Friday, September 30, 2005
Thursday, September 29, 2005
All of a sudden I couldn't move the floss up and down. And when I looked in the mirror, the floss had lodged in the middle of my gum, you know: that pyramidy bit right in between 2 teeth? I tried everything - moving it left, moving it right. I couldn't figure out how to get the floss out. It was locked in there and causing me a lot of pain. So I decided to cut the floss with a pair of scissors.
Today I discovered it's easier than you'd think to find a pair of scissors when you're house-sitting in a place you don't know very well. Today I also discovered that cutting floss with scissors in the mirror is a lot harder than you'd think, because of a) leverage & b) the mirror inverting all of my movements, oh yeah & c) pain.
I'll keep you updated on any further floss-related developments.
Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
by Bryan Lee O'Malley
***** (out of 5)
Is a graphic novel that I rate as highly as Watchmen.
It is completely different.
It is teh awesome.
You can get it out from the library – once Jenni’s returned it – and you should. Get it out. And read it. Only don’t read the back cover. Don’t let anyone tell you what it’s about. I’m not going too. Just that it’s cool. And it plays exactly the sort of game with genre that I love.
Just talked to Jenni’s brother-in-law, Jason, who’s a school teacher. He gave me lots of insights into how fights between students work in primary schools, plus a neat idea about how to personalize this scene I’m working*.
What’s cool is that this scene – which I originally thought would just be a pause in the story - is starting to emerge as a thematic representation of the script as a whole.
* Plus the inspiration to work on a drama series about a small primary school – which Lee’s suggesting I call Desperate Schoolkids.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Reluctant to finish the script – possibly daunted at the amount of work in front of me. Uncertain about whether I should only be roughing out solutions to all the scenes or fixing everything as I go.
The most important thing was to make a decision – maybe not to finish the whole thing (that seems too remote at the moment) but at least to complete work on this first act. So I went through the whole script & ABC’d the scenes - to see what required totally new scenes (A) , significant edits (B) or minor rewrites (C).
There are 90 sequences to edit. 42% of them are totally new A-scenes. Almost half of them are in Act 1 (80% of them are in either A1 or A3).
… Enough numbers. While knowing what’s going on hasn’t totally eliminated my fear, it’s given me a way forward. I just going to read the C-scenes. For B-scenes, I’ll brainstorm 20 ideas for each problem they present (to give me some options when I go through the full rewrite). A-scenes, though, need a full Stakes & Conflicts workup and then have to be Beat-by-Beaten out.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Well, that was ludicrous – Jack robbing a gas station? – but still tense, a weird mix that’s tilting towards implausibility.
Also, an evil character (Driscoll) was instantly sympathized by the reveal that she has a schizophrenic daughter – a little soap-opery but also creating a conflict between home & work (classic 24).
4.5 (** ½ )
The problem with this show is that it’s taught us to be suspicious of characters. Being suspicious of characters is not conducive to empathizing with their plight (I’m constantly looking for double levels to what they’re saying and also for evidence they’re traitors).
This ep was nothing special – but its cliffhanger set up a great start to next week: Jack has 10 minutes to rescue his girlfriend before the missiles hit the base.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Again, character generation took a wee while. I think it might be good to just devote a whole evening to that if I run Dogs again - give people a chance to feel comfortable with the setting and each other & to come up with solid ideas for their characters at their own pace - rather than me rushing them through it in order to get onto the next town.
The town in question was Livingstone Branch, a reasonably large community that finds itself in the middle of a war between two rival newspapers. Most fun moment of the night for me was the confrontation was Sister Marie, one of the publishers. Wayne thought that it would be a simple matter of lecturing Sister Marie and getting her to admit she was contributing to the problem. I decided Marie would never admit such a thing. It was a full-on social conflict that Celeste backed out of halfway through - in a move that I thought was awesome for her character - and it left Wayne realising he had no way to win unless he drew his gun on this woman. He wasn't prepared to so he had to abide.
Conflicts were less frequent in the session and (I think) more meaningful. We had 2 - maybe because there were more players or maybe because I took to heart the advice in the rules to either say yes or roll the dice. However, my new rule of thumb is that if the Dogs ever disagree, that's worth starting a conflict over.
