Podcast: The Round Table Episode 2.9

The Round Table

The latest episode of The Round Table features listener feedback, special guests James and Jessica Peveler, tips for incorporating “The Belly of the Whale” into roleplaying games, and a lively, multi-faceted discussion on when and if player characters should be allowed to die. Also on deck: way too many chupacabra references.

Normally, Chris Miller and I use a Samson C01U condenser microphone on Chris’ Windows XP laptop. In episode 2.9, we were using the microphone built in to Chris’ new MacBook, and it sounds pretty damn good.

I don’t know what sort of equipment Master Misfit Mick Bradley is using, but our virtual round table is made possible by Skype. Mick and Chris both record the show, just in case there is an audio problem in either Louisville (Mick’s home base) or Eastlake (site of Chris’ tricked out studio). Mick typically takes a couple of days to edit the show, removing some (but not all, else my voice would never be heard) extraneous crap, mixing in the musical cues, promos and bumpers. This particular show was recorded Friday evening and released Monday morning.

Head on over to The Harping Monkey and grab episode 2.9, if it’s not already in your podcatcher. While you’re at it, grab episode 2.8, which Mick and Chris recorded while I was on vacation. They cover a lot of stuff, but I really wish I’d been able to participate in their discussion of X-Men: The Last Stand.

Underworld: Evolution (2006)

Underworld: Evolution (DVD)Underworld: Evolution (2006)

Starring Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Tony Curran, Shane Brolly, Sir Derek Jacobi, Stephen Mackintosh, Zita Görög, Brian Steele, Sophie Myles and Davy Jones

Directed by Len Wiseman

I wasn’t a big fan of Underworld, but I rented Underworld: Evolution over the weekend. I had every intention of writing a review, but then some jackhole hacked my forum and I got distracted.

You might ask yourself why I would rent a sequel to a movie I didn’t like. Two reasons really:

  1. I’d heard from several sources that the sequel was superior to the original.
  2. I believe that eventually a brilliant sequel to a movie that sucked will counter all the sucky sequels to brilliant movies, bringing balance to the Force.

As the sequel had been held up as superior to the original, I suppose it is necessary to compare the two. However, I want to stay away from phrases like “Underworld: Evolution was/wasn’t as good as Underworld” because they imply that Underworld was measurably good. The only comparison I will make is that both Underworld and Underworld: Evolution failed to meet my expectations. The second only comparison I will make is the number of partial decapitations, which I believe is identical in both films.

I’m having a hard time quantifying why I didn’t like this movie. It has a lot of stuff that I normally enjoy, including leather-clad Beckinsalian vampires (okay, that one is pretty specific), lots of gunplay, Derek Jacobi, helicopters, explosions, werewolves, and ass-kicking. U:E also had something its predecessor did not: hot vampire-on-lycan action. Well, technically it’s hot vampire-on-vampire/lycan-hybrid action, but that sounds clunky.

So why didn’t I like it? Well, Michael (the aforementioned vampire/lycan hybrid) and Selene (the aforementioned leather-clad Beckinsalian vampire) still have zero chemistry. I shouldn’t have to be told that these characters love each other, it should be obvious from their interactions, and (hot vampire-on-vampire/lycan-hybrid action notwithstanding) it isn’t. I’ve loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with more passion than Michael loves Selene (hot geek-on-PBJ action sold separately)!

Then there’s Michael (who looks like he really, really needs to be the gentle-yet-dangerous frontman for an almost-metal alternative group). He’s supposed to be this uber-powerful cross between vampires and werewolves, but mostly what he does is get his ass kicked until the very end of the movie, when he finally grows a pair and [SPOILER REDACTED].

Finally, there’s this nagging feeling I had at the back of my head that continuity had taken a vacation between Underworld and Underworld: Evolution. Sadly, I can’t put my finger on it and I’m afraid that only be watching both movies again will I be able to either identify the discontinuity or dispel the nagging demon. I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble.

Site Stuff: Forums Hacked

If you’re a member of the KJToo Forums, you may have noticed that they are all kinds of gone. The forums were hacked early this morning so I removed the subdomain. I’ll be installing new (and hopefully more secure) forum software sometime this week, but I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get around to it.

Non Sequitur: The RCA 8-Device Backlit Learning Universal Remote

RCA 8-Device Backlit LCD Learning Universal Remote ControlDate: Wed, 14 Jun 2006 08:36:42
From: Woot
To: KJToo
Subject: Woot Order Tracking Number

Kris Johnson,

Your order for 1 RCA 8 Device Backlit LCD Learning Universal Remote on 06/08/2006 has been recently shipped via FEDEX Ground.

