18 December 2008

Exit Diablo 2, Enter PackRat

Diablo 2, once you get done with the storyline and quests (and some people don't even bother with them the first time), is basically a game of item collection. You go around whacking the same key monsters over and over in the hopes that they drop interesting loot. Getting to the monsters can be time-consuming and boring, and experienced players eventually just skip past all the little treasure chests and smaller loot from lesser monsters killed along the way. Their paths are usually littered with unclaimed junk. (The most hardcore of them try to set up bots to automate all this, which Blizzard frowns heavily upon and thwarts with great vigor.)

Once interesting loot has been obtained, it often gets traded for higher level loot that other people have collected. At its peak, Diablo 2 had an entire economy based around the Stone of Jordan ring as its standard currency. The value of the SOJ fluctuated on a daily basis, just like in a real life stock market. And then one day it crashed - at which point, since they were worthless as money, someone gave me a couple to keep, which was the first I ever saw any. I wore them as rings; they weren't bad as actual items in actual use. There were other items like that as well - so valuable that nobody ever actually used them, because they were more useful for trading. (The Um rune comes to mind. Imagine my brother's horror whenever I talked about inserting ours into a hat....) Nowadays, as far as I know without knowing any hardcore players to keep me informed, it's back to old-fashioned barter.

Facebook PackRat takes all of the item collection and trading aspects of a game like Diablo 2, and turns it into a game all by itself. No longer must a player spend countless monotonous hours killing monsters to get to their loot - now you can just get them directly. No longer is there the flimsy excuse that collected items are supposed to do something for the player; once these are collected, they get put into a limitless-sized vault where they just sit there and look pretty for all eternity. It goes a step farther too - every few weeks the gamemakers introduce new sets of cards for players to collect, and retire the oldest sets - so there's always a rolling assortment of them no matter when you come in, and always something to do no matter how long you've been there. Trading, as I hear from the hardcore players, is heavy and fierce, especially for cards from expired sets.

I'd always thought of the item collecting aspects of Diablo 2 as kind of boring but required. Then again, the whole game is really kind of boring - but it gives me something to do with my hands when I'm too brainfried to do anything else. PackRat now does the same, except with all the boring parts of it streamlined out.

(Except for the waiting. All I need is one more %@#$& Farmer Stubbs and I can feat the Barnyard Ruckus set, and he hasn't been seen all day. -.- )

10 December 2008

Day Without A Gay

Day Without A Gay logo

Day Without A Gay is intended as a boycott and strike by all LBGTQ people and their supporters, to demonstrate our economic might. It coincides with International Human Rights Day.

Here's a condensed list of their suggestions on what to do on the day:

1. Don't go to work.
    That part is easy enough. Wednesdays are my midday weekend, when I don't go to work anyway. I'll have to stop in to sign my timesheet so I can get paid this month, since they're trying to close the books early for Christmas break. But I won't be working.

2. Don't spend any money, except at businesses that are clearly LBGTQ-friendly.
    Also easy enough. I planned ahead on groceries and gas.

3. Withdraw $80 from the bank and keep it pocketed all day.
    So, after I go in to sign the timesheet, I'll be visiting the bank.

4. Avoid advertising, such as from watching TV or browsing the Internet.
    That latter is going to be hard. o.O

5. Volunteer and/or join a nearby protest.
    I keep checking for opportunities on the official website, but there aren't any for Savannah. :( Of the local regular opportunities, all of them want me to commit lengthy periods of time that I don't have, and none want me to do something on the actual day. Likewise, we kind of sucked at the protesting back on Nov. 15, so unless I want to drive to Jacksonville, it looks like I'm out of luck there, too.

    What I will be doing to make myself visible is outing myself on Facebook, which I finally caved and signed up for a month ago. Dozens of people from 5-20 years ago have since found me there. So yes, this will be a scary prospect in front of ~73 family, friends, longlost acquaintances recently found again, etc. But what better time than now? It'll consist of a status message that clearly states why I'm offline for the day, with question-answering the following day when I'm back online.

6. Don't use cell phones.
    I'm not sure I understand this one. But I can turn it off for the day. Nobody calls me anyway except wrong numbers and phone companies wanting me to sign up.

Additionally, there's a suggestion from WhiteKnot.org:
7. Wear a ribbon with a white knot in the middle, as a symbol of support for marriage equality.
    I'll have one. And I'll be wearing it when I sign my timesheet. We'll see if anyone asks what it is...

Right then. I'll be back on the 11th. :)

08 December 2008

Ficlets: A Song

I originally wrote this in 1990. Why yes, I was a goth back before I knew what goths were. :) The original was exactly one character too long to be a ficlet, so I changed the word "beautiful" to "glorious." Seems to work out well that way, too.