Each of the Dogs has been loaded with enough issues that I can create at least one town for each of them that plays right to their concerns. Hope I get a chance to continue running this game.
Warning – this post is extremely RPG-geeky and pretty much for my own reference.
I had another cool experience with Dogs in the Vineyard last night. I'll write that up later on, but in the meantime a lot of people have been figuring out how to convert Dogs to run a game set in the Firefly universe. Things start here with Dogs in the Black, especially Vincent’s message from here:
... the Firefly folks are all the time landing in a little town and pronouncing judgement upon its sins. The Train Job, Heart of Gold, Jaynestown, Safe, Shindig... right?
Ditch the Faith, that's easy. Instead of Dogs the PCs are space outlaws, no problem. For initiatory conflicts you can do conflicts about how they became part of the crew.
Then just do what they did on the show: everywhere they go, a) there's something there they need to accomplish; b) they know somebody; c) people want things from them; d) the things they want are all contradictory and problematic. You can easily use the game's town creation rules for that.
Dial the supernatural down to nothing, except for River, but still use the demonic influence, sorcery and possession rules. Like I say, demons and sorcerers are just bad luck and bastards. Every Western needs those
I predict that it'd be grimmer, tenser, and less flip than the show - on account of the game's pacing and escalation dynamics - but fundamentally similar.
That led to a sequel thread, Firefly in the Vineyard with some thoughts on character creation. Kitbashing & The Faith talks more about town creation,
With a comment from Vincent here about who the characters need to beAnd Sydney’s follow-up thought about the same topic, in a different thread
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
(That's a provisional rating - to be revised after I watch it in better viewing conditions.)
First, to quote from Pearce ...
If anyone tries to tell you ANYTHING about the movie, stop at nothing to prevent them. Kill without hesitation if they persist. Let nothing stop you from seeing this movie without spoilers.
Bring your knowledge of the tv series and NOTHING else. Resist all urge to read up on it. This movie has real impact. Two words could spoil it all.
Right? This'll be spoiler-light, but still ...
Firefly - and now Serenity - loves its characters. As a result, the movie initially delivers an entertaining meandering mess of a story that gradually tightens up into a creepy, smart & funny SF actioner. It's a film that, I think, completely changes the nature of the story of Firefly.
I loved hanging out the cast again, seeing them pushed to extremes and hearing lines that were funny because of who was delivering them rather than the fact that they're funny. Plus I came away from the film sad at how much had been wrapped up. Given all that, I have no idea if it'll play for people who hadn't seen the TV show.
Structurally, like I said: it opens as a bit of a mess. Perhaps because of River's status for much of the first half of the film, at points the story seems like a collection of unmotivated set pieces. Until I read the shooting script, I found it hard to put the events together in my head. Now I see that instead of action it was grounding us in the characters - and the structure's odd breaks in momentum were due to having to keep its antagonist offscreen. From reading the script, it seems obvious that Whedon reintroduced the Operative as soon as he naturally could.
So instead Serenity spends its time introducing the big concepts of Reavers and River. It gives us a powerful new character that puts Firefly fans in the position of newbies - and then delivers plot developments I never thought you could ever possibly do to the crew and to us.
Oh yeah, and I was sitting right at the front of the theatre on the far left, so I can't make any comments about the visuals and staging of the big bang-bang sequences. I can however say with complete confidence that I got a headache. But Joss seems to be best at drawing out character and tension, not so much with the action. I'll rewatch the film when it comes out on general release to update that opinion.
But onto what's good ...
There's an intro that busts through four layers of reality, that gives us a real insight into River's fragmented mind.
Characters are incredibly well motivated and makes supersmart decisions.
There's a visit to a creepy planet.
The bond between Simon and River.
Kaylee's sex life.
Mal's attitude about how to be a captain.
And now it becomes clear that Zoe is kind of a metaphor for the frontier, while Inara represents the alliance.
Conclusion: I want to see a sequel, but one that focuses even further on the crew's life & relationships rather than some big external action plot.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Reasons for awesomness:
My bro was playing bass in it and he's a rock star.
I got to make monkey noises during a surf-rocking singalong.
