Monday, June 25, 2007

Belgian Bunsen Burners and the Richmonds

Today our buddies over at (Tim, Mindy, and Mia) fly out to Belgium for a year-long post-doc in the european land of waffles!

Tim got the opportunity to do a post-doc after graduating from PhD school and he's going to work with some of the Sweedler group associates in Beligum. The difference from my post doc is though that he's taking his family and staying for a full year. After he gets back from that he's going to be starting his chemistry professorship at a college in Kansas. I'd tell you the name of the college but I already forgot what it was due to my short attention span and self-absorbed nature. In any case, Tim's well on the science path to professorship!

Tim's a guy I started and made it through grad school with, and he and I had some glorious adventures during our tenure in Champaign, IL. He's the guy that introduced me to my future lifting partner and fellow Horror-movie watching compatriot Muncher, as well as taught me a number of automotive skills. (Speaking of which, changing oil by myself is no fun.) Tim was also an avid supporter of the 4th-of-July firework-extravaganza that was Captain Blazin' Freedom's Patriotism Challenge.

Tim masterminded the Biodiesel Reactor and owned the garage that housed the contraption. He and I weathered many an interested truck driver's questions and newspaper interviewer misquotes and even gave a joint talk at the Indiana Alternative Energy Conference about it.

Of course, Tim and Mindy had a kid along the way; Mia. She's pretty cute. I saw Mia go from stationary yet squirmy little worm-thing wrapped in a blanket to a full-fledged ambulatory clothes-wearing mini-human with speaking abilities over a course of only two years! That was pretty strange. I'm pretty sure we should keep an eye on any creature that can self-evolve to look like us so quickly.

Tim never got into DnD like this prestigious blogposter, though he did go through an Atari 2600 phase (lasted about 20 minutes) and an 8-bit NES phase. We played through Contra approximately 341 times. Sometimes the waterfall stage would test our friendship, but we weathered the storm (and the alien syndicate Red Falcon's attempts to colonize Earth), and saved the Earth repeatedly. Tim would come over and we'd go through Contra after work, or I'd go over to his place and we'd play Super Mario Bros. 3 or Friday the 13th on his NES (I think Muncher ended up actually beating Friday the 13th at a party at Tim's).

All in all, it was a good 5.5 years with the Richmond's. Even though Mary and I left in December we'll still miss the Richmonds when they go off to Belgium, because they won't be in the US of A anymore, and true patriots can sense the loss to the country. Fortunately its only temporary and Tim will be teaching Kansas science students about the wonders of electron orbitals and energy equals mass times the speed of light squared in no time. Have a safe trip kids!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Southern Fried Zombocalypse

So I went to North Carolina this weekend. My mom had knee surgery and I flew down there to check out her new cybernetic limb. My aunt also went down there to take care of her for a couple weeks. Its healing up pretty good, so she'll be back to fighting off the samurai hordes pretty soon. After the nerve-circuits are fully regenerated and the patellar-computroller calibrated, she should be able to do flying jump kicks through walls and ningiants, which was the whole point of the surgery in the first place.

While I was there, my parents gave me their new backpacks they had gotten for hiking. They won't be able to use them for a while now that she's bound to the bacta tank until she heals up, so I get 'em. They're sweet camelback backpacks, those ones with the crazy straw that comes out of the back and holds 2 liters of water. I immediately, like the same day I got home, repacked Mary and I's bug-out bags, each slightly personalized for our own special zombocalypse needs.

Speaking of zombocalypse, I made my mom and aunt watch Dawn of the Dead (2004) and now they're totally on the zombocalypse preparation train. The movie scared my mom so bad she had a nightmare that night, so that's a win. They finally understand the problems we will face when the zombocalypse erupts. The following rules of zombie engagement were especially poignant:

5) Aim for the head if you're a good shot. Actually, run away and let other people stand around aiming for the head regardless of whether you're a good shot.

4) All government-suggested 'safe and secure zones' will no longer be safe or secure by the time you get there. Also, the helicopter you signal will not pick you up.

3) Always hide your bites from your fellow survivors so they don't shoot you. Who knows, maybe you're immune to the zombie virus!

2) Assume everyone else is hiding bites and be ready to shoot them. They're selfishly putting the party in danger by hiding their bites, no one is immune to the zombie virus.

1) That cute puppy you adopt will only put the party in danger. The orphan girl will get attached to it and chase it into the sewer when it runs off, forcing you to lead a search party on a highly dangerous and pointless mission to save her. This will undoubtably result in the loss of some of your best shooters in the process. Shoo away the dog now.

Thank goodness you don't have to worry about the dog being a zombie though. If dogs could be zombies we'd all be screwed. Fortunately, there's no way for the zombie virus to infect animals. Isn't that right Nibbles?


