Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Maternal Update

The results of my mother's tests are in, and everything looks great. There's still a slim possibility of cancer, but if so it's in the very early stages, and she's going to have her ovaries removed anyway just to be sure so if it's there it'll be gone.

Her surgery has been scheduled for March 31, and she'll be in the hospital for just a day. Unfortunately, the recovery time is going to be about two weeks (she's 70 and doesn't bounce back like she used to) so I am going to be very busy in about a month's time.

Still, at least this way my living at home is justified, because they'd be up shit creek if I wasn't here. Dad's the kind of person who thinks making a sandwich is cooking, and therefore woman's work. I don't think he could do the laundry if his life depended on it.

Big hugs and thank-yous to everyone who sent us thoughts and prayers and well-wishes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The D Belt

As you all are no doubt aware, I am a bit of a gadget nut and my preference for being prepared borders on fetishism. This tendency, when projected to its ultimately absurd end, culminates in my Z Kit, which is a fun little hobby for my idle hands, a hole for my disposable income, and the future People's Exhibit A in my eventual trial for mental competence.

(Your Auntie Palette is holding out for a ruling of "Tutti Frutti" and will be dreadfully disappointed with any other result.)

But be that as it may, at some points I actually manage to be prudent and sensible, and to that end I present you with my D Belt. The D is for Dog-walking, and I strap this assembly around my waist every afternoon when I take Heath and Henry for their walkies.

It all started (and I've lost track of how many ideas, both good and bad, have begun with that phrase) sometime last summer when I started taking a knife along with me during our walks. This was done not out of any sense of danger but because I had just acquired a Mora Clipper and it was still in the "new toy" phase where I wanted to take it everywhere and use it on everything.

In case you're curious, the blade itself is just under 4"

Brief aside: the Mora is perhaps the most awesome knife I have ever seen. The handle is so amazingly ergonomic it feels like it welds right to my hand, the fit is so natural. The blade itself is made from Sandvik 13C27 steel, which has many enthusiastic supporters among steel mavens and knife aficionados, and every single one I've bought has been x-acto sharp.

But I think the best part about the Clipper is the price. Mora of Sweden has found a way to mass-produce quality knives quickly, so the end result is a cheap knife ($12 US) that isn't cheap at all (quality-wise). In fact, I love this knife so much that I bought one for every member of my family at Christmas (except for my sister, who got the fishing version instead).

So anyway, I was in the habit of taking this very light and comfortable knife with me on our walks, and in so doing I realized that I would benefit from bringing other tools along as well. Before long I had bought a utility belt at the local hardware store and was outfitting it with things I either thought I might need, or had wished I had with me on previous walks.

On my left hip, from left to to right:
  • A key to the house, a storm whistle, and a compass/thermometer, lashed together with a rubber band and attached to a retractable keychain
  • A mini-maglite
  • Tasco 10x25 monocular
Surprisingly, it's the monocular that's gotten the most use. We live in a rural suburb with very long streets and neither my mother nor I have anything approximating good eyesight. Therefore it's very useful to be able to pull out my little pocket scope and and take a look down the street to see if the people-shaped blobs are coming towards us or away from us, and if they have a dog with them or not. This latter detail will become important in a moment.

In the small of my back sits this cute little pouch from Best Glide. It's called the Personal Survival Kit Holder and I got it at Christmas. (It's supposed to be black, because that's what I asked for, but you know how parents and internet shopping mix poorly.) It's quietly adorable in a Batman-esque manner.

It holds a disposable poncho (in case I get caught in a sudden, unexpected Florida rainstorm), a pair of sealable sandwich bags for picking up doggie poop, and a handy little metal tin about the size and thickness of a pack of index cards that holds first aid supplies. Considering all the tramping about through the underbrush we do, this last one is a godsend, as it's good for treating scrapes and scratches and insect bites.

This last item is the one I've never had to use, and I hope I never do. (Yes, I've used the knife on the walk before; it's great for cutting through vines and other underbrush that have conspired to snag me by the socks or my dogs by the fur.) It's a Schrade 16-inch collapsible steel baton, and yes, it's perfectly legal for me to own and take with me on a walk, because Florida is an open-carry state.