They played my favourites, like Champion & Let's Roll & Lucky.
They played new stuff.
New stuff like Night of the Owl and Miracles and King of You All and Clarity and, and, let's just say we'll be singing along to these tracks too. And let's also say that Hollie Smith is going to be a frickin' superstar. A gentle mix of Jo Randerson, Anika Moa, Patti Smith, Aretha Franklin and The Clash. Watch out for her stuff.
All the songs created those moments for me where I felt suspended in the music. The rational brain shuts off and I'm just lost in the moment, travelling out into uncharted territory. I love that shit. It's like magic.
It's also great to hear Kiwi accents just thrust out there, front and centre, with no apologies - and to realise these songs are telling stories not just about us, but about me, about where I'm at right now. I love that shit too.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Factor in any student loan repayments.
Figure out depreciation on assets.
Figure out what can be deducted.
Quantify existing sales by customer.
Prepare a cash flow forecast.
Calculate when you will break even.
Write your business plan.
Decision: is your business plan convincing?
Now it's time to put everything into action.
Make a list of all your tax obligations.
Make sure you have accounted for Terminal tax and Provisional tax (on more than $2,500 profit).
For each business, create a transaction account and a tax account.
Call the IRD and inform them that you are setting up as a sole trader.
Alternatively, set up a company.
Register for GST if necessary.
Put yourself on the two-month return period for GST.
It are eligible, apply for an Enterprise Allowance Grant.
And then start running your business ...
Set up a cash book (either a hard copy or in Excel).
Create a monthly statement of financial performance (basically this is income minus expenses equals profit).
Start a petty cash book.
Set up a filing system for your records.
Established a routine for regular record keeping (I'd prefer to do it mid and at the end of the week).
If you make a profit, set aside 20% for tax purposes.
Backup your data.
And that's at least the spine of what you need to do.
Do you need any other team members (accountants, lawyers, employees)?
What are your short, medium and long-term goals (from your SWOT analysis)?
Conduct market research. Connecting with the market and seeing what the demand is are vital steps:
1) what products are around, in what price range?
2) who are your customers?
3) how can you build a relationship with them?
4) what sort of things are they buying?
5) what's the niche market?
List who your customers are.
Identify potential buyers.
Research other markets (via the Internet, trade magazines).
Build client relationships.
Brainstorm how you will market and promote your product.
Decide how you will follow-up with your customers.*
Do a competitor analysis.**
Talk to the Business Information Taxation Officers at the Inland Revenue about GST, PAYE and income-tax.***
Talk to Small Business Advisory Centres. See the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.
Decide on trading structure: sole trader, partnership or company.
Make sure you're physically able to deliver the work. That you are healthy enough.
The next list will be all about the final steps before you set up to start trading.
* Books that I own like Choose and Grow Your Business in 90 Days and The 10 Second Internet Manager have ideas for this step.
** See my Business Plan Workbook.
*** This information is available for free. Specifically I want to understand how drawings are accounted for.
List all the ways you can get income (your revenue streams).
Select one to focus on.
What do you need to get started? A location to work in? A location to sell from?*
Cost your Labour, Overheads & Materials.**
Price your work.
Do a SWOT analysis:
1) list your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
2) develop a contingency plan for dealing with your weaknesses and threats.
3) develop a strategic plan to take advantage of your strengths and opportunities.
* Note to Steve: See “The Business Plan Workbook”, page 13, for this checklist.
** This includes calling ACC, saying what you're doing, that it's part-time and getting an appropriate rate from them. You'll probably be covered initially by Cover Plus Extra ($355 inc GST).
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Character generation and the conflict resolution system took a while to get the hang off. It's a really nice Poker-based mechanic of raising and seeing that makes you ask two questions of every conflict: a) can I win? and b) what does this say about my character? Celeste described as the easiest system she's played with so far.
Wayne and Celeste were confronted with a superficially simple problem (a woman cheating on her husband). What's good about Dogs is that it gave every character involved in that situation extremely sympathetic motivations. I enjoyed making all 3 NPCs as sympathetic as possible and being upfront with Wayne & Celeste about what the NPCs wanted from the them.
