Sundry information, thoughts and links to sort us out

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Beam me up. Please.

Gas prices are getting to be pretty absurd and really effecting almost everything we do nowadays. When we went home to Ohio last month, we drove and paid high prices at the pump, but we did so because the airline we had intended to fly went out of business due to rising fuel and operating costs. As more and more airlines begin downsizing, cutting flights, merging, or just shutting up shop, it is beginning to look like the way we travel is not only in jeopardy, but in desperate need of change.

On the plus side, it seems like everyone is becoming more aware and more eco-conscious because of the situation. A few weeks ago I heard a story on Marketplace where a guy was talking about ways to reduce the size of your carbon footprint. What had started him thinking about this was taking a family trip to Hawaii -- he figured out that, for the four of them to fly roundtrip, they used more gas than they use driving around town all year. My first reaction to this was: the plane would have flown to Hawaii with or without you, dude. But after that, I started thinking, too.

Transportation exists to move goods, services and people from one place to another in an expeditious manner. Since the invention of the internet, messages, information, and even some items (such as photos or video clips) are passing quickly and easily between people via email and file sharing and the like. But how can we move people and packages quickly from one place to another -- especially without using fuels?

Simple, transporters. Okay, okay, I know what you're thinking: transporters don't really work, they're fictional technology, and besides the process would kill you -- all that destructuring and restructuring of your personal atoms and stuff! But imagine how great it would be! Instantaneous travel. Easily send your mom her birthday gift. Store your genetic code in the pattern buffer to restore you from disease. (Okay, that probably really does work only on Star Trek!) Well, I still say, we've got smart people out there....somebody invent this before we ruin our pocketbooks and our planet all at the same time. Please.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Congratulations, Marlene!

It's graduation day at Kalamazoo College. On this cloudy, but warm, Sunday afternoon the class of 2008 -- including our former extern and dear friend, Marlene Chavez -- processed down the quad and received their diplomas. Huzzah!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Yesterday I read that Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, main anchor for France's TF1, is being asked to step down after 21+ years on the air. Beginning in September, the main nightly newscast will be anchored by Laurence Ferrari. Supposedly, this is a ratings ploy as Ms. Ferrari is significantly younger than Poivre d'Arvor, who is also known to be temperamental.

Some regular readers may have figured out why this is important to me. When I did my junior term abroad in Strasbourg, France (Sept. 1988-Feb. 1989) we had to watch TF1's nightly news for the Civilization section of our orientation session. Prior to going overseas, I had taken Communications Technology (the basic video course) back at K College during my sophomore year. While reviewing my final project, my professor, Larry Jaquith, had said to me, "You have a good eye. You could make a career of this." At the time, I just shrugged that off and filed it away in my brain. But sitting in that classroom in the International Institute at the University of Strasbourg I had an epiphany.

The nightly news began each episode with PPdA, as the anchor is known, framed rather small in the center of the screen, then they zoomed him forward full screen so it appeared that he was coming right into your living room to deliver you the news. I remember very clearly sitting there, with Monsieur Kintz explaining why TF1 did that, and thinking "I can do that!" That was the moment when I decided to go into video production as a career. When I returned to the States in the spring, I immediately began setting up the independent study I did for Advanced Video Technology class, followed by the internship I did at Toledo's PBS station for my Senior Independent Project. Thus a career was born.

So, thank you, Monsieur Poivre d'Arvor, for inspiring one young American all unbeknownst to you, best of luck in the next phase of your life and career, and au revoir.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A New Vacation Story

Just a scant few days after returning from Ohio, we were back on the road. We headed up to Virginia Beach to spend Memorial Weekend with the Rickards. A few months ago Kris had stopped in on her way back from buying a new dog from a breeding farm in South Carolina, but we hadn't seen the rest of the family since Thanksgiving. We enjoyed catching up with Kevin and Raechel, as well as Kris, and seeing how much Sully (the new dog) had grown since we met him as a puppy just a couple months ago.

