Dual DMs – World Building, Microscope, and a Wiki

DoomDuck and I settled on running an ongoing campaign as co-DM’s, given our previous experiment with a co-DMed one-shot. We spent free time working on organizing the typical aspects of the campaign – getting players, planning logistics, and researching the type of campaign we’d be running. These fell into place quickly – we already had several potential new players to round out our group of more experienced players, the logistics fell into place fairly naturally, and we had a good grip on the general campaign flavor we wanted to run. Soon we needed to develop campaign material in preparation for actually playing. Initial brainstorming came up with a scattershot list of interesting tidbits – scenes, flashes of story, and interesting challenges sprang out of our enthusiastic chatter, ready for expansion and refinement. But while we shared much in common in our general approach and brainstorming, it turns out we differ dramatically in our approach to campaign worlds.

In my history of playing from behind the screen, I have always favored custom campaign worlds. I built up whatever amount of details about the world naturally sprang to mind, and used that as the springboard for the campaign itself. This allowed for me to play with attempts to alter some of the fundamental assumptions about the traditional high fantasy world of the game – my first campaign world, for instance, was a world in which Elves were an uncertain myth in the world (Half Elves did exist, however, to muddy the waters.) I enjoyed having a completely blank canvas, and the creative freedom it offered in crafting adventures for the players. The downside, of course, was scope – I had to craft enough material with sufficient detail that the players would find the world believable and fun. This presented some challenges – I spent considerable time developing a frontier city that fit nicely within the world I built, and obsessively built up details about the city. Building layouts for the entire town, detailed backstories for the inhabitants, significant history for regional points of interest, even a topological map of the town. I had outlines for the players to not only start their adventuring careers in this tiny town, but outlines for them growing with the city – integrating into the life of the town, and fundamentally altering it as they grew. The players completed the first dungeon delve I had built in a nearby mountain range, and spent some time exploring the budding town and helping the inhabitants. Then they packed up without warning, and departed for the closest major city, never looking back on the town. Now, I’ve told this story many times as a cautionary tale about the unpredictability of players (and I can only imagine DoomDuck is bored to tears by it now,) but there’s another side to the story. The truth is, I loved developing that world. I really enjoyed working out these details, coming up with interesting historical moments and trying to cover the entire canvas before me. I still have all those notes in a set of folders, and have gone back to flip through them at times since then. The actual quests and dungeons got equal attention, but I think, looking back on it, I tended to view my role largely as the world builder.

Now, to be completely honest, I’m guessing as to DoomDuck’s views on campaign worlds, but I can at least state a few facts from where I’m sitting. When he’s DMed, he’s used published campaign worlds for most of his adventures. This brings a wealth of advantages – hundreds of pages covering every aspect of the world, well written and thought out countries, cities, and pantheons. Less reliance on potentially confounding oddities such as my banning of a core player race. Importantly (and here comes the guessing), I believe his efforts focused more on crafting a story around the players and their characters, with the world as the backdrop. Now, that isn’t to say that I didn’t pay attention to my players, or that he didn’t build out the parts of the world he was interested in – we both did those things. But I believe these differences align with the ideas of top-down and bottom-up design. We each develop campaigns from different approaches, and have an approach which eats up all our individual resources as we develop campaign materials. Given our teaming organization, however, we had the opportunity to mix our approaches.

