31 December 2008

A Little Astrology for the Start of 2009

The year looks set for a fascinating start, if you take a look at the planets right now, close to midnight on New Year's Eve. Since most of the planets don't move all that fast, the relationships should be pretty much the same when the year turns in other locations as well. (Note: I only use the seven classical planets in astrological interpretation, so I'm ignoring the others.)

All the planets except for Saturn are packed inside two neighbouring zodiac signs, Capricorn and Aquarius. With the planets this close together, you can expect some interesting conjunctions, and those we sure have. Moon and Venus, the most feminine of the planets, are in pretty close conjunction in Aquarius. Jupiter and Mercury, both masculine, intellectual types, are in very close conjunction in Capricorn, while Mars and Sun, the planets most associated with strength, are about seven degrees apart, also in Capricorn.

There are some sextile and semi-sextile aspects between these groups, which are generally positive, supportive aspects. Interestingly, there is also a trine from Saturn, in Virgo, to the Jupiter-Mercury conjunction, which is also a supportive aspect.

So what does this all mean? There seem to be three powerful forces at play simultaneously. There's a strong, even aggressive, controlling force. There is also a more benign, intellectual force, albeit perhaps a little restrained and aloof (although this may not necessarily be a bad thing).

[Pause here to go watch the midnight fireworks. Which, frankly, were a little lame this year, and the weather was awful.]

Finally, there is a third force at play, which is quite different, a creative, feeling force. Which of these forces will be the most powerful remains to be seen.

Looking at what's going on right now, it wouldn't be a far stretch to see the more forceful influence in the ongoing aggressive actions taken by Israel. If the Jupiter-Mercury conjunction is related to that, it could be telling us that the international community is present, but restrained, merely watching. But it could, and perhaps more likely does, signify a totally different influence in world affairs, such as the financial crisis. In this case it might be telling us that those in power should be very careful and thoughtful in the steps they make. (Which, I guess, is rather obvious.) What the Moon-Venus conjunction could signify, I don't know. It is probably more at play on a personal level than in global affairs. It is not likely that the world would be blossoming into some intellectual, creative Aquarian age overnight.

Well, I think that's more than enough blogging for one day. So I wish everyone a happy 2009, and may it be a good one, despite all that's going on.

The Happy New Year 2009 Post

A few hours from now there is an arbitrary point in time when it stops being 2008 and 2009 begins. I guess that's worth a blog post.

In Finland New Year's Eve is synonymous with fireworks. It's the only time the public is allowed freely to buy and fire them. We've had (a few cheap) fireworks a few times back when us kids were still kids, but mostly we've been happy to watch. The display here in this cosy town of 6,000 is pretty quiet and sparse compared to the cities, but that's really how I like it. A few good ones are much better, I think, than a never ending bombardment. There'd probably be more near the tourist area of Tahko, but that's on the opposite side of town.

Coincidentally, as far back as I remember, with only three exceptions, I've spent every midnight as the year turns on pretty much the same spot, on the little road that runs in front of my grandparents' house here in Nilsiä. The exceptions are one New Year's Eve as a kid we spent in Helsinki (I don't remember the reason exactly, but I'd assume it's been because of my mother's work schedules), and two occasions when I've been bedridden with flu (one as a kid, one a few years back). It's almost like a ritual beginning for the year. I'm not sure what I'll do when the time comes when I can no longer spend New Year's Eve here. Perhaps time will stop and a new year won't begin? (The same applies to Christmas Eve, which I've always spent in the living room of this house.)

Other random content: I re-read Masamune Shirow's Orion again, like I've often done over the Christmas holiday (as a kind of counterbalance to reading Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind during the summer). It's one of my very favourite comics of all time. It must be one of the most imaginative works ever, an insane mixture of adventure, humour, science, Buddhism and Japanese myth. The dialogue with it's inventive terminology is difficult to understand at best, but that's one of the reasons I love it so much.

I don't do New Year's resolutions. I'm sure my life is far from perfect, but there's nothing I could improve by making some arbitrary promise which I'd soon forget about anyway. I don't do much looking back to the highlights of the past year, either. It's just another year, like all the others. I read one or two cool comics, played one remarkable video game, that's pretty much it.

27 December 2008

The Graveyard Book or the Graveyard Blog

I just finished reading Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. And I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was quite magical. I wouldn't perhaps rank it quite as high as American Gods, or Neverwhere, or Sandman for that matter, if only because it was a tad simpler and shorter (kind of half way between a young adults' book and an adults' book). But on the other hand, each of Gaiman's works has been so different that making comparisons between them would be rather pointless. In any case, he's still a brilliant writer, and one of my very favourite authors.

The experience was interesting, and a little different than usual, because I've lived with the book, in a manner of speaking, since before it (or most of it) was written, through reading about Gaiman's experiences during the writing process in his blog. I knew something of how the chapters had come about even without knowing (much of) the story, and the artwork, and editing process and different versions of the book. (I was lucky enough to have the British version. I always prefer British English, as that's where my roots are, and it's the language of many of the favourite authors I grew up with. Books get imported here from both the UK and America, so you can never be sure which edition you're likelier to find.)

Did it make the experience more enjoyable? Perhaps, a little. It's hard to express how exactly. Like getting acquainted with an old friend you've never actually met. Obviously you'll rarely get a chance to experience a book in this way (partly because not everyone will write as much about the process, partly because you simply couldn't read about every book even if they did). I'm not sure I would be half as open and friendly as Gaiman is in his blog, if I were a published author. But you never know.

24 December 2008

For the Love of the Gods No More Chocolates Please

Edit: I wrote this post on Christmas Eve, but due to problems at Blogger it didn't get published until Boxing Day.

Christmas Eve is turning towards its, well, eve. All in all it was very traditional. Lots of cooking in the day, a trip to the cemetery (a really magical sight with its sea of candles in the dark night), the traditional Christmas dinner with its ham and sweetened potato box, and finally the presents. DVDs seem to dominate our family's presents these days.

Personal highlights include Gaiman's latest, The Graveyard Book, which I can't wait to read, and the first season of Babylon 5. (B5 is a gaping hole in my civilisation, I have to admit. I've only seen a couple random episodes, and some of the TV movies. For this I mostly blame our local network which aired the show rather late at night. I only really woke up to it when it was practically over.) Oh, and a rather cute plush kitty.

Here in Finland modern Christmas celebration is pretty much focused on the Eve. Tomorrow should be a lazy day, enjoying more of the food (which should last us several days), and getting better acquainted with the lovely gifts, of course.

22 December 2008

Ahead of Schedule

Another relatively random blog post. First whole day here in Nilsiä. We're getting ready for Christmas, and we're pretty early this year. Most of the cleaning is done. The tree is already up and decorated, something we haven't usually done before Christmas Eve. Tomorrow I guess will focus on cooking. And we'll probably have our traditional Christmas sauna tomorrow as well, meaning we'll have a more leisurely Christmas Eve, less stuff crammed in.

Even with all this stuff going on I've managed to do some work today. The latest translation project is pretty much done, awaiting a final read through. I've been doing Finnish translations of Chris Hart's Manga Mania series for a couple of years now, about a dozen books now (link to list at Finnish publisher's website). It's just a couple of weeks of work at a time, but it's nice to earn a little spending money. It made it possible for me to get a PS3 last winter, which, of course, was a prerequisite to my recent MGS4 bliss.

It'll be a white Christmas. It pretty much always is, up here.

20 December 2008

What Have I Forgotten This Time?

Tomorrow I'm off to the country, to my grandfather's place, where I've spent every Christmas, and New Year (except for one), for as long as I can remember. Packing is pretty much done, so I can relax tonight, and I've got time for a totally pointless random blog post. Compulsive blogger, or just time to kill? Not really sure.

I'm not looking forward to Metal Gear Solid withdrawal. I actually started replaying MGS4, which isn't something I often do after beating a game. (I don't remember ever completing a game twice in a row, and I don't really expect to this time.) I keep humming the song "Here's to You" constantly, and it almost brings tears to my eyes.

(The earlier instalments are due a replay too, really. I was playing the first MGS a year or two back, but got sidetracked by something halfway through. MGS3 I remember least well of the lot, but I'd really like to get the Subsistence version before I play it again. MGS2 I've played most of all, but not for a while, and it really is an amazing game.)

I'm not planning to play much games over the holiday. For one thing, pads take up a lot of space in my already full bag. (And there are few games I enjoy that can be played without a pad.) I'd love to just take it easy and read something, for a change. Apart from comics, I've read hardly any fiction in ages. I blame the modern lifestyle with its broadband Internet and mp3 players. Just too many distractions and too few opportunities.

18 December 2008

Metal Gear Solid 4

Update: Review of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.

I finished MGS4 last night. It meant another late night, but there was no way I could stop before it ended. The review is now online. It's a real fanboy review, nothing but praise upon praise, really. But I can't help it. It's simply the best game I've played in years. It made me remember how much I loved this series. And that's an end to it.

I'm not sure what I'll do now. I was playing Folklore before I got MGS4, but going back to it right after such brilliance might be bit of a letdown. It's a fun game, but no masterpiece. In any case, I'll be going to the country for Christmas soon, so I won't have time to beat an entire game anyway.