Is it my fault that the husband, wife and lover all wanted completely incompatible things? :)
Fascinating to see the differences between Wayne and Celeste trying to figure out a solution. It was 'sort of black & white' vs. 'sort of nuanced'. Wayne's Dog wanted a clear cut solution; Celeste's s Dog wanted to understand the situation so that she could maximise everyone's happiness.
In the end, they annulled a marriage, Celeste's character ruined her uncle's life and neither player felt they'd improved the situation. And we all had a good time (I think!).
What I really liked about the game was that as a GM I felt deeply. This game is more about emotions and connecting with other players than anything I've played in the last couple of years, aside from Buffy.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Monday, September 12, 2005
Bush's aides are SO afraid of telling him bad news that they practically drew straws to see who would have to tell him, on TUESDAY, that the hurricane was so bad he'd need to come home.
The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until the Thursday night AFTER it struck.
And another quote:
The denial and the frustration finally collided aboard Air Force One on Friday. As the president's plane sat on the tarmac at New Orleans airport, a confrontation occurred that was described by one participant as "as blunt as you can get without the Secret Service getting involved." Governor Blanco was there, along with various congressmen and senators and Mayor Nagin.
There's a precis of the article, here.
Putting Veronica in jeopardy is a good idea, but the episode quickly turns into dumb fun. Great Lyn Echolls curveball at the end, though.
Veronica Mars is the exemplar of teen alienation. Most of her school clients are experiencing different aspects of the same thing, so she can relate to them.
The show seems to be losing its class commentary - which saddens me – focusing more on the OC, glamourous & TV friendly upper-class lifestyles.
However, Lynne Echolls is now a means of drawing Logan & Veronica closer together, the Yolanda disappearance is a means of demonstrating why Logan & Veronica fell out - and the storyline with Yolanda’s parents combines upper & lower classes.
Still, I missed Weevil.
Soon, some speculations about where Veronica Mars is heading
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Best. Teaser. Ever.
Veronica figures out her family’s past & tracks down the guy who’s been following her all in the space of 5 intense minutes.
Delightful Christmas episode with a real “Who Killed Lily Kane” kick at the end.
The super-detective I speculated would show up, has shown up. I expect I’ll be watching a lot more VM over the next 2 days.
(What the hell, I’ll give ‘em all 5 stars. I like this show.)
Good ep, juggling lots of subplots. The crazy boarder, the purity test, a thawing of the Duncan-Veronica relationship. Good stuff.
And what a chilling, devastating finale in the interview with Koontz. We might as well call this episode, “Let’s destroy Veronica Mars”.
For example, Veronica wants to be accepted, defend her dad, and find out who killed Lily Kane. What if two of those things turn out to be incompatible?
At its simplest, the price you charge for an item = (The amount you want to earn in a year DIVIDED by the number of hours you will work in a year) TIMES the number of hours it takes to produce one product / deliver one service.
That’s at its simplest.
The amount you want to earn in a year has several components. The two main ones are the cost of your labour (which is calculated on the personal expenses you want the business to pay for) and the cost of your overheads to run the business.
For example, if I want the business to pay me $30,000 peryhear and I’ll be working 1,314 hours in a year (due to holidays, weekends, downtime) then I need to charge $22.80 per hour for my labour (30K/1,314). One bit of advice: take that figure you want to earn and add 20% to it, to allow for tax.
Overheads work in the same way. If it costs me $5,000 a year to run my business then I need to charge $3.80 per hour to cover those (5K/1,314). And remember, overheads are the expenses that tick over each month regardless of whether you make a sale or not. IOW, they are going to cost you even before you make your first sale.
The cost of materials needs to get passed directly onto the consumer. Let’s say that’s $5.
The total cost of the product = Labour + Overheads + Materials. In the case above, that’s $31.60 an hour.
If you have extra revenue streams (part time jobs, other businesses) then you can reduce the amount you need to draw from the business (which changes the Break-Even Point). Accounting for those is the next step.
Uneasy spirits of murder victims!!
Big developments in the Lily Kane case + the acknowledgement that solving the case probably won’t fix their lives!!!!
Wallace is starting to impress me!!!!!