The development took a varied and meandering approach over our development sessions, but there are two main highlights to our development process. The first, was our use of the excellent game Microscopeas a process for collaborative world building. We played it over a half dozen sessions, building the world one note card at a time. As a summary that doesn’t begin to do the game justice, Microscope works by having players take very short turns wielding narrative control within the story’s framework. It’s well worth purchasing the game and supporting Ben Robbins to get the full details of the gameplay. The game is not only well designed, but thanks to the fractal nature of its design, worked well to blend our differing styles of campaign development. The game’s approach to world building encourages creating and exploring the “hot” parts of the world – themes, topics, or stories ripe for creative effort. The world isn’t built top-down or bottom-up – it’s an organic process that takes whichever direction feels more natural at a given moment. Now, there was one major drawback – only the two of us were playing. The rulebook explicitly mentions this situation as suboptimal, and suggest alterations to rules to mitigate the more obvious issues. The amount of creativity brought to bear on a particular focus is controlled by the length of a turn, which is in turn proportional to the number of players in the game. With only two players, there’s less creative riffing on a given focus – the longer turns suggested for two players increases the material developed in a particular focus, but additional players would have added more twisting and turning. The other odd spot in our play came from Scenes, which are the smallest scope of event in the game. These are created through taking on characters and role playing through a scene, and with only two players, it is difficult to role play more complicated scenes. To be clear, these issues are very minor, and largely due to our insistence on playing with only the two of us. Had we known just how amazing the game would have turned out, and I was doing it all over again, I would invite the players to join in, and truly let the world generation run wild.

The second highlight involves the presentation of our campaign world to our players. In previous campaigns, the world was presented on an ongoing basis through play. The scene is set with a general overview of the world given to the entire group, with dialogue to clarify as necessary. Then, the world unfolds through the flow of the game – details unveiled as the story unfolds, with intermittent Q&A for the group as curiosity or uncertainty arises. What knowledge the players receive tends towards summarization of the facts as they are known. This provides for smoothly running a game, and keeps the story as simple as it needs be at any given point, at the expense of verisimilitude. The players learn the same details, as a group, and only when the story introduces an important point. There’s no variance in knowledge, or characters bringing forth some tidbit of knowledge to save the day; there isn’t even any chance for players to present knowledge as their character would. Note cards in sessions can alleviate some of this, at the expense of game speed and the social interactions of passing notes. As we built up our campaign world, we started a wiki as a repository for the material we had built up, with the intent to eventually provide access to the players as a general reference. The wiki evolved, however, as our development continued – a permissions system allowed us to provide access to certain pages to specific players. Articles were rewritten and published as fiction within the campaign world, providing additional flavor into the world. Furthermore, the wiki evolves in response to player interest – new articles, both public and private, are written and added as the game continues. The player response thus far has been very positive. We’ve had great moments in game, when someone brings some of their knowledge from the wiki into play, and the players end up engaging each other in the story. The players end up more invested and connected to the world, are more aware of the details, and exhibit greater interest in the world outside their immediate quest. These two aspects of our campaign has made it my personal favorite thus far, and I’m excited to see how it continues to develop as time goes on.

We’ve set much of the site public – if you’d care to see our handwork and see how it’s turning out, you can check it out at http://dnd.catexia.com. We’ve had a few people investigate out of curiosity, and have gotten valuable feedback from them. I know I’d love to have more people take a look at our efforts thus far, and I’m sure DoomDuck would as well. There’s more to write about our campaign and efforts at a dual DM scenario, but for the moment, this seems as good a stopping point as any.

Dual DMing, Part 1

I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons since my freshman year of college. While I had read a wide (albeit random) selection of D&D material, I never pursued playing while in high school. I lucked out freshman year – I met a fellow freshman, Camilo, in the same boat as me with regards to the game. My recollection is that I mentioned wanting to give D&D a shot one day – and he mentioned owning the books to the then new 3E ruleset. The next step is pretty easy to guess – we found some other students willing to give it a shot, we read the rule books, and away we went!

Over the years, we played a lot of D&D, not too surprising given our geekiness overall. In every game we played, we found ourselves on opposite sides of the DM screen – the other players were more interested in staying on the player’s side of the table. Given our interest in the game, and our turns at being DM, we spent a lot of time providing feedback or ideas to each other. We fell into a habit of discussing the game the day after a session. Through these discussions and our ongoing friendship, we discovered we work well together. The majority of ideas coming out of our post-session conversations would find their way into the sessions. Some fraction, however, would be held back; an unfair advantage existing for the player or ruining the impact of surprise and novelty. We would joke about one day surprising each other with these ideas, although in practice most of them fell by the wayside.

