Chatter #51: November 19, 2001

12/14/2001 — I started the Chatter section on July 27, 2000 when I noticed that the rest of my site was sometimes getting cluttered with lots of text. I'm a talkative guy, after all! So now I talk about my life here, instead of all over the place. Originally this was one huge section, but in December of 2001 it simply became too large to remain as one page, and I broke it into dated sections, as you can see. —>PM



We've had a lot of all-nighters since I last wrote, and it has been awfully hard to muster up the strength to do much of anything onlinealthough I think I did put a few new entries into the Chaos Project sometime last week. I still haven't done any roleplaying, but maybe sometime in the next couple of weeks...

I'm also enjoying a rampaging sinus infection. Amoxicillin doesn't seem to be having much effect (I've been taking it three times a day for the last four days), and right now it's pretty gross. Unfortunately I don't really have any sick time or vacation time left. I had to go deeply negative on time the last few weeks, with the result that I actually OWE more than a week of vacation time. We accrue time through the year, but according to my calculations I will start to have a positive vacation balance sometime around April Fool's Day.

I've been taking Tylenol Sinus (which is a wonder drug in my book) and ibuprofen to control the symptoms of the infection, but while they handle the pain fairly well they aren't controlling the other symptoms. Actually, I was surprised by the pain; why would a sinus infection cause pain in my lower back and hips? The jaws and face I could understand, but the hips was a total surprise.

One thing that has helped a bit is the new humidifier. And oddly enough, I have something to say about humidifiers.


I realize that this will sound weird, but I have enormous sinus cavities. They extend right down to the roots of my teeth, and for all I know go up right into my brain (I've actually seen X-rays of my sinus cavities, which is how I know about the roots-of-the-teeth thing—and I was told that I was unusual by the technicians). This may account for my abnormally keen sense of smell. Unfortunately it also means I have a lot of pain when I get a cold, bronchitis, or the flu. Or a sinus infection. In fact, my doctor thinks I may need minor sinus surgery, but that's a separate issue.

Anyway, I've had humidifiers around me since I was a baby, and have developed some opinions.

First off, humidifiers are important. Did you know that during winter time the air in the average American house and office building is drier than the Sahara desert? It is! Which is why so many people get sick in winter. Their sinus cavities dry out, crack, and bleed; this offers fertile ground for infections of all sort. As more and more people start coughing and sneezing, there are more and more bacteria and viruses (actually the plural of "virus" is "viri", isn't it? I'm not sure) in the air...which in turn are more likely to infect others. It's a myth that cold in itself causes illness.

Humidifiers break the cycle by putting moisture in the air, protecting the sinus.

There are many kinds of humidifiers, but they can be broken into two masic categories: warm mist and cool mist.

Warm mist humidifiers might more accurately be called vaporizers (and often are), since they use heat to boil water and produce steam. They tend to be a bit noisy; some bubble audibly, some don't. Since boiling water is involved, they should be handled with care; placed on a heat-proof surface, for example, and never sloshed around carelessly.

This is probably the earliest and simplest form of humidifier. One drawback of this style is that because the water is boiled into steam, white dust is produced unless the water used is very pure; the dust is the minerals in the water, which are left behind when the vapor evaporates. Another problem is the steam itself. It's quite hot at the outlet, and can cause burns; it also tends to fog up windows badly, I've noticed that steam doesn't seem to carry very far, too.

Cool mist humidifiers come in many forms, and I've probably bought one of every kind. Most of them use a mechanical method to produce the mist, although of course they are electric.

One sort used a fibrous mesh as a sort of conveyor belt, moving through a pool of water and then in front of a fan; it was noisy and tended to spatter. Cleaning this unit was difficult, since the entire mesh belt had to be soaked in a dilute bleach solution—it offered a very fertile ground for the growth of mold.

Another used a sort of centrifuge techniqe, with a spinning plastic basket-like device churning through water to spray mist in all directions—but the mist was thick, more like droplets, and tended to produce a large wet area around the unit. Again, this humidifier was extremely noisy and made it difficult to sleep.

The "in" style this season uses a cone-shaped "wick" of absorbent fibrous mesh. The base rests in a pool of water, while a fan draws air through the cone; a moist breeze is produced. This method has several drawbacks: it's relatively slow, since it depends on absorbtion of the water into the fibers, and isn't terribly quiet. On the other hand, the mist produces is extremely fine, and virtually invisible. In fact, this is really a high-speed evaporator, since it simply hurries the normal process of evaporation. I suspect that as a result the mist produced is also more pure; minerals are left in the pool or wick. Other downsides, however, are that the mist is effectively invisible; you can't easily tell if it's working. Also, the wick itself tends to get moldy and go bad, and in fact it must be replaced regularly. Wicks tend to be treated with anti-bacterial agents, but even so they do become dirty and spoiled.

