Farewell Schrödinger

(sigh) There were days where I worried about posting too many cat pics, or too many cat stories and turning this blog into a "cat blog". Well here we are in 2014 and there is probably some question about why I have a blog at all, as much as I use it. There was only one post in 2013 and it was my post about Heisenberg dying. Now I have to write about Schrödinger dying and it's not just a cat blog it's a cat death blog, which is a hideous idea. But still, I feel I should write something about my best little girl.

Two weeks ago I noticed she was having some trouble peeing and that she generally seems a little listless. I needed to schedule a checkup for her in January anyway so I went and scheduled her an appointment for the following Monday. She seemed better but not 100% on Saturday and Sunday and so I took her thinking she probably had some sort of low-grade illness. The doctor said she was constipated and so they gave her an enema. I had to leave her for most of the day but I picked up her up in the afternoon. She seemed upset, but understandably so and we spent a fairly stressful evening and night with her sleeping alternated with complaints and more … let's just say evacuation.

Tuesday rolled around and she was very listless and I couldn't get her to eat anything. I talked to her doctor, and we confirmed that she had a bladder or urinary infection. Her doctor said the listlessness could be discomfort from the enema as well as pain from the infection so we started her on antibiotics and a painkiller. Wednesday she still wouldn't eat and I was planning on bringing her in to see the doctor in the afternoon but before that she had a seizure. After the seizure she was almost completely paralyzed so I rushed in for the doctor to see. She was dehydrated and her body temperature was low so they kept her overnight on an IV. Thursday she was still cold and they warmed her up but she never really regained consciousness. Best guess now is that she suffered brain damage during the seizure and by Thursday afternoon it was clear she wasn't coming back and we had her put to sleep.

When Heisenberg died I was worried that Schrödinger was going to take it poorly and I thought she'd be very negative about any new kittens. I have to admit she stepped up to the plate and was more than willing to snuggle with Karin like Heisenberg had all his life and she generally did a bang-up job of being the only kitty in the household. We'll have cats again around here again, I'm not sure when but for now we'll get used to being a family of two. We need a bit of a break before having cats around won't be a painful reminder of the two we've lost.

Seventeen years ago I saw this tiny little runt of a fuzzball bossing around all the other kittens and I fell in love immediately. Since then I was privileged to be bossed around the the mouthiest little cat I've ever known and to learn her increasingly intricate little rituals. I learned how to make a fort out of pillows, an armchair and a blanket that she could sleep in when she was cold. I learned when she needed a snuggle, when she needed to be chased up into one of her "safe bases", and when she just needed to sit on the back of an armchair while I read a book. Well, I've made her last fort, I've given out her last piece of crinkly crepe paper to tear up, I've taken my last instruction from my bossy girl, and I've snuggled my last snuggle with my mouthy, smart little sidekick and companion. She's followed her brother off on their last adventure.

Farewell Schrödinger.

Goodbye Heisenberg

One of my favorite things I've written here involved Heisenberg reminding me to stay in the moment. Back in 2010 I teared up a little while writing "remind myself that he won't be here ten years from now" and I'm crying now as I write this because Monday afternoon we had to put him to sleep. It's been a long time since he's been truly healthy and we had a real scare with him back in January but he bounced back and seemed to be doing OK for a while and was happy and affectionate. This past weekend he just sort of started … shutting down. I was denying it through Sunday night but by Monday morning he couldn't even stand up and I had to admit that things were bad. I took him to the Cat Hospital but they couldn't do anything for him.

He had a good life, he was almost seventeen years old, and Karin and I both got to hold him and say goodbye as he left. It was about the best ending I could have imagined for him but he's still my little guy and I miss him terribly.

I had to change my desktop wallpaper because this picture still chokes me up to look at. For now. But it's one of my favorite pictures of the little doofus and someday I'll be able to treasure it without the tears. For now I'll just leave it here as a bit of tribute where I can share it but not see it constantly.

Goodbye Heisenberg. We love you and we will always miss you.

