bnewman: (firefly)
(being a tempting taste of a Harry Potter fanfic currently under construction, based on an idea developed by [ profile] orawnzva, [ profile] fiddledragon, and [ profile] batshua)

Hogwarts, two years before Harry Potter's return, sorting day:

"Sly... no, wait..." I could feel the hat searching my mind, my heart, tasting me. "Your desire for power is great, but your heart is as sweet as your name, Melissa."

The whole school held its breath.


The Slytherins gasped. The Hufflepuffs murmured in distress. And then time stopped. I saw my father — what was my father doing there?! — speaking harshly with Professor Snape, but everyone and everything else was frozen. When he had finished with Snape, father turned to the assembled students and raised his wand. His anger was terrifying. I still don't know what kind of spell he cast — was it a memory charm, a compulsion, a curse? "This never happened!" he cried, actually losing his composure as I had never once seen him do in public. Finally, almost as an afterthought, he turned to me. "You are no daughter of mine!" And then he vanished.

Time resumed. The Hufflepuffs cheered, all but one, an older student with brightly colored hair, who made no sound but whose eyes fixed me with an almost frightening look of grim, protective determination. The Slytherins seemed unperturbed. And I would later discover that most students would thereafter claim not to have clearly heard the name by which I was called up to be sorted.

Very well, father. A Hufflepuff stands for loyalty, and you have betrayed me, while I have merely been myself. As you have renounced me, I renounce you, and your name, and your bad faith. From this day forward I will be a honey-fairy princess, all sweetness and light. I will put on yellow and black stripes. I will make real friends, loyal, warm-hearted, and true. I will enjoy my classes. I will bake cookies. And I will wait, patiently, for the day when I can summon my loyal friends to my side to swarm and destroy you. For remember that the honeybee fills its hive not only with sweetness and light, but with venom.

— Melissa Melfée
bnewman: (firefly)
The rite of the Apple of Concord is a spell for achieving balance among the different areas of one's life. It represents a tikkun of the Greek myth of the Apple of Discord — you know, the one that started the Trojan war? Within the circle, participants re-enact the story, but this time a more sensible Paris does the right thing, war is averted, and everyone lives happily ever after.

You will need a large, crisp yellow apple... )
bnewman: (explorer)
Sarah and I have been watching Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix. It's amazing — well-drawn, full of plot and character development and world-building and nicely done fantasy martial arts action. I've heard and can well believe that the bending disciplines are based on various (distinct) real martial arts.

Meanwhile, I've been realizing I need more exercise, and specifically more martial arts, in my own life. I studied karate in middle school, and the moves are still there in muscle memory. In terms of a real dojo, I'm probably extremely rusty, and was never very highly ranked to begin with. But, in terms of keeping myself active and working out nervous energy, I remember the forms enough to run some (improvised) kata in the living room when I get twitchy, and I plan to make a habit of that.

And that got me thinking... if we can have muggle Quidditch (well on it's way to becoming a "real" intercollegiate competitive sport), why not muggle bending disciplines? )

Which brings us to water. I can think of two basic divisions of muggle waterbending, depending on whether or not the water is contained. (In-world, the water being bent is contained by the bender's will and skill until released, but we can't do that.) That leads me to two "waterbending" forms I call splish and splash:

Splish )

Splash )
bnewman: (firefly)
I don't write about Good and Evil very much — I tend to be more of the It's All Relative school. But Good and Evil do exist, and Heaven and Hell are very real as well, as close as the cartoon angel and devil on your shoulders. This Friday, real, unalloyed Evil, as petty and pitiful as it may be, will be coming to Brandeis University. I speak of a contingent from Westboro Baptist Church — yes, them, the so-called "Christians" who, without knowing anything about you, already hate you because you are different from them. I won't dignify them with a hyperlink.