Remember when I said it was important to know if there's a dog coming our way? As it turns out there's a dog (I hear it's at least part wolf, and it certainly looks the part) in our neighborhood that is both aggressive and poorly-controlled by its owners. I don't blame the dog, mind you, but I don't trust its owners. Case in point:

We were walking past their house with our dogs when their dog came racing through an open door at us, barking and growling and baring its teeth. Normally I would be okay with this, except that the dog left their property and confronted us in the street. I believe that their dog would have continued to charge and attack us or our dogs if I had not fixed it with my patented "You'd best back the FUCK OFF" eye-contact death glare. Instead, it just screeched to a halt, but then it held its position, growling and crouching as if to attack.

We called for the owners, but they didn't reply. My right hand was on my baton; it wasn't out yet, but I could have extended it if that dog charged us. (Yes, I am foolish enough to risk personal injury to protect my dogs. They're family, after all.) My left hand grabbed my storm whistle, and I blew that sucker for as loud and as long as I could.

I don't know if the noise hurt its ears, or scared it, or what, but apparently the dog decided that between the noise I was making and my not-backing-down posture, this was a battle it wouldn't win, and so it turned around and went back inside the house.

Everyone was very happy I had my D Belt that day, and as far as I'm concerned, that incident alone has justified its expense and existence.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Z-Kit Supplemental

It's been a while since I've talked about my Z-Kit, and that's a shame, because in the months since I last mentioned it I've upgraded it quite substantially.

And, well, the whole business with my mother possibly having cancer has made me start thinking about it again. I'm not sure what it says about my mental state when my first reaction to news that a loved one might have a fatal illness is to start looking at survival gear.

Especially guns. I know I had an initial "no guns" policy for the Z-Kit, but for some reason I got it into my head that I really, really wanted a .22 rifle for hunting.

There are several reasons why I picked a .22 instead of a bigger round, like a .30-06:
  1. .22 caliber is light, cheap, and plentiful; I can buy a box of a thousand rounds for about five bucks, they won't weigh me down like a heavier caliber will, and I can get them practically anywhere.
  2. A light round means a light rifle, and size/weight/portability are important.
  3. It's the perfect caliber for subsistence hunting (because I don't fool myself into thinking I can bring down a deer, but I know I can plink a squirrel or two if needed).
  4. Recoil and noise are minimal.
  5. When cops see a .22, they don't immediately go "OMG LETHAL WEAPON". Yes, I know it's possible to kill someone with a .22, but there's less stigma attached to it for some reason.
So I know what I want: A small, light, inexpensive .22 rifle, and I've narrowed it down to two choices, the Henry Arms U.S. Survival .22 and the Marlin Model 60.

The U.S. Survival .22 is the most recent iteration of the AR-7, which a lot of you might recognize from the James Bond movie "From Russia with Love".

This has a lot of great features:
  1. It weighs 2.5 pounds
  2. It floats
  3. The receiver and barrel fit into the stock for compactness
  4. It's cheap (the silver version can be bought for ~$150)

Regarding that last point: I know some people will say "But Palette, just because a gun is cheap doesn't mean you should get it!" And to that I reply, "This is what I can afford, and even then I'll still need to save up for 3-5 months. I figure a cheap gun is better than having no gun at all."

"Why not just buy the black version?" Strangely, the difference between silver and black is about $50. If I go with the silver version, I can buy it, plus a 4x32 scope for it, for the same price as a black one and still have enough money for camo tape.

"But Palette, why a scope?" Because I'm not that good a shot and need all the help I can get.

"Why not get a bigger rifle? Or a shotgun?" Because they're more than I can afford, and they're big and heavy, and so is their ammunition. This is a contingency weapon, not an every-weekend thing.

"Why not get a Scout M6?" I would love to. I think the over/under rifle-shotgun combo is unbeatable. But they aren't being manufactured right now, and scarcity has driven their prices up past what I can afford.

