Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Four Generations

Four Generations
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
I got to see my grandma last weekend. She refers to her brush with death in 2006, where she fell into a coma and wasn't expected to live as "my little incident" and still seems as spunky and feisty as ever. She's 81 now and is definitely feeling like she's used up her nine lives and is on the last one. She brought some things with her to give to us, saying she figures "it's about time." Her kidneys are failing and they've prepped her to begin dialysis soon and she's only able to get around using a walker. When she told her doctors she wants to live another seven or eight years to keep her husband Al company, they told her they'd see if they could get her a couple. Even so, seeing flashes of her being as spirited as ever, I told her I don't believe any of it, she's simply too ornery to die (which made her giggle). She insisted on giving me her pearls ("They're real!" she assured me) and handing off to Kate her two favorite stuffed animals (Mrs. Mouse and Mrs. Frog).

Four Generations

Getting all four of we ladies together I was reminded again of what a feisty female clan we are. Kate was old enough to be in the thick of things, sitting in the kitchen with the ladies (and the cool, intelligent men) and letting the drunken cowboys do their thing with fire and meat. I got grandma playing Walk the Plank and while she complained that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, she was beating the pants off the rest of us all while wickedly pretending she was an innocent old lady who didn't know what to make of these new fangled games.

Two years ago I posted this similar photo, where Kate is a bit smaller. She's taller than her great-grandma now and getting close to surpassing her grandma to boot. It's always on my mind that this could be the last time, but I thought that two years ago and I rather hope to be thinking it another two years from now.


Busy Weekend

Kate and Pramas and I were in Portland over the weekend. I crashed the Canby High School Class of '88 reunion, even though I moved to Minnesota in my Freshman year, and reconnected with several of my junior high school friends, visited with my brother for the first time in a year and a half, squeezed in breakfast with my friend JD Roth and his wife at their place, and attended a barbecue with my mom, grandma, brother, and a bunch of people from mom's husband's side. Grandma is going to have to start dialysis soon and this is probably the last visit to Oregon she'll make so it was a bittersweet visit. Drove home last night and promptly collapsed into bed.

Woke up this morning to find that JD had posted something of an interview with us, from our talk about entrepreneurship over breakfast, over on his highly successful personal finance blog, Get Rich Slowly. Kinda cool, that.

Chris and I leave for Finland in one week and I'm freaking out just a tad about getting everything done that needs to be done. Speaking of, I shouldn't waste any more time noodling around on my blog right now. Eek.

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Zipcar: It's No Flexcar

Longtime readers know that I was a big fan of Flexcar and used the service for over four years before they merged with Zipcar. Things had started to go downhill with the car-sharing when the Washington State Department of Revenue insisted on charging a car "rental" tax of 9.7% on Flexcar users. That situation was never reversed or resolved, despite last year's assurances from my representative Margarita Prentice that that she was "pleased to report the Governor's office, the Department of Revenue and others are working on language that will address the differences between a rental car company and a 'flexcar' program."

I've been living with Zipcar for a while now and I have to say that it reminds me all too much of my experience of being a happy Homegrocer.com subscriber who then saw things go dramatically downhill after the merger with Webvan, much as another disappointed subscriber's opinion piece from 2001 details here. When the Zipcar/Flexcar merger hit the news, company spokespeople and optimistic users were spouting off about how "increased access to cars" through the merger would be great and "outweigh" concerns over shrinking competition. Uh huh.

Erica Barnett at The Slog (Seattle's free weekly paper The Stranger's blog, for those outside the area) blogged about Zipcar's perceived flaws and failures back in February. Higher monthly minimums and higher hourly rates, hybrids classified under "premium" rates alongside luxury vehicles, stiff penalties for "infractions" (5 minutes late returning even though no one else had reserved the car for use? $50 fine!) instead of credits and incentives for pitching in, fees to talk to an actual person to address any issues, etc. These things combined with the fact that we're also paying 9.7% state "rental car" tax, 6.5% state sales tax, and 2.5% King county/RTA tax makes the whole carshare prospect a lot less attractive than it used to be.

