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Shannon A.
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30th-Aug-2015 10:25 pm - Livin' In a College Town
Kimberly and I got back from a great bike ride today, and discovered that one of the two trees that we had planted about three years ago — that I hand-watered for a year and half and that I've checked regularly during our drought — had been badly damaged. A couple of feet of bark was stripped off of about 30% of the trunk's diameter and the smoother wood under was somewhat damaged too. Our best guess (and it's a very likely scenario) is that a drunk college kid smashed his high-school-graduation-present Prius into the tree while backing out. Unfortunately, it looks like it happened at least a few days ago, as the damaged bark that was crumpled up and hanging from the tree had already gotten hard and rigid. It can't be reattached.

We duct-taped the remaining damaged bark that was still mostly attached to the tree, and I gave the poor tree extra water. Some time later this week, I'll try and get it some fertilizer, and I've got watering it back on my schedule as it could now use all the help it could get.

Unfortunately, this is the sort of thing that happens, living' in a college town. Or rather it's the sort of thing that happens, livin' in a college town, in a society that idolizes underage drinkin' and partyin'. No, I'm not just an old fogey; I've hated it since I was a college-age kid here.

Also, I'm an old fogey.

K. and I actually talked about the topic of college a few days ago, before we discovered the hit-and-run on our tree. We each settled in (or near) a college because colleges create cool communities.

Or, at least they did.

When we moved to Berkeley, it was full of great bookstores, great comic stores, and great movie theaters showing wacky movies. There were fun, casual restaurants, and there was an interesting culture that was intelligent, counter-culture, and political.

And year by year that's all faded away, and some of the benefits have even become deficits.

The bookstores and comic stores are greatly decreased in number. Only the mainstream theaters are left. I admit, we're part of that problem. We shop online and we rent DVDs and streams from Netflix. But, there's cause and effect and effect and cause there. I shopped at Cody's less and less as they stocked less and less backstock. I shopped at Shakespeare's less and less as they got stingier with their buying and so had less interesting stock on their shelves, as they turned it over more slowly as a result. Perhaps those bits of stinginess were the result of lower revenues due to people buying online, but they lowered revenue by forcing people to buy online.

And DVDs, that's the classic case of the local stores just not offering the benefits they need to, in order to compete against online stores.

So, it's not exactly that I miss the book, comic, and movie stores, at least not as they existed shortly before their demise. It's that their absence — or the lack of need for them — means that Berkeley is no longer offering one of the benefits, one of the balances that it once did.

Meanwhile, the restaurants continue to go upscale and trendy. Oscar's? It's going to be replaced by vegan fast food.

That's a fine example of how the counter-culture has become the privileged-culture. North Berkeley and the hills have long ago become enclaves of over-privileged people who expect everyone to jump when they say so. I occasionally run into such a specimen, and I tend to blithely refuse their over-demands ... and they're flummoxed. They don't understand how a world could exist where people don't do what they say.

Perhaps the last remnant of the counter-culture is the homeless-apologia of the city. Homeless numbers increase as the rest of the west coast shuts them out, and though I have tolerance for the genuinely homeless, I can't say the same for the "travelers", the wandering kids who popped up in the '90s, journeying up and down the west coast like modern-day hobos. They're aggressive and angry. They're frequently fighting, occasionally chasing down tourists who snap their photos. Between drought and laws in other cities, we have an entire west-coast of them now, all-year round.

Meanwhile, the college kids remain. And they certainly have plenty of problems of their own. We aren't kept awake as often by loud parties since we've had an increasing numbers of our windows redone, but they're there. And, man does this town get crowded every year when the students came back, as they did a week or so ago. And sadly some percentage of them are just as thoughtless as you'd expect young 20-year-olds to be. It shows up in the rubbish filling the streets every semester-end, in the smashed bottles left fragmented on our sidewalk ... in the tortured trees.

So loud parties, drunken kids, and angry travelin' youths are now balanced by ... a lot less than they used to be.

I'm not feeling particularly bad about Berkeley or anything today. I'm not feeling particularly unhappy about where I live. But I'm aware that it's become a different place from the one I chose half a lifetime ago. I'm aware that a balance has shifted and continues to shift, because the world is a different place, and because Berkeley is.

