Wonder Wednesday

I love the movie Ratatouille.  It’s delicious (pun intended) on so many levels… lovely animation, great and quiet storytelling, risk-taking, it’s all about Paris and food and wine, and it has some wonderfully powerful philosophical moments.

So it was with delight I heard a story on NPR this past weekend that one of the hot things on TikTok of late is a bunch of fans coming forth to craft a Ratatouille musical.  (Or Rattatouisical, if you prefer!)  One even went so far as to create a fake Playbill for the thing, complete with a brilliant illustration of the signature dish on a fork, subtly shaped to look like Remy!

Very fun to muse over and great to see so much excitement and creativity.  Check out the NPR story, and a quick ‘net search will find you all the various TikTok submissions as well.

La fête va enfin commencer
Sortez les bouteilles; finis les ennuis
Je dresse la table, de ma nouvell(e) vie
Je suis heureux à l’idée de ce nouveau destin
Une vie à me cacher et puis libre enfin
Le festin est sur mon chemin

Une vie à me cacher et puis libre enfin
Le festin est sur mon chemin

Philosophy Tuesday

In conversation with a friend recently, I said, out of the blue, “Identity sure is one hell of a drug.”  It was meant as a throwaway line and as a bit of a joke… but as I thought more about it, it’s not really a bad model to use.  Identity isn’t exactly like a drug, but in many ways we are indeed kinda addicted to it.  We believe it to be us, we want it to be us, and we do all we can to keep on it and to keep feeling that identity high.  When we’re deep in it, there’s a certainty there. (Strangely, that’s true even when it’s unproductive!).  When it’s threatened to be taken away, we fight back hard.  (Indeed, as noted before, our brains can’t tell the difference between a threat against the body and a threat against the identity – defend with equal vigour.)  We organize our lives to reinforce that identity so we get more of it, and we avoid things that would cut us off from it.  And in that way, much like an addiction, it leads us around by the nose while distorting our views and stifling our freedom.

So, yeah… in a lot of ways, as an analogy, it works.  And often looking at something through a different lens can give us new insights on it and, even better, give us new access to gaining agency over it.  And when the analogy starts to break down, not a problem, we can set it aside and carry our newfound freedom and peace of mind forward into the next stage of self-cultivation.

Architecture Monday

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I find castles fascinating and evocative.  So this little gem of a keep restoration in Spain is right up my alley, not only for the castle aspect (and sitting opposite an old church) but also the way the new and old combine to (re)create something beautiful.

The main noticeable bit on the outside is the new stair, which replaces the back wall of the keep that had long fallen down or been dismantled.  Forming not only a stabilizing wall, it follows historical investigations and likely replaces the original stair that would have been encased within the walls.  I really like how the rough board-formed concrete pairs with the stonework striations of the original, and the rounded corner is also a nice touch to mirror the old walls.

What was once an interior second floor is also restored, now forming an exterior patio from which springs various lookout platforms so survey the surrounding countryside.  This also allows the inside to be rebuilt to house a small exhibit space and museum.

Very cool.  A lot of care and love put into this to make something that not only preserves but enhances the old ruin.

La Tossa de Montbui by Meritxell Inaraja

Wonder Saturday

I have almost no regrets in life.

One regret I do have though is that I once, through a friend who had an astronaut friend going up in the shuttle, had an opportunity to go and watch that shuttle launch, from NASA grounds, in front of that iconic countdown clock.  Yet for a series of reasons I did not do the work to make it all work out so that I could go.  I missed the launch.

That was an err.

This morning, however, I did at least partially rectify that:

Yes!  I headed down to Vandenberg to watch SpaceX launch a Falcon 9… and then bring that first stage right back for a landing a mere couple of hundred feet from where it started.

And it. Was. GLORIOUS.  The skies were (as you can see) almost perfectly clear, and were treated to a grand view of the takeoff (once it cleared the hills the pad sits behind), the ascent, the beautiful fan tail as it hit altitude, the stage separation, the boostback burn, the entry burn, and then the giddiness-inducing landing burn all the way back behind that hill.  Followed a moment later by one heck of a grand sonic boom.  We all were cheering like crazy.

Hours later I’m still all fired up (pun intended).  That flame is bright in a way that no camera can do justice to.  It just sears into you (in a good way).  And those 9 Merlin engines make an absolutely delicious growl — deep thrumming, with a slight crackle, oh it’s divine.  The whole ascent also feels so much quicker than it does watching the webcast; the two minutes until first stage sep goes by so fast.  And coming back, wow, right from the entry burn that booster grew in size in the binocular’s field of view at an amazing rate.  That thing comes back hard and fast and it really gives a sense of what that landing burn is accomplishing to set down so gently onto the pad.

With the pièce de résistence being the sonic krackthoom that rolls across the landscape.

Want to hear it?  Well feast your ears on this audio capture of the whole event! (Quick content note: there is some very excited swearing throughout, because, well, excitement!)

Great day.  Totally loved it.  I’m 100% convinced I need to go watch another launch.  With the reduced cadence at Vandenberg (especially now that polar launches are a thing from Cape Canaveral) I don’t know when that might be, but I will make it out again.

photo above taken by Calvin, who was standing beside me as we marveled in awe at the flight


Philosophy Tuesday

One of the things that we learn* in our kung fu training is this:

Not everything that feels powerful actually is.

