Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obsidian Portal

Obsidian Portal is a "Web 2.0" service for organizing and tracking your RPG campaign. It's basically a wiki keyed to the particular information architecture you see in tabletop RPG design.

This is the software that Michael Harrison from GeekDad is using in his world building tutorial series.

Kohler Haunt's Magic Mirror

Kohler Magic Mirror
Here at the Carnival of Souls, we love to see what people do with the digital puppets we provide for people to use.

Today, the House of Kohler sent us some great video of the Magic Mirror in action at their haunt. It looks like they have a great little yard haunt, complete with fireworks.

This video is a good one to watch because the puppeteer of the mirror had to deal with a rather quiet young boy who looked a little apprehensive about the entire place. He did a really good job setting the boy at ease while still maintaining the sense of magic about the place.

You can see other peoples' implementations of our effects at our Friends of ImaginEERIEing page. If you have photos or video of the Mirror (or any of our other ideas) at your own home haunt you'd like to share, be sure to submit your haunt.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Punctuation Man Endorses Serial Comma

Yes! Finally, it's settled. Oxford wins out over AP, because Punctuation Man has endorsed the serial comma.

And it is just. Using a serial comma buys you clarity. Omitting the serial comma buys you a drop of ink on a printed document or one less byte in a word processing document. Which is more important when you're trying to communicate an idea?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Boney Island

Boney Island Yard Haunt
I don't often find other haunts which really strive to be age-appropriate for all audiences. But the Boney Island Yard Haunt, by Simpsons producer Rick Polizzi, certainly captures the spirit of "Halloween for Everyone."

Although he takes a different tack than our own Carnival of Souls - his is much more whimsical and humorous - we both agree that there should be a Halloween venue for younger kids which doesn't involve getting chased with a chainsaw.

His display looks absolutely fantastic. He has many motorized props, so the place looks like it is bursting with activity: singing skeletons, ferris wheels, rides, spooks telling jokes, etc. It all has a very charming look to it.

Unfortunately, due to neighbor complaints, 2007 was his final year, after a ten year run. Sad to see, but I'm very happy I got to see this inspirational footage. Rick obviously added a little magic to many kids' lives with his work.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Update to Printable DM

Printable DM
I've made some updates and changes to the Printable DM Encounter Manager.

This version has more whitespace between the entries to help differentiate the rows as enemies. This version also has a lighter backdrop to the hit point track, to make it easier to use when printed in grayscale, and the word "init" has been removed from the bubble because it was hard to read a number written in there with the word in there also, even though it was faint text.

If you have any other suggestions for improving the Printable DM, let me know.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Printable DM Works Really Well!

Printable DM
I finally got a chance to try out my Printable DM Encounter Manager (note: updated version 2 link) sheet in a gaming session today.

In short, it rocked. I was really happy with how it worked. Everything I needed to run a combat (beyond the monster stats) was contained on the page. This makes DM'ing fourth edition really easy, because it's got spaces for everything you need organized in a clear, accessible way.

Now, we've only tried it with 3rd level adventurers, so it hasn't been tested with the higher-level combats, so perhaps there are elements of high-level combat that I'm leaving out here. But so far, it's a really handy reference for adjudicating. Just print out one copy of the page per encounter, fill it out before the game, and you can hit the ground running.

There are a few minor changes I need to make. When printed in black and white, the hit point tracks and the "Init" word in the initiative tracker are too dark and get in the way; I intended them to be lighter so they could just be written over and easily read. I'd also like to reduce the size of the rows and add some more whitespace between them, to make it clear which pair of rows go with which monster.

Do you have any other suggestions for improvement?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

McCain: Making America Stupid

Thomas Friedman's op-ed in the New York Times called Making America Stupid (thanks Digg) rightly makes the argument that we need to quickly improve our educational infrastructure if we don't want America to slide into global irrelevance.

But what Friedman doesn't really do is make it clear what sort of approach our two presidential candidates would take on this issue.

I don't have to tell you that you can see what Barack Obama plans to do about it. He lays it all out.

It's harder to tell what McCain is going to do. He offers a page about his early education policy, and while it's filled with a lot of platitudes, it's extremely vague. A close read makes it clear that he's not planning on doing anything to improve things other than shuffle things around. Check out his carefully-crafted language to make it look like he'll be doing something:
  • "There is no shortage of federal programs..."
  • "There is much to be achieved by leveraging and better coordinating these programs..."
  • "John McCain will focus federal resources..."
  • "Each Head Start Center identified by the Secretary as a Center of Excellence will use their funds to expand their programs to serve more children..."
  • "We should also encourage and enable states to better align Head Start with their own pre-K programs."
  • "...partnership grants and targeted federal funding can be used to encourage and facilitate early screening programs..."
  • "John McCain will ensure that there are no federal prohibitions against preschool programs..."
  • "Current federal programs will be focused on educating parents..."
...and so on. A careful read of his entire early education document indicates that John McCain does not plan to increase funding for early childhood education by even a dime. The one place where he even has a dollar amount - $200k for Head Start programs he identifies as "centers of excellence" - he adds the caveat "...depending on availability of funding." (And even then, it's not clear whether the dollars come from a new federal program or are merely cannibalized from other Head Start programs.)

His idea is, apparently, to sail along with current programs, while imposing upon them reporting restrictions and federal-level mandates to shuffle around the existing programs. Yeah, that's exactly what we need - more unfunded mandates mixed with increased federal bureaucracy. I thought the Republicans were supposed to be against that kind of thing.

