an awesome group of people, but it's possibly one of the best moves I can make for my professional development. We're going to do some kickass community work and I won't just be a part of it, I'll be leading it!

BrotherMagneto is back in the old community saddle!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Top Six Ways First-Time Social Media Engagement is Like Your First Time Having Sex

I can't recall the presentation that made the cheeky point 'your first social media engagement will be like your first time having sex,' and I'm more than happy to credit it for inspiration of this post if anyone cares to point it out. The 'awkward first time' thing is actually pretty apropos for social media engagement, and I was reminded of this fact recently with some clients at my old agency who were enamored with the act and not nearly enough with the approach. So without further ado, and tongue planted firmly in... cheek, I give you: the Top Six Ways First-time Social Media Engagement is Like Your First Time Having Sex.

Goes without saying some of this might not be work-safe if your company can't handle a little grown-up fun.

6. Those who talk the loudest are rarely the most experienced. Remember the braggart jock in high school who used to like to talk about his conquests in the locker room? And remember how your parents told you he was full of hot air? Guess what: there's a lot of that floating around in social media too. Those who can, do. Those who can't, have slickly-designed blogs and write about it a lot. Not that there aren't some perfectly legitimate people out there with well-designed blogs who have intelligent things to say about social media. Unfortunately, those people tend to be few and far between, and the number of locker-room bragging is going up. Beware someone who hasn't actually been doing this for several years, unless that person is young and has been doing this in their off-time before doing it professionally.

5. It's easy to get hung up on the toys. Unless you lead a very un-exciting life, in which case I apologize and recommend you spice things up a bit, you have probably experimented with toys at some point. But rarely are toys the sole focus of what you're doing, and very rarely are toys a major part of your first time. So while it may be exciting to think about sinking hundreds of thousands into a YouTube channel, remember that these toys are really just something to supplement the overall experience - not central focus of what you're doing. Sure, they can be used in some very interesting combinations and when used correctly can greatly enhance your social media experience. But keep them in your pocket in case the mood takes you there, don't whip them out over dinner and declare that this is where things are headed. Unless you're into that kind of thing, I guess.

4. There's a lot of porn out there. Porn exploits people. People choose to allow themselves to be exploited for money. Porn also creates a series of completely unreasonable expectations about sex, because porn is designed to do one thing and one thing only: scratch a biological itch and make money doing it. When's the last time you had a sexy plumber over while you were wearing nothing but French-lace panties and he lost his shirt and you ended up re-creating 3/4s of the Kama Sutra in your kitchen? Or when is the last time you had one of those 'Dear Penthouse, I never thought it would happen to me?' experiences?

Yeah, I thought so.

A good deal of the social media sales is like pornography. Slick gurus put out titillating books, post to well-designed blogs and talk about how if only you fork over $100,000 to them for consulting fees you're assured a front-page success story in the Wall Street Journal. It's all as airbrushed, posed and fake as porn, baby, but like a generation raised with the Internet and without the need to hide a crinkly stack of Playboys under their mattress (warning: link NWS), it has created extremely unreasonable expectations about the act itself. So let me be blunt here and repeat something my mother told me when I was about fourteen (ahem): it's designed to titillate and make money, nothing else. Real quality interaction comes from long-term work, trust and relationship-building. You can start rolling in the hay right away or wait until a few dates in, but anyone can tell you that if you're putting the effort into it then it will pay dividends. It's all about the quality of the relationship, not the flashy airbrushed fiction.

3. Size doesn't matter. 1,000,000 Twitter followers is better than 10,000, right? Wrong. It's perfectly natural for us to take peeks around in the locker room and do a little compare-and-contrast. We see what the big studs are doing with their massive groups of followers - Stephen Fry has fans hanging on his every word, The Real Shaq can activate a small army with a single Tweet, and Starbucks' massive group on Facebook is a 150-slide case study in and of itself. But like the old saying goes, it's not the size but how you use it. Starbucks and Shaq, ahem, are so successful because they're using it well, not because of the size and girth of their follower numbers. In fact, there's a strong argument to be made that the only reason their numbers are so high is because they're using it well.

