Cyberpunk Hindsight

“We’ve developed a gesture at work to refer to them,” I say.

My guest, my brother-in-law, makes an inquisitive noise as he slips on his footwear- shoes or sandals, something very summery for this time of year, but I don’t remember exactly what- I can’t focus that tightly on irrelevant details.

I tap my arm repeatedly, frantically, in a gesture reminiscent of a druggie trying to raise a vein, and he laughs, nodding. He knows what I mean. We say our farewells and I wish him a safe drive home.

I invited him into my home four hours ago for the express purpose of trying my best to ruin him.

Kijiji may be a Canadian site or not; I don’t know and have never bothered to research it. If you’ve heard of it, you know what it is; if you haven’t, think of it as a more-savory version of Craigslist. It’s a giant flea market in much the way that eBay is a giant auction.

I’d checked it a few days ago, and they didn’t have what I wanted. On a whim I do the search again on Thursday morning, and there it is- someone’s got what I want for sale. Reasonable, if not extraordinary, price.

I jump on it.

It’s long been an article of fascination to me how good The Cuckoo’s Egg is. It’s a non-fiction account of a system administrator who discovers a minor problem with one of his computers, and grows from there. It’s written in the first person, like this posting. It reads like a spy novel.

It’s amazing. I’ve never been able to figure out if it’s the subject matter, the writing style, like the author’s recounting events for you, or some other, indefinable factor that makes the book so good.

Relax, I think. He’s more experienced than you, you’re still not confident in your tools, but this is just practice. Learn everything you can now. Follow the misdirections, learn from the failures, remember how you executed any little triumphs.

The man sitting across from me, a co-worker, is tall, thin and bespectacled. He steeples his fingers- I think unconsciously, though I’m darkly aware he could be doing it on purpose to throw me off balance- and then with a few well-chosen staccato sentences explains how he’d blunted, redirected and ultimately halted my attack on his servers.

His smile is quiet, just a couple points off of smug. We both know I was expecting that from him. We both know it was practice. I’d told him the real thing comes later and I was hoping to learn from experience.

It still stings a little.

I’ve been spotting every mistake I make right after it’s too late to fix them. It’s frustrating, and I have to mentally clench my teeth and shout at myself to calm down. As I shift position, I realize that I am, in fact, physically clenching my teeth, and force myself to relax, unclench my teeth, unlock my shoulders. My peripheral vision is gone. I’m staring at a half-dozen servers lined up in a neat row, waiting for the attack I am almost certain is coming.

“Find the lady!” I proclaim, and gesture grandly, almost knocking over my Coke can. My empty Coke can, with an empty ginger ale next to it- I realized after the first drink that if they were all caffeinated I’d probably be vibrating out of my chair by now.

“Well?” I ask. It’s not really rhetorical; it’s half to myself, roughly forty percent to my servers- only about ten percent of it has anything to do with anyone else. I’ve set up the best defenses I can around these, and the attack will come any second now.

Then, it doesn’t.

“Fourth click… I’ll take a money.” My brother in law scrunches his face as though he’s not quite happy with that idea, but he doesn’t contradict himself, and collects a little cardboard chip. I don’t bother to correct him- it’s ‘credit’- for a whole bunch of reasons, not least of which is that it would make me look like an ungracious poltroon.

I can actually feel the muscles relaxing in my chest and shoulders as I let out a huge sigh of relief, and start laughing- just a little harder than feels right- as I chant: “Click click click advance advance advance game!” I shuffle some cardboard chips around, flip over a card to show the symbol overlaid with a printed ‘3’, and lean back in my chair.

“Darn”, he says, and he’s laughing too.

I don’t remember which of us suggested another game. I do remember that this was the point at which I went to get us some water, and was surprised by the feeling of my muscles as I walked upstairs to the kitchen. I was spiked with adrenaline so hard my muscles had that primed-for-instant-action, we-are-in-mortal-danger burning feeling.

From a card game.

I heard of Android: Netrunner not long after it came out. I wanted it, of course- I’m a massive fan of board games in general, card games in specific, and constructed card games are my favorite within that category- but I never bought it. Mostly because I knew I’d want to get all the expansions, and as a college student at the time I also knew I wouldn’t have money for that.