14 December 2008

4am and No Longer First Impressions

Last night I realised I'd played MGS4 until 4 am. If I ever had any doubts about the game, I guess this should prove them wrong.

Once I got used to the slight differences in controls, I've only been falling more and more in love with this game. It's a true Metal Gear Solid, that's for sure. All the classic elements are there. But it also manages to be fresh at the same time, and there's a lot of variety that keeps you going. If I have one complaint, it's that the boss team this time lacks a little in personality. But I'm not gonna get into this too deep right now. I'll write the review once I've completed it, as usual.

I think I must say, though, that it's the best new game I've played in years. Since, well, MGS3 came out, I guess (and I think it surpasses that). Looking back, there really haven't been many truly amazing games in the last half of the decade. There have been a few rather fun games (Lego Star Wars or Dirge of Cerberos to name a couple), but no really huge favourites, the likes of Silent Hill 2 and 3, Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3, or Guilty Gear X2. And practically no great RPGs since the PSOne era.

12 December 2008

Crime Scenes

Update: New episode of my Kin of Cerberos RPG online.

We played another session of my RPG campaign Kin of Cerberos. Not much to say about it, really. The story can be found online, as usual.

7 December 2008

MGS4 First Impressions

A couple of sessions of Metal Gear Solid 4 later. First impressions: Nice graphics. Classic characters. Typically quirky Kojima humour and inside jokes. The beginnings of a really epic story (although very little has happened yet). So, all the makings of a typically awesome MGS title.

But what's this? The controls have changed? You aim with L1 instead of R1, which is now used for firing. And most importantly, the camera is now free-moving, which means you'll have to be adjusting the angle constantly. That takes a little getting used to, and makes for some orientation problems when switching to aiming view. There are a lot of configuration options though, which can make play feel a little more like MGS2/3. Why Select isn't used for Codec by default is beyond me.

I think the controls in MGS2 were more intuitive. But once you get past that, all the classic MGS elements are there, and the feel is quite familiar. So, we'll just have to see how the game progresses.

4 December 2008

Guns for the Patriots

In America an ergonomic "Palm Pistol", apparently targeted towards the elderly, has been listed as a "Class I Medical Device". Which means that in the future doctors may be able to prescribe it as a "Daily Activity Assist Device", and patients may seek reimbursement through health insurance.

All I can say is there's something very sick and perverted about American society. Activities for the elderly are important, but, really, prescription guns? There can be no justification for private gun ownership in the modern world, except for maybe hunting weapons. The very idea that more guns would make the world safer is ludicrous.

In other news, I finally bought Metal Gear Solid 4 today. Can't wait to try it. I've enjoyed the previous titles very much. In a time when I was playing almost exclusively RPGs, MGS2 was the game that made me realise action games can be really cool as well, and a valuable medium for storytelling to boot.

Is there irony in commenting against gun ownership and praising a war game in the same post? There shouldn't be. To anyone with any sense it should be obvious that violence in the real world and in fiction have nothing to do with each other. Real violence is never acceptable. Violence in fiction, like video games, however, can even be healthy. We need those aggressive, adrenaline-filled moments to relieve stress.

On the other hand, you can use violence to deliver a statement against violence, even while entertaining and creating those "wow" moments that only really cool action can create at the same time. Metal Gear Solid has always been very story-oriented, and it's message has definitely been against war, and other forms of oppression (such as censorship in MGS2).

2 December 2008

Freedom of Speech VS the Icky

Just a quick comment on an important issue: Neil Gaiman writes in a recent blog post about the importance of freedom of speech and why it also means we need to defend things we don't necessarily like. I could not agree more with his opinions.

1 December 2008

A December Metro Train Moment

Rainpatter
and melancholy melodies
in midday darkness
hurtling forward
perfectly still
on meaningless errands
longing for misty streets
and towns that don't exist
until the jarring sound
of fellow passengers
chattering in alien tongues
breaks me
and I am left stranded
without an other world
to cling to.

29 November 2008

ID3 Tags - The Bane of the Perfectionist Mind

When it comes to ID3 tags, I'm a real perfectionist. It's a curse. I have to get them just right or I can't even listen to the tracks. Decent ID3 are necessary for many reason. The way modern players like iTunes sort music really requires accurate tags. As do services like Last.fm, where particularly the artist tag is crucial.

So here are a few of the hardest things about tagging tracks:

1. For artist tags, should you give priority to composer or performer? This applies particularly to soundtrack albums, which often include a song or few, composed by one person, the overall composer for the work, but sung by one or more singers.

2. A related issue is guest artists singing duets on albums by another artist. How to tag them? Guests should be credited, but then Last.fm won't count the track towards the main artist's play times. That's probably not so crucial, but of course there's the question of how to format the attribution. Consistency is nice.

3. Genre is often a very difficult question. So many albums just don't neatly fit into a particular genre. Particularly difficult is the distinction between rock, hard rock and heavy metal. Take some albums by Queen, Jethro Tull or Alice Cooper, for instance, which can contain elements of all these. I'd prefer to tag genre for entire albums, however, rather than single tracks, as I like to take the album as a complete entity.

4. Capitalisation. Some people spell articles and prepositions and other small words in lower case. Many don't. There are no real rules for it, each publisher can have their own guidelines. But I like consistency.

28 November 2008

Bye Bye Bruce?

I don't follow the latest events in comic books. I just don't have any means to do so, English language comic books being somewhat hard to find here, and I wouldn't have the money to buy several issues each month anyway. Often I'll read classic stories years later when I stumble upon a trade paperback version in a library.

I was suprised, however, by this news item over at the BBC website. It seems that Bruce Wayne has apparently been killed in the latest issue of Batman. There seem to be indications that it may indeed be the end of Wayne's days as Batman, and that someone else could step into his shoes. Or cape, rather. Well, that remains to be seen.

If the solution is indeed final, I'm not really sure how to feel about it. Ok, superheroes have been killed and replaced by new versions many times. But there are few characters as iconic as Bruce Wayne. It would be a brave move, that's for sure. But of course that's why I love the big comic book universes of DC and Marvel. They're alive, everything's so complex and interconnected. And then a big twist comes along, and wham... While superhero comics need a certain amount of clichés, the best comics of all are those that take those clichés and kick their arses.

26 November 2008

FWF

I recently discovered a Firefox extension called CustomizeGoogle. It's pretty neat. It's got all sorts of little tweaks for various Google services, but most importantly it allows you to use a fixed width font in Gmail. I can't emphasize how important this is. Variable width fonts and email simply don't go together. Why there's no option for fixed width font in Gmail by default is beyond me. Come to think of it, why variable width fonts in email services are legal in the first place is beyond me. Some things just shouldn't be tampered with.

22 November 2008

And Song Number 10,000 Is...

10,000 plays at Last.fm since joining February 2007. I guess that's worth a blog post, if nothing else. That's an average of 16 plays a day, apparently. A lot of those plays are from this year, though, since I only started to accumulate a proper collection in electronic form after getting my MacBook last autumn, and it took a while to move my data from the old computer.

Whether keeping track of what you listen to actually affects what you listen to is an interesting question. Of course you don't need Last.fm to do that. iTunes counts play times for each track, as other modern players do, I expect. But of course Last.fm has a more holistic way of presenting that data. My MacBook has had a greater impact on my listening habits, though. Having a computer that's convenient enough to have turned on at any time, anywhere, with enough disk space for my music collection has made CD players obsolete for me.

For the record, track number 10,000 was Run Down the Devil by Alice Cooper, from the 2005 album Dirty Diamonds. Which, a little surprisingly perhaps, is one of Cooper's best, in my opinion.

20 November 2008

For What? (Another Candle Light Night)

It's dark outside
Reddish sky fading into black
Last remnants of first snow
Glow beneath street lights
I lit a candle
Tori Amos is playing
Singing softly about winter
A peculiar kind of calm
A magical moment
Other clichés
The minutes float by
While tracks turn into other tracks
And there are no words for

I Lost a Button

Update: A few new (old) poems added

I added a few old poems from my archives to the poem page. These aren't really particularly good poems, more like collections of thoughts that have been going through my head at the time. They're rather melancholy, and some bits are quite personal, too.

Interestingly, along with the haikus I added were a few haikus written in Japanese. I have no idea what they say. I must have written them years ago when I was taking a Japanese class, but I've forgotten most of it since. Especially the kanjis. (Really, if it wasn't for the kanjis, I'm sure I'd be fluent in Japanese by now.)

19 November 2008

Procrastinating with OS Woes

Still got that flu. Mostly it's just an annoying cough, with a slightly runny nose thrown in. I haven't been sleeping very well either. And I have to go to class tomorrow and speak. Great.

I've really started to yearn for a proper free software operating system again. I've used Mac OS X for well over a year now, and the magic is slowly beginning to wear off. I've written before about its flaws from a Unix user's perspective (just look at the posts labeled Mac OS X). Toss in the ethical problems of proprietary software, and I'm really starting to turn against it. OS X had its attractions, much of which were just simple eye candy. But free software systems aren't that far behind. Just look at these features in KDE 4.