Last week was perhaps my worst week ever with Zipcar. Monday the 14th they announced that they were rearranging their pricing, focusing on the fact that they were lowering the rate on hybrids. Had they not raised the price on hybrids (not to mention replaced my local hybrid with a bare bones Subaru) I might have celebrated that news, but I would not have been celebrating for long because that mail was immediately followed by another mail that announced that they were removing my local Zipcar location altogether, immediately. As in had probably already been done by the time I received the mail at 6:30pm. A third e-mail told of the awesome new gas cards and how to use them (this will be important to the story later).

Thursday I reserved a Zipcar for the day. My nearest option is now 2 miles away instead of six blocks. I arrived at my car and opened it up to find shards of glass from a previously broken window strewn throughout the car. Someone had replaced the window and cleaned up most of the glass but there were still shards everywhere (the seats and the floor, front and back, the dashboard, everywhere). The driver's side door armrest had also been ripped away from the door and was still partially detatched. I called to report the damage, but where with Flexcar I had the option of talking to an actual person, Zipcar automates the damage report. I had no idea if Zipcar wanted me to continue with my reservation or if this was something they might have wanted to investigate further right away... but I needed the car and was on a schedule so I had to take it as it was. At the end of my reservation I needed to stop for gas because the car was completely empty. I almost never let the car get that low but this was an unfamiliar car and the gas gauge was in a different location and I flat out missed it until the little red gas pump came on to warn me to fill up. At that point I discovered that my car had not yet been outfitted with its (and I quote) "more stylish, more reliable and more efficient gas card" but the old card that remained in the car no longer worked. I called customer service and chose the option to speak to an actual person (which may or may not have cost me $3.50). However, speaking to an actual person did me no good. She had no clue about the old cards, seemed to be only on hand to talk to people who couldn't figure out the new cards and when her script didn't cover my situation she told me that my only option was to pay to put gas in the car myself and send in the receipt. "You won't be charged as long as there's at least a quarter tank," she chirped. Awesome. Car now 2 miles away, had to deal with broken glass all over, and got to spot Zipcar a full quarter tank of gas on my dime.

I suppose you can tell that I'm feeling a little disgruntled over this, but it gets better! Today I received an e-mail about a damage inquiry on my former local Zipcar. "We are not assigning blame, we are simply following up on the report that we received," the letter read, and then goes on in the very next sentence, "Per our Member Agreement (section 9.6), damages incurred during a member's reservation are the responsibility of that member." Now, this is not an inquiry about the car I just recently used, but a vehicle I last drove A MONTH AGO, on June 20th. In my history with Flexcar I've been diligent about reporting damage, so much so that when I called to report that a pebble had kicked up on the freeway and dinged the windshield they told me not to worry about reporting it unless the windshield was actually cracked. Now, a month after I've used the car they're going to try to put some damage off on me? Oh, I know, I know, they say they're just investigating and not assigning blame but after last week I'm not feeling very generous towards Zipcar. In fact, if they do decide that the damage somehow happened on my watch and I'm responsible for it at this point, you can bet that's the day when I become a FORMER Zipcar member in a right hurry.

It's like Homegrocer all over again. I'll still be missing Flexcar after Zipcar is gone.

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Cooking Digression

Things around here have been a bit chaotic of late and I've been doing far less cooking than I intended when spring started. When I have mustered the time or energy or preparation to do a little cooking, I've been relying on things like ready-to-grill kabobs from Metropolitan Market. We haven't done the CSA this year and I've barely visited the farmer's markets. Even so, I did manage to try a couple of recipes that were good enough that I felt I should pass them along.