Avoid anyone who promises you 250,000 views, or 10,000 followers for a lump sum. It's a bullshit sales pitch designed to take advantage of people who only care about that number (a scummy old advertising trick, surprise surprise.) 1000 true fans following you, hanging on your every word, buying your products and supporting your company are way better than 1,000,000 indifferent people or robots. And if you talk to your 1,000 fans in a kind and loving way, then the size of your group won't matter nearly as much as all the other ways you can show them love.

I'm sure there's a slightly less male-centric comparison here too. Um, yeah, boobs.

2. There might be crying involved. Especially if your promotion metrics were invented by a bunch of marketing people who have only read about social media in PR Weak, and your raise this year depended on you taking your Facebook group from 1000 members to 1,000,000 members in six months. You really might want to consider what's reasonable to do in a reasonable amount of time. The above four points might be an excellent guide, as will other success stories based on relationship-building.

1. It's going to be awkward, fumbling and you're going to sit there thinking 'what the hell was that all about?' Because there's a lot of expectations out there, misplaced and unreasonable as most of it is. Four years ago my job consisted of convincing companies that social media is important. Well, mission accomplished. If you don't think social media is important then congratulations, you're a dinosaur and I cannot wait to have your office and salary someday soon. Nowadays, my job is to convince people to do social media right. Because doing it right is sometimes very un-sexy. It takes time and work, like a relationship. But like a relationship, it's far more fulfilling than a one-night stand, and way less awkward than your first fumbling gropes in the backseat of a Chevy.

Take your time. Know your audience. Build a relationship. Make some effort. Social media, the unsexy part, is going to be a slow burn. But like a relationship the payoffs are well worth it: trusting and loyal customers, an excellent reputation, evidence of your efforts to anyone with a search engine, positive word of mouth and correlating sales data to prove you're doing it right.

Coming soon: The Top 10 Ways Social Media Engagement Is Not Like Having Sex.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Growing Up

In one morning I've used Rogaine and listened to the Dead Kennedys. This, dear readers, is what growing up and adulthood is all about.

Also that's an admission for me: yes, my hair is thinning up top. I can no longer pretend it's just falling funny or maybe my pillow is wearing a spot in my head like a baby. It's definitely thinning. I wonder if the Rogaine kicks in what it will look like. Will there be little peach fuzzy hairs there for a while? I dunno.

All I can think of is that in the future, they can replicate food, eliminate money, peacefully explore the stars, create entire realities in a holodeck - but they can't cure baldness.

Clearly science has failed.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Tonight I wrote a poem.

When I was done, I read it over and thought it looked like a puddle of vomit in the toilet.

Unlike a puddle of vomit, I've saved it.

Like a puddle of vomit, I don't think I'll show it to anyone.

I mention this only because I'm still writing which is better than not writing at all.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Buffalo Sauce

I go through strange food cravings. Not the kind of craving that a pregnant lady has, 'I have to have this right now or a small nation will suffer!' or the kind of craving you might have after work, 'gee, Mexican food sounds great tonight.' My cravings are much more constant and low-grade, but consuming in that it may be the only kind of good that sounds good to me.

When I was in London, twice I had tomato cravings. Both of them lasted six weeks. I ate fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce on Italian food, roasted tomatoes, tomato soup, tomato paste. If it can be made from a tomato, I probably put it in my cakehole. The Beautiful Competition was extremely tolerant of these cravings despite their nonsensical nature.

I've gone through others, but much less pronounced. Red meat. White sauce. Different kinds of cheeses. But these haven't lasted nearly as long.

Since I've come back to America, I've craved Buffalo sauce.