Your tracking number is: xxxxxxxxxxx1385.

Your order may contain multiple packages that arrive on different days. If you don’t receive your entire order at the same time, please wait a couple of days after you receive your first package before contacting us at service@woot.com.

For future reference, your order number is: xxxxx759.

Please check out the Product Forum at the following link:
[Link Removed]

From,
Your friendly neighborhood Wootbot


Date: Mon, 19 Jun 2006 14:44:45
To: Woot Customer Service
From: Kris Johnson
Subject: Order No. xxxxx759

Hello,

I have been checking the FedEx website to track my recent Woot order (#xxxxx759) for almost a week, and the status has not changed from “Package data transmitted to FedEx” since 13 June. The package was estimated to arrive on Friday, 16 June, but it has not arrived and the FedEx status has not changed.

Please advise me as to the actual status of my order.

Thank you.

Kris Johnson


Date: Wed, 21 Jun 2006 16:17:02
From: Kris Johnson
To: Woot Customer Service
Subject: Fwd: Order No. xxxxx759

Hello,

Two long days have passed since my initial inquiry as to the status of my order (xxxxx759), and the FedEx website – which I checked only moments ago – still indicates that my RCA 8-device remote control is in Carrollton, TX. During those two days, my wife and I have had little choice but to rely on separate remote controls to wirelessly bend the various audio/video components that comprise our home theater system (which resides not in Carrollton, TX but Willoughby, OH) to our whims.

I had hoped that my initial inquiry would at least have resulted in a response, even if it was simply to say, “We are listening and concerned about your experience as a Woot.com customer.” Alas, I have received no such communication, so I must assume that no one is listening and/or concerned.

It will be most unfortunate if I have to post a lengthy (yet eloquent and amusing) rant in my personal blog, detailing my very one-sided experience thus far with your organization. I can assure you that at least three people – one of whom is not related to me by blood or marriage – read said blog on a regular basis, so you must ask yourself if you are prepared to deal with that kind of negative publicity. I suspect that you can ill-afford to be painted as the heartless, uncaring, monolithic corporation in this case, so you may wish to at least acknowledge that my attempts at electronic communication are being received.

Yours in eroding patience,

Kris Johnson


Date: Wed, 21 Jun 2006 16:20:40
From: “Woot : Service”
To: Kris Johnson
Subject: RE: Order No. xxxxx759

I can go ahead and refund you for that order if you like, as im not sure what is going on with it. Im sorry that i have no good info for you, just being random cs employee #3, i really wish i had more to tell you : /


Date: Wed, 21 Jun 2006 16:33:21
From: Kris Johnson
To: Woot Customer Service
Subject: RE: Order No. xxxxx759

Random CS Employee #3,

Although a refund would certainly resolve the issue of me paying for a remote control that I have not yet received, I would much rather actually receive the remote. Perhaps you could make a call to Random Shipping Employee #7 to inquire as to whether they can provide you with information about the remote beyond what is available on the FedEx website (which seems to indicate that the package containing the remote was never actually picked up by FedEx). Perhaps, to stretch the hypothetical even further, Random Shipping Employee #7 could contact FedEx on behalf of Woot.com and a customer whose satisfaction can still be salvaged.

If such extreme measures are beyond your capacity, then by all means refund my order.

Yours in potential gratitude,

Kris Johnson


Date: Wed, 21 Jun 2006 16:49:56
From: Woot Customer Service
To: KJToo
Subject: Your order for RCA 8 Device Backlit LCD Learning Universal Remote

KJToo,

Order number xxxxx759

Our records show that you ordered the RCA 8 Device Backlit LCD Learning Universal Remote during the woot-off on June 8. After shipping other woot-off orders, we discovered that we were missing a large part of the shipment from RCA . Unfortunately, your order was one of the last ones that was processed and we don’t have any more remotes to ship. We are crediting your credit card for the purchase price and are issuing a free shipping coupon code “[Code Withheld]” for use on a future order. We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your continued patronage.

Woot.com

Non Sequitur: Magic Wigglee, or The 33-year-old Sucker

Last night, Miscellaneous G™ and I took a trip to Hobby Town USA before commencing our console gaming activities. I wandered through the aisles of the store, practically drooling at the model rockets, slot car racers, remote control aircraft and model trains, dreaming of bringing each home to my young apprentice. Despite my innate ability to rationalize almost anything, even I was unable to conjure a justification for dropping three hundred dollars on a toy boat before Kyle can roll over without adult intervention.