The Brandeis community has, of course, organized a response. Wisely, it will not be a direct counter-protest, but a celebration of our community's shared values. Community members have pledged money to Keshet, an advocacy group for LGBT Jews, in proportion to the duration of the WBC protest. And Hillel is organizing a Harry Potter themed Shabbat dinner, I assume for the express purpose of pissing off the WBC. Good!

But, for me, as a Jew, as a fan, and as an enchanter, there's more to it than that. Harry Potter and the Torah both teach us that our words matter. G!d created the world with speech, and saw that it was good. We, too, can create the world as we speak — when we say "Thank you," or "I love you," and most of all when we articulate in speech our vision of the world we hope for, and invite others to join us in making it a reality. This is true of all speech, not just some special category of magical speech, but ancient Jewish wizards did, in light of this, seal their spells with the declaration "I create as I speak" — אברא כאדברא — Abara k'adabra. Abracadabra!

We create as we speak. But we can also destroy — this, also, we learn from the Torah and from Harry Potter. Jewish tradition speaks of לשון הרע/lashon hara, the evil tongue. Hateful speech that stings and demeans can poison souls and destroy lives, even kill. The line between creation and destruction may seem stark and clear, but it is very thin, as thin as one stroke of a pen, the one stroke that turns ר/resh into ד/dalet: "I destroy as I speak" — אבדא כאדברא — Avada k'adabra. Avada kedavra, words that kill.

This is what we're up against, the face of the Enemy. But ultimately, Harry Potter and the Torah both teach us, love is stronger than hate. When we stand together in love, G♥d is with us, helping us create a world of hope, tolerance, peace, and good will. So claim the power of your voice. Create the world as you speak — אברא כאדברא — Abracadabra! — just like magic. Because if we do that, together, we'll win.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have set before you this day life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your children may live. — Deuteronomy 30:19

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not. — John 1:5

Now, after writing Walk in the Day, I'm not sure how I feel about the diurnal assumptions embedded in that last quote. But we are diurnal animals, and that is our metaphor, and our Truth — it's the message of Chanukah, and it's the message of Advent (and Christmas after): The Light will return. Hate ultimately destroys itself. Love triumphs.

Prayers, spells, and all forms of positive energy are welcome in support of Brandeis's response, please direct such energy to the Brandeis community as a whole. Feel free to link to this post.
bnewman: (Default)
So, I already mentioned that [ profile] fiddledragon and I are engaged. But the really awesome thing is that I was already having the best birthday ever (Wednesday, November 17th) before that. I have just turned 32, which is a very auspicious number in both Hebrew, where 32 = לב = heart, and binary, where 32 = 100000.

On this occasion, the world has been going out of its way to buffer overflow in private int self.soul.countBlessings(Context c) — whoops, that exception means that wonderful things have been happening to me faster than I can type. So, here's the executive summary:
  • I no longer seriously doubt that I will complete my PhD. Furthermore, I know more or less what my dissertation will be about.
  • I have been experiencing a profound spiritual awakening which feels like it's mostly going to stick this time.
  • My beloved and I are engaged.
More details will be forthcoming on all points, as well as on my (already mentioned) plans to actually produce my musical, as they become available and/or when I have time to write them down. Some of the spiritual stuff will be in locked posts, though. I haven't decided whether or not to create a separate filter for it.

Anyway, short short version: Life is really good right now, it looks like this is going to be my year, and I'll keep you posted on the details.


Nov. 19th, 2010 12:52 pm
bnewman: (damselfly)
Some of you know this already, but it seemed like time to make the public announcement:

[ profile] fiddledragon and I are officially engaged!
bnewman: (explorer)
I'd like to get my Quaker science fiction action/adventure musical, Walk in the Day, into shape to be actually performed at various events in the next year or so. I'll need several different kinds of help from a lot of people, including of course a complete (and most likely distinct) cast for each event.

