All posts by sleemanmunk

Murder, chocolate pudding, and ponies

I was playing a game this week in which you play a little rabbit creature with magic powers. The unstated goal was to murder everything in sight, for which you were rewarded with experience that made you stronger in interesting and fun ways. At one point my little serial killer came upon a creature she had been chasing, who was now stuck under some rubble. The protagonist rescued it and the narrator of the game informed me that she had reminded this creature that there is still kindness and mercy in the forest. After accepting the stolen artifact for her inspiring love, the protagonist blew up an owl with two magic missiles and used its soul to empower her to do so again in the future using only one magic missile.

 

dark chocolate orange pudding recipe

On Friday, I made orange dark chocolate pudding for a party. I’m not sure it was the right snack for that venue. I didn’t put as much effort into the presentation as the above picture. People liked the dish for not being excessively sweet, and even though only three people out of eight (including me) ate any, one person may have had three bowls of it. I still have an awful lot left over, so I’ll take some to my co-workers who expressed interest on Friday when I mentioned I was going to make it.

But the crowning story of this week, if we include the prior weekend, is that Alice got to go visit the wild ponies of Virginia.

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Enraged, a wild pony viciously attacks Alice’s hip.

It is illegal to pet these ponies. Please witness in this picture, Alice is not petting the pony. To my knowledge, there are no laws in the state of Virginia against being eaten by ponies.

I AM MILLENIALS

People are spying on me and reporting on my actions to the Internet. The code name they have for me is “Millenials.” No sooner had I posted a blog post about my engagement lug nut than The Independent wrote “Diamonds aren’t forever: Millenials turn their backs on unethical and expensive gems.”

When I ordered another bulk purchase of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, CBS News complained of my intent to kill bar soap, and then the New York Post came to my defense, saying “it’s fun to read the rambling Dr. Bronner’s label in the shower.”

I made a kale salad for my fiance, and pretty soon I was reading in Forbes, “Healthy food makes millennials happy. They push to eat healthier, more eco-friendly foods.”

When I shopped around and got a refurbished laptop, Forbes was in on that, too. This time they even followed my dad. “One thing that makes millennials like their parents is that almost 80% are influenced by price. Even as much as they are looking for other values from their products like authenticity, local sourcing, ethical production and a great shopping experience, nothing beats a discount no matter how old you are.” It’s true, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m almost 80% influenced by price in many of my purchases.

A reporter from the Atlantic expected to see me at Earth Fare, where he was going to write about how millenials are driving demand through the roof for soymilk and moldy grapes. Unfortunately for him, I had recently decided I was tired of picking through their terrible produce and never arrived. So, the headline read, “Why Do Millennials Hate Groceries?” The reporter’s harebrained theory that I was eating exclusively at restaurants wasn’t entirely wrong – given that SAS’s food is terribly convenient to bring home and eat rather than cooking for myself.

It didn’t take long for the reporting to become sensationalist. I went to a democratic county meeting and the Atlantic jumped in again with the headline, “Can Millennials Save the Democratic Party?” The Washington Post was unimpressed with my activism and responded, “Don’t Count on Millennials to Save the West.”

I’m lazy, entitled, well educated, underemployed, drowning in college debt, and more willing to consider government regulation of the economy than previous generations. In any case, I need to go take a selfie and eat some avocado toast. Just remember that by 2030, I’ll be the one picking the president.

Evolution and Dogs

My friend Jim has a dog, Casper. Casper (pictured above) is a six year old American Eskimo Dog who still has the energy of a puppy. This is not entirely an accident. Jim is a researcher at a local company, and he has made research into a way of life. His research when selecting dog breeds led him to the discovery that a dog’s lifespan and general health is closely related to how much the dog looks like a wolf.

If this seems surprising to you, consider this: each breed of dog is a descendant of wolves. The breeds were then created through, well, breeding. Humans selected features they wanted, and the very wolf-like first dogs led to dogs optimized to be small (toy breeds), or have comically short legs (Corgies), or short snouts (pugs). In this optimization for human-selected qualities, they have been optimized away from survivability, that is, health. This can also happen with plants, leading to unfortunate situations such as illustrated in the comic below.

