Category Archives: Geek Humor

The Dice of Generations


When it comes to geek “cred,” you either have it or you don’t have it. When I was a kid, there was no such thing as “geek cred”. That’s because the very concept of receiving peer social approval by being able to intelligently speculate on the origins of Boba Fett or recite Monty Python sketches verbatim was only rewarded by a very select crowd, and this was lore spoke of in hushed tones, hurriedly while we were looking over our shoulders to make sure nobody was listening. Lest the jeering start.

Kids these days don’t know how good they have it.

So.. when I reference these objects, I’m sure there will be people in the readership of this blog that are going to recognize them. They will know their origins. They will sigh wistfully at the rounded edges, the scratches, the almost vanished grooves where numbers used to be.

It is altogether fitting you should be wistful.  These are the very first commercially available D&D dice, designed specifically to play that game.  I’m not sure of their provenance, but it is likely they were manufactured around 1980 or so.  Sure, they are (technically, an Octohedran, a Dodecahedron, a cube, a pyramid and two Trapezohedrons, but to an earlier generation, these were the spiff.  Dice MADE to play D&D with.  They were a huge hit.  Everyone who played had a set.  So what if they were crappy dice?  So what if the ink had to be reapplied with a drafting pen, until the edges got so warn and rounded you weren’t sure if it was worth repairing?  So what?  These were D&D dice.  These opaque beauties weren’t much to look at but this is “how we rolled” when we were nestled in Jay’s basement, or my basement, or Pete’s house.  I never got rid of mine, but I did put them in my old 16mm film can, and stored it on top of a bookcase in my study when we moved into our last house in 2000, and there it stayed undisturbed.  When a tree fell on my house last October, we had a flooded basement and had to pitch everything.  Including my bookcases and tons of gaming stuff.  I didn’t give it any thought, but the can (and everything else in my study) was gone.

(going back in time for a moment): Many years ago, my son, then in 5th grade, came home all excited.

It’s this game we play at lunch time, dad.. one person sort of navigates with words, the other people kind of go through adventures, by calling them out and then we draw maps… it’s really really fun!

I realized my son was describing Dungeons and Dragons to me.  His very first game of it.  I had never pushed him into playing, or even really talked to him about RPGs.  He wandered there all by himself, and thought he was cool because of his great discovery.  He’s played D&D on and off since then, not every week but on a semi-regular basis.  Now that he’s out of high school, he’s got his first job at a Summer Camp for scouts, as a blacksmith.  I recently got an urgent call from Garrett.  There’s no internet at camp, no cell reception, and he’s bored and so are all the other young men down there.  Would I send him the D&D 5 edition Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s handbook?  I was tickled, and said, sure, why not, I can think of worse diversions.  Then I texted him back– “need anything else? Do you have dice?  You need special kinds”  He texted back.

“Got that covered. I found this when they were tossing all your stuff in the rollaway”

And he sent a picture of a little steel film can, full of crappy D&D dice from circa 1980.  And a few of the sturdier, cooler Lou Zocchi dice, too, from the same period.   I was speechless.   I realized, then, that these were the dice of generations.  They were kind of rounded and old and probably needed a re-inking, but my son, by himself, had wandered into the same hobby I had loved when I was his age.  He was having the same kind of fun we did back then, with paper, pencils, a good DM with some imagination, munchies… and a can of crappy old dice.  Some things don’t have to be the latest and greatest, when you have an imagination.

He texted me later asking “Hey, I didn’t ask, I just saw them throwing stuff out and the can rolled out.. it is okay for me to use these?  We don’t have a game store near here” I texted back… “Of course it is. That’s YOUR dice collection, now.”


Postscript: Garrett sent me a photo of him setting up for a D&D 5th edition game at the Summer Camp he works at. Note the little 16mm film can full of original TSR dice goodies, still giving good service, 40 years later.

Game Night, Heroic Aleworks, Woodbridge VA


Courtesy of Meetup.com’s thriving Northern Virginia Pavilion group,  I received notification of a game night at Heroic Aleworks in Woodbridge, VA.   I had been unaware of this location until quite recently (through meetup, in fact), and wanted to give it a try.  Now, I like craft beer, and I like it a lot.. but not on a Thursday night during the work week, so I just limited myself to one sampler glass and a cold brew coffee.  Besides, I had my son (who is not 21) with.  I like this place.. the atmosphere is somewhat self-consciously nerd chic, with some obvious geek cultural references–



This was just fine with me and my son. The people there were very friendly– basically a handshake and my name was enough to start a tab. this place hearkened back to a friendlier, kinder way of doing business.

Most importantly, Heroic Aleworks has a keen awareness about the intersection zone between geeks who drink craft beers and other geekly hobbies, like comics, movies, and boardgames. The fact that they know their crowd this well and cater to it, has earned my instant customer loyalty.

Garrett and I got there late– not my fault for once, he has classes until 6, so we were to get there at a little after 7, southbound traffic and all. Heroic is in a light industrial area, like a lot of microbreweries are nowadays (there are two of them in two similar facilities less than a mile from where I work). Thus, food can be a little problematic.