Of course, a better predictor of what McCain intends to do about our educational infrastructure is to look at his past votes on education issues. See the table below. To put things in perspective, I'm including the price of each educational program that was proposed, and how much sooner we could leave Iraq to pay for it.

YearWhat he didCostIraq Time
2006Voted against rolling back Bush's earlier cuts to education, health care, and job training programs for education.$7 billion20 days
2000 Voted against a small estate tax increase for school repairs and teacher training. $3.5 billion10 days
2001 Voted against improving the national student-teacher ratio to 18. $2.4 billion7 days
2003 Voted against funding for educational programs and dropout prevention. $210 million15 hours
2005 Voted for the largest cut to federal student loans in history, a vote that was voted against by crossover Republicans to make it a 50-50 vote, with Cheney casting the tiebreaker. If McCain had been the "maverick" on this issue, and also broken with his party, the student loans would not have been cut. $12.7 million53 minutes

In addition, he has voted multiple times against funding for Pell Grants, voted against a $12,000 college tuition tax credit, and practically every time it's come up, he's voted against school breakfast and lunch programs for low income students, even though this has been shown to increase school performance. Etc.

You get the idea. Clearly, McCain is hostile to even modest amounts of money going to improving our educational infrastructure in America, despite what he likes to say on the stump. McCain is willing for us to spend 100 years of America's economy on Iraq, but he's not willing to spend even 53 minutes on our schools here at home.

Our economy is weak, our schools are weak, and the world is increasingly relying on an information economy. The number one thing we can do to ensure America's longevity is to shore up its future economic might by making sure our kids are the ones who are inventing new technologies in the future. Everything in our future hinges on remaining excellent innovators compared to the rest of the world. We need new energy sources coming from here. We need new information technologies coming from here. We need new defense, threat detection, and investigation technologies coming from here. We need new medical and transportation technologies coming from here. We need to explore our universe, our seas, our deserts, and our genetic structure. If we don't, if we slide into a consumerist, superstitious society hostile to "ivory tower elitists," then we do so at our own peril.

We simply can't afford for McCain to win.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What is this, middle school?

Coming out of work today to head to lunch, I look down at my car's rear bumper and notice that someone stole the Obama bumper sticker off of my car. There's a little scrape mark where they got it started, and they peeled the rest of it off.

Seriously, since when do middle schoolers care about politics? What's next, ding-dong-ditching me?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Printable DM

Printable DM
After reading David Seah's "Printable CEO" blog, it occurred to me that some of the productivity philosophy he uses could be applied to the process of dungeon mastering. I've been running a fourth edition game for a while, so I took a look at ways I could improve the way I organize my combat forces.

The result is the Printable DM, which aims to help clarify and organize your encounter's monsters so that it's easier to keep track of initiative order, monster health, status effects, who is marking whom, who is bloodied, etc.

Download it and take it for a spin, and let me know how it works for you in the comments. I'm going to use it in my game in the coming sessions, and if anything interesting emerges, I'll post it, too.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Save Madame Sarita Page Up

I finally got around to posting a web page about Save Madame Sarita.

Players playing Save Madame Sarita

This was our new attraction for 2007, basically an interactive, installation-based video game where players use mystical artifacts to enter the spirit world, defeat Marius Blackwood, and Save Madame Sarita.

For more detail, video, and a behind-the-scenes look at how the mystical controllers worked, visit the web page.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Singing Busts Hacked!

Photo of hacked singing bust
As I mentioned earlier, I was planning on using the instructions at to hack the 2006 Target talking busts to create talking busts that move their mouthes to custom audio.

Well, long story short, I had a bit of trouble, but managed to work around it. I also noticed a few shortcuts in terms of accomplishing the hack. To see video of the final hack, and get some more info on how we worked around the problem, you can visit our talking busts page. If you want to do this hack yourself, you will still need to use the instructions at my-mania.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Quick Plug for Midnight Syndicate

As much as we'd like to take credit for it, Midnight Syndicate is the soundscape source for our haunt every year.

Midnight Syndicate banner

As a refreshing change from most bands, Midnight Syndicate is uncommonly open to people using their music for horror-themed attractions, going so far as to give you permission royalty-free right over the web using a form on their site. They touch base with their haunters every year, and even feature people using their music at both pro and home haunts on their web site.

They have a new CD available for the 2008 season called The Dead Matter, a soundtrack that is paired with a movie they scored of the same name. You'll find it in the usual places for music, but you will also find it at your seasonal Halloween stores, in all likelihood. If you'd like a spooky soundtrack, be sure to pick up a Midnight Syndicate CD. These guys are active, generous supporters of the home haunt community, and make Halloween that much more magical for kids all over the country.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Upgrading the look

They say beauty is only skin-deep.

In the case of the Carnival of Souls web page, that's certainly true.

I've just updated the look of the main Carnival of Souls web page, but I haven't had a chance to update the stuff behind it. (I also updated my main page, too.) I'm not sure if/when I'll get to the other pages on the site, because, well, it's a mess under the hood. This site has grown organically since 2003, and it needs to be cleaned up. Unfortunately, Halloween is a mere two months away, so I'm not sure how much time I'll be able to spend on it.

My goal is to get some of the most oft-visited pages re-skinned, just to save people from looking at my early-2000's web design. Just don't expect to have every page skinned anytime soon.