Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Issue of Blipdoolpoolp

That is the title of the "adventure" I have entered in the 2013 One Page Dungeon Contest and when I first stumbled across the contest I was whisked back to days of yore. As a young 0-lvl NPC I first received The Purple Box, a set of basic rules for playing Dungeons & Dragons. It was a Christmas present but for a science oriented tween growing up on a 200+ year old swampy farm in New England it was like receiving a copy of the Necronomicon. After I spent all day reading, I was inspired to create my own dungeon that involved Beserkers, Trolls, and Gnomes all living in the same dungeon! All on one page. My mother's family is Swedish, so these creatures were easy to grasp. Maybe I'll redo it with updated rules and a more worldly sense of the fantastic.

Anyways, the other thing I was reading during those formative years were the horror stories of H.P. Lovecraft, who like myself, was born and raised in Rhode Island and can trace a lineage of ancestry back to the Mayflower. Somehow these ancient rivulets of interest have burbled back together and combined with subsequent streams as a marine ecologist on a research vessel in Narragansett Bay and the arcana of a geneticist. The result is my entry entilted The Issue of Blipdoolpoolp.

The entry as seen is in fact a condensed version of what was a one page two side dungeon. The challenge in reducing it to one side was to pare down the descriptive prose without losing all the flavor. I went with an old school, hand drawn, side-view map to emphasize the role tidal elevation should play in this adventure. However, it is possible that if the denizens are DMed into passive punching bags, or the DM can't manage subdual damage (from poison, water, and cold), the PCs might just waltz right through this thing. The goal of the design is to make the PCs hesitate through uncertainty at every step...and to be a little grossed out an the end...think about it carefully. Perhaps, after the contest, I'll elaborate.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Happy Birthday Dad

On a recent hot, hazy and humid summer day Susan, Alek and I, made an outing to a local playground where Alek likes to run around. At one point, he stopped to watch the pee-wee soccer game at the nearby field. Soon, he'll be running about and kicking the ball as we have enrolled him the preschool version. As I stood there contemplating the sports future of our somewhat physically reserved cutie pie, I was swept by a wave of nostalgia to consider the circumstances of My formative sports experiences.

It seems not so long ago that I too was on a hot and sweaty summertime field ready to embark on a season of farm team baseball. Certainly, I was older than Alek is now, somewhere in the early middle grades, which means I probably understood a lot more of what was going on. For example, I knew our team was a bunch of misfits rescued from "the draft", there were fat kids, not so skilled kids, the team sponsors kids, my younger brother and even a girl. The prognosis for success seemed highly unlikely, we'd be lucky to break 500. Yet the coach seemed undaunted, unphased, like the other coaches he could have had his share of the truely athletic kids, but he didn't make that choice.

So we practiced in the sun, running our drills, shagging balls, honing our little skills. Who knew what the other teams were doing? Other kids knew what position they were playing, whereas we had only narrowed the possibilities down to three each. I was playing catcher, shortstop and pitcher. Other kids knew their place in the batting order, all I knew was the fat kids were batting cleanup. It didn't seem sensible, one swung the bat like a golf club, the other swung it like a butterfly net.

Imagine my surpise when the green and white misfits of Potter and Assoc. (our gas station sponsor) started the season winning games, not by much at first, but as we kept winning we gelled as a team and the margins expanded. By the end of the season we beat our nearest competitor (sponsored by a dumpster company) something like 28 to 1. If I close my eyes I can feel the heat of that afternoon on the upper filed of Metcalf Middle School, the field near the road, I can feel it like yesterday. It is not a feeling of triumph or superiority. Despite our success I had never really lost the sense that we were underdogs, we knew we had to try hard, that most of us weren't albelled as natural talents. No the feeling of that game, that afternoon, that summer was the confirmation of things I had begun to suspect, that things aren't always the way they seem to be, that labels and expectations mislead, that they are traps for the unwary. The success of the team aside, my personal sensne of athletic competence was affirmed and has remained with me ever since. Even thoug sport never really became a core component of my self-identity, these realizations have had reprocussions in areas of my life beyond sports.