Miscellaneous G™, having recently seen one of the kids on my cul-de-sac playing with a remote control airplane, was in search of something simple, stylish and relatively inexpensive that he could fly around the vast fields surrounding his dojo in the country. As I explored the Star Wars models—recalling that I have an unassembled model of the Millennium Falcon in the closet at home—Miscellaneous G™ solicited the help of a friendly sales person, who apparently tried to sell him remote control aircraft that cost more than many European sports cars.

Magic WiggleeWe were about to admit defeat and leave the store when I spotted two things: a thirty-dollar, battery-powered remote control biplane and the Magic Wigglee. The plane was just the sort of thing Miscellaneous G™ had been looking for, so he made his way to the checkout while I watched the jittery, jumping video on the Magic Wigglee endcap.

Amazing! The fuzzy, googly-eyed little worm climbed out of a glass, then crawled over a little girl’s hands and between her fingers! In the video, children laughed and clapped at the antics of this mischievous little artificial annelid as it wiggled to and fro, seemingly of its own accord.

I’ve got to give the proprietor of Hobby Town USA a lot of credit; he didn’t even crack a knowing smile as I loudly declared, “I have to know how the hell this things works,” and then plunked down not one, but two of the four-dollar wiggling wonders on the counter. He didn’t chuckle to himself, recalling the immortal words of P.T. Barnum as he swiped my debit card. The guy’s face was an immobile slab of granite as I signed away $7.98-plus-tax of my hard-earned money; nary the faintest tremor or twitch tugged at the corners of his mouth.

After fastening my seatbelt in Optimus Prius Supercar, I eagerly tore open the package. A small, folded piece of paper labeled “Top Secret” promised to reveal the mystery behind the Magic Wigglee’s hidden means of locomotion. “It’s probably a string,” Miscellaneous G™ muttered as I prepared to peek behind the curtain to look upon the wizard’s true face.

Of course it was a string. Tucked into the folded paper was a small piece of cardboard, around which was wrapped about eighteen inches of not-so-invisible thread. Immediately, I knew just how Ralphie Parker felt when he decoded Little Orphan Annie’s secret radio message in A Christmas Story. If Ralphie’s mom had heard the next few words I uttered, she would have crammed a bar of Lifebuoy so far down my throat I’d be farting bubbles for a month.

Welcome to Parenthood: Happy Father’s Day

My first Father’s Day as the honoree has come and gone, and I’m quite pleased. Kyle gave me a big smile when I came down in the morning; he always does that, and it always makes me feel fantastic, but yesterday it was a Father’s Day smile, and that made it even better.

A big smile wasn’t all I got for Father’s Day, either. I also received:

  1. Membership in the William Shatner DVD Club: William Shatner has “assembled a series of films that run the gamut of Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy, including underground hits, genre classics, and even some gems pulled from the far reaches of independent cinema.” Each month, one of these gems will be delivered to my mailbox. The long and short of it: more movie reviews.
  2. A pair of Arizona Jean Company Rapids: Sandals to replace my current pair, which have served me well over the last several years and taken a lot of abuse. The new pair is very nice, but I won’t be getting rid of the old ones; they’ll be relegated to lawn mowing.

I’m pretty sure that Laura helped Kyle with the selection and purchase of those items.

To escape the heat and humidity of the International House of Johnson, we fled to the Manhattan Deli for breakfast, then assembled at my in-laws’ air-conditioned abode for a day of Carpocalypse, Ultimate Obstacle Course and drag-racing.Kyle and I also watched a show about the bloodline of Dracula on The History Channel, but we both fell asleep on my father-in-law’s comfy recliner about halfway through. Our involvement was fairly passive, but it was Father’s Day, and I understand that it is my duty as a patriarch-American to sit on my fat ass and watch TV all day.I’m very good at my duty.

After an afternoon of watching television, we enjoyed shishkebab for dinner, followed by homemade strawberry shortcake. My in-laws gave me a Superman Returns alarm clock, a picture of which I’ve been unable to find on all of the Internets.EDIT: It would seem that my searching of “all the Internets” was a bit lacking in scope. In fact, I did only a Google Image search. Thanks to my other apprentice, an image of the alarm clock in question has been located. Laura, Kyle and I gave my father-in-law a new, wireless Microsoft optical mouse.This was my suggestion, and a fairly selfish one, as my primary motive for giving the gift is that I don’t like cleaning the mouse every time I sit down to run maintenance on my father-in-law’s computer. He really did need a new mouse, though.