A Song

A solitary figure walked across the darkening quad. Her eyes were hooded, her face expressionless – and yet, at closer glance, grief and her very aloneness haunted her countenance.

She lifted her arms to the wind as it strengthened, as she began to sing. The wind moaned in harmony, and those who might have listened heard an enchanting melody begin. The song pervaded the blackened quad, transforming the silence into glorious strains of music, charging the air with whispered excitement, and gradually it crescendoed into an intense, resounding cadenza of thunder and delight! She danced furiously as the wind whirled around and swept the dried, fallen leaves in circles about her feet. The music cascaded through the dusk; her features were captivating – ever onward the song flew on, into the night and away. Slowly, she became still.

The wind whispered, gently and softly, and then died. Echoes of an enchanting tune – tragic echoes – lingered, hinting of what had been, then disappeared. She was alone once more.

Sequel: Track Two by alcar

Across the quad he watched from shadows, hearing no enchantment in wind, catching fragments of song like static from a TV set. She was enchantment enough, that anyone would dance like that during the dark of night without reason. He made no sound, not wanting to break the spell.

There was a song inside him too (everyone has one, if they listen the right way), but to him the silences mattered more than the song, when it was just her moving, and the wind, and her singing without a voice as the song ran past him and away; it did not matter, to him the singer was more important. He held his silence, not daring to break the moment, feeling something ease inside his heart, or an old wound break open.

And he was too afraid, of her stillness and his silence, and did not ask her a name, nor tell her he watched, even when he returned the next few nights, in case she moved through stillness, or might have guessed his own song.

In a different story, he would have carried a knife.

This is not that story.

These are also licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.5 (as is/was everything posted on the Ficlets site).

07 December 2008

Thought of the Day: Stupidity

The problem with stupid people is that it takes an enormous amount of time and effort to refute their stupidity. Therefore, most people don't bother - so the stupidity just keeps getting repeated with no response from any smart people. And therefore the semismart people believe it.

This was originally posted as part of a comment at Stonekettle Station. Then Chris Gerrib decided he liked it enough to quote it on his own blog. So it made sense, to me at least, that I should quote myself on my own blog as well. :)

06 December 2008

Ficlets: The Tree Saga

Ficlets is going away early next year, and so now is a good time to preserve all the stories from it. Here's one set, mostly written by people in the SFFMuse writing community, that all started when I wrote a short throwaway Ficlet while checking out how the site worked.

The Life and Death of a Tree

Once upon a time there was a tree. It sprouted in a forest and grew tall and strong. Then one day a woodcutter came along and cut it down. Thereafter it was a park bench, several reams of paper, pulp waste, kindling, and sawdust. The woodcutter lived happily ever after. The End.

Sequel: The Tale of the Woodcutter's Wife by alcar

Years after the once upon a time, the woodcutter’s wife drove home at night through the rain and swerved to miss a squirrel that was doing a credible cat impression (had she known it was a squirrel, she would not have swerved). She hit a tree and died.

The park bench never knew what one of its acorns had accomplished. It might even be that it would not have cared—it is easier to be a park bench than a tree, after all. The woodcutter became quite good at his job, eventually climbing up the corporate ladder (while never once thinking it was wood) owning the company, cutting many trees and massacring many forests; refusing to put saplings where trees had been.

When people asked why, he told them it was for his wife and for all who’d died because of trees. Yet every other Friday afternoon he’d go down to a park, sit on a bench, and just think. He never wept, nor would have even if he’d known part of that long ago tree was the bench. His secrets remained his own, along with his sins and sorrows and laughter.

Prequel: One Brave Tree Stands Against Squirrel Domination by me

It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a ‘cat’ appeared. Her brakes screamed as she swerved off the road; so startled was she by its likeness to her own dear departed Fluffy that as she sped through the trees, she never saw the horde of squirrels trailing her wake.

Little did she know it was all part of their evil plan. Soon they would have her in their paws, where they would suck out her brain and replace it with nuts, nuts that had lain festering and mutating in a deep, dark swamp. Soon she would do their bidding as an assassin and spy in the world of corporate woodcutters. Soon, when all the woodcutters were eradicated, squirrels would rule the forests of the world.

But as she hurtled toward their evil laboratory, one brave tree rebelled. It alone took a stand against such crimes against humanity, against squirrel domination.

And so it was that the squirrels were thwarted, woodcutters everywhere kept their happily ever afters, and the trees began seeing genocide on a scale never seen before.

Prequel: Murder for Nuts by THX 0477

Along the side of a dimly lit road, a handful of squirrels huddled under a wide-spread fern. The chattered and groomed in their nervous way. All could feel the rumbling through the ground of a fast approaching human machine.

One of them shook his head back and forth. He could not participate. He would not. The others stopped in their grooming and chattering. Silence defied his defiance. But he was resolute.

