Halloween 2007, or NaNoWriMo Eve

The Red Skull
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I wish I could say that an evening out with ghosts, goblins, superheroes, transforming robots and mystery-solving, snack-gobbling teenagers has cleared all of the cobwebs out of my head and left me fully prepared to begin writing tomorrow, but it turns out that clarity, vision and inspiration aren’t commonly doled out along with Baby Ruth, Kit Kat, Lemonheads and Big Hugs.

We did get a lot of candy, though. And by “we”, I mean Kyle. Just because I was in costume and holding the bucket doesn’t mean the candy is for me. Well, not all of it.

I may not be prepared to begin writing tomorrow (which has never stopped me before), but I am prepared for How Not To Grow A Beard Month. The beard is gone and I’ll probably give it a once over again before I go to bed, just to make it nice and official.

The words will come. Or they won’t. But the hair is inexorable. The hair must grow.

NaNoWriMo 2007: Breaking Down the Numbers

NaNoWriMo 2007 ParticipantI attended the Lake County, Ohio NaNoWriMo kick-off meeting after dinner this evening. There were only four of us in attendance, but I enjoyed meeting a couple of new WriMos and talking to other people who were excited about getting to work on Thursday.

WriMos always talk about the 1,667 words we need to write each day in order to cross the finish line on 30 November but Betsy, the Lake County Municipal Liaison, broke the numbers down a little more: if you can type 50wpm (and I’m pretty sure I can manage that), it will take less than 34 minutes to complete those 1,667 words. At 70wpm, the daily allotment requires about 24 minutes, and at 90wpm, it’s a mere 18 and a half minutes.

Looking at the numbers another way, the writer who can consistently type at 90 words per minute needs only 9 hours and 26 minutes to complete their novel. Nine hours out of thirty days doesn’t seem like all that much of an investment, does it?

Ah, if only it were so simple.

Savage Worlds: Meet Mack Noland

Savage Worlds by Shane Lacy Hensley
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If you’re at all curious about the character generation process in Savage Worlds, this entry may be of interest to you. I’m going to describe in detail how I went about creating Mack Noland prior to our first gaming session. If you’re the type of person who cringes at the thought of hearing about someone else’s roleplaying game character, you’re probably going to want to give this post a wide berth and come back a little later in the week.

I make no guarantee that I did this the right way, but I followed the character generation guidelines in the core rulebook to the best of my abilities. Experienced Savage Worlds players should feel free to point out any areas where I may have mis-stepped.

The first step in character generation is choosing a Race. The game Gus is running is set in New York, New York on our fair planet of Earth sometime in the 1930s, so the only Race available was (presumably) human. Thus, Mack Noland is a genuine human being, and that means his first Edge is free. More on that in a bit.

The next step is Traits, which are made up of Attributes, Skills and Derived Statistics.

The five Attributes are Agility, Smarts, Spirit, Strength and Vigor. Each Attribute begins at a base level of d4 and costs 1 point to raise to the next level (d6, d8, d10 and d12). Starting characters get five points toward adjusting their stats, and this is how Mack’s Attributes looked initially:

Agility d6 (1 point)
Smarts d8 (2 points)
Spirit d6 (1 point)
Strength d6 (1 point)
Vigor d4 (no change)

Instead of choosing Skills next, I decided to pick Mack’s Hindrances, those physical and personality flaws that are going to make life interesting for him. Each Hindrance is classified as major or minor, depending upon how much impact it will have on the character’s life. Characters can have as many Hindrances as the player wants, but they only get “points” for one major Hindrance and two minor Hindrances. These points can be used to raise attributes, get additional starting funds, buy additional Edges, or add Skill points. Mack’s Hindrances are as follows:

