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Population: One

Europe Thoughts

What do you know; it’s a different culture! Um.

That was a pretty great trip. It was really satisfying to find out that I’m still able to do a 14 day trip with one bag successfully; I’m getting older but still pretty functional. We saw places I’d never seen, which is always awesome. My backpack was stolen on the way to Budapest (literally from three feet above my head, kudos to the thief) so that was sad, but I had my electronics and passport and credit cards on me at the time so it could have been worse. I’m lucky to be able to take that kind of loss in stride.

I did find out something interesting about my resilience. I can be very minimal if I’ve planned for it, which I knew. However, as it turned out, the thought of figuring out where to buy some replacement clothing and toiletries and a bunch of other small things was daunting for me. I didn’t mind being bare bones, I minded having to reconstruct my framework for travel on short notice. In the end Delta rebooked our flight at no cost so we could cut the trip short and not spend any additional money. Right call, and we’ll revisit Budapest again some day.

Cologne Dom
This is a thing I liked.

Things I liked a lot, in rough chronological order: Paris croissants, Disneyland Paris (the main park), the Amsterdam houseboat we stayed in, pannekoeken, rijstafel, Amsterdam museums, Utrecht city center, Cologne Cathedral, drinking kolsch in Cologne, the train from Cologne to Vienna along the Rhine, Vienna cafes, Vienna ferris wheel, apple strudel, and a fake ruin bar in Budapest.

Things that were underwhelming: Walt Disney Studios Park, the Disney hotel, the Imperial Quarters in Vienna, and food at Disneyland Paris (worse than Disneyland or WDW’s food).

One Bag: Midway Point

A casual goal for the Europe two-week trip was trying a one bag approach to packing. Context, in case you’re randomly wandering across this: I’m nearing 50, I’m not in particularly great shape, but I have decent tolerance for roughing it. I’m also in the big and tall category, and was still able to find technical clothing that’d fit (albeit not with a ton of variety).

I brought an Osprey Farpoint 55 backpack, which is 55 liters of capacity spread among a main pack and a zip-on day pack. It doesn’t have as many interior compartments as I’d like but I made up for that with some packing cubes and all’s pretty well. I checked mine but I’m pretty sure I could have gotten away with carrying it on the plane.

Packing list (all clothing made with technical quick-dry fabrics):

  • 3 long sleeved shirts and 4 plain T-shirts
  • 3 pairs of pants
  • 3 pairs of socks plus 1 pair of compression socks for the flight
  • 4 pairs of underwear
  • iPad, Smart Keyboard, iPhone, lots of cables, and a universal charger
  • toiletries including a bottle of Dr. Bronners peppermint
  • Allbirds sneakers and a pair of sandals
  • Bathing suit
  • Light rain shell
  • Fold up travel hangars and a travel clothesline
  • Travel towel (invaluable for drying hand-washed clothing)

This all fits neatly in the Osprey with some room to spare. My plan was to hand-wash laundry every night or every other night. After a couple of iterations of this I think that would be perfectly possible but better to save it for necessity. We probably had to hand-wash at Disneyland Paris since it’s not a great place to find a laundromat, but I’m currently sitting at a brown cafe in the middle of Amsterdam drinking coffee and waiting for a laundromat dryer to finish up and that’s working out just fine for me.

Next time out I’ll add a pair of socks and a pair of pants so I can go a bit longer without feeling grotty. The shirt load out depends on the weather. If I expected to need long sleeves every day I’d want an extra long sleeved shirt. As is I’ve been fine.

The Allbirds aren’t great walking shoes but they’re okay. The ankle support is fairly poor. On the other hand, they’re very light, which is why I chose them. I’ll stick with them for travel purposes. Conversely, I wouldn’t bother with the pair of sandals under similar conditions. No point bringing something I’m only going to wear around hotel rooms.

Disneyland Paris Notes

We did a quick two-day visit, which is not all that long, but I think we gave the parks a pretty good once over. Disneyland Paris itself — the castle park — is spectacular. Walt Disney Studios Park is pretty dead but has a couple of excellent rides. And Disney Village is a dull shopping area.

As hotels go: I’d kill to have enough money to stay in the Disneyland Hotel casually. It’s literally part of the approach to Disneyland Paris, and it’s gorgeous. Sequoia Lodge was fine: less polish than I’d expected from a Disney hotel but I have no serious complaints.