We had our first shake up almost ten years later – we both lived in the same city, and a relative newcomer to our group took the DM’s seat. For the first time, we found ourselves in the same adventuring party – and we really enjoyed it. All of the teamwork built up from years of discussion clicked – we worked well together in combat, and we had a ton of fun role-playing outside of combat. Furthermore, we continued discussing ideas for the game, but were no longer putting them into play. We spent more time elaborating on our thoughts throughout the campaign, and got excited as ideas began to grow, intertwining with others, spawning offshoots. We enjoyed both sides of D&D – playing together in a fun campaign during sessions, and brainstorming new ideas and experiments outside of them. After about a year of this campaign, however, one brainstorming session turned to our history of wasting ideas due to one of us always playing through them – and we hit upon the obvious idea. Why not run with two DMs, and continue to work as well together? We started thinking about the idea, and quickly discovered an outlet for the years of ideas. We just had to figure out how to make it work.

Starting the Experiment

Now, we wanted to give it a shot, but with the number of ideas and possible approaches we could take, we decided to start with a simpler approach. We didn’t know how gameplay might change, or what complications we might encounter, so we came up with a plan for our first few forays into co-operative DMing. We pulled together a group of players, largely composed of friends from out of town, chose the module Cairn of the Winter King (from the Monster Vault), and ran our very first dual-DM session.

The first steps of the session felt fairly normal. There wasn’t any advance prep, so we set the players to  building characters – newer players having the DM guide them through the builder, and more experienced players having us available for answering questions. The building was sped up from having two DM’s on hand, but nothing out of the ordinary. The party assembled, we moved on to the actual meat, and we started to see the real impact. We started almost immediately with a group of guards interacting with the party. Having two DM’s means two NPC’s can be actively interacting with the party (and each other.) The conversations ended up more dynamic, with additional participants adding color to the role-playing. The interactions were further improved by the improv options opened up with two NPCs in play – we could suggest new twists to the situation, or play off each other as the story unfolded. There’s also the added benefit of being able to actually pull off bits of theater that are impossible with a single DM – NPC’s actually interrupting one another, or more realistically arguing. Both DMs and players reacted positively to these changes.

After some initial expository setup and role-playing, the party hit the first combat in the module. We had discussed possible approaches to using two DMs in combat, and for the first go around, we chose to stay as similar to a single DM approach as possible. Splitting the DM’s role in an informal and fluid fashion turned out to smooth the flow of play significantly. One DM could easily disengage from the combat momentarily to handle consulting the rules or discuss a power, and not leave the rest of the group waiting. The other DM could flesh out the combat with more flavor, or field questions about the monsters or possible strategies, and keep the party engaged. Resolving turns under DM control went much more quickly as well. Enemies were roughly split up give us equal workload, as well as introduce some parallelism to monster turns. Monsters played differently with different DMs controlling them. Furthermore, we could resolve multiple actions at once, returning play to the party more quickly. We also found ourselves able to catch missed conditions or minor subtleties of particular rules. Furthermore, with the cognitive load balanced between two people, we could devote additional effort to coming up with creative flourishes and additional color to add to the combat.

The final bit of the evening was a skill challenge. In previous 4E campaigns, neither of us has ever had much luck with skill challenges – for all that we appreciate the goals they aim to achieve, they’ve never felt quite right. This time, the skill challenge turned into a highlight of the session. Part of it, for us, was the well thought out skill challenge provided in the module. I think part of the difference is having more structure available for the players to work with – our normal skill challenges are much more open ended, and often ran slower as players tried to develop approaches to solving some aspect of the problem at hand. This skill challenge started with a concrete goal, and introduced fairly concrete obstacles and complications, which helped to paint a scene for the players to work within. This again earned a boost from an additional DM – both of us introduced obstacles, and reacted to players trying to solve them. The tone and pacing of the skill challenge took an added layer of drama – at the height of the skill challenge, the obstacles were stacking up almost faster than the players could handle them, and the tense atmosphere made the players react with much more satisfaction and relief as they figured a safe path through. It ended on a particular high note – one of the final challenges required everyone to make a check to make it through, and all but one player had made a roll. The last one, an Artificer, came up with a particularly clever ploy using his character’s powers to jury rig a device to provide an elemental shield against the elements. Given the atmosphere that had built up, the tension broke and the players began to celebrate their success. A great way to end the experiment.