Debian GNU/Linux would probably be my top choice. It's undoubtedly the best GNU/Linux distribution I've used so far. A great package management system with a huge software library is one of it's best features. And it's also more devoted to the GNU philosophy than some other distributions.

But installing a GNU/Linux system on a MacBook is no trivial matter. I need to find out more about how well it actually functions. I certainly couldn't even try it without making a complete backup of all my stuff, for which I would need a USB hard drive, which I just don't have the money for at the moment. Which leaves me kind of buggered. Not happy at all.

14 November 2008

A Typically Boring Friday Night Post

Friday night. Ten thirty pm. And I'm sitting in front of this wretched machine, wondering what to do with myself. So just to make sure I won't accomplish anything tonight I'll be writing a pointless blog post.

I've acquired a slight cold somewhere along the way. What joy. Not much, but just enough to not let me really focus on anything worthwhile for the last couple of days. Like schoolwork, which is building up at a frightening pace.

I've been re-reading Rumiko Takahashi's Maison Ikkoku. It's one of the few comics I love that have nothing to do with fantasy or science fiction. The characters are just so endearing. And it's hilarious as well, of course. Alas, I lack a few volumes, and the edition they're selling now is different than the old ones I have, with chapters divided up differently between volumes. If I just lacked volumes from the end it wouldn't perhaps be a huge deal, but the ones I lack are from the beginning and middle, which makes it rather inconvenient. Of course I don't have the money for it either, so the question is mostly academic.

Nothing much more to add. It has been a very boring week. Which is mostly my own fault, of course.

10 November 2008

Glamming Up

What's the world coming to? Grown men experimenting with nail polish?

I've always found glam appealing. I love 70's rock music, after all. T.Rex, David Bowie, the ever great and oh so hard to categorise Queen, and newer groups like The Ark as well... Trouble is, I don't have the build or face to be glam. I've always been destined for a more hippie style. There's no way I'm getting rid of this beard, for instance.

But yes, I'm wearing black nail polish at the moment. I put it on for Hallowe'en originally. And I found I liked it. Mostly, I guess, 'cause it's something new and different. Well, new for me, leastways. I don't know if it looks cool or just silly on a guy like me. But honestly, that's not the point, is it? This is something I needed to do at this point. Simple as that.

I'd like to try other colours as well. It's harder for guys to find shades that suit them, though. White might be interesting. Perhaps a very dark shade of green? It's hard to say without trying...

7 November 2008

Taking in Applications for the Position of the Next iTunes

I've written before about my love/hate relationship with iTunes. I keep my eye out for potential replacements, but the choices are very few.

Amarok 2 is one of the players that could have potential, but it's been developed on GNU/Linux. I read recently that it is possible to get it running on Mac OS X, so I thought I should maybe give it a go. Well, I did, and it didn't do me much good.

There's no official Mac installer yet. The only way to install an unstable version is with the KDE 4 Mac environment. Which was Problem #1. Installing KDE wasn't really difficult, but it meant I had to install a gigabyte's worth or more of packages, much of which I probably have very little use for. But I did it, and Amarok started up fine, albeit it took a moment to start. The UI looks interesting.

But that brings us to Problem #2. I haven't explored it much yet, but from the little I did, it seems this version still has too many problems for normal use. First of all, I couldn't resize the window. Which was annoying. More importantly, while playing a file on my hard drive appeared to work, making a library of my music didn't. This was actually noted on the KDE 4 Mac site, but, not familiar with Amarok's terminology, I wasn't sure what they meant. This makes its use very limited, and certainly means it's no competition for iTunes yet.

Until they release an official stable version for OS X, I'm buggered. There's a player called Songbird also available for OS X, which I maybe should try, but it looks like it's still somewhat a work in process and I'm not sure if it's as feature rich as Amarok.

In case anyone's wondering what my beef with iTunes is: it's proprietary software. As simple as that.

5 November 2008

V for Hallowe'en Elections

Nearly a week between posts again. And it's been a busy week for the world, indeed. The USA obviously made the right choice. There's the tinyist glimmer of hope now. Not a big one, but you know it'll be better rather than worse than it was with Bush, even though I must admit I know next to nothing about Obama. There's no such thing as a perfect leader, of course. Elections are always about choosing the lesser evil.

And there was Hallowe'en, of course. I was at a party with a group of friends, a tradition of many years. Nothing big or fancy, just good company, lots of food and Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas. I even had something approaching a costume this year. I just added a pic of it to the image section.

I re-read Alan Moore's masterpiece V for Vendetta. This was the first time I read it since the movie came out, so seeing all the differences was an interesting experience. As comic book movies go, I think the movie was actually quite faithful to the spirit of the comic, even though there are many differences. The main thing I noticed was that there were simply more, and more interesting, and more tragic, characters in the comic. Alan Moore is a brilliant, and very sophisticated writer. I first fell in love with his style in Swamp Thing, and have been a big fan ever since.

Edit: I didn't even realize it was 5th of November today!

30 October 2008

One Oh Oh

This is blog post number 100.

The vast majority of these posts have been made since last March when I adopted Blogger.com to power my blog section. I'd never have been posting so actively without it. Writing the posts themselves wouldn't be that hard, but a large number of casual posts without a decent archiving and categorisation system would be rather pointless.

I don't have a huge amount of readers. I'm not sure if anyone reads this on a regular basis. But then again, most blogs probably don't have many readers. That's not the point. I write as much for myself as I write for others.

So what is it all about? In the end, I guess it's just Me. Most of my posts are related to my hobbies: RPGs, video games, comics, music, even spirituality. There's no one clear theme, but patterns are beginning to emerge in the chaos. Sum it all up, and you'll begin to see what makes me tick. And it won't end here.

28 October 2008

Surreal Parakeets

I've managed to not blog for over a week, so here's a couple weird haikus to break the silence:

Surreal parakeets
Prance upon rainbow highways,
Feathers like strange rain.

(11 Feb 2007)

After the kerplunk,
Eerie silence in the pond.
Dead frog floating, still.

(12 Feb 2007)

18 October 2008

Labels for All to See

Update: Added a label list

I've been wanting to add some kind of label list for quite some time. Once a blog has grown a bit, it can be very hard to find items of interest, unless you're looking for something very specific (in which case you can use a search feature). Of course you could browse through all the archives in order, but who'd want to do that? However, if you take a glance at a label (aka tag or category) list, you might well spot something interesting.

Now, blogs on blogspot.com can be easily customised with a label list widget, but that's not possible when you publish via FTP to another server, like I do. So I decided to write a little PHP code to do it. This was the first time I've ever tried my hands at PHP, so the process took a whole evening, even though the resulting bit of code is quite short and simple. It's very crude, but it appears to do what it's supposed to. You can navigate to the label list from the menu bar on the left.

17 October 2008

First Attempt at a Limerick

There once was a man from Helsinki
Who always looked broody and thinky
And a lady, of sorts
Said 'A penny for your thoughts!'
But didn't pay, as the thoughts were too kinky

15 October 2008

The Tell-Tale Hearts

Update: New episode of the Kin of Cerberos RPG online

Yup, after another break of several months, I finally ran another session of my current RPG campaign. Although a fairly simple scenario overall, there were some pretty big plot twists!

We've been trying to tweak the combat system, but I'm still not happy with it. We had one fight scene, not even a particularly tough one, but it must have eaten up half the time we played. Honestly! Ok, we spent some time reading up on and discussing rule details, perhaps partly cause it had again been a while since the last session, but still... I really don't know how to make the system lighter but still provide enough variety to keep the fights interesting...

11 October 2008

Comicsin' It Up Volume 6

Well, the pile of comics I accumulated from several local libraries has finally run out. Here are the last mini-reviews for now.

More albums by our own Petri Hiltunen. Riutta is a science fiction story about man's first encounter with aliens. It's a surprisingly happy and non-violent story for Hiltunen. Well, for the most part. Vala Auringolle is another historical story about the Sioux people, this one set in the 1860's. Unlike Aavetanssi, which focused on historical events, this one features entirely fictional characters and aims at describing Sioux life and culture, both the good and the bad. Because it's not forced around a series of historical events, it's actually the stronger story of the two, and really worth reading for anyone interested in Native American culture. Well, anyone Finnish anyway...

However, Hiltunen is arguably best known for his pulp fantasy stories. Kuninkaan lapset was the first Praedor story to be published in album form, and is, I think, the best of all the Praedor stories I've read. Mustan rannikon kuningatar is an adaptation of Robert E. Howard's Conan story Queen of the Black Coast. It's a faithful adaptation and very entertaining, except maybe it could have been a tad longer. Hiltunen, of course, is known to be a great Howard fan.

The Last Temptation, written by Neil Gaiman, is a comic book adaption of the Alice Cooper album of the same name, for which Gaiman and Cooper created the story together. Aside from that incredibly cool background, it's a very entertaining horror comic, even if the story itself isn't perhaps the most original ever.

Signal to Noise by Gaiman and Dave McKean, on the other hand, is very hard to describe. It's a very experimental work, in many ways, even though at its heart there is a fairly simple and touching story about a dying film director making his last film in his mind. McKean, of course, is one of the most original and experimental illustrators in the business and always manages to create a very surreal mood. I don't know quite what to think of this work. But that's really the whole point.

