Chatter #61: March 27, 2002

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

Monday, March 25, 2002

Either I'm not going to finish writing this today, or it's going to be on the short side; I'm pretty busy.

Later—okay, here's hoping I finish this today.

New PC

The new PC is back and seems to be mostly working—but it's still not done. The Radeon All-In-Wonder card had to be pulled and was replaced with a GeForce 2 card; that gives somewhat enhanced game performance (and doesn't crash the system every two minutes), but means that I have none of the video-to-mpeg or TV tuner capabilities I wanted. The guy who owns the computer store said he'd order an add-on TV card and put it into the system when it arrived, but that was more than two weeks ago and I still haven't heard anything. As a result, I also don't have access to my old email and addresses—that stuff is all on my old hard drive, which I was going to have him put in when he put in the new card. I should call him.

Okay, I just did. The card is in—it's made by Hauppage, although I don't know which specific card it is. Here's hoping it lets me watch TV and convert videos to MPEGs...

By the way, apparently he'd had a computer crash and lost my email and phone number. Good thing I called. I'll take both systems in tomorrow and hopefully everything will go smoothly...I've had enough grief with this PC.

Diablo II

It has been hard to find uninterrupted time to play Diablo II, but I've managed to steal enough moments to play a sorceress into Act II in single-player.

I guess I should explain that, since not everyone is familiar with D2. Diablo 2 is not unlike Diablo 1; you play a hero who wanders around slaying Evil in ever-more-powerful forms, until at last you reach the Ultimate Evil and slay it. Except that in Diablo 1 you jammed Diablo's soul-spike into your forehead in order to keep him imprisoned, which is the setup for this sequel game: your previous character was consumed from within and turned into Diablo, and must now be destroyed.

So your new hero must set out on that seemingly hopeless mission. As in D1, there are many similarities to D&D; you gain experience points as you kill monsters, and go up levels. Unlike D1, though, spells and spell-like powers (each class has their own set) are no longer learned independently of level; instead, each time you go up a level you get a single skill point to place in a skill in one of three different skill "trees". Higher-level skills cannot be obtained until you have at least one point in a prerequisite skill AND have reached a sufficiently high level.

In D1 the action all took place in a 16-level dungeon. In D2 the adventuring area is MUCH bigger, and includes outdoor settings of all sorts as well as caves, pits, towers, etc. The game as a whole is divided into five "Acts"; once all the quests in one act have been finished it becomes possible to move to the next act, a new area with greater challenges. The first act was a dismal temperate clime, modeled after the original setting for Diablo 1; once the biggest boss has been slain it's possible to take ship for the City of Lut Gholein, a desert town besieged by evil. That's where I am now.

Pros and Cons:

Pro: The game is huge; each area is enormous, and takes a long time to explore.

Con: The Save feature. In D1 you could save your game and restart it at the exact moment you left it. In D2 you restart back in the home base of your Act, and every single monster that you slew is back and must be slain again.

Pro: Waypoints. Since it would really suck to have to spend hours re-covering ground that you've already been over, Diablo 2 includes a neat feature called waypoints: magical squares placed every so often. Step on one once to activate it (blue flame appear at two corners) and you can instantly teleport to any other activated waypoint. This makes it possible to jump around an area, although you must first make your way to the waypoint on foot, and the waypoints aren't tightly packed; there's quite a bit of walking between them.

Con: Graphics. The graphics are actually worse than those of D1, despite the addition of light effects! There's a clarity and level of detail that is missing from the original game.

Pro: The Horadric Cube. This is a really neat quest-item in the second Act which allows you to transmute items into other items. Three healing potions and three mana potions transmute into one rejuvenation potion. Three rings transmute into one amulet. Stuff like that. If a particular combination doesn't work, nothing happens—you don't lose your stuff. Apparently there are a lot of recipes, and not all have been discovered yet.

Con: Gameplay. Everything is just a bit fuzzier in Diablo 2, and I'm not just talking about graphics. There was a clean, clear quality to the first game that is missing from this one. If I'd run into this one first, I wouldn't have been anywhere near as enthusiastic as I was about D1.

Pro: Items. There are a lot more items in D2, and a lot more kinds of items. Gems. Socketted items to contain gems and manifest their power. Runes. Many more weapons and objects. Potions of new sorts. Magic items, unique items, crafted items, and set items which are more powerful if you collect them all. And almost every non-jewelry item you use gives your character a slightly different look.

Con: Items. There just might be TOO many items! I have yet to see two items from the same set, for example.

Summary: I'll keep playing, I guess, but I'm nowhere near as obsessed.

Top 50

The site has gone up and down a bit in the Top 50 list lately, but has remained consistently in the top 10; the result has been a lot of hits. We were number one on several days this month, but generally were bounced down the next day be some brand-new site with a perfect "5.00" score and a total of perhaps 15 votes. Those sites usually disappear the next day, or are knocked WAY down the list. I should mention that I have never voted against any site myself, nor has anyone I know of; but it's clear that there are people out there who are doing exactly that. I assume they vote against this site too, but one of the advantages of having a huge number of votes is that while it's hard to move our ranking up quickly, it's also virtually impossible to move us down, either, without a massive number of votes. As of today we're #2 with a ranking of 4.77995 and 269 votes; the #1 site has a rating of 5.00000 and 11 votes (it's safe to predict that it won't be there tomorrow).