Here's the plan.

cut for plan )

If you're interested in helping out in any of these capacities, please comment here. This is for real this time. I'm really looking forward to making Walk in the Day happen with your help.
bnewman: (Default)
I have trouble really keeping in touch online, partly because I prefer to communicate thoughtfully (in writing), and when I don't have time for a thoughtful post or comment, I put it on the "write later" pile and it stays there. Here's a quick list of nifty things going on in my life:

* I'm officially an outstanding teaching fellow — this is the first exciting thing that's happened to my resumé in a long time.

* For reasons related to the above, and just generally being a much better teaching assistant than a research assistant, I'm looking into teaching as a possible career. For other reasons, related to the patterns in which I manage my time and energy, I think full-time classroom teaching would be a monumentally unwise move for me. It'll take me a while to figure out what that all means in the long term. Meanwhile, I'm looking for private tutoring clients, and hey, this awesome program is looking for an instructor for a quantitative reasoning course...

* I'm working on a new draft of my tactical LARP combat system based loosely on the pterodactyl hunt (still, I see, going strong, and still using a lot of the equipment I designed — this makes me giddily happy). More about this system, including its new working title, coming soon.

* I'm planning an awesome music program for 5pi-con. More details when performers have been confirmed. You should come :-).
bnewman: (Default)
This is all [ profile] gfish's fault. Really...

See, Fishy posted this vignette about autonomous, self-reproducing steampunk clockwork vultures (really, niche-wise, clockwork crows). I thought that was really cool, but thought it didn't really pass as hard-steampunk — a clockwork brain powerful enough to control an autonomous agent that is going to survive in a hostile environment would have to be huge, and thus either stationary or built into a large vehicle like a train or major naval vessel. And then there's the bootstrapping problem: whatever it is, it has to have begun as something built by humans on purpose.

Well, that got me thinking, about what other components a survival-autonomous entity controlled by an even slightly realistic Babbage-class clockwork would have to include, and why anyone would want to create such a system (or a system that could become such a system)... and that grew into an idea for a sort of mashup of Wargames and Oliver Twist... and A Deepness in the Sky and Don Quixote and The Three Musketeers and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and...

Wait, a mashup of what?! )
bnewman: (explorer)
As mentioned before, I'd like to arrange a performance of "Walk in the Day" at Conflikt. looking for editing help )

what's up with the bad guys )

possible new song )

meerkats )
bnewman: (damselfly)
I haven't posted here in a long time. I'd like that to change (okay — it just changed, 'cause I just posted — I mean I'd like the trend to change!). A number of my LJ friends have taken on a practice of posting at least something very regularly, but I'm not going to do that because what I really need is to maintain my LJ/website/whatever as a creative outlet, and my creativity usually comes out in bigger chunks than that.

It's been an eventful winter so far, and looks likely to be an eventful year 2.5 years going forwards. To avoid a single long post that I never finish, here's a brief overview looking both back and forward:


• OVFF, a major filk convention in Ohio
• Christmas as [ profile] fiddledragon's parents' house
MagFest, a vide game/music con (and my first non-filk niche con)
• Arisia, the Dionysian pole of the Boston general SF con scene (Boskone, the Appolonian pole, is in a few weeks)

Things I've learned

• People appreciate receiving my pipe cleaner critters as gifts.
• People will give me money in exchange for pipe cleaner critters.
• Among my critter designs are a good selection which can be made quickly and reliably.
• I know what I want to do when I grow up need to get a real job.
• If I play the next 2.5 years right, I can come out much better qualified for all of the top 3-5 jobs on my list.
• An "idea for a novel" works better if it has characters and a plot, as well as a setting.

Creative output I'll post soon

• Pictures of a selection of my 3D art
• A synopsis of a novel I might actually write
• A dirt cheap laser beam-spreader
• Three different visual or map-based storytelling games
• A few new songs

Plus the details of the above-hinted-at 2.5-year plan, a possible website overhaul (eventually!), and more...?
bnewman: (explorer)
Guess what I did this week? I wrote a one-act science fiction action/adventure musical about Quaker peacemakers and Space Marine engineers working together to save adorable fierce furry nocturnal aliens from extinction on a desert planet.