Memories is a collection of short stories by Enki Bilal from the 70's and early 80's. These are mostly science fiction and horror stories, often humorous, sometimes just plain weird or surreal. Not half bad.

The Complete Alan Moore Future Shocks is a collection of short science fiction stories written by (you guessed it) Alan Moore for the 2000AD magazine back in the early 80's. The stories are humorous and mostly quite clever. In fact they often reminded me a lot of Douglas Adams.

And that pretty much wraps it up for now. Sooner or later I'll probably wander into a library again, but hopefully won't be getting piles of books this size again very soon!

7 October 2008

Aimless Steps

aimless steps
in brightness, pale blue
and not a wisp
but yellow leaves and brown
abound
feeding a cold, cold unflickering fire
of melancholy
in a place that can't be a heart
because hearts beat

6 October 2008

Comicsin' It Up Volume 5

My quest through the comics departments of local libraries continues.

This time I've read several more domestic albums by Petri Hiltunen. All of them were perhaps a little out of the ordinary. MacBeth should need no introduction. This is a fairly faithful adaptation of the play (adapted by Petri Hannini), but with a typical, dark Hiltunen look and fairly graphic violence. Aavetanssi, on the other hand, is a historical story about the Sioux Ghost Dance cult and the tragedy at Wounded Knee. Asfalttitasanko ja muita kertomuksia is a collection of short stories, mostly science fiction. Many of these were pretty cool, including one or two hilarious parodies.

Fantastic Four Visionaries: Walter Simonson Vol. 1 is another collection of (surprise) Fantastic Four stories, this time from the turn of the nineties, written and also (for a large part) drawn by Walter Simonson. I'm not quite sure how to feel about this. The first three issue story arc was mediocre at best. The second, longer story was over-the-top enough to be quite entertaining, but the storytelling wasn't exactly the strongest I've seen. It's also a lot campier than one would expect from 1990. Galactus disguising the ultimate weapon as a broken light switch? I mean, give me a break!

But I've saved the best for last. Neil Gaiman's The Books of Magic is a masterpiece! This wasn't the first time I read it, of course, but the time was just right to revisit it. The story's really very simple. Just four magicians from the DC universe (including John Constantine and the Phantom Stranger) introducing the universe to a kid who's got the potential to become a great magician himself. Even though not much really happens, it's just so well written and the characters are so cool! The art is also excellent. Each of the four issues is illustrated by a different artist. The continuation (not written by Gaiman) was pretty entertaining, but never quite got to the same level.

Well, I'm all out of Marvel and DC comics for the time being. Which means no more superheroes. Still got a pile of other stuff, but next time we should be getting very near the end... Unless I happen to wander into a library again and find some interesting comics I haven't read yet.

1 October 2008

Welcome to the Benverse

Update: Added (the beginnings of) a Benverse Encyclopedia to the RPG section

Many of my RPGs in recent years have been set in the modern day, including my current campaign, Kin of Cerberos, and past games New Angel Evolution and Beyond the Bridge: The House. I didn't design these settings to be compatible to start with, and indeed there are some elements in their backgrounds that are quite different. However, the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it would, in fact, be better if the games, and possible future games set in the modern day (or recent past/near future), took place in a shared universe. Not only would it make crossover scenarios possible, but I'd have a wealth of ready material, characters etc. that I could potentially use in future games.

So, as of today, my past and current modern day games officially take place in the same world, which I'm jokingly referring to as the Benverse, for lack of a better name. This move should actually have very little bearing on my current campaign. The characters will be aware that a nuclear bomb exploded in Alaska in 2003 (as told in my earlier campaign, New Angel Evolution), but that's pretty much it. To help bring these game worlds together, I've written the beginnings of an 'encyclopedia' that describes crucial concepts, events and characters from the various games.

I should carefully read through all my old plot synopses, to see if anything needs retconning, as the campaigns weren't initially designed to be compatible. But there shouldn't be anything major, I think. The greatest differences are probably in the backgrounds that I'd thought of in my head, rather than the details given to the players. You can't tell an audience too much, after all. You've got to retain a feeling of mystery.

So what is the Benverse like? It is an alternate Earth, very much like our own, but with some crucial differences. Namely, the existence of various supernatural forces. It also follows a different timeline from ours, including, for example, the nuclear explosion mentioned above.

As I've made clear in my blog, I've been reading a lot of comics recently, both from Marvel and DC. I'd be lying if I said this had nothing to do with my desire to have a larger, shared universe for my games. But the fact is, it makes sense, for reasons I described above. So far I've run, and am running, too few games for there to be much interesting crossover in them, but who knows what the future might bring?

30 September 2008

Comicsin' It Up Volume 4

Here are today's additions to my comic book marathon.

Identity Crisis
, written by Brad Meltzer, was excellent. It's really a thriller, or a murder mystery, except its cast features all the great heroes of the DC Comics world. Good storytelling, apart from the beginning part being a little confusing with the story leaping through characters, many of which weren't very familiar to me. It soon develops into a gripping and moving story, though. It was interesting to read this shortly after Marvel's Civil War, because it touches on similar issues, albeit from a very different, more personal viewpoint. In my opinion, Identity Crisis worked better as a story.

Thor: Vikings is from Marvel's MAX imprint, which is targeted to a more mature audience. And, indeed, it's delightfully gory. It's written by Garth Ennis, who's work on Hellblazer was spectacular. This wasn't quite on the same level, but it was still lots of fun to read. The story features Thor and Doctor Strange taking on a horde of cursed 1000 year old vikings. Art's not bad, although the book features some of the ugliest computer lettering I've seen.

Domestic pick of the day is Jadesoturi: Sangfu. It's a prequel to the awesome Finnish movie Jade Warrior (Jadesoturi), drawn and written by first time comic book artist Tuomas Lius, in collaboration with the creators of the movie. It was a pretty cool addition to the movie, but rather too short to work as an independent work.

28 September 2008

Comicsin' It Up Volume 3

Another handful of comics read. Still plenty to go, but I've managed to read more than half of the pile I got from various local libraries.

Fantastic Four Visionaries: George Pérez vol. 1 collects Fantastic Four stories from the mid 70s, all drawn by Pérez and written by Roy Thomas and Len Wein. These were plenty of fun. The art style can only be described as classic superhero comic book style. It might be a little crude by modern standards, but I found it quite pleasing, almost more so than some modern comics. The stories were of varied quality, some rather cliched and even campy, some pretty cool, some simply hilarious.

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, written by Frank Miller himself, is a re-telling of the origin of Daredevil, dating from the early 90s. Story's well written, as might be expected from Miller, and the art by John Romita Jr. is quite good as well. I enjoyed this a lot.

I also read another domestic album by Petri Hiltunen, Laulu yön lapsista. This one's a vampire story set in 16th century Russia, and pretty good too.

Last, but not least, I re-read Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits, the first story arc by Garth Ennis after he took over the comic from Jamie Delano. This is one of my favourite Hellblazer stories, if not the favourite. The story is excellent, classic Hellblazer at its very best. The art is pretty good too. My only complaint is that the colours, at least in this edition, were a little bland. But, on the other hand, that fits the grim subject quite well... Much of the subject matter for the movie Constantine was taken from this story, and, alas, totally butchered. We can only hope that some day they'll make a real Hellblazer movie.

24 September 2008

Comicsin' It Up Volume 2

I've read a couple more comics since the last post.

Koston merkki is a collection of short Praedor stories by Finnish artist Petri Hiltunen. They're pulp fantasy stories in the tradition of Conan and the like, and quite entertaining in their own way, if you enjoy that kind of thing. I do.

Banner is a Hulk story written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Richard Corben. This pair was also responsible for the Hellblazer story Hard Time. Which is, I must say, my least favourite of all the Hellblazer stories I've read, so I didn't have my hopes up. I'm not sure what to think of this comic. The story had one or two good moments, but mostly it was barely average, just Hulk smashing the military to bits. I didn't like the art much. That was one of my main objections to Hard Time as well. Corben's characters look rubbery and bloated. They might look ok in a humorous cartoon, but not in a serious superhero comic. Honestly, there were one or two moments that looked like they could've come straight from an Asterix story! Ok, so it was a short comic and fun enough to kill half an hour, but the Marvel universe would not be any poorer if it had never been made.

The first volume of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter was pretty cool. It's an adaptation of a novel series by Laurell K. Hamilton. I've never read any of the novels, so I don't know how they compare, but I liked this comic. It's published by Marvel, but it has nothing to do with the Marvel universe, being, as I said, based on a novel series, which tell of a world where vampires are legal citizens. The storytelling could have been improved in one or two places, but mostly it was fun and with a few original twists too. The art looks quite modern and glossy, which I'm often not all that crazy about, but in this case it worked well. And, perhaps most importantly, the lead character is very cute. Only one real problem: it ends in a cliffhanger, and, to my knowledge, further volumes have not been published yet!

It won't end here. I've got enough comics for several posts still to read. But bye for now.