Our first attempt at dual DMs came off better than we had expected. We were able to not only take advantage of having two DMs to give more attention to the players and the scene, but also work together to reduce errors and smooth play. Furthermore, there were several relatively simple things we could do that a single DM simply could not. But we were just getting started exploring these ideas, and we weren’t done with the idea yet . . .

 

D&D’s Future: Avoiding a Tale of Two Audiences

The New York Times posted an article today, talking about the future of D&D. If you’ve been following D&D closely, two parts of the article are unsurprising – a Fifth Edition is being worked on at Wizards of the Coast, and that there’s been a big division over the future direction of the game. The other part – that Wizards of the Coast plans to involve the general public in the development and beta testing – is more surprising. WotC historically doesn’t spend much time consulting the player base for development direction. They simply produce a new edition and present it to the world, with whatever marketing or PR they can whip up to sell it.

Wizards of the Coast hired Monte Cook back to R&D for the game back in September 2011. Margaret Weiss confirmed that he was working on 5E. Monte Cook has taken over writing Legends & Lore, a weekly segment on thoughts on game design, with a pretty clear bent on developing the next version of the game. I’ve been following this, largely because my knowledge of Monte Cook was relatively limited – back when I played 3E, I knew Monte Cook had been involved in the development, and left Wizards over design differences. I had only seen a single design actually attributed to him – an alternate bard for 3E with an interesting design, which I really liked. I was excited to see him back to work on 5E, and eagerly went to read his first Legends & Lore, entitled Very Perceptive.

I wasn’t impressed. I didn’t like the approach, which felt overly clunky and ill fitting, when compared with how 4E handles skills. What’s worse, the article seems to be oblivious to the fact that 4E already has Passive Perception – it seems strange to be lamenting an issue with a rule set, and inventing a system to fix it – when a much more elegant and simple rule exists to cover that situation. I shrugged, and continued reading, and increasingly disagreed with his approach. I spoke about it with fellow players, and they held much the same sentiment. We started wondering about the future of D&D – particularly when Rich Baker and Steve Winter were both laid off from WotC in December. Both of them were developers I really liked – they produced great content, interacted with the community, and really helped drive 4E. It seemed as though WotC was reversing course, and trying to drive back to an earlier era of D&D. An era that I’m don’t hate, but I can’t claim to love either.

This reversal likely arises from a significant portion of the fan base disliking the direction 4E took. It came out as a significant change from previous editions, without input from the fan base in developing the new approach. They preferred the older editions of D&D, which tried to take a more simulationist approach. The rules were more complicated and varied in some areas, such as magic and combat. The rules were less involved in other areas, such as role-playing or dungeon exploration. But a large number of players decried the new edition, and there’s been rumors for years (which appear confirmed by today’s article) that 4E hasn’t sold as well as hoped, and this new direction seemed to support the rumors.

Then along comes the end of the year compilation of Legends & Lore, with a survey briefly mentioned. That survey was very brief – maybe a half dozen questions, which boiled down in the end, to a single thrust, summarized as “Do you agree with the direction these articles have been taking to designing D&D?” Having taken the major step towards the current 4E rules, then making all the motions to return to a style more like previous versions of the game, and then inviting criticism of that change, signals uncertainty in the future of D&D. And not simply uncertainty over which direction is “better” in some objective sense. I don’t think WotC is trying to figure out which direction works better for their audience; I think they’re trying to decide which audience to develop for. And, in the process, get players invested in the new edition, whichever direction it goes. If they are making a good faith effort to develop an invested audience, then I think it’s at least a decent approach to take. But I can’t help but feel like there’s a better approach to the system design.