I am really glad we made it out for a two day trip and would recommend it if you’re a big Disney fan and have the ability to get there. In more detail…

Super J-Cup 2019: Night One

Professional wrestling is both a commodity and an art form, and that’s why I can sit in an audience of less than a thousand people in a small ballroom in Tacoma and watch one of the best wrestlers in the world do his job.

Will Ospreay is a British wrestler. He’s 26 years old. In 2007, he was a 14 year old watching this Latino kid called Amazing Red, who in turn was wrestling up and down the East Coast in a string of independent promotions and, for a while, in TNA. Whether or not TNA was the big leagues depends on who you ask. Either way, Red had the room to stretch the boundaries of his craft and Will was soaking it all in. He dressed like Red. He recorded YouTube videos of himself replicating Red’s moves.

I know this because Will Ospreay told us so the other night, after 27 minutes of passionate wrestling against his idol, his voice cracking with emotion. Red felt it too, but he didn’t want to put what he was feeling into words. He just wanted to hug Will Ospreay and speak directly to him, whispers in his ear.

The aftermath

“Look at the names on this belt,” said Ospreay, as he held aloft his IGPW Jr. Heavyweight Championship belt. “Look at them. It’s a crime that your name isn’t among them.”

From time to time someone asks me why I like professional wrestling. It’s a good question, especially since sometimes I don’t like it very much at all. This is the answer. There are so many stories being told at once in a classic wrestling match. Some of them are fictional.

The other night, Will Ospreay and the Amazing Red told a story about a smaller, semi-retired guy battling one of the best wrestlers in the world. Will Ospreay wrestles as a junior heavyweight, but this summer he also competed in the G1 Climax tournament. That’s for heavyweights. Will won 4 out of his 9 matches against some of the best in the world. He’s over six feet tall. Amazing Red is 5′ 4″.

Unsurprisingly, Red wrestled as the underdog and came spitting distance from winning. That’s a pretty great story. Also great: watching these two master craftsmen sell that story. It’s not even remotely believable, except that they both knew how to make each other look good. At one point, Red hit his big match-winning move, his finisher. Ospreay didn’t kick out of it, because that would have established him as clearly superior. He just barely managed to get his foot onto the ropes, which breaks the pin without diminishing Red. Subtle stuff.

Ospreay, near-exhaustion

They also told a true story about a younger man and the veteran he idolized. Ospreay spent months begging Red to come out of retirement for this match, and obviously succeeded. That emotion was all over the match, and that post-match promo. It was also entwined in the fiction. Would Ospreay forget that he idolized Red and fight as hard as he could? Would he realize that he needed to stop idolizing Red in order to beat him?

They also told a story about two athletes and artists working their hearts out to entertain us. Under a thousand people in the room, and S. and I were in the front row. At one point Red wound up in the lap of the guy next to me. He reached up, grabbed my hand, got ready to pull himself up.

“Should I help?” asked the guy whose lap he was in.

“Nope, let it play out,” murmured Red. He was smiling so hard.

Why do I love professional wrestling? Well.

Amazing Red, pre-match

Review: Yesterday

That was sure a couple of movies jammed into one two hour window!

And I liked it. Danny Boyle’s a great director working with stylistic flair. The primary beats of the movie are completely fantastic. It’s a dream, perhaps literally: it’s constantly playing with space and time. The titles tell us we’re in Los Angeles before we get there. Conversations don’t miss a beat while characters instantly teleport over the space of miles.

Kate McKinnon is playing a Suffolk schoolteacher’s imaginary version of a music executive. It’s a fantasy! If you’re critiquing this movie because it doesn’t make sense, well —

Doskvol Illuminator

I got a wild hair today and hacked together an issue of the Doskvol Illuminator from my Blades in the Dark game. It took a couple of hours but even for an incompetent graphic designer like me it wasn’t too hard.

The tools: Apple Pages and the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society Font and Prop combo pack. The pack comes with a sample newspaper with notes on typography — all you need is that plus a reference plus the fonts, along with any program that will let you shuffle blocks of text around and draw lines.

The advertisements are mostly just from Google searches on “Victorian advertisements”. It takes a bit of poking around but you can find useful things. The tricky bit was cropping out inappropriate locations: there’s no place called St. Louis in the city of Doskvol.

That plus several hours gave me this PDF, or enjoy the partial image below. If I can do it, you can do it.

Review: Hideous Creatures

Pelgrane Press: $50 (print plus PDF, the PDF only version will be released in a couple of months).

