pedanther: (Default)
1. I've been listening a lot lately to the podcast Film Reroll, which has the premise that each episode a group of people play a one-off roleplaying campaign based on a famous movie, just to see how far off course the plot can go when it depends on dice rolls and player imagination instead of having an author handing out plot points and making sure things pan out in the way they intend. Pretty far off course, it turns out; apart from the obvious consequences like people muffing their dice rolls really badly and everybody dying, one of my favourite examples so far is an episode where one of the players ended up sitting on the sidelines for the whole thing, because the plot took a direction early on that completely bypassed the character they'd been planning to play.

Another example is the campaign I've just finished listening to, The Wizard of Oz. It follows the movie fairly faithfully up until the protagonists meet the Wizard (though a bit more smoothly in some places, as the players get some good dice rolls in when facing the obstacles the Wicked Witch puts in their path) -- and then the players have to decide how best to tackle the job of stealing the Wicked Witch's broom for the Wizard, at which point the plot jumps dramatically off the rails, and the campaign ends up turning into a four-episode, eight-hour epic fantasy quest with cut-throat politics and dragons. Bits of it are amazingly poetic and surprisingly moving, and it's the one so far where I really felt at the end like I had been immersed in a story and not just been listening to a group of friends joking around. (Not that there's anything wrong with listening to a group of friends joking around; that describes most of the podcasts I listen to regularly.)

2. Our run of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has ended, as usual just when I felt I was really beginning to get the hang of it. (If I ever get to the end of a show and think, that's okay, there wasn't anything left to do here, that's when I'll really be sad.)

Next up is another production with a very long title, The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Operatic Society production of The Mikado. It's this year's big production by the director who's done Oliver! and Chicago and suchlike in previous years, and I was actually quite looking forward to having nothing to do with it for a change, but then I was invited to come on board as assistant director and gets some hands-on experience in the running of a big production, and I didn't feel I could say no.

3. I got to go to exactly one meeting of the gaming group between the end of rehearsals for Spelling Bee and the beginning of rehearsals for Mikado, but I got to do the things I'd wanted to do, so that was good. As I mentioned last time, I had two games I wanted to play, and I got to play both.

Ingenious is an abstract pattern-based competitive game with a tricky scoring mechanic where each player is scored on several different criteria and only the lowest score counts, so if you get too focussed on building up on one score and neglect the others you can easily find yourself in real trouble. I started playing the app version last year and was sufficiently impressed by it to buy the physical game in the hope of finding people to play it with me. As it happened I found two, which made things interesting because the app version only does two-player games and so I'd never played a three-player game before. It turns out that, like many other games, it's rather more complicated and more difficult to get on top of with two opponents than with only one. I ended up not coming last, and considered myself well satisfied with my performance. The other two players seemed to enjoy themselves too, so I expect I'll take it along again another time.

Forbidden Island, which my brother gave me for Christmas, is a collaborative game in which the players are exploring an island for centuries-old lost treasures while dealing with the inconvenient fact that the island is rapidly sinking. (If memory serves, the manual claims that this is the result of an ancient booby trap set by the owners of the lost treasures, who apparently really didn't want them to be found again.) Mechanically, it's kind of like a more family friendly (less complicated, less worldwide catastrophe depicting) version of the collaborative game Pandemic, which is not a coincidence as they're both designed by Matt Leacock.

4. Recently the emergency jump start box in the car ran low on juice, which it announced by beeping loudly and regularly and loudly, which inspired me to drive directly home and look for the charge cable instead of stopping on the way to do the shopping as I'd intended. This prompted three observations:

First, that it was probably designed deliberately to make a loud and irritating noise clearly audible throughout the car specifically to make it impossible for its owner to contemplate putting off the job of recharging it, because it's not a good idea to put off charging a piece equipment you might need in an emergency. In which case, congratulations to the designer, it worked.

Secondly, while driving home I had cause to ponder the subjective nature of time, because the beeps didn't always seem regularly spaced; sometimes they seemed closer together, and other times further apart. The most convincing mechanism I've seen proposed for the subjective experience of time changing speed is that it's a function of memory; the same amount of information is coming in at the same rate all the time, but when nothing much is happening we don't bother to remember most of it, and then it seems like time has gone by really quickly, but when things get exciting more detail gets stored and then it seems in retrospect that the experience was stretched out more.

