The Old Dungeon

The past blasted me a couple of times this weekend. The charity site Bundle of Holding offered the old Traveller RPG books from 1981 as PDF for a giveaway price (through July 9th), and I discovered that D&D Classics will sell me the First Edition Dungeons and Dragons books in a similar downloadable form, cheaper than they’ve ever been. With the PDF reader on my iPad, I could browse them easily, even use them to run a game or two were I so inclined; I’ve done this with Shadowrun and Paranoia PDFs.

Both offers are incredibly tempting. I spent uncounted hours of my puberty reading these game books, immersing myself in their world, and running adventures in my head when I couldn’t play with my friends. Did a lot of the latter, to be honest: I went a long stretch without friends who were interested in a regular game, and frankly most of us were abysmal gamesters. We followed rules slavishly or bent them nine ways from Sunday without thinking for a second about game balance, or storytelling. We didn’t spend any time building a game world to inhabit, either. Adventures were disconnected episodes which occurred in a void. Despite all that, I had a lot of fun and kept many golden memories.

So, these old books tempt me to come back and relive those happy novice days. Unfortunately, I’m not 13 any more. I’ve spent a lot of experience points, bought off some disadvantages, and picked up some new ones. The dungeons of my youth are now familiar places, stripped of their wonder and danger in favor of familiarity. I find my modern players less interested in poring over carefully-constructed maps of hyperspace jump routes in favor of simply asking, “According to the ship’s computer, where’s the closest system with a fuel depot we can safely use?” and I can’t blame them. Hell, I don’t even know anyone who cares about D&D these days, with Pathfinder still going strong.

So I’ll be saving money on this nostalgic offer for now. I have to admit, though: “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks” would still make a great Deadlands or Shadowrun adventure with some adjustments to fit the new setting.

BorgSpace Interplanetary

Since the days of my first Lego set, I have never lost the joy of building something – having a goal for how something should look and feel and function, then correcting and tweaking until what I was making came as close to that goal as possible.

Kerbal Space Program takes that thought and expands upon it, by offering one all the parts to build a neat-looking airplane or space rocket, then challenging you to make it fly. And once you make it fly, to do something with it: can you reach the Pole? Can you reach orbit? Can you reach a moon or another planet? Can you land a rover or build a base on another world?

I’m thoroughly addicted. And I knew I was cursed to a few late nights when the idea popped into my head of building an imitation of a Valkyrie space fighter from the Macross anime… and then making it fly. Did I succeed? Well…

Artificial Life on Mars

I couldn’t stay up to watch Curiosity, since I’d had a very long weekend, and an early Monday morning to head to. In fact, I didn’t manage to stay up until 10 last night. But I felt confident that Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ would tell me everything I needed to know when I woke in the morning, and they did. Well done NASA!

I spent some time at NASA Langley. Unless you know some of these folks you might not believe how hard they work at their jobs, how committed they are to expanding the scope of human knowledge, and how hard they have to fight against budgets and bureaucracy to accomplish the things that they do. This is one of the moments in my life that, however briefly, I’m proud of the human race. Let’s do more like this!

We must be strong and brave

One day years ago, I was listening to Jeff Wayne’s excellent musical version of “The War of the Worlds”: specifically, the stirring sequence where the ironclad Thunderchild manages to destroy one two Martian War Machines before being sunk. Suddenly, my brain cross-linked it with the premise of the “Space Cruiser Yamato” series, where humanity builds a gifted spacefold drive into the hulk of the World War II battleship, and thus was born the idea for the ether flyer Thunderchild.

Miraculously, I found the rare model kit of the ironclad featured on Wayne’s album cover, and combined that with unused interior detail pieces from a Yamato kit. Plane, helicopter, and mecha bits from the parts box joined the fray, and I even added lights from a craft store set. The result won a couple awards, and praise from modelmaker David Merriman, but repeated changes of domicile took their toll on that poor creation. Soon, the ship the Martians couldn’t keep down was in pieces in my closet, and only grainy scans of lost photos remained to show all the hard work.

Well, Commodore Professor Coalsack’s creation has risen again, like an unstoppable movie franchise. A good friend will soon be taking some high-quality photos for me, but who can wait? I give you the mostly repaired Thunderchild! The pictures are clickable for a closer view…

Kitbashed Thunderchild model, profile Kitbashed Thunderchild model, profile
Until recently in pieces as a result of too many changes of residence, this is the repaired ether flyer Thunderchild. Several of the small guns visible at this angle have lost their barrels and still need replacements. For some reason, the large solar accumulator sail always looks bigger in photos than it does in real life.

