Saturday, December 31, 2011

Harvest 2011

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About 30 kilos of apples were turned into one cake, 15 litres of apple juice and a lot of raw apple snacks.
Three kilos of Mirabelle plum became one cake, the rest was destroyed during a Cthulhu session.
About a kilo of European Cornell was turned into juice. Next year, I'll go for jelly.
My balcony gave me Swiss chard and potatoes. A wasteland around the corner delivered a huge amount of blackberries. Blackberry crumble - you need to try this.

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And to end the year, I picked tea apples today and made jelly and apple sauce. Red apple sauce, how cool is that.
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Not bad for someone living in a big city without a garden, I think. As much as I hate the term, but urban harvesting is definitely worth the time and it's amazing what you find if you just look.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Whiteout

Whiteout is a comic series by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber. I already wrote about Rucka's series Queen and Country.

Whiteout takes place in Antarctica, following U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko in her investigation of a murder at McMurdo station. The second part Melt has Carrie return to Antarctica, looking for Russian mercenaries who stole warheads illicitly stored at a Russian science station.

The illustrations are black and white, fitting for the landscape of snow and ice the action takes place in. There's nothing harder to draw than a whole lot of white emptiness and Steve Lieber does it extremely well. I also like his instantly recognisable characters (also not easy to do when everyone is wearing hooded parkas and ice gear) and the attention to detail.

The story is fast-paced, especially in Melt. I did figure out who did it fairly early in Whiteout, but that didn't dampen my enjoyment. It was still fun to see how and when Carrie figures it out and to see what she does with her knowledge. In both books, there's no easy way for her to solve the crime, a compromise must be made. There's a lot of grey in all that white after all.

Whteout is my 51st and Whiteout: Melt my 52nd book for the Library Challenge.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Bjorn Again



I like the heaven's door-wheel of fortune in particular.

Baader-Meinhof-Komplex

The German Autumn was before my time, but I do remember the activities of the third generation RAF. The whole thing was pretty much ignored in my history classes unfortunately, so it was when I first saw the brilliant documentary Todesspiel that I learned more about this time.

Stefan Aust's book Der Baader-Meinhof-Komplex is a standard work and I've read before, more than once. If you want to learn about the RAF, then this is the best place to start. The book will give you an overview of the chronology, up to the suicides of the Stammheim prisoners, and of the persons involved, on both sides of the law.

It's a surprisingly easy read for such a complex subject and at times, it reads like a crime novel, without being lurid. I value the matter of fact-tone the book maintains, with few exceptions. There are numerous conspiracy theories, outright lies and many books about the subject follow an agenda, more or less obviously. Aust writes fairly neutral, especially for someone who was at times personally involved.

I can recommend the film based on the book as well. There's a scene that tells you a lot about the first generation of the RAF. Baader and Ensslin have their car stolen and Baader totally loses it, screaming obscenities at the thieves who took his (!) car (that he stole). Ensslin stays calm and tells him "It doesn't matter, baby. We'll steal a new one."

Stammheim is another great film, about the trial at Stammheim prison. It's based on the official records made during the trial. You get to see the clash between the justice system and the prisoners who downright refuse to recognise the system - not something the judge or indeed German society as a whole dealt well with.

I found a quote by Gudrun Ensslin made during the trial to be very enlightening as well. "We don't discuss this with you. We will only discuss this with people who agree with us." I think that this is characteristical for the RAF as well: a group of people who always agrees with each other and who looked only for further agreement in other people. Other opinions were not accepted, especially if they came from within the group (rare enough). If you're not with us, you're against us, taken to extremes. I can't help but notice the similarities between the RAF and religious cults.

Der Baader-Meinhod-Komplex is my 50th book for the Library Challenge

Friday, December 23, 2011

Myth Comics

Happle Tea is a comic about mythology and the first one I saw was this one. How could I not love that? And it really pays to read the author's comments on the comics, they are a quick course in myths, monsters and history.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

IQ84

Huh, I thought I had blogged about the first two parts when I read them. It seems I didn't. Which is just as well, because this is a book that should be read without any long pauses between the parts.

Aomame, a young woman, kills the leader of a religious sect and finds herself in an alternate reality, with only subtle differences (including two moons). Tengo, a math teacher and part-time writer, has heavily edited/ghostwritten a book by a young schoolgirl, Fuka-Eri, who has ties to the sect. Tengo also crossed over into the alternate reality and both he and Aomame are hunted by the sect, who have been hit hard both by the loss of their leader and by the book which revealed some of their deepest secrets.