Heisenberg with a Windowsill

Heisenberg with a Windowsill

Road Trip 1.1 is Available

Did you get a shiny new iPhone 5? Well, an elongated version of Road Trip awaits you in the App Store! Support your favorite independent iOS developer by picking up a copy. If you've purchased it already then thank you and be sure to get the update.

If you do buy (or bought previously! Even if you rated 1.0 you can rate each version separately. Annoying but true.) a copy please take a moment to at least rate the app. I know, I know, I hate app developers begging for ratings as much (and probably more) than most people but it really does make a huge difference to sales. It amounts to the only marketing that can be done inside the App Store proper and Apple uses that data to drive how visible it is in search results and category lists. Version 1.0 never got enough ratings to display an aggregate and now that 1.1 is in the wild the review count is reset back to zero. I won't put a begging dialog in the app but I'm not above asking for ratings on the blog …

(If you're new around these parts you can read my story about developing Road Trip.)

App Store Link

Another year, another Registrar

I'm switching domain registrars again. In all honesty the fact that you can read this probably means it works, but I guess maybe part of it could work but not other parts. At any rate, if you see anything odd drop me a line. There's a contact box at the right, down at the bottom of the sidebar.

For the curious/technically inclined I switched to Hover. I was reasonably happy with EasyDNS but there were a few things that bugged me, in order from most to least aggravating:

  1. No privacy options. I don't think I've ever been contacted via my WHOIS info but there's no real reason to have that hanging around out there. EasyDNS has help pages that seem to say this isn't possible but that's just patently false. Yes, a contact must be listed. But it doesn't need to be me and there are plenty of registrars in the sea that will do this. It's free at Hover and in fact is defaulted to on.

  2. Couldn't set the @ A record for hiddenjester.com. I pretty much want everything for hiddenjester to dump into Squarespace except for mail, which goes to Fastmail.fm. Without the @ A record if you did a dig on hiddenjester.com you got back nothing. Hover will let me send that to Squarespace. This is one of those "does anybody really care" things, and the A record for hiddenjester.com covers 99% of the cases but still … it was weird that the option was not available.

  3. EasyDNS got a little spammy about renewals. I received seven total emails from them about renewing, going all the way back to late July. That wasn't really a huge deal but it was slightly annoying. And it's poorly timed right? They start annoying me right when I can jump ship and go somewhere else?

  4. The EasyDNS dashboard/configuration/whatever-you-want-to-call-it page is confusing to me. Some things are off my account, some things are managed in the domain, then when you get into the domain there are several little subpages, etc. It worked but in comparison when I log into Hover I get a screen listing my domains, click one, and there's a "Domain Details" name for setting the name servers and the WHOIS stuff, then there's a DNS tab that has all of the DNS records listed for easy tweaking. (There are other tabs, but ones I can safely ignore. The Easy DNS separation between "account" and "domain" was less clean to me.)

The thing is at the end of the day I don't need complicated DNS stuff, and I don't need fancy options. I don't want a lot of handholding, I just want to drop in, set the things that need to be set and then not worry about it until I need to renew. At that point I'd like one email about it, maybe a month or so out. If I don't mess with it, ideally it would just roll over and charge me another year. I liked EasyDNS overall, and they certainly were head and shoulders above a Network Solutions or a (shudder) GoDaddy, but it seemed like there were both more knobs than I wanted, and a few knobs I did really want that were missing. Luckily switching registrars is much easier than it was in the Dark Ages …

Durance Actual Play Report

I'm a big fan of Fiasco by Bully Pulpit Games. (As they describe it: "A Game of Powerful Ambition & Poor Impulse Control". Basically a toolset for making your own improv game that models a Coen brothers film.) It's on my short list of "Man I really love this every time I manage to play it, and some day I'm going to build a group to play it regularly" games. Naturally when I saw the Kickstarter for Durance which is a similar sort of GM-less, no prep, improv-ish game system by the same developers I was intrigued and backed it. Even better I managed to snag a spot playing it at the Good Omens Con on July 7th at Endgame Oakland and I had a lot of fun with it. It's not Fiasco, which is both good and bad. But on balance I think more good than bad, especially since we still have Fiasco.