  • Lame. While on the police force, Mack was wounded in the line of duty. The bullet is still lodged deep in his right leg, so Mack walks with a pronounced limp and carries a cane with him where ever he goes. This is classified as a major Hindrance and reduces Mack’s Pace (one of the Derived Stats) by 2.
  • Ugly. Never a pretty boy to begin with, Mack had a rough-and-tumble life as a young lad on the streets of the Big Apple. His nose is markedly crooked, having been broken twice in street brawls, and he sports a jagged, white scar on his left cheek, stretching from the outside corner of his left eye to just above his jawline. This is a minor Hindrance and gives Mack a -2 to his Charisma (another Derived Stat).
  • Doubting Thomas. Mack doesn’t believe in anything that can’t be punched, stabbed or shot. Thanks to this minor Hindrance, Mack will suffer a -2 penalty to Guts rolls when confronted with supernatural horrors that he cannot deny.

Once Mack’s Hindrances were assigned, I used the 2 points I gained from the major Hindrance to bump his Spirit Attribute from d6 to d8. Mack’s final Attributes are as follows:

Agility d6
Smarts d8
Spirit d8
Strength d6
Vigor d4

Next it was time to choose a number of Skills for my disgraced-cop-turned-private-investigator. Starting characters get 15 points of Skills, to which I added the 2 remaining points I gained from Mack’s minor Hindrances. Each Skill is tied to an Attribute, and buying and/or raising a Skill costs one point per die-level (the levels again: d4, d6, d8, d10 and d12), and raising a Skill beyond the level of the corresponding attribute costs 2 points per level. Mack’s Skills are:

Driving (Agility) d6 (2 points)
Fighting (Agility) d6 (2 points)
Gambling (Smarts) d4 (1 point)
Guts (Spirit) d8 (3 points)
Investigation (Smarts) d8 (3 points)
Lockpicking (Agility) d4 (1 point)
Shooting (Agility) d6 (2 points)
Streetwise (Smarts) d8 (3 points)

Once the Skills were selected, I calculated Mack’s Derived Stats: Pace, Parry, Toughness and Charisma. The base value for Pace is 6, but Mack is Lame, so his Pace is reduced to 4. Parry is calculated by adding 2 to half of the Fighting Skill (2 + 3), so Mack’s Parry is 5. Toughness is 2 plus half of the Vigor Attribute (2 + 2), so Mack’s Toughness is 4. Finally, Charisma has a base value of 0; Mack is Ugly, so his Charisma is -2.

As a Human, Mack gets one free Edge, and I chose Investigator, which gives him a +2 bonus on all Investigation and Streetwise rolls, as well as a +2 bonus to Notice rolls made while searching through evidence. Each Edge has some prerequisites, and Mack’s Attributes and Skills were specifically geared toward meeting those: Smarts d8+, Investigation d8+ and Streetwise d8+. The character Rank requirement for Investigator is Novice, which is the Rank at which all new characters start.

Once all the numbers were in place, the only remaining tasks were to buy Gear and flesh out Mack’s background. New characters get $500 in starting currency, so I equipped Mack with a Smith & Wesson .44 revolver, a blackjack, brass knuckles, a lighter, a cigarette case, street clothes, a cane, and just under two hundred bucks of folding money.

As for the background, most of the significant details had come into light while I was assigning Attributes, Skills, Hindrances and Edges. He’s a grizzled private investigator who used to be a member of the NYPD until he was forced into early retirement following a bribery scandal. Mack was innocent, and the charges of accepting bribes were never proved, but his reputation was ruined and upper brass used his old injury as an excuse to force him to retire, then took advantage of a clever loophole to deny him his pension. Down but not out, Mack got a private investigator’s license and his since gained a reputation among his former colleagues as a royal pain in the ass, owing mostly to his uncanny ability to spot the clues that the police detectives overlook and beat them to their crime-solving punch.