And now I remember why I didn't blog the first two parts. Even with the whole story read, I find it extremely difficult to summarise the story in any meaningful way. That's always hard with Haruki Murakami's books, but especially so with IQ84.

It's a slow book and if you're looking for action, you'll get very little. You will also have to live with a story that doesn't neatly connect all the loose ends, at the end there are open questions. Which is a lot less annoying than it could be, the story was never meant to be fully explained and that's part of the charm.

It soon becomes clear that Aomame and Tengo, although they have really met only once as children, are meant for each other and the story steers them towards a final meeting with many near misses and coincidences. I liked that, it had the feel of a Greek tragedy, who steer towards an unhappy ending, with many chances to avoid it. Aomame's and Tengo's ending is not a tragic one and possibly a happy one, but typically for Murakami, there are no guarantees.

I liked Tamaru, the bodyguard who protects Aomame after she killed the cult leader. He's a charater who doesn't seem like much at first, but the more he chooses to reveal about himself, the more interesting he gets. He feels like he should have a book of his own.

IQ84 is my 49th book for the Library Challenge.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

More Luxon



Benjamin Luxon again, together with Bill Crofut. Brilliant voices and musicians.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Honeypot

Setting and characters are here.
Last time, the group decided to raid the Picas, a kiddie gang that had been making trouble.

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I said I had a baaad feeling about this whole gang raid thing. Man, I was so right.

Whistler had found out a few useful things about the kiddie gang, like the location of their headquarters. Apart from Splash, Blaster, Kerry, Liz and me, we took a couple of gangers. Whistler would serve as scout. Gargle had a bone to pick with the Picas anyway and as far as the others were concerned, anything for a decent fight. This is especially true for the orcs and so we set out on motorcycles to the sound of Rivet playing war songs on his bagpipes. Yes, that was about as conspicuous as it sounds, but I didn't kid myself that this was going to be a surprise attack anyway.


*It's a trap! Click to spring it*


Splash stayed behind at some distance from the warehouse that the Picas use as headquarters, to set up a drone that would gather additional information for us. By that time, we had already been spotted. I decided to split up, to approach from two sides and from about then, things went downhill fast.

The group that went straight ahead had its way cut off and we heard shots. Blaster, Kerry, the two orcs Rip and Slicer and me went around and promptly lost our way, maps are just not very reliable here. By that time, we had already lost contact with Whistler, but I tried to tell myself that this was the fault of the at best spotty Matrix connection.

Splash assembled a map, but it took her a few minutes. During that time, we discovered the burning bus that had been dragged into the street and that cut off the first group's way back. To get to them, we would have to take a detour.

Rip took off after one of the Picas who shot at us (not that he hit anyone) and dove after the kid through a basement window, where he got stuck. By the time Blaster and Slicer had pulled him out, the kid had already emptied his gun into Rip's face and this time, he had aimed much better. I doubt that Rip would have survived that, the steel bar that rammed into his body when he was pulled out only killed him more quickly. Blaster tossed a stick of dynamite into the basement, so we can probably assume that there were casualties on both sides.

Splash managed to open a connection to Liz and she told me that they had been attacked and forced into a building about 100 meters from us. All of them except Gilette were unharmed, but Liz warned us of a trap. No surprise there.

By the time we had rounded the corner, we could hear a young girl's screams from a small alley. One of the Picas, a girl of about 13 years and highly pregnant, was lying on the ground, covered in blood. Here's why it sometimes sucks to be a doctor: this screamed TRAP!, but there was no way I was just ignoring the chance that she really was hurt. 

Kerry offered to come as well to give me cover, but Slicer was having none of that and insisted on driving into the alley with his motorcycle. What seemed to be just a big puddle turned out to be a hole deep enough to swallow both the bike and Slicer and the situation was not improved by the pipebomb thrown out of a window right into the hole.

With Kerry giving us cover, Blaster and I managed to pull Slicer out of the whole. He actually survived the explosion, but he needs some serious medical attention. The girl was still screaming and I inched closer, my gun drawn. When I squatted down beside her, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and was just quick enough to shoot two Picas, killing one of them. I had my back turned on the girl and that was an almost fatal mistake, she pulled a gun and shot me in the back twice.