In the two and a half years since that point, there have been more and more releases in Android, making the idea of getting in a more prohibitive one as time went on. Besides that, I was playing X-Wing, which though it may very well be the least expensive miniatures game around, is not actually inexpensive.

But that was the point I realized that all my prospective model purchases for X-Wing were $40 and up.

$40- well, $45- was roughly speaking the pre-tax price of a copy of Netrunner. Maybe I could find a copy used somewhere? After all, a whole new game to play vs a new model or two for an existing game, and I have always loved cyberpunk almost as much as Star Wars. Then a listing went up- $40, new in shrinkwrap.

“This game is hard!” I mutter, trying to decide what to do with my precious, precious actions. My brother in law laughs at me, taunts me to attack his servers, all of which have at least one card in front of them, seven of them face down and hidden from me. They could be dangerous. It could be a trap. I need points. I go in anyway.

It’s a trap.

Three turns later, my position is better. I can take on anything he can throw in my way, his corporate coffers are at a low ebb and he’s trying to decide if he can afford to put up more defenses and still run the ones he’s got.

“This game is hard!” he says.

“I know, right?”

“I’ve got adrenaline really pumping over here.”

I smirk. I know he does. While my position might not exactly be enviable- I’m certainly not winning- the amount of sheer stress his role as the defender has to be causing him will cause mistakes- just like the ones I made earlier. Each time, I spotted the mistake right after I made it and had to work hard not to flinch. Is he working hard not to flinch right now?

He’s got sweat on his forehead and steel in his eyes. I shrug elaborately and start preparing for my next attack. Every move I make that strengthens me for the eventual assault, I can see his reaction- I can almost see his blood pressure rising.

We ended up playing four games in three hours- I played corporation and lost, I played corporation and won, I played runner and won, I played runner and lost. By the last game, my opponent had played as much during the evening as I had going into it. We were essentially playing level. It was glorious.

The game is essentially three games in one box. Both players start by playing the same game by the same rules, in the deckbuilding phase. While this is absolutely something that can be done prior to the actual ‘game’, it’s very much a pastime in itself. Like the cards it’s built on, it’s a very pretty and aesthetically pleasing art… covering a machine of sheer mathematics and strategy.

While the Corporation and the Runner use a different library of cards for their decks, they do use the same rules for building those decks.

Then the other two games come into play, because while the game is on, the two players are actually playing very different games. One player is trying to slowly, steadily build up an economic engine, slowly, steadily progress their agendas, and eventually win. The other is trying to break all of Player One’s toys, throw a monkey wrench into their engine, and steal their agendas- scoring them instantly.

It’s highly strategic, very math-focused, and a lot of fun withal.

He’s on his way out the door and I’ve just made my frantic druggie motions.

“That was a really excellent game,” he says.

“Play again sometime?”

“Oh, yes, I think so.”

Next time I won’t be using any kind, gentle starter deck that the game suggested for me.

But then, neither will he.

This should be good.

The adrenaline subsided enough to allow me to sleep about two hours later.

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Life Lessons In Unexpected Waffles

It’s funny, you know. When I was growing up, my family always- bar never- had maple syrup on hand. Well, we’re small-town Canadians, it’s sort of expected (we also, not coincidentally, live in the heart of maple syrup country).

This is something of an unexpected boon now that I’m living on my own. Maple syrup is expensive, corn syrup is cheap- and thanks to my upbringing, corn syrup is a treat to me. I realize some people look at it as the cheap redneck cousin of maple syrup, but to me it’s been a rarity and a delight, so having it on my waffles this morning just makes me happy.

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Battleground Weekend Style

After much enthusiastic use (I finished a whole month of this!) I have come to the conclusion that some alterations are in order to the plan. Namely, that inasmuch as most MMOs have periodic ‘battleground weekends’, ‘bonus honor weeks’, etc, as an incentive to players, I should probably be doing the same thing.

It is no coincidence whatsoever that this post is going up right before Canada Day.

Therefore, modifications are:

Food for special occasions- like Canada Day, for example- should be exempt from the system. These occur roughly on the order of fifteen times per year. I can live with that.

“Bonus Honor Weekends”: If I can maintain the system through a weekend, it should be rewarded with a small perk- perhaps a soda without spending a token, or a moderately-fancy bit of food. Something. I dunno yet.