Yes, that musical. Yes, all of it. Last you heard, if you've been following this journal, there were four songs in this song-cycle. Now there are fourteen (the secret: a lot of repeated leitmotifs), linked together by about eight pages of prose dialogue. I know a lot more about the characters than I did before, and a lot more about the plot. Which is good, 'cause it's done.

After the cut, you'll find the complete script, and I recommend listening to the songs in context, but to ease your downloading, here's the complete list of songs (note that "Long, Bright Day" is three times longer and contains much more plot that the version posted last week):

[ edit: "Rules of War" has been expanded into "War vs. Peace/Open Your Eyes", which is a much deeper treatment of the just war vs. pacifism debate, please update your playlists accordingly. ]

mp3Called by the Shade
mp3Strange Rumors
mp3Speaking Lessons
mp3Long, Bright Day
mp3Science Lessons
mp3Dark Moon Daughter
mp3Star-flecked Nights
mp3The Raid
mp3War vs. Peace/Open Your Eyes
mp3Peace vs. Peace
mp3The Escape
mp3Walk in the Day
mp3Meeting for Worship with Attention to Shade

This will be produced as an album, at some point — it's a single, self-contained album-sized work, so I have no worries about having future qualms about the exact selection of songs on it. I'd also love to stage it (like, really stage it), but that would require a Julie Taymor-like level of puppet design and an extremely creative lighting designer.

Meanwhile, if you would like to play any role (technical, vocal, or instrumental) in the production of an album, or if you would like to participate in an on-book cast (a recital, without blocking) at Swarthmore Alumni Weekend, Concertino, Pi-con, OVFF, GAFilk, Arisia, or Boskone, please let me know.

I'll also be posting some more expository notes in a separate entry to follow.

Complete script (long!) after the cut )
bnewman: (Default)
I have an idea for an RPG setting, which is clear enough in my mind and based on material which is well-enough known that I might actually think of producing a sourcebook for it, especially if I get some help.

The short version is this: what if academics was magic?

The roots of this idea go back a long way. As philosopher Ken Wilber and my friends in the Sisterhood of the Owl reminded me last spring, Western civilization once had a Wisdom tradition of its own, comparable to those of the East — a tradition of contemplative, mystical insight, passed from teacher to student.

The same ancients had a clear notion of a good education, and when the traditions of scholarship in the West were restored — in the form of a clerical (if firmly exoteric) order of which most of you are members! — so was that notion. And, as the aptly-named [ profile] quadrivium points out, the ancients believed that such knowledge was power in a sense that we might well call magical. Similar connections obtain between my chosen field of study and that other ancient tradition (clerical, scholarly, and mystical) in which I have a portion.

Concretely, this is the same old geek trope about an RPG of college life, with character classes for majors, and so forth, only writ large and taken seriously. I have a handful of particular ideas. (A few of these are based loosely on unpublished proprietary content and will have to be vetted and redacted before they can be publicly discussed.) The basic concept could be embedded in any of a number of RPG systems, Ars Magica being the most obvious, if only because of the appropriateness of the name. Mage: The Awakening, which I've seen described as "Ars Magica modern", could also work, with some modifications.

So, first, has this been done? I don't count Ars Magica itself because, as far as I know, it's a setting in which the Western esoteric tradition is real magic, whereas I'm talking about a setting where exoteric knowledge is real magic. And, second, anyone want to help me brainstorm this? I'm particularly hoping to hear from [ profile] quadrivium, [ profile] mnemex, and [ profile] gaudior and friends, but anyone who wants to is welcome to contribute.
bnewman: (Default)
Meanwhile, despite the latest stupidity, I'll definitely be keeping my LJ account around for reading and commenting purposes... and I've been thinking that I could use a few more userpics — three more, to be precise, since that's what I get.

