Favorite Photo: Path in the Snow

Of the photos I’ve taken, this is my favorite. Well, I might like some kid photos even more, but such photos don’t go on this public site.

The path winds through the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. I used to live near there. That winter was particularly photogenic, as this online album shows.

I see that I took it with a Canon digital camera, which has a far lower resolution than the phone with which I currently take photos. You can click on the image to see the full 1600×1200 photo! I’ll get another camera sometime, when the technology/price combination is right.

Presidents’ Day Was Literally Fine

On Presidents’ Day, we took advantage of the free admission to visit Great Falls Park in Virginia. In previous years, I might have been grumpy about the crowds drawn by the fine weather. The photo (or at least the full-size version of it) shows that the Maryland side was also popular, so we certainly wouldn’t have avoided the crowds by taking our walk on that side.

This year, I was uncharacteristically happy to be among a crowd. It was good to see so many people enjoying and appreciating the National Parks. The Park system is one of the many great things about the USA.

Reading Matters: Fiction and Links

Reading matters a lot to me. This post is about some current fiction and about some related websites.

A Conjuring of Light is the just-published novel by V.E. Schwab. It’s a fantasy set in Londons: yes, there is more than one London, and there is travel between them, and there is magic. Like many fantasy novels, it’s part of a series. The Kindle edition of the first novel in the series is currently on sale, and the cover illustration is wonderful, so a graphical link to that book seems in order.

I’m looking forward to Seven Surrenders, by Ada Palmer. It’s a sequel to Too Like the Lightning, my favorite novel of 2016. I recommend you sample the first few pages of TLtL (follow the link and look inside the book). If you like the the narrator’s voice, and the way in which he “gazes back” to the 18th century from the 25th, you’ll probably love the novel (or novels, since I don’t think that the forthcoming one will disappoint).

Now for those reading-related websites.

  • Goodreads, where I keep track of my reading, write the occasional review, and see what other people are reading.
  • Tor.com, “a site for science fiction, fantasy, and all the things that interest SF and fantasy readers”. Tor is a publisher, but the site tries to engage interest, rather than to sell books directly. And it often gives books away!
  • Amazon. Yes, those links above are affiliate links, and I’d love to cover my hosting costs from such links. But if you get the books elsewhere, that’s great, because books are great, and so are bookstores and libraries.

#rosesarered #hamilton

Hamilton’s read
For dropping some knowledge.
Smelliest dropping?
Electoral College!

Valentine’s day approaches, and “Roses are red”-like poems are everywhere. Everything’s been coming up Hamilton in my mind for a while now. Above is my best combination of the two things. Note: Hamilton described the Electoral College as “at least excellent” in Federalist Paper 68.

I’ll spare you most of the others, except:

Roses are red,
Like Hamilton’s blood.
A. Burr, you spilled it!
Your legacy’s crud.

Any other Hamiltonian Valentine poems?

Bruce's "Badlands" Blasts Bad Boss

Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America. What songs are appropriate to this state of affairs? I’m sure I’m not the first to nominate Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands”.

“Badlands” is far from new. It was on Bruce’s 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town. Here’s a live performance from that year.

Why is “Badlands” so relevant, almost 40 years later? Here are just a few of the reasons.

Other reasons that should also be on the list? Other songs appropriate to the moment? That’s what Comments are for!

Sports in which you can lose despite scoring more points

I challenge you to name a sport that meets each of the following conditions.

  1. It has a scoring system involving points.
  2. Points are good: they help you win. So strokes in golf are not points in this sense. You win golf with fewer of them, rather than with more of them.
  3. It is possible to lose while scoring more points than the other player (or other team).

I used an example of such a sport in a writing project. I’ll identify the sport, and say a little more about the project, in a paragraph or two. So, if you want to accept the challenge, stop reading now. If you’ve arrived via the Facebook discussion I started with a rather looser version of the challenge, welcome!

In this post, I will:

  • Identify the sport I had in mind.
  • Identify a few rather similar sports that also meet conditions 1-3 above.
  • Explain how one of these similar sports meets the conditions.
  • Identify a few sports that meet the conditions, but which I regard as edge cases rather than as good answers.
  • Tell you what my favorite answer is, explain why it’s wrong, and explain how it fits in to the writing project.

OK, you had fair warning: you should have stopped reading a while ago if you accepted the challenge. The sport I had in mind is: tennis. Several other racquet sports meet the conditions in much the same way. I’ll explain in terms of badminton, since it has a simpler scoring system than tennis. I could also have used squash or table tennis or…

Two people, Ackroyd and Belushi, agreed to play badminton. Per the scoring rules of badminton, their match consisted of the best of three games, each game being to 21 points (with some exceptions, none of which arose for A and B).

B won the first game easily, 21-8. But A was better built for the long haul, and won the second game 21-19. He won the third and deciding game by the same score.

So A won the three-game match: he won two of the three games. But B scored more points: 59 to 50.