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It’s Working! It’s Working!

I’m having real trouble with this scheme of self-bribery (which is, of course, how I know it’s working). There are just so MANY things I’d absolutely love to have, and cannot in good conscience buy.

I have to figure that if, after two weeks, I am desperately wishing I’d set the value of the tokens higher, it means two things:

1: I am not likely to lose interest in this system, because hot DAMN I want those tokens and
2: It’s amazing how much cool stuff there is in the world when you’re watching your spending.

I am, however, sticking to the plan. I’d like to spend some time (and perhaps earn a mage’s token!) making nice little WoW-inventory-icon style icons for the various currencies.

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Kingdom Hearts

I’ve never played Kingdom Hearts. Or Kingdom Hearts 2. Or Final Fantasy X. Or Final Fantasy XII. I now own all four of these games, thanks to a local garage sale.

I’m given to understand that the Kingdom Hearts games revolve around a key, or a sword shaped like a key, which is appropriate as I consider them locked, at the moment.

Now, I don’t consider the purchase ‘frivolous spending’- I long ago learned that when you see something you want at a garage sale, you jump on it with both feet (metaphorically speaking; I did not stomp-test these games) because it’s a one-time offer. I do, however, think that I need to spend some tokens before I play the games. So: Until the sum of 5F5R is cashed in, per game, none of the four will be played.

If you’ll excuse me, I have Mass Effect to finish (so it’s not like I’m really suffering for gameplay here)

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Sadly, There Is Precedent

I should probably worry about the precedent I’m setting by eating breakfast at my desk at home, since breakfast is the one meal I don’t spend anywhere in proximity to work (I eat lunch at work, of course, and dinner tends to be ‘in front of the computer at my desk’).

Of course, this is the most comfortable chair in the house.

I had some writing to get done.

These strawberries are delicious.

You know what, I’m not worried any more.

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1.1e: Rules Revisions

What would any RPG be without errata and revisions?

Let’s get started with the Fighter’s Tokens:

Constantly increasing the routine for the daily point would wreck me in short order. At the moment, the routine is 15/15, which feels reasonably challenging (“Ow, my freaking arms!”).

Instead, the daily point can be earned in the following way:

10 points of movement; Where 1 point is earned by 1:00 jogging or running, 2:30 brisk walk, and two points are earned for 3 chin-ups. This means that on a rainy day, such as this past Sunday, I can earn my daily point with 30 total pushups, 30 total situps, and 15 chin-ups. Chin-ups are HARD.

The pattern will of course increase as the current level becomes too easy, but that’s… not soon.

Now for Rogue’s Coins:

-3: Alcoholic beverage not purchased with Fighter’s/Mage’s tokens.
-2: Sugary beverage not purchased with Fighter’s/Mage’s tokens.

It’s important to note that these refer to ‘drinking from my own supplies’, not ‘asked to share a drink when out with friends for a meal’. If I know I’m going out to eat, one of the above would be considered a part of the meal, not a failure to plan on my part.

3: 100% of grocery purchases made in a week are on sale (20% off or better) and/or a healthful staple food costing $1/unit or less ($0.99/100g sliced meat, $0.89/lb bananas, etc).

Unworkable; eggs and milk rarely go on sale but are nonetheless staples of my diet (costing more than $1 per unit). Instead:

3: 100% of grocery purchases made in a week are on sale (20% off or better) and/or a healthful, non-luxury food (bananas, apples, meat for sandwiches, lettuce, tomatoes, milk, eggs, etc).

This still allows me to have milk, eggs, and various fresh veggies, while still buying things on sale where possible (example: I’m trying to find somewhere that has jam on sale. I will not buy it at full price, as this really is a luxury food with no particular health benefits- though it’s damn tasty).

Wallet Line: 4F 4R 7M 0L

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Adventure: Life

As the imitable but insuperable Tami Moore pointed out in her blog post today, human beings are creatures of A) habit, B) reward. That is to say, if I keep doing something again and again, I’ll likely continue; if I think I’m likely to glean something I like from a behavior, it will likely continue.