And I wrote about it primarily because I'm pissed about the assault-and-battery on my tree.
16th-Aug-2015 04:04 pm - San Francisco Adventures
Yesterday the weather report said that the East Bay would be in the high 80s. That's very hot for us East-Bayers, so I decided to do my Saturday biking adventures in San Francisco. It's, I think, just the 4th day I've spent biking over in the City, and just the first time I've really dived into the heart of the City, rather than just riding the Bay.

I started out on Market Street, which the City Council has been working to quiet for years. The most recent change was just a few days ago when they outlawed turning onto Market Street from 3rd through 8th. The result is indeed a much quieter Market, with most of the traffic being buses, taxis, and bikes. Apparently Uber and Lyft were becoming a big problem on the street, especially for bicyclists (because they were regularly sitting in bike lanes) and they're pretty much gone now. Lower Market is still challenging because you have to dodge buses, but it wasn't the horrifically busy street that I remember (just bus-sy).

Further up Market Street, past 101, you duck behind a Safeway and then you're on the Wiggle, a bike route that even has its own PSA and theme song. It's pretty much the route between Market and the Panhandle. Nice, quiet streets with very clear markings that eventually bring you onto a protected bikeway that leads into the Panhandle, and beyond that Golden Gate Park. It's all very well constructed, and exactly the type of safe bikeway you can have on city streets with careful thought. (It was also the source of Civil Obedience from bicyclists in the last week; a local precinct started aggressively ticketing bicyclists on the Wiggle, so bicyclists started showing them what happened to traffic if they put their foot down at every stop on the Wiggle as the cops were requiring. Traffic snarled to a halt. Two full-stop demonstrations, and the clueless cops went back to what they're supposed to be doing, which is ticketing Vision Zero violations that actually cause traffic fatalities ... like cars not stopping.)

The Panhandle is AOK. I don't think I've ever gone its full length before, but the best part of the trip came when I got to Golden Gate Park. I don't like how many cars fill Golden Gate Park. I've never liked that. But a mile or so into the Park, the streets were blocked off for automobiles, and then it got pleasant. It got even nicer a bit further when my path diverged from the main road. Though the parts of GG Park right next to the roads are very crowded, you get just a quarter-mile from parking, and the Park becomes much quieter, because the people who use GG Park largely don't like to actually walk. And, I love the quieter, darker parts of the Park, which is just so full of nooks and crannies. My favorite stop for the day was the Polo Fields, which have a track around them that bicyclists train on. I decided to do a lap, and it was beautiful, fast surface. Even weirder was the Angling & Casting Club, which really looked like it should be a Roman Bath or or something. While in the Park, I actually got lost twice, once because of construction and once because I just got confused and took the wrong turn (ending up back at the Polo Fields instead of the Windmills). I love that the Park is big enough to allow that sort of thing. By the time I got to the Park's western extent, the temperature had dropped enough that the rest of the day was totally pleasant.

I had never realized that there's a long strip of public land on the west side of San Francisco that runs from Golden Gate Park to the SF Zoo. That's what I rode as I headed south. It's unbroken, with sand all around. Lots of people are crossing from the beaches back to their cars or houses. Often the dunes are too high to see the beach, but occasionally I got to see long vistas of the waves crashing into the sand. Ahhhh. The Bay is just nothing like the real ocean.

At the Zoo, I took a left and went here and there and ended up at Lake Merced. This is a big public land in the southwest corner of San Francisco, which had always caught my eyes on the maps. But it turns out to be pretty disappointing. Much of the green area there is actually surrounding golf courses. Then, the actual park just isn't that well constructed. There's a big lake, but it's far enough down from the park that you often can't see it. There isn't even a path around the lake at lake level! And there's too little seating and way too little shade. (Hello? Trees!?) I did find one of the scant trees and sat against it, overlooking the lake, writing for a while.