Late in the evening, we returned to our sweltering abode and I closed out the day by taking out the garbage and then shooting some filthy Communists. Not bad for my first Father’s Day. Not bad at all.

Welcome to Parenthood: Five Months

Five months have passed since my young apprentice emerged from his growth chamber, and I am most pleased with his progress thus far. While not yet able to roll over, sit up without support, or do a proper endo, Kyle’s advancement is nonetheless most impressive. Just look at these stats:

Name Kyle Abraham Johnson Level: 1 Class: Neophyte Age: 5 months
Race: Human Alignment: Chaotic Cuddly Size: Small

My Young Apprentice

STR 5 (-2) Special Abilities & Equipment
DEX 4 (-3) Enhanced Spit-up
CON 10 Improved Grab
INT 16 (+3) Infectious Giggle
WIS 15 (+2) Stinky Feet
CHA 17 (+3) Baby Blues

The physical stats may seem dismal now, but I expect them to improve rapidly. I’ve already seen significant advancement in both Strength and Dexterity after only five months. The boy’s Charisma cannot be overstated; friends, relatives and strangers alike fall under his spell, reduced to grinning, babbling fools with a mere smile.

I get chills when I think about the power those blue eyes and the soft, cooing voice have over people. With Kyle at my side — or in the Snugli — the possibilities are endless. We will rule the cul-de-sac as father and son!

Non Sequitur: Sea Monkeys

If you’re a mammal whose large, four-chambered heart has been pumping blood for more than twenty years, odds are you remember Sea Monkeys. In the 1970’s, Sea Monkeys were hawked on the back cover of 72% of all comic books sold in the United States. ((Pretty shocking, if you believe made up statistics.)) As a child I was bombarded with images of the shockingly humanoid creatures, naked from webbed foot to crowned head. Mother and father Sea Monkey cavorted beneath the surface with their two little Sea Monkey children. How could I not want a family of these amazing creatures for my very own?

Eventually, I purchased my very own Sea Monkeys (from Pamida, a store that has long-since closed), but I may as well have fed the money to the seagulls that congregated in the McDonald’s parking lot. In my eagerness to create instant life, I misread the instructions and failed to wait the required twenty-four hours between purifying the water and adding the eggs. ((According to the Wikipedia entry on Sea Monkeys, the two-step process involves a bit of mis-direction, as the eggs are actually in the packet that claims to purify the water.)) Convinced that I’d killed off the entire colony of aquatic simians—and still harboring unrealistic expectations as to what the creatures would look like—I dumped the entire thing down the drain the following day.

It was not until I was well into adulthood that I encountered actual Sea Monkeys, at work of all places. In the late 1990’s, there was a little more latitude about what could and could not be kept in one’s cubicle; plants (which are still allowed) and small fishbowls were not an uncommon sight, and one nostalgia-loving co-working proudly displayed her Sea Monkeys. She had not trained them in any way, so the Sea Monkey circus I often imagined in my childhood remained only a dream. Nonetheless, there they were: brine shrimp, flitting about in the plastic aquarium.

As an adult, I am often tempted to relive moments from my childhood. When I see that The SciFi Channel is showing an episode of The Incredible Hulk, or CMT is rerunning The Dukes of Hazzard, I occasionally tune in, hoping to recapture some of that childhood wonder. Almost invariably, this is the equivalent of kicking my inner child square in the crotch. Through the cynical lens of maturity, the layer of awesome surrounding so much of what I loved as a child is revealed to be nothing more than glitter glue.

This was especially true with Sea Monkeys, as the curtain of illusion was never drawn all the way back when I was a child and I never truly realized the truth; when I first saw those Sea Monkeys on my co-worker’s desk, my inner child expected that cavorting family of crown-headed, web-footed humanoids and instead saw Artemia salina. Doubling over in pain, eyes watering and face red, my inner child collapsed to the floor of my psyche, where he writhed and mewled until I could get to a comic shop and pick up the latest issue of Captain America.

You can still buy Sea Monkeys. The franchise has expanded to include, among other things, action figures, ensuring that another generation of fresh-faced children is crushed by a reality that doesn’t—in any way, shape or form—resemble the fantasy.

Local Man Helps Scientists Prove Existence of Ego

Every once in a while, I write up a fake news article designed to mimic the style of The Onion. I wrote this one a couple of years ago, before KJToo.com existed. I’m pretty sure we’ve all encountered our own Derek Thibideaux at some point. Enjoy.


“The ego as we formerly understood it was a psychological construct. Today, we know differently. Today, we have evidence to suggest a physical manifestation of the ego.”

