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April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert

Rob @ 7:34 PM

I remember chatting with Roger Ebert on movie forum message threads, and the odd email or two, back in the mid-1990s on CompuServe. I was a teenager poking around at early online fandom, and Ebert was the first mainstream "celebrity" I'd ever communicated with in such a manner. At first it blew my mind a bit to see his name on posts and realize it was actually that Ebert doing the typing. The online boom was still a few years down the line, though, and CompuServe and its forums were still low-key, cozy, and geeky; it quickly became apparent that Ebert was basically just another one of us film dorks (albeit one who had his own TV show) sharing and debating the films out there while unwinding in front of our keyboards.

He'll be missed.

March 7, 2013

Fog of War Scrabble

Rob @ 7:55 AM

My significant other Gus and I played a game of Scrabble the other day, and while cleaning up the board afterward I was struck by the idea for this variant. I've been tweaking the rules in my head since then, in hopes of playtesting it someday, and I thought I'd share it here as well. I'm not sure if there's been anything like it done before; my searches have come up blank. If any of you are into such things, please shoot me your feedback.

Please note that Scrabble is a trademark of Hasbro or Mattel depending on where you live, its use here is unofficial, I'm not affiliated with either of them, and blah blah blah. Full credit to Gus for applying the term "Fog of War" to the concept.

How to play Fog of War Scrabble
Fog of War Scrabble
The game requires a standard Scrabble set and compatible dictionary. The Fog of War rules are the official Scrabble rules, with the following modifications:

  • In addition to the game's normal 2-4 players, there is an impartial non-playing position called the Observer.
  • All tiles are flipped over and used on their blank sides. The actual letters printed on them are meaningless; tiles can be played as any letter, in the manner of the normal game's blanks.
  • All played tiles score one point each, no matter which letter they are. Board modifiers (double/triple letter/word score squares) apply normally. There is no "bingo" bonus for using all seven of your tiles.
  • When a word is played, the player announces what the word is and how it's spelled. The Observer has a paper representation of the Scrabble board (a 15x15 grid on graph paper would work) out of view of the other players; on this the Observer fills in the words as they are played. Thus, the Observer is the only one looking at the actual word game in progress while the players are looking at the blank tiles.
  • Memory is key. In order to make a correct play, the player must remember what all the words laid out on the board are and play accordingly. Any failure along these lines - say, playing a word on a letter which is actually a different letter - is an immediate out. Once you complete your play, if the Observer tells you that your word is invalid due to a tile on the board being something other than what you thought it was your word is removed from the board. You are "lost in the fog," and eliminated from the game.
  • The game can end in one of two ways. If all players but one get "lost in the fog," the scores are discarded and the last player remaining wins. If more than one player survives to the end of the tile supply and the natural end of the game, the scores are tabulated in the normal Scrabble manner.

I see a few ways this could put a really novel spin on the old Scrabble.

  • Without the normally-limited letter supply, differently-scoring tiles, and bingo bonus, the strategy of saving up rare high-value letters to play on the modifiers is irrelevant. Go ahead and play "QUIZZICAL" on a triple word score, but it won't shift the game in your favor in one fell swoop anymore.

  • Players can deliberately play words they think their opponents will have trouble remembering, in order to accomplish easier "outs."
  • Players can decide whether to play lots of small words, or go all-out with larger words each round, without appreciable scoring difference. If you play to confuse your opponents and get them lost in the fog before you, the numerical scores are meaningless anyway. On the other hand, longer words and mod squares will get you more points if the other players do last. What wll your strategy be?
  • When playing multiple games, the group can rotate everyone in by assigning the Observer role to either the winner or loser of the previous game.

What do you think? Would this actually be any fun?

February 16, 2013

The preferred nomenclature

Rob @ 11:10 AM

There are people who have to do all sorts of things in order to feel like they're properly presenting their true self to the world.

Some people do mutable things like particular clothing, hairstyling, or makeup rituals. Some folks feel the need to go more drastic, permanent routes such as cosmetic surgery or other body modifications. Some transition to a different gender identity than that which had been given them. These can all be paths to the same goal; gaining the ability to go out into the world and feel like they are inhabiting and presenting a "self" they actually feel is their own.

I consider myself really fortunate along these lines because, compared to what many others have to endure to reach that point, what I needed to fully feel like my own self at all times was a simple, painless, one-time thing. I had a small bit of paperwork surgery, and brought my legal name in line with how I truly think of myself.

It didn't hurt a bit. In fact, it feels pretty great.

January 10, 2013


Rob @ 8:33 PM

Happy Year of the Triskaidekaphobe!

2012 was a roller coaster, so much so that I barely had time to get any blogging done. I spent the year working hard and living well. I helped throw a hacker conference, I talked to people on the airwaves about hacker stuff, I wrangled snarky adbusting puppets, I made things that make things and then made things with those things, I refocused on my artwork, and I did too much other stuff to begin to count. I moved to Inwood, a truly lovely chunk of Manhattan with a lot more than meets the eye about it. My apartment is lovely and the people are nice. My roomates are my wonderful girlfriend and one of my oldest, best friends. There is a reasonably good Internet connection. My favorite magnets fit on the fridge. One of my cats loves aggressively grooming my bald scalp.

I always suspected I'd be happiest in this wonderful city, working in situations where no two days are quite the same, surrounded by the best crowds anyone could ask for.

Now, to find time to blog more regularly...

June 30, 2012


Rob @ 7:22 PM

Hey, humans and others. (must not mention lack of regular blog posts in blog post....)

So, what's been going on with me lately? All sorts of things. On the professional side, the day job at MakerBot is a neverending stream of cool stuff to do. No two days are alike, it's the one type of day job I could concievably have. Off the Hook is still groovy, I guest-hosted again this week when Emmanuel was trapped in a server closet. Work behind the scenes at HOPE has reached that fever pitch consistent with it being TWO WEEKS AWAY OMFG. On the personal side, my longtime friend, colleague, and collaborator Dr. Andrews and I levelled up our friendship and are now in a seriously awesome relationship. ♥

Random Internetty thought: Levar Burton's Reading Rainbow app is interesting, but costly and platform-exclusive. I wonder at the possibility of an open-source version, with people contributing recordings of themselves reading freely-licensed material aloud and building a library of good stuff for kids of all ages.

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