NaNoWriMo 2007: Last Minute Preparations

NaNoWriMo 2007 Participant
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National Novel Writing Month begins in a few short days, and I still haven’t decided which story I’m writing. I have two potential ideas:

  1. A supernatural detective story set in the mid-nineteenth century. The detective in question is one Bannister Proulx—a name I’m borrowing from last year’s incomplete NaNo effort, Yesterday’s Tomorrow—a police consultant, dabbler in the arcane and amateur magician. While investigating an unusual murder in Cleveland, Ohio, Bannister learns of similar killings in San Francisco, Boston and other far-flung cities across the United States. So similar are the slayings that Proulx can draw only one conclusion: as impossible as it may seem, the grisly crimes are the work of a single individual; a man or woman capable of transporting him or herself across thousands of miles in the span of a few short hours.
  2. A political thriller set in the near future, shortly following America’s triumphant return to the moon. In a whirlwind campaign, the commander of the moon mission gains a seat in the U.S. Senate and seems like a favored candidate for the upcoming Presidential race, until he dies under mysterious circumstances while on the campaign trail. The police detective assigned to the case digs a little deeper than her superiors would like, and finds herself involved in not one, but two far-reaching conspiracies that could very well alter mankind’s destiny on Earth.

That second idea was born out of an attempt to play Primetime Adventures several months ago. Chris Miller, Miscellaneous G™ and I fleshed out the basic premise over a couple of hours one evening, but the idea has been simmering in the back of my head ever since, and I’d love to fill in the details.

I’d definitely feel more comfortable writing in (or near to) the present day, but over the weekend I started mind-mapping the gas-lit detective story using Bubbl.us, a free online brainstorming tool. I didn’t get as far as I’d hoped, but it was cool to mess around with Bubbl.us for a couple of hours.

Then there’s the matter of word-processors. Last year I used yWriter for both Yesterday’s Tomorrow and the untitled superhero novel, and I loved it. Unfortunately, yWriter is a Windows application and this year I’ll probably be doing most of my writing in Linux. I’ve yet to identify a suitable substitute (at least as far as yWriter’s outlining and character tools are concerned), so I’ll probably be using OpenOffice.org or Google Docs. I’m leaning toward the former, as I’m not sure I’ll always have a reliable Internet connection when I’m writing and Google Docs is an online app.

I haven’t found a decent progress meter yet, either. The API for NaNoWriMo.org is nowhere to be found on the official website at present, so I may have to revert to the home-grown progress meter I made a couple of years ago.

So I’ve got two and a half days to decide what I’m going to write, how I’m going to write it and how I’m going to keep track of my progress here at KJToo.com. Oh, and did I mention the five-minute essays I need to write and record for The NaNoMonkeys? Yeah, there’s those, too.

Gamestuff: Savage Worlds, Session 1

Savage Worlds by Shane Lacy HensleyChris, Gus and I got together last night to play Savage Worlds a role-playing game by Shane Lacy Hensley, published by Great White Games. I picked up a copy of the core rulebook at Con on the Cob last year, Chris picked up the Explorer’s GuideThe Explorer’s Guide is essentially the same content, with errata and updates, as the core rulebook at a third of the price. I’m not bitter. At all. at Origins in July, and Gus downloaded the Explorer’s Guide last week.

Gus volunteered to run the game early this week, specifying that the setting would be New York City sometime in the 1930’s/1940’s and we’d be playing in the pulp/action/horror genre. Chris and I spent an hour or so last night generating our characters and finished up just as Gus arrived.

Chris is Templeton Dirge, a professor of the occult at New York University. Dirge is everything a professor of the occult should be: arrogant, filthy rich and British. He’s smooth and sophisticated, has a keen eye for detail, and just might be a handy guy to have around when fists and bullets start flying.

I am Mack NolandMack didn’t have a last name until Gus called him “Mack No-Last-Name”. I grabbed the first letters of each word, and declared that his full name was “Mack Nolan”. That was a bit to close to Mack “The Executioner” Bolan for my liking, so I tacked a “d” on the end., a grizzled ex-cop turned even-more-grizzled private investigator. Mack walks with a limp, looks like he’s been on the wrong end of a baseball bat and a carving knife a couple of times, and doesn’t buy into any of this spooky supernatural horsepuckey. On the other hand, he’s a damn good private dick and he’s packing heat.