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard

I don't know if you are all in on what's crapinin', but Die Hard 4 comes out soon, starring not only the unbreakable Bruce Willis, but also Tim Olyphant from Deadwood. I love Die Hard, as its like the show '24,' except turned up to 11, and then it explodes. I was recently invited to an upcoming Die Hard 1-3 marathon party, which I will attend, but I wanted to post this music video as a refresher cliff-notes course for those not willing to dedicate the time and commitment of watching Nakatomi Plaza get blown up again, or the icicle eye-stab kill, but who still want to prepare themselves for the awesome that will be Live Free or Die Hard.

Macintosh Guy: "You just destroyed that helicopter with your car!"

McClane: "I was out of bullets."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Shadows of the Black Feather Part V: Deamons and Daywalkers

Hey hey hey! Another update on our DnD campaign! 90% of my readership can now stop paying attention.

When last we left them, our adventurers, who I like to call the "Fairydust Rainbow Glitterfun Bunch," had just defeated an entire witches coven along with thier various summoned beasties in mid-ritual on the top of the haunted Lysaga Hill, and were about to head down through a hidden trap door to the ruins below. Worried about more witchery to contend with, they quickly healed up and descended the dark ladder before their protective spells wore off.

Down below they found an ancient cave tunnel network. Following the main tunnel, Garsome was able to determine that the floor sloped constantly downward thanks to his Dwarven stonecunning ability. Using his darkvision to spot any dangerous lurking beasties, Garsome led the way while Cedric called upon Kelemvor to provide some light for the non-dwarves, and the rest of the troupe followed the subterranean demihuman.

Sure enough, along the path they were set upon by a duo of ancient acid deamons, who were hiding amongst the stalagtites and quickly dispelled Garsome's magical circle of protection. Their skin constantly secreted an otherworldly bloody acid substance that would eat through metal weapons and armor as quickly as a hot jar of HCl through your favorite T-shirt you shouldn't have worn to the lab. Garsome quickly closed with the monsters swinging his axe and sword at the beasts, hoping to kill them before his weapons turned into so much corroded sludge. Milo, for his part, stabbed the beasties with his alchemical flare stakes, normally only effective on undead, but still allowed him to get that juicy sneak attack damage without risking his silver dagger. Cedric stood back and thought about how much damage he could do to them in one round if only they actually were undead.

The adventurers eventually downed the deamons before they had a chance to gate in more of their kind. Cedric finally justified his memorization of the mending spell and repaired the damage to Garsome's axe. The team made their way further into the tunnels where they came across a stone obelisk covered in runes, surrounded by a magic circle, with a treasure chest at its base. Knowing better than to mess with runic circles Cedric did the full assortment of priestly info-gathering including casting comprehend languages, detect magic, making some knowledge (religion) and spellcraft checks, and generally being a human search engine. Meanwhile the rest of the party waited around the corner for him and the inevitable trap he'd set off. Cedric then tentatively walked over to the treasure chest from the side, clearly explaining his wish to avoid any poison needles shooting out from the locking mechanism, and abruptly set off a huge magical fireball explosion, nearly killing him. Everybody then agreed that rogues should search all treasure chests for traps from now on.

Milo then picked the lock on the chest and discovered a large hoard of gold, some magical bracers, a fancy jeweled mirror, and the personal journal of Strahd Von Zarovich! They decided to make camp in the runic circle, as Cedric had determined that it was a circle of protection and would keep them safe from harm (fireball trap notwithstanding), while he read the journal aloud to the rest of the party. They discovered that there were three shrines to the old gods in Barovia that Strahd had succeeded in defiling and absorbing their power. And the only way to break his ties to these shrines was to reconsecrate them with the sacred relics that the shrines originally were charged to protect. It quickly dawned upon the group with a ubiquitous groan that the sacred relics were no doubt deep in the dungeons of Castle Ravenloft, based on some of previously nonsense esoteric murmurings they overheard from the gypsy Seer Madam Eva during their visit to the gypsy camp.

Deciding their best course of action was to return to the town and sell their stuff, the party ascended the ladder the next morning and followed Old Svalich Road back toward Barovia. Along the way they came upon a dead body they discovered was trapped with some Dust of Choking and Sneezing that Milo set off during the thief-required loot-search, which was immediately followed by a penta-pronged werewolf attack from the woods. Even though the trap was quite good in my opinion, Cedric used Gust of Wind to remove the dust and Garsome and Ulrik made very short work of all five werewolves without taking a scratch, much to their narrator's (my) dismay.