But whereas the Henry is very modern, the Marlin Model 60 is decidedly old-school. It's twice as heavy and doesn't disassemble, which is bad for portability but means it's a lot more durable. Reliability means a lot if I have to do subsistence hunting. It also has a longstanding reputation for being very accurate straight out of the box (and even more so with a sight) and has a 14-round magazine vs the Henry's 8-round. I'm also given to understand there are plenty of after-market conversions for it, so if I were inclined I could eventually swap out the stock, er, stock on it and replace it with something lighter.

Ironically, I think the biggest drawback this gun has is that it looks like a gun all the time, as opposed to the Henry which sometimes just looks like a plastic stock. Now if I were a weekend hunter, there's no debate which one I'd pick: I'd go with the Marlin every time, because I'm a big believer in form following function. But if my desired function is "small, light, looks innocuous" then this guy is right out. On the other hand, some folks have claimed that the Henry is awkward to fire and inaccurate, even with a scope. And the Marlin doesn't come in a nasty silver color.

Surprisingly, the Marlin 60 is also ~$150, so it's not a simple case of "buy whichever one costs less." In researching these rifles, I've found they're a lot like sports teams: some people say they are wonderfully wicked awesome, and others feel they're unreliable pieces of cheap junk.

So, I put it to you, my dear readers: Which one should I get?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Oh goddammit

There's about a 90% chance my mother has ovarian cancer. She had some tests today, and a CAT scan is scheduled for Thursday. We should know for sure next Monday.

Either way, she's scheduled to have her ovaries removed. The big question is if they're removed by a gynecologist or an oncologist.

The good news is that she's in her 70s, so losing her ovaries is no big whoop. And she's in great shape (2nd degree black belt in Shotokan Karate).

The bad news is that she's at that age where it takes people forever to recover from even minimally invasive procedures. It's a good thing I'm here to help around the house or things would really go to hell.

We are not thinking about the possibility of worse news.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The secret meaning of Pellatarrum

I have been reminded by a certain infernal lagomorph that I am a week late in revealing the true meaning of Pellatarrum, as I had promised earlier. I shall rectify that now, though I warn you, the truth is both boring and lame.

For the longest time, I had the concept of Pellatarrum worked out in my head but lacked a suitable name for, and instead referred to it as "my fantasy world," a name which got the job done but lacked a certain luster.

Attempts at freeform naming resulted in either gibberish or words which didn't feel properly fantastic. Naming, as we all know, is a very aesthetic endeavor.

Eventually I tired of the situation and resolved to finish it, even if it meant having to cheat. So I went online and looked up the Latin words for "Palette"(pala, which technically is a spade and therefore closer to palette knife than anything else, but it's the best I could do) and "World" (terrarum, from orbis terrarrum, meaning "the Earth"), picked a declension I liked, and messed with them a bit until they sounded right.

So, Pellatarrum is very sloppy Latin for "Palette's World". Isn't that thrilling?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Separated at birth: Ben Mund and Saul Rubinek

Ben Mund said...

Yup, you were THAT PERSON. And the end is result is better for it. So keep THATing.

And stop saying I look like the dude from Warehouse 13, even if it's true.

But Ben, it's TRUE! And it's not a bad thing, either, because Saul ain't a bad looking guy. Tell you what, though, I'll leave it up to my readers to decide for themselves.

Here is Ben "Whitefall" Mund:

And here is Saul "Warehouse 13's Artie Nielsen" Rubinek:

Separated at birth? YOU BE THE JUDGE!

The Atlas of the 'Verse

It is with great pride that I announce the release of Quantum Mechanix' Atlas of the 'Verse, Volume1. I say "pride" because, for the past two years, I was part of the Brain Trust that helped develop this beast.

Of course, I don't want to overstate my contribution here. Most of the work was done by Ben "Whitefall" Mund, he of the amazing graphical skills, and J. Chris Bourdier helped with providing crunchy planetary dynamics. My job, in addition to the typical proofreading and error-spotting duties we all had, was to be That Person.

We all know that person is. The person who cues up the DVD of the docking sequence at Beaumonde just to see if the starport pit is drawn correctly, because for some reason her Browncoat senses were tingling. (It wasn't.)