Thirdly, if I hadn't been able to find the charge cable when I got home, I'd have been stuck with a loudly beeping box that I had no way to shut up, and that would not have been fun. Here's where I benefited from some of the work I've been doing sorting my clutter into boxes. It took a few attempts to guess which box I would have sorted the charge cable into (gadgets and accessories? extension cords? stuff I'm going to put away as soon as I figure where it goes?) but it was still probably faster and less stressful than if I'd had nothing more to go on than "it's in this huge pile of clutter somewhere, probably".

5. We had the state election last weekend. Overall, it was a landslide victory for the Labor Party, which has been in opposition for the last eight years, and a crushing defeat for the Liberal-National coalition government. (Obligatory Aus politics footnote: The Liberal Party's name refers to their economic stance; they're conservative on social issues.) In my local electorate, the contest was much closer, to the point that we still, a week later, don't know exactly who the winner is. Normally by this point in a vote count it's clear who won and the rest of the ballot counting is just to find out by how much, but in this case it's split almost evenly between the three major party candidates, which never happens. In this case, the Labor candidate has the lift that his entire party's getting but is a newcomer to politics running against two well-known local identities with long track records in public service. The Libs' candidate may even have got a boost from his own party's misbehaviour, or rather from his response to it; a couple of times during the election campaign he got caught wrongfooted when his party announced policies that would have a signficant local effect without warning him first, and he wasn't shy about saying what he thought about that.

(In other news, the populist party that was expected to be a protest vote magnet did much worse in the election than expected, possibly because they were frankly and very visibly incompetent, with several of their candidates being kicked out of the party during the election campaign for doing things that a proper recruitment process ought to have caught ahead of time. It's all very well going "vote for us because you can't trust those professional politicians and we're not professionals", but being so utterly unprofessional inevitably invites people to wonder how you can be trusted to the run the place if you can't even hold the party together long enough to get over the finish line.)
pedanther: (cheerful)
Tomorrow is the Australian federal election. Hurrah. *waves tiny flag unenthusiastically*

The House of Reps ballot for my electorate is a nice easy one: only six candidates, and three of them are from parties I wouldn't touch with a bargepole.

The Senate ballot, as usual, is a whole different kettle of fish. This time out, the Senate ballot for WA has twenty-eight party groups on it, plus independents/ungrouped candidates, and most of them are minor parties that you never hear about except around senate election time.

At a time like this, it really helps to have a tool that lets you play around with the ballot and rearrange it how you like, and then print out your own personalised how-to-vote card so you don't get confused when confronted with the enormous ballot paper. Cluey Voter has one that does the job pretty well. (It's not as convenient as I remember Below the Line being, but that's not a fair comparison since Below the Line is sitting this one out due to lack of time on the part of the guy who maintains it. In any case, it's a whole lot better than trying to number the boxes off the top of one's head on the day.)

But how to know which order to put the parties in? What you need is a snarky but informative summary with a title like "Who are these people?". This one's for the Queensland ballot, but it covers nearly all the parties that are on the WA ballot.

(To that I would add that, out of the independents, Kai Jones might be worth a look if you have a similar political stance to me, though of course it's highly unlikely he'll actually get in.)
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Baen Books has recently released ebooks of Janet Kagan's novels Hellspark and Mirabile, and a collection of her short stories (including the Hugo-winner, "The Nutcracker Coup"). Hellspark is a mainstay of my collection of comfort reads, and I'm very much looking forward to making the acquaintance of Mirabile. The short stories, too; I've only read one up to now - "Standing in the Spirit", a heartwarming Christmas tale that wears its debt to Dickens on its sleeve without going down the well-worn "visited by three spirits" path.

2. Speaking of Dickens: Still rehearsing Oliver!. I think I'm managing to get the hang of Fagin's accent now. It seems to be largely a question of holding my tongue right. (Making a face like I smell something bad also seems to help.)