Afterward I went to Fort Funston, mainly because it was right next door. This used to be military defense, but it's now a beach and dog park. I locked my bike against a street sign (no bike parking at one of the entrances, darn it!) There were some nice trails here and there, and some interesting remnants of the base. Unfortunately, some of the park's main paths were ripped up for reconstruction, and apparently have been for some time. So, those was much walking in sand, and I was wearing the worst shoes for doing so. (Never, never, never will I ever again buy shoes with mesh across the top to create airflow; I got rain in my shoes last winter, sand in my shoes in Hawaii, and sand and dirt in my shoes yesterday.) Nonetheless, I enjoyed walking along the cliffs, then there was a viewing platform that I stood entranced on for a while, watching the beach and the views.

And that was pretty much it for the day.

I came back through Daly City, which was the only place that I had a jerk honking at me to get off the road. I find that ignorant asses like that are more common when you get outside the SF-Oakland-Berkeley area, so I wasn't surprised that I met one yesterday in Daly City. From there I looped back up into San Francisco, finally hopping back on BART at Glen Park. (And 'lo and behold, bike lanes reappeared as I moved from Daly City back into SF.)

The whole route was slightly under 25 miles in a big circle from Embarcadero, out to Golden Gate Park, down to the Zoo and then around to Fort Funston, over to Daly City, and then back in to SF. There were no hills of much note in that route. I did drop down as low as 50 feet or so and got as high as 400 (though I might have exceeded that on foot when I hiked around Fort Funston). The weird thing is that I circled all the big hills in San Francisco: Mount Davidson, the Twin Peaks, and Mount Sutro. I just stayed clear of them the whole way.

It was a nice ride with GG Park being the highlight, but I enjoyed seeing the more farflung places. And it was definitely cooler than the East Bay, especially when I was up against the Pacific, as I was most of the afternoon.
13th-Aug-2015 11:38 pm - Anniversary #15 in a Series
Wednesday was my and Kimberly's 15th Wedding anniversary. 15 years ago yesterday we were getting married at the Faculty club on the Cal campus, and 15 years ago today we were enjoying a picnic lunch with friends out at Codornices Park. I still regularly visit both locales while out biking.

Did you know that the 15th anniversary is the last one that appears on the lists in the UK and US? It's crystal. After that you're only expected to remember your anniversary every five years, which is a relief. Except the pesky Chicago Public Library made a modern gift list and it goes up yearly to 25. So maybe I have to keep remembering every anniversary until the 25th, because I lived in the Chicago area for a year or two when I was very young. CPL says that next year is the silver holloware anniversary. I don't even know what holloware is, unless they're talking about the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager.

Anywho, Kimberly has had a pretty tough four months or so between bronchitis (sadly, #2 in a series) and med side effects, so we haven't really gotten out and done anything big together, at least not since our birthday celebrations in March. So I was thrilled that we were able to walk out to dinner and back.

Dinner was in Rockridge, so our total walk was about 3 miles back-and-forth, through a variety of nice areas. We enjoying looking at many attractive houses as we walked, something that we used to do with some frequency when we lived in North Berkeley (another haven of nice housing, much like Elmwood and Rockridge, the areas that we walked through last night).

Dinner was at Millennium. This is a vegan restaurant that makes some of the best food you've ever eaten despite being vegan. Kimberly and I have eaten there for anniversaries past at a couple of different locations in San Francisco (most recently, near the Civic Center, which was never the most pleasant area). However their hotel gave them the boot early in the year ... and they decided to reopen shop in the East Bay.

Millennium actually held a Kickstarter earlier this year to fund the move, and Kimberly and I were happy to be among their 650 backers, and as a result we had a free meal coming. Since the new restaurant just got off the ground last month, our anniversary seemed like the perfect time to take advantage of our free-ness. So we walked to Millennium for the first time ever and ate.

The previous time that we ate at Millennium we a bit put off by the increasing pretentiousness. About half the menu was totally indecipherable. This time, things were much better. The food was readable and the food was good as ever (very good! I really loved the potato appetizer and the chocolate desert, and Kimberly and I shared a tamale and a purse between those highlights). The new venue was also very pleasant, all done out in wood and distressed metal, and it even has a terrific patio.

And so, a nice anniversary dinner with my nice wife at an old favorite in a wonderful new venue.
11th-Aug-2015 11:08 pm - Cats, Bikes & Other Entertainment
The Cats. Lucy has started being increasingly aggressive toward Callisto lately. It's just hissing and growling, but there's more of it. Mind you, Lucy has never been very fond of Callisto, but this seems to be going in a bad direction at the moment.

