Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Depression Era Hoarding

When I was a kid, my grandparents saved weird things, plastic bags bread came in, the card board center of toilet paper rolls, scrapes of cloth, to name just a few odds and ends. At the time, I had no idea why they did this, and when I would ask, they would simply reply, you never know when you might need them. This made some vague sort of sense to me, but not really. When I got older, I noticed that other peoples grandparents did the same thing, and learned a little bit about history, I realized they did this because they had grown up during the Great Depression and during that time, you did not throw anything out, absolutely everything had a secondary use.

I began thinking about this, because several weeks ago when this whole COVID-19 thing came into the broader public awareness, and people began hoarding toilet paper and it was getting difficult to get, while I had plenty to last me for several weeks, I felt that I needed a backup plan. I was hoping that once everyone had filled up their spare bedroom with boxes and boxes of toilet paper, they would realize they were being stupid, but I was not going to count on that. I went on Amazon and saw that basically all toilet paper would take 4-6 weeks to be delivered, I ordered an 18 roll bundle and figured it was going to be more like 6-8 weeks, which I ended up being right about. At the time, I was thinking, that was going to be cutting it close and that where I started thinking about plan B.

A few days later, I had just been to the drive through at McDonalds and when I opened by bag, there were napkins, I pulled them out and went to toss them in the backseat, where I had accumulated a small pile. I keep them, because you never know when you will need them, wait this sounds familiar and my plan B solidified in my brain. I would save all the napkins I could get by hook or by crook.

Here we are now, 6 weeks later, my toilet paper from Amazon has arrived and here is my accumulation of napkins.

I think my grandmother would be proud of me.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Postmortem on my FaceBook Reading Challenege

I finished all the book recommended to me at the beginning of the year by my FaceBook friends except 1. My very dear friend Alan recommended VMWare for Dummies, I did not read this book because my sense of the world right now is somewhat bleak and I really need good escapist fantasy, and VMWare for Dummies just seemed to much like work to me, too real. So I am very sorry Alan, I apologize, in this respect I have failed.

The biggest surprise of the challenge was Looking for Alaska by John Green. This book took me by complete surprise. This is not the type of book I generally like, I did not enjoy my teenage years very much and so I am not inclined to like books about the subject, I generally cannot relate. But Looking for Alaska was a genuinely good book with some interesting insight into the teenage psyche, mind you, I still cannot relate, but it was a good book anyway.

The biggest let down was Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, this book did not work for me in any way. The subject matter did not bother me at all, but I found the authors humor annoying and writing style to be completely wrong for this type of book. Stiff was hard to read and undeniably bad.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells was a big hit with me, I have always enjoyed her writing and this book is some of her best work, its fast, its funny, its well worth the time to read. The Circle by David Poyer was a book I wished I had liked better than I did, it was not a terrible book, it really just failed to draw me in.

I really enjoyed this challenge, it was fun reading books my friends enjoyed and sharing experiences with them. I hope everyone followed the links from FaceBook and took the time to read my reviews. Thank you to my Niece Elizabeth for suggesting I review the books when I read them as part of the shared experience. I am definitely doing this again next year

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Review: A River Runs Through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean

A River Runs through It and Other StoriesA River Runs through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Oh my god, I am glad to be done with this book. This book was a serious slog for me and the biggest problem is, even after finishing the book, I am still not sure what it was even about. I am not going to apologize for not liking this book. I did not like for the same reason I do not particularly care for Steinbeck and Hemingway, they are people who talk and talk for hours, but never say anything consequential, they don't talk about anything meaningful. This is all fine and dandy in a casual conversation with your friends, but when reading a book, it is really boring.

I will say Maclean is a serviceable writer, his prose is clean, it easy to read and the story does flow well, even if it takes him 3 chapters to get to a point, not the main point, just a point. However, the subject matter was just not engaging in any sense. Not every bodies life is worth reading about, 99% of us live quiet boring lives, in which there is maybe one good short story. Maclean decided his story was worth 240 pages and it really wasn't.

Okay, I suppose I have blown this book up enough. I can see why people like it, it is low key, very folksy and I am sure there is a decent audience out there for books where fly fishing is a metaphor for life. It is not a stressful book to read and if I were in the right mood, this would probably be a nice book for a slow Sunday afternoon read in a warm quiet place. This is probably the books saving grace.

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Monday, April 6, 2020

Review: Far-Seer by Robert Sawyer

Far-Seer (The Quintaglio Ascension Book 1)Far-Seer by Robert J. Sawyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Far-Seer is a very good book. The story explores the the affects of science on society as old beliefs and faith are replaced by and with scientific discovery. On earth this took centuries and in many ways still goes on today. In Far-Seer, the reptilian race of the Quintaglio must make this journey in decades rather than centuries. The writing is smooth for the most part, there are some rough spots, but nothing that interrupted the flow of the story for me. The characters were a tad on the shallow side, but this is often true of books that are intended as series instead of stand alone books. What the author really excelled at in my opinion is world building. I really liked the culture of the Quintaglio, he did a very good job of laying out the political structure, the religion of the Quintaglio and the world they lived on. If you are looking for something different and enjoyable, this is the book for you.

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Saturday, April 4, 2020

Creating a Zero-level Character in D&D 5E

Zero-level characters are just that, the ZEROES of the world. They are the Inn
Keepers and Bar Wenches, the owner of the general store and the sailors manning the ships at sea. Most of these people never earn the 300 experience points needed to obtain 1st level and become one of the truly remarkable people in the world. This system is primarily for building NPC's like Torch Bearers or Scroll Caddies. However, it can also be a challenging way for player characters to start their careers. 


Ability Scores:
Players have 12 points to spend on ability scores, per the Players Handbook, page 13. You may also choose to use the Zero-level character standard array (12, 10, 10, 10, 10, 8)

Race:
The player chooses one of the races from any book sanctioned by the Dungeon Master. Modify abilities accordingly.

Alignment:
All Zero-level characters are neutral. The player will choose an alignment when the character reaches 1st level.

Hit Points:
Zero-level characters have 6 hit points plus Constitution modifier.

Background:
The player may choose a background for his character from any book sanctioned by the Dungeon Master.

Weapon Proficiency:
All Zero-level characters are proficient in a single Simple Weapon.

Equipment:
A Zero-level character begins play with the weapon they are proficient with, a set of common clothing and a pouch with 10 gold pieces to purchase additional equipment prior to play.

Experience Points:
Zero-level characters begin play with -300 experience points.

During play: 
PC's will be given the chance to learn to use weapons, cast spells and pickup skills, prior to becoming 1st level. These abilities will be retained after they become 1st level, but cannot be improved up unless the player chooses the appropriate class. 

Weapon Proficiency: 
Any character may attempt to learn to use any specific weapon by using it in two fights and then making DC 12 Intelligence roll, on a success, the player becomes proficient with that weapon. If the roll is failed, the character may make the roll again after another fight in which they use the weapon. Only one weapon proficiency can be learned in this fashion. 

Spells:
Any character may attempt to learn a Cantrip by attempting to and successfully casting the spell two consecutive times. The character must spend 1 hour studying the spell from a spellbook or scroll. After studying the Cantrip, he may attempt to cast the Cantrip by making a DC 12 attribute roll against the controlling attribute of the spell, ie Wizard spells use Intelligence, Cleric spells use Wisdom, Sorcerer spells use Charisma, etc. Warlock spells may not be learned in this fashion, as they are pact gifts. Upon two consecutive successful castings in this fashion, the character has learned the spell and may now use it, using the normal Cantrip rules. If the roll is failed, the character must further study the the Cantrip for 1 hour and then can attempt to cast the Cantrip again. Only one Cantrip can be learned in this fashion.

Skills:
Zero-level characters roll at Disadvantage when attempting any skill they are not proficient with. Any Character may attempt to learn a skill they do not have a proficiency with. To gain a Proficiency, the character must attempt to use the skill on two separate occasions where the the skill is appropriate to the situation. Upon succeeding at two consecutive attempts to use the skill where the DC was 12 or higher, the character no longer rolls at Disadvantage when attempting to use that skill. After two more consecutive attempts at using the skill where the DC was 12 or higher, the character gains proficiency in that skill. Only one skill may be learned in this fashion.
 
1st Level:
Once a
Zero-level character earns 300 experience points, putting them at zero total experience points, they advance to 1st level, the player has an additional 15 points to increase the characters ability scores, chooses a class and assign an alignment. The player may also choose a Feat as a bonus for going through the process of being a Zero-level Character.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Review: Wool by Hugh Howey

Wool (Wool, #1)Wool by Hugh Howey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wool is a short story, normally I would have blown through this story in a single sitting, but I actually stopped reading another book to pick this one up, then I went back to the other book and finished it. This probably says something about both stories. However Wool is actually a good read, in just 58 pages the author built an interesting setting, constructed an interesting leading character, and walked us through a compelling story.

I have two problems with this story, first I think this was the authors first work or he did not have a good editor, there were some rough spots that a good editor and another draft probably would have fixed. The second is the primary focus of the story does not really make much sense. I don't think I am giving much away by saying, this is a post apocalyptic society living underground, their only connection to the surface world is cameras that give them a view of the blighted landscape. Periodically the lenses of these cameras need to be cleaned, but instead of sending out trained professionals to do maintenance on sensitive equipment, they send criminals and dissidents out with a rag and Windex on a one way trip. While this makes for an interesting personal story for the main character, it is really kind of silly.

Wool is a good story, well worth the read in spite of the rather minor problems I found.


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Thursday, April 2, 2020

Review: The Circle (Dan Lenson, #3)

The Circle (Dan Lenson, #3)The Circle by David Poyer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am somewhat torn in my opinion of this book. On the one hand, I understand what the author was trying to convey. He was paining a picture of the what it is like to be aboard a combat vessel during the cold war, when there were frequent stand offs between American and Soviet ships at sea. These stand off must have been stressful and dangerous beyond belief, the captains of these ships had to make hard choices about what to do and when to do, and I am sure this often caused the lose of life. I think over all the author did an okay job of bringing that across.

On the other hand, I did not find the authors writing style to be terribly interesting. The plot moved along too slowly, sometime getting mired in unimportant details. The book was really two stories, had the book ended after the first part, I think I probably would have rated it higher, but the story went on for another 200 pages. I did not find any of the characters particularly compelling and it was fairly obvious how any given character was going to react to the situation at hand.

So over all, this was a decent book, not a great, but okay. I admit, part of that is I do not particularly care for this type of fiction. If you enjoy military style fiction, you will likely enjoy this book, however if you are looking for a fast moving adventure novel, this is not it.

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