The armor coat caught the brunt of it, but it was still enough to knock the breath out of me. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing, though, and I managed to take the gun from her, putting her in a stranglehold until she passed out. I would have loved to keep her under with a tranq patch, but who knows what drugs she took, she clearly was on something. Meanwhile, Blaster knocked out the Pica I hadn't killed.

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More next time, sometime next year.  I have no idea how and if we are going to get out of this mess, but I'm enjoying myself.

When we discovered the girl, I called it. I knew she was going to shoot me when I went to help her. Neil may be a shadow doc, but he still feels bound by the oath he has sworn, so he had to walk into that trap. I dig that kind of stuff, hard choices is a big part of what roleplaying is about for me.

In case you are wondering what kind of a name Pica is: it's the scientific name for the magpie genus and the gangers look like that, with black and white colours. I'm a birder, so I knew that, which earned me a look of disbelief from the GM. Just call me Lady of Random Facts.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Masel Tov!

Setting and characters are here

I got a few hours of sleep and a wakeup call at 6am: Kimba, one of our cyber prostitutes, had been plugged in overnight and they couldn't wake her. I'm frankly crap at anything involving the Matrix, so I needed help. Our local hackers were almost all out on business, except Splash and Han Solo and once we had kicked the door to his container down, it turned out Han didn't look much better than Kimba.

We brought Han and Kimba to the clinic and plugged in to find out what went wrong with them. We got help from Caidian, who hangs around with the hackers and managed to trace Kimba and Han. What we found was...sick. Take a look, if you want. You've been warned.

FYI, the hippogrif is Splash, Neon Man is Caidian, Michelin Man Blaster and the dragon tank is a program of Splash's.


*loading sim*

A room resembling a cross between an emergency room and a night club, with a stage where a band of surgical instruments plays Klezmer, Nippon sytle. Across the room, two people are having sex on a huge bed that looks like an autopsy table, while a masked surgeon is performing brain surgery on them. He removes slips of paper from their open heads and puts in new ones, while directing their movements with strings, like puppets.

Entering the room are a huge hippogriff, a stick figure with a lab coat and a medical bag and another figure, shining in neon colours, along with something that looks like the lovechild of a dragon and a tank. They are met by a masked geisha and the hippogriff produces invitation cards, which the geisha accepts with a smile, a bow and a cheery Masel Tov!

For a moment, they just stand and stare at the scene, then Neon Man produces a machine gun and shoots at the surgeon, missing completely. The surgeon turns, showing his face to be a Kabuki Guy Fawkes, but he continues his surgery, ignoring the intruders - who have been joined by Michelin Man.

Lab Coat Man moves over to the bed and starts to cut through the strings attached to the pair. Menawhile, the hippogriff and the tank dragon attack the surgeon, while Michelin Man gets into a fight with the surgical instruments who have turned on the group...all the while still playing Klezmer.

The surgeon is very much unimpressed, but he does flinch when Michelin Man grabs a clarinet from the band and starts first to play counter to the rhythm of the band and then to play into the surgeon's ear. Neon Man gets attacked by more surgical instruments and disappears, while the surgeon is apparently done and begins to close the heads of the pair on the bed.

The continuing attacks on the surgeon by the hippogriff and the tank dragon finally show an effect: the surgeon's shape grows grotesquely distorted until he is sucked out of the room.

Lab Coat man opens up the heads of the pair again and starts to sift through the paper, removing the notes the surgeon put in and restoring the original contents of their heads.

*end sim*

Brain surgery is not my strong suit, but both Kimba and Han Solo woke up and seemed fine. They didn't remember anything except meeting online and a very pleasant feeling. Kimba had a strong craving for vanilla icecream, though, and Han said that he had some words stuck in his head in a language he didn't know. On a whim, I said vanilla ice cream in Japanese and they both flinched, the word was enough to cause a reaction. So I either missed something or the black ice program had already made changes that are beyond repair. We're thinking that it was an attempt at brainwashing them, who knows for what purpose.

And speaking of missed something: Faye`s meat puppet program was activated remotely while we were busy operating. She grabbed a syringe and would have injected me with it if Blaster, who had gone offline already, hadn't grabbed her. She claims she cannot remember anything and I believe her. The syringe was filled with a stimulant and it would have been unpleasant, but not lethal, so that seems like a fairly desperate attempt...considering that there are much nastier things here to use.

