Thursday, October 27, 2005

On Being A Judge

This year, and for the past two years, I have been an ENnie Award Judge. I know what you are thinking, what the hell is an ENnie Award? The ENnie Awards are an annual award given to the best roleplaying games and game related products, as decides by the fan community.

The ENnies were first presented in 2001 during an online chat presentation, and for the past 4 years have been hosted by GenCon. The name ENnie comes from EN World, which comes from Eric Noah, who started the D&D/d20 community website.

The way the awards work is the publishers submit their products to the 5 judges, who read everything, discuss among themselves the pros and cons of various products, and decide on a short list of 5 products and an honorable mention for each of the categories. The 5 shortlisted products then go out to a public vote, and the 1st & 2nd place winners are announced at GenCon during an awards ceremony.

So, what are the benefits and drawbacks of being a judge? Well, the first thing that many people think of is that a judge received hundreds of entries, totaling several thousand dollars worth of game books, accessories, and PDFs. Yes, we do receive that much in entered products, but there is a BIG drawback to getting all that stuff. It ALL needs to be read over the course of a few months. It's pretty much a part time job for a few months. Another benefit is getting a free pass to GenCon, having publishers recognize and know you by name, and getting to shop the dealers room early as an exhibitor. Most of the judges also get free lodging at the convention as well, but the past two years I have decided to stay in a room with my friends instead of the judges room. This year, however, I may take the free room if my travelling companions (Tim, Nakia, Scott, maybe others?) have enough people to split a room among themselves without me.

Once the awards are over, there is another logistical probelm to deal with. What to do with all the books. In my case, I keep about 1/2 of what I receive, and divide the other half among friends, ENnie staff, and as door prizes at the various ENWorld Game Days that I attend throughout the year. Giving books away is a great feeling, I know that people always appreciate them, and knowing that I've been able to give somehtiong back to the gaming community that I find enjoyment in makes me feel great!

So, now you are probably asking yourself, how does one go about becoming a judge? The judges are voted on by the ENWorld community every year. Each candidate puts forth a "campaign speech" and then all the candidates are voted on over the course of a week. This year several judges are returning judges (Teflon Billy, Crothian, Cthulhu's Librarian(me), JoeGKushner) and one is new (Diaglo). Having worked with 3 of the others before (TB & Crothian twice) and knowing Diaglo online, I think that we have a great panel of judges again this year. I'm looking forward to starting the process and reading the best of what the RPG field has published over the past year. As the process goes along, I'll try to post some thoughts on this blog.

Friday, October 07, 2005

It's Only Rock & Roll But I Like It

Date: Oct 06, 2005
Location: Charlottesville, Virginia - Scott Stadium

Set List
Start Me Up
It's Only Rock 'n' Roll
Tumblin' Dice
Rough Justice
Ruby Tuesday
Sweet Virginia
All Down The Line
Night Time Is The Right Time
<set break due to bomb threat>
Miss You
Oh No Not You Again
Get Off My Cloud
Honky Tonk Woman
Sympathy For The Devil
Midnight Rambler
Paint It Black
Brown Sugar
Jumping Jack Flash
You Can't Always Get What You Want

That's where I was last night. Watching the Rolling Stones, in seats that cost us $180+ each, in UVAs Scott Stadium. And let me say one thing. It was worth every penny we paid for those seats.

The show was easily the biggest stage I have ever seen, far bigger than the Dead's stage, bigger than Pink Floyd in 86, bigger than Guns & Roses/Metallica in 93. And it was an event. Not just a concert, but a huge production. I'd go see them again in a heartbeat. When we originally bought the tickets, Laura & I were both thinking "We really can't afford to spend that much on tickets." But when we looked at each other with huge grins on our faces multiple times during the show, we knew we made the right decision.

The night started off at 7pm with Trey Anastasio, formerly of Phish, with his band. One tight, well done 30 minute set which included:
* Air Said To Me
* 46 Days
* Tuesday
* Come As Melody
* I Am The Walrus (The Beatles)
* Night Speaks To A Woman
* Shine

Originally, I was bummed out that Trey was going to be opening the show. Not that I don't like him, as I really do, and would probably have gone to see him if he came to town on his own. I've just seen him with Phish 20+ times, and solo 2 times. I was really hoping we'd get to see Pearl Jam, John Mayer, or Maroon 5 open the show, but Trey was who we got. As showtime got closer, I was getting excited to see him again. His new band is good, tight, and quite un-Phish like. He still is one of the most talented guitar players out there, and his new band has a more accessable, almost pop/rock sound that could make a nice showing on college radio.

