Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Comic Book Report: Scalped Vol. 4



Kurt Busiek himself recommended Scalped to me last year, and he was not wrong. (That in itself is a bit of a story--he was signing at Excalibur Comics on Free Comic Book Day, and when I stopped by during a lunch break from BarCampPortland 3, I was the only customer in the store and thus able to actually have a substantial chat with him and some of the very friendly staffers. I also picked up a copy of Arrowsmith.)

Every trade paperback collection of a monthly comic needs a title--usually taken from the main storyline therein. "The Gravel in Your Guts" arc comprises the last four issues in this collection, which focus on the "big bad" of the story, Chief Lincoln Red Crow. Previous issues have referenced his backstory, especially his connection to the protagonist, Dashiell Bad Horse, but here we see things from Red Crow's perspective in the present day.

I don't read a lot of crime fiction or watch much film noir, so maybe a lot of the stuff here is playing off standard genre tropes. It still works. I suspect this story would work just as well if it were set in an urban ghetto instead of a South Dakota Indian reservation, but there are certain things you could only do with these particular characters and this particular history.

It's dark and raw and sometimes tough to read, but always compelling. Check it out: Scalped web site, Vol.4 Amazon link

CKL

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Gathering Data

Tye is definitely more active now than he was a few days ago, before the painkillers and antibiotics. Watch him take down a box of Trader Joe's facial tissues at 1:38...


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZPgGIJKVnA

And yes, he is chewing on his bandaged foot an awful lot. But the fentanyl patch is coming off on Monday anyway. We think it'll hold until then. If not, well, we've got the vet on speed-dial.

I should take a moment to mention that our cats go to the Feline Medical Clinic in Vancouver, Washington. We've received uniformly excellent care and attention from their doctors and staff, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them to anyone in the area.

CKL

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

On the 12th Day of Xmas



...i.e., today, we start thinking about taking down all the decorations and putting away our presents.

This holiday season was somewhat bittersweet; we got to spend time with many new and old friends, but we also lost Bayla. We still miss her, and we'll never replace her, but we have started the process of adopting a new cat so Jasper will have a friend to keep him company when DeeAnn and I are out of the house.

2009 was our first full year of living in our new home, and while we've been able to cut back on almost every other expenditure, we've found that we really like to travel. So we'll probably be tweaking our budget to accommodate that in the future.

I'm not as down on 2009 as some people--I didn't have a job to lose, and didn't succumb to any major illnesses (knock on wood) or experience any major personal crises--but I'm still looking forward to 2010. I'm going to keep writing, keep getting better, and with a little bit of luck, start making a real living of it. Here's to a Happy New Year.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTabjtDtJ7M

(Yeah, I know that video is in Spanish, but it's the most concise black-and-white version of that clip I could find on YouTube. And the dubbing on Zuzu's last line, at 0:54, is hilarious.)

CKL

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Like Netflix for Books

I just finished reading The Life And Times Of Martha Washington In The Twenty-First Century, the oversized hardback edition of the epic comic book series by Frank "300" Miller and Dave "Watchmen" Gibbons. This book has a cover price of $100. It's 600 pages long and weighs over seven pounds without the slipcase.


(photo from BoingBoing)

It's a good book, and I never would have bought it myself, but I got to read it and enjoy it for free, thanks to my local public library.

My wife and I live in the Portland (Oregon) metropolitan area, which means we have access to the Multnomah County Library in Portland proper and the Fort Vancouver Regional Library, just across the river in Washington state. Even better, both library systems have online catalogs, so you can search for the exact book you want.

The best part is that both libraries allow patrons to place any book "on hold." Back in Mountain View, the library would only allow you to put something on hold if it was checked out--if the book was on the shelf, you had to go find it yourself. Not here. Even if a book is shelved, tireless Portland and Vancouver library staff will retrieve it for you--from anywhere in their system--and send it to the "hold" shelf at your preferred branch.

Once that's happened, you'll get an e-mail telling you the book is "on hold"--only your library card can check it out--as long as you pick it up soon (within ten days in Vancouver; seven in Portland). After you've got it, you can also renew it online, unless someone else has put it on hold after you.

The only way this could be more convenient is if, like Netflix, the libraries mailed books directly to us. And they actually do offer that service--in Vancouver, you need special approval; anyone can request it in Portland for $2 per book plus return shipping costs. But it just seems wrong for us to be that lazy, especially when running errands is one of the few things that gets us out of the house these days.