I suspect that it's my office that causes most of the contention and annoyance, since both cats like to sit around my desk while I work, and there's also just one food bowl and water bowl in the room. So, I'm in the process of making my office last contentious.

To start with, I tried to deal with the boiling annoyance last week by locking Callisto out of the office during my Thursday and Friday workdays. Poor Callisto, but I figured she got the rest of the house and her mama. But, she yowled at the door for quite a bit. And then she started throwing herself at the door to try and open it (which actually works on our Family Room door, because it has an old lock).

And then she did the wackiest thing ... she ran into the Family Room and started trying to get into the closet that we wedge shut there. She indeed managed to get that door open, because it doesn't latch. Kimberly later said, "What was up with that?" My theory was this: in her little kitty brain, Callisto knew she was blocked by the door from getting into her office. So she ran to open another door, figuring it would lead the same place. Smart cat? Dumb cat? I think the former.

Anywho, this week I got in some cat pheromones to run in my office. I'm also encouraging Callisto to use an alternate lounging place and have moved a second bowl food and water in there.

So far, things have calmed down a bit.

The Bike. I bought my fourth bike computer last month. Those things keep dying. The first started responding incorrectly to button pushes, the second lost a button, and the third stopped recording the bike's movement. The cheapest one I had, by Schwinn, actually lasted the longest at about four years, while the better ones from Sigma lasted just less than two years and just less than one and a half.

Inexplicably, I got another Sigma. Well, it's not actually inexplicable. They have better feature sets, and their new one that I got has a feature I really wanted: an altimeter. Now, I looked quite a bit for bike computers before I decided on one, and quite a few of them have altimeters now, but they're almost all using GPS. And GPS sucks down energy like no one's business. So I decided I didn't want a bike computer that was unreliable because I had to constantly power it.

So I bought the new SIGMA ALTI instead. I have no idea how it actually measures altitude. Maybe atmospheric pressure or something? It's not entirely accurate. I find that it shifts quite a bit, just sitting in my garage. I might put it away at 180 feet and come back two days later to find it's now at 153. But, it certainly gives the general trends, and over the course of a single bike ride it stays reasonably reliable.

I've been enjoying it quite a bit. I've gotten to see the altitudes of many of the places I ride, and what the actual ups and downs are. (I wish it showed rise over time, so I could understand what slopes are the most difficult for me.) I've found it particularly interesting playing the what's-the-same-height game. For example I've learned that the Berkeley Rose Garden and Jewel Lake (on opposite sides of a ridge) are at about the same height. I've also been able to see which routes are more wasteful due to rise and falls. It's also served as encouragement ("Look at that, I'm almost up to 1000 feet, I can go just a bit further"), which is the same purpose served by the odometer on the computer ("I'm lagging, I should push up to at least 12 mph from this puny 10.")

Other Entertainment. I wrote this last section head just to be parallel to my last journal entry, where I wrote about "Other Roleplaying". So, what other entertainment have I been doing? As usual that's board games, TV, and books.

Board gaming continues to be my regular Wednesday + Thursday evening activity. My current obsessions are Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (which gets played once a month with my Thursday group) and Roll for the Galaxy (a great dice-rolling game).

TV is in the summer slumps, which means we're watching great things on DVD. Thus far this summer has included Good Wife (season 3), Newsroom (season 2), and Game of Thrones (season 4), with Newsroom (season 3 and final) and Dexter (season 3) on deck. We've also been slowly watching through Arrow (season 3) and Flash (season 1), now that summer reruns finally got us the start of the seasons on our Tivo Of them Good Wife slumped a little from its season 1 greatness and Arrow season 3 just hasn't been as great as what preceded it, while Flash is still developing its cast and mythos. But they're all at least good (with Arrow my least favorite of that bunch) and many are great. We're also watching the embarrassing Big Brother 14 because I can't give up my love of televised strategy games for the summer, even when the summer show is crap.