As our story begins, the Professor and the P.I. are complete strangers, but a mysterious postcard from none other than John D. Rockefeller summons both men to the famed industrialist’s stately manor to discuss the acquisition of “a book”.

Met at the door by a butler, Dirge and Noland are ushered to Rockefeller’s library and informed that the master of the house will join them shortly. While the Professor peruses the impressive collection of literature, the Gumshoe smokes a cigarette and makes himself comfortable in an armchair that likely cost more than the annual rent for his office and apartment combined.

Moments later, the butler returns, explaining that Mr. Rockefeller has been delayed and offering refreshments. Ever the gentleman, Dirge requests a cup of hot Earl Grey tea, while Noland gruffly demands a glass of whiskey. The beverages arrive in a matter of moments, and an uncomfortable silence occupies the room while both men sip their drinks.

As the last of the whiskey burns its way down Noland’s throat, there is a disturbance in the front hall. A loud pounding on the manor’s front door precedes an equally-loud demand that the door be opened, on no less authority than that of the New York City Police Department.

Neither Dirge nor Noland makes a move to open the door—surely that’s the domain of Rockefeller’s manservant—but after it becomes abundantly clear that the butler has no intention of fulfilling his duties and the police make their intent to batter the door down if necessary, the P.I. sets his empty whiskey glass down, exits the library, and opens the door…to find the barrels of five service revolvers and one Lieutenant Bill Dillinger—a familiar face indeed—staring back at him.

The Occultist and the Gumshoe quickly explain their presence at the Rockefeller manor, turning the mysterious postcards over to Lt. Dillinger, who reports that they’ve received word of a disturbance. Dillinger crosses to Rockefeller’s study and opens the door, then invites Noland to have a look in the room. Instinct tells the P.I. what the Lieutenant already knows: John D. Rockefeller lies dead on the floor, a bullet hole in the center of his forehead. Around the bloody hole, someone—presumably the killer—has drawn a large, black spider. The gruesome sight stirs a dim recollection in Noland’s mind, something about a vigilante killer dispatching criminals in a similar fashion and leaving the eight-legged embellishment as his macabre calling card.

Dillinger confirms Noland’s suspicions, mentioning a series of killings attributed to an outlaw the police refer to as “The Spider”. “But,” the Lieutenant says, “this guy only kills criminals, and Rockefeller’s clean. No ties to the mob whatsoever.”

Noland sneers at this. “You and I both know, Bill, when we’re talking about as much money as Johnny’s got, there’s always something stinking up the cellar.”

Dillinger places both men under arrest and Noland turns his Smith & Wesson .44 over to the boys in blue, noting that the chamber is fully loaded and the gun clearly hasn’t been recently fired. Dirge is unarmed, and while he is being frisked his keen eye spots something out of sorts on the desk: a rectangular area, roughly the size of a book, conspicuously absent of dust.

“Looks like the butler hasn’t been doing is job,” Noland comments gruffly.

“That’s just it,” Dillinger replies, “the butler was let go weeks ago.” Rockefeller, it seems, has yet to hire a replacement.

“Are you going to come along quietly” asks Dillinger, “or do I need to have the boys cuff you?”

Noland and Dirge agree to cooperate and Dillinger forgoes the handcuffs.

As the police escort their suspects out of the manor, a shot rings out in the darkness and one of the Lieutenant’s men collapses. A second shot fells another flatfoot and Dillinger barks at his men to retreat. Noland and Dirge duck behind the tall pillars outside the double doors leading into the house as a third shot catches another of the officers in the shoulder.

“Hey, Mack,” Lt. Dillinger yells, perhaps coming to the realization that his suspects are telling the truth. “You want your gun back?”

Noland responds in the affirmative and a second later his trusty .44 is soaring through the air in a graceful arc. The Detective snatches the revolver out of the air, then follows Dirge back into the house.