The big advantage for us is being able to create something akin to a Netflix "queue." We tell the library what books we want to read, and they tell us when those books are available. I put Superfreakonomics on hold in Vancouver last month, and I'm now up to #20 on the list, but I'm in no hurry. Portland has a great graphic novel collection, and I was able to catch up with DC's insanely insane Final Crisis stuff without having to track down individual issues at comic shops or spend money on trade paperback collections that I'd only read once.

This also makes for some pleasant surprises, when we get pickup notices for books that we'd put on hold months ago and then forgotten about. I've currently got two books on hold that the library hasn't even purchased, because they haven't been published yet. But I know I'll be able to read them when they are.

None of this takes away from the fact that I love owning books. It still requires non-trivial self-control to limit my purchases every time we hit Powell's. It's just really nice to feel like at least some of my local tax dollars are going to support a great service that we use quite a bit, and from which we derive great personal benefit. I didn't ask my country to do this for me, but I'll take it!

CKL

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Friday, December 18, 2009

25 Hours From Now...

I'll be appearing on the 30 Hour Day livestreaming telethon between 1:00 AM and 3:00 AM Saturday to read some traditional holiday stories, including:
  • Clement Moore's "Twas the Night Before Christmas"
  • Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl" (inspiration for GrooveLily's excellent Striking 12 stage show)
  • O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi"
...and a little gem from 1922 that you've probably never heard of. Hint: I'll be doing a few different British accents.

Tune in any time between 4:00 PM Friday (today!) and 10:00 PM Saturday night to see a colorful parade of entertaining and interesting personalities from Portland, Oregon (complete schedule here). You don't even have to close your laptop. And it's all for charity!

CKL

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SnoutCast #1: ZombiePortLand

After writing one "GC Musings" blog post in September, it occurred to me that any such discussions should include my lovely wife DeeAnn, who's been an integral part of every Snout Game. She handles the budget, most of the logistics, and many other planning aspects.

As the latest of our various experiments, she has grudgingly agreed to join me in an irregular podcast about games (note lowercase "g"--we will definitely talk about puzzle hunts, but we reserve the right to digress).

Here's the first episode. It's pretty rough, but either we'll get better, or we'll stop:


[ Download mp3 ]

Oh, yeah, it's also 53 freakin' minutes long. Show notes below so you can skip all the boring stuff.

00:50 - We start with the profanity right away.
04:42 - Left 4 Dead 2 (buy from Amazon)
15:35 - Curtis' talk at Ignite Portland 7 (video and slides)
26:39 - Recap of Shinteki Field Trip: Disneyland
50:21 - Happy Thanksgiving! The end.

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "Baby Got Back," and "Re: Your Brains" by Jonathan Coulton

P.S. If you'd like to join our zombie-killing party sometime, we're sparCKL and SoleChen on Xbox Live.

CKL DeeAnn

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

How to Solve Any Puzzle in Less Than 47 Minutes

For those who couldn't attend, here are not one, but two recordings of the puzzle hunt talk I gave at Ignite Portland 7 on November 19, 2009!

From the live stream, with cutaways to slides:


And a one-shot from stage left:


The talk includes a walk-through of one Clue from the MegaHard Game (2000), and I love that several people in the audience applauded for the "a-ha" moment and the solution at the end. That's what it's all about, folks.

It's difficult to see the complete slides in those videos, so if you want to solve the embedded puzzle, you should look at these still images:



As noted, tweet @teamsnout if you figure it out. First person to post the correct solution wins verifiable, time-stamped bragging rights. :)

Thanks to all the Ignite Portland staff, volunteers, speakers, and attendees for contributing to a great event, and to Jeff Stribling of MegaHard GC for providing a copy of the Clue for me to photograph.

CKL

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In a Crowded Theater

This Thursday night, I'll be presenting "How to Solve Any Puzzle in Less Than 47 Minutes" at Ignite Portland 7. The title is, of course, hugely misleading; I'll be discussing puzzle hunts in general and walking through one Clue from the MegaHard Game (2000) at breakneck speed.

For those unfamiliar with the Ignite format: Each speaker gets exactly five minutes to present. You submit twenty slides, and each one advances automatically after fifteen seconds. Topic-wise, pretty much anything goes; this time around there'll be talks about DB Cooper, robots, karaoke, hooping (with live demo), and more.

I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an embedded puzzle in my slides.

Check out the complete lineup, and if you're not in Portland, visit the web site on Thursday for info on the live video stream.

CKL

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Monday, October 26, 2009

My Strange Love Live Interview

Last Friday night, despite host Cami Kaos' excellent guidance, I still managed to be all over the place topic-wise, and what the hell did I do to darken up my voice like that? Anyway, here I am, warts and all:



Thanks to Cami Kaos and Dr. Normal for having me on the show!