So said Dr. Raymond Smithfield at a press conference yesterday. Doctor Smithfield is a theoretical physicist at the esteemed Mauser-Hopkins Institute of Physical Sciences in Ellsworth, New Hampshire. The new evidence Dr. Smithfield refers to comes in the form of Derek Thibideaux, a sales clerk at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Mentor, Ohio. Thibideaux is regarded by his co-workers to be the single most self-involved person on the face of the planet.

“He’s got an opinion about everything,” said one co-worker, who preferred to remain anonymous. “No one can stand to even talk to him, because if you say one wrong thing he’ll rant for a good hour about why you’re wrong, how stupid you are, and why his point-of-view should be adopted by everyone. God, his ego is huge.”

“‘Huge’ is something of an understatement,” said Dr. Smithfield. “The size of Mr. Thibideaux’s ego defies explanation. What we can say is that it has a direct physical effect on the world as we know it. This an unprecedented discovery.”

Specifically, Derek Thibideaux’s ego exerts gravitation pull on everything around him. “Mr. Thibideaux weighs less than three hundred pounds, but our instruments have detected a gravitational field around his body.” The mass required to generate such a field, says Dr. Smithfield, “would be incomprehensible to the layperson. We literally have no point of reference for such a thing. It’s far less than that of Earth’s moon, but far greater than that of any man-made object or structure on our planet.”

The field is strong enough that Dr. Smithfield and his team were able to detect it without instruments. “The effect this gravitational force has on the human body is rather unusual,” he said, “typically manifesting in a mild nausea.”

“Derek’s presence is generally enough to make me ill,” said co-worker Melissa Hadley. “He’s so self-centered, I can hardly stand to be around him.”

“This is really quite a common complaint about severely egotistical individuals,” confirms Dr. Smithfield. “Until now, it’s always been assumed that this sensation of illness was merely figurative or – at the very worst – psychosomatic. Our findings reveal that it is very real, and that there is a physiological explanation for it.”

The team anticipated some skepticism. “It really is an unprecedented notion,” Dr. Smithfield admits, “but we’re confident that all our bases have been covered.”

Dr. Edmund Whittier headed the project. “We have been extremely careful and systematic throughout the discovery and quantification processes,” he said. “We certainly didn’t want to go public with this without due diligence. All other factors have been taken into account. The only possible source of this gravitational anomaly is Derek’s hyper-inflated ego.”

Not surprisingly, Thibideaux’s ego has grown significantly larger since the findings were verified. “Quite honestly,” said Dr. Smithfield, “we’re a little concerned. The gravitational force created by Derek’s ego increases proportional with his self-esteem.”

Dr. Whittier echoed his colleague’s concerns. “As self-centered as Derek is at present, this new attention simply exacerbates the problem. We’ve already found that gravitational field is growing. While this field causes mild nausea in humans, it can kill smaller animals, such as lab rats, and it’s only going to get stronger.”

Strong enough, Smithfield and Whittier theorize, to eventually bring about the destruction of the planet Earth, and perhaps even reshape the solar system as we now know it. “At the present rate of growth, we could see widespread loss of life in a few months. By the end of the year, Derek’s ego will be strong enough to alter the orbit of man-made satellites.”

There’s no telling how powerful this force could eventually become. “Derek knows that people are interested in him, that he is special, and this awareness serves only to feed his already astounding ego,” says Dr. Smithfield. “Whether the attention is positive or negative, Derek’s sense of self-importance is increasing exponentially. That could cause Earth’s moon to plummet into the planet, pull Venus and Mars into Earth orbit, or even send us careening into the sun.”

Efforts to reverse or even slow the growth of Thibideaux’s ego have proven unsuccessful. “Derek’s ego is, as best as we can tell, feeding on itself. We have experimented with sexual rejection, social ridicule and a number of other tried-and-true ego-deflating mechanisms with absolutely no effect,” said Dr. Smithfield. “We have been unable to find a way to negatively impact his self-esteem.”

“Great,” said Melissa Hayward. “As if he wasn’t overbearing before. It’s going to be practically impossible to work with him now.” Hayward is one of several female co-workers whose sexual rejection failed to damage Thibideaux’s ego.

“However you look at it, this is one of the most significant scientific findings in our lifetime,” said Dr. Whittier, “but we don’t know whether to call it a breakthrough in physics or psychology.”

[Editor’s Note: Though Derek Thibideaux repeatedly made himself available for interviews, none of our reporters could stand to talk to him for more than a few seconds. He really is an arrogant, self-absorbed, condescending prick.]