The Professor, unarmed and recognizing that he has nothing to add to this particular fracas, ducks into the study to get a better look at the crime scene. Meanwhile, Noland races to the library, returning a moment later with a lit kerosene lantern. Running out onto the front steps of the manor, the P.I. lobs the lantern into the darkness, hoping to shed a little light on the scene and perhaps reveal their attacker. Alas, Noland isn’t a young man anymore, and the limp he sports as a result of a gunshot wound suffered in his days on the force slows him down; the lantern doesn’t fly as far as he’d hoped, and when it lands, the kerosene lights the hedge lining the driveway ablaze.

After a few tense moments it appears that the gunman (or woman) has fled, so Dillinger’s men assist their wounded comrade to their patrol car and the Lieutenant returns to the manor. The attacker has been playing possum, however, and the next bullet catches Dillinger in the shoulder. Returning from the study, Dirge hauls the Lieutenant into the safety of the house while Noland closes the door behind them. A moment later the sound of two explosions comes from outside, muffled by the manor’s thick walls, and Noland surmises that the police cars parked in the driveway have been obliterated, along with their unfortunate occupants.

Dirge and Noland drag the wounded Dillinger into the library, where the Professor attempts to staunch the bleeding while Noland’s attempts to ring the police are stymied by a decidedly dead phone line. Satisfied that the unconscious policeman won’t bleed to death before help arrives, Dirge suggests that finding another way out of the house may be in order. Noland agrees, but before leaving the library he retrieves the postcards from Dillinger’s jacket pocket and Dirge avails himself of the incapacitated lawman’s service revolver.

The two men conduct a quick search of the ground floor and find what appears to be a servant’s entrance near the kitchen. Gun drawn, Noland kicks open the door only to find a beautiful, frightened woman hiding behind it. Sensing that the situation requires far more finesse (and, quite frankly, charm) than the P.I. is capable of, Dirge intercedes and attempts to calm the blonde, berobed damsel. “Put the gun away,” the Occultist advises, “and fetch the young lady a drink, won’t you?”

“Oh, I’m the butler, now?” Noland grumbles, but holsters his revolver and returns to the study, where he breaks into Rockefeller’s well-stocked liquor cabinet and pours a generous glass of brandy.

The booze seems to have a calming effect on the distressed dame, and as she starts to sip her second glass of brandy, she finally speaks. Her name, as coincidence would have it, is Brandy, and she knows something about a book; specifically the Book of the Dead.

“Sumerian or Egyptian?” Dirge asks, surprising the woman with his knowledge of the subject.

As the Occultist and the Damsel discuss the nuances of necronomica, the trio adjourns to the study, where Noland notices that Brandy—if her confused glances at the empty spot on Rockefeller’s desk are any indication—had expected to find a (if not the) book.

Brandy is caught off-guard when the Gumshoe confronts her, but nothing could have prepared either of them for the next words to come out of Templeton Dirge’s mouth.

“Brandy, my dear,” the Professor says, smirking slightly, “your hair seems to be somewhat askance.”

Instantly, Brandy’s demeanor changes. Before either man can react, the young woman peels back a blonde wig to reveal a head of short, brunette hair. In the same motion, she shrugs out of her all-concealing robe and draws a pistol from the shoulder holster on the form-fitting flight suit she wears beneath it.

Dirge persuades Brandy to lower her weapon and offers his postcard as evidence that—whatever her business with Rockefeller and the Book of the Dead may be—he and Noland are not involved and neither man means her any harm.

Brandy tells Dirge that the book missing from Rockefeller’s desk is a diary believed to contain the location of the original Egyptian Book of the Dead.

The trio moves their conversation into the library and the Professor is in the process of checking the dressing on Dillinger’s wound when Brandy draws her revolver again, aiming the weapon at the incapacitated officer. Dirge positions himself in the line of fire and Noland levels his .44 at Brandy.

“You don’t understand,” she protests. “He’s here for the book, too!”