As for books: I continue with my massive Michael Moorcock re-read. I just finished Phoenix in Obsidian (1970) a couple of nights ago, and am working on my article for it. Other than that, it's what caches my fancy off my to-be-read shelf. I've just started one of the few Sanderson Cosmere books I haven't read, Elantris. Recently finished books include Ship of Magic (a reread of the classic Robin Hobb book, which is still classic), Scream of the Shalka (a Doctor Who book written just before the new series, by Paul Cornell, which was OK, but disappointing for a Cornell book), The Annihilation Score (the newest Scalzi Laundry book which was very disappointing because it took the series in an entirely bizarre and inappropriate direction), and The Girl with all the Gifts (a post-apocalyptic Mike Carey book which left a bad taste in my mouth).

Oh, and I've also been re-reading A Feast for Crows, following our conclusion of season 4 of A Game of Thrones. I pick it up every once in a while and read one or two hundred pages over the course of several days, then I put it back down and read something else. The problem is that nothing happens. It's just a bunch of people standing around and hoping that something happens, but with a few specific exceptions spread out over the book, it doesn't. So, there's no tension and no concern about putting the book down for a week or two. Pfah. The writing is still smart, the characters well drawn. But it makes me that much sadder that Martin lost his way and wrote these two books that just tread water without any purpose.

And that's some of my current entertainment.
8th-Aug-2015 08:24 pm - Awards, Books & Other Roleplaying
rpg stormbringer
So it turns out that Designers & Dragons did win one award: a gold ENnie for Best RPG-Related product.

I'd said that I wasn't too concerned about the ENnies because it was mostly a popularity contest. Which, it is. And if I hadn't won anything I would have continued to be not concerned. I thought that winning them would be the same: I have a couple of Origins awards in the closet, from when I worked at Chaosium, and the fact that those Cthulhu products with my name on them won someone wasn't that meaningful, and that's what I was basing my thoughts on. But the difference is those votes were primarily for Chaosium's carefully-created property, while this was for mine. For my Designers & Dragons.

So, cool. And cool to know I have fans too.

(Thanks fans who voted!)

One of the reasons this is cool is because I am continuing to work on Designers & Dragons books. A lot of that centers around the writing I've been doing for DnDClassics. Every week I write 1-3 histories for them of individual D&D books. I've been doing so since the start of 2013. If you do the math, you can see that I should have 125-375 histories done (exact count: 385, probably due to a rush at the start).

My goal right now is to continue writing these as my main thing through the end of 2016 (hopeful count: 550-600), and then in 2017 see what would be needed to fill in the gaps to have complete books describing the history (and some additional info) on every single D&D product ever put out by TSR and WotC.

This type of work is really time-consuming, because I have to research every single individual product and there's something like 1,000 total. I don't think I could ever do it without the weekly regimen required by having to prepare them as DnDClassics releases them week-by-week. So, I'm grateful to the DriveThruRPG folks for that (continuing) opportunity and the continuing demands, which keep me on track.

I've been slowly working on an outline for these D&D histories, which would (I think) put them at three books. My word count is already a ridiculous 282,000 words, but I'm pretty sure redundant text would get streamlined as I put them into books.

(Thanks DTRPG!)

I'm also thinking about a Designers & Dragons mini-book called something like "Designers & Dragons '00s to '10s: The OSR". I want to position it as the fifth core book of the line, and a good bridge while we're waiting for the opportunity to write a complete '10s book. And, I think it would go well with the TSR and WotC D&D books. Right now I'm just collecting information on the OSR movement and a couple of the first companies I'll write about, so this is a ways off. I thinking this might be a half-sized book at 200 pages or so, covering maybe 7-8 "companies".

And speaking of roleplaying, I did some today. Mary's Achtung Cthulhu campaign kicked off, and it was my first opportunity to actually play in a game since her very short-lived Dresden campaign (which was in 2011).

I had a blast. Kevin and I had fun when we created characters by randomizing most elements, and today I got to bring my character out to play for the first time. He's an overconfident American guerrilla expert. So I stepped into the fire time after time and kept quoting line and verse of what we should do based on my lessons back in guerrilla school (which I'd never before used in the real world).

My favorite was setting fire to the guard shack after we'd killed the Nazis there, in the village where we were continuing to operate. ("Rule #7: Never leave resources for the enemy".) Sadly our GM didn't take advantage of that potentially horrible choice. But I got to set something on fire.