My personal favorite style of humidifer is the ultrasonic type, which uses ultrasonic waves in a chamber to break water into an extremely fine mist. This has several advantages: it is very quiet, the mist is visible and disperses well (actually it's freaky—you can wave your hand through it, and it's like waving through fog), and it's much less likely to become moldy. Of course you have to clean it regularly, like any humidifier—after all, if it becomes contaminated you'll end up breathing the contamination! It's usually possible to find an ultrasonic humidifier even in seasons when they're out of style, but they tend to be top-of-the-line and therefore expensive. I picked one up for $45 this year.

I do recall one hybrid model that I rather liked. It used an electrical coil to heat water in a chamber to just below boiling temperature, and a fan which blew across the hot water to greatly increase the speed of evaporation. Since the water was not boiled, the mist produced was free of white dust. And impurities in the water were simply left in the bottom of the chamber. This made it very easy to clean, although it was disconcerting to see the weird yellow-brown slightly sludgy water and remember that we drink this stuff.

I also have a personal humidifier which I use at work. It's kind of cool; a small plastic base holds a built-in metal cup which heats up and boils a small amount of water when it's turned on. A silicone hood above the boiler is shaped to contain the steam and direct it to the nose and mouth. It can get pretty hot, but it's a great way to moisten your sinuses for a few minutes every so often. I picked it up last year during a bout of bronchitis; my doctor had told me to go to the bathroom every two hours, run hot water into the sink, make a hood out of a towel to create a steam chamber above the hot water, stick my head in, and breathe steam for five minutes.

I don't know about you, but I think that sort of behaviour would get me talked about here. And in any case, our sinks don't have temperature controls; you can only get cold water (which is a bloody stupid design, but we'll let that pass).

The Adventures of Amazing Baby

John Sebastian is doing better, although he still tends to be fussy and difficult at night, and sometimes cries inconsolably for long times during the day. But it's getting better, and he's growing so quickly! It's amazing to see. His feedings are now up to about five ounces or more each. It's getting harder to burp him—he starts crying the instant we try—which means there's more gas pain and fussiness, but we're working with it. He's over 12 pounds now, and he's only six weeks and three days old! And on Saturday we had a wonderful surprise.

That morning Teri told me that she'd seen him make a new expression: a "scared" look, mouth in an "O", his eyes huge and round and peering around fearfully. He showed me the new look pretty quickly. It was unbelievably cute—he gets funnier and funnier every day.

Later in the day I was online when I heard Teri shouting for me. I ran over, but I was too late: he'd smiled at her! She called various family members while I held the baby and walked back to the computer. Of course I looked down at him and smiled like mad, but he was sucking a pacifier so it seemed like wasted effort. Suddenly his eyes focused on me, he stopped sucking, and the pacifier started falling out of his mouth...and as I took it away, as clearly as you could possibly want, his mouth curved upward in the most beautiful smile I have ever seen. I was amazed, and the expression on my face must have shown that, because instantly the smile vanished to be replaced by the "little scared boy" look. He's SO CUTE! Words fail me...


I've been a program participant at the Arisia convention in Boston for upwards of ten years now. What that means is that I'm given a free membership, and in exchange I serve as a panelist (mostly on RPG-related panels, but I also do media and literature), and do various events. I wear my white tie and tails, and get to feel like a celebrity for a weekend. It's cool.

I've often missed the mailing deadline, however, and have been left off of the program book as a result. This year, though, I made sure to fill out the questionaire and my other information, so with any luck things should go smoothly. I suggested that they once again have a RuneQuest Roundtable; if they do, I'll be sure to let everyone know about it in advance here. Incidentally, I'm not sure but there's a good chance that Teri and the baby will be at the con with me. I'd certainly love to meet anyone who reads this site who happens to be at the con!


Haven't had much time even to play Diablo lately, but I did find a group of non-cheating players through the Diablo Strategy Forum. They hang out in the Diablo Retail DSF-1 channel via the US West gateway, and are an interesting bunch. I made a few errors in a post on the forum and was quickly demolished, so I've given up on that for now; it's not like I have a lot of extra time anyway. But I am spending some time in the DSF channel, and will probably try to get some co-operative playing in when I have the time.

Blast from the past: Rogue!

I was chatting online somewhere and somehow mentioned Rogue. Rogue, if you don't know, is a truly ancient computer RPG-style game; it is the direct ancestor of games like Diablo, and was inspired by D&D. I used to play it a lot in college (back in 1988!) and continued to play it over the years; it's quite addictive. I remember a friend of mine used to say that he'd never be so weak-willed as to jeopardize his grades for the sake of a game; I introduced him to Rogue, and within a few weeks he wasn't laughing.

Eventually I wasn't able to play Rogue any more; the disk it was on was a 5.25, and I no longer had a compatible drive. What's more, the disk itself was corrupted.I'd had another copy on a hard drive, but the drive died. I was out of luck.

Anyway, one of the chatters pointed me to a site to download the game. I had some problems, but eventually managed to get the file. And it works!

It's a DOS game, and uses color ASCII art; nonetheless it's surprisingly deep and complex. This despite the fact that the executable is only 98KB!!! And the executable is really all you need. A high score file is created by the EXE if you don't already have one.