This time it is Noland who persuades Brandy to lower her gun. The lieutenant clearly isn’t a threat in his current condition, and it’s a bit much to ask the Detective to take the dame’s word against an old colleague’s. Brandy holsters her pistol once more, then cocks her head to one side. “Listen,” she says. “Do you hear that?”

The sound of approaching sirens would normally be a welcome one, but Brandy insists that they must all flee before additional law enforcement personnel descend upon the manor. Against his better judgment, Noland agrees to accompany Brandy, but not before leaving a hastily scrawled note for the unconscious Lt. Dillinger: Bill. We didn’t do it. Really. Mack.

Any compunctions Templeton Dirge might have about fleeing the scene of a crime are overwhelmed by the idea that he might actually be on the trail of the original Egyptian Book of the Dead. He, too, agrees to go with Brandy, and soon the trio is roaring away from the Rockefeller estate in the raven-haired beauty’s sporty roadster.

To be continued…

Saying Goodbye to The Round Table

If you’re a regular listener to The Round Table podcast, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that we haven’t been releasing new episodes on anything that could be called a “schedule” for several months now. Mick Bradley turned the reigns of the show over to Chris Miller and I, and we (with the help of Mr. Bradley and a number of other very talented people) released what I consider to be two very good episodes: An Introduction to Story Games and British vs. American Television. We (and by “we” I mean “Chris”) had a couple of other episodes planned, but never got around to actually organizing guest appearances and sitting down in front of the microphones to record.

Yesterday, we at The House of the Harping Monkey decided it was time to throw in the towel and admit that we just didn’t have the time or energy to do the show anymore. Conflicting obligations and a host of other projects (professional and personal) demanded a lot of that time and energy and something had to give eventually. We agreed that, for better or for worse, The Round Table (and also, unfortunately, Misfit Brew) should come to an end.

We’re getting together tonight to record one final episode, rather than just letting the show fizzle and podfade without an official send off. I’m not sure how long the show will be or what we’ll talk about other than retiring The Round Table, but we all felt it would be best to do one more show and let anyone still subscribed know that there won’t be any more.

HOW-TO: Read WIRED Magazine

Due to an unfortunate subscription renewal incident and a rift in the space-time continuum, I have been subscribed to WIRED magazine since three seconds after the universe was created. Though it has not been scientifically confirmed, I have long suspected that the stacks of back issues in my garage are the cause of Earth’s axial wobble.

My subscription expires in February of 2008, so I thought it was high time I passed on a few tips to help future generations of WIRED subscribers.

The first thing you will notice about WIRED magazine is that it is shipped to you in a condom. Initially, I suspected that this was mandated the U.S. Postal Service (or perhaps the World Health Organization) to prevent the transmission of disease, but the shipping condom—which appears to be a simple plastic bag but is actually a +3 Bag of Holding—has another, more sinister purpose: to temporarily shunt the bulk of the advertisements contained between the magazine’s covers into another dimension.

When removing the plastic wrapper, be sure to take the appropriate safety precautions: you may want to wear gloves and safety glasses, and for God’s sake don’t do it around children or small animals. If at all possible, place the magazine in a protective vault and use robotic manipulator arms to remove the shipping bag; this will reduce the risk of severe paper cuts as a portion of the three hundred reduced-rate business reply mail subscription inserts escape from betwixt the magazine’s glossy pages. These inserts should be burned immediately, lest anyone lacking sufficient willpower be tempted to renew your subscription at the low, low rate of just 17 cents per issue. This is the last thing you want, as your ultimate goal should be to reduce the number of issues of WIRED entering your home to zero.

Once the magazine has been removed from the plastic wrapper, grip it by the spine (bend at the knees), hold it over the nearest trash receptacle and give it a firm shake. ((A better approach may be to simply drop the magazine at this point and be done with it, but someone paid for this thing and you should read it on principle.)) This should dislodge most (but not all; never all) of the remaining subscription inserts.