First, I have tried yet another winner from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking. If you haven't bought this book yet, why not? It's seriously the most unique, delightful, astonishing collection of recipes I've had the pleasure to discover in a long time. Here's an example:

Lime-Bathed Peanut Salad

2 cups unsalted raw peanuts
4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 large jalapeno chile, seeded and diced
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp fine-grain sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350. (Since it's summer, I moved this step to the toaster oven to keep the heat down and it worked just fine.)

Place peanuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring or shaking the pan a couple of times for more even browning.

Combine the tomatoes, jalapeno, and cilantro in a bowl. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, and salt. Gently stir into the tomato mixture to combine. Just before serving, fold in the peanuts. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

The other success I had was serving a fresh pea/mint soup from Cooking Light alongside some wild salmon patties.

Fresh Pea Soup with Mint

2 teaspoons butter
1 cup coarsely chopped green onions
4 cups shelled green peas (about 4 pounds unshelled)
3 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth (I used half vegetable broth, half chicken)
2 cups water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons thinly sliced mint
Cracked black pepper

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions to pan and cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add peas, broth, and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes or until the peas are very tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let stand 15 minutes. Stir in juice, salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Place half of pea mixture in blender and process until smooth. Do this carefully as hot liquid expands very fast in a blender; I recommend holding the lid down with a kitchen towel just to be safe. Pour pureed soup mixture into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining pea mixture. Strain this half of the pureed soup mixture through a sieve over a large bowl, reserving the liquid; discard the solids. Return strained soup to pureed soup mixture. Ladle about 3/4 cup soup mixture into each of 6 bowls; drizzle each with 1/2 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle each serving with 1 teaspoon mint. Garnish with cracked pepper, if desired.

Makes 6 servings

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Green Ronin Past, Present, and Future

I found myself moved to make a post over on ENWorld today, where people were discussing our recent announcement that Green Ronin will not be signing onto Wizards of the Coast's new Game System License to support 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. It got a little long, so rather than spend more time trying to write something else up for the ol' blog, I'm going to reproduce the post here.

The 3rd party didn't prop D&D up, the D20 license and OGL gave these companies a market. GR, Mongoose, Malhavok... none of these companies formed, made games, then dabbled in D20. They were d20 companies that branched out.


The amusing part is how many of these companies that find the GSL unacceptable wouldn't exist if not for the OGL.

Green Ronin was formed in early 2000 and our first product Ork! the Roleplaying Game was released in June of that year. We shortly thereafter decided to dabble in this "d20 thing" by planning out a couple adventures, adventures that went on to become the Freeport Trilogy, but when we made that decision the OGL and the d20 STL were completely untested. Make no mistake, we certainly benefited from the license and will never deny the impact that d20 had on the direction of our company but I think it's quite overstating the case to claim that we "wouldn't exist if not for the OGL."

Green Ronin's founders had more than 35 years of combined experience in the game industry when we formed the company, experience not only in roleplaying games but also cards, miniatures, magazines, board games, and more. Due to the enthusiastically favorable response to our d20 dabbling, you could say we were "distracted" from some of our other possible projects for a while but we did continue to work on other things, even during the height of the demand for d20 material. The Spaceship Zero Roleplaying Game and Faery's Tale Deluxe, the Torches & Pitchforks card game and the Walk the Plank card game, map books like Dungeons of Doom and Cartographica, or our recent non-fiction hit Hobby Games: the 100 Best. We've always had our fingers in things other than d20 products.

I've often seen people talk about how third party publishers failed to support WotC or D&D, something I think Charles Ryan first floated here on EN World back when he was still the D&D Brand Manager. Green Ronin published almost 100 straight-up d20/D&D support products without counting support for d20 Modern or D20 Future. My feeling is that WotC's expectation that unrestricted numbers of third party support companies could continue to endlessly support straight-up D&D in the face of the product glut and unending direct competition was unrealistic. The market was demanding more and WotC themselves were not filling those holes; it's utterly predictable that companies would expand out to fill those niches and strive to create products to meet fan demand (as well as differentiate themselves from their competition). That was no more a "betrayal" than WotC designing a new edition of D&D... it's the natural course of business.