We had a great weekend doing what we always do - eating, drinking, playing cards, and laughing a lot! At one point, Kris and I got the giggles for no apparent reason except that we had them and that in and of itself was so funny that we laughed ourselves silly for about 10 minutes - oh the things that happen when you've been playing cards with dear friends until the wee hours of the morning! In addition to that good stuff, Kris prepared a holiday cook-out with hamburgs and hot dogs and all that traditional yumminess (Kevin cooked them to perfection). Plus, Dave and Morrie and their kids, as well as Rae's friend Vince and his mom, came over to join the festivities.

It was terrific to spend the holiday having fun with folks we love.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Two Years, One Month, and 16 Days in the City of the Spider Queen

Folks, as the title implies, we finally did it! Read on for the conclusion of the Adventures of Fnord, Hagbarde, Maeve, and Friends. (Keep in mind the phobias: Fnord - tile, Hagbarde - beautiful women, Maeve - betrayal.)

Katy and Cathy, about what Fnord did: Fnord goes, 'hey, y'all' and we follow him - Fnord turns into Paula Deen
Katy and Bruce, about logging the dungeon: Which room is that? - U27, it's called Empty Room.
Cathy, thinking aloud: I keep doing this, and it keeps failing, but I am going to...crap!
Ken, after Cathy realized she couldn't cast the spell she intended: You could try crapping again, maybe it would work this time!
Bruce and Cathy, after Katy suggested hypnotizing the party so they could go into a room despite fears, but probably clucking like chickens: Wait a minute, isn't that the cleric who failed at his crap check? - It's chicken shit the cleric!
Cathy, about what the Spider Queen would do when facing the adventurers: She says, 'Excuse me, I have to go run for president now.'

The party made a quick trip to Dras' Wondrous Devices to sell loot and purchase needed goods. Everyone was in agreement that the items Maeve lost in the Disjunction should be replaced, so she was able to pick up a Vest of Resistance, a Ring of Universal Energy Resistance - Greater, and a Headband of Intellect. Fnord suggested that Bone Rings would be useful to those who could not shape-shift into immune forms. The ranger thought about it and then agreed and bought one, selling her Ring of Protection to do so. Hagbarde also agreed and bought himself a Bone Ring, selling his Ring of Protection in the process as well, which he then replaced with an Amulet of Natural Armor. When everyone was restocked, they headed out.

Fnord used Psionic Greater Teleport to take the group back into the Undying Temple. He was, of course, unable to take them to the Ethereal Temple as that would require simultaneous planar manipulation, so instead they arrived back in the main tower, where they'd fought the Medusa, just outside the portal to the Ethereal side. Nothing had changed in the room since the adventurers had last been there. Even the Medusa's body and the other remnants of their combat remained. The portal was still active so they headed through.

They made their way up the Ethereal Tower, encountering nothing, until they reached the room where they had fought the armored Drow. Unlike below, here the signs of combat had been cleared away, as had the bodies of the fallen. They headed over to the door in search of the way to the next level. Cayce listened, but heard nothing; he searched and found no traps. As the door was not locked, Hagbarde opened it.

The inside of the room was swathed in deep, magical darkness. The cleric used his wand of daylight. The darkness parted to reveal a luxurious chamber, draped in black brocades. A large bed stood in the corner opposite the door, just to the left. A dresser stood beside bed. A set of shelves -- loaded down with books and scrolls -- sat in the other corner. A black woven rug lay just in front of the shelves.

As there was no entrance to the next level in this room either, the group returned to the outer chamber to keep looking. Poking about, Fnord walked through the ethereal wall of the material plane and suddenly realized that he had found the entrance. He alerted his companions and they joined him. They continued up.

The tiny room was formed from two solid walls and two that seemed misty and insubstantial. Having learned from their experience on the level below, they poked around in search of a means of egress. They suddenly heard a loud, horrific wailing. Fortunately, everyone Saved.