22 September 2008

Comicsin' It Up Volume 1

I consider myself a comics fan. Hardly an expert, though. There are a million things I haven't read. I've never gotten into the habit of actually buying comic books, either, mostly relying on what I find at the library, mostly trade paperback versions. There are several reasons for that. For one thing, English language comics aren't exactly available at every corner where I live, the selection of comics that get translated is fairly limited and I've never been that keen on translations anyway. But mostly I've never really had that much excess cash.

Strangely enough, I've only become a comics fan in my adult years. Of course I enjoyed comics as a kid, mostly reading humorous adventure stuff like Lucky Luke, Asterix and Tintin. Then in my late teens I discovered the world of Japanese comics. But it took me a long time to discover the more interesting, "grown-up" comics of the western market. Sandman was the one that first got me hooked. I'm a huge Neil Gaiman fan, so I decided I had to read it sooner or later, and was impressed. Then followed Hellblazer and Alan Moore's take on Swamp Thing...

Anyways, back to the real subject. Recently I raided local libraries for interesting comics that I hadn't read before. Some by authors or about characters I was familiar with, some entirely random picks.

The Goddess by Moebius was quite interesting. I enjoyed his drawing style as well. I can't believe I've never read anything by Moebius before. I'll have to keep an eye out for his works in the future.

The City, written by James Herbert, was amusing enough. Not the most original story of all time, but a suitably gruesome vision of a post-apocalyptic world.

Civil War from Marvel, written by Mark Millar, was quite cool. I'm not sure the story in itself was so amazing, but the idea of bringing together pretty much every big hero from the Marvel universe was simply insane. The art is quite good... but I'm not really sure I like the glossy, modern look. And the lettering is typeset. That's all wrong. Even though at first glance the font may look handwritten, it's just too even and clinical. It lacks soul. People don't appreciate quality lettering these days, which is a real pity.

Nightwing: Ties That Bind collects the first issues of Nightwing from DC, written by Alan Grant and Dennis O'Neil. I didn't know that Dick Grayson begun a career as Nightwing after leaving Batman. Shows just how little I know of even the most famous comics series. Artistically this collection, compared to Civil War, is very old school, even though it's from the mid 90s. And I almost like it better than many more modern comic books. It has real lettering, to boot. The story itself is pretty ordinary superhero stuff, nothing original, but entertaining enough.

I'm also getting acquainted with the works of domestic artist Petri Hiltunen, of whose comics I must shamefully admit I've read very little, despite having met him on a few occasions. Kuolleen jumalan palvelija, which draws influence from pulp fantasy, wasn't half bad. I also read the first Lordi comic, with which Hiltunen was also involved. That's likely to be of interest mostly to Lordi fans, though. Although it's largely the fact that the band members have cool fictional backgrounds that made me a fan...

This'll do for now. But I've still got a big pile of comics waiting, so it won't end here.

21 September 2008

First but Not Last Blood

Can you believe I only recently saw the Rambo movies for the first time? Yeah, I couldn't either.

For long I wasn't all that interested in them, as I thought they had a reputation as kind of macho, brainless action flicks. Well, I was wrong. Ok, the sequels, Rambo III in particular, are more straightforward action movies, but they're still relatively well made and entertaining in they're own way. (I haven't seen the new one yet, so can't say anything about that.) Undoubtedly the original is the best, though.

If I were to hear someone now connecting the name Rambo to cliched, macho action heroes, I'd have to object. Rambo is a true anti-hero, a tragic character who knows nothing but war and is forgotten and abused by the very people he went to war for.

I enjoyed the movies also as a video gamer, as it was immediately obvious that the Metal Gear series, which I'm a huge fan of, has taken lots of influence from these movies. The colonel, parachute drop, even the electric shock torture in Rambo II, and lots of other stylistic things seemed very familiar...

Next up: comics.

18 September 2008

If You Need Me I'll Be at the Cheer Market

Continuing the series of silly headlines, BBC today states that "Central bank moves cheer markets".

It took me a moment to figure out what 'cheer markets' are exactly and why they need moving.

16 September 2008

The Occult Significance of Magpies

Update: New article discussing magpie divination

The magpie rhyme is a quaint bit of folk superstition. There are many versions, but one of the more common goes like this:

One for sorrow, two for joy
Three for a girl, four for a boy
Five for silver, six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told

The idea is that if you happen to see a group of magpies, their number will tell you your future. Whether it has ever been used very seriously for fortune telling is not known, but it does seem a little unlikely. But why not? I wrote a little article which discusses a possible way to actually use the magpie rhyme for divination purposes, based on ideas from traditional occultism. (I first started to write a blog post on the topic, but it grew much too long and I decided to make it into a page of its own.)

This also marks the creation of a new section for articles on spiritual and occult topics. For now it'll be just a subsection of the Elcalen's Homepage area, as it's still quite small.

12 September 2008

A Cold Summer Turning Into a Freezing Autumn?

LOL. You might expect something like this after a night of drinking, but I'd only had one glass! I was attempting to pour a glass of (quite cheap) Merlot and was baffled as nothing came out of the bottle. I then realised I'd left the cap on! In my defense, I had the lights off at the time.

Just having a relaxing evening with a couple of glasses of wine, some crisps and Spaceballs on DVD. Call it a celebration of the beginning autumn, or a wake for the passing summer or whatever. You need to do something like this every once in a while. But now I fear I'm starting to sober up, so I guess I ought to be heading for bed...

9 September 2008

Chillin' Words

these are chillin' words
late night words of
candle light, essential oils
of trying to find
a balance between the music and
the soft, soft sound of the rain
falling all day long
but only heard when something equally beautiful
threatens to drown it
in soft, black velvet blankets
or crimson perhaps
or deep, deep summer night's blue

chillin' words
an escape perhaps
from a world I do my best to block out anyway
escaping from escape
no stories tonight
just me
a moment of blissful oblivion
and the soft, soft sound of the rain
wrapped in its velvet blanket
that flows through me
with such beauty
as these chillin' words
mark the beginning of another autumn

2 September 2008

Thirity One?

What is it with people who submit album information to CDDB and the like? Just how hard can it be to spell song titles correctly? Or pick a genre that fits even remotely to the music?

There's hardly an album I rip that I don't need to make corrections to. And with today's media players and services like Last.fm, correct tags for music files are absolutely crucial. So if you're unable to read and write, or just thick enough to think no one else can, you might bloody well consider not making others suffer from your mistakes, thank you very much.

1 September 2008

The Curse of iTunes

Since I started using a Mac about a year ago, I've grown very accustomed to iTunes, almost dependent. There's a lot to speak in favour of it. It looks pretty. It's easy to use. It has lots of handy features.

But there's just one major issue. It's not free software.

Apart from Mac OS X itself, iTunes is almost the only piece of proprietary software I use on a daily basis. There are a handful of proprietary Mac applications I use occasionally, like iDvd, but iTunes is the only one that's a major part of my life.

If there was a free software solution that could replace iTunes, I'd be happy, but I haven't found one yet. Since iTunes is free to download anyway, I don't see why Apple doesn't just make it truly free. Perhaps there are issues involving the use of the iTunes store, but I don't really see why making the software open source should have any bearing on it.

And while we're at it, I don't see what's keeping Apple back from making Mac OS X free software in its entirety. They've taken huge and important steps in making parts of it free and utilizing free software tools, but when they wrap it up with a proprietary interface, what's the point? It should be all or nothing when it comes to freedom. Certainly many GNU/Linux distributions, like Ubuntu, and other OSs have proven how successful free software can be. If money's the only issue, they can still sell versions, convenient installation DVDs with additional support, documentation etc, to people who want such things. Or just put up hardware prices slightly.

Corporations. They try sometimes, but they just don't get it.

31 August 2008

Engrish of the New Mirrennium

Engrish.com has had a total makeover! About time, too. It wasn't exactly one of the most modern looking sites around. Most importantly, perhaps, they now have RSS feeds!

If you don't know Engrish.com, you've missed some of the most hilarious photos known to mankind.

30 August 2008

Astrology, Just Once More

Ok, I hope this'll be the last post about astrology for a while, but I need to reach some kind of conclusion on this topic.

The more I consider the selection of planets to use, the more I'm starting to feel that the simple set of seven classical planets is all I need. I think this is partly because I'd been studying traditional occult philosophy for a good while before I really started looking into astrology, and the concept of the seven planets is such a crucial part of traditional occultism that forcing additional planets into the scheme seems both difficult and unnecessary. The qabalistic Tree of Life has been a very useful tool for me in understanding various symbol structures, and I'm sure it'll be a great help in understanding the astrological implications of the planets as well. While one could try to reconcile the new planets with this scheme, there's really very little new that they could bring to it, and the usual interpretations of the newer planets often seem to overlap with those of the traditional planets (or at least the way that I've come to see the traditional planets).

To add a little spice into the mix I might use the north and south nodes of the moon. These are fairly traditional, and were used at least in medieval and renaissance astrology, so they fit in fairly well with the traditional occult scheme. (And I think they would fit in nicely with the qabalistic scheme as representatives of Daath, although I don't know if others have made that association.) The Arabian parts and other additional points I don't think I'll need (apart from the ascendant and midheaven, of course).