To simplify significantly, one of 4E’s strengths derives from having a relatively simple set of core principles, and then using an exception based design to develop complexity in a manageable and interesting way. This allowed for a more easily understood and consistent application of rules – concepts such as rolling to beat a static DC applied to situations both in combat and out. Previous editions, again to simplify significantly, used whatever rules – or lack thereof – to match whatever level of fidelity the designers felt was interesting for a given aspect of the game. The upshot was being able to both add fidelity to interesting aspects (e.g. spells) without pushing structure into other aspects of the game (e.g. social interactions.) I would suggest that these two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

5E could have a fairly lightweight and elegant set of core rules, and utilize an exception based design, much like 4E. I personally think the core concepts in 4E function fairly well for these, although I admit to not having sat down and tried to come up with a better set. On top of that, build a default set of rules that handle how the game is played – in this case I’m thinking of what are more commonly considered rules – how to determine order of events in combat, how players interact with the world, etc. Once these default rules exist, develop modules which can replace aspects of the system. These could add or remove complexity, and provide more flexibility for gaming groups to match the system to their preferences. The divide in the audience becomes far more manageable at this point – modules can exist to satisfy either group, and people along the continuum of taste between these two camps can even mix-and-match to find their own sweet spot. A brief aside – the default rules are important in my opinion, simply to give new players an entry point to understanding the game. Handing them a million options and saying “Go craft your own game” could easily become overwhelming and drive away new players. A lot of players I’ve introduced or re-introduced to D&D have praised 4E for having a lower barrier to enjoyment than previous editions. Players who are invested enough in the game to dislike a simpler default rule system can more easily alter the rules.

I certainly admit to there being difficulties to this approach – determining how to balance modules, handling inter-dependencies between modules, and the additional complexity of play testing are not insignificant. But I think it can be done – taking inspiration design by contract and test driven development. This approach can also get the potential player base more heavily invested – developing and testing modules is an easy way to make the game development more parallelized. In addition, there’s the pitfall of relying too much on the player base to develop the rules – crowd-sourcing all of the development can lead to an incoherent mess, with a sea of amateur content or reinvented wheels drowning out any hopes of a good design. But with the right amount of involvement from the designers at WotC, I could see this working out well – much like the hub and spokes system I’ve heard exists in Burning Wheel.

Well, I await the official announcement of 5E, and see how they approach this topic. I don’t think my approach will be the one they take – but it’s an idea I’m curious about, and wish the official system would consider exploring. Given their approach so far, however, I feel like they’ll simply choose one audience or the other, and develop a system that they feel best fits them, and attempt to market it as palatable to the other. If that’s the case, I can’t help but hope they don’t abandon the approach 4E took. I just wish I didn’t have to choose a side and hope for the best.

New Year’s Day

Welcome to 2012! New Year’s Eve was uneventful – we ended up having a quiet night in, eating take-out Chinese and playing Skyrim. We watched the ball drop at midnight – we tried watching some of the buildup earlier, but quickly were driven away by how inane and annoying the run-up was. But we managed to get through the important minute, and a fair bit thereafter.

New Year’s resolutions never work out well, for me, on balance. I think about them briefly, talk them over with family or friends, and at some level they follow through the year, depending on how much I naturally prioritize them. But I have never really made much of a thing with them. But I’m going to try something a bit different this year, borrowing a page from GTD – Capture, Review, Doing. It’s worked incredibly well improving my productivity (when I actually follow through with it, heh) – so maybe it’ll help here as well.

