Look Sharp!

Well it looked like spring was right around the corner. Last Friday was a beautiful day and I even went for a bike ride, but then Saturday and Sunday it snowed. No heavy accumulation, but enough to make a mess. Up in Buffalo the girls went skiing this weekend. Down here Jeannie and I decided the ski season was over two weeks ago and packed our stuff away until next winter. Ah well.

Meanwhile, I started a new consulting gig a few weeks ago, with the Digital Lab at Consumer Reports. More on that as the situation unfolds, but so far it’s lots of fun and very cool. It’s an R&D lab working in the space of consumer advocacy, digital rights, and online privacy. The people seem smart, organized and forward thinking. I’m doing a combination of hands-on software development, architecture, planning, design and think-tanking. Only problem is, it takes up all my time. Suddenly I’m very busy all day long, and have to plan ahead to slot in all the things I need to do over the course of a week. Hope it doesn’t cut into my saxophoning too much.

Speaking of which, one project I always do in the late winter is to update my photo galleries for the previous year. Considering there was a pandemic going on, we did a fair amount of traveling, and captured enough pictures for a few nice galleries (at least compared to 2020, when we didn’t go anywhere after February). I started thinking I wouldn’t have much, since we didn’t use the snapshot camera at all. However, everyone takes pictures on their phones nowadays.

As usual, these friends-and-family galleries are password-protected, so contact me if you need credentials. Enjoy!

The Return of D&D

It’s getting late in the summer, which means soon the kids will be off to college. This year it’s not just Lizzy, but my two nieces Katie and Valerie. What this means for me is that we had to hurry up and finish our D&D campaign.

You’ll recall that last year while on on a cruise, I started a D&D campaign with Michelle and my four nieces and nephews to alleviate the boredom of days on end at sea trapped on a boat and inevitable insanity or worse that’s sure to follow. Well would you believe they all wanted to continue the campaign? And so it came to be, back by popular demand.

The module we played last summer was The Isle of Dread. This summer, in keeping with the theme of adapting 1980’s original AD&D to 5th edition rules, we played White Plume Mountain, in which the party explores a semi-dormant volcano seeking to recover stolen relics, and perhaps learn the whereabouts of the powerful and possibly undead wizard Kerpatis.

Some of the party kept their characters from the previous adventure and some developed new ones. In particular Katie is now playing a Dwarven Paladin, who is a good partner and foil for Carmine the Invincible, Lou’s straight-up Dwarven fighter. Meanwhile Michelle had a really interesting character in a cleric who worshiped Thor, with lots of thundering and hammering special powers, but she traded that in for a Halfling Rogue specializing in burglary in the classic Baggins mode. However Valerie was a new Cleric, and Abbie was an edgy Elfin Bard, chaotic neutral. Phillip kept on with his wizard, and leveled up enough to get spells like Fireball and Lightning Bolt, and so is coming into his own as a force to be reckoned with.

We did the first session back in July, combined with a barbecue. Then this last session was out on Long Island, and we had to get to the end by the end of the night, so it ended up being a pretty long night.

I moved the story along pretty fast; we jump cut straight from the seaside tavern where the party accepted the adventure straight to the smoldering foot of White Plume Mountain, hundreds of miles away. The dungeon is full of tricks and traps, lava and geysers, strange magic and unusual creatures, so there was much more than your typical hack’n’slash and the party needed to keep their wits. They rose to the occasion admirably and wreaked major havoc while keeping their hides alive. Michelle in particular figured out how to effectively burgle in the middle of combat and more than once the party escaped with the treasure and their lives rather than fight it out to the bitter end. Still the monsters were pretty tough and more than once a party member fell and required extreme instant healing. As a DM I must say there’s an inherent disadvantage when you’re the final boss such as a giant decapod (look it up) or vampire: even if you have alot of hit dice you only get a few attacks per round, while there’s six of them all trying to kill you at once.

The quest of this module was to recover three powerful magic weapons. The first one was a strangely cursed sword, which Abbie kept. The second and third were a mace and axe, great for a cleric and a dwarf respectively. There was also a fake ring of wishes, which piqued the party’s avarice. Richly and predictably, the party fell to arguing whether they should return said relics to the patrons who hired them on the quest, or keep them for themselves and return to the city by some circuitous route. Katie pointed out that she and Lou are lawful good, so there’s potentially a test of alignment in the offing. I have a few ideas as to what may happen next. Hopefully we’ll pick this up over Thanksgiving.