While we are mindful of the role the OGL played in the development of Green Ronin, I personally don't feel we "owe our success" to it. We helped manufacture support for WotC's business according to the plan they offered and by doing so we received exposure for our company; it was a mutually beneficial relationship. Our success, on the other hand, was not granted to us from on high by Wizards of the Coast or any other Powers That Be. We competed, we worked hard, we made mistakes on some things and chose wisely on others and earned our success through our efforts. In the far less mutually beneficial climate of 4th Edition and the GSL, I am confident that we will continue to produce excellent work and find an audience for it, starting with A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying and any number of things beyond.



Rock Band Camp finale

People have been asking how it went, so here's a little clip that the school put up. I took video from a different angle of the whole performance (including Kate's favorite, Back in Black) but this will give everyone who doesn't have Mom-level devotion a taste.

Kate was scheduled to go back to Canada to spend some time with her dad on Sunday morning but there was a change of plans which means Kate and I are getting to spend extra summer time together and we've made the most of it. Saturday was a viewing of the new Hellboy and some barbecuing with Ray and Christine (taking advantage of the long overdue nice summer weather) and Sunday Kate and I hit the summer festival circuit while Pramas got some work done.

First we stopped by the Seattle Luxury Chocolate Salon down on the waterfront. It was a gorgeous day and we walked a little way along the water before heading into the convention space. Unfortunately the exhibit space was sweltering and many of the exhibitors were having trouble because their chocolates were melting on their tables. I tasted at least a dozen interesting chocolates, truffles, caramels, brittles, cocoas, and brownies. The hands down winner for the "WOW, I've never had anything like this!" award has to go to the savory chocolates from Eugene, Oregon's Kekau, especially their "Smoky Blue" which is made with Rogue Creamery's Smoky Blue cheese. Holy crap was that good. Their Black Truffle Honey was another winner. There were many other delights (such as Poco Dolce's Aztec Chile chocolates topped with grey sea salt and I have a list (and a bag full of things I couldn't resist buying) for further study. We also tried to hit the rumored Berry Bash at the Pike Place Market but we arrived too late for any pie eating contests and saw few stands that were anything "special" that we couldn't find regularly in the market or at one of the excellent area farmer's markets, so we didn't linger too long. Instead we hopped the bus down to Seattle Center for their Bastille Day celebration. Food, live music, and perfect weather for playing in the fountain.

Unfortunately I ended the weekend with a flare-up of my TMJ, which hasn't happened in many months, and the pain/popping/locking is still plaguing me today. Add in a couple of doctor appointments, a bunch of household chores (like trimming our front foliage before the HOA decides they don't appreciate the natural look) and our printer spewing magenta toner all over everything and making very, very bad grinding noises and the work week seems off to a pretty bum start but at least the weekend was pretty glorious.

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Kate Rockin' the YouTubes

As they were leaving today she suggested that another kid play drums for one of the songs because he's better at it off the bat that she is. "You've got time to get better," he said. "You're not going to get any better by not doing it." I think this may be another opportunity for Kate to be surprised at herself.

Hooray Seattle Drum School!

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Rock Band Camp, Day 1

Kate completed her first day of Rock Band Camp. She was so excited and nervous about it that she woke up at three hours early. I dropped her off at 9am and picked her up at 2pm, hoping that everything was as fun as she'd been hoping.

Verdict: SUCCESS!

Kate is the only girl and a drummer to boot. Her description of meeting the boys went something like this:

Wait, you're a *drummer*?

And you like *comic books*?


Don't you like pink, frilly things?!

This is especially cute because Kate's outfit today was very (perhaps even unusually) girly, some khaki shorts and a pastel-checkered halter top.

The kids got right to playing music, too. "It wasn't a boring camp where you're waiting to go home. You want to know what time it is but just so you know how much time you have left to do things. And it wasn't full of facts 'n' stuff... 'The Clash is this kind of music and The Beatles are that kind of music, blah blah blah,' we just jumped in and played!"