(Before going any further I should mention that I'm writing this up in part in response to Sean Nittner's play report so you can also go there for more info.)

Let me try for a one paragraph summary of Durance. It's a science fiction setting: some desolate planet at the ass-end of nowhere has been converted into the far future's Australia. There are convicts aplenty and an authority structure, as long as they can keep control of the situation. The game focuses on 10 characters who fall in two parallel ladders of five people. On the Authority side you have the colony governor, the govenor's XO, a free colonist, a marine, and a emancipist freed from the ranks of the convicts. On the criminal underworld you have the "Dimber Damber" (Crime boss, ruler of the underworld), the Dimber Damber's 2nd in command, a "Bolter" (escaped convict), a convict, and an Outcast or "Wrecker". While many of these characters represent an entire class of people the game explicitly encourages using just these ten characters. Each character is given a oath - something that he or she will never do, even to achieve their most heartfelt goals. Then players take turns being the guide and asking a framing question that establishes a scene.

A certain level of comparison to Fiasco is inevitable. They are both storytelling games, both are GM-less, they have no prep required, and they both are one-shot games. There's no campaign mode, in part because many characters won't make it out alive. But where Fiasco deliberately pushes the setting information to the playsets Durance has more assumptions built in. Where Fiasco only the vaguest and hand-wavy-iest method of conflict resolution Durance has more explicit ways to determine what happens. Where Durance has dice rolling in a scene that can introduce unexpected twists and turns Fiasco uses the dice very minimally, and always within a certain framework of player choice. In Fiasco you have one character and your interaction with the story is almost entirely through the the lens of your character. In Durance you have two characters but more importantly you don't have full control over them (you don't pick your own character's oaths) and your narrative control (as the Guide asking questions) is explicitly disconnected from your characters. The scene you frame with a question ideally doesn't have your characters in it and so that means your character's story comes entirely out of questions the other players ask.

Unfortunately the cats had a few … issues (the less said the better) and I was late getting to the con so I missed the colony setup. There is some sort of collaborative process by which certain things are determined about the planet and colony. (For example, our colony had a mild climate, favorable hydrology, high prosperity, and a motivated workforce. There was an intelligent native species on the surface, but due to extreme temperature issues most of the colony was underground.) There are also three drives in the narrative. Two of them are always Servility and Savagery, and the three is selected at the start of play. Ours was originally Control but during gameplay we changed it to Freedom.

I got there just as they wrapped up the colony stuff and so we dove into character creation. Each person picked one of the ten characters. We went around the second time with a few extra rules: you had to have one criminal and one colonist and you couldn't have both characters at the same power level in the social structure. I ended up playing the colonial X.O. (a Judge Advocate who used his position of authority to manipulate and control the other colonists) and the criminal outcast (the only person on the colony who was there voluntarily: he was a cop who framed himself in order to get sent to the colony in order to pursue his sister's killer. The criminals all hated a dirty cop worse than anything so he was outside all social norms, which was fine with him.)

This two characters per player thing was interesting. I expected to be more into my manipulative power-behind-the-throne authority character and in contrast was just flailing around for why my criminal outcast was so far outside the pale. I just blurted out "he's the only person crazy enough to come here voluntarily and framed himself" and then spun up the rest in justification of that first piece of nonsense. But somehow he came to life in that moment and we did more with the outcast than the judge for the first part of the game. I also think that was in part because Durance doesn't really flesh out any character relationships beyond the social structure. I just sort of attached Anders (the outcast) to the established Gunny Black story. Gunny's crime was killing his wife and I later said that Gunny's wife had been Anders sister. As I said later in the game, "Anders doesn't want to kill Gunny. That's too easy. Anders wants to destroy Gunny and only after he's lost everythng can he die." In contrast Dalvin (the judge) was passively gathering information through many scenes. He got his time in the sun at the end of it all, but he didn't have strong ties to anyone to start out and that made him sit idle a bit more.