(Thanks Mary!)
rpg glorantha
Designers & Dragons was nominated for the Diana Jones Award last month. That was a big deal. Designers & Dragons is a 4-book history of the roleplaying industry that represented 10 years of my (free-time) work. It was my biggest & most important contribution ever to an industry that I've enjoyed being a part of since I first played D&D in the '80s.

Earning that nomination (or being placed on the shortlist, as they phrase it) really made me understand the clichéd phrase, "It was an honor just being nominated". Because, it was. In fact I find that nominations are the most honorable part of most awards. That's because most awards have judged or juried nominations, then throw the actual awards out for mass voting, turning them into popularity contests. So, for example, I'm really honored that Desigers & Dragons was also nominated for a few different ENnies this year, but I have no illusions about winning the gold ENnie awards: they're all going to the Dungeons & Dragons game, which saw a new edition this year. (The possible exception is the RPG-related category, but it seems most likely that The Temple of Elemental Evil board game will win that Gold.)

But the Diana Jones Award isn't like that. It's still an honor to be nominated, because the nominating committee is made up of some of the most forward-looking and most knowledgeable folks in the industry, but it would really, really have been an honor to win, because those same people make that final decision.

Sadly, Designers & Dragons did not win the DJA. Instead, that honor went to Moon Design's Guide to Glorantha.

And, though I would have liked to win — though it would have meant a lot for people to say the writing I've been doing is important and meaningful — if I had to pick another winner, it absolutely went have been the Guide to Glorantha.

The Guide is a huge coffee-table style book describing Greg Stafford's world of Glorantha, put together by Rick Meints and Jeff Richards at Moon Design. It's a very impressive tome, and my instinctive feeling once I read over the Diana Jones short list was that if Designers & Dragons didn't win the DJA, then Guide would ... which it did.

I saw someone on Twitter say that they thought the Guide shouldn't win because it wasn't really a game book. And, they're right about the game book part. The hefty tome, full of dense essays on the world of Glorantha, isn't the sort of thing you're going to pass around the gaming table. I mean, you wouldn't want Cheetos-stained fingers touching those glorious, glossy pages, but beyond that, it's not the material you're going to need when your Sartarites get in a fight with a roaming band of Lunar oppressors. (All Hail the Reaching Moon!) But, that's not the point. Or perhaps it's the opposite of the point. Moon Design's Guide to Glorantha shows how the world of Glorantha has transcended the world of gaming, how it's become a secondary world of fantasy that's larger than any RPG, bigger than any tabletop, and more expansive than any publisher. Ironically, that's exactly what Greg set out to create 49 years ago, before roleplaying games even existed. (For more of which, see Chaosium in Designers & Dragons: The '70s).

My congratulations go out to Greg, who is one of my favorite people in gaming, and was my first choice for writing the intro to Designers & Dragons: The '70s. (He did.) And to Rick, who was kind enough to put me up in the outskirts of London when I went there in 1996 ... for a Glorantha convention. (We are all Orlanthi.) And to Jeff, who as far as I can tell is the main force beyond the massive and impressive books that Moon Design has been putting out for the last several years. (He's the only one of the crew I don't really know.) It's well-deserved, friends. Very well-deserved.

There certainly is sadness over having the biggest and most notable project I've ever written passed over for the industry's top award. And, there's definitely a feeling that I won't ever create anything as notable as Designers & Dragons again. But Designers & Dragons first appeared as an inkling of an idea in the aftermath of Gen Con exactly 10 years ago. Who knows what I'll be doing 10 years from now. (And, I'm still very grateful for appearing on that shortlist!)

I was struck by two ironies:

1.) I actually wrote material for the precursor to the Guide to Glorantha, which was called "World of Glorantha". I wrote a section on Gloranthan elves, my previous writing obsession before I started in on Designers & Dragons ten years ago. Unfortunately the writing was done for Issaries, Greg Stafford's old Glorantha publishing company, which closed up shop around the time that I actually wrote that article, in October 2006. That means that my article got lost somewhere down the road, between changing companies and changing priorities. I'd lay odds that Rick and Jeff never saw it. Maybe my article would have ended up in the Guide if I'd been paying more attention, but my focus was elsewhere. However, I can easily imagine a world where I had material in two of the top contenders for this year's DJA. That would have been cool.