Hideous Creatures feels like kind of an under the radar release, perhaps because it’s about 50% made up of previously published Ken Hite monographs. At a quick glance, the main text is exactly the same as you got if you bought the monographs, although the book does add a fun handout for each creature. So there’s some retread factor there.

I got it because, you know, Pelgrane and my wallet. And there are sixteen new creature write-ups! How could I resist?

I am super-glad I did not, because having all of this in one place is amazing. This is one of the best sourcebooks released for Cthulhu mythos gaming ever, and I mean for any system. The stat blocks are for Trail of Cthulhu but they’re the least of what Hideous Creatures offers.

What you get for each creature:

  • A few paragraphs of blurb
  • Game stats
  • A list of abilities you might want to give your version of the creature, so nobody knows what to expect (mostly not tied to any one system)
  • Variations: half a dozen to a dozen origins and attributes of the creatures, many of which contradict each other
  • A list of ways in which the creature has been represented in world mythologies
  • A list of clues the creatures might leave, one for each Trail of Cthulhu ability, but fully useful for any system
  • A few scenario ideas
  • A bibliography
  • A handout

So you’ve got seven or eight pages of solid material for each and every creature, and because Hite and his collaborators focused on variations, it’s immensely flexible. Here’s a bit of the chapter on ghouls, for example.

In the interests of respecting copyright, I cropped that excerpt — get the book if you want suggestions for making ghouls look like jackals, coyotes, flies, or worms.

Are we done? Nah. There’s a chapter at the end about creating or customizing creatures. It’s short but good: Hite covers both how to make creatures horrific (did you know that Lovecraft used catachresis and cubism to evoke horror of the unfamiliar?) and how to generate Trail of Cthulhu stats.

Finally, at the very end, there’s an index. Headers for the index include: “Creatures of Fathomless Space,” “Creatures Who Serve Wizards,” “Creatures of Transformation & Corruption,” “Hideous Creatures By Country, Culture or Region,” and many more. So that’s about a perfect index.

This book is relentlessly useful and evocative, both at once. Seriously worth buying.

Quick Hit Princess Cruise Notes

S. and I took an Amtrak up to Vancouver last Friday, hopped onto Skytrain, had a nice lunch in Gastown, and boarded the Ruby Princess for a one day repositioning cruise down to Seattle. This frivolity is brought to you by the opportunity to check out a cruise line’s style cheap before booking a longer Baltic cruise in a couple of years. We’re gonna stick with Holland America but the Ruby Princess was fun.

We’re not experts in any way, but the Ruby Princess struck us as skewing a bit younger and more flashy than the relatively staid Holland America aesthetic. (Same corporate parent, by the by.) We spent two hours on karaoke and it was fairly awesome.

The main dining room food wasn’t great and the upsell for booze was kind of tiring. The buffet was better — the Indian food had some real spice to it and I liked the roast beef a lot. I also think Holland America’s buffet had more variety.

The open pool spaces were abundant but kinda inward turned. I really liked the aft pool deck on our Holland America ship, because it was very open and you got a great 270 degree view of Alaska. The Ruby Princess has a super-cool terraced aft pool, but it doesn’t have the same panoramic view.

I’d guess the ship was maybe 60-70% full. Judging purely by the karaoke, a lot of locals had the same plan we did — fun night out and some pretty scenery.

Definitely worth grabbing one of these if you live in a cruise ship port that has ‘em.

One-Shots: Delta Green

Said I: “Oh, I’ll just grab the winning entry from the 2018 Shotgun Scenario contest and find some pre-gens from somewhere and that’ll be my Delta Green one-shot.”

And then I said “Hm, there’s no Northern California town called Rama, but the Klamath National Forest is real. What real town could I use instead? And while I’m at it, let me outline a few NPCs so that I’m not coming up with them on the fly, and let me extend the scenario just a bit, and…”

So while the result is certainly still Marco Menarini’s fine scenario, I have added around 3,500 words which will make it easier to run.

A tools note: I did most of the writing on my 2018 iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard Folio, and it was a superb experience. This is the first time I’ve really felt like an iPad could be my travel computer.

Noir City 2019 Streaming

For reference and for my friends who can’t make it to a Noir City showing this year. (San Francisco, Seattle, Hollywood, Austin, Boston, Chicago. Make it if you can.) I’m just listing movies with subscription/free streams here.

Subscription service info is mostly from Lettrboxed. One of the many cool features they have: you can click on a movie and find out where you can see it. You can also filter film lists by services, so if I wanna feel classy I pull up the list of TSPDT 21st Century Top 1000 Movies and find out what’s on Netflix.