Or the person who analyzes a cut-away of Mal's pistol (which, to be fair, is a prop and doesn't at all work the way the movie wants you to think it does) and compares it to the actual workings of pistols, drawing upon her real-life knowledge of guns and bullets and ballistics, and then argues for a month with folks about how no, the bullets won't feed properly if you put them there, you have to do this other way, I don't care how much work it is for you because, well, she's a fan and it's important for her that this product be as "right" as possible.

Yes, I was the rabid, screaming fangirl of the Brain Trust, and there were more than a few times I felt really shitty about arguing minutiae with people. But I was told, again and again, that no, my contributions were important, and that if I hadn't caught it then another fan would have, and by then it would be too late to correct the problem.

So, um, yeah. That's what I contributed, such as it was, and in return, my name is in the credits right next to Tim Minear. Go me!

From the product page, in case you didn't click on the link above:
The Verse at Your Fingertips

With hundreds of terraformed planets and moons, the worlds of Firefly/Serenity are vast, varied and ever-changing. And a smart captain – a captain who expects to carve a living out of the black – needs to know a lot about those worlds. Which planets sell low? Which pay high? What are the local customs, cultures and laws? And what’s the best path to maximize profit, minimize risk and keep flying.

That's why the Trader's Guild Association has issued this comprehensive guide to the New Canaan run: The Atlas of The Verse, Volume One.

The New Canaan run is favored by captains flying light- and mid-bulk transports for its diverse markets and exports. And for those who must occasionally live on the raggedy edge, its varied levels of law enforcement are a plus, as well. The route described in the 26 full-color pages of the Atlas spans 11 planetary systems, crossing from The Core through The Border to The Rim and back.

More than just a collection of facts and maps, The Atlas of The Verse gives you the measure of a place, with a bonus page of content for each system.

Here's just some of the shiny info you get:
  • Introduction by Tim Minear, Executive Producer of Firefly.
  • Planetary maps, historical profiles, industries, satellites and exports for:
    • Londinium
    • Persephone
    • Beaumonde
    • Silverhold
    • Harvest (and Higgins’ Moon)
    • New Canaan (and Lilac)
    • Hera
    • Shadow
    • Ariel
    • Osiris
    • Sihnon
  • Currency and coinage used throughout The Verse.
  • Satellite maps of the Eavesdown Docks and Atoll City, Beaumonde.
  • Cutaway diagram of the FlashKill grenade favored by freelance security everywhere.
  • Higgins Industrial brochure on the best ceramics available in The Verse.
  • A copy of the Independents' tactical map used in the Battle of Serenity Valley.
  • The complete history of the Firefly Ship Works and its development timeline.
  • And much more!

The Atlas of The Verse comes in the same format as the Serenity Blueprints Reference Pack: printed on 100-pound 12"x16" stock and spiral-bound. It's loaded with beautiful art, incredible renderings and detailed diagrams that really help bring The Verse to life. It's also fully compatible with the best-selling Map of The Verse (and makes a great companion piece!)

The Altas of The Verse: 26 pages of awesome for just $39.95.

Order it, because it is awesome.

Also, if you visit their webpage, you get a free PDF of Independent Scrip (Browncoat money) which you can download and print out to your grubby little heart's desire.

What are you waiting for? BUY IT!

Sometimes the posts just write themselves...

...but in this case, it was written by one of the players in my 7th Sea campaign. This is one character's rendition of the events of their first adventure, after arriving safely home and telling the tale at the local pirate dive:

Cariene accepts the tankard, steps up in front of the crowd with the hearth to her back, and throws back the drink, chugging it all in one go. Lifting her empty mug high before the crowd, she shouts, “HEAR MY TALE…” then drops her voice low, “of the agony of good Avalon privateers, men of stout hearts and iron sinews, dry-docked and languishing in the foul prison-pits and oubliettes of Muget. Tormented by the fresh sea winds, they were, their moans and cries carried aloft, dancing upon the waves, carried by the spray and foam across the seas, to catch the ear and tug at the heart strings of the handsome and dashing ALASDAIR MACBAIN, and his crew of reckless freebooters…”

She then recounts how they landed on the docks, and how HERJA, “potent with ancient weather-wisdom” called up a fearsome storm to cover their sneaking into the port, and how they had made their way into the very bowels of Muget’s “foul dark loathsome fortress.” She tells how the keen steel of Herr Wolfram shattered the chains and smashed the locks that oppressed the poor, brave honest seamen who had been cast into the foul depths of dark stone beneath the moaning sea.