After Trey's band left the stage, we waited until 9pm, when the lights went out. The Stones stage set was HUGE, towering over the end of Scott Stadium. Once they were on the stage, Mick Jagger never stopped moving. It's amazing watching him, jumping and prancing around, more energy that people half his age. And Keith Richards is another wonder to watch. Easily the most charismatic guitar player I have ever seen. Others may play better and have more flash, but he wandered the stage pulling out some of the best riffs in rock history, and it was amazing. After seeing him, it's obvious where 75% of todays rock guitarists get their image and moves. One thing that struck me more than anything else was how much of Keith's stage presence Slash copied. The way his guitar is held, the way he walked around, the way he stood, the crouching, the cigarette dangling from the lip, everything is completely ripped from Keiths stage presence. The other thing I noticed was how he knows how to position himself perfectly in front of the fans that were lining the stage in order to get the air to blow his shirt and hair back while playing his solos. Perfect rock god image every time.

Some of the show highlights were:
Start Me Up, the perfect show opener (and one I thought would be too obvious for them to do)
Sweet Virginia, great slow song, pulled out from nowhere, and the crowd loved it. They were selling UVA colored Stones shirts at the merch. tables-Orange shirts, blue tongue, crossed UVA Sabers underneith, and the back said "Sweet Virginia is for Stones Lovers" with the place & date underneith.
The moving mini-stage that travelled to the other end of the stadium where they played 4 songs on a second stage out in the middle of the crowd.
Sympathy for the Devil-Mick in long black jacket and top hat, stage lit only in red lights, and flames shooting 30 feet in the air from the top of the set.
Paint It Black-One of my favorite songs, and one I didn't expect to see.

The low point of the show was the bomb threat that caused an hour intermission in the show. We were afraid that was going to be the end of the show, but the band came out and proceeded to turn everything up even more, pulling out almost nothing but the biggest hits after that.

The closing combo of Brown Sugar and Jumping Jack Flash was wonderful, and then the encore of Can't Always Get What You Want followed by Satisfaction was just icing on the cake. And then, after the show was over, we got a 5 minute fireworks display as we exited the stadium.

Easily one of my top 5 concerts ever.

They may not be the tightest band onstage, but they don't need to be. They are playing songs that are classics, they have energy that is unbeleivable, and they are top caliber showmen. Even the rest of the touring band was top notch. We walked out with smiles on our faces and would be happy to do so again.

Mick, Keith, Ron, and Charlie-Thanks for a great nights entertainment!

A few more news articles about the show:

Daily Progress 1

Daily Progress 2

Photos from the show (will pop up new window)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Hmmm. Could be a good movie.

My brother sent me the link to this trailer, and it looks like it could be a good film. The cast is good, and it's got an interesting vibe to it. Sort of a feel good Sideways. Yes/no? What do you guys think?
(If you can't get it to play, try again in a few minutes. It took a few tries before it would download for me.)

Monday, September 26, 2005

10 CD's to get stuck in your cars CD changer

Some people make "Top 10 Deserted Island CD's" lists, but I don't want to do that. If I'm stuck on a desert island, what good will 10 CD's do me? Sure, maybe I could use them as mirrors to signal to a passing boat or plane, but I sure as hell wouldn't have anything to play them on. And if, by some chance, that desert island had a CD player, electricity, and such, well, it would probably have more stuff I'd want, and then it wouldn't exactly be deserted, would it?

So, instead of a list of deserted island discs, I'm going to be more realistic (with just a bit of credibility stretching thrown in for good measure).

Imagine the scene-you have a nice CD changer in your car, and you are getting ready to change the discs in it. But to your dismay, you find that the changer is stuck, and won't let you change the CD's. You can't take any out, and you can't put any more in. You also have no way of getting the changer repaired, so the CD's that are in there are the CD's that you will listen to on every commute to work, drive to the store, and road trip until you sell the car (at which point, you can take a hammer to the changer and get your CD's out). What 10 albums do you want in the changer when it gets stuck? Here's my list, in no particular order:

1. Beastie Boys-Paul's Boutique
I can (and have) listen to this album for hours on end. No big hits, but the Beasties sophomore album has more excellent music packed onto it than any other album, period. Not only are the tracks great, but the whole album is like a big mixing bowl where the producers pulled thousands of samples from every genre of music out there, put them together, and came out with an unbelievable set of songs.

2. Neil Young & Crazy Horse-Ragged Glory
This is the album I was listening to when I "got" Neil Young. Not his best album, but close to it, this is one I can listen to and always enjoy. Some good, hard rocking Crazy Horse songs, a few ballads, and plenty of feedback. And, as usual, some interesting characters and stories floating through Neil's lyrics. This is what all those summer garage bands want to be.