There are some things that have not been bred out of dogs, though. For instance, the predilection to roll in the leavings of other animals. Some study has been devoted to this behavior. Theories of why it might be beneficial for a wolf to roll in poop or a rotting carcass include camouflage and group identity.

The camouflage theory does not apply to fooling prey so much. A study of wolves given various scents to roll in found some interesting results.

Surprisingly, the wolves were least interested in rubbing themselves in the faeces of herbivores like sheep or horse: the scientists did not see them rub at all on these odours. Food was similarly unappealing. Instead, their favoured scents were artificial odours like perfume or motor oil.

A powerful, strange smell like perfume is likely to make hunting more rather than less difficult. A savvy prey will run from any strange smell approaching. A predator, however, is more discerning. It may be less inclined to pick off a delicious straggler from a pack of wolves if its nose tells it that in fact what it smells passing by is merely a pack of poops or an ambulatory puddle of motor oil.

Group identity is even more fun. All the wolves in a group might roll in the same dung, identifying themselves together as “team bear poop.” Team bear poop then can more effectively work together and compete against “team deer carcass” and “team industrial sludge.”

I wonder if a dog who finds a scent it likes may just want to keep it around a little longer. What better way than to make it a personal perfume? So, the next time your dog chooses to express its membership in “team ruptured septic tank,” consider giving it human perfume after you wash it for a more sanitary Eau de Toilette.

Bugs

I saw a bug the other day,

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To be fair, Alice pointed it out. She also identified it as a stag beetle. When I posted this picture on Facebook, there is a secret that I did not reveal. I said I saw the beetles in the morning, which is true, but the light was not good at that time, so this picture is actually from when I came home from work in the afternoon. The beetle, which hardly moved at all the whole time Alice and I were looking at it, had only made it a few feet from where we’d seen it first. Alice looked them up, and it’s common for them to move very little.

Image result for silverfish

Meanwhile, in fiction, I’ve needed to characterize the protagonist of the Cleaners Diane more clearly. As a brief review, The Cleaners is about house-cleaning robots that go overboard in their desire to achieve cleanliness. I’ve given Diane a huge collection of books haphazardly strewn about her house. This created an opportunity to  give her a motivation to not want to let the Cleaner into her house. Her untidy book collection is in fact actively dirty, and silverfishes, which are known to eat books, are occasionally falling out from between the pages. She is protective of her books, though, and doesn’t want a callous robot coming in and throwing them in the garbage. In my first draft, I described a silverfish nest Diane found in one of her books, and Alice wondered if silverfishes have nests. I made a note to look that up when I got around to it, but eventually Alice just looked it up herself and sent me an email. Silverfish lay only a few eggs at a time, it turns out, and a suspicious book can be microwaved to sterilize it. I’m not convinced that that precludes Diane finding a nest, though. Nevertheless, thinking about it more, I’ve decided that having a few silverfish slip out between the pages of a book could make for a more intense effect and sidestep the issue entirely. Having someone tell Diane to microwave her books could be pretty funny.

Now I just need to figure out how to avoid going too far in the other direction and making Diane’s house so filthy that her reluctance to have it cleaned is completely unrelatable, which is a serious risk with the number of silverfish I’ve already described running around the place.

Always ready to assist, Alice helped me come up with an ending for this entry:

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs, Bugs, Bugs. The End.

I found this on the ground

On Saturday Morning, I dressed up in my best clothes. I put on my blazer, slacks, and brown dress shoes. Then I went into Alice’s room. She had just gotten out of bed, and hadn’t heard me approaching. When she turned, she shrieked in terror.

I got down on one knee, and reached into my blazer pocket, which was full of business cards. It was surprisingly difficult to get what I was grabbing at among all those cards, so I took them out and threw them on the ground. Then I reached in again and pulled out a lug nut.

“Alice,” I said, “I found this on the ground. It probably won’t fit your finger. Will you marry me?”

This lug nut was one of two that I had found on the ground on my walk to work, each on a separate occasion. Since it’s fun to attribute coincidences to the supernatural, I took this as a sign that they should serve as my rings. Interestingly, there was already precedent in our relationship for using stuff we find on the ground in romantic gestures. Maybe six months ago, Alice proposed to me with rocks that she had picked up on a trip we’d taken to Maine. I hadn’t been ready that time.