Meanwhile, she recounts how she had climbed countless stairs to the highest tower to steal the secret knowledge of that grim place. But she was thwarted in her attempts by the arrival of the wicked and sinister Lady Dominique Leveque d'Aur. Cariene explains, in salacious detail, how the fiendish noble first tried to seduce her with her slinky, snake-like beauty, and to poison her with envenomed wine. But of course Cariene was too clever to be so caught, and she spurned the evil viper’s advances. Enraged, Dominique drew her blade, and the two began a desperate duel, leaping from tower-to-tower, across rain drenched battlements where the wind howled and tore at their clothing and the lightning crashed and burned across the sky!

A puddle caused our heroine to slip and she fell down from the wall, across a stairway, over a stack of barrels, to sprawl in the mud, her sword out of reach and her foe, laughing, standing over her, preparing to strike a fatal blow to her heart. When suddenly the spirit of justice himself, as if summoned by the very ferocity of the storm, EL VAGO appeared. His blade flickered faster and brighter than the lightning that wreathed his head, and his booming laugh filled the cold, black heart of the Lady d’Aur with terror. Screaming, she fled into the night to cower like a frightened child in some hidden place.

But the garrison of the castle had been roused, and now the freed sailors and their rescuers were forced to fight a pitched battle against an entire regiment of marines, hordes of cavalry, and vast batteries of artillery. Only by their ferocious courage where they able to route the massed ranks of the enemy, but just as the battle seemed to be won, the fiendish Lady d’Aur made a last-minute appearance to fire a cowardly shot at el Vago’s back. Mortally wounded, he fell to the earth.

But just as all hope seemed to be lost, the stout-hearted and innocent young ENZIO arrives. Hearing the plaintive cries of others trapped in a hidden oubliette, he’d released a wise doctor and his staff, being punished by the vile Lady d’Aur for the crime of mercy upon the poor peasants she’d been torturing on her lands. With the aid of the good doctor and the purity of Enzio’s tears, el Vago was healed.

Rushing to the port, the crew liberated the gallant corvette Bec de Corbin and made for the sea. But the storm had abated and the air was still. The battery overlooking the harbor trained its guns upon the helpless ship, preparing to smash it to splinters and send its gallant crew to the depths, just as they seemed poised to win their freedom.

Then did Herja clamber to the crow’s nest and in her mighty arms gripped the beard of the West Wind. They wrestled and struggled all through the rigging, the wind sometimes a giant with gnashing teeth and fiery eyes, or a hissing cat, or a wild crone. But no matter what form it took, Herja kept her grip, until the wind relented and she hurled it into the sails, sending the ship dancing over the waves, as light as foam and spray, leaving the smoke and cannonballs of the clumsily commanded battery far in their wake.

And then did the whole crew raise a cheer, breathing once more the free air and looking forward for another chance at vengeance against the hated enemy, side-by-side with “Captain Alasdair and his crew of reckless freebooters!”

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Witch notes

The following will make sense only to those people who play Pathfinder and are conversant with the final playtest version of the Witch from the Advanced Player's Guide. But what the heck, it's my blog, and the best place for me to keep notes I can find later is to publish them.

So if you don't know what I'm talking about, lie back and think of England.

Class Skills
Replace Intimidate with Handle Animal
Replace Knowledge (History) with Knowledge (Local)
Skill Ranks per Level: 4 + Int modifier

Class Features
Coven Role
: At 1st level, the Witch selects her Coven Role from one of the following: Charisma-based Maiden, Wisdom-based Mother, or Intelligence-based Crone.
  • Maidens add Bluff, Diplomacy, and Disguise to their list of Class Skills.
  • Mothers add Perception, Sense Motive, and Survival to their list of Class Skills.
  • Crones add Knowledge (all) and Linguistics to their list of Class Skills.
If a group of witches contains at least 1 of each of these roles, any witch with the Coven Hex may use the best Charisma, Intelligence, or Wisdom modifier of any other Coven member as long as they are within 30 feet of each other. (Special thanks to SmiloDan over on the Paizo boards for this idea, which I modified somewhat.)