With that in mind, and knowing that I have in the past been happy to perform repetitive tasks far beyond the point where I would otherwise lose interest (I’m thinking here of PVP in both Warcraft and Star Wars), just because I want that shiny that I don’t quite have the currency for, I’m shamelessly bogarting evilly swiping absolutely copying being inspired by Tami and Steven’s idea. I’m modifying it somewhat, though, because A: I’m tracking more than just my exercise routine, B: I’d prefer a pseudo-currency to using real money; C: I am a quest-and-objective motivated person, rather than a daily grind person.

So what does this mean?

It means that for my personal ‘game’ I am going to develop out not one but three four kinds of ‘quest objective’ currency- Fighter’s Token, Rogue’s Coin, Mage’s Gem and Lord’s Medallion. The first three are related loosely to exercise, budgeting and diet, and scheduling and hobbies. The fourth type is a meta-currency designed to reward even development. In addition, I’m going to keep track of a ‘treasury’ of guilt-free spending money.

My goal is, for each game currency, have daily, weekly, and monthly rewards. In a ‘perfect’ month, I should be able to earn exactly 50 of each basic currency (with one exception; there’s no limit to how many Mage’s Gems I can earn). There should also be ‘damage’ effects for each currency; this will discourage bad behavior (and punish behavior that is not merely apathetic but actively counterproductive).

Fighter’s Token

Rewarded for physical ‘fighting’ fitness.
A fighter’s high points are about training and physical abilities. This currency rewards activities that build physical fitness. Because fighters are often tasked with last-ditch, hold-the-line defensive efforts, the higher tiers of Fighter’s Token cash-ins are gained explicitly through maintaining exercise over calendar periods.

Rewards at this point:

-1: Skip both routines in one day (in addition to individual cost).
-1: Skip routine (once in a day).

0: Maintain routine at current level.

1: Increment routine by one step. Mutually exclusive with the below:
1: 10 points of movement; Where 1 point is earned by 1:00  jogging or running, or 2:30 brisk walk.
3: 7 consecutive days of routine (in addition to other rewards)
10: Stand Your Ground: One full consecutive month of routine.

My physical fitness routine is, simply, morning and evening do an equal number of pushups and situps (I do a fair amount of walking). I’m currently at 9 of each, totalling 18 pushups and 18 situps in a day. If I increment the routine by one step, that means to increase the number by one in the morning, and one in the evening (for example, today is an increment day- that means I did 10/10 this morning, and will do 11/11 this evening).
Rogue’s Coin

Rewarded for good use of gold (fiscal responsibility) and proper (meal and fiscal) planning. Because rogues are all about foresight, careful thought, and devastatingly-effective combinations, high-tier rewards are gained by turning in 4 combo points. A combo point is earned by going one full week without being caught off guard. Being caught off guard is being forced to spend coin in any of the following ways:

-5: Frivolous spending (something I do not have an actual need for, using money not in my treasury).
-4: Takeout or fast food (beyond Tuesdays*) more than $10/two weeks.
-3: Alcoholic beverage not purchased with Fighter’s/Mage’s tokens.
-2: Sugary beverage not purchased with Fighter’s/Mage’s tokens.

If you are caught off guard, you forfeit one combo point (if you have any) in addition to the Rogue’s Coin spent.

Rewards at this point:

0: Eat one ‘marginal’ meal in a day (cereal for dinner, casual sandwich, etc)
1: Eat two healthy meals in a day, including home-made lunch taken to work if a workday.
3: 100% of grocery purchases made in a week are on sale (20% off or better) and/or a healthful staple food costing $1/unit or less ($0.99/100g sliced meat, $0.89/lb bananas, etc).
10: Redeem 4 combo points.

*Tuesdays my father and I go to lunch together, as we work in adjacent buildings. It is burgers and onion rings. It’s not healthful, particularly, but it is delicious and I will not be removing it from my routine; I like spending time with my father.
Mage’s Gem:

Use of the mind, logical thinking, and creative ability. Rewarded for creative pursuits and proper time management.
Because I often have issues remembering to get things done, or tend to accumulate video games and not finish them, or fail to follow through on my hobbies, the largest thrust of earning Mage’s Gems comes from remembering to do chores and following through on hobbies. The ‘damage’ effects to my Mage Gems consist of things that cause serious problems if I don’t schedule properly or follow through. Note that while there is no limit on Mage’s Gems, they are self-limiting (in that 10 gems, at approximately two hours of work each, is probably a reasonable monthly limit to gain).