(Also ironic: Greg, one of just two two-time winners of the DJA, did have material in two DJA nominees this year, since he wrote that intro to Designers & Dragons: The '70s.)

2.) The biggest problem with the Guide to Glorantha is its cost, which is $150. It's totally fair for the glossy, hardcover, small-press release, but it was more than I could afford with my tight budget, because it would have been several weeks of my "recreational" money. However, I finally was able to buy a copy of the Guide earlier this year ... thanks to money I earned from Designers & Dragons.

Thanks again to the Diana Jones folks for the nomination, and congrats on selecting a very deserving winner for 2015.
27th-Jul-2015 06:32 pm - Board Gaming BBQ
We have a nice BBQ grill in our backyard. It was a wedding gift from my roleplaying group, who snuck in it while watching the house while Kimberly and I were in Ireland on our Honeymoon. Sadly, it hasn't gotten any use for at least the last few years.

Cut to Eric L., one of my board gaming friends, who's apparently looked longingly at that BBQ out of our dining room (aka board gaming room) window. He asked if he could BBQ around his birthday, and I said, "Yes, of course."

Which meant that last Monday I had to spend a couple of hours in the backyard, clearing out debris from around the BBQ. Overall, our backyard is in pretty good shape right now, considering that it's always an untended woodland ... but we've had enough work done that I've cleared it a few times this year, and the workers crunched lots of weeds underfoot underfoot besides. But, the area around the BBQ still needed clearing. When I was done and I tested out the BBQ ... I was pleased to set it lit!

So for our Thursday night board gaming last week, Eric brought chicken and potatoes and corn-on-the-cob for the BBQ, and chips and guacamole. And Mike brought ice cream and soda and other stuff. And Chris brought salad. And it was all entirely delicious. Kimberly even joined us for the eating.

We did get a little gaming done, a short little co-op game called SOS Titanic. After that gaming break is when we actually ate the ice cream. And strawberries. And that was pretty much the end of the gaming for last Thursday. (And actually my only gaming for the week, due to a variety of other factors.)

It was a nice bit of camaraderie, mixing food (and food preparation) with our more staid gaming. It was also nice having the back door and side gate and everything all open, because it made the backyard feel like an organic part of the house, which is usually not the case. (The cats were of course, locked up.)

Hopefully this will be a modern Renaissance of Appelcline BBQing. By which I mean we might start using it a couple of times a year again. I've definitely told the board gamers that we should BBQ again before the summer season is over (once we get a few weeks of actual gaming in!). And I've been telling the RPGers for a while that we should do a BBQ day here. Maybe the next time that Endgame is full on one of our Saturdays.

Surprisingly the excess BBQ good all got left here. I finished the corn-on-the-cob last night and the ice cream after dinner tonight.

I think there's one soda left.
22nd-Jul-2015 11:21 pm - Top Girls, by Caryl Churchill
I was pleased when I saw that Churchill's Top Girls was on the calendar for the Shotgun Players this year, because it's a modern classic, and I'd like to see more of that. So, we saw it tonight.

I thought Top Girls showed off how to offer up an unusual plot structure and go sort of postmodernist without destroying the play (as has happened at too many Shotgun and Berkeley Rep productions I've gone too). I mean, in order, the three acts of the play are: a dream about having dinner with great women; a series of scenes in the office and the country; and then a birthday party a year previous that puts it all in perspective.

(Ironically, Churchill seems to have gone way more postmodernist after Top Girls, and I have a suspicion I'd hate her later work.)

Anywho, this one is about women in the world. It's a really great play for Shotgun's season of women because everyone in the play is a woman and it's all about them.

The first act is interesting because it's about the cruelty and problems faced even by great women in past times ... and it's all about their relationship with children. Pope Joan is stoned to death after she gives birth, Lady Nijo has her children forever stolen, and Patient Griselda has her children taken away for years and years as part of a warped loyalty test by her Earl. As modern viewers, we can wince at this cruelty, and look down upon it as something we've grown past.

Which is of course supported in Act II when we see that Marlene, the host of that dream dinner, is a successful business woman, about to move up in the world. Of course Act III reveals to us the truth, and so hammers at our beliefs of a progressive modern world: we learn that she was only able to make that successful life ... by abandoning her child, and her child seems to be in a very bad place now.