Hexes: Any time a Hex requires an Intelligence modifier to determine duration or difficulty number, use the attribute of that Witch's Coven Role instead.

Spellcasting: The requirements on learning and casting spells now depend upon which Coven Role the Witch has chosen. Everything else remains the same. A Witch must still choose and prepare her spells ahead of time, even if she is a Charisma-based caster.

Witch's Familiar: To quote the beginning of the Witch entry,
Some gain power through study, some through devotion, others through blood, but the witch gains power from her communion with the unknown. Generally feared and misunderstood, the witch draws her magic from a pact made with an otherworldly power. Communing with that source, using her familiar as a conduit, the witch gains not only a host of spells, but a number of strange abilities...
A Witch's familiar no longer acts as a spellbook. It is instead a conduit of extraplanar information with which she communes daily, much like a cleric, to regain her spells. This means the following:
  • There are no more familiar bonus spells.
  • However, all spells of castable level are now open to the Witch, just like Clerics and Druids.
  • Loss of a familiar is now a large inconvenience instead of a disastrous, unrecoverable loss of spells.

Spells: Add all stat buff spells (Owl's Wisdom, Fox's Cunning, etc) and the Mass versions thereof to the Witch spell list.

I realize this version still isn't perfect but I think it goes a long way towards addressing some of the inadequacies and WTF?ness of the class as it currently exists. I look forward to your critiques of my changes (Mxyzplk especially).

Friday, February 5, 2010


Me: An accomplished Game Mistress of many systems with years of experience, capable of improvising quickly and willing to run a fun, high-octane and high-drama game.

You: A role-playing gamer of the pen and pencil variety, capable of playing well with others, who doesn't whine when things don't go your way, and able to act instead of just react.

The Game: 7th Sea, a romantic and swashbuckling game of action, adventure and intrigue, set in a fantasy version of Europe-with-the-serial-numbers-filed-off during the Age of Exploration.

The Requirements: Willingness to join Google Wave; willingness to install Dropbox on your computer so you can access the game books I provide; ability to check Wave and respond to it at least once a day, but 2+ times are preferable.

If you are interested, either leave a comment here, or email me at erin dot palette at gmail dot com. You have the option of making your own character or taking over the character of a former player.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

WNW: A thousand foot-high cliff

I'm at the south-west corner of the island
I'm at the south-west corner of the island
I'm at the south-west corner of the island
On the top of a thousand foot-high cliff.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Pellatarrum: the meaning of the name

Talking about the seasons is taking longer than I'd like, so this is a quick placeholder.

Pellatarrum is a world of consensus: the four elder races of Elf, Dwarf, Orc and Dragon each tried to push their own version of paradise when re-creating the Material Plane, and the end result was a compromise that everyone hated equally. It looks, to quote my friend Trollsmyth,
"Very much like public housing: designed by committee to a set of standards that overlap maybe only 75% with the actual needs of the folks who are living there, who then trashed the place in their frustration."
So it should really come as no surprise that the name for the place is a portmanteau word. Its full and proper name is correctly rendered as:

Pellardinae (Elvish, "This beautiful thing")
Tarrummaachen (Dwarven, "Crafted with toil")
Ch't!ath!auth Sth'meke!z (Draconic, "Home to all")
Shakrakugh ( Orcish, "Orcs.")

So yeah, that last part didn't really sit well with the other three races once they found out what it meant, and Draconic's use of dental, lateral, alveolar and palatal clicks (which could only be properly expressed with a cleft tongue anyway) made its contribution nearly unpronounceable by all but the Elves.

It didn't take long for the last half of the name to be dropped, and from then it was a simple matter of linguistic drift for "Pellardinae Tarrummaachen" to become "Pellatarrum", which roughly translates as "This thing we made," "We did it" or, with the right inflection, "It's our fault." This last translation is immensely popular among the Dwarves.

(Bonus points to anyone who can guess the real-world origin and meaning of the name. And I know who I told, so no cheating! :P)

The Fine Print

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License

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