Aside from the above described self-confidence, I derived insights from tangible examples on the diamond. Quite quickly it became clear that having everyone ready to play a few positions was a big advantage, not only could we cover for anyone missing a game we also had a greater number of potential pitchers, important for when someone is having an off day. From this I appreciated the value of contigency and redundancy in planning. Another of our "secret weapons" was our willingness to take sensible risks, we stole bases at every opportunity, bases, plural. The other teams weren't prepared for runners going from first to third or second to home. This managed risk not only raised my self-confidence and real time decisiveness, it opened new opportunities to expand my horizons. Granted I would go on to err in estimating risks but on the whole I've come out ahead. Practices and games reinforced the value of teamwork over individual experience and nurtured skills over innate ability. It seemed to me that other coaches had a more static, more purely competitive startegy of drafting the best starting roster and relying on their pre-existing strengths. Looking back, I think this contrast helped me assess my prospects based upon my intrinsic motivation to improve and not upon the extrinsic guessimates of my potential.

I'm sure there are other life lessons from that summer in the sun that I am forgetting, probably ones I am not even conscious of. Certainly, it colors the way I watch sports, always rooting for the underdog. And it colors the way I participate in team sports, "everyone plays" is more important than winning and the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Turning my thoughts back to Alek, I realize these are some of the life lessons I want him to learn.. It is now that I am a father contemplating the future of my child that I really appreciate the gift you gave Adam and me by coaching our farm team. Thank you, and Happy Borthday, Love, your son...Erik

PS In hindsight, my narrative has a certain bad news bears vibe I hadn't appreciated before probably because I've been looking out from the inside. Ironically, the coach in that movie was played by Walter Mathau, who also played Oscar in the Odd Couple movie. In the Odd Couple sitcom that role was played by Jack Klugman, who went on to plat Quincy, which was your professional nickname! Don't ask me how I strung that one together.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Canary in a Cold Mine...

First to fall over when the atmosphere is less than perfect
Your sensibilities are shaken by the slightest defect
You live you life like a canary in a coalmine
You get so dizzy even walking in a straight line...

I think The Police sum up our current state of affairs quite succinctly. From what I've read Andrew Speaker was neither unhealthy nor particulary contagious and certainly not a case for reopening sanatoria. Extensively Drug Resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis (XDR-TB) is not incurable, nor is it any more transmissable or virulent than non-resistant strains. In fact, Isoniazid-resistant strains pay a fitness cost of lowered virulence in return for higher resistance.

Granted, it would suck to be immune compromised in the middle seat next to a productive cougher on a flight to Europe, but that is not what happened. According to the WHO XDR-TB FAQ...

The majority of healthy people with normal immunity may never become ill with TB, unless they are heavily exposed to infectious cases who are not treated or who have been on treatment for less than about one week. Even then, 90% of people infected with TB bacteria never develop TB disease. This applies to XDR-TB as well as to “ordinary” TB. People with HIV infection, however, in close contact with a TB patient, are more likely to catch TB and fall ill. The TB patients whom they meet should be encouraged to follow good cough hygiene, for example, covering their mouths with a handkerchief when they cough, or even, in the early stages of treatment, using a surgical mask, especially in closed environments with poor ventilation. The risk of becoming infected with TB is very low outdoors in the open air. Overall, the chances of being infected with XDR-TB are even lower than with ordinary TB because cases of XDR-TB are still very rare.

So to me, this whole tempest is not so much about Andrew Speaker and his personal cache of XDR-TB as about the current zeitgeist of disproportionate pseudo-rational fear, the relatively unplumbed depths of public health legislation, and the seemingly inevidable consequence of high density poverty. Perhaps, I'll expand on these notions as and if time permits...

...Now if I tell you that you suffer from delusions
You pay your analyst to reach the same conclusions
You live your life like a canary in a coalmine
You get so dizzy even walking in a straight line