RPG’s Day in the Sun

Note: this post originally appeared at supposedly.me.

rpg dice photo

Sports writer Jon Michaud’s recent New Yorker piece, Dungeons and Dragons Saved My Life, gives much-deserved recognition to how valuable role-playing games (RPG’s) can be in preparing us for a life of creativity, productive enterprise, and problem-solving.

Growing up in the eighties, Dungeons and Dragons allowed me to escape my self-absorbed suburban teen milieu[1] and exposed me to a world of stories, historical references, and strategies that continue to serve me well as an adult. It also provided much needed face-to-face social interaction for an introverted geek like me, and helped to fire up my desire to start telling my own stories. I still remember my first session at Boy Scout camp in 1981. I played a first-level halfling thief, and was duly placed head-on against a dragon; the DM was a little inexperienced, and I fared as well as you might expect, but I loved every minute of that character’s ill-fated life.

As a high-school teacher, I used to be able to get a bunch of young people together to play RPG’s after school[2], where I saw that they remain every bit as relevant and fun as they were in my day—better, even, now that there’s such a wide range of worlds and game mechanics to explore. These days, however, I can’t seem to find a group that wants to get together. I’m not sure if it’s because my student’s time is no longer as open for gaming[3], or if their interests have moved elsewhere.

I haven’t been part of a table-top RPG group in over twenty-five years, and yet I still avidly read and collect new games and resources, and often use them as inspiration for my work. It’s great to know that they’re still saving people’s lives, including mine.


  1. A word I first learned thanks to D&D.  ↩

  2. Interestingly, our sessions were never as male-dominated as the statistics suggest, and I found they were much richer experiences as a result.  ↩

  3. I think a good session requires at least 90 minutes, preferably more, and a good campaign can span months or even years.  ↩

Photo by 8one6

Mysterious Treasure

I came across a wonderful treasure at the junk auction today, and almost bid for it. Instead, I took a picture.

It’s a big cardboard box filled with hundreds of Polaroids, each one featuring a different old lighting fixture. Nothing else. Most are interior shots, some were taken outside, all of them delightfully surreal.

The answer to the mystery of who took these and why is probably vastly less interesting than where my imagination takes me. Continue reading

My Chromebook Dilemma

Earlier this week I received a cryptic email from Amazon asking me to call a certain phone number about my recent HP Chromebook 11 purchase. Until then, I’d been loving the upgrade from last year’s solid Samsung model, particularly because of the screen and keyboard upgrade. I use my Chromebook just about every day, and the improvements in this year’s model make a big difference. Continue reading

100 Days In

About a year ago, as the leaves started changing and the days darkened, I decided that I wasn’t going to renew my contract at the best job I’ve ever had. Today marks 100 days of my new, post-decision life, and so far nothing has turned out quite as I’d expected. Thank goodness that was a major part of my plan.

Continue reading

Cord Cutting Update — Part Two: Video

This is the second and last part of my cord cutting update, refreshing the information I first posted back in 2011. Last time, I tackled phones. This time, it’s video.

Streaming Video

Many of the same players are still doing great stuff, including Roku, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, and Vudu. Netflix is turning heads with the release of original series (including the highly anticipated return of Arrested Development), and Amazon Prime continues to add more content every few months.

As before, the sands of streaming video constantly shift, and so it’s not easy to know what’s available on each service, or how long it will be accessible. Thankfully services like CanIStreamIt are making it less difficult.

I’ve seen a trend toward allowing access to online video only if you subscribe to cable, which might work for some, but I don’t get the sense that I’m missing anything essential. Eventually, it all comes out on DVD, where I can simply rent it.

I’ve experimented with PlayOn, a service that collects and catalogs most of the free video that’s available online and packages it in a format that can easily be accessed. They don’t explain it that way in their sales pitch, however, which is frustrating. Instead they make it seem like it’s a magic “free cable” program, which it certainly isn’t. As nice as it seems, I just haven’t found myself using it. It’s easier to bookmark free video pages in Chrome (I’ve set up a special account just for online video, and sync it across machines).

My favorite source for streaming world news has become the 24/7 Al Jazeera English channel. I find that it has excellent reporting from underserved areas of the world, offers new perspectives, and isn’t laden with anti-American/Western propaganda, as it’s sometimes portrayed. I’m hoping that more people get to see what a valuable source of current events and in-depth reporting they are.

I use the free media center XMBC to access most of my streaming content and do my DVD-watching. As an open-source project, it continues to improve with every version, and has much more of a future than Windows Media Center seems to.