Still In the Middle of Things

Let’s see… Sorry if this post is a boring one, all work and no play. But you can skip it if you want.

Michelle’s room is basically done. Very nice pale yellow. It’s been really humid all weekend so we’re giving the paint a while to dry before we put everything back.

Made progress on my new origami page. Will have something to show soon.

Made progress on my Moose diagrams. Almost there.

Made progress on my new song, Who Can Fool Me. Rewrote the lyric last week and re-tracked the vocals last night. I had some weird noise in my system that made it impossible to record cleanly. Rebooted my system and it went away. I filled out the arrangement some. I added some mellotron-style synth strings. Still to tweak the arrangement a bit, but it’s getting there. I experimented with a double-time arpeggio voice in the second half of the song to keep the energy level rising throughout. Has potential, but isn’t there yet. Also still have to add some horns and the solo synth, which will sound something like a wah-wah guitar or gutbucket trumpet.

Did not get a chance to finish the Rollercoaster of Cheese Flash animation with the girls.

But Lizzy is becoming a stronger chess player all the time. I’m playing against her with all my pawns, king, queen, a knight, a bishop and sometimes a rook.

Summer’s End, and More Fun With Chess

We finished the summer with a long weekend on the beach, swimming in the ocean every day, going out to seafood dinners on the boardwalk and the bay, as well as doing the rides on the amusement pier, hiking with the wild ponies on the national seashore (where we saw the washed-up exoskeleton of the largest horseshoe crab ever, a good two feet long! Pics coming soon, I promise.), and even a day in the water park (awesome!). Heard alot of classic rock and dance music on the various sound systems at these places. Interestingly, I think every song I hears was from an American band, except one by Andy Gibb (does he count as American, British or Australian?) and one by Yes. The weather and the waves were great; I taught the kids to boogie board. Finally have a decent tan. It was a great way to end the summer. Now it’s back to work, back to school, end of summer vacation season.

I’ve gotten into playing chess with Lizzy again, after she read a post about it on my blog from last summer. We’ve been playing a game or two pretty much every day for the last week or two. She’s excited about it because there’s going to be a chess club at her school this fall. I usually play with a handicap: all my pawns but just the queen, king and sometimes one bishop. It’s a pretty balanced match and she can beat me sometimes if I’m not concentrating and I make a careless mistake, which is not too uncommon. She’s definitely getting better, and is learning to plan and execute tactical attacks and trades, put up some pre-emptive defenses, and just generally make plays that make sense. For my part, I’m exploring how much you can do offensively with pawns and your king, which is pretty interesting. Some of the games are pretty exciting.

Fun With Chess

I’ve been having lots of fun lately teaching Lizzy chess. I’ve tried this before a few times over the last couple years, but she was mainly interested in the drama of the game (“Oh no you captured my knight!!!”) and then the captured pieces would make friends and collude to plot their escape, or the king and queen would go off and get married. Girls, go figure). Now she’s at an age where she can think in terms of groups of pieces and sequences of moves, attacking, guarding etc., so things are a lot more interesting. Perhaps most importantly, having a Nintendo has taught her it’s fun to play a game even if you lose again and again, because slowly building skill with the end goal of beating the boss can be rewarding in its own right.

I remember about that age – 7ish – being really into chess and playing mainly against my brother Martin. It seemed like the thing to do once checkers got boring. Our dad started us off but we learned fairly organically, playing game after game until we got pretty good. When we got older we studied it a bit, but I’m no great expert. Also, I haven’t really had anyone in my life in ages who was regular chess partner at me level, so it’s nice to have a chess partner, even a beginner. However all this said, we play fairly loosely, and I often spot her a few pieces, or even a lot of pieces, and give her hints on what might be a good move, let here take back moves and play out “what if” scenarios. Sometimes we’ll switch sides in the middle of a game. So we do get into some rather uncommon board positions from time to time.

One of them came up the other day when I had a king on the run with just a few pawns and a bishop. I moved onto a square that would normally be check, but the pawn that was threatening the square was pinned because if it moved it would mean discovered check for her side. So the question came up, is this a legal move? Is the pawn really threatening the square if it can’t move? Is the pawn considered to leave the starting square *before* arriving the end square, or is it in some sense simultaneous? I’ve never seen this situation before and wondered did I happen upon something extremely clever, or was I just breaking a rule? Since we had no immediate way to decide the question, I just moved somewhere else instead. My guess is it’s probably not a legal move or would have seen it used before.