I currently have three userpics, which I associate (roughly) with wonder, compassion/intimacy, and snark/outrage respectively. I'm looking for three more. I'm not sure how often I will be posting (I don't post that often now), so these will be mainly be used for commenting, suggesting that they should convey attitudes/emotions rather than topics. (The one topic I'm likely to continue to post on is music.) Basically, I'm hoping for comments from people who know me well enough to identify conversational moods of mine which are not well-covered by my current set of userpics.

At some point in the not-too-distant future I will be moving and completely redesigning my personal website, at which point even the stuff I have been posting to LJ (i.e. songs and commentary on songs) will be best-viewed over there.
bnewman: (Default)
Dear friends,

The month of Kislev is upon us, and that means that Chanukah is coming, and with it, in commemoration of the miracle of the oil, my annual excursion into the art of deep-frying. Last year, there was far too much food for two people to eat, and there easily could have been even more, so this year, you are invited to my first-ever...

Very Unkosher Deep-Fried Chanukah Party

When: Saturday December 8th, after Shabbat (including havdalah) (i.e. around 5:30)

Where: My apartment in Waltham, very near Brandeis

What: Festivities will begin with havdalah, the simple ritual marking the end of the Jewish Sabbath. Then, the wok will be heated up. Songs of the season will be sung, and games will be played, but, really, it's all about

Food: Some selection of the following items will be immersed in 375-degree organic soybean oil for your eating pleasure:

* pappadums
* potato, winter squash, carrot, and beet chips, fries, and/or tempura
* tofu
* vegetarian wontons of various flavors
* fish tempura
* local, seasonally available, sustainably harvested cold-water shrimp

In the main round of deep-frying, the vegetarian items will be prepared first, and the shrimp last, for those who will eat food prepared in a non-kosher kitchen, but not food that has been fried in the very same oil as shrimp (which seems like a reasonable position to me). Almost all items will be wholly or partially local, organic, and/or fair trade, but (as with kashrut) no guarantee of overall purity with respect to any of these standards can be made for any particular item.

Some non-deep-fried items, in particular salad and gazpacho, will also be available.

For those concerned about the healthiness of deep-fried food, you should be aware that properly deep-fried food (which I hope mine is) absorbs very little oil while it is cooking, and is in fact much less oily than pan-fried food (like latkes).

If you would like to come, RSVP. If you are interested in bringing a
potluck item, including items-to-be-deep-fried, feel free to do so and
please let me know what you are thinking of bringing.

[ edit: Further updates will be sent out by email, so please include an email address if you RSVP here. Comments are now screened. ]
bnewman: (explorer)
Happy birthday to [ profile] ladymondegreen and [ profile] shipwright and [ profile] metaplasmus...

Oh, and to me. For the next 10.5 months, [ profile] fiddledragon and I are both prime. It's been a wonderful, if sometimes frantic, year, and a wonderful, if sometimes frantic, week. I have a number of very shiny projects in the pipeline that I'm really excited about (which is why I'm still awake right now).

My family has been really awesome in the gift department this year. My parents got me a shiny, adorable digital camera and have also ordered me (although I think technically that's for Chanukah) a shiny, adorable laptop. And, continuing the nerdity, what I've been getting myself has mostly been shareware games — or rather, a few weeks ago I was bored and downloaded a lot of indy shareware games, and this week I reminded myself that it's my birthday and if I like a game I should register it.

A couple of the games I really like are multiplayer games. Since these are indy shareware games, there aren't always random people online to play with, so in the interests of fun I'd like to encourage others to try them. In addition, one of the games features a quite significant volume discount for group orders. Here they are:

Once Upon a Time (no relation to the card game) is a fairy-tale themed four-player capture the flag princess game. Although realized in a real-time 3D adventure/combat idiom, its well-defined, compact, and balanced scenario plays like a board game. A typical match lasts 2-5 minutes. When you can't find four humans, decent AI players will automatically fill in. This game is available for Mac and PC. The free demo features unrestricted play on one map (the full game has four, plus a story/tournament mode), and the full game costs $15. I've already registered this game, and since the demo offers nearly unrestricted play, you may as well check it out.