  1. Be healthier – This was a resolution from last year, and I made some progress on it, but not as much as I’d like. I exercised more this past year than then previous one, and hopefully I can continue this trend onwards. Furthermore, I really should eat healthier – cooking more, less snacks, the whole nine yards.
  2. Blog more – I keep meaning to blog more often – I come up with ideas for blog posts, and sometimes even start drafts. And then I hit some relatively minor road bump, or get distracted, and I never return to the draft. This bothers me – I tend to think better when I communicate, and it feeds back into applying a GTD style approach to my life in general. Initially, I want to aim for at least 1 post/month, and try to improve from there.
  3. Be more productive. This falls into two major categories – being more on top of home improvement projects and keeping up with my GTD system better. There are a lot of projects around the house I tend to let run overly long, often without any reason other than energy or attention. In conjunction with this, I go through phases of keeping up with or falling behind on keeping my to-do list up to date. My biggest failure on this front, I think, is the Review step. I have a pretty straightforward idea of things to do on this front – I just need to execute.
  4. Have a side project. I keep coming up with ideas for side projects – I sketch them out, maybe even set up a repository, talk them up to any poor sod who’ll listen. And then do absolutely nothing. I just need to sit down and start producing on one. Maybe I can even use this as an excuse to blog more!

I feel as though I should work longer on this post – polish, edit, think, maybe come back to it later to flesh it out. The word count taunts me, suggesting this isn’t long enough – I should be writing pages, no paragraphs. But I’ll start with a pile of shit, and keep improving on it.

The difficulty of code formatting

On my current project, the codebase is large and complicated enough that we need some rules for ensuring code consistency. We have those, but a lack of an automated enforcement system has impeded keeping the code as consistent as we’d like. I’ve started looking for tools to enforce coding standards, but come up short so far.

The first stop was astyle, which I’ve heard of before. Well documented, fairly easy to use, and can hammer through code with ease. With the more recent versions, it covers a pretty decent number of the options we want to specify. The biggest problem it has is that it doesn’t actually parse C++ – it just uses heuristics to approximate understanding the code structure. This normally isn’t a problem, but with some options (such as placing the pointer/reference symbol by the type or name) it won’t be 100% correct. The code is reasonable

I then turned to uncrustify, hoping it might work better. It might, for all I know – the documentation is miserable. There are over 350 options, which aren’t terribly well explained. My impression is that it doesn’t use a full C++ parser as well, falling prey to the same issues as astyle.

bcpp is another referenced program, but there doesn’t seem to be an official site. It also seems to only handle indentation – though without an obvious site or documentation, I’ve no real idea. Handling only indentation makes it limited enough to not be of great interest however.

It’s frustrating, but we can make do with one of the tools for now – I just wish there were other tools I was satisfied with more.

Steampunk . . . music?

I have a soft spot for all things Steampunk, and every so often tear off into the wilds of the internet in search of anything interesting in that genre. Normally, it comes up with some cool projects, a few wallpapers, and that’s about it. This time, however, I came up with something I didn’t expect – a band called The Cog is Dead. They’ve got one album available, which I purchased out of curiosity.

If you’re curious about the music, you can check out a few of the songs on The SixtyOne. Overall, I’m a big fan of the music – the album hits a surprising range of genres – The Copper War, for instance, sounds like a Western ballad, while I Want Only You is clearly a Reggae song. Yeah, that’s right, Reggae – steel drums, and all. The styles and tone vary considerably throughout the album, but this largely works to keep the album interesting as it moves from one track to the next. The music is catchy and enjoyable – the only major issue I have with the music is that the lyrics run a bit too prosaic at times. It causes the songs to stumble at times to my ear – the music flows much more readily, while the lyrics feel choppy. It doesn’t ruin the music by any stretch, but it’s something that could stand improvement.

I’m typically a picky listener, only enjoying a few songs off any album. This album has more songs than usual that I enjoy, which is always a good sign. In particular, I’m a big fan of The Copper War, The Depths Below, The Inventor’s Daughter, and The Death of the Cog. I’ll continue listening, and look forward to hearing future albums as they come out.