Over-The-Air (OTA) Video

Using an HD antenna continues to be one of the best values in entertainment. I continue to enjoy beautiful picture and sound quality over a wide array of channel options, and it remains completely free. OTA shows also prevent me from getting closer to the bandwidth caps imposed by my ISP.

My DVR of choice, Windows Media Player, seems to be less and less of a priority for Microsoft. It doesn’t even come with Windows 8 (you have to add it on yourself), and so I think it may be going the way of the dinosaur. Such a shame.

The new player to watch in this space is Aereo, and I’m looking very forward to them coming to my area someday. The service allows you to view and record OTA programming over the Internet, circumventing copyright law by using a complicated dance  that essentially provides you with your very own little HD antenna back at Aereo’s local HQ.

The Boxee Box also looks interesting, as it has a OTA DVR built-in along with all of the usual streaming options, and XBMC has just added DVR support to their latest beta, which is quite promising.

Conclusion

It’s been several years since we’ve cut the cord, and I remain quite happy with the choice. I never lack for entertainment choices, I save a great deal of money, and I am constantly finding new and interesting things to explore.

My hope is that things will continue to expand and improve between now and my next update, but between lobbying efforts and back-room deals, I’m not entirely confident that things will get better. The best I can do is enjoy it while it’s here, and keep spreading the word.

Cord-Cutting Update — Part One

It’s been well over a year since my first post about cord cutting, and enough has changed that I think it’s worth an update. This post is part one of two, and deals with phone communication.

Cell Phones

Today there is no reason to sign a contract for cell phone service. Top-tier, expensive phones like the iPhone and Google Nexus are now available without a contract, and there are plenty of affordable and reliable choices for considerably less. Non-contract players like StraightTalk, MetroPCS (now owned by T-Mobile), Virgin Mobile, Cricket, and (my choice) Republic Wireless offer excellent service for hundreds less than the big carriers over a typical two-year span, and rumor has it that T-Mobile will soon be ditching their own contracts.

As long as you’re willing to pay for your phone up-front (a practice in most markets worldwide), you’ll save. My current deal with Republic Wireless, for example, gets me unlimited phone minutes, texting, and Internet use for $19 per month. A perfectly serviceable, but not cutting-edge Android phone costs $249.

The “catch” with Republic Wireless, which really isn’t one in my opinion, is that it can use WiFi networks for voice and data traffic instead of relying entirely on cell towers. Because at least 80% of the time I use my phone I’m near a WiFi network, this is a virtually unnoticeable hurdle.

Home Phones

I’m still enjoying the Obihai device to send and receive calls via Google Voice. As I’d hoped, Google is still letting us call anywhere in the US and Canada for free, and the hookup to our cordless phone base station continues to be rock solid.

If I made more than a few phone calls a week at home (neither of us back at the ranch are exactly “phone people”), I’d very likely upgrade to something more robust but still extremely cost-effective like the Ooma. One important thing it provides that Google Voice doesn’t is 911 service, almost worth the upgrade in and of itself.

Part Two, coming soon, will update cable-less entertainment choices.

The Onion’s Schooling Us

This slideshow is shockingly effective satire — it juxtaposes fancy celebrity dress descriptions with photographs from the civil war in Syria to devastating effect.

It certainly makes me think closely about how easy it is to slip out of the real world and become submerged in the carefully-constructed “reality” that our entertainment choices create.

How do you balance being aware of the horrific suffering so many endure in the world (as well as the endless list of big problems that need fixing), while also doing what you need to get through each week by taking some time to tune it out?

The 6 Best Dresses At The Golden Globes
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Connecting to Google+

Just a quick administrative announcement:

Henceforth I’m cross-posting most of my Google+ content here on the blog. From today onward, you’ll also see any new posts. These posts will have a special Google+ link at the end (see yesterday for an example), so you’ll easily be able to identify them.

My hope is that it will help keep things a bit fresher. Huge thanks to Daniel Treadwell for the fantastic WordPress plugin that makes the magic happen!

Thank you for your continued support!

Today’s Sanctuary Visit

It’s a warm mid-January day here at the Our Companions (http://ourcompanions.org) Ashford sanctuary, and the animals seem to be enjoying it as much as we are. I think some of the cats may never have seen a laser pointer before, as they were going crazy chasing it around!

Here’s Dunkin, taking a break from playing. Yet another wonderful cat in need of a home, this youngster is a little more chill than some of the others. He likes playing and really enjoys the attention of being pet.

I believe I shared a photo of his brother, Cooper, back in December, who has since found a great family to live with. As much as I miss visiting them when they go, I’m always psyched to hear about a successful adoption.

Dunkin

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