Returning to the village, the troupe were accosted by some villagers screaming about danger to the south end of town before they could properly unload their treasure. With an annoyed sigh the adventurers sauntered down the road to see what all the hubbub was about. They saw a huge feral-looking man dragging an unconscious woman out of the Burgomeister's mansion, in broad daylight! They realized that she was probably the person they were supposed to protect this whole time, and approached the man. Getting close, the man threw open the door of a nearby home and raced inside, girl in tow. Based on his speed and ferocity, the team figured he must be a vampire, but knew he shouldn't be out in the daylight! Shrugging their shoulders in the calm realization that comes with knowing the Dungeon Master will eventually reveal the answer to this conundrum (because he clearly thinks its so cool), the adventurers raced in after the daywalker.They cornered the vampire in the house and quickly called on the power of goodness and metalsmithing to smite their foe. While the vampire cut the Dwarf pretty deep with his evil sword, he was unable to level drain anybody, and was forced to go into gaseous form and seep out the windows, swearing future vengeance on the party. Cedric finally got some use out of his Extra Turning feat, and Garsome got to get some swings in with the magical silver greatsword he found a while back.

That's where we ended for the night. But many questions remain unanswered! How could that vampire run around in the daylight? Why was he trying to kidnap that lady? And do they really have to go into that deathtrap, Castle Ravenloft, to procure those relics?

We'll find out next time on...
Shadows of the Black Feather: Expedition to Castle Ravenloft!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Topical, at best

Everyday Reader: "So Cyberninja, why are all your posts about Dungeons and Dragons and other pointless bullcrap? Where's the exponential growth curve rants and complaints about scientific budget cuts?"

Well, Everyday Reader, I'm applying for government jobs. And when applying for government jobs one has to be careful about what one posts on the interwebs, due to the interweb search ninjas that will get the wrong impression. Where I live now is the anarchist and eco-terrorist capital of the world, so us DnD T-shirt-wearing Independents have to be extra careful not to be dumped into the 'young activist' stereotype just because we fuel our car with Biodiesel, even though it should be obvious we're far too busy painting Skaven miniatures and arguing about how to count diagonal movement on a grid to worry about illegal ocean dumpage. So for a while at least, you can expect the Technodojo to focus on its gamer/non-philosophical side for a while.

That said, here's a screenshot from one of my favorite pre-1999 series of PC game. Can you name this specific game? And for extra points: before entering the swamp, what did you have to do to survive the swim and not get eaten by the swamp-monster?

Also, I think its worth everyone's time to watch this 67-year old grandma play Resistance:Fall of Man...

Monday, June 4, 2007

Shadows of the Black Feather IV: Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

Waking up after a long night of partying with the townsfolk of Barovia at the Blood o' the Vine Inn, the adventurers decided that they oughtta go see this Madam Eva they hear so much about, and get their fortunes read or something. The players then all agreed to use Skype as voice chat, and it sped up our game considerably.

So Garsome the Dwarf, Cedric the Priest, and Milo the Halfling made some last minute purchases at Bildrath's Mercantile to get some Anti-Ghost Oil and Vampire Repellant and started meandering their way westward along Old Svalich Road. While they didn't take a map, and didn't really ask directions, in their triumphantly over-confident heroic wisdom they figured that the gypsies must be somewhere to the west, due to the fact that they came from the east, and following the road and wandering around Barovia was a good a plan as any.

But the heroes were ambushed along the road by elves! Not just elves either, but werewolf elves! Welves! After a small bit of parlay where the elves tried to look innocent, Milo noticed the werewolves sneaking around to flank the party, and raised the alarm. Between Milo's masterwork silver dagger, and Garsome's non-silver but hard-hitting axe, the Welves were quickly put down without a single party member contracting Lycanthropy! :(

Continuing on their way the trio came to the crossroads, where folks are hanged from the gallows and found a sign pointing towards three different places 1) "East to the Village of Barovia", 2) "West to Castle Ravenloft," 3) "North to Tser Pool." Since they were pretty sure they just came from the village, and they were really sure they didn't want to go to Castle Ravenloft, the correct direction to find the gypsies looked fairly obvious.

But suddenly, nebulous ghostly beings made of utter darkness (or something sinister like that) rose up out of the nearby potter's field and attacked a passerby knight! The man clearly wouldn't last long against the incorporeal foes, so the party dove into the attack! Cedric challenged the ghosts to a preach-off and the spirits simply couldn't take the holy awesome of Crom (or whatever god supplement he's using), and Garsome coated his axe in anti-ghost oil and chopped through the rest of the suckers. The trio healed the unconscious man and Milo begrudgingly gave his possessions back to him, eventually. The young knight introduced himself as "Sir Ulrik Von Lichtenstein" and explained he was on his way to Castle Ravenloft to save his Lord, the great undead slayer known as "Lord Quinn Aplanc, Savior of the Seven Dales and Grand Master of Crawford Manor." Garsome matter-of-factly explained to Ulrik that if he couldn't handle the ghost-beasts he wouldn't stand a chance in Castle Ravenloft, so Ulrik agreed to join the party to learn from Garsome's undead-hunting tactics (hit 'em hard and keep a cleric about).