I’m really enjoying this show. It has an assurance about it that makes me confident Rob Thomas isn’t just making this up as he goes along. A lot of the time it underplays its motivations and act breaks. And it’s create how relationships with fathers seem central: Logan-Aaron, Veronica-Keith, Duncan-Jake; Veronica Mars is really savvy in the way it compares and contrasts these 3.
The opening credits make me nervous. Each character gets a little hand-drawn symbol next to them. Wallace has a dead body’s chalk outline – is he going to die? The journalism teacher has a car with a license plate – now she hasn’t played such a big role in the show up till now; is she going to be revealed as a big part of the Lily Kane case?
1.5 reveals that Veronica was being watched. So, immediately there are 2 HUGE bits of information – 1) her mum left because Veronica was in danger, and 2) there’s a better detective than Veronica out there somewhere.
Also, my favourite bit of this show is that because Dad & Daughter are both awesome PIs, they can’t keep secrets from each other – they have to assume the other one already knows whatever they’re trying to keep hidden.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
It’s like a second pilot – this time establishing key sets of relationships (Duncan-Veronica, Keith-Jake). And throwing in a huge curveball – that Lily was alive at least 2 hours after she was supposed to have died – which means no-one’s alibis hold up anymore.
Boy, does this show know what it’s doing. Tone, set up in the first 10 minutes, is sadness and tragedy. The lead character’s been alienated from high school, cut by all her friends – but she’s battling on anyway. And there’s a great father-daughter relationship. Veronica Mars is a tough show with a touch of heart.
It’s cool rewatching the pilot and seeing how the timeline (and even the clues to the overall mystery) fits together.
4 big sub-plots to keep track of:
1. Who killed Lily Kane?
2. Who raped Veronica Mars?
3. What happened to Veronica’s mum?
4. Why did Duncan Kane drop Veronica?
First up, I’ll be talking about how to cost your labour and price your product – which gives you a yearly and hourly figure to earn. Then, as an example, I’ll think about the revenue streams I could use to earn that figure.
That leads naturally into cashflow forecasting (how much money you expect to make in the next year) – which pairs nicely with running a cashbook. And, after all that, tax.
Still maintaining its OK-ness, with a great 24 moment centred around Jack & his sniper rifle.
Love: how the characterisations remain strong and consistent.
Like: how they’ve engineered Chloe so that she’s a source of conflict all the time (due to her personality disorder) but even so she’s fundamentally an ally. Chloe is a really useful dramatic tool (for providing exposition and ‘I will help you’ scenes).
Dislike: how the show’s starting to stretch my credulity even now. Jack holding up a gas station? My 3 star rating is extremely generous.
Hate: how, even though I tried to remain spoiler-free, I have a pretty clear idea of the main plot points in this season. Damn you, TV Gal and the Journal of Atomic Science!
Friday, September 09, 2005
For years, governments all over the world have secretly been collaborating with the high-end color laser printer industry in order to track the origin of every color copy made. They're doing it by programming the printers to create specific patterns of yellow dots -- not visible to the naked eye -- on every copy. These dot patterns are codes for the serial number, the make of the printer, and possibly even the time and date when the print was made. By cross-checking this information with printer company databases of people who have purchased the printers, federal agents can figure out who made a given color copy (of, say, an antiwar rally flyer) and when.
Hour Two was a little more ‘meh’. Possibly could’ve benefited from an in media res opening in the previous hour’s climax. I mean, imagine if Ep 1 had ended just as the stinger screamed into shot and blew up the limo!
However, the show kept illustrating the basic lesson I first learned from it: that scenes really rock when there are 2 people in clear conflict. Check it out sometime; 24 will nearly always motivate characters in a scene in such a way that they end up at loggerheads – and out of that conflict is generated new story complications.
I’m liking that 24 is trying to deepen its portrayal of terrorism and its causes, humanising the terrorists and presenting two viewpoints (a liberal son & a worldwide internet trial) of America as a contributing cause of the world’s problems. Pretty ballsy stuff for a bubble-gum action thriller.
Very glad Hour 3 is on tonight … after the increasingly embettering Veronica Mars.