Now look at the cover. It is very likely bright and colorful and holds the promise of a plethora of interesting, insightful and oh-so-geeky articles. The November 2007 issue, for example, sports a busty, pink-haired cartoon pseudo-schoolgirl and threatens that “Manga Conquers America”. Above the lass’ gravity-defying coiff is another headline: “Cannonball Run! Coast to Coast in 32 Hours!” Finally, off to the right: “Plus cloned meat, space hotels & the world’s best conspiracy theories”. Wow, that’s a lot of content!

Your first inclination might be to flip open the cover and consult the magazine’s table of contents, maybe to locate that story about the cloned meat. Don’t. It’s a trap.

Yes, WIRED has a TOC, but you’ve got to flip through eighteen pages of advertisements for vodka, cell phones, menswear, luxury cars and inkjet printers to find it. Even if you’re willing to do that, you’re quickly going to discover why consulting this ostensibly handy guide is pretty much useless: roughly eleven-fifteenths of the pages in WIRED magazine aren’t numbered. Those first eighteen pages of ads aren’t, nor is the six-page Zune ad. Oh, and that fold-out Porsche ad on page 60 counts as seven pages even though it’s only two pages when you’re flipping through the magazine. Trying to apply logic and reason to utilizing the Table of Contents is like attempting to push Jell-O uphill with a steamroller.

The trick to navigating WIRED is understanding that four-fifths of the articles you want to read are in the last third of the magazine. Of the five cover stories in the November 2007 issue, only one (“The Best Conspiracy Theories”) is found before page 190. So here’s what you do: use the inserts, Luke. You might think that you successfully removed all of those pesky advertising inserts, but those were just the loose ones; there are plenty of WIRED subscription cards, fold-out vodka ads and stiff, cardstock cigarette ads welded to the magazine’s spine, and these will guide you to the hidden treasure. Simply riffle through the magazine, back-to-front, until you find one of these inserts, then open the magazine to that page. ((Do not try to remove the insert at this time. At best, you’ll be able to tear about 80% of the blasted thing out and be left with a ragged piece of cardstock that will annoy the hell out of you. At worst, you’ll wind up ripping the ad out, along with part of the ten adjacent magazine pages on either side.))

Now begin paging through the magazine as normal. Remember this tip for finding what you want: if it looks like an article, it’s probably a “special advertising section”; if it looks like an ad, but you’re not quite sure what for, you’ve found actual content. Only the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant are more elusive discoveries, so give yourself a pat on the back. Well done!

When you have finished reading the articles (and yes, some of them are worth reading), be sure to properly dispose of the magazine. The stacks of back issues in my garage are ultimately destined for recycling, ((Provided they don’t collapse in on themselves and form a singularity.)) but you may be tempted to pass the issue on to a friend or take it to work. While both options may seem charitable and generous, I would encourage you to reconsider. You simply do not want to be liable for the multitude of injuries or awkward situations that could result from passing the magazine on to a friend or co-worker. The risk of hernia or ruptured vertebrae alone is significant, but there are other, subtler things to consider; the scented cologne inserts, for example (the November 2007 issue is mercifully free of these) will have your office or cubicle smelling like Christian Dior’s prom night. No, it’s best to just dispose of the thing and be done with it.

This concludes my guide to reading WIRED magazine. Next time, I’ll cover a less painful topic: home dentistry.

In Which We Test Flock

The following is a test of Flock‘s built-in post-to-WordPress functionality. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain or the snippet of story used in this test; both are figments of your imagination.


“Okay,” Steve said as he regained his feet, “that was some serious black helicopter shit right there.”

Agent Drake brushed concrete dust off the shoulder of his suit jacket with one hand and peered at Steve, eyes still hidden behind those damned dark sunglasses. “I’m afraid I don’t follow, Mr. Holcomb,” he said.

“Oh, come on!” Steve shouted, gesturing toward the hole in the wall. “Some kind of Knight Rider supercar just drove right through this warehouse! Your boys just took down a shape-shifting alien assassin with a sonic pulse blaster that I’m pretty sure I saw in a G.I. JOE cartoon twenty years ago and now everybody—ninjas, aliens, everybody—is gone! Beamed up by Scotty or whoever the hell is controlling your transporter that you keep saying doesn’t exist!”