If I use fewer bodies, there will be fewer aspects as well. Because of this, I think I might use fairly large orbs, say 10° for most of the main aspects. I might also include semi-sextile and quincunx aspects I hadn't earlier considered using.

I don't think I discussed the choice of zodiac yet. As you might now, the traditional zodiac of astrology is based on the orbit of the Earth, not on actual constellations, which have moved since the times when astrology was created. This has led to the creation of the so-called sidereal zodiac which matches better with the actual constellations. For a while I was a little torn between the two systems, but then I thought, what's the most important cycle in the life of most creatures? The year of course, the cycle of the four seasons, of mating and harvest etc. So it seems right to me that astrology is linked to the rhythm of the sun, the rhythm of life, and not some endlessly distant stars. The Zodiac signs are symbols created by Man. Perhaps they were originally inspired by constellations that existed when they were created, but they are not really linked to them.

Ok, I think this'll wrap up this discussion for now. What's needed now is just, well, experience. Whether I'll stick to this scheme or add something to it remains to be seen.

28 August 2008

Silly News and Even More Astrology

A news item at BBC: Arrow fired through family's cat. The fact that someone would shoot an arrow at a living creature (excepting the need to feed) is disturbing enough. But what I find most disturbing in this article is that someone is actually capable of calling their pet Marmite.

Carrying on from my previous post: at the moment I'm leaning towards leaving out all the asteroids apart from Ceres. There should be some grounds for including a particular object in a chart, and, frankly, most of the asteroids just don't stand out enough, astronomically speaking. If I were to include them, what about all the other similar objects? Ceres, as said, is now classified as a dwarf planet, like Pluto, and is also the closest of the dwarf planets, so there seem to be sufficient grounds for including it if one is to include Pluto as well. If I include the lunar north node, but leave out Lilith, which, frankly, is not that widely used and a little hard to interpret as well, that gives me 12 objects, which seems like a fitting number considering there are 12 signs and 12 houses as well.

A third question I forgot to mention in my previous post is the size of the aspect orbs. Honestly, I haven't seen two sources yet that would agree on them. So... I'll just have to pick average numbers that seem reasonable...

27 August 2008

While We're on the Topic of Astrology...

While I'm on the topic of astrology, I'll take a moment to write a little about some of the difficult questions that a wannabe astrologer must resolve. This is one of those posts that is more about me getting things straight in my head than anything else... I'm not really keen on following any particular school of thought. In issues like this I'm more inclined to go with my gut, since I don't really believe that there is any ultimate truth for spiritual issues, but that they rather connect to a deeper, personal side of us. Spirituality is subjective. What is true for one person may not be for another, yet that does not make it less true for the first person.

While the principles of (western) astrology are pretty much the same for all astrologers, there's a myriad of details that they differ on. The most obvious question is, what objects should actually be included in a chart? In olden days there were only seven known planets (moving objects in the sky, which include the sun and moon), but today we know of several more planets and other orbiting bodies, like asteroids. In addition to these there are many mathematically derived points often used in horoscopes, which can be treated like planets even though they don't actually represent any real heavenly body.

As I said above, I like to follow my gut and go for a more personal, subjective interpretation of these issues. A multitude of abstract, mathematical elements doesn't really appeal to me. I'd prefer to focus on actual heavenly bodies. But this is not necessarily because the objects are really "there", but rather because planets and asteroids are commonly names after mythological characters, and the nature of the mythological archetypes they represent is very useful when approaching astrology in a subjective, psychological way. Of the more abstract entities, the ones I might consider using are the lunar nodes (because they are widely used and traditional) and possibly Lilith, mostly because she's named after a mythological character (even if not from classical myth).

Of the actual heavenly bodies I'd like to emphasize the seven classical planets. But that doesn't necessarily mean discarding later discoveries. These would obviously include the outer planets (Uranus, Neptune and Pluto). Pluto of course is now classified as a dwarf planet, but in astrological terms that makes no difference. If, however, I include three minor objects, I might as well include others. Ceres is also a dwarf planet, so it's a likely candidate. Eris, another dwarf planet, might also be, but it's even farther than Pluto and has a very long orbit, plus it's not supported by Astrolog, my current choice of astrology software (same goes for the fourth currently known dwarf planet, Makemake). The asteroids Pallas, Vesta, Juno and Chiron are also used by many astrologers. Apart from Chiron, all these additional objects are named after goddesses, which would add much needed female energy to the mix, as the traditional planets, apart from Venus, are all named after male characters.

Of course one cannot use every possible object, so one has to have some criteria to make choices by. Of the asteroids, Pallas and Vesta are the largest, and thus strong candidates. There are, however, several asteroids larger than Juno. I surmise that Juno is often used alongside these others because, with them, it was one of the first to be found. But is tradition the most important criteria? We're only speaking of a difference of about 40 years here. Chiron is also often used, even though it was discovered much later and is smaller than Juno. Chiron, however, represents a very different group of bodies with many eccentricities, which may make its inclusion justified. Also, I must say that Chiron in my chart is in a very interesting position, which makes me reluctant to scrap it just based on its size. But I might just scrap Juno...

Another important question is which house system to use. Placidus is the most widely used, but it is problematic. Apart from being overly complicated, in my opinion, it doesn't work above the arctic circle, and any system that doesn't work for the entire planet seems fundamentally flawed to me. The Porphyry system, in all its simplicity, seems like the strongest candidate for me at the moment.

Well, this has grown into a really long post. I think that'll do for now. I'm not aware of any of my friends having a passion for astrology, but naturally feedback is always welcome.

25 August 2008

This Is What Comes Out of Being a Hippie Nerd

It's funny how very different, but equally geeky, interests sometimes come together. I spent a lot of time last weekend setting up an environment for producing PDF natal charts (i.e. horoscopes) with LaTeX.

The first step was to get Astrolog working on my Mac. Astrolog is an old, but powerful command line astrology tool. Because of its age, it doesn't work on Mac OS X out of the box. I had to manually compile it after making a few changes to the makefile and sources. Google was a big help in getting it to work. I had to leave out X support, but I can live without it.

Next I discovered a LaTeX package for typesetting nice looking wheel charts, called horoscop. I think I actually first run into it while googling for info on how to get Astrolog to work on a Mac. What's more, the package is made by Matt Skala, the author of Bonobo Conspiracy! It uses Astrolog (or alternately Swiss Ephemeris) to calculate data for the charts.

Of course there were more obstacles to overcome. To get the most out of horoscop, I needed to install a font for astrological symbols. Installing fonts for TeX, if you've never done it before, is not entirely unlike trying to reach Mt Doom through a maze of orc-infested mountains. It involves copying certain files into the right places, editing certain configs and running certain commands. The problem was finding the right places for the files and the right config to edit, but in the end I had a working font.

Now I could proceed to work on a LaTeX template to draw a good looking chart with all the information I want. This took a lot of tweaking and learning about the features of the package. I'm pretty happy with the version I have now.

Astrology is a fairly recent interest for me, I've only been looking into it since last spring, more or less. Honestly, I've barely gotten started, and I've got a long way to go before I'd try to interpret anyone's birth chart.

I find astrology fascinating. No, I don't really literally believe that arbitrary positions of distant rocks or balls of gas affect peoples' lives. Like with Tarot, the symbols communicate with one's subconscious. It's the process of interpretation that really counts, not what is interpreted. And of course it also gives me an excuse to satisfy the nerd in me by playing around with LaTeX and other cool software.

23 August 2008

Oh My Frakkin' Gods

Finally saw season three of Battlestar Galactica, and the ending, once again, blew me away... What can I say. This stuff is more addictive than heroin. I don't know how I can wait for season four to come out on DVD.

Some might say, just download it. But it's just not the same. Even if there weren't any ethical issues, downloading such a huge amount of video is a tedious task, and I have limited disk space to begin with.

19 August 2008

Blogger Spoiling the Suspension of Disbelief

It was just brought to my attention that when viewing a feed for the H5P blog, the words 'by Ben' can be seen in posts. This obviously doesn't do any good for the suspension of disbelief. I've removed the signature from the layout of the blog itself, but I haven't seen any option to do so for feeds...

This is bad thinking on Blogger's part. People may well write to more than one blog, so it would make a lot of sense to allow people to change their display names without changing accounts. It should be a pretty simple feature to implement, too. But alas, there is no such feature.

Creating a new account and switching to it each time I want to post to H5P seems a little too tedious to me. So there's very little I can do, it seems. Which is a pity, as feeds are a very convenient way to follow sites like this that aren't (or at least won't always be) updated on a very regular basis.

18 August 2008

Hoshi Five Points Special Tactics Team

Ok, I've pasted links to this here and at Facebook over the past few days, but I don't know if anyone's picked up on them. I guess I might as well go official. (Not that that's likely to attract many more readers, but what the heck...)

Hoshi Five Points Special Tactics Team is a new experiment of mine. It's a fictional blog that chronicles, from the point of view of the main characters, the adventures of an independently operating team of special operatives investigating the more out-of-the-ordinary threats to mankind. Influences come from superhero stories, anime shows and the like.