4.1 **** ½ (out of 5)
Thursday, September 08, 2005
All Growed Up is a game about teenagers in suburbia - how they hate their lives, how they cope and what happens to them after they grow up.
These teenagers have 3 ways to express that hatred: by rebelling, by pretending it doesn’t exist, or by turning it on themselves. Your job as a player is to try and keep the 3 in balance – and to share your personal experiences with the other players.
The story in All Growed Up goes from when a group of friends in a suburb all turn 13 till the end of their 19th year. Basically, from entering high school to moving out from under your parents’ control and starting to figure out life on your own.
Enough spiel. It's a first first draft, written in 4 hours and I've already had ideas to improve it. That'll have to wait until after The Limit and The Lucky Joneses are finished. I might talk about the design process sometime though.
Gino called me up last night and said he felt the particular game we're using was getting in the way of the story he wanted to tell. Specifically he compared the d20 system we’re using to a game we played a couple of months ago, My Life with Master and said MLwM was … what? Less cumbersome? Easier to cut to the chase? Anyway, my words – I’m paraphrasing.
Now I’m also damn sure Jenni is not playing a Jedi that’s as cool as the one in her head – not because you can’t have one in d20 Star Wars but because it takes a bit of experience with the system to figure out how to build a super-cool Jedi. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Celeste go, “Huh?” at all the numbers – many of them completely irrelevant to us – all the numbers on her character sheet. And several times our party’s been saved by Wayne – who’s work in this story is really impressing me – and his knowledge with the rules.
The story Gino’s telling – which is extremely intense – is cool. What’s up is that the system is getting in the way of telling it.
The point: System does matter.
So what's the next step?
I think it's to figure out what you like, what you want from a role-playing game. Then find a role-playing game that helps you deliver the experience you want without much effort. There’s a lot of them out there (and a lot being built right now) that cater to specific preferences.
That’s a big part of why I’m trying so many role-playing games with our group. When I decide on a story to tell, I can pull out an appropriate system – one that won’t get in my way.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Monday, September 05, 2005
Sunday, September 04, 2005
Saturday, September 03, 2005
Who has the power? Who’s dominant? Is there an official hierarchy? How do they make decisions?
Do they have a secret that they both keep (together)? What secrets do they keep from each other?
How’d they first meet?
OT: I’m furious about the situation in
Friday, September 02, 2005
Brainstorming’s awesome for coming up with riffs on a basic situation, for wild ideas, and tangents. With a little bit of direction, it’s also good for generating lots of possible solutions to specific areas, issues, problems.
I’ve also noticed two things – one personal, one systemic – that are worth watching out for …
The personal is that it’s easy for me to get distracted by my opinion of where the discussion *should* be going. That’s not useful – it means I’m out of sync with others (so my ideas don’t feel right). Better to stay in the moment and be mindful. Focus on what people are saying.
The point: Listen.
The systemic – and I’ll need to participate in a lot more brainstorms to confirm this is actually a real phenomenon – is that I’ve noticed a tendency to lock down an implied ‘best version’ of the idea early on. This seems to come naturally out of the group reinforcing ideas we like – and therefore encouraging further contributions that riff off of that.
So, contributions are adopted and elaborated on because they’re congruent with an emerging paradigm. This happens non-verbally and it’s based on enthusiasm …
… and it’s not a big deal. Take last night for instance. When we started, I felt like what we were brainstorming was too close to an existing TV series. Well, … we still got awesome stuff out of it.
And even if the group locks down a particular approach, after you’ve followed it through you can always bring the idea back. This time though, you can push the already explored approach to one side and spitball different ways to break into a new paradigm.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
1. Roughly placing all of Act 2’s new scenes. Simple.
2. Redesigning Act 3 so that it has a solid emotional flow. Big.
3. Looking through the flowchart of the whole movie. Simplish.
4. Writing out Stakes & Conflicts for all scenes in Act 1 & 2. Biggish.
[And note to self: when making a Whammo Chart, either use a hard copy or a .doc I don’t make notes on. At the moment my chart doesn’t correlate to the script’s page numbers.]
MyDD talks about some of the implications here. Plus, they've had to shut down 10 airports in the US, and some oil rigs have gone missing.