Click for more steampunk goodness

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Telperion’s Flower

Friday morning on the way to work, I listened to an Astronomy Cast show on dark skies: areas far from cities where one can still see an amazing number of stars plastered across the sky. My own most amazing dark sky experience occurred on a 1am drive from Roanoke to Bluefield: it happened to be a perfectly clear winter night, and as I looked up through the windshield for a second, I saw more stars in the sky than I’d seen in my entire life. Darn near wrecked the car, I was so transported by the sight.

At any rate, last night on the way home from an errand, I saw a brilliant, clear moon hanging in the sky over the house. Suburban Chesapeake is far too bright for many other stars, but I suddenly decided that this would be the perfect night to assemble and set up my Galileoscope. It went together easily, though I’m not 100% sure I assembled the optional Galilean eyepiece properly. I’ve since found a PDF with more detailed instructions, but the basic setup worked well enough.

As the instructions mentioned, we had to find a tripod: this is no spyglass. But once we got it focused and aimed, the moon was gorgeous. Starr and Celia and Chris and I all took turns looking through the eyepiece – a little tricky because the moon was quite high in the sky – and initial complaints about the setup time vanished. Even this simple observation with a basic ‘scope made the evening memorable as hell. I think that soon we’ll have to find a dark sky and a cool night and set up the Tasco Novice that Starr gave me a couple of years ago. Awesome stuff!

And then we went in the house and played Star Munchkin.

A warm morning at Pad 39A

The website We Choose The Moon is covering the Apollo 11 mission “live” (with a 40-year audio delay). There are countdown and mission timers, Flash presentations of facts and images, and Twitter feeds of CapCom’s and Columbia’s (and eventually Eagle’s) statuses. Looks like they’re planning to follow the mission all the way to the landing, at least. I’ve got the audio feed running in the background at work.

Launch is in just under an hour, and I’m spamming this to all my social networks, because that’s the kind of dork I am.

We have Main Engine Start

This is the first shuttle launch in decades that I’ve managed to watch live. The experience takes my breath away; so daring, so defiant, putting people atop all that high explosive and flinging them into the hostile vacuum above us. I’m not always thrilled with my species, but this sort of thing restores my faith in our future… at least briefly.

In a very small way, I contributed to this launch, which only adds to the thrill. I contributed indirectly, to be sure, just by doing my day job keeping the Macs of Langley humming; but I’m proud nevertheless.


According to Tolkien legend, the most skilled craftsman ever to live created the great Silmaril jewels using the radiance of the Two Trees which once lit the world. Almost immediately, of course, mortal and immortal began fighting for possession of them. In the epic wars that followed, two were lost, and the immortals placed the third in the sky: out of reach of the greedy, and a lasting beacon of hope to the good-hearted.

Wanna see it tonight? Go outside before the crescent Moon has set, and you’ll see an unusually bright Venus near the Moon and between it and the horizon. That’s the last legendary Silmaril.

(It’s also a stifling, baked world enveloped in poisonous acid fog, with no signs of life other than the corroding remmnants of a few robot landing probes from Earth. But that’s an entirely different realm of cool and interesting.)

Christmas / Time

Since my ‘Net connection is still wonky, I may be reduced to watching this year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special on SciFi. The horror.

On the other hand, I received a nice Who fandom Xmas present in the from of this Livejournal artwork post by _tonylee_. The image linked at the bottom cheered me greatly; the likenesses are a bit off, but it’s still my desktop wallpaper for a while. (One of them. The other wallpaper is the Apollo 8 “Earthrise” shot right now.)

As Starr works tonight and tomorrow, we finished the majority of our own gift-giving last night. Among other things, I received two hardcovers: an H.P. Lovecraft collection, and a Hitchhiker’s omnibus of all five novels and the short story. In each case, these will supersede paperbacks already on my shelf, thus retaining the integrity of the Stuff Reduction Plan. Starr, on the other hand, got a gift card for plenty of crochet yarn, and a brand-new toolbelt to aid in her remodeling projects (she’s already done a den and a bathroom). She wore the toolbelt around all evening to ‘break it in’, so I think it was appreciated.

I am messing with my co-workers today, playing Mannheim Steamroller and Trans-Siberian Orchestra with album breaks provided by cuts from the “Sailor Moon SuperS Christmas For You” album.

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