I've just gotten started, and the future of the project remains unseen. I'll try to keep it up for a while at least, but I'm sure that posts won't always be as frequent as they've been in the first few days. But of course that's the whole point of blogs. You can write just a little at a time and only when you feel like it...

I'm sure I'm not the first to write a fictional blog, but I don't really recall running into many, at least not themed quite like this one... Anyways, I'm doing this just for the fun of it, and I hope someone at least'll have fun reading it.

17 August 2008

Copylefting

I believe copyleft is a Good Idea. 'Copyleft', obviously a pun on 'copyright', is a term that refers to the concept that material placed under an open license should remain open. In practice this means that a licence for open source software or other open material should contain a clause that forbids the use of the material in question if resulting materials are not also released under an open license.

I think this makes a lot of sense. If you create something and release it to a community, you don't really want to see some money-grabbing corporation take it, improve it and release it commercially without making their improvements available to you or other interested parties. Sharing, and improvement via sharing, is the whole point of the open source ideology.

The little creations on my site aren't really interesting or big enough for the licences used to make any difference, but I still like to do things right and in accordance to ideals I believe in. My RPG settings have been under a Creative Commons license, but thus far under a version that restricted commercial use but weren't copyleft. While this would also prevent the above scenario from taking place, it's not commercial use that's really the issue. It's sharing and benefiting everyone through that sharing. So I've changed the Creative Commons licences I've used to 'Share Alike' versions and scrapped the 'Noncommercial' requirement.

16 August 2008

H5P

Take a look at this new blog.

12 August 2008

If You Take the Music Out of a Soundtrack Album, What's Left?

I'm just listening to the CSI soundtrack. This is, sadly, very typical of how many soundtracks are these days. It's mostly tracks by various artists whose music has (I assume) been featured in the show, and just two tracks of John M. Keane's actual original music for the series.

There are way too many soundtracks like this these days. The Buffy soundtracks are good examples. Many action movie soundtracks are the same. Many of the songs on the albums aren't actually bad (I've even found several artists that have become big favourites of mine through the Buffy albums), but when I listen to a soundtrack I'd like to hear music that really represents the sound and feel of that show or movie, i.e. original music composed for it, not a collection of random pop songs, even if they perform an important function in a particular scene of that production. (Sheesh, how's that for a long sentence.)

I love the atmospheric, electronic music Keane's made for CSI. It fits in the show perfectly. I think it'd work well as background music for some RPG session, as well. But I only have ten minutes of it to listen to. What's the sense in that?

11 August 2008

Dark Floors

Finally managed to see the Lordi movie, Dark Floors. And I liked it lots. Any Silent Hill fan would, I think. Honestly, this movie would've almost been more convincing as a Silent Hill movie than the so-called Silent Hill movie. Anyways, great visuals, great atmosphere, and even a few surprising twists. Some of the actors could have been more natural, but they managed to do the job. It was a surprise seeing Philip Bretherton (Alistair in As Time Goes By) in the movie.

I like horror movies that are eerie and surreal. Atmosphere is always much more important than violence. And I like being left a little puzzled at the end, as well. Straightforward happy endings don't belong in horror movies. The eeriness should remain, well into the night at least.

9 August 2008

Fandom Again

It's Ropecon weekend. Ropecon is the biggest roleplaying (and cards, miniatures etc.) convention in Finland. I was there just for Saturday, and spent most of it behind the Finnish Tolkien Society stand selling badges and stuff. Much of the time was spent in hysterics considering ways to cook elves and making up new (mostly rude) badge texts, among other things.

Ropecon. First of all, 15€ for a single day pass? Extortion. Second, I think I'm getting too old for this sort of thing. It's fun enough being social and I actually enjoy sitting behind a counter, as long as I have good company (like I did today), but I don't have the energy these days to spend an entire weekend there, nights included, and could find little interest in the program, or playing games (at least with strangers).

I'm sorry though that I once again missed Finncon, Finland's biggest science fiction convention. I was in Nilsiä, like I often am around the time it takes place, and the journey there would have been too arduous and expensive. That's my social life for this year then, I guess...

7 August 2008

What's With All the Roadkill?

I'm back in Helsinki.

I'm rarely satisfied with the results of my time spent in the country. I always have big plans, every year I'm going to write a lot and work on other creative projects, or just read, even. Well, at least this year I can blame the weather. It was one of the worst July's I can remember. When it wasn't raining, it was cold. Honestly, I haven't worn shorts even once this summer.

And then there are all the little chores you have to keep on doing. There's the woodshed to fill. Berries to pick. Lawn to mow. Even if you do just a couple of hours of work, the drain combined with the gloomy weather is likely to kill all the will and energy you may have had for creative work.

And there seemed to be lots of roadkill on the way home. More than I've noticed before. What's up with that?

5 August 2008

Dr. Horrible's Return

Just a little pointer: Joss Whedon's internet production masterpiece Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is apparently viewable online again. I don't know how long it will remain so, originally it was supposed to be online for less than a week. So watch it if you haven't seen it yet. Now.

1 August 2008

What Is This Thing Unix, Anyway?

This carries on from my previous post. I don't think anyone that might stumble upon my blog (if indeed anyone does) will really be interested in this stuff, but what the heck.

I have a MacBook. The operating system it runs is called Mac OS X. But I don't really think of myself as a Mac OS user. I'd rather identify myself as a Unix user. It might come as a shock to some old-school Mac users that the modern Mac OS is, in fact, a UNIX® system. The graphical user interface is so, well, Mac that a casual user might not even be aware that beneath the surface lies a powerful core operating system, the roots of which go at least as far back as 1970.

So what exactly is Unix, anyway? There's no one official Unix or one official user interface to Unix, like there is for Windows. The Unix system branched quite early on into many operating systems developed by different commercial and academic groups, and also spawned clone systems like GNU/Linux. The design philosophy of all the competing Unices has remained very similar, though, and the systems are quite compatible with each other (there are certain standards that all certified Unix systems must comply with, and which non-certified, so called Unix-like systems, like GNU/Linux systems, generally also comply with). The command prompt, the place where hardcore Unix users are most at home, is the portion that has probably remained the most constant (from a user point of view).

But in the modern world few of us are happy with just a text console. The vast majority of software today is graphical. Now, most of the various Unix systems have adopted a version of the X window system as their graphical interface. This makes porting software from one Unix to another fairly easy. Mac OS X, however, has it's own graphical interface, although it is possible to install an X server as well and run X applications side by side with regular Mac apps. There's nothing wrong with the Mac OS X interface as such. Quite the contrary, it is a very usable system and looks good too. However, there exists a certain dualism that separates the graphical environment and the Unix core, as I mentioned in my previous post. Much of this is to do with the way Mac OS X handles most native applications, which are distributed as ready to use bundles. The binaries and support files are contained within a single app package and not in the usual Unix file hierarchy. This means you can't easily run OS X apps in the normal Unix fashion, using just the application's name as a command at the command prompt.

So how can we make Mac OS X act and feel more like a real Unix, which it's supposed to be? Reclaiming the command prompt is pretty much the only way. There are a few simple commands that make life in a terminal window much more pleasant. The 'open' command is crucial. This is the bridge between the command prompt and OS X's app bundles. Since Linux and other Unix systems don't usually have a similar command (as you can run the application using it's name), it is easy for a newcomer to OS X to miss it. I did, for too long. You can also use Quick Look from the command prompt with a little tool called 'qlmanage', which is handy, though not as crucial as 'open'. MacPorts is an important tool and source of Unix software, even if it's software selection isn't complete and many ports are outdated versions. Obviously you'll want a proper text editor, like Emacs or vim. (If you use an app bundle version, make sure you make it the default app for plain text files. That way you should be able to open it with the 'open -t' command, even with files without a '.txt' extension.)

I still haven't figured out if it is possible to get Finder to see Unix system folders and hidden files. While in most cases it's more convenient to browse and manage them in a terminal, it would still be nice. Any ideas? Any more ideas about better approaching OS X in a Unix fashion are also appreciated, if anyone with experience of such things actually happened to read this.

Well, this grew into another really long post with no real purpose. Mostly I guess I'm just organizing thoughts that have been going through my mind during the past week, not really expecting anyone else to be interested in this.

30 July 2008

Because No Man Is Truly Happy With Just One Unix

I've been trying out VirtualBox on my MacBook, more for fun and exercise than any real need. VirtualBox is a virtualization application that allows one to run another operating system on top of the original in a virtual machine.

I started out with Debian 4.0 (the current "stable" release). The installation process went surprisingly smoothly, but I soon remembered why I've always used the testing or unstable versions. I fully appreciate the need for a well tested stable release for many users, but there should be some kind of limit! "Antique" would be a better title than stable (it's still got Emacs 21, for crying out loud). So I proceeded to install another virtual machine with the testing release, and, once satisfied it worked OK, removed the first machine.

It runs reasonably well on my Mac. Of course it hogs some resources, but not as bad as I might have expected. Not something I'd want to have running constantly, but good enough to use occasionally if I need some app available for GNU/Linux but not for OS X. Of course the installation eats up a few gigs of disk space, but I'm not running out just yet. The Mac keyboard is always an issue. In Gnome I got it to work quite well, but I'm not sure how to configure it to work with other WMs or in a console. (The trouble is the special symbols usually typed with the ALT key on Macs.)