Galcon is a fast-paced, real-time Risk-like game of conquering the galaxy — not the in-depth sort with tech development and economics, the quickie sort with fleets of ships zooming across the galaxy in a tide of conquest that's over in 5 minutes. From the disabled menu items taunting me with their shiny thumbnail screenshots, it looks like there are a lot of modes and fairly open-ended mod potential. This game is available for Mac, Linux, and PC. The demo allows play in the most basic mode, with multi-player access expiring after three days (which is a little bit annoying). Most interestingly, a quite significant volume discount is available on group orders of the full game, which is a primary reason for my making this post: the first copy is $20, the next two are $15 each, and any beyond that are just $10. Thus, the more of you buy this game, (a) the more people I can play with, and (b) the less we all pay — win-win! So, who's in?
bnewman: (explorer)
Back in 7th grade, instead of math class, I wrote a console-style RPG for the Apple ][. It was called Numbers Land, and it allowed players to learn practice arithmetic while fighting low-res creatures across a fantasy world a sprawling eight tiles across. The 5th graders who played it compared it favorably with Number Munchers, which is high praise indeed.

It's been many years, and that 5¼" disc is around somewhere but probably long-since demagnetized, but I still keep Numbers Land on the list of things I'd like to do — better next time.

Better graphics. A bigger world. More creatures. More variation in the type and difficulty of math. More plot. More puns )
bnewman: (Default)
Okay, I did it — I booked a round trip to Columbus. I'm going to OVFF.

That makes a genuinely crazy amount of travel this semester, but there are too many people I won't see in a given year if I don't go, and I've missed the last few, and regretted it a little.

If you're reading this, and you'll be there, and you have a room, and there's room in it for another person (a lot of ifs, I know), let me know.
bnewman: (explorer)
I have this idea every time I fly into Logan. The view of Boston Harbor is spectacular, and it's speckled with small islands. I want to get a bunch of friends together, rent some small sailboats, and play CTF across Boston Harbor.

I'm now pretty sure that this plan won't work, because the area is too large and mooring on the islands is too regulated. However, I remain interested in developing a set of CTF rules involving small boats (and islands, although a pure, open-water CTF game could be nifty, too).

Play, of course, depends on the availability of a lot of very small islands very close together in sheltered water. It must be both legal and possible to land small boats on said islands. Ideally, they should be sand bars, which means anywhere where there are barrier islands is a good place to look, which means most of the middle part of the east coast. Especially promising are these two locations in South Carolina (not that I'm planning a trip to SC just to play CTFwB!) — but I'm not sure that the dots in the second location are actually land.

The equipment required depends on the scale of the play area. For small scale, kayaks would be ideal. For medium scale, small sailboats — racing standard 14-footers would work nicely — or a mixture of kayaks and sailboats. If islands aren't available, inflatable kayaks and inflatable pool platforms could be deployed in an appropriately sized lake.

All of which is not to mention rules. For open-water tagging, either ramming or missile weapons would work. Ramming means eithr padded bows or inflatable boats. As for missile weapons, the ideal choice is water stix, because you can't run out of ammo for it. Rules for land tagging would depend on the scenario and on the character of the islands. Scenarios could range from standard CTF to more scavanger-hunt-like puzzle quests.

I miss boats.
bnewman: (damselfly)
Alas, that [ profile] fiddledragon's phone seems to be off the hook! Here's hoping that she's been properly sung up in person. Well, I tried.

A happy May Day to all my friends at and/or from Bryn Mawr (the rest of you can have a happy May Day tomorrow) — now I'm going back to sleep.
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