Weekend Writing Warriors, first visit

Found another group with whom to write in silence and solidarity. The Weekend Writing Warriors meet at Uptown Espresso in West Seattle on Sunday mornings. They are less social than the other group I attend, Waywords, which I rather appreciate.

Uptown Espresso is a good place to come write about imaginary games. The walls are lined with real ones. It’s like working inside the BoardGameGeek server cluster. Lots of copies of Cosmic Encounter here, whether opened for play, or for sale. A good sign, or “sign”.

What are the writing exercises like? Apparently writing for 10 minutes to a prompt at the very start of the session. I came late. No big deal.

We’re supposed to pick a goal for the quarter. My goal is to break 50,000 words by the solstice and keep going. After the session, I’m at 46,900 precisely. About 3,000 to go.

(Comments on the blog, please, not on Twitter or F*c*b**k.)

The Time Cadet Keyboard

799px-Space-cadet-closeup.jpg

A few entries ago in this blog, I used a photo of the so-called Space Cadet Keyboard, the keyboard shipped with the famous Lisp machines of the 1980s. Depending largely on whether you are an Emacs user or a vi user, the Space Cadet Keyboard was either the most brilliant input device of all time, or the cause of everything that has gone wrong in any field of human endeavor under discussion.

That photo attracted lots of attention, for certain very, very wee values of “lots”. My friend John Braley remarked on F*c*b**k, “My new mantra: Hyper super meta – meta super hyper.[repeat]”, referring to the special modifier keys present on the Space Cadet but not most other keyboards – unlike Shift, Control, Alt, and so on. Of course, the Space Cadet wasn’t only long on modifier keys, but on Greek characters, math and logic keys, and keys of dubious utility – Roman numerals, friends?

I was (briefly) a computer science major at Yale in the mid-1980s, when this bizarre beastie flourished. I remember typing my APL homework on a similarly baroque keyboard – they were in all the labs – but I wouldn’t swear it was a Cadet. In fact, it was probably a descendant of the IBM 2741.

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One thing I wanted to show in this post is that the Space Cadet was a lot more complicated than the first photo I included as a joke. As you can see up top, the keys are very tall – that is, high off the base – and they have room for even more characters on their fronts – the parts facing the user when she is facing the screen. (Closeup)

These characters can be Metaed, Supered, and Hypered until your carpal tunnel becomes inflamed. It says here that the Cadet could generate over 8,000 discrete characters. (Another large illustration.)

Space Cadets and Christianity (what?)

As an atheist, I am no friend of Madeleine L’Engle’s YA Christian propaganda A Wrinkle in Time and its four sequels, the “Time Quintet”. But I haven’t always been an atheist, and I’m pretty familiar with the books, especially the first two – I used to love them.

I’m sure that the Space Cadet Keyboard influenced the fourth book in the Time Quintet – Many Waters – just as I am that the board game Cosmic Encounter influenced William Sleator’s novel Interstellar Pig

Sandy stuffed another large bite of sandwich into his mouth, and left the warmth of the stove to wander to the far corner of the lab, where there was a not-quite-ordinary-looking computer. “How long has Dad had this gizmo here?”

“He put it in last week. Mother wasn’t particularly pleased.”

“Well, it is supposed to be her lab,” Sandy said.

“What’s he programming?” Dennys asked.

“He’s usually pretty good about explaining. Even though I don’t understand most of it. Tessering and red-shifting and space/time continuum and stuff.” Sandy stared at the keyboard, which had eight rather than the usual four ranks of keys. “Half of these symbols are Greek. I mean, literally Greek.”

Dennys, ramming the last of his sandwich into his mouth, peered over his twin’s shoulder. “Well, I more or less get the usual science signs. That looks like Hebrew, there, and that’s Cyrillic. I haven’t the faintest idea what these keys are for.”

Long story short, merely by typing into what I must refer to as the Magic Time Cadet Keyboard that they want to go somewhere warm and dry, the twins Sandy and Dennys are transported to the antediluvian Earth – the time of Noah himself – where they both fall in love with Noah’s forgotten daughter, and conclude that the people of Noah’s time are so unmentionably evil that it’s only right that God murder all of them. The Flood was good to the last drop!

Given its profound spiritual powers and the fact that it has not only math and Greek characters on the keys, but Hebrew and Cyrillic (what about Enochian?), I am forced to conclude that the Time Cadet Keyboard is to the Space Cadet Keyboard as the Space Cadet is to a random decrepit IBM Model M. The Time Cadet Keyboard is a must-have for the retrocomputing enthusiast who has everything. Five thumbs up!


I bet you didn’t think this post was going to swerve from the retrocomputing hobby to the history of board games to atheist apologetics, did you?

What do you think? And hey, how about leaving comments on this blog, rather than on Twitter or F*c*b**k or wherever else you found this link? Thanks.


Photo by Dave Fischer, Retro-Computing Society of RI (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.

APL keyboard diagram By User:Rursus (APL-keybd.svg) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Re-encountering Cosmic Encounter

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I found my misplaced copy of Cosmic Encounter – the Fantasy Flight edition – recently, along with the first three expansions. I had bought and stored the fourth and fