Dumping Place

So, this one site is one that I’ve forgotten about over time.  I was so focussed on the Tumblr site (http://www.ridingtohellinahandbasket.com) for so long and then after that it was Facebook (http://fb.me/TomD1969), that this place really wasn’t on my radar.  The creation of a Windows app kinda means that it becomes easier for me to post and administer this site (is that the right term?  Geez, I’ve been out of the blogging game for too long).

So now the question becomes: What do I do with this space now that it’s here?  It has never really garnered the attention that my other avenues have (see “Tumblr”), that might be okay.

In the past, I have done reviews of RPG assistant apps for RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder (see this and this are two primary examples) with the proviso that they be “rules agnostic,” meaning they can be used by all players regardless of what rules system they use.  Dicenomicon and Sheet Yourself are two examples of this.  I would like to continue in that vein and maybe get my math explanations (what is the area of a 2m hex in the Hero System?) and maybe provide support for my personal favorite RPG: Champions.

We’ll see.

RPG Assistance App Review: Sheet Yourself

Let me start by getting the obvious out of the way: the name “Sheet Yourself” is a terrible name.  There, I said it.  I feel better.

Now, on with the show.

Sheet Yourself (which I’ll call “SY” from now on so I can avoid that name) is a system-agnostic character sheet editing and displaying app for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire, and costs $0.99.

Despite its terrible name, this does have quite a bit going for it, but it doesn’t quite get there.  More on that in a minute because I always like to start with the good stuff, then get to the bad stuff.

The Good Stuff

First of all, the app is aesthetically pleasing and the interface is clean and relatively easy to understand.

Ah!  Look at how pretty that is!  Look how clean!  Why can't all apps be this pretty?

Ah! Look at how pretty that is! Look how clean! Why can’t all apps be this pretty?

(Side Note: Allow me to apologize to Vanessa Hudgens and the copyright holders for using their photos.  I would love to give credit, but I haven’t been able to find any).

Now, as you’ll see in my screen cap above, “Sheet” as this app refers to it is not just for characters; it is for abilities, weapons, armor, consumables, anything that might have stats that would litter a normal character sheet.  A good example is the weapon I have there which is based on the Blast.  The important stats on the blast itself is to the right on its own sheet; then I linked the Blast to the Holdout Pistol.  What you can’t see is that I’ve also linked the Holdout Pistol to Lorena Méndez.  Just like last week’s review, this is showing how this app could be used for the Hero System.

First you start with a template, and then you add attributes to it which you can categorize.

Ability Template

This is a template for an Ability. In SY, an Ability can be just about anything: a power, a spell, and so on; something that is “inherent” to the character. There are several templates available (Weapon, Armor, Consumable, Character) and all can be linked to each other.

Adding Categories and Attributes could not be simpler: you just tap “Tap here to add an Attribute” and you’re presented with a text box to enter the attribute (it can be whatever you need).

Editing Attributes

Tapping on the “Add an Attribute” button will bring up a text box where you can type anything you need into it. You can also see some other Attributes that I’ve grouped as “Skills”. Conversation has an asterisk because it is affected by other abilities.

The app is pretty flexible on what it can do.  I’m very pleased with the visual aspect of the app, and I’m pleased with many aspects of its flexibility.

The Bad (Other Than the Name)

One thing that I find annoying is that you first have to create a sheet from a template and then have to go back into it to add attributes.  Why doesn’t it go directly into the sheet once I’ve created it?  I can’t find a logical reason why it shouldn’t.  At the very least, give me a button at the bottom of the sheet creation screen to give me that option.

Another thing that I find annoying is that each attribute has only one field, almost as if the designers thought “Oh, they won’t need to have a numerical value in addition to a text value.”  I think this is very short-sighted of them, and hamstrings any further development in this area.

Speaking of which, why doesn’t it include tracking of Hit Points/Stun/Body/Health/Whatever?  Also, shots on that Holdout Pistol in the screencap above?  On their website, they make a big deal about being a paperless character sheet system.  If that’s so, then why do I need a piece of scrap paper to keep track of HP?  It’s baffling.

Finally, it would be great (although, perhaps a pipe dream) if it would make appropriate rolls that I can set up in advance (in the case of the Hero System, it would be “roll 3d6 and compare it to the skill level and tell me by how much I make or miss the roll”).  This is what I mean by “hamstringing further development.”  If they had included more than one field per Attribute (such as a text element and a numerical element) it would have made this bit simpler.

Overall

Despite its crappy name, this is a very solid character sheet app despite its shortcomings and lack of foresight in certain areas on the part of the developers.

My grade: B-

RPG Assistance App Review: The Dicenomicon

Inspiration has suddenly hit: I’m going to try to review apps that assist players and GMs in RPGs, whether they are dice rollers, character sheets, and so on.  Biases: I’m a Hero System fanatic, so I look for things that will work with the Hero System.  Also, I only own an iOS device, so I don’t know if these apps are available for Android.

Dicenomicon

Dicenomicon’s Roll Box.  Note the dice at the bottom: tapping them throws one die of that type into the roll box.  For 3d6, just tap “d6” three times.  More dice are available by swiping to the left.

Today, I thought I’d start by reviewing The Dicenomicon by gandreas software (Download it on the iTunes App Store, $5.99US).

The Dicenomicon is a system agnostic dice-rolling app.  You can use it any number of ways: there is a bar on the bottom of the screen that you can tap for a quick roll of dice, or you can use the very powerful dice macro system.

A Macro example

Here, in this macro example, we see that it will roll 8d6 and display the results in Stun and Body for the Hero System (Champions).

The type of dice available to roll is simply staggering, including some (such as the d9) that I did not know existed.  It can handle open-ended d% rolls (like Rolemaster), dice pools (such as ShadowRun and StoryTeller), and the BODY and STUN of the aforementioned Hero System.  You can save die macros in your favorites for quick access to the rolls you use the most often for your game.

A D&D 4 character sheet in Dicenomicon

This is the character sheet for D&D 4th. Just about everything on this screencap is tappable, and will automatically roll the appropriate dice (usually a d20), compare it to a Difficulty, and display the results.

Probably the most staggeringly powerful function of the app is the character sheet ability.  You can download a template for a character sheet and put in all your pertinent stats (Characteristics, Skills, Powers, etc).  All you have to do is tap the appropriate ability on the character sheet (such as the Fortitude Saving Throw in the above screencap), type in the target number and any modifiers and Dicenomicon will automatically roll the appropriate dice for you and tell you the results.  Unfortunately, there are only templates for a few systems (d20 and Pathfinder among them).

Now, to the bad: there is an annoying bug where every once in a while an extra set of dice will appear in the roll box, particularly when you shake the device to re-roll.  Also, occasionally, the dice will just freeze in mid-air.

The support is better than I’ve seen with some apps, but could still use some work.

There are also some peculiarities and annoyances in the die roll macros, too, such as parts of the “if-then-else” clause will just disappear with no rhyme or reason.  Parts of it are also woefully under-documented, and if they are documented, not very easy to get to or find.

All in all, this is a good app to assist players and GMs.  It could use some more full templates for more systems (such as the Hero System, alas), but is powerful enough to assist players of any system, regardless.

My Grade: B+

What A Day!

An alarm was going off at work, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find the source. I called a technician and asked him to help find the source and shut it off.

I followed him around as he went from station to station trying to find the source of the alarm and turn it off. More than once, the technician would say, “Aha!” and push a button; yet the annoying alarm kept blaring.

Despair began to settle in that we were never going to find the source of this horrible and terrifying alarm and that I would certainly get into trouble for it. The technician stopped and we looked at each other, and he grudgingly admitted, “I don’t know how to turn this off.”

I woke up in my bed, the alarm on my iPhone going off. It was all a dream. I grumbled as I tapped “snooze,” rolled over, and went back to sleep.

Brain Dump

So I think I’ve reached a point in my life where I couldn’t give a shit less whether or not anybody reads my blog.  The problem is that I’ve said this before, and got caught up in the trap of suddenly caring, and reading analytics, and trying to make my other blog conform to what I believed others wanted from me, and it has made me miserable and a half.  (now, there’s a title of a blog: Miserable and a Half.  If only “Hyperbole and a Half” wasn’t already taken).  But I ended up being miserable.

Anyway, so this blog is going to have to be about a place where I practice writing in the long form, and where I can see about some deeper topics than in my other blog.

I might post here something about math, science, technology, and any other nerdy endeavor that I fascinates me at the moment.  You’ve been warned.

Before We Attack Mark Sanchez…

To give some context: the New York Jets lost last night on Monday Night Football 14-10 to the Tennessee Titans and eliminated themselves from playoff contention.

(DISCLAIMER: I am just a fan on the outside looking in; I have no special knowledge.  Where I’m speculating, I’ll try to make it clear)

Image

Photo by TexKap/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Mark Sanchez was horrible last night.  Four interceptions do not give your team much of a chance to win the game.

But what happened?  When he was drafted, Sanchez was touted as the golden child; the “Sanchize.”  Now, he’s so horrible, he can’t even string together a drive without a 3 and out or an interception.

It would be good to remember some history here, to understand how this happened.

For the first two seasons Sanchez was in the NFL, the Jets made it to the playoffs both seasons.  This was because of a couple of things: The Jets defense was one of the best in the NFL at the time (now they’re merely “OK”), so even if Sanchez made a mistake, the defense could get him the ball back pretty quickly. Also, he had a pretty solid backfield, and a decent receiving corps.

Not only was this all dismantled (some of which was due to mismanagement–see Eric Barton and Chris Baker), but there was something that happened to Sanchez himself.

For the first three seasons, the Jets’ offensive coordinator was Brian Schottenheimer.  It is my belief that Schottenheimer was content to let Sanchez be Sanchez; to let him play the way that had gotten him so much success in USC.  However, halfway through Sanchez’s second season, Schottenheimer was pressured into making Sanchez a more “traditional” NFL quarterback.  It was at this point, I believe, Sanchez started to fall apart.

Then, last season, Sanchez had one of the worst seasons ever.  He had a total of 18 INTs last season, fifth worst in the NFL.  His QB Rating was 78.2, 17th worst of the 44 QBs that had more than 100 attempts last year.  Again, I believe this is because the coaches and management were trying to make Sanchez into something that he’s not: someone who takes unnecessary risks; in the first 1.5 seasons, he would have just run with the ball, now he’s trying to throw it into questionable situations.

After such a lackluster season, he was concerned about his job, and rightly so.  Then, two things happened: they replaced Schottenheimer with Tony Sparano, a guy who was fired from his previous job as head coach of the Dolphins because he didn’t seem to have a basic grasp of tactics; and they traded for Tim Tebow for a six-pack of beer and a pack of smokes.

Now, think of this from Sanchez’s perspective: he has just had a very bad season.  He knows that the very instant he throws his first interception, or makes any other questionable play, the fans will call for “Tebow Time.”  He knows he’s operating on borrowed time, and he has to perform.  Essentially, the only way he can keep his job would be if he were to suddenly become Joe Montana.  It won’t happen, but I believe that’s what he’s thinking.

During this past season, Sanchez has been spotty at best, but the coaching hasn’t helped; the minute he starts to get into a rhythm, it seems he gets pulled out and Tebow gets put in.  It happened last night: he strung a couple of decent plays together (I think it was one for 12 yds, followed almost immediately with one for 22 yds), and Sparano pulled him out, and put Tebow in.  I don’t know how he responded to it, but I know I would have been frustrated.

So, before we attack Mark Sanchez (I know there’s nothing Jets fans love to do more than dump on our QBs), we have to ask ourselves this question: What has gotten him here?  How did this happen?

The answer to me is obvious: Sanchez has been poorly mismanaged from the beginning, and Schottenheimer was probably the only good thing that happened to Sanchez since coming to the NFL, and they traded down to get Sparano (who wasn’t a good head coach and is not a good offensive coordinator in my lay opinion).  So if any change has to occur, it must happen with the coaching staff.  Sparano definitely needs to be fired, and probably Rex Ryan, too.  This should happen before the Jets get rid of Sanchez.

DC Universe Online

Batman

Batman in DCUO

I’ve been playing DC Universe Online (hereafter to be called “DCUO”) a lot lately.  It is a Massive Multiplayer online game based on the DC Comics franchise.  It allows you to play a superhero (or supervillain) and interact with all of the DC characters we’ve all come to know and love: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, the Joker, Lex Luthor, Bizarro, Gorilla Grodd, Circe, and so on.  It goes by three different models: Free-to-play (free, but you don’t get all of the character options), Premium (where you get some but not all of the character options on a pay basis), and Legendary (where you pay monthly, and get access to all character options and DLC).

It’s a fun game, and it’s nice to play in the settings that I read about in comics (Metropolis, Gotham City).

However, I can’t help but feel that the game has missed an opportunity to make the game even more fun.  For example:

First of all, all players should be encouraged (if not outright forced) to play both a hero and a villain character, at the very least.

Secondly, all players are PvP (there is an option to turn off PvP, but that’s no fun).

Third, and this is most important: The villains need to be cut loose after a certain level.  There just aren’t enough opportunities for the villains to cause mayhem.  Where are the banks that villains can rob to finance their schemes?  Where are the museums holding artifacts of arcane power for a villain to try to steal?  The armored cars for a simpler villain to knock off?  What about hirelings/henchmen?

Let’s describe what I’m thinking about:

The Villainous Victoria (a mystic blaster) decides that she needs some cash to make improvements to her Sanctum Sanctorum.  She

the villainous Victoria

The Villainous Victoria

and a handful of thugs break into the Gotham Bank on River and Third in Gotham City.  As soon as she does, a timer starts.  She has a base time of 2:00 to finish whatever she is doing (this time can be increased due to her powers and skills, and decreased based on how well the bank is protected).  After the timer is up, all of the heroes within a few blocks of the bank (within a reasonable character level range) are made aware of the robbery, and get an opportunity to stop it.

If Villainous Victoria gets captured, she should have to log off (or sit in prison), until she either busts herself out, or is busted out by her henchmen, or 8 hours, whichever happens first.

If Villainous Victoria gets away during the robbery, she can use the money she gets to buy the demonic portal she needs for her plans to succeed, make improvements on her base (the demon summoning room is needing a fresh coat of paint–that virgin blood gets everywhere), hire more henchmen, and so on.

Any other ideas?

On the First Amendment of the US Constitution

First, let me get a legal disclaimer out of the way:  I am not a lawyer.  I am a layperson who has an opinion and who can read English.  Do not use this post as any kind of legal advice.  Seek out a lawyer for that.

Let me first begin by giving the full text of the First Amendment to the US Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It is specifically the “Religion” clause that I’m going to tackle.  Note what this says about the “establishment of religion.”  This requires a bit of historical context.

The original colonies that made up what would eventually become the United States of America were originally people who had been persecuted in England due to their religious beliefs: Quakers would settle in Pennsylvania, Catholics settled in Maryland, Puritans would settle in Massachusetts, and so on.

The United States was not and is not one faith under God.  It was many faiths: Catholic and Protestant alike.

England, at the time all of this was happening, specifically had an “official” religion for much of its more recent history.  This was usually the Church of England (at least since the reign of Henry VIII), but at various times has also been Catholic (pre-Henry, but also during the time of Mary I, Elizabeth I’s half-sister and at various other times), and whatever the hell Oliver Cromwell was.  But there was hardly a time in England’s history that it didn’t have an “official” religion.

For the US, this Amendment made it specifically clear that our Founding Fathers weren’t brooking any of that nonsense.  They specifically forbade Congress from establishing any religion as an “official” religion of the US, mostly because they knew that no one would agree what that religion should be.  The solution: it should be none of them.

Okay, to put it another way.  Let’s say you had walked into a courthouse and had seen this on the wall (assuming you are Christian, that is):

In the name of Allah, Most gracious, Most merciful
Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds
Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Master of the Day of Judgement
Thee do we worship, and Thine aide we seek
Show us the straight way
The way of those on whom Thou has bestowed thy Grace, those whose portion
Is not wrath, and who do not go astray.

–Qu’ran

(source)

What would your reaction be?  For a Muslim, this would be a mindful prayer, and would have a specific meaning to him.  To you (a Christian), this might be an effrontery.

So, before you get up in arms about how you’re being persecuted for being a Christian because the Supreme Court ruled that you cannot post the Ten Commandments in front of your town hall, understand that this is to protect your own rights as a Christian/Muslim/Jew/Pagan/Heathen/Atheist.