The now party of four tromped their way up to the Tser Pool encampment of gypsies, where they were invited in. The gypsies of course knew they were coming and that evening they sat down with Madam Eva to get some fortunes told. After the players waited a while to see if she would just start spouting off fortunes, they finally started asking questions, consisting of just ways to throw out key words like "So what's this I hear about a Sunsword?"

Madam Eva's fortune telling finished, the heroes learn that one of the items (magic sword) is hidden nearby, and so pay a Vistani gypsy boy to go find it for them. None of them really use swords so they stuck it in Garsome's pack and forgot about it.

Madam Eva told the players that the witches they seek meet at the ruins atop Lysaga Hill every night summoning their dark lord who will finally appear during the new moon, only two nights away! So team "kill 'em all" decide to head them off at the pass and sprint on up to Lysaga hill one night early so as not to have risk Garsome having to make a Will save to face Cthulhu. What they found on Lysaga Hill are your standard cultists mid-ritual, accompanied by an evil Hag leading the chant, and an avatar of the Daemon Chernovog standing nearby, no doubt the district manager.

So the party quietly surrounded the cultists while they mulled over what to do about the deamon-guy, but then Cedric tripped on his shoelaces and made a big ruckus, attracting the attention of the cultists and the battle was on! Milo and Ulrik backstabbed and frontstabbed (respectively) cultists as the cultists shot scorching rays at them, and Garsome turned on the afterburners and went after the Hag. Cedric ran around atop the wall casting protective spells and then jumped into the fray and healed folks as best he could. Garsome ran into some major trouble and lost not only his axe but also his backup dagger of venom to some crappy rolls, so ended up having no choice but to punch the Hag to death, which admittedly is pretty awesome in the end.

Then the big deamon guy who was shooting warlocky eldritch blasts and spells at the party decided to stomp into the melee action, and got knee-deep in some adventurer's faces. The party was taking a pretty big beating, and Cedric could barely keep up with the healing. Suddenly, on Ulric's smite-evil attack he actually rolled two crits, doing some major damage to the deamon and opening up the opportunity for Milo to snatch Garsome's axe and deliver it to the dwarf via the tumble-express. Once the axe was back in his dwarfy hands, Garsome made short work of the wounded Mr. Bigpants.

The party searched around and found a trap door leading down into the ruins. This is where we ended the game. Will the party find anything of value within the ruins, or only their doom? We'll find out in Part V of...

Shadows of the Black Feather: Expedition to Castle Ravenloft!

Friday, June 1, 2007

The Zombocalypse is inevitable...

...because people are selfish pricks.

As an example, oh say..take this guy, to protect his identity we'll call him Personal Injury Attorney Andrew S. On May 10th of this year he was told by the CDC he was infected with multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis, and told not to go on any flights as it would take a while to determine what kind of TB it was. Instead, he flew to Rome in Mid-May with his new wife for their honeymoon. The CDC then tracked him down in Rome and told him that his form of Tuberculosis was actually the extensively drug-resistant form (the most dangerous type), and to turn himself in to Italian health officials or US Embassy immediately for quarantine. Instead of doing that, he avoided Italian health officials and bypassed the USA's no-fly list (which he was on) by flying to Canada, getting on two separate flights, and then drove into the US.

Upon arriving in the United States, he then contacted the CDC about his condition. Of course, this is after he was already home, meaning that the people on those flights were already who-knows-where. Then the CDC flew him in a private plane to Denver for treatment (which they would've done from Rome), and now has been tracking down all the passengers from those two international flights and asking them to get TB tests (its hard enough to get people to call you back). Keep in mind a lot of these people aren't even US citizens, and the CDC is hardly swimming in cash.

Now, there's already plenty of reason to hate this guy...but, besides the fact that he's a lawyer, he also put all those other people at risk of contracting a highly dangerous infection, who by definition are traveling to all parts of the world. Its not like he walked into Lost Nation community center where the folks infected could be kept track of, he got on two separate flights of travelers who by definition were in transit to other places. Probably a lot of them to see their families. Probably quite a few hugged and kissed their kids when they got home, or will hug and kiss their kids sometime in the future when the bacteria has even more time to incubate.

Andrew's father-in-law works on highly drug-resistant TB at the CDC, coincidentally enough, but regardless of how Andrew got infected, he chose after being fully informed of its dangers, to put a lot of other people at needless risk of being infected. Now imagine this wasn't the fairly well-understood drug-resistant tuberculosis, but was the T-virus developed by the Umbrella Corporation. Now you're starting to see the big picture.

Even if a person is told in crystal clear terms that they have a very dangerous and infectious disease, they will still put many hundreds or thousands of others at risk if it means they can be slightly more comfortable. If even lawyers can't be trusted to care about the public good, what hope is there for us?