Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Self Fulfilling Prophecies

Having a baby certainly makes you think about things.

Watching our daughter, Amelia, learn during her first six months has led me to wonder how much of what babies do is because we react to it. As an example, every time we've taken our daughter out in public (which hasn't been that often), she acts like a normal baby, tasting everything, sucking on her fingers, her Mom's hair, her clothing, etc.

People look at her, and say, "How cute!", and other compliments. But, as soon as her thumb goes into her mouth, the people around exclaim, and generally say something like, "Oh, look, she found her thumb!" Even though Amelia had been sucking on anything and everything within reach for the entire time, as soon as the thumb hits the mouth, it's a big deal.

So, the stereotype is that babies suck their thumbs. What we've found with Amelia is that babies suck and taste everything. But, the thumbs are what generate positive attention and feedback in the audience. Over time, that's going to cause babies to prefer thumb sucking to, for instance, finger sucking.

And then, just about the time that she figures out that sucking her thumb is a good way to get attention, she'll be old enough that we'll tell her to stop doing it. ;-)

Anyway, the main point is that our expectations, our stereotypes, can be self fulfilling prophecies, especially where babies are concerned. They thrive on love and attention, and will try to repeat behaviors that generate love and attention.

So what we're trying with Amelia is to give her the love and attention whatever she does, not just when she fulfills our expectations of what a baby should be. So far, so good, but check back here in about 18 years, and I'll let you know how it worked out.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Free books and free software!

Okay, it's way too early in the morning, but I was up for my daughter's diaper change, and can't go back to sleep yet.

If you've been following my book reviews blog, you'll know I love science fiction. At the Baen Free Library, you can get quite a few free science fiction books that Baen has published over the years. From their point of view, they get to hook readers onto new series and new authors, so that you want to buy the new books when they're published. From your point of view, you get free books!

Okay, so free books are great, but I've never liked reading books on the computer. The Baen Free Library gives you books in formats suitable for different eBook readers, but I've never been attracted to those, either. Lately, though, I found a piece of free software that works perfectly for me.

It's called yBook, and is an eBook reader that tries to simulate the feeling of reading a physical book. It provides two facing pages, you can turn pages, and the background and typeface tries to simulate the printed page. I've read a couple of books using it now, and find that it fixes whatever problem I was having reading books on the computer.

You can get yBook free from SpaceJock Software. The best part is that yBook will load web pages, correctly parsing out formatting such at italics or bold text, and display it in the yBook format on screen.

So, you can download the HTML version of books from the Baen Free Library, and then use yBook to read it on your computer. If you absolutely must have a printed version, yBook can print the books.

A great combination of free books and free software should keep you busy reading for quite some time!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Migraines Suck!

I'm just coming off a two-day migraine, and needed to vent.

I've lived with migraines for as long as I can remember. They run in my Mom's side of the family, and I take more after her physically than my Dad. Normally, I live with them without too much trouble. Sure, they hurt like hell, but when you've hurt like that quite often your entire life, it's hard to know any differently.

I've come to believe that the migraines are my body's way of telling me that something's not quite balanced in my life. They ebb and flow as my life changes. Right now, I'm in a high migraine cycle, often as many as two a week or more. Most of them aren't what I would call serious, but this last one was. The bad ones play hell with your health and your emotions, tying both into knots. It's hard to keep perspective at times like those.

Plus, with a six month old daughter, I start to worry that I'll have passed on the headaches to her. I hate to think of her suffering over the long years of her life with migraines. I've had long enough periods without them that I get a glimpse of what it must be like to not have migraines.

I guess I'll just hope that she gets that sort of thing more from my wife than from me. My teeth she can get from me!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Roleplaying: Risus, by S. John Ross

I've already talked about roleplaying several times on this blog, but haven't mentioned Risus yet.

Risus is a wonderful little free roleplaying game. The game was designed to be a "universal comedy system", e.g. a roleplaying game that could be used for comedy games in any genre (fantasy, science fiction, soap opera, etc). But you can use it for playing more serious games, too.

Most roleplaying games give you ways of describing how strong your character is, how quick, how hardy, how intelligent, etc. Risus allows you to describe your character in terms of character cliches. For example, instead of saying, "My character has a strength of 18 but an intelligence of 5", in Risus you might say, "My character is a 'Somewhat dim, but strong as an ox, barbarian from the Northlands'". The bit between the single quotes is the character cliche.

A character cliche can be a phrase or a sentence that describes some aspect of your character. The cliche can describe physical, mental, or social attributes, or it can give insight into your character's motivations. At its most basic, a cliche describes a set of skills and abilities your character has, and why they have those skills and abilities.

In the 'Somewhat dim, but strong as an ox, barbarian from the Northlands' example, we know that the character is going to be very good at anything requiring brute strength, and pretty bad at anything requiring pure intellect. We also know that the character is from the Northlands, so that gives us a clue as to their culture, and how they might be received in, for examples, the Southlands.

So cliches tell you what your character is good at, and what they are not so good at. Each cliche also has a rating, such as 'Somewhat dim, but strong as an ox, barbarian from the Northlands'-3. The 3 rating means that this person is competent with that cliche. A 1 would mean they are a poor example of a Northlands barbarian, while a 6 would mean they're legendary in their abilities.

So, to recap: The phrase portion of the cliche tells you what sorts of skills and abilities the character has, while the rating tells you how good they are at those skills and abilities.

And that's pretty much it. There are no lists of character attributes, as in other roleplaying games. Just cliches. And that's the real beauty of Risus, is that you can literally play any sort of game you want using the system, because it makes no assumptions about what sort of game you're going to play. Want to play a Star Trek roleplaying game? Just use appropriate cliches. Want to play a courtroom drama roleplaying game? Just use appropriate cliches.

If you have a roleplaying group that is used to more traditional roleplaying games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, or Call of Cthulhu, it will take them some time to get used to Risus. The freedom of character cliches can be a bit odd for players who are used to only having a set list of skills and abilities to choose from, but it's worth it in the end.

Risus itself is available for free, at There are plenty of links on that site to other Risus related sites as well.