The council decided to upgrade Matrix security as much as possible and to keep everyone off the Matrix for tonight. We still have the code that the ice tried to implant into Kimba and Han, but none of use can make any sense of it. A psychology softskill would help and I can get my hands on one, but it will take a few days. Which is actually a good thing because we need some time to get our hands on that kind of money. Carrie suggested a raid on the gang that has been making trouble around here anyway (the ones that Blaster encountered), that would kill two birds with one stone. Although I can't say I feel very confident about being a part of this. It's not that I can't hold my own I a fight, but this is different, planning it like that.

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The first real adventure for our Rat's Nest gang. If you haven't done so, definitely listen to the Klezmer I linked, it's a vital part of the whole WTF-effect we had.The Mazel Tov-Geisha was finally enough to reduce us to helpless giggles.

It was all very strange, but very cool and I enjoyed playing in the Matrix, creativity and bending the rules is important here. None of us except Splash's player are any good at Matrix combat, but we could still use what was there to reach our goal. 

What I really dig about this whole round is that it's not the typical Shadowrun scenario: meet Johnson, accept assignment, do the work, report back to Johnson. Which can be a lot of fun, but I love the whole community we have to move in and the chance to play out daily life for the characters.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Krabat

Krabat by Otfried Preu├čler is a version of the old Krabat legend. Krabat is a young beggar who is taken on as an apprentice by the miller of Schwarzkollm. He soon discovers that the miller practices dark magic and teaches it to his journeymen as well. Of course there's a price to be paid for that: once a year one of the journeymen dies, a part of the pact the miller has with the devil. Krabat starts to think about how he can escape from the mill.

The book has the strong, clear language of a fairy tale, fitting for a re-telling of such an old story. It's easy to lose yourself in this book, with its slow rhythm and vivid characters. The miller is a very eerie character, especially since many things are only hinted at when it comes to him and his secrets.

Another thing I like about Krabat are the descriptions of the everyday life at the mill, a life that has been lost for a long time. You can just imagine yourself stepping into the mill...although you may not want to, considering the consequences.

Preu├čler himself wrote Krabat as a tale about power and its temptations and it can certainly be read that way. But it works just as well as a story about good and evil (there's very little grey in this story) or as a modern version of a simple folktale. Although I always wonder, is there such a thing as a simple folktale? I don't think so.

Krabat is my 48th book for the Library Challenge

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dracula's Guest

Dracula's Guest is a collection of short stories by Bram Stoker. The most famous one is the one that gave the collection it's title and may or may not be a chapter of Dracula that had been excised from the novel. Whatever the truth may be, it's deliciously creepy on its own.

The Squaw is much more bloodthirsty, very much so considering the time it was written. An American tourist kills a kitten and is later killed himself in an "accident" involving the mother cat and an iron maiden. Gruesome.

Crooken Sand is hilarious, until the twist ending. Roald Dahl would be proud of that story involving another American who decided to explore his Scottish heritage to the embarrassment of his family while visiting the Highlands.

The Judge's House is one of the most creepy stories I know, with a student encountering evil in a rat-filled lonely house. I don't recommend reading that one in the dark. It has its share of purple prose, although that may be the fault of the translation I have read and in any case it doesn't really disrupt the flow of the story.

Dracula's Guest is my fourth book for the Ireland Challenge. You can read it online here

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby joins the list of books I absolutely recognise as brilliantly written, but didn't like anyway.
There were scenes I enjoyed, the one where Gatsby finally meets his adored Daisy in particular, it's sad and awkward and hilarious all at once. It's also one of very few occasions where the characters actually are (more or less) truthful to each other.

And that's my problem with the novel: here's a bunch of people who don't seem to be capable of not deceiving each other and themselves for one minute, who seems to find it more comfortable to live lies, even if they are unhappy. It really, really got on my nerves and I had very little patience or sympathy for the characters and their problems. I have no problems with characters I don't like, because usually I can relate to them, even to the most evil ones, but I found that extremely difficult with any on the characters in The Great Gatsby.

But at least the lies were lived to their bitter consequence, I have to give the book that. No happy ending there.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is my 47th book for the Library challenge

Friday, December 9, 2011

Oysterband

We saw the Oysterband last night and as always, they were brilliant. The location was a small one, only a couple of hundred people, and pretty much everyone knew all the words to all their songs. The band seemed to have just as much fun as the audience and the last song was Put Out the Lights, played acoustic. Here's a video from another concert of the same song:


The Oysterband and June Tabor are nominated for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2012 with their new album Ragged Kingdom. If you have the chance to see them live, then do it. They have this energy and love for their music that makes their concerts so very enjoyable, for me they are hands down the best band to see live (along with the very different Deine Lakaien).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Artworks I'd Steal: Green Devil

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5c/Michael_Pacher_004.jpg

My grandmother had a huge bible I was fascinated with and I remember this image in particular. I named it The Devil with the Green Butt and it took me quite a lot of digging to find it again. Let me tell you, those search words turn up some weird result on Google.