3. Jane's Addiction-Nothing's Shocking
Some people like Ritual de lo Habitual better, but Summertime Rolls, Jane Says, and Mountain Song make this the best album in the Jane's Addiction catalog as far as I'm concerned. This is the album I played non-stop during my freshman & sophomore years of college, and it always brings me back to standing in the rain at the first Lollapalooza Festival at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, getting soaked to the skin, and not caring because the best band in the world was playing.

4. The Clash-London Calling
Much more than just a punk album, more than a rock & roll album, a bit of world music, and not a bad song in the bunch. I didn't get into London Calling until long after college, but once I heard it a few times, it blew me away. Every song is perfect, and the energy comes out of the speakers as if every note could be the bands last one. And to top it off, possibly the best album cover of all time.

5. Iron Maiden-Live After Death
A live album of classic Maiden, touring for what I consider to be their best album. Perfectly recorded and mixed, a great selection of songs, this is mid-80s heavy metal at it's finest. No hairspray here, this is pure fist-pumping head-banging metal, and there is melody in there too.

6. Paul Simon-Graceland
When you need to just relax, sit back,and drive, this is one of the best albums to have playing. I've listened to this through 3 or 4 times on long trips, and every song just flows, making time go by. I'll confess that I could probably only give titles to 2 or 3 songs if they were played outside the context of the album, but I could tell you they are from Graceland. This one always goes in the car with me on long trips, just in case I need to hear it.

7. Ramones-All the Stuff and More Vol.1
Maybe this is cheating, because this is a compilation of the first two Ramones albums, Ramones and Leave Home, on one CD. It's got a good handfull of the essential Ramones songs like Blitzkreig Bop, Beat on the Brat, Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment, and more. Hell, you could pick any one of the first 4 albums, and you'll have a few that are essential, and the rest are all good as well. The reasons for picking this set, though, is that it's got the first album on it. If your going to have only one CD of the Ramones, you might as well have the album that started punk rock.

8. Pearl Jam-Ten
Again, sophomore year of college. This is another one of those albums that brings me back. Although this time, it's Lollapalooza 2, but still at SPAC. And yes, it rained that year as well. I was out getting something to drink when the first notes of Even Flow came out from the amphitheater. We left the line, ran back to our seats as fast as we could, and got one of the best perfomances I've ever seen by a band, and they were only the second band on the bill.

9. Jimmy Buffett-Songs You Know By Heart/Greatest Hits

Yeah, Greatest Hits albums shouldn't be allowed, but you know what? I don't care. In 1996 I drove to Mammoth Cave, KY to work on an archaeological dig for a week, and this is the album I listened to over and over and over on the drive. It's also one of the CD's I listened to on my first trip to Charlottesville with Laura. All the songs are great, and I don't care what anyone says, Mr. Buffett is one of the best songwriters out there.

10. Grateful Dead-Without A Net
As the sticker on the case says, "The World's Grandest, Largest, Best Live Recording". It may not have all my favorite Dead songs on it, but this is by far my favorite of their live albums. The highlight of the album is Eyes of the World, featuring Branford Marsalis on Saxophones. Great songs, great band, and just an easy album to get carried away to. To paraphrase a common saying at the shows, they weren't the best at what they did, they were the only ones who did what they did. I'm glad I got to see them doing it several times.

That's my list of 10 CD's I'd want stuck in my CD player. Sure, I fudged a bit, as two of them are double albums (Live After Death and Without A Net) and one is two albums on one CD (All The Stuff And More Vol. 1), but I don't care. So, what would you want stuck in your CD player?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Cat With Hands

This is a really bizarre short film. Make sure you have the sound turned up so you can hear the story, it's really creepy.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

It's a big ad

Can't believe how big it is!
Go see for yourself

(Thanks to Steve Jackson Games for the link)

Water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink

Woke up this morning and Laura & I talked about going hiking, maybe getting up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and doing 4-5 hours outside since it looked to be a nice day. Nice until I went into the bathroom to get a drink, and there was no water coming out of the faucet. That's a bad sign first thing in the AM. I went downstairs, and the same thing down there, no water in any of the sinks, except for a little dribble in the kitchen. Hmm, this will put a damper on the days activities. Laura opened the water bill we got the other day to get the phone number for Albemarle Water and Sewer Authority, and noticed that last months water useage was more than double what any of the previous 12 months useage was. Starting to see a problem here?

