Monday, January 26, 2015

It really works

Saw this on RPG.net:

Just... damn. It's genius.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Reviews: "The Red Knight" and "The Fell Sword" by Miles Cameron

A long time ago, in another lifetime, I spent a year with the Society for Creative Anachronism (aka "the SCA"). They were an interesting lot and that year-and-change was one of the more eventful in that period of my life.

I've just finished "The Fell Sword", the sequel to "The Red Knight", both by Miles Cameron. Why do I bring up the SCA? 'Cause these books drip of it. They ooze SCA.

If a medieval pseudo-Europe had magic and was waging a war with fairy-tale creatures, you would have the setting for "The Red Knight" and "The Fell Sword". It's a world where knights and squires hack their way through battlefields, soldiers fight and die, and there's some seriously-dubious morality.

It's a world with flavors of magic, terrible displays of arcane power, and complex politics.

Cameron weaves a world that is clearly-inspired by his historical studies. Faith in God is core to many of the characters and station (noble-birth or common-birth) is important to many.

Throughout the middle of both books rides the Red Knight, an enigmatic, charming, deadly warrior with a command of powerful magic and a brilliant tactical mind. With him is his Company, including the violent Bad Tom, the former prostitute-turned-knight Sauce, the religious, magic-casting scout Gelfred, and others.

While the Red Knight's story is central to both books, his is not the only tale being told. There's also Amidicia, the magically-gifted nun who shares a bond with the Red Knight and holds his heart. There's Harmodius, the magus of the King of Alba, who starts to realize that things are really, horribly wrong. There's the Queen of Alba, glorious in her beauty and possessing great magical power of her own. And there's Thorn, who was once a man and is now something far more.

Hell, that's not even half the characters, really. Cameron weaves in dozens of characters in a manner akin to George R.R. Martin's books and has much of the terrible brutality found in the "Song of Ice and Fire" series.

I have to say I approve of how Cameron handles it.

His narrative style does tend to wander a bit. He goes into excruciating detail about the pieces of armor, the styles of sword-play, and the types of garments (which is the sort of thing that really reminded me of the SCA). Still, I found myself engaged by it all and had a hard time putting the books down.

"The Red Knight" had a cleaner storyline, though I found the ending a bit abrupt. "The Fell Sword" takes much longer to get traction and really doesn't resolve much in terms of story but rather does a lot of setting things up for future novels.

I have to say I'm looking forward to the future novels but hope they're a little tighter.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Thoughts on the Marcato Atlas Wellness 150 Pasta Maker

My pasta-creating endeavors have been with the Marcato Atlas Wellness 150 Pasta Maker (which, I would like to say, is a mouthful to utter to anyone).

I spent much of Saturday making noodles and sauce in my kitchen and have just done another batch of noodles earlier this evening, putting me on about eight or so batches done since unpacking the thing from its box.

I think I'm getting the hang of it.

My first batch of noodles was iffy, at best. And that's not counting the disasters that never even made it into the pasta maker.

The less said of those, the better.

As time has gone on, I've started to get the hang of the details.

The recipe I use is:
  • 1 and a half(ish) cups of flour (a 50-50 mix of whole wheat and white flour)
  • 2 eggs (or egg-beater equivalent)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon water
For the record, I do not know the ultimate origin of that recipe. Anyway:
  1. Pour the flour into a bowl.
  2. Make a deep indentation in the middle of the flour.
  3. Add the eggs, oil, and water into the indentation. You've got something that looks like a science project volcano at this point.
  4. With a fork or something, beat that concoction in the pile of flour until it's too sticky to use an implement for.
  5. With your hands, knead the dough until it's reasonably smooth and pliable. Try to get it so you don't have cakey bits of flour coming off and it's not too dry. (Full disclosure: I always have flour left over and have not yet mastered this step)
  6. Make a ball of the dough, then put it on a lightly floured surface and cover it with a paper towel or bowl for about fifteen minutes or so.
  7. Set up the pasta maker so you have room on both sides for the output and it's secure with its clamp.
  8. Cut off a chunk of the dough and run it through the pasta maker's rollers on the lowest setting. I find it's best not to get too big a piece of dough so I am for about a quarter-inch thick and two inches wide.
  9. Lump the output together. Repeat putting it through the roller.
  10. Repeat until it's sticking into something vaguely cohesive. Then fold it and run it through the rollers again.
  11. Set the rollers up the next increment.
  12. Put the dough through the rollers, then fold and put it through again.
  13. Increment the roller setting (making the dough thinner each time), and run folded dough through each time.
  14. When it's as thick as you want it, run it through the cutting portion and lay the proto-noodles on a wire rack to dry.
Voila!

Store in a cool, dry place. Should last a week or so.

Sounds idiot-proof, doesn't it? Well, I am a special kind of idiot and managed to mangle this a few times. My devotion to His Noodley Goodness as part of my role as a minister in the Church of the FSM drives me to master this seemingly-simple task.

Keeps dinner simple.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Review: The Recon 6 Watch

I really should thank Kickstarter.

I was going through it and saw an entry for the World’s First 14-in-1 Adventure & Survival Recon Watch.

I looked at it and immediately backed it.

Unfortunately, the Kickstarter did not fund. I can't fathom why.