They played Louie Louie, Blue Suede Shoes, "something from Nirvana, I think," and Smoke on the Water. "Oh, so classic rock, then," I said. "Yeah, totally classic!" she enthused.

She absolutely can't wait to go back tomorrow.

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Origins Awards Comments

I started writing a long response to mxyzplk's post about the Origins Awards here, but then thought to myself "Hey, this could be a blog post of my own!" so I'm posting it to my own much neglected blog as such instead.

Thanks for the kudos on Freeport! We are, of course, quite proud of the product around GR HQ but recognized we were up against some stiff competition. IMHO, Paradigm Concepts is one of the most overlooked companies to come out of the d20 boom. We realized early on that our companies were made up of kindred spirits (a bit of trivia for you: GR's Chris Pramas and Paradigm's Henry Lopez share the same birthday... though a few years apart). Back in the days when many companies were trying to come out with material that covered much of the same d20 ground, Green Ronin and Paradigm announced virtually identical product plans on the same day. Instead of getting all adversarial, we decided to try to harness some of that mutual enthusiasm and we tried a line of co-operative companion books with the OGL Interlink logo (foreshadowing our more successful M&M Superlink and True20 licenses).

I'm not surprised at all that Paradigm was able to walk away with some well-deserved kudos at Origins. Early in the d20 cycle when we found ourselves at a crossroads, Green Ronin decided to put our efforts into getting more of our ideas out into products for the market, while Paradigm devoted a tremendous amount of time to their organized play program and building Arcanis (more trivia, Arcanis is one of the earliest third-party homes to Freeport).

Anyway, Origins has always been a good show for Paradigm and their Arcanis supporters. Since the Origins Awards are now voted on by the Origins attendees, it makes sense that Paradigm is finally getting a little love back. They've been shamefully overlooked in the larger marketplace over the years as they poured more of their resources into organized play and creating a community of Arcanis supporters. Congratulations to them on their Origins Award this time around!

Regarding Faery's Tale Deluxe vs. Grimm in this year's awards, I laugh because Grimm (the d20 version of this designed by Green Ronin favorite Rob "Dr. Evil" Schwalb) is a fairy-tails-gone-wrong kind of setting, while Farey's Tale Deluxe (by Firefly Games' owner Patrick Sweeney) is a sweet and lovely faeries-bring-out-the-best game aimed at youngsters (and those willing to play straight-facedly sweet and "good" faery characters). Made for quite the diverse range when it came to voting, I'm sure (and guessing that the 6- to 9-year-old set weren't getting out the vote at Origins). Heh.

Anyway, certainly an interesting year at the Origins Awards. We were happy to net a win for Hobby Games: the 100 Best.

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Darcy Burner

For those of you not in Washington State, you may not be aware of Darcy Burner, who is running for the United States Congress here. She ran in 2006 and was narrowly defeated. She announced last year that she intended to run again and has been mounting an impressive campaign already.

Yesterday her home and possessions were completely destroyed by fire. The local news captured the fire and the aftermath:

I've been very impressed with Darcy Burner. She's not running in my district but I feel we definitely need more people like her representing us in Washington DC. She calls herself a "practical progressive" and says that she follows five principles (principles that are squarely in line with my own):
  • Government should treat everyone fairly.
  • Hard work should be rewarded.
  • Government should stay out of people's private lives.
  • We should keep our promises.
  • We should leave our children a better world than the one we found.

Burner is also the force behind A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq which has been endorsed by 58 congressional candidates and four high-ranking military experts, including a former Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration and a Brigadier General who is a specialist in counterinsurgency and nation-building.

It would be a shame if this devastating experience in her personal life sets back her campaign. Yesterday I made a donation to her campaign to help keep her on track while she takes time off to see to her family's needs. If you're of a progressive bent and like what Darcy Burner stands for now is an excellent time to consider a contribution to her campaign.