I mentioned the oaths before and they are a key part of the game. The oaths all come from a sample table, but the twist is you don't pick your character's oaths. You go around the table and pick an oath for somebody else's character. My judge would never tolerate incompetence, even to gain control and my outcast would never accept charity from anyone. The game encourages leaning hard on these oaths and it works better when everyone remembers that. This is one of the biggest departures from Fiasco and it was a bit difficult to wrap our collective heads around. The guide isn't framing a scene he's asking a question and letting the other players frame a scene that answers that question. The guide is encouraged to ask about oaths and push characters towards breaking their oaths. Breaking oaths removes characters from the game and causes all sorts of other mechanical effects. Our change from Control as a drive to Freedom was caused by the governor breaking his oath. When Anders broke his oath and accepted charity (getting another character to bring down Gunny Black because Anders was unable to do so) Anders was removed from play and also changed Gunny from the X.O. position on the criminal side down to the lowest "Outcast" caste. The main game clock is when enough characters break their oaths or die then the game closes out. When we got that and started asking the really pointed questions is when the game really came alive and started to sing. Somehow Fiasco has this web built that just collapses together into a mess but Durance requires a little more active pushing from the players. Honestly I'm not sure how/why it works in Fiasco it just does.

This post is getting too long (and I've been working on it on and off for almost a month now!) but I'd be severely remiss if I didn't mention the dice. In Fiasco there's a big pool of dice but they mostly just build the setting and then at the end of the game help determine your character's ultimate fate. They are mechanically important but they actually function as tokens more than dice: rolling them only happens at the very start, the very end, and a handful get rolled at the halfway point. In Durance there are three dice representing the the three drives. If a scene's end is unclear the scene's Guide locks down one die on its previous value and the other two are rolled. The high die tells the players which drive dominates the end. So you can roll dice every scene potentially and they can make the scene veer in unexpected ways. But there's more! If you roll the same number or two or three dice something crazy happens. We had a tie twice in our game and both times it strongly moved the fiction forward. When ties happen there's a big table of cryptic statements to apply. Our first time was a at the end of a good, but fairly dry scene and the tables spit out "Death, amidst mind-numbing terror". Suddenly our scene of wheeling and dealing at a religious service turned into a riot and the Dimber Damber was killed. What? All hell broke loose from there. (And on a personal note Dalvin was forced into action and grabbed a character and saved him, beginning his transition from passive spider in his web to eventual governor of the colony.)

The second tie was a tense scene. Dalvin and Irwin (the govenor) misjudged a situation and managed to get two criminals in a grab for a shotgun. That was not supposed to happen (from Dalvin's POV), but we needed the dice to figure out who won. We went to the dice and got something along the lines of "What you know could fit in a hat. What you don't know on the other hand?" (That may not be precise. I'm going from memory and to be honest at the time I was sort of like "What? Whatever fortune cookie table." And I was wrong because when Sean figured out what it meant we got another powerful drive forward.) We all sort of had to stop for a moment and think. But what it became as while we were trying to handpick the new Dimber Damber good old Gunny Black decided to he could just move up a rung on the power ladder and bam! Revolution! It no longer mattered which criminal the Authority liked because Gunny Black had the guns, he had the manpower and suddenly he had the governor! While I was sort of dissatisfied with the cryptic and random nature of the the thing at the time upon reflection it was a great moment. And the truth of the matter is that this moment is our game's equivalent of Fiasco's "Tilt" between Act 1 & Act 2. It was at this moment that the final plot elements started into motion and everything rushed to a finale from here. Remember when I said that somehow Fiasco just naturally collapses into a mess and Durance took some more pushing? That's true but this was the last push and I have to admit it was the game system that provoked it, whether I liked the table or not.

It's well past time for me to wrap up and post this. The short version is that I liked Durance and I look forward to getting my hands on a copy. I'd like to see the colony creation part that I missed (glares at Heisenberg & Schrödinger). I'll probably try to make some of my friends play it as soon as I have a full copy.