We had time for one short-playing game. I brought a few choices along with me, a mixture of two to four player short games. We ended up choosing STEAM TORPEDO: FIRST CONTACT, by Iello. I had played this at the demo booth at HISTORICON 2014 at Fredericksburg, VA, and not all the way through. I thought it was good fun, and idly put it on my Boardgamegeek.com Wish List– not for any motive beyond my own “remember this one and get it later” reasons. My Secret Santa for 2015 ended up getting it for me, and there it has sat, on the shelf, unplayed, mocking me.. “I’m steampunk.. I’m naval.. I feature shooty things… PLAY ME…”

Tonight was the night!

It turns out Steam Torpedo is a light and fun little non-war game. It reminds me somewhat of an older game called RED NOVEMBER. That is mostly a thematic comparison. Both games feature submarines, steampunky settings, and frantically running from compartment to compartment to avoid disaster.

That is pretty much the point where the comparison stops. In Steam Torpedo, you use a series of tiles to create a custom submarine built up of modular components that do things.. shoot at the other sub, make your sub go, defend your sub, and fix your sub. Crew tokens make this stuff happen, and they do it by moving from compartment to compartment.

Complicating everything is the fact that each compartment is rated for structure and oxygen points– a finite amount of oxygen. Once you run out, your ship is done. Every TURN, you remove ONE oxygen from your ship.. somewhere. Every time a ship takes damage.. the target captain puts a damage marker (red) somewhere. Once you start using up the structure points for a compartment, it goes away (not in the physical sense– it ceases to function)

We ended up finishing the game about ten minutes before the event ended at 9 PM.  I pulled off a victory– not from any obvious tactical superiority on my part, it just worked out that Garrett’s design for a sub had more weapons than mine, and mine had more “fix your damage” compartments than his.   Thus, I was able to man both a “sandbags” station AND  a “welding station” to absorb most of the incoming physical damages.   I discovered since you have a finite amount of crewmen, it really doesn’t matter if you have a gigantic array of weapons.  You can only man some of them at any given moment.  So if your opponent has systems that allow his/her sub to avoid the initial onslaught of incoming points, gradually, the balance will shift and as they start taking out your systems in response with their one or two weapons that can activate, and you will be in a bad way to respond.

This event was a lot of fun– I like the location quite a bit but will probably have to leave early to get there in time to have something stronger than a sampler glass.  The folks there are very friendly and I like the decor, the root beer, and the way they cater to their crowd.  Good times!

Animated Stereogram from Washington DC, 1922, looking down PA Ave from the Treasury


A little matter of historical interest. When you take an old fashioned stereogram picture, and animate it between left and right rapidly, you derive a rudimentary
Three dimensional effect. Fascinating!

GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator - view more at http://stereo.nypl.org/gallery/index
GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator

Courtesy of NYPL Labs Stereogranimator.

The Northern Virginia political sign game


Political SIgns

Political Signs in Northern Va.. they dot the landscape this time of year

We have a traditional game for the traditional election season political sign glut that plagues our area every other Autumn.  The challenge is to try to say the names on every  sign as you pass them doing the speed limit– and for really large signs you vamp it a bit, “jazz hands” style. Back when there was one row of signs on the dividing strip, it was hard but doable.  By late October in Virginia, every square inch of space is used with triple and even quadruple rows of signs, making the “game” a inchoate mess to behold.  When you get candidates with polysyllabic or hyphenated names, it can be hilarious. 

Observe exhibit A: Driving on Old Keene Mill Road. (MP4 file from a phone camera, will launch in another window)

Ah, Memories…


This requires some attribution credits. The original sequence is Stormtrooper Scrapbook on the microkosmic comic blog. I think the original is hilarious by itself, but there’s something about the schmaltzy slide animations… maybe the Carpenters in the background, playing “We’ve only just begun…” yeah, that’s the ticket.

DIRECT LINK for FB users.

Google made a funny!


I was more than puzzled to log into GMAIL(tm) this morning and see a link to what appears to be a boffo new service by Google called AUTOPILOT, which apparently learns your communication style and answers emails for you.

How does Gmail mirror my communication style?

The more Gmail messages Autopilot can sample, the better. With fewer than 100 messages, there may not be enough data to calibrate Autopilot effectively. You can adjust tone, typo propensity, and preferred punctuation from the Autopilot tab under Settings.

You may want to log in every week or so to ensure Autopilot is calibrated optimally.
Does Autopilot work for Gmail chat too?

Yes. Chat was actually simpler to build, given the natural language headway made by Joseph Weizenbaum’s ELIZA. While many claim ELIZA oft times passed the Turing test, Gmail Autopilot passes with 99.9% accuracy due to the inclusion of human-like qualities such as compassion and wisdom and CADIE’s related ability to calibrate to match your chat style.
What happens if a sender and recipient both have Autopilot on?

Two Gmail accounts can happily converse with each other for up to three messages each. Beyond that, our experiments have shown a significant decline in the quality ranking of Autopilot’s responses and further messages may commit you to dinner parties or baby namings in which you have no interest.

What the heck? Then I read the the individual examples of correspondence and realized it was April the first. D’OH! You scamps!!

Man, taken in by geek humor… this office needs some windows, for God’s sake.

(It really was amusing, Google, thanks!)

The real secret behind Al-Qaeda


Click on the picture (Don’t, it’s dead)

Thanks to Joe Steadman…