This time, though, we were both ready. Alice smiled and took the lug nut from my hand. “Yes,” she said.

Playing in Character

I recently started a new D&D group. It’s the same campaign as I’ve sent a few other groups through, but this time there are a few differences. This is an inter-generational group including both a ten year-old girl and her mother as well as a few other people who are roughly my age. In order to make the game accessible, I have created the characters for all but one of the players, including a backstory for each character.

Let me share the backstory for the character the ten-year-old, we’ll call her Lanie, chose.

So there was this guy in my village called Millie. Parents named him Millard we called him Millie. Anyway Millie was a real loser. Everybody loved him. He had this long hair the girls went wild for, was always helping out being a good citizen and blah blah blah. What’s more he was a hell of a hunter. Whenever he went hunting he didn’t need no arrows. He wouldn’t tell us how he did it. He would just go into the woods and come back dragging two deer like it was nothing. Anyways one day Millie goes out to the woods. He comes back dragging his deer and he falls off the bridge. You think it was a pretty sturdy bridge but he fell off it just the same. I just so happened to be witness to this terrible tragedy. My best friend Millie biting the dust due to a freak accident. Goodness gracious me. Then out of the blue I get this voice in my head. “Buddy,” it says. Now buddy ain’t my name, but all the same it tells me there’s just been an opening with this guy called the Fiend. The Fiend didn’t really like the guy working for him before cuz all he did with his laser fingers was shoot deer. This guy sounds familiar right? Well turns out I was being offered the job. I held up my hand. “Fiend,” I said, “you had me at laser fingers.”

Before you ask, I did get Lanie’s mother’s permission before I shared this story. This is the sort of story that represents what in D&D we call “chaotic neutral.” An unpredictable character with little or no concern for the welfare of those around him. The only thing really separating chaotic neutral from evil is an active desire to destroy the world.

Lanie picked up chaotic neutral immediately. Under her guidance, Bren Blount made this party the first ever to kill the friendly zombie outright. When they found the mysterious prisoner wriggling in spider silk, Bren leapt forward to investigate. He began to cut the prisoner free, but when he saw that it was a zombie, despite a big smile and every indication that this was not just another walking corpse, Lanie declared “Nope!” Bren nudged the partially freed zombie into the river, where it floated away with bubbling cries of fear and pain. That’s a whole subplot unceremoniously washed away. I relish this player autonomy and look forward to considering what consequences may arise from Bren’s actions.

Lanie wasn’t done, though. As soon as they made it into town, she beelined for a magical wares shop and tried to buy a potion of healing. Potions of healing cost 50 gold pieces each, and the whole party had 25 pieces between them. Lanie decided Bren would enchant the shopkeep to think that he and the party were good friends, then try and weedle a free healing potion from them. After a roll of 20 on a 20-sided die, what we DMs call a “natural twenty,” two times in a row (a 1 in 400 chance) Bren extracted a sponsorship from “Mordenkaiden’s Magical Wares” on the order of three healing potions. When they learned that in an hour the spell would wear off and the shopkeep would realize he’d effectively been enchanted and robbed, the party scrambled to rebuff his attempts to get their names to brag about the heroes he’d sponsored. Then, with forced casualness, they ambled out of sight.

DMing this party will be fun.

image credit: https://www.walldevil.com/wallpapers/a48/bridge-forest-tree.jpg

Mother’s Day: “Born a Crime”

You may know Trevor Noah as the better looking but less inspiring South African successor to Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. But do you really know him? No, you don’t. Unless you do, in which case I am honored to have a personal friend or relation of Trevor Noah reading my blog. Otherwise, this mother’s day you might come to know him better if you read his memoir, “Born a Crime.”

Now hold on, you might rightly ask, Trevor Noah isn’t a mother. You’re right there. However, he did have a mother. Trevor’s relationship with his mother suffuses his entire book, and it is one to remember. In turns hilarious, heartwarming, harrowing, and heartbreaking, “Born a Crime” describes apartheid South Africa through a series of beautiful vignettes of a little mixed race boy, and a God-and-nothing-else-fearing-woman who kept him alive and made him who he is today.