While she called the water people to find out what was going on, I got the dog ready to go out for his morning walk. As I stepped outside, I noticed that we had a nice stream of water rolling down the driveway, out into the street, and into the drainage grate a few houses away. This is not good. We were pumping water (and $) down the drain, literally. I ran back inside to grab a pair of pliers, opened the water meter, and shut off the water to the house which caused the stream to eventually slow and stop. I called a plumber to come out and look at it, and an hour later I'm outside looking at the water with him. We turned the meter back on to find where the water was coming out of the ground and easily located the spot, as the water was pretty much pouring out of a small hole under a bush near the front step. So, assuming that the pipe is cracked right there and they don't need to tunnel under the slab foundation, it's going to cost us approx. $1600 to run 35 feet of new water line from the meter to the house. If they need to go under the house, who knows what it's going to cost.

I've called 3 other plumbers to try and get another estimate to replace the line, but so far only one has called me back and they can't even look at the problem until Tuesday morning. It's going to be a long weekend. The only positive thing I can say is it's a good thing that we were sent home from the beach, or we wouldn't have found the leak until this evening when we were originally scheduled to get home.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Civilization in less than 1 Day (but not by much)

On Wednesday I played my first game of Advanced Civilization. It'll probably be the last one for a while, however. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the game, because I did. It just lasted for about 13 hours, and I haven't played a game for that length of time since college (last time I played anything for that long, it was Magic: The Gathering). We started the game at 10:30am, and didn't finish until just after midnight, taking an hour break for me to run home and jumpstart Laura's car and grab some lunch. Other than that, we played non-stop all day. 5 gamers, 3 of us Civilization virgins, sitting around trying to make it to the top of the Archaeological Succession Table and trading our goods and suffering from disasters. I played Africa, and by the time we were finished, I came in second place and had control of all of the Italian peninsula and a good bit of the Mediterranean. Not too bad for someone whose first taste of the game was a few introductory hours on Monday at the beach which were abruptly halted by the hurricane evacuation.

Music: Television-See No Evil

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Like a Hurricane...

Well, we were on vacation this week. 5 hours down to the Outer Banks on Saturday, nice day on Sunday, nice day on Monday, Tuesday looked to be a beautiful day... then we got the evacuation alert while watching The Weather Channel. Hurricane Ophelia, which had been sitting out in the ocean slowly spinning, spinning, spinning, had decided it was going to start heading inland and up the coast. Emergency Bulletin #6 will give all the details, if you really want to know. So we packed up all our stuff and by 11:30 am we were back on the road headed home, my vacation cut short by 1 day, Laura's cut short by 4 days.

But we did get to stop in Williamsburg, VA on the way home and have a decent lunch at the Mongolian grill/Chinese restaurant that we like there, and we were able to stop and see the newly renovated and expanded Swem Library at The College of William & Mary where Laura spent lots of time studying while in college, it's an impressive looking building. Not as grand as some of the UVA libraries on the outside, but inside it's very, very nice. All new study spaces, lots of computers, wide, open areas, condensed shelving to fit more volumes in smaller spaces, nice gallery spaces, and so on.

Then it was back to C'ville for more of the usual.

Music: Neil Young-Weld live album

Friday, September 09, 2005

GenCon leaving Indy in 2006?

Just a quick post. Seems that there is some talk about GenCon leaving Indianapolis next year. There was talk about this at the con, but it seemed that the city and GenCon were finally getting down to final negotiations. Have to keep an eye on this as it develops.

Order of the Stick

One of the funniest webcomics online is The Order of the Stick, written and drawn by Rich Burlew. It's also easily the funniest roleplaying game based comic, funnier than Knights of the Dinner Table and Nodwick, both of which I enjoy.

OOTS is funny on multiple levels. It's humerous both as a comicstrip, as well as with the many injokes that poke fun at the whole concept of rpgs and the people who play them. Things that gamers (particularly D&D players) say at the table are uttered by the characters in the comic-things like "I FAILED MY MOVE SILENTLY SKILL CHECK!" or "Hey! I just got 4 skill points!" which aren't funny in and of themselves, are quite silly when said by the characters. The blurring of the lines between players and characters is what makes the comic so great.

Don't believe me? Go read some of the strips for yourself. The first few strips aren't the best ones, as the comic was still finding it's feet, but trust me, once it gets going, it's one of the few places online that make me actually laugh out loud. If you aren't a gamer (or know one well enough to get some of the references), some of the jokes might go over your head, but there is still plenty there that's funny even without the rpg references.

For the month of September, Rich is also sending the OOTS wallpapers out to anyone who donates to the Red Cross to help out those in New Orleans. All you need to do is forward a copy of your email receipt to him, and he'll get the wallpapers out to you in a few days.