Just because we put in a lot of effort, or engage a lot of tension, or become super fierce, or stoke the fires in our belly…  and just because it feels so much like we should be able to resist a mountain and even be able to split it in two… despite all that… when actually test the move we collapse like a house of cards, with nary an ounce of power there.

And then we get angry!  And we double down on it!  AAAAARRRRGH!  Which only ever serves to make it even worse. **

Fortunately, we also (eventually) learn to not force the point*** and to let it go, delve deeper, and adjust our form such that, remarkably and suddenly, it not only works but it works without almost any effort at all.

Like so many things in kung fu, so too does this apply with our ways of being and in the way we live our lives:

Not every emotion or attitude that, again, feels strong is actually strong.

As we interact with the many areas of our lives, we have so many ingrained and automatic responses and views and ways of being, and we often go forth thinking that they are strong, that they are necessary, that this is the way, and that anger and harshness and hostility and posturing and fierceness and downright hostility to the world and everything around it is the way to make our way and, more importantly, to get what we want.  We think they make us strong.  And wow does it ever feel strong!  And right!

And yet, it isn’t.  And we aren’t.  All that acerbic-ness ends up being unproductive.  We expend a lot of effort, and we may move the ball a smidge, but it takes a supreme toll on ourselves and others, and the results rarely stick.

Like with kung fu, we can let it be for a moment,**** set it aside, and bring to it a new level of mindfulness.  Within that clearing we can adjust and create a new context, choosing other ways of being that will bring forth what we want with velocity and without effort.

And that there is true power.


* And re-learn and re-discover over and over and over and over again…

** Which, like the above, we do it again and again even though we know it never works…

*** Also fortunately we learn to laugh at our stubborn silliness….

**** And laugh!

***** One corollary to all this is that when we see someone who is all fire and aggression and sees the world through metaphors of attack and destruction and always seems upset by everything, it’s the same thing:  It is not strength, they are not powerful people, and they are not paragons to laud.  They are all bluster and performance, with little to show for it, no peace of mind, and continually having a lousy experience of life to boot.

The Aurora RPG Engine – Part 12

We’ve been playtesting the Aurora RPG Engine during our regular Sunday game and it’s been going very well!  (Much smoother than I figured it would, actually, which has been a most pleasant surprise.)  As we play on, I’ve noticed a couple of really neat things.

Postscript 2 – Further Probabilities

First, because Margin of Success is determined by the number of “remaining” dice, there’s an easy way to figure out what the probabilities are for achieving a certain MoS for a certain number of dice.  This is because asking “What’s the chance of generating an MoS of 1 on 5 dice?” is the same as asking “What’s the chance of generating success on 4 dice, so that I have one die left over?”  To which we already have the answer from the previously generated probabilities chart:  roughly 50% (though again it’s really 45%).

This also makes it nice an easy to generate a matrix to quickly reference the probabilities for each MoS:

Or, as a chart showing the chance of getting at least MoS X:

Postscript 3 – Hidden Rolls & Discoveries

Second, the above leads to another very cool and interesting thing: the system is bidirectional.

Typically, the difficulty of a task is handled by adjusting the base dice pool.  This allows the player to viscerally feel their chances and properly size up the situation, thus letting them make appropriate choices (and fully RP it out).  However, there are certain instances where it may be more appropriate to not “give away” the difficulty of a task to the player and have them roll blind.  In certain campaign and genre styles – such as one where the characters are expected to be over their heads or one where it is a grim and failure-heavy milieu – this may apply to most of the tests/rolls.  For others, this may be saved for more uncommon circumstances where the level of tension is heightened by explicitly being uncertain and not in the know.

The sweet thing here is that, as evidenced above, the probability of success when removing dice is the same as requiring an MoS equal to that number of removed dice.  Therefore, if a player needs to succeed on a test where the difficulty is pegged at minus 2d, the test can instead easily be run ‘blind/hidden’ by having the player roll and checking if they get an MoS of at least 2.  If not, then the test is failed.

This can also be useful for areas like perception, discerning realities, investigations, and similar, where the GM may not want to tip their hand that something is there (by specifying there is a penalty) and where the overall margin of success can be used to determine the amount or exactness of the information gained or discovered.  For example, the players are searching a room and there is a particular item that is difficult to find (the GM has determined it’s well hidden indeed at a -3d difficulty).  They roll; on an MoS of 0 they find a few mundane items, on an MoS of 1 they find some important documents, and on the MoS of 3 they find the secret compartment containing the important item.  To flip it around, if the characters already knew the object was in the room but just not where, and they were actively searching for it, the GM could let them test normally with the up-front 3d penalty.

(As an aside, Star Trek Adventures does a version of this for many types of searching, sensor, and etc tests, giving a basic amount of information on a success and allowing the player to spend Momentum (their version of MoS) to give additional and more exacting details and information.)

With this bidirectionality, the engine gains even more flexibility and adaptability, all in service of running the game in a way that supports the campaign genre, tone, and style.

Postscript – Breaking the Core Mechanic | Index

Philosophy Tuesday

Wise tiger, that Hobbes!  Our actions are always perfectly correlated with who we are being, and our being arises from who we have created ourselves to be (whether by choice or by defaultic happenstance).

When we let ourselves be present to our own actions, we gain insight into who we are being as a person, no matter what we may say or insist.

When we see with eyes unvarnished our actions in the collective, we gain insight to who we are being as a group/community/nation, no matter what our slogans may be.

by Bill Watterson