CKL

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Friday, October 23, 2009

This Is It

I'm a guest on the Strange Love Live tech podcast tonight. Watch the streaming video starting at 10PM Pacific! (More details in my previous "Friday Night Live" post.)

CKL

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Friday Night Live

Mark your calendars: On Friday, October 23rd, at 10PM Pacific, I will be a guest on Strange Love Live, a weekly online show featuring "the movers and shakers of the social web." I'm not sure I qualify for that lofty mantle, but who am I to refuse the invitation?



I first met SLL host Cami Kaos and producer Dr Normal at BarCampPortland III, the last such event to take place at the now-defunct CubeSpace. In the manner of such unconferences, they asked for any interested parties to sign up for brief interviews on that week's show, which they broadcast live from CubeSpace. I was one of the first interviewees, and I guess I didn't completely bomb. I've also seen both of them at other events since then, including CloudCampPDX and the local roller derby.

Anyhow, I will be talking about 512 Words or Fewer, writing in general, the Portland DASH and other puzzle hunts, PDX Browncoats, and whatever other random topics come up during the hour. Tune in, won't you?

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Time Has Come to Celebrate My Birthday

Take it away, Jonathan Coulton:



I'll be having a grand day out in lovely PDX today, but feel free to join the virtual party by leaving a comment here (or on Facebook, or by e-mail, or via passenger pigeon) which answers this question:

But where are the clowns?

CKL

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Last Day to Register for the Browncoat Ball

That would be today. The 2009 Browncoat Ball happens this Saturday, October 3rd, at the Governor Hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon.



Register now: $80 for just the Ball, $130 for all day Saturday (includes touring around PDX), $175 for the full weekend (includes Friday game night and Sunday breakfast).

Need more convincing? Check out the promotional comic and some photos from past Browncoat Balls.

CKL

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

GC Musings: The Dry Run Effect

Now that The Muppet Movie Game is postponed indefinitely, those of us interested in Game planning will have to go elsewhere to get our fix of behind-the-scenes discussion.

This is the first in an ongoing, irregular series of articles I'm going to write about my own GC experiences. I encourage other GCs to contribute their thoughts as well, either in comments here or on their own blogs.


THE DRY RUN EFFECT
By Curtis Chen, Team Snout

Background

Last Sunday, DeeAnn and I ran the Portland DASH, a one-day walking puzzle hunt in downtown PDX. "DASH" stands for "Different Area—Same Hunt," and we had worked with people in seven other cities to organize this event. For us, it was a much smaller event than we're used to, and we saw some interesting differences.

When Team Snout has run full-weekend, driving Games, we always see a huge "spread" between the fastest teams and the slowest teams. Some people are puzzle fiends; others like to take their time and forgo hints for hours. We do our best to support both styles of play, but in some of our later events, we spent a lot of effort trying to manage the spread and cause teams to finish within a two-hour window. (That may sound like a long time, but the natural spread is eight to ten hours. That's no good when your end party location is only open for six hours on Sunday.)

In 2006, we did a "dry run" (full-scale, on-location playtest) of the Hogwarts Game with three teams, two weeks before the actual event. We had an observer riding along with each team, so we got very detailed data about how they were solving throughout the event. (One team also inconvenienced a couple of young lovers, but that's another story...)

The most interesting thing we observed on the Hogwarts dry run was the complete lack of a typical spread, despite our preparation of several "bonus clues" to keep faster teams occupied. The three dry run teams never let themselves get more than three clues apart at any time. According to our observers, whenever one team saw another team pulling out of a location, the remaining team would suddenly become more motivated to take a hint and speed up their solving of that clue. Nobody likes being left behind.

I've started calling this "the dry run effect," and we recently saw it in action during the Portland DASH.

So Crazy It Just Might Work

During most of the Portland DASH, DeeAnn and I were the only GC staff available. (Another long story.) This meant we had to cover all the tasks: handing out clues at each location, answering the telephone help line, monitoring clue sites, and taking care of any other little crises that came up. We knew we wouldn't be able to handle doing hints by phone if more than two teams called at once, so we decided to give pre-printed hint envelopes with each clue.

Every single one of our teams finished ahead of schedule: we started around 10:15 AM, and the first team hit EndGame around 2:30 PM. Our scheduled hard cutoff time was 4:30 PM, but even the slowest team arrived an hour before that. I'm pretty sure being able to take hints at any time, without having to call GC and admit you were stumped, caused more teams to take hints earlier and more often. But there was another important factor--we ran the event as a relay.