There's a lot in the play too about women being forced into male roles in order to rise to greatness, from the disguised pope Joan to the warrior woman Gret to the Victorian adventuress Isabella. To, of course, Marlene.

So, the more things change the more they stay the same, it seems. And Churchill does a very effective job of showing us how the biases of our own society blind us to the prejudices within it. (A lesson that people who whine about being called privileged could bear to learn.)

Some of the play is obviously a reaction against Margaret Thatcher too, who is called out in the play by a wonderful scene which goes something like this: "And it's wonderful to have our first female prime minister." "But if it's Margaret Thatcher, is it worth it?" And, there's some class stuff too, with Marlene clearly having abandoned her progressive roots to become a member of the conservative party. I suspect that has to do with the topic of female masculinity.

Overall, a good play, a thoughtful play, and one that takes good advantage of postmodern touches to actually create something that's thoughtful, not obscure.
I am writing to express my strong support for a bike lane across the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge.

The Bay Area is an interesting and diverse geographic region, but the Bay(s) can cause serious problems in getting around. Fortunately, our forefathers tackled that problem by building numerous bridges. Unfortunately, many of those bridges remain bike-inaccessible. For those of us who use bikes as a primary means of transport (and even for those that use bikes largely for recreation), large portions of the Bay Area are cut off!

The most inaccessible part of the Bay is surely Marin County. The only reasonable way for a bicyclist to currently get there is through a torturous trek that requires BARTing around to San Francisco, biking around the northeast corner of the city, climbing all the way up to the Golden Gate bridge, and crossing it. After a couple of hours of transit, crowd-dodging, and hard work he's in the Marin headlands ... and it's about time to head home for the day. The alternative is a several-hours long ride through a multitude of counties north of San Pablo Bay.

Richmond/San Rafael Bridge access would change all of that. It would provide relatively easy access for folks in the Richmond area, and pretty good access for *anyone* in the East Bay, who could take BART to Richmond, then ride the rest of the way on the Richmond Greenway and the Bay Trail connections through Point Richmond.

This is one of the biggest improvements you could make to bicycling access in the Bay Area (trailing behind only complete access to the Bay Bridge itself).

I hope you'll continue forward with this progressive and worthwhile project!
We saw Fiddler on the Roof at the Berkeley Playhouse today. I thought it was entirely magnificent, though its strength wasn't in its music (which was enjoyable), but in its play craft. I could just as easily have seen it played at Shotgun Players, and in fact it reminded me of some of the plays we've seen there. With its focus on tradition, small town life, and love it could have been an alternate reality version of Our Town; and with its focus on rebellion in Russia, it could have been a parallel story to The Coast of Utopia. In fact, in my personal canon, Perchik is clearly the descendent of some of the Russian intellectuals from Stoppard's play.

I'm not a big fan of heavy theming and symbolism in my literature, because it's so often ham-handed, but it was instead beautifully managed in Fiddler on the Roof, which is all about TRADITION and change. Tevye has three daughters of marriageable age, and each of them chooses an increasingly inappropriate husband: the first troths herself instead of waiting for a matchmaker, the second decides to marry without even her father's permission, and the third runs off with someone from outside the faith(!). Teyve can accept the first, comes to accept the second, but disowns his third daughter, because there's only so far he can bend. It generates great sympathy for those bound by tradition, because we can see Teyve is a good man, but he can only change so much.

The idea of tradition is of course interlaced throughout the whole play. It's there in the many Jewish customs we see, including a beautifully choreographed wedding. But change is also there in new customs, new sewing machines ... and ultimately the expulsion of the people from their home. Though it's often presented as good, we see the bad too.

But in the back of the stage (and the staging and directing were both spectacular) we had the ROOF ... except it wasn't a roof, it was a ramp running upward along the back of the stage. It was like a dividing line between the past and the future, but it was also a line that was ever ascending upward.

I liked some of the songs too. TRA-DISH-YON! gets stuck in your head, but the Matchmaker song was the one that make me quickly love the three elder daughters. These songs were just more the backbeat of the play than is usual for a musical.

Overall, a terrific play.
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