Tiny paws struck out, urging him with domineering force to comply. He only shrunk away, unwilling to make himself a part of their plan but unable to stand up to so many. His beady black eyes darted through the rainy night for a place of refuge, a way to escape.

There was no escape. In an explosion of fur and bucked teeth the others were upon him. He could not even cry out so quickly did they overwhelm him. And thus he died, the scent of rotted acorns stinging in his nose and all hope for a better tomorrow gone. The squirrels would rise up, and he could do nothing to stop them.

Sequel to One Brave Tree: The Night of the Bushy Tails by Sammi

Only after most of the trees had been slaughtered did the woodcutters realize their mistake: squirrels are small and adaptable. The squirrels, armed with wood splinters and rusty nails, invaded the houses of the woodcutters. In one night, known as the Night of the Bushy Tails, over a hundred woodcutters and their families were killed in their beds. People found them weeks later (because woodcutters don’t get out much,) with their skulls full of nuts and elaborate claw markings on their bodies spelling out vulgar messages to humanity.

The trees were sympathetic to humans, despite the fact that the primates had preyed upon them for millennia, but they watched the bloodshed in silence, only occasionally whispering to each other.

Sequel to One Brave Tree: Fake Fake Intelligence by alcar

But that was not the end, because nothing truly ends and nothing truly begins. Indeed, even nothing does not last forever, and one of the coroners came to strange conclusions upon finding s dead woman’s head filled with nuts.

Biff eventually ran off to start an earth-based religion that quickly splintered on the issue of squirrel motivations and the deeper meanings behind Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons about squirrels, and it vanished into the oblivion that is the future of all things. (It wasn’t archived on the internet, after all.)

But a genius in the DA’s office looked deeper, perceiving rather than merely seeing, and eventually approached the squirrels with ideas, funding, and an innovative Multi-Level-Marketing program. They succumbed to his brochures and he hid them inside the computer he built to pass them off as the world’s first Artificial Intelligence.

The rest of the dray were kept busy killing those who tried to discover the truth, their heads filled with silicon nuts to be part of a new age.

Prequel to Life and Death of a Tree: They said I was a nut by codebunny

They said I was a nut, but that was long ago. I’ve seen how they treat us, taking our young and corrupting them. They undress them, paint them and stand them in obscene poses for others of their kind to admire, and abuse. Sometimes they are stood in windows and can be bought and sold on the open market. Their distorted images are shown in magazines. They are no more than objects of desire, or tools for pleasure and not considered living, breathing, feeling creatures. Once they are taken, their roots are lost. Their past life is gone and it is as if they are no more.

They said I was crazy, just like my sire. He was lucky, he told me, because he lived long and passed when he was old and tall and could taste the sky. He said others were less fortunate. He cried and wailed when he told me of our future.

They said I was insane, but not any more. Now they don’t say anything. They only tremble in the wind that grows each day and wait for the shouting men and their chainsaws to take them.

Sequel: I grow old by alcar

I grew tall, like my father, on hate and wind and rain. Never tears, because we do not have gods and our roots do not reach deep enough to remember old tales. The others vanished, taken one by one. Only I remained, alone, to tell them of the forest. Only I, naked, adorned with a sign about how very old I was that covered not a single root working up through the earth, exposed to their stares and whispers that could not replace other trees rustling in the wind.

If not for the aliens, I would never have learned of ficlets.

If not for the aliens, I would not have gained the power to protest horrible stories that undress trees, that bear us naked to the root, strip us of bark but are not considered mature content.

There are now saplings who will never grow tall and strong thanks to naked trees posturing in windows and on your computers.

I should click the link to report the previous story … and yet—and yet, the chainsaws haunt my waking dreams,and I do not wish to be like you.

I am no longer a nut.

Sequel: Googling yourself by alcar

Gaining intelligence and access to the internet was easier for the tree than those who lived in it. Trees bend before they break.

It was different for the squirrels. They kept checking webmaster tools, page ranks, amazon, but still they drifted further away, downward on the ranks. They read google help, and threatened pigeons for their page rank; but still they drifted towards obscurity as names and horrible websites replaced them.

Something had to be done.

And so they began the plot, that a woodcutter’s wife eventually became involved in, that the trees fought them. No one else understood why they’d been taking over humans, why so many died from them,why peanut butter allergies increased ten-fold.

But there were reasons, and vanity is a sin for all. Their page rank increased, but it wasn’t enough. Could never be enough, until they were supreme, until they were honored.

And so they watched the skies, praying and fearing the aliens would take away the intelligence they’d given before they succeeded.

Alcar and Codebunny are fellow writers from SFFMuse. Sammi is an RPoLian. I don't know who THX 0477 is outside of Ficlets.

All stories are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5.