-1: Up fifteen full minutes past planned time.
-1: Plants not watered (if this is Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday).
-1: More than one coffee in a day.
-3: Grocery list not on the phone by Monday at 5.
-3: Grocery list not on the phone by Tuesday at 5.

1: Laundry folded, bed made, teeth brushed and dishes from breakfast cleaned before leaving the house for work.
3: Grocery list for the week ready and loaded on the phone by Saturday night, plus vacuuming for the week done.
Variable: Finish painting a game piece, write in Dar na Theria, work on a D&D campaign, put in solid progress toward completing a videogame, post 2x/week in the blog, etc; hobby work, basically.

Spending It

10 of each basic currency can be traded in for 1 Lord’s Medallion. 10 basic currency is a perfect, no-holds-barred, no-flaws, textbook brilliant week in a given discipline. If I can have a perfect week with all three disciplines, therefore, I’ve earned a Lord’s Medallion. (Given the ‘perfect month’ bonuses each currency carries, a perfect month also earns a Lord’s Medallion.) The Lord’s Medallions can be cashed in for either $12 to add to my treasury, or 30 basic currency in any combination.

2 of each basic currency can be traded in for $1 to add to my treasury. (I recognize that I could be stupid desparate at some point).

Any 2 basic currency can be traded for any 1 other.

The rewards, when I eventually figure them out, should be worked like this: 1 of a basic currency gets you a minor break in that sphere, but should be pitched so that it’s easier to earn 1 basic currency than the break you get for spending one. 1 each of two different tokens should be worth roughly (and the key word is roughly) $1 in (where possible) the sphere not represented. For example, 1F/1M might be worth drinking a can of Dr. Pepper (not healthy meal planning at all!), 7F/7R might be worth a comic book or some new Warmachines pewter (yesssss, feed the hobbies), 5R/5M might be worth a new ebook or cheap indie videogame (both of these being completely sedentary activities, though I recognize there’s quite a lot of overlap with the Mage sphere here).

Finally, the earning methods for each currency are subtly different, in the ‘push’ bonuses- the Fighter discipline rewards persistence, the Rogue rewards, well, discipline, and the Mage rewards good memory and good scheduling.

Yes, I realize I’m a geek. But tomorrow starts a new month and I want to give this a try. My life, as the saying goes, is so much more interesting inside my head.

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Leaving the Order

I cancelled my just-two-weeks-reactivated Star Wars: The Old Republic subscription today. I just feel it is important to my mental state to document why. It’s not that it’s a bad game- by no means, in fact it’s excellent, but the fact of the matter is that I’m not the same person I was when I used to play WoW. That person had only one game to play, very few hobbies, lived with his family and- oddly, this is important- had no ebook reader.

There’s another key difference, which is that my old cronies in WoW don’t play TOR. I’d basically hit the point where I played WoW only to play with Anouke, Eldmann, Bobae and especially Kristin. None of them play TOR. Ano and Eld play EVE, which I might experiment with again later, but at this point I think I’m just not an MMO player right now- which brings me back to my earlier point.

 I have a lot of games to play, both video games and otherwise, I have only a couple hobbies at the moment because the equipment I need for my other hobbies hasn’t been sorted out in my recent move, I don’t live with my family any more and my ebook reader has caused me to enter a bit of a personal renaissance. I used to read a lot of books- I had to check them out from the library specifically in multiples of five to make sure I got all of them when taking them back. A 300-page paperback novel takes me a day or two. I was able to make The Way of Kings last three weeks by the simple expedient of strictly limiting myself to two hours a week. So I read a lot of books, and I read them very, very fast. This means my physical library is huge.

And with an ebook reader, I can pack the equivalent of hundreds and hundreds of linear feet of bookshelves into one small volume.

Yeah, it was pretty much inevitable that I’d be sunk.

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Ecclesiastically Speaking

Apparently my parents’ ISP, who for nearly seven years had no problem with the tiny http server I ran in their basement (and with it, my old blog, Mad Cow Chronicles), have decided in the last few months that it is problematic.

So that blog is gone. I, being essentially still in Impoverished Student Mindset, have decided I don’t care quite enough to get paid hosting for my blogging efforts, but still want to blog.

So here it is. There was a time for Mad Cows, and that time is over.

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