This is, to my knowledge, something that no other GC has done in this type of event. (If you know of someone who has, please tell me; I'd love to compare notes.) Our goal was to make clue distribution possible for a two-person GC to handle. This is how it worked:
  • GC waited at each location for the first team to arrive.
  • When the first team showed up, GC handed all the sealed clues to that team.
  • The team opened one copy of the clue and started solving it.
  • When the next team showed up, the first team handed all the remaining, sealed clues to them.
  • This process repeated for every subsequent team. If a team ever finished solving their clue before the next team showed up to "hold the bag," they contacted GC for further instructions. (We were usually able to return to the location and hold the remaining clues until the next team arrived.)
This worked out pretty well; it even fit the Old West theme, because GC was the "Sheriff" and each team captain was a "Deputy." At the end party, one team told us they really liked this system because it caused them to see more of the other teams throughout the event.

But remember the spread I was talking about? We had seven teams in the Portland DASH, and we never saw them spread across more than three clue locations--the same as in the Hogwarts dry run. I haven't done all the number crunching and statistical modeling, but the following is my intuition about what's going on.

Three in 3

When Team Snout discusses "the spread," we talk about three sub-groups of all the teams that are playing: We have (1) the fast teams, (2) the middle of the pack, and (2) the slow teams. (Please note that none of those terms is intended as pejorative; we recognize that people play at different speeds, and we do not force anyone to conform to a specific timeline. We want everyone to have fun.)

This spreading-out happens in many circumstances, even down to the team level. Think about it: When a Game team arrives at a location, there's always the one guy who jumps out of the van and runs flat-out to get the clue, then the rest of the team who tumble out after it's parked, and finally the driver, who has to lock up. (If it's Sunday morning, there may also be one or two nappers who stay behind.)

With twenty-plus teams, the atomic units become clusters of teams instead of individual team members. But with a smaller number of teams--say, three in the Hogwarts dry run, or seven in the Portland DASH--I believe players recognize each other more easily, and they're more aware of where they are in the pack. If a team thinks they're falling behind, they may think about taking a hint sooner.

Nobody likes being left behind. With only seven teams, you'll know when you've encountered most of them. With twenty teams, there are some you're never going to see, and unless told otherwise by GC, you can always hold out hope that some of them are still behind you; therefore you have less motivation to speed up your solving.

Conclusions

This is just an observation. I don't think this is a problem that requires fixing, but if confirmed, it will be useful for other GCs to know. Your dry runs will not show the same spread as your full event, and if your event is small, you won't see much of a spread at all. This will affect your timeline and staffing requirements. Plan accordingly!

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Casting Calls

I signed up with a local casting agency earlier this year, mostly so I could be an extra on Leverage (fun times, plus they paid me!), and I'm still on their mailing list, so I get the occasional "Talent Needed" e-mail alerts.

It's interesting to see how different each production's requirements can be. For example, last week I got this very brief message:
[###] Sporting Goods shoot THURSAY SEPTEMBER 17!
Ages 18+
Rate: $150
To submit email extras@[####].com ASAP with name, phone number and a JPEG!

I'm guessing that was some kind of big crowd scene, and they got more respondents than they could possibly need.

Today I received this notice:
We're casting a job for [#####] Dental that requires the following talent:

1 woman - 25-45 to play a veterinarian
1 woman - 18-35 to play a front desk assistant
1 man - 18-35 to play veterinarian's assistant
SHOOTS: 9/24/09 (next Thursday)
RATE: $140 for a half day; $280 for a full day

Talent should not be allergic to or frightened of animals. You MUST have good teeth to be considered.

TO SUBMIT:
Email extras@[####].com with a current picture of yourself smiling (with teeth!), your phone number and full name. [#####] must be your subject line.
ONLY SUBMIT IF YOU'RE AVAILABLE THE ENTIRE DAY - DECISIONS COULD BE MADE AT THE LAST MINUTE, SO ONCE YOU'VE SUBMITTED, PLEASE REMAIN AVAIL.

That's not the most specific casting call I've ever seen, but I love the "MUST have good teeth" part. Sorry, British expats, you'll have to wait until someone wants scheming villains or foppish snobs in their show.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Modest Proposal

I've just submitted a talk proposal to Ignite Portland 7, with the completely misleading title "How to Solve Any Puzzle in Less Than 47 Minutes."

If you're a PDX local (perhaps even one of our recent Portland DASH participants?) and would like to hear more about puzzle hunts, feel free to visit the site and send a comment to the organizers--or submit a proposal of your own! Deadline is October 4th.

They'll be selecting talks sometime next month, I think. If they pick me, I hope to present something half as interesting as my friend Jeff's "IT in Africa" talk (O'Reilly Ignite UK North, 22 Jan 2009).

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