Then I proceeded to other experiments, mostly for the fun of it, and because, for some reason, I find myself very interested in the Unix scene in its entirety. I tried installing FreeBSD, without success. After a couple of attempts and various errors I gave up. Then I tested OpenSolaris. This installed quite painlessly. It's a bigger resource hog than Debian, though. I'm also not sure about its available software. I took a quick glance at the graphical package manager, and the packages listed there were very sparse. Of course I don't know if I was using it correctly. I won't be keeping it on my Mac, as Debian runs better and surely has a better software selection.

If I had another machine, I might seriously consider trying another Unix-like OS on it, such as a BSD variant. Mac OS X is a great OS in many ways, but it has its cons as well. It is a Unix system of course. I'd never have bought a Mac if it wasn't. It's a commercial product, however, even if its core is Open Source. Also, the integration of the Unix core and the top-level graphical interface (what most people think of as Mac OS) could be much better. App packages are inconvenient to run from a command prompt, and don't by default see many parts of the Unix system, such as hidden files and certain system folders that Unix users are used to tampering with. Also, software installed in a more Unix-like fashion, from source or via tools like MacPorts, usually need the additional X-server to run (when graphical), which (in my experience) has a tendency to be unstable in some cases. (This was true at least for the MacPorts version of Scribus, which seemed to suffer from frequent crashes. I've never had trouble with it on other platforms, so the only cause that comes to mind is OS X's version of X.)

On the other hand I like all the convenience and eye candy of the OS X interface. If only I could make it work better with and more like the *nix tradition I'm used to...

28 July 2008

Butterfly Paradigms

Update: Added BossBattle.net's first ever comic, Butterfly Paradigms

I have a passion for comics, both Japanese and Western. I would love to create my own comics, but I discovered years ago that I have no natural talent for drawing, and neither the patience or time to learn it the hard way. So a couple of years ago I had this idea. If I can't draw myself, I'll use images created by others.

The result was a little experimental comic by the name of Butterfly Paradigms. It was put together from various photos downloaded from Flickr (all under a Creative Commons license), which I then modified to look more artistic and, well, comic-like. Butterfly Paradigms was intended to be a continuing series, an original and rather surreal take on the superhero theme, but I never got around to creating a second issue. In the end this method of creating a comic seemed too restricting and finding suitable images was a tedious task.

Now, I came accross the first issue again recently and decided it worked reasonably well even as it is, as a stand-alone comic, even if it is very short (just 12 pages) and has very little story. I did one or two little tweaks (mainly removing references to future issues), and uploaded it. So here it is for anyone interested, in PDF format. You can download the file directly here.

26 July 2008

Boycott Beijing 2008!!

For a long time I felt that, once the games had been given to China, boycott was not the right or most constructive way to protest against the situation there. But with every passing day as the games draw nearer I'm hearing reports about the actions of authorities there that are rapidly making me change my mind.

Today's paper reported that authorities are putting up lists of topics that it is forbidden to discuss with tourists. These reportedly included such things as religion and income, and even married life. Last week I read about reports, I cannot know about their truthfulness, that authorities are trying to ban blacks and mongols from entering bars during the games. Supposedly this was in order to cut down on drug trafficking and other crime.

It is obvious that China in it's current state is incapable of supporting fundamental human rights. Because these ideals of freedom and equality should go hand in hand with the Olympic games, it is clear that China does not deserve these games. Since China won't listen to protests, it's beginning to look like boycott is the only route left to take.

It's just too bad that I'm not in any kind of position for my boycotting the games to make any difference whatsoever. But I'm beginning to hope that many important figures would come to the same conclusions I have.

Of course, I don't even like sports, and wouldn't be watching the games much in any case...

19 July 2008

Thinking Aloud and More

This is mostly me trying to organize thoughts in my head. I've been wanting to create a few stock RPG scenarios I could easily run for any group if a suitable occasion happened to come by. Creating a stand-alone, single session game, however, is rather more difficult than creating a session for an ongoing campaign.

So I've been thinking of some basic rules of thumb to aid me in the creation of such adventures. The most important is that the players should be able to grasp the game setting and characters pretty much instantly. Spending time explaining the geography and politics, even the physics (and metaphysics) of a game world before the game can commence is very tedious for both GM and players alike. What this means is that the game world should be one with which the players are all familiar with. Unless you're running a game for a group you've played with before in a particular setting, the "real world" is almost the only practical setting. There might be a few others that are familiar enough for practically everyone, such as a Western setting or a few other historical settings.

Obviously props like maps are always useful. But if you go to the trouble of creating a lot of props it would be nice to be able to get more use out of them than one session. Of course you'll have them ready if you wish to run the same adventure for a different group. But you could also create a "microsetting" that could be used for several different scenarios. My Beyond the Bridge setting is one such. Coming up with new ideas for small, self-contained settings isn't that easy, however.

Well, I'll let this stuff stew in my head, and maybe something fun will come out of it.

The other stuff:

Joss Whedon is still one of the greatest living geniouses. His Internet production Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is brilliant. The ending even managed to surprise me. I hope you had, or will have, a chance to catch it while it's still online.

The Last.fm website has had a complete revamp. I like it. You can still find me there by the username elcalen, if you want to see what I'm listening to. Or you can take a look at my artist page. I finally got the capitalisation of some of my tracks corrected. (Had to ask staff to do it. Apparently the capitalisation is set when a track is first scrobbled, even if I later upload mp3's with correct titles.) It had been bugging me for a while. I'm a total spelling nazi, and while the capitalisation of most tracks wasn't incorrect, the inconsistent use of different capitalisation between tracks was really, well, as close to my idea of Hell as I can imagine.

There's probably other stuff, but this post is getting too long already. So, later.

16 July 2008

I Had a Shoggoth

Another very quick post. I Had a Shoggoth is the funniest song I've heard in ages. Warning, for geeks only.

Idle Country Blogging

It's funny how the times change. Just a couple of years ago the idea of spending my vacation here in the country surfing the web, playing games and watching DVDs would have seemed utterly alien. Just two simple things, a laptop and an Internet connection, have entirely changed my way of life here.

While the change has it's blessings, it's not all for the best. Just as it is at home, it's much easier to procrastinate. Surfing the web and chatting with friends tricks the mind into thinking you're actually doing something. Starting new projects, whether creative work like writing or music, or something as simple as reading a novel, feels next to impossible.

It's not all technology's fault, though. The weather these past couple of days has been pretty bleak. Otherwise I might well have been sitting outside with a good book in hand, at least. I have this tradition of reading Hayao Miyazaki's comic Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind each summer while I'm up here in Nilsiä. It's my favourite comic book bar none, and even one of my favourite books in any form, graphic or prose. (The movie version, based on just the early parts of the comic, is much inferior.) The hammock is my favourite place to read here, although these days there seems to be a lack of really suitable places to hang one.

14 July 2008

Doomed

Update: Review of the Doomsday Engine version of the classic game Doom

Well, the next game I got around to writing about wasn't Loom, but Doom. Well, close enough. Every true gamer should be familiar with Doom, but not everyone might know about the modern 'source ports' which have not only brought the game to modern platforms, but also greatly improved the graphics and controls. The Doomsday Engine is one of the most advanced of these ports. It's true to the original game, and can be configured to look and play very close to it, but also supports much prettier polygon graphics, improved textures, lighting and mouse control similar to more modern FPS games. Good old Doom with nicer graphics and more precise control, what could be cooler? It's the only FPS game I've ever really loved, and will probably always be.

Jesse Jane

Just a quick comment. I'm just listening to some Alice Cooper, and don't you think the lyrics to The Saga of Jesse Jane are just the best ever?

13 July 2008

Going Country

Six hours on the road isn't really my idea of fun. It's boring, and has a tendency to make various things ache. I listened to a little music, stared out of the window and... that's about it. I had toyed with the idea of playing games on my MacBook, but it would probably have been too hard to concentrate in the car, and in the end the sun was too bright to even see the screen properly.

I'm up at my grandfather's place for a few weeks. He'll be 100 in less than a month. Which is impressive, but I'll leave it at that. This is a blog about me, after all. I don't want to talk too much about my family and friends. It's too easy to cross boundaries and offend their privacy. Anyways, I've spent my vacations in this little town called Nilsiä since, well, I've existed. It's a nice, peaceful place, even though they're making a little too big a deal out of tourism here lately. I come here for peace and quiet, after all, not to see hordes of upper middle class Russians on skiing holidays (or whatever it is they do in the summer). Just how many golf courses a town of 6000 inhabitants needs, is what I'd like to know.

As you can see, we've got an Internet connection here (and no, my grandfather doesn't use it), so, apart from my physical presence in the capital, there should be very little change in my activities in the near future. I might even get around to playing and reviewing a game or two. I've had a yearning to replay Loom recently, and managed to get it working on my MacBook with the help of ScummVM. It's a nice piece of software. It's just a shame that, although I have a lot of respect for them, I don't really have enough patience to play most games in the point-and-click adventure genre. Loom is probably the only one I've beaten, probably because it's quite easy and quite short.