Archive for: April, 2009

Dave Arneson passes away at 61

Apr 09 2009 Published by under role-playing games

And now, we can officially say that it is the end of an era: Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, has died, a little over a year after Gary Gygax passed away.  Though Gygax's name was much more synonymous with Dungeons & Dragons and roleplaying games in general, Arneson had as much, if not more, of an influence on the early development of the system.  Around the same time that Gygax and Perrin were developing their fantasy miniatures game Chainmail, Arneson was developing his own fantasy roleplaying game called Blackmoor.  In short order he formed a collaboration with Gygax which evolved into the first edition of D&D, and like Gygax, Arneson continued developing game ideas well after D&D.

I offer many condolences to Arneson's family, and mourn the loss of a man who gave the world a new, unique, and enduring form of entertainment.

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Birdwatching WIN!

Apr 08 2009 Published by under Animals

My new camera came through for me big time!  We've been pretty convinced that our avian houseguests (wreathguests?) are house finches, but I hadn't been able to get a picture to confirm it until this afternoon.  The papa bird was hanging out on the tree in front of our house when I went outside, and I snapped the following picture:


Now, compare with the image of the male house finch from


Birdwatch win!  The daddy bird headed back to the nest right after I took the picture, so I know I've got the right bird this time.   I'm quite exhilarated at finally having a positive ID; the fiancée and I are thinking of taking up birdwatching now.

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The Italian earthquake, predictions, and selective perception

Apr 07 2009 Published by under Science news

In the wake of the truly horrific Italian earthquake on Monday come reports that an Italian seismologist predicted an impending major event but his warnings were ignored.  From the NYT Blog,

A local news Web site in the region where the earthquake struck on Monday, Il Capoluogo d’Abruzzo, reports that Giampaolo Giuliani, who claims to have predicted the earthquake by measuring radon gas, wants a public apology from the authorities for ignoring his warning.


According to Reuters, Mr. Giuliani “was reported to authorities for spreading panic among the population” because “vans with loudspeakers had driven around the town a month ago telling locals to evacuate their houses” after he first warned that a major earthquake would strike L’Aquila soon.

The evidence which Mr. Giuliani based his prediction on is an increase in radon gas, presumably released from subterranean sources in the seismically active region.  This is a relatively old idea, but a generally discredited one: though it seems that radon gas emissions are occasionally connected with earthquakes, the correlation is very weak.  In other words, plenty of earthquakes happen with no radon emission, and plenty of radon emission happens with no accompanying earthquake.

Nevertheless, I wouldn't be surprised to see Giuliani's prediction -- and his demands for an apology -- gain traction over the next few weeks.  Human nature, and the phenomenon of selective perception, will drive people's belief in a novel earthquake-predicting technique which is being supressed by "the man."

Continue Reading »

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Bertram Mitford's Renshaw Fanning's Quest

Apr 06 2009 Published by under Adventure fiction

Bertram Mitford (1855-1914) could be said to have been the darker cousin to H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925).  Both authors wrote adventure novels set in the perilous wilds of Africa, but Mitford seems to have used that setting, and his own experiences, to explore the darker side of human nature much more than Haggard.

To me, Mitford's magnificent work The Sign of the Spider is a study of human desperation: the main character is an anti-hero whose attempts to earn his fortune lead him -- both figuratively and literally -- down an increasingly dark path.  Mitford's compact ghost story The Weird of Deadly Hollow looks at the motivations and consequences of revenge.

Mitford's novel Renshaw Fanning's Quest (1894), his eighth, is an African treasure hunt story reminiscent of King Solomon's Mines, but more significantly is a story of human greed and betrayal.  Valancourt Books still leads the charge on this fascinating author, and has reprinted 'Quest with a facsimile of its original cover:


Continue Reading »

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10 days left until The Giant's Shoulders #10!

Apr 05 2009 Published by under General science, Science news

Tick tock, tick tock... There are 10 days left until the deadline for The Giant’s Shoulders #10, to be held on April 16th at Stochastic Scribbles. Entries can be submitted through or directly to the host blog, as usual!

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The pitter-patter of little feet ON the house...

Apr 03 2009 Published by under Animals

Well, we've got a bird family!  A couple of weeks ago, the fiancée noticed that birds had started building a nest in the wreath on the front door of the house.  We started to take it down before they settled in, but quickly put it back up when I spotted the eggs that had already been laid inside!

Fortunately, we haven't scared off the parents, who are still buzzing in and out to take care of their nestlings, now hatched.  This afternoon, we put a stepladder off to the side of the nest and took a quick peek inside.  The fiancée saw the little hatchlings breathing:


It was a really bad angle, and we didn't want to get too close to the nest, but you can see what looks to be a little head and a beak!

What we don't know is what kind of bird family we've got.  I managed to get a couple of long distance pictures of one of the culprits:



Any birders out there got an idea of what we've got?  The birds are relatively small, and I swear I saw a flash of red on the male.  Also, we live in the western Carolinas...

Ornithology update:  The fiancée caught a glimpse of the momma bird leaving the nest and now thinks that the bird pictured above isn't the nest-owner.  She now thinks that we've got house finches, which is consistent with the red color I spotted on the male...

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Karl Marx to get his own show on MSNBC

Apr 01 2009 Published by under ... the Hell?, Silliness

Just announced earlier today on Olbermann's show:

Philosopher, political economist, historian, sociologist, humanist, political theorist, and revolutionary  Karl Marx joins MSNBC as host of "Karl's Komments," premiering on Monday, April 6. "Karl's Komments" will air weekdays, 6-7 p.m. ET. The announcement was made today by Phil Griffin, President, MSNBC.

"I am thrilled to have Karl kicking-off our primetime lineup," said Griffin. "He's proven that he can connect with Americans and will be a perfect compliment to Chris, Keith, and Rachel. He's already made his mark on political thought and I'm excited to see what he'll do with the 6 p.m. hour.  It hardly matters that he's dead."

"Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks." said Karl, who was contacted via séance through Jenny McCarthy, who turns out to be able to channel all sorts of crazy shit. "The worker of the world has nothing to lose, but their chains, workers of the world unite."

He added, "I'm excited to have this opportunity with MSNBC."

MSNBC has addressed concerns that the appointment of Marx demonstrates a liberal bias by planning regular guest appearances by Vladimir Lenin for counterbalance.

In related news, Glenn Beck had a really rough time on his FOX News show today:


(And, in completely unrelated news, congratulations and sincere well-wishes to Ed Schultz!)

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