Here are some edge cases. One is freestyle wrestling (currently an Olympic sport, as are all the sports mentioned in this post). Craig Massey pointed out (on Facebook) that it meets the conditions. My explanation differs a little from his…

Belushi, smarting from his defeat on the badminton court, challenged Ackroyd to a freestyle wresting match. A accepted. B was quickly ahead, taking A down with a throw of grand amplitude, thus scoring 5 points. B then hit A with a steel chair. B was immediately disqualified–much to his surprise, since he’d seen several wrestling matches involving unpunished chair shots. Thus A was declared the winner, even though B scored more points. Several other combat sports, including boxing, are similar edge cases.

Limited overs cricket meets the conditions, due to the Duckworth-Lewis method But I’m not going to explain it here. This is a post, not a book, and it’s already rather long.

My favorite answer to the challenge is: the Electoral College process by which the President of the USA is elected. It’s not a correct answer, since it doesn’t meet “condition zero”: it’s not a sport. Well, I don’t think it is, but feel free to argue otherwise.

But my favorite answer does meet conditions 1-3, as the 2016 election illustrates. Hilary Clinton scored more points (won the popular vote) but lost the match (the Presidential election).

That brings us to the writing project referred to above. The premise is that American politics is actually a show, spread across multiple media: TV, Twitter, etc. It has distinct episodes. Here’s a quote from the current draft.

In recent episodes, the Democrats have done little more than bleat about the Electoral College system. It is as if they are neighbors and tennis opponents of the Republican protagonists. The Democrats just lost a match, because the Republicans won more sets. The Democrats remark that they won most of the points, and thus the Republicans didn’t really beat them.

That paragraph doesn’t work well. I thought that a different sports analogy might improve it. That gave me the idea of issuing the challenge, first on Facebook, then here.

The challenge turned out to be interesting in its own right. Even if it doesn’t end up affecting the quoted description of the Democrats, it’ll have been worth it, for me at least. I hope that this has been interesting for you, too, since you made it to the end of this post–which is open for comments, by the way!

A Darker Archive of Viciousness

Victor readjusted the shovels on his shoulder and stepped gingerly over an old, half-sunken grave. His trench billowed faintly, brushing the tops of tombstones as he made his way through Merit Cemetery, humming as he went. The sounds carried like wind through the dark. It made Sydney shiver…

He stopped humming, rested his shoe lightly on a tombstone, and scanned the dark. Not with his eyes so much as with his skin, or rather with the thing that crept beneath it, tangled in his pulse.

That’s from the first page of Vicious, a novel by V. E. Schwab. Perhaps I should just let the writing speak for itself, but I’ll add a couple of things. First, while the quote suggests that Vicious falls within the horror genre, it actually draws more from the superhero genre. Second, the most horrifying (to me) revelation comes a few pages in to the novel, when we find out what Victor’s parents do.

I have so far read three of Schwab’s novels, and been impressed by each of them. I just finished Vicious. I previously read A Darker Shade of Magic, also “by V. E. Schwab”–and hence also “for adults”.

I started with The Archived, “by Victoria Schwab”, the name under which the author publishes her Young Adult (YA) fiction (and the name on her main Goodreads account). Strange though it may seem, I’d say that The Archived is the most likely of the three books I’ve read to give the reader nightmares.

I’m glad to say that each of the three is the first of a series. I am sometimes wary of prolific writers who write series, rather than standalones, but Schwab writes well and distinctively, while being able to find the right tone for each particular book/series.

Summary: I recommend the fiction of Victoria E. Schwab, whatever the book cover calls her.

Another Tabletop Kickstarter Tops Target

The Kickstarter campaign for Swamped was, I’m delighted to write, very successful. Now, that sentence, and the post title, will raise questions for some readers. If you’re not among those readers, you can just skip down to the paragraph with the chart.

Questions arising from this post’s title and opening sentence may well include:

  • What’s Kickstarter? Well, Kickstarter describes itself as “a new way to fund creative projects”.
  • What’s Swamped? It’s a card game (and hence a creative project) funded using Kickstarter. The players are adventurers, traveling through the swamp in a shared boat, seeking to achieve certain goals. Some of these goals, such as avoiding the hungry croc, are shared. Other goals differ between adventurers, and are private.
  • What does Tabletop mean here? It denotes a type of game that’s not a video game: this could mean a card game, like Swamped, or a board game, or…
  • What do you mean when you describe the Kickstarter as “very successful”? Well, …

SwampedMinichart
The chart shows that the Kickstarter for Swamped was successful, especially over its last few days. It:

  • Raised well over twice its funding goal.
  • Attracted more than 1,000 backers: each of these backers pledged money in order to receive a specific reward; most of them pledged $12 plus shipping for one copy of the game.
  • Saw an upturn in funding over the last few days of the campaign. If you looked at the chart carefully, you might have noticed that the last 3 days of the campaign saw a pledge total of over $5,000, and of more than 25% of the total for the whole campaign.