“Localized seismic tremors caused some structural damage to a warehouse that was apparently constructed with substandard materials and with little or no regard to municipal building codes, Mr. Holcomb.” Drake said. He was dialing a number on his cell phone, but continued to talk to Steve. “The building was abandoned, but an intruder—that would be you, Mr. Holcomb—was injured when the south wall collapsed. The intruder sustained no broken bones or life-threatening internal injuries, but did suffer some cranial trauma which led to mild delusions and amnesia.”

“Like hell,” Steve said, grabbing the agent’s cell phone. “You’re not calling anymore of your buddies in to cover this up. Not this time!”

“Of course I’m not,” Drake said, and Steve thought he saw the faintest trace of a smirk on the agent’s normally stoic face, “I’m merely distracting you for a moment.”

Steve frowned, puzzled. “Distracting me? From wha—”

The question died on his lips as an invisible rifle butt slammed into the back of his head. There was a bright flash of stars, then nothing.

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Pseudopod 060: The Heart of Tu’a Halaita by Tara Kolden

Pseudopod: the sound of horror

The latest episode of the horror podcast Pseudopod was released about an hour ago as I write this. The story this episode is “The Heart of Tu’a Halaita“, written by Tara Kolden and narrated by yours truly. It’s the story of a missionary who learns a hard lesson about the dangers of letting pride dictate his actions. I’m all about learning lessons the hard way, but not when the natives are restless…and their god is hungry.

Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2007

NaNoWriMo 2007 ParticipantIs it mid-October already? That can mean only one thing: National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, as the kids call it; or, as the Ancient Ones knew it, November) is right around the corner. Once again, thousands of aspiring writers from all over the globe will attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 short days.

This will be my fifth consecutive year participating in NaNoWriMo and—though I’ve only hit that 50,000 word goal once before (in 2005)—I’m pretty jazzed about it. People still say that, right? Jazzed? Anyway, I’ve got a couple of ideas floating around in my head and I’m going to try some pre-NaNo mindmapping exercises to knock some of the details loose before I commit the first words to paper (or electrons) on 01 November.

The (morbidly or otherwise) curious among you can view my NaNoWriMo profile at any time to get an idea of how well I’m doing, but I’ll also have a handy word-o-meter in the sidebar at KJToo.com to provide a constant reminder that I need to be cranking out 1,667 words per day throughout the month. I’ll also be recording a couple of episodes for The NanoMonkeys, the (Parsec-nominated!) daily tips, tricks and encouragement podcast Chris Miller, Mur Lafferty, P.G. Holyfield and I did last year. We’re doing it again for NaNoWriMo 2007 and we’ve got a lot of new participants, including Sam Chupp, Jason Penney and Natalie Metzger, just to name a few. Stay tuned!

In addition to NaNoWriMo I’m going to take another stab at National Blog Posting Month, or NaBloPoMo, and attempt to write—at a minimum—one blog post every day in November. Last year when I did NaBloPoMo I was writing daily posts about my NaNoWriMo progress; this year, I’ll be posting pictures of my HoNoToGroABeMo progress, and if you’re wondering what the heck that is (and why there’s no link to the appropriate website), read on…

HoNoToGroABeMo (short for How Not to Grow a Beard Month) is a project of my own devising. On October the 31st, I will be shaving my goatee off and letting my beard grow for an entire month, documenting the process with a daily photograph. It is my sincere belief that the bizarre follicle topography of my face makes it impossible for me to grow a full beard, so I’m giving my cheeks and chin thirty days to prove me wrong. I’ll still be shaving my neck just below the jawline, because after a few days that hair drives me up the wall, but the aforementioned cheeks and chin will remain untouched by my Mach 3 (but occasionally groomed with my beard trimmer to maintain some semblance of civility on my grizzled visage) throughout the month of November.