Saturday, April 4, 2015

Northern Lights



Northern Lights in real time. Take five minutes and watch this, it's absolutely worth your time.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Strange Beasts: Harvestmen

The enemy troops come into view and while the foot soldiers look like any other army except for the masks they wear, the cavalry is seated upon high-legged beasts resembling spiders. They are colourful, have spikes all over their body and prove to be dangerously fast. Their stench fills the air over the battlefield, huge jaws grab soldiers and cut them clean in half and they just won't fall, even when soldiers band together and manage to hack one or two legs off. Indeed, the beasts will drop legs on their own accord when attacked, leaving the soldiers to deal with the thrashing limb while they stalk on. After a while, the smell becomes almost unbearable and the reason for the masks apparent: any soldier without one becomes sluggish and some even fall, unconscious or dead.

I'm sure you have seen harvestmen before. They look a lot like spiders, but they are their own order of arachnids, the Opiliones (shepherds). They are perfectly harmless and even beneficial because a lot of them feed on decaying plant and animal matter, some even hunt for insects. One species has specialised in eating slugs.

Pseudo-araña_nocturna_(opilion)

In their normal size, I think they are adorable. But let's make them big enough to ride. They will tower over everything and they will be freakishly fast. Many of them can indeed drop legs when attacked. And all harvestman species will secret a smelly liquid when they feel threatened. The liquid is irritating to skin and lungs (although one harvestman will not secret enough of it to bother a human). For invertebrates, it can make them unconscious or even kill them. Put enough harvestmen in a container and they will knock each other out with it (please don't actually try this). So, you have a steed that is big, can cover a good distance in one stride, it has fangs and it even carries a built-in chemical weapon. What's not to like. Also, it looks badass.

Extremely stinky harvestman (Holoversia nigra)

A List of Strange Beasts

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Schrödinger's Biker

The group is driving along Lake Erie and decided they'd rather not drive through Cleveland. Apologies to Clevelanders, but I decided that the city was in the throes of death, with next to no jobs left and people abandoning ship. So they left the highway and made a detour through the suburbs, which didn't look any nicer. Lots of abandoned buildings, squatters, gang tags everywhere, burned out cars sitting in the road, the works.

A lone biker starts following the truck.

He does not look like someone who just drives around his midlife-crisis Harley Davidson.

The players start worrying. Oh shit, they say, he's a ganger. He's going to call his buddies and we're going to be toast. They'll have a barricade further along the road. Can we fight our way out of this, do we try to just drive through it or do we stop and negotiate? In the end, they stopped, got out and the biker (now with two friends) remarked that hey, this is a nice RV and wouldn't it be a shame if something happened, the streets are so unsafe these days, it's a shame, they're just keeping an eye out. 500 Nuyen later, the players are on their way again.

This was Schrödinger's Biker. I had no plans at all for him. I just let the players tell me all about him. After this display of high-level paranoia, I was a bit worried that they wouldn't bite the next story hook because, ideally, I needed them to go and join some strangers for dinner. But not to worry, when I mentioned the nice, big farmhouse they could see from the rest stop they had chosen for the night, they went: heeey, let's go there and ask if we can stay there instead. Story saved.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bird

Jewel cannot talk to her parents because ever since her brother Bird died, it's like they don't even notice she's there. And she cannot talk to her grandfather because he locks himself in his room and doesn't speak, ever. But she can talk to John, a boy she meets one day on top of the cliff her brother jumped from. And once they started talking, her family's silence and all those secrets it keeps hidden starts to unravel.

Bird by Crystal Chan is a book I put away a couple of times because I got so angry with Jewel's parents who are so caught up in their own grief that they don't even try to understand their daughter. But the story always drew me back in, I wanted to know what happened next, what's the deal with John (a black boy adopted by a white family), what happened to Bird and why Jewel's grandfather never speaks. Her grandfather is my favourite character, even though he barely has ten lines of dialogue in the book. Jewel finds it very hard to live with him until she starts asking herself why he's the way he is and they slowly start to connect.

Jewel come from a family that's part Mexican, part Jamaican and her background plays a big role in the story, Jamaican beliefs, culture and music. The first thing I did after finishing the book was go on YouTube and listen to the music mentioned in the book. I had never even heard of Mento before (although I had heard Mento songs, but never under that name). I always love it when books introduce me to new things.

Book 2 for both the Everything YA and Diversity on the Shelves Reading Challenge

Reviews 2015

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Time of the Dark

Gil dreams of a world where the people have good reason to be afraid of the dark and where humans are struggling for their civilization to survive. She keeps seeing a wizard in those dreams and one day, the wizard sits in her kitchen, with a child he has rescued from that world.

I picked up The Time of the Dark by Barbara Hambly as part of a Humble Bundle and read it without knowing anything about it. I'm glad I did because it's, on the surface, just the kind of fantasy I really do not like at all. But it's extremely well written, even if the story of 'ordinary people must survive in a fantasy world' has been done so many time before and since. Gil and Rudy are very relatable characters and the wizard Ingold, let's just say I'd follow him into hell if I were in their place, too.

The Dark are terrifying villains. They are extremely hard to fight, you cannot see them coming and you never get a closer look at them throughout the book. There are hints of a more complex backstory to them and I always like that about a villain.

What really sold me on this book was Hambly's writing, though. It took half a page at most and I was lost in the world, even on the subway. Her prose is extremely vivid and she describes scenes for all senses. I appreciate it a lot when authors do that and I try to do it myself when I run a roleplaying game because it's a lot more immersive than just sight and sound.

When I looked Barbara Hambly up, I found out that she had written, among a lot of other things, one of my favourite Star Trek novels: Ishmael.. I used to read tons of these novels, but Ishamel still stands out to me even after, I don't know, twenty years. I absolutely plan on reading the rest of the Darwath trilogy and maybe the Benjamin January novels because those sound interesting - New Orleans in the 1830 and a free man of colour, a doctor and musician, as the main character.

Reviews 2015

Monday, February 23, 2015

Live Stream from ISS


Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream So I recently found out that the ISS has a couple of high-definition cameras installed that livestream a view of Earth 24 hours a day. Enjoy. The website for this project - the whole experiment is run by high school students, who designed parts of the cameras and operate them.