Cayce stepped forward - passing through the ethereal wall and thus revealing it to his companions - and found himself facing a Keening Spirit, he held his action; Fnord stepped through the wall and attacked with his Ghost Touch enhanced sword, hitting three times for a total of 89; Hagbarde moved into a line of sight and cast Greater Turn Undead, destroying the Keening Spirit.

Maeve stepped through the wall and joined the group. They quickly searched the room and the corpse of their adversary. The Keening Spirit had nothing on it. Now that they were in the room, they saw that the north side of the wall had a portal to the material plane. There were also three doors in the room.

Fnord went to the nearest door and listened. He heard nothing. He searched the door and found no traps. Hagbarde came forward and opened the door. The room was empty. Cayce and Fnord, thinking alike, both headed to the next door and listened. Cayce heard nothing and neither did Fnord, who proceeded to search for traps. As they found none, Hagbarde opened the door.

Except for a tall, obsidian statue of a four-armed male Drow standing in the center, this room was empty. The party was suspicious of it, as many things in the Undying Temple were not what they seemed.

Cayce attacked the statue, which turned out to be a Golem, hitting with all six of his attacks; Fnord, still as an Adamantine Golem, entered the room and attacked, hitting twice for a total of 43; Stone Spider Golem attacked Maeve, hitting her with a web which did 15 points and entangled her; Hagbarde cast Lightning Bolt, but the Stone Spider Golem was immune; Maeve made her arrows Slay Construct and took out the Stone Spider Golem.

While the ranger broke out of the web, the rest of the adventurers searched the room. There was nothing of value in the room, however, they did find the entrance to the next level and proceeded up.

Maeve used Clairvoyant Sense to look into the room. A giant skull, nearly 3 feet tall and probably originally belonging to a fire giant, was the focal point of the room. A black cloth embroidered with silver stretched across the top of the skull, several candles in silver holders burned atop it. Four rotting Drow corpses stood flanking the skull, each one holding a candle. Two more knelt before it -- one holding a large tome, the other a silver dagger. Three more corpses stood along the wall opposite the skull -- each holding objects of devotion. On the wall behind the skull was a looming image of a Drow woman's face, painted to resemble a skull. The mural continued onto the floor so that the woman's outstretched hand seemed to cradle the giant skull. The other walls depicted grisly scenes of death and torture. The floor of the room was entirely covered in an abstract mosaic of black, blue, and purple tile. In the center of the room, standing on a large white circle in the middle of the mosaic, flanked by two Undead bodyguards, was an eerily beautiful Elf woman with white skin and a hairless head. Her body seemed to be wrapped in a glowing blue-green mist surrounding her shoulders and chest, then rising up behind her head like a high collar and trailing behind her like a cloak. On her head she wore a silver cap studded with rubies. On her right hand was a fine metal gauntlet, cruelly pointed at the fingertips. In her left hand she held a long black rod with elaborate designs on it; she wielded it like a badge of office as jets of green flame spurted from its tip.

"Oh, my gosh, guys! Do you remember that icky chapel downstairs with the dead bodies holding the elements of worship? This is like that, only worse, because not only are there the bodies, it's all tiled and there is a gorgeous Drow priestess in the center of the room, flanked by her two Undead minions and they're standing around this giant skull that seems central to their ritual. What are we going to do?!" Maeve asked, after looking into the room.

"I...could throw a delayed-blast fireball into the room," said Hagbarde, a little shakily.

"I'm still worried about the tile," said Fnord, backing away a bit in disgust.

"Don't leave me to face this alone!" said Maeve.

"We won't leave you," said Hagbarde and Cayce, nearly at the same time.

For several moments the party stood silent, as each adventurer dealt with their own misgivings about the room above. Hagbarde and Fnord calmed themselves as best as they could and then settled into quiet corners to concentrate. After much focused effort, they each gained the Autohypnosis skill to use in protecting themselves from their phobias - Fnord was successful in overcoming his, but Hagbarde was not. Another quick discussion of options ensued. Fnord suggested that he could cast Dominate Person on Hagbarde, using his own psi-crystal to maintain the concentration, and then command the cleric to enter the room despite his fears. Hagbarde agreed. Seeing that she still had the support of her friends, Maeve's fears also began to quiet. Preparations were made and then the adventurers advanced en masse.