Play is really simple. You're a little yellow smiley-face icon, wandering around in a dungeon of 26 levels and up to nine rooms on each floor. You can find and use objects like weapons, armor, potions, food, scrolls, magic rings, wands/staves/rods, and food. Food is particularly important, since eventually you can starve to death. It's not an "arcade" style game; things only move when you do. For example, if you're being chased by a troll you can take a break whenever you want, because the troll only takes a step when you do (and incidentally, everything moves at the same speed—except spell/wand effects and dragonbreath, which are instant). Monsters are represented by the letters A through Z. You move with the up,down, left, and right keys of your keyboard, and attack a monster simply by running into it. Each dungeon level is randomly generated, which means there's a LOT of replay value. You get experience points for killing monsters, and gain hit points when you go up a level. It's that simple!

Below is a screen shot.

Is it fairly clear? I hope so. The green icon in the right-bottom room is the stairs (they only lead down). The yellow smiley-face is you. The blue up-arrow is a weapon—you need to pick it up to find out what exactly (and if it's magic, you'd need to read a scroll of Identify to reveal the magic). The red fleur-de-lis is food, the blue circle is a ring, the upside-down blue exclamation point is a potion, and the "B" is a bat. Of course most rooms aren't this full—I went through the level, picked everything up, and moved it into one room. There could be monsters and treasure in the other rooms, but you can only see that sort of thing in the room you are in. I should mention that you only see rooms you've actually been in—I explored this whole level before taking the screen shot.

The line of yellow text at the bottom should be fairly obvious: Level is the dungeon level, Hits are your current and maximum hit points (they go up each time you go up a character level), Str is current and maximum strength, Gold is gold, Armor is armor (higher numbers are better, but Aquators can rust the armor right off you!), and Exp is your experience level.

There are some tricks and tips I should probably mention. F1 is help, which is very useful. If you want to save a game, hit Shift-S. This takes your current game and stores it temporarily as a file called rogue.sav. This also ends the game.

Resuming a game erases the rogue.sav file, so if you die, you die. But of course there's nothing stopping you from making a copy of the rogue.sav file under a different name, and then copying the copy as rogue.sav! This way you can have as many characters as you want, and save as often as you like.

You can resume by typing rogue -r from MS DOS, or you could use a .BAT file shortcut from Windows. BAT files are very easy to make; all you need to do is use NotePad (or any ASCII text editor) to create a file in which the only line is:

rogue -r

and save it with a name that ends in .BAT. R.BAT for example. Then make a shortcut to that batch file and you're set! Although I will confess that I added a backup restoration line to my BAT file, vis:

copy w.sav rogue.sav
rogue -r

Then when I save a game I simply tell it to save as w.sav. That way if I die I can re-start back where I was.

One neat thing about Rogue is the randomization. For each new character things are different. For example, a blue potion might be Poison in one character/game, and Detect Monster in another. Once you've learned what a particular color potion does, though, the game remembers it for that character. The same principle of randomization applies to scrolls, rings, and sticks (wands/rods/staves). Sometimes it's fun to play a lot with a character, write down everything (for example, blue=Poison) and start play over with a copy of the same starting character.

I've made an Excel file which lists all magic items, the message you get back when you use them (for example, "This potion gives you a warm feeling. What do you want to call it?" is Restore Strength), and has a space for the specific color/material/gibberish of a particular game to be listed.

A couple more points to remember: food often becomes the crucial issue late in the game. That's because you need to travel to level 26 (where the monsters are very nasty indeed), and find the Amulet of Yendor, which allows you to go UP stairs. And travel up all 26 levels until you get out of the dungeon and win. Unfortunately the up levels are not the same as the down levels; they're randomly generated. Even worse, they're filled with a new crop of monsters. Worst of all, there's no TREASURE—including no food! It's not uncommon to find yourself fainting over and over from lack of food, fighting your way near the exit, only to die of starvation. This is extremely frustrating.

The solution is to find the ring of Slow Digestion. This makes your food last much longer. Better still, find TWO rings of Slow Digestion—because if you wear two of them, you cannot starve.

Another thing to look for: leather armor. This is surprisingly hard to find. It's precious, though, because even though it's the weakest armor in the game it is the only armor that's proof against the rust powers of the Aquator (think D&D Rust Monster). A ring of Maintain Armor is a decent alternative, but eventually you'll want that slot (you can only wear two rings at a time). Finding a suit of leather and enchanting it with many scrolls of Enchant Armor is the ideal choice.

I can't find the site I downloaded the game from, and after all this talk I can hardly leave it at that, so:

Here's the rogue.exe file, the Excel sheet for tracking magic items, and r.bat, a simple batch file which you can drop into the same folder as rogue.exe. If you save a character as w.sav it will be safely restored by running r.bat.


Have fun!


Almost forgot to mention: I was trolling through DejaNews and looked up my old posts. To my surprise I found a post announcing the creation of this site! It was on October 18, 1996. Time flies...

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[email protected] Copyright 2001 by Peter Maranci. Revised: December 14, 2001. version 1.0