That's not entirely true. I didn't crave it the moment I landed. In some small town in Oregon, while the Beautiful Competition and I were driving back from Oklahoma, we ended up in a Denny's at 11 at night (the only thing open) and the Buffalo Fingers sounded good, so I ordered some. The waitress brought extra Buffalo sauce on the side, in which I dipped my fingers (the food, not my attached fingers.)

And.. bam.

Ever since then, I'm craving Buffalo sauce. This is definitely the 'strange craving' category. I've imagined a world - this world - where I could buy a 50 gallon drum of Buffalo sauce, the kind you'd only find in a school cafeteria or a fallout shelter. And take it home. And just start drinking it. Despite the fact that I'm well aware that this would be a Very Bad Idea.

I'm typing this up in an airport on the way out of town for a business trip. I just had some Buffalo wings. They were nothing more to me than a Buffalo sauce delivery system. There was a nice paste of sauce on the bottom of the plate when I was done. I wondered whether I could just suck it up through a straw and drink it. (In case you're wondering, propriety won out and I didn't attempt it. To my fellow Sea-Tac travellers: you're welcome.)

I cannot explain this craving. But right now, if I could eat Buffalo sauce for three meals a day, I probably would.

Om nom nom.

Monday, January 18, 2010

On Time

Back to the Future had it wrong.

Time is linear. If time travel were possible, it would only happen within the context of a single timeline, which is to say that anything 'changed' in the past would actually just be part of the same timeline, which is to say that it wouldn't change at all.

You can't actually go back in time to kill your grandfather before your father was born.

However you could go back in time to arrange to buy stock in a company that did really well, and have the money all delivered on the same day. Say, like, several billion dollars. Preferably by dump truck for maximum dramatic effect.

Then you could use your money to devote your life to building the same time machine that you used to give yourself money in the first place.

In fact, I would very much like to do this.

No dump trucks have arrived at my house today.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

From Genocidal Madman to Serial Killer

There's a piece of wisdom among writers: Kill Your Darlings. I first encountered this adage in Stephen King's brilliant On Writing, and it's one of the best pieces of advice anyone's ever given me about writing. Sometimes writers become too attached to things they really like and just won't give them up. Sometimes, those darlings just aren't as good as we think and they need to be smothered in their sleep.

You might have noticed this blog isn't updated nearly as regularly as it used to be. In 2004, I made more than 600 updates. In 2008, I made 80. Last year, I made 11. And although I started on a personal project, I haven't written anything of consequence in the last couple of years either, darlings or otherwise.

It's not that I've been killing the occasional darling, it's that I've been engineering an active campaign of genocide against my creativity.

Of course I didn't see it that way, but the net result is the same. Stagnation. Devotion of my energy to things inconsequential. And an appalling slip in grammatical correctness that I'd love to chalk up to me being artistic in this post but cannot.

There's a lot of (re)new going on in my life right now. A major component of that for me is writing and tapping back into the thing I love the most, and one of the things I love about myself the most. It means going back in and finding some darlings and not just putting them against a wall and shooting them before they find themselves on the page. That's hardly fair is it?

A colleague of mine once told me that tomorrow is always too late. This is true, and this is why today I'm going to stop this horrible campaign of destruction against my darlings and instead go back to simply killing them on an as-needed basis, rather than the extermination of the entire darling race.

You can also expect more updates here.

One of the things I've felt this blog has lacked in the past is a certain degree of focus. I can't simply make it 'general' because I'm just not that interesting. I can't make it specific because it's already been my Puppet Show for so long that turning it into Jason's Subversive Puppet Show and Scotch Tasting Notes doesn't seem like it would work. So instead I will focus on what it says in the description: a writer re-igniting his love for the craft. I'm not sure what that will look like exactly but I hope it'll be interesting enough.

2010's the future. I may not have my flying cars yet or worlds to explore except Europa but I can at least say that there is the here and now and that my creativity has been on hold long enough.

2010. Now. Today. Because tomorrow is always too late.