Cayce entered the room and attacked the Bebilith, but missed; Maeve entered the room, made her arrows Greater Slay Drow and shot the Spider Queen; Spider Queen cast Mass Inflict Critical Wounds, Maeve Saved for half while Cayce failed and took the full 43; Undead Guard-1 summoned a Death Drinker Demon; Death Drinker Demon attacked Cayce, hitting with three of his four attacks, knocking him to the ground, then turned his Cleave attack on Maeve, but missed; Fnord, having shifted into an Umbral Blot, floated into the room and attacked the Death Drinker Demon, who failed his Save versus Disintegrate and was destroyed; Undead Guard-2 summoned an Infernal; Infernal attacked Fnord, hitting twice for a total of 65, and Saving versus the Disintegrate for touching Fnord in his Umbral Blot form, then biting for 28, and again Saving, and finally attacking with his wings for 18, before failing his Save and Disintegrating; Bebilith cast a Web on Fnord, which Disintegrated upon touching him; Hagbarde cast a Maximized Mass Heal for 250 points, healing his companions, Undead Guard-1 failed his Save and was destroyed by taking that many points in damage although Undead Guard-2 made his Save.

Cayce attacked Bebilith, hitting with all six of his attacks, twice critically, taking him out; Maeve charged her arrows to Greater Slay Drow again, taking out the Spider Queen when she failed her Save, and turned her remaining attacks on Undead Guard-2, hitting with all three of them, but not killing him; Fnord closed with Undead Guard-2 and attacked, Undead Guard-2 failed his Save and was Disintegrated.

With combat over, Fnord lifted the Domination over Hagbarde and then the group turned their attention to searching the room. They gathered many items of interest to take back to town.

Hagbarde could feel the Weave healing itself around them as the moments passed.

The party headed back through the hole down to the lower level where they had seen the portal to the material plane. Once there, the cleric used Greater Teleport to return them to the room in Castle Maerimydra where they had seen the fountain which was spewing the raw magic of the Weave. There was no longer any geyser in the room. So Hagbarde used Dimension Door to take them outside the castle. Looking about, it appeared that the Fire Giants had begun to take over the castle; they also saw that fewer fires appeared to be burning within the city. When they asked the nearest Giant where they could find Kurgoth, they were told that he had taken residence in the castle. The Giant pointed them in the direction of the Giant King's new lair and a short walk took them there.

"Well, Kurgoth, we have defeated the Drow and cleaned out Castle Maerimydra, as we promised," said Hagbarde.

"Yeah, um, thanks for that," replied the Giant King, "I, uh, hereby name you all Knights of Maerimydra," replied Kurgoth.

So the adventurers left Castle Maerimydra and returned to Manifest. Once back in the relative safety of the town, Hagbarde handed Cayce the psi-crystal which had been Ktikja's. "You promised you would help us on our quest and in exchange we promised to give you this. You certainly upheld your end of the bargain and we thank you for it much more heartily than this gesture shows."

"I thank you for upholding you end of the bargain as well," Cayce replied with warmth, placing the crystal safely in his pack.

"Would you like to accompany us on our trip back to Waterdeep? You could certainly stay in the temple once you are there." the cleric offered.

"Your offer is much appreciated, thank you. I think I will come along," he answered.

Hagbarde then settled in to Commune.

"Should we do anything about the fiend at Castle Maerimydra?"


"Have we completed our mission?"


"Should we sell the Claw of the Revenancer?"


"Should we give it to a magic school or a musem?"


"Should we see about having it destroyed?"


"Is it within my power as Magister to destroy it?"


"Would changing alignment be an effective solution on this item?"


"Should we bring it back to the temple and lock it up until we figure out how to destroy it?"


"Will I ever lose my fear of beautiful women?"


"Is the Temple doing well in our absence?"


With that done, the group headed over to sell their loot and then into Fnord's Tower to head home.