Short iPad Observations

A few more minor observations about the iPad:

  1. One of our cats, Pyewacket, loves the iPad. Not using it, but for the space it opens up on my lap. She not only climbs into my lap now, but will let me use her as an impromptu stand for it. It’s nice to have the normally indifferent kitten clamoring for my lap.
  2. Trying to figure out how to read all my web comics resulted in discovering the ability to organize RSS feeds into folders, along with reading comics through my RSS reader. This was one of the issues I had been having, so it’s nice to finally eliminate it.
  3. I had several e-mails I had to show the wife and process, which normally is a bit of an ordeal to get her to sit down and read an e-mail. This time, however, I was able to open it, and treat it more as a clipboard. The iPad seems to encourage sharing the device more than a laptop, which seriously helps when dealing with things like that. The same holds true for gaming, with two player games on a single device feeling perfectly natural.

Just some minor observations as I continue to discover little bits and pieces of differences in the interaction with the iPad.

My iPad Experience: One Week Along

I didn’t expect to get an iPad in the first generation. When I realized I had the opportunity, I didn’t leap at the chance to do so – I hemmed and hawed, discussed it with co-workers, friends, and my wife. My biggest fear was that it would end up like so many other gadgets – quickly relegated to gathering dust. Then the wife admitted she was planning on buying one later in the summer, so an early gift would make more sense. A trip to the Apple Store, a swipe of the credit card, and a 16GB Wi-fi model leaves the store with us.

The hardware itself has been reviewed by many others, more in depth and eloquently than I. I don’t aim to replicate that effort – my interest is largely to compile my experiences and observations after a week a a two days of using the iPad as part of my daily life.

Continue reading

Fixing water deposits

During the snowy winter weather here in Pittsburgh, we stored my wife’s Honda Accord in the garage for the winter. While the garage kept the car away from rock salt, icy roads, and deep snow, unfortunately it didn’t protect the car from water deposits. Wait, water deposits?

Well, yes. It turns out that our garage, made of concrete, will slowly soak water through it. Not very fast, but given a deep snowfall like Pittsburgh had, it’ll eventually work its way through, and very slowly drip. I didn’t think much of it, until several weeks had passed, and white, smooth spots had formed on the car. It turns out calcium leeches out of the concrete, and accumulates on whatever surface is below – in this case, the side of a Honda Accord. My wife’s Accord – her baby.

After swearing I’d fix it, no problem, right away, I grabbed the hose, the sponge, and the car soap, and gave it a wash. No change. A second wash, more vigorous. Then scrubbing hard. Now the wife was worried, so a quick trip to the auto shop to grab a clay cleaning kit. This promises to clean all manner of evil off cars – spray the lubricant on, scrub with clay, be the hero of the day. Even a friendly passing neighbor swears by it, telling me he used to work cleaning cars fresh off the train using clay. The result? Nothing.

Then I remember a useful bit of chemistry – calcium doesn’t dissolve in water very well, which means the scrubbing would get nowhere. However, calcium will dissolve quite easily in an acid, if I had one in hand. Like vinegar! Rushing into the house, grabbing the bottle of distilled vinegar, I triumphantly douse the spots in vinegar, and wait for it to work. And wait. And wait. Huh. Scrubbing doesn’t help much – some of the smaller spots come clean, but the big spots have no change. One last crazy thought enters my head.

Clay from the super-cleaning kit, a little bit of handiwork, and behold! This clay cavity holds a pool of vinegar on the spot. If you look closely, you can even see the bubbles from the calcium dissolving. A few minutes of waiting for the calcium to dissolve, a quick rinse with water (the vinegar might damage the car if left on the car,) and the calcium is gone. And I feel smart for the next few hours. And most importantly, the wife is happy.

Yet Another Blog Reboot

I’ve been finally making some strides to use my web space, and discovered that my old Drupal install was incapable of updating. So I’ve shifted to WordPress to see if it’ll work as a slightly lighter weight blogging platform.

My current thought for this blog is to post the insights and learning experiences I have as I strive to improve my personal organization and skills. I’ve been striving for these for awhile, so I thought I’d use this blog as a place to record notes and share my experiences.

If you’re looking for my cache of amusing internet media, my Tumblr contains that at http://jasedit.tumblr.com – to interact with me online, you can catch me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jasedit