It was my birthday on the 11th; I'm 38 years old now. It was a pretty quiet affair, which was just as well; I didn't feel like having a big event. But I did pick up a bunch of new DVDs, most of which I've yet to watch:

Tron 20th Anniversary Edition. I first saw this in 1987 on an old-fashioned laser disk, and although it was a bit simplistic it was also very cool. It has held up well, and this edition of it is quite good. A couple of complaints: I'd have liked a commentary version, and the deleted scenes were pretty thin—a couple of bits from a sorta cheesy love scene between Tron and Yori. I'd also have been really impressed if they'd included a DVD-playable version of the old TRON arcade game, but they didn't.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension. What can I say? I enrolled as a Blue Blaze Irregular when this movie came out. Almost everyone else I know hates it or thinks it's stupid, but to me it's still very funny and very cool. And this disk completely does it justice, with a buttload of extra features.

Big Trouble In Little China. The script for this movie was originally "Buckaroo Banzai vs. The World Crime League", the sequel to TAoBBAtED above. Instead they turned it into this comic Kurt Russell movie, and it's still excellent! The absolute best selection of deleted scenes I've seen on a DVD to date, AND a commented version with the director and Russell—who, apart from Patrick MacGoohan, is the coolest actor I know who also appeared in a Disney movie. I love the villain in this movie, too. "Kill him for me, is that too much to ask?"

Used Cars. Kurt Russell strikes again! Or rather, strikes for the first time—since I believe this was his first post-Disney movie. Used Cars is in many ways the perfect 1980's comedy, and as a result has been forgotten and neglected for far too long. It included SCTV's Joe Flaherty (of Count Floyd and Don Cabellero fame), Al Lewis (Grandpa from The Munsters), and the guys who played Lennie and Squiggy in Laverne & Shirley (David Lander and Michael McKean). The high points are the car commercials, but I really should try not to spoil them for you. Again, this features a commented version with Kurt Russell. That, plus Big Trouble In Little China, plus the commented version of John Carpenter's The Thing make for a perfect Russell troika.

The Prisoner. The whole series, all 17 episodes plus the alternate version of "The Chimes of Big Ben". I'd picked up the first two double-disk sets a while ago which contained the first eight episodes, but when I went to the store to get the rest of them they weren't available; only the whole series in a single box. But buying the remaining three sets would have cost more than buying the whole series all over again, so I went ahead and did it. Now I've got an extra copy of the first eight episodes to give away...

I can't describe how important this show was to me when I was growing up. I first watched it on PBS in the late 1970's; I was perhaps fourteen years old, perhaps less. If VCRs existed at that point I certainly didn't have access to them, so I took my Radio Shack cassette recorder, placed it against the TV speaker, soundproofed the whole thing with a blanket, and ferociously shushed anyone who tried to talk for the next 50 minutes. I did that for all 17 episodes, and over the years I can assure you that I listened to those tapes over and over. What did it all mean to me? Individualism more than anything else, I suppose. Self-determination. Freedom. The necessity for the individual to resist the power and intimidation of society. I was at the right age for those sorts of thoughts, and the show seemed custom-made for me. Plus, of course, it was really, really cool.

These days...well, I'm not inclined to get as worked up about things as I used to, but even though it's a little embarrassing to admit it I haven't changed. I don't worship the show or anything, but the ideas that it expressed seem as valid to me as ever.

Sebastian, Mighty Boy

It's really true: with a baby you get something new every day. A new tooth. A new way of crying. New attempts to crawl, sit up, turn over. Sebastian is eating baby food twice a day now, and will probably move to three times a day within the month—which is way ahead of schedule. He'll be six months old in a week or two, but he's already wearing 1-year-old clothing and weighs 20 pounds! He's outgrown his old carryable car seat, and we've had to lower the crib mattress to keep him from climbing out. He's turning over, front to back and back to front, with the comfort and ease of an old pro. This makes changing him a more dangerous experience, not so much because he might fall (we're very careful), but because when you've got a poopy baby the last thing you want is for him to flip over before you've cleaned him.

He's hardly a baby at all any more! Most of the time he's a little toddler boy, so cute that you wouldn't believe it. He's entered the "charmer" phase, smiling and batting his eyes at every girl he sees; waitresses cluster around us when we eat out, and strangers tell us that he's the most beautiful baby they've ever seen. His hair is still red, and it looks like his eyes will be like Teri's; sort of hazel, with tints of green and gray. Peaches and cream complexion, plump cheeks that everyone wants to squeeze, and a mostly cheerful disposition—he likes to laugh a lot, and is incredibly alive and aware of his surroundings. He still likes it when I sing to him, both the old lullabies and a new "Mighty Boy" song I made up based on the "Gamera" tune from MST3K (well, actually from the Gamera movies on MST3K). His two front lower teeth are well through the gum, and we're hoping for a little respite before the next round of teething. He's sleeping well, eating well, and loves to roll around and play on the floor in the evening. He can move a lot by rolling over and inching around, and is so close to crawling that I expect it's only a matter of days; but we'll see.

I usually wake up first in the morning; he's usually already awake and either talking to himself or fussing a bit. But he has HUGE smiles when he sees me—what a friendly boy! I change him, heat his bottle, and usually have to hand off the feeding to Teri so as not to be too late for work. It's great to see him in the morning, but it's also hard to leave. I don't know if women realize how much some men give up, and that we really do miss it—time with the baby, that is. By the time I get home in the evening there's only an hour or two before he has to go to bed.

I wish I could post pictures of him. Maybe some day...years from now...well, we'll see.

Other News

...still no chance to roleplay, so I haven't been able to do much more than add bits to the Chaos Project once in a while. I've reached the point with Basic RQ project where I've exhausted my memory; I'm going to have to sit down with the document and the rulebook sometime soon. I've had one offer to help out with the project, and I really should take it up. Plus it wouldn't be a bad idea to try the RuneQuest-Rules list again. So much to do, so little time!

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So what do you think?

[email protected] Copyright 2002 by Peter Maranci. Revised: April 01, 2002. version 1.0