Continue reading “Another Tabletop Kickstarter Tops Target”

Kickstarter: Congratulations and Commentary

The Kickstarter for the tabletop game Between Two Cities (B2C) finished yesterday. It was a tremendous success: it raised $221,265, more than 10 times its $20,000 goal; it attracted 5,287 backers.

Congratulations to the designers, the publisher, and the community of backers. The post will focus on the publisher, Stonemaier Games, and in particular on the work of Jamey Stegmaier, the creator and curator of the Kickstarter project (but I certainly don’t intend to slight the game itself, which I consider excellent, or its designers).

As B2C was about to Kickstart I, along with many other people, was confident that B2C would fund quickly, and go on to achieve a multiple of its funding goal. It did indeed make an impressive start, despite Kickstarter going down for some of its first day. Each of the links in this paragraph goes to a previous post here. A third post describes stretch goals and other forms in which Kickstarter creators can offer additional content, using B2C as an example to describe the SAVES (stretch goals, add-ons, variants, expansions, and siblings) framework.

The thing that struck me most forcibly about the B2C Kickstarter was Jamey’s use of updates. He made 9 of them over the 20-day course of the project, then a tenth just after it finished. Every update had some compelling content, and started a distinct conversation with and among backers. That’s impressive, given that it means an update every 2 or 3 days.

Two updates in particular stand out for me, even though neither of them delivered big news.

  • #2 was about seating positions (e.g., Jamey sits between Ben and Matthew), and in particular about a potential deck of cards, each providing a rule for seating. I personally am not interested in this, but it is clear from the extensive and enthusiastic discussion that many backers are.
  • #8 was about the sides of the game box. That’s a comparatively small issue for most games, but Jamey’s partner Alan Stone pointed out that it was worth improving the design of the B2C box sides. Artist Beth Sobel came up with an improvement, and Jamey included some of her sketches in the update. This update showed concern for detail and improvement, and showed that Alan and Beth each share this concern with Jamey.

Although I am very impressed with B2C and its Kickstarter, there are a couple of ways in which it was a little disappointing. Each relates to the stretch goals set in update #1. First, the stretch goals themselves, with the notable exception of the 1-player Automa deck, weren’t very exciting. Most were variations in tile art.

The design of B2C seems to just beg for variants and expansions. I mean this in a good way. I certainly don’t think that the base game is incomplete. So another variant or small expansion among the stretch goals would have made things a lot more interesting to me.

B2CbackingSecond, strange though it may be to say, I was surprised that B2C didn’t raise even more. The original stretch goals went up to $250,000, and I think that project creators tend to set goals they consider achievable, if ambitious. Early on, that was the number I had in mind. With about a week to go, I thought that the project would come in a little under that. (Had there been a competition to estimate the final amount, my entry would have been $244,444).

I expected the last few days to show an sharp rise in backing. They certainly showed a rise, but didn’t come close to matching the initial funding frenzy. The first day alone saw over $69,000 raised: the last three days together didn’t match that. It may simply be that the preparation and launch were so good that some people who are usually “wait and see” backers backed B2C right away.

Given an adjustment in stretch goals during the Kickstarter, the $221,265 raised was just under the highest stretch goal: the seating deck, at $225,000. I was wondering what would happen about that deck. It ended up in the box, with all the other stretch goals.

I would have seriously considered making the seating deck an add-on. I know that there are backers who are very enthusiastic about it, and that some of them contributed their own ideas for seating rules. I also know that there is at least one backer who isn’t interested in the deck (but who understands that others are). Those distinct tiers of interest, and the fact that the seating deck doesn’t affect the game once it starts, seemed to make the deck a candidate for an add-on. But…

Stonemaier knows best. That’s my conclusion on the matter of the seating deck. It’s also a pretty good topic sentence for the last paragraph of this post about the extremely well-run Kickstarter for Between Two Cities.

An English Quiz

Edit, the morning after, mainly to include link to answers. Changes are in italics.

My kids’ school has an International Night on Thursday (March 12). I was asked to represent England. I will do so in three main ways: staff England table; provide English food; set English quiz. The food will include Apple Crumble, using the recipe from the BBC site, made with the help of my daughter, and accompanied by custard.

If you are interested in quizzes or in England, please take a look at my English Quiz. Most of the questions are for elementary school (grades K-5, so up to age 11) kids; that doesn’t mean that they are all easy. Anyway, give them a try before you look at the answers.

Then there are five questions aimed at parents, or kids of any age. Some of the parent questions are stated as if the victim quiz-taker is able to talk to me in person. Here are alternate forms of some of those questions for you, my online friends.

  • PQ2 (Parent Question 2), addition to the question: what will I be wearing? Hint: I was wearing a long scarf with horizontal stripes.
  • PQ4: if you tell me you’re singing and/or dancing, I’ll believe you. Hint: The song is actually more associated with Philadelphia than with anywhere in England.
  • PQ5: this question is difficult, unfair, and over-specialized. If you can’t cope with that, I recommend you avoid modern life. I included hints for this question among the answers.

I’ll post answers over the weekend after the International Night. I’ll do so in the comments below. In the meantime, please feel free to post your own comments.