The day the funding period ended, I got mail indicating that a small batch of the watches were being produced anyway and Kickstarter backers could aim for the Kickstarter price.

I didn't hesitate.

Time passed and there were production delays (as happens in any new project).

Then my watch arrived.

James Bond wishes he had a watch this cool!

The Recon 6 Watch is a beefy, well-constructed, watch with all sorts of cool features for when you're dropped in the middle of nowhere or civilization collapses and you need to make due:
  • A can opener cleverly worked into the band
  • A bottle opener cleverly worked into the band.
  • A small knife cleverly worked into the band (making this probably TSA-questionable... the blade is small, but...)
  • An LED flashlight.
  • A mirror
  • A compartment with:
    • A whistle
    • Fishing hooks
    • A magnifying glass
    • A liquid-filled compass
    • A ferro-rod (for fire-starting)
The watch itself does the normal telling of time and has a calendar window for the day of the month. It's got a rotating timer bezel as well.

Will I need any of this? Probably not. Would I be able to use any of this in a crisis? That's debatable. Is this still cool-as-hell to have? HELL YES!

This is the sort of timepiece that ApocalpyseEquipped needs stat.

Thus endeth my effusive praise.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Review: "Half a King" by Joe Abercrombie

I finished it during the hell-time of my BART ride home during the wind storm. Debris on the tracks caused no end of delays and so I had nothing but time to finish my book (when I had enough room to raise my arms in the cramped train).

"Half a King" is a cheerful, lighthearted romp from Abercrombie's standards. His previous offerings were pretty brutal stuff, giving George R.R. Martin a run for his money in the "sadistic, twisted writer" department.

That's not to say I think "Half a King" was light and fluffy fare, mind you. It's Abercrombie, so it was pretty stark. He kept to his themes of severely flawed (physically and psychologically) and often misunderstood protagonists. The closest thing to a happy ending was for those characters who survived to the end of the book to still be alive. Though one could argue against that.

"Half a King" is not set in the twisted world of his "Blade Itself" series but in a new, quasi-Viking world. The protagonist, Prince Yavari who is born with a crippled hand and a soft heart, finds himself facing misfortune to misfortune. When he finds a way out, there's always a catch.

I found the book a quick read and the story flowed very well. I quickly started liking Yavari and enjoyed the plot twists on his journey of revenge.

Someone told me that the book was intended as a young adult novel. I can see that. I'd certainly push this on most kids I know. Though anyone who lets me push reading material on kids really qualifies as an unfit parent, so take that for what it's worth.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Saying farewell to 2014 and hello to 2015

To say 2014 was a year of change for me would be a mild understatement. The last three months have been pretty crazy, mainly with the shift into a new job and all the rippling changes that come from that.

It's been a crazy-as-hell year:

  • My previous employer had an utter meltdown from a transfer in ownership that made most of 2014 an unpleasant and somewhat nerve-wracking experience.
  • Job-hunting (see above) taught me no small amount of humility.
  • A dizzying number of friends moved on to other phases in their lives and friendships I'd assumed were solid were solid seemed to be shockingly-fragile while others remained just as shockingly solid, if not more-so. People always surprise me.
  • The Bike Gods unleashed their wrath upon me for reasons I cannot fathom.
  • Some damn good books came across my path ("The Martian", "Tower Lord", "Skin Game", and others).
  • I concluded a role-playing game campaign that was a good thirteen years long (give or take).
  • Said gaming group lost and gained members. New faces around the table. New dice in the hand. New campaigns going on.
  • I got to visit England for the first time in ages.
  • Bad habits have started to catch up with me but now I'm inspired to fix them, so there's a silver lining in that cloud.
So now I'm sitting in my apartment to greet the New Year. We're suffering a mild cold-snap here in the Bay Area and it turns out my apartment's wall-heater is dead as can be, making my apartment akin to an icebox. Thankfully I have a space heater that works nicely. I'm suffering from a mild cold/bug/something that discourages me from going out. The mail just delivered Guardians of the Galaxy on DVD and I believe I've managed to kill off the ants invading the bar in my kitchen, so I think there's a movie and some sipping bourbon on the menu to greet 2015.

Whomever you are and where-ever you are, may you have a very happy New Year and may 2015 bring you more good than bad in your life.

Cheers!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Adventures in Pasta Making

A birthday or two back I got a pasta maker.

It languished, unused, for ages atop my freezer until today. I got a recipe for making pasta and decided to make it a try.

And that's when everything went wrong.

First off, I tried the recipe and found that there simply wasn't enough liquid in what I was following to make the pasta stick together in a ball.

Then, when I managed to get something that approximated dough, it took forever to get something useable to come out of the damn pasta maker.

And then the ant infestation returned as I struggled to get the noodles cut.

And then the pasta maker broke, gumming up the works with dough.

So you're not supposed to wash the pasta maker with soap and water for reasons. So instead, I had to bust out three different sets of tools and a can of compressed air to try to get to the hidden-away corners in the goddamn thing to clean it properly and then repair the broken track.

So now I'm covered in flour, I have ants in my kitchen and no idea how they're getting in. I have noodles that may or may not be an utter disaster. And I am irritated beyond words. The things I do in the name of the FSM...