It's a painting by the 15th century Austrian artist Michael Pacher and it's usually called "St. Augustine and the Devil" - although some sources say it's St. Wolfgang. The book is the book of vices. It belongs to an altarpiece showing four Church Fathers and it's on the back of the panel showing St. Augustine, so it would have been visible when the altar was closed.

I quite like the unusual, grotesque devil and I've never seen anything quite like it, not even in Bosch's or Brueghel's paintings.  Is it me or does he have flames coming out of his ears?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Shadowrun: Rat's Nest

I recently joined a second Shadowrun group. We play in Seattle (surprise) in the Redmond Barrens and the GM created a squatter's town in the Rat's Nest, the big waste dump in the barrens. We'll call the town the Rat's Nest as well for simplicities sake. It's much more of a community that the original Rat's Nest described in theSeattle 2072 sourcebook.

The people live in cargo containers and the whole thing resembles nothing so much as a mining town in the Wild West. There's an Irish pub, people breed rats and roaches for food and make a living by scavenging for usable stuff among the waste. The place is surprisingly hot in the Matrix, due to a couple of hackers, and there's a ton of AR around, a good way to brighten up this shabby place.

Player characters are:
Blaster, a member of the Hellhounds who was picked up by the very attractive and very talented mechanic Kerry after he crashed his machine on an oil spill (put there by some kiddie gangers, who may live to regret this).

Splash, a hacker who arrived here on the run from the corp she used to work for. She's found work as a hacker, but would prefer to use her talents as a rigger.

Rivet, a Scottish/Irish (things are a bit unclear there) ork, member of the Scrappers, the gang of the Rat's Nest. He's a blacksmith and manufactures much of the Scrappers' armour.

Painless/Neil, a shadow doc who has lived at the Rat's Nest for about eight years now. He's a very capable surgeon, but cut short his career with making some bad decisions while being high as a kite. The Rat's Nest now feels pretty much like home to him and he's managed to scrounge, liberate and buy enough for a surprisingly well-equipped clinic. With the help of a medic and a nurse (Liz), he does his best to keep the population of the Rat's Nest healthy. Well, alive. He also has taken in a young man called Whistler who showed a promising talent and interest in working at the clinic.

Neil's Diary - hack at own risk

November 28th 2071
It's raining, but at least the power's up and it's reasonably warm inside. I heard that our newest arrival was willing to sell the ambulance she came in. It cost me less than I planned and Monkeywrench gave me a good deal on turning my van into a much less conspicuous ambulance. The supplies will come in handy as well, of course. Especially since Liz hasn't been able to get any drugs I would be willing to use, presenting me with a bag full of who knows what kind of pills.

And speaking of Liz, I'm not sure how much longer that will last. She's good, there's no question about that, but what use is the best nurse if she's too drunk and high to stand up when I need her?

Anyway. Apart from Splash (Ambulance Girl), there has been one other new arrival - not here to stay, though. Blaster, a ganger, who seems to be Kerry's latest boyfriend...after making the facts of life forcibly clear to another member of his gang (my first patient that night). Kerry did the same for Liz, who's sometimes a bit too frank for her own good and who obviously didn't listen to me when I told her not to use her shock hand when it's wet. Two more patients, but they were only knocked out.

The bar fight later on was much more productive. Blaster handled himself well against one of our local trolls, so that should bring him at least some respect if he decides to stick around. No-one was seriously hurt, although it would have been nice if Liz had been in a condition to do more than giggle drunkenly at the patients (I threw her out).

Ah crap, the power's out. I guess I'm going to bed and I'm hoping for a quiet night, if warm is too much to ask. But what else is new.


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The first session introduced the characters to each other and we had the chance to meet other locals, like Growler, the owner of the Irish pub and leader of the local gang. I imagine him like Brendan Gleeson in Gangs of New York - not someone to mess with. The barfight was a good way to get to know the rules, at least for Blaster's player, who was the only one of the group who did not hide under a table.

It was basically roleplaying with little dice action, just to get a feel for the place and it was a lot of fun. Things are about to get serious next time, though.