3. At the gaming group this week, the main thing I did was watch a group of people play X-Wing Miniatures. There were four people who wanted to play, so they set up a big square playing area, with each player starting on one side, and drew lots to see who would attack who. The result of the draw produced two battles going on separately in opposite corners of the playing area, and then the survivors of each battle took each other on. It started out with a wide variety of different ship types (including what I was told was the main ship from Rebels, which I still haven't seen), but in the end it came down to a couple of X-Wings vs a couple of TIE fighters.

After that we played a few rounds of Hobbit Love Letter (which is like Batman Love Letter apart from the obvious, and also with an extra card, The One Ring, which is worth 0 points except in one specific situation where it's the second most powerful card in the game) and then it was time to go home.

4. It tends to be the case with movies that either I'll see them in the first week they're in the cinema or the last, because it I don't have a great and specific desire to see a movie, I'll do my usual put-it-off-until-a-deadline-looms thing. (And then sometimes it happens that when the deadline's close enough to see there aren't any screenings left I can actually get to, and then I don't see the movie at all.) I'd been putting off going to see Zootopia until today's 1pm screening was absolutely my last chance, and likewise the new Jungle Book movie - also at 1pm. Faced with that decision, I realised that I didn't particularly want to see a new version of a movie that hadn't been that much like The Jungle Book in the first place, so I'm rereading the book instead and I went to see Zootopia.

5. The Australian election campaign's started, which means it's time to start hoarding and swapping links for informed voting. (If anyone spots a good run-down of this year's minor Senate parties, let me know, please?)

Vote Compass is available again for this election. If you don't know about it, it's a nifty application where you fill out a questionnaire about where you stand on the current hot public policy issues, and then it shows you where you are compared to the announced policies of the major parties. (I always turn out to be standing pretty much where I expected to be, but it's nice to know.)
pedanther: (cheerful)
I have voted.

Now I'm not sure whether to keep an eye on the election results, or just hide under a rock until it's all over.
pedanther: (cheerful)
Better late than never: I've been collecting useful links for voters in the upcoming Australian federal election, to be held this Saturday.

Since I procrastinated so long, leece already posted one, but I think I've got some links she didn't (and of course our readership isn't co-extensive, so some of you won't have seen hers).

In You Can't "Waste Your Vote"!, Dennis the Election Koala helpfully explains Australia's preferential voting system, and why Australian voters can and should vote 1 for the candidate they'd prefer to win even if they know that candidate has no chance of actually getting in. (hat-tip: this one's been all over my friendslist, but I first saw it via drhoz)

Vote Compass lets you compare your positions with those of the three major players (Labor, the Liberal-National Coalition, and the Greens) both in aggregate and on specific issues.

This policy scorecard from GetUp includes the three majors and five smaller parties. (hat-tip: via leece)

Then we get to Australia's infamously large and complicated Senate ballots.

Below the Line explains why you should consider tackling the difficult process of filling out a complete Senate ballot instead of taking the easier "above the line" option - and, crucially, provides a tool that makes it much less daunting to contemplate. With the Ballot Editor, you can select your electorate, rearrange the candidates in whatever order you like with an easy drag-and-drop interface, taking as long as you need, and then print out a reminder card showing how to fill out the ballot form to express that preferred order.

But how do you decide who you prefer, when there are so many minor parties who only appear on the Senate ballots?

In addition to the Vote Compass and GetUp links above, Who the hell are all these minor parties? is a brief irreverent rundown of the many minor parties, some of which are doing that thing where they seem appealing but there's something unpleasant not very deep under the surface. The Citizens Electoral Council ("Possibly fascists, definitely nuts"), who in previous years have had a lock on last position in my preferences, may have been beaten this year by the Rise Up Australia Party (who describe themselves as "for people from all ethnic backgrounds who call Australia home", but on closer investigation take it as an article of faith that people from some backgrounds are inherently incapable of becoming True Australians and can therefore be attacked with a clear conscience). (hat-tip: via sqbr; also I should note that the original is by baglieg, but the link above goes to a reblog with some useful additional commentary attached)

An experiment in visualising preferences crunches the numbers from the Senate preference tickets submitted by the various parties, and shows a set of graphs grouping together parties whose preference choices indicate they see each other as having common cause. If you're not sure what to make of a particular party, seeing who its neighbours are may help you decide.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Toastmasters meeting. One of those meetings where a lot of people are away; the club members who attended came close to being outnumbered by the guests. (Looking on the bright side: Lots of guests, all pretty enthusiastic.) Project speech got a pretty good reception.

2. Chronicles of Clutter-Slaying: There used to be an enormous pile of Things That Might Be Useful One Day lurking along the far wall of my study. It was occupying enough floor space for at least three more bookshelves, and was as tall as me in places. Now there is clear floor space, two smaller and more specific piles of things that might be useful one day, several large and useful empty boxes that had been buried under the pile, and a full rubbish bin (which is awkwardly going to remain full for a while; one of the reasons I don't slay clutter more often is that it often results in a full bin and my most productive day for it is the day after the bins are emptied).

3. I have a car now. (If you're waiting for me to say that cars are cool, you're going to be disappointed.) I'm a bit worried it's going to turn out to be one of those gadgets where you don't really think you need one until you have one, and then you end up using it all the time. (I would have said I really didn't need it except for getting to band things -- some instruments you can carry on a bicycle, but the trombone isn't among them -- and I was getting by all right by getting lifts from other band members. But you don't say no to a car when somebody gives you one.)

4. The state election was on Saturday. The overall result is pointing unwaveringly toward a second term for a government I wasn't that keen on the first time around. Last I heard, there hadn't been a definite announcement yet about who my new local representative will be, with the result coming down to a close contest between the only two candidates I seriously expected to have any chance at all.

5. For some reason I've been eating an awful lot of apples lately.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Campaign season has opened for this year's state election, and later in the year there will be a federal election as well. This reminds me that as a citizen of cyberspace I find it much easier to stumble across information and discussions about the issues and candidate platforms of the United States than those of my own country.

Anybody have any suggestions for blogs or websites helpful to an Australian voter?

2. In an attempt to cut down the amount of processed sugar in my diet, I've started steering clear of anything where sugar is in the number-one position on the ingredients list, or number two after something dull like water, or what-the-heck-is-sugar-doing-in-this-at-all (Grain Waves crisps, I'm looking at you).

In a recent idle moment I went through a confectionery aisle reading ingredients lists; what struck me was not that everything I'd previously have eaten without a second thought had Sugar as the number-one ingredient, which I'd expected, but that in nearly all of them the number two ingredient was More Sugar.

3. The independent fresh-fruit-and-vegetables shop down the road has closed, which is saddening but not a surprise. I saw the writing on the wall when it stopped being all about fresh-fruit-and-vegetables and started experimenting with sidelines in common household items and weird American confectionery (Reese's Pieces are kind of interesting but I wouldn't want to eat them too often) and soft drinks (which I didn't go near even before the sugar restriction). I hope things go better for them in their next venture, whatever it happens to be.

4. A couple of days ago I received a large shipment of books I'd forgotten I owned; I bought them when I went to Swancon last year, couldn't fit them in my luggage, so left them with a relative until such time as somebody with luggage space happened to be heading my way. I got to be gleeful all over again about owning some of them, regarded some with puzzlement, and greeted one trilogy with "I could have sworn I'd got rid of you." (Where did I put that email asking for secondhand-book-sale donations?) So far, only one has turned out to be a duplicate of something I already owned.

5. The concept I was vaguely trying to recall a couple of posts ago, and had to let go because I couldn't remember any of the proper nouns, was action librarian Nancy Pearl's concept of Doorways to Reading, which she teaches as a tool for matching readers to books they might like. Finding out what people read (favourite author or genre) is unreliable; better to work out what people read for, what it is that draws them into a book. The four doorways identified by Pearl are Story, Character, Language, and Setting; every reader prefers some of these over the others, and a given book is unlikely to satisfy all of these to the same extent. (I myself, as I said before, am a Story and Character guy, and if those are lacking, it doesn't matter how beautiful the Language is.) (Also note how you could have four people who identified their favourite genre as, say, detective fiction, and each could be entering the genre through a different doorway and getting different things out.) An interesting addition, which I only learned about when I was looking it up again today, is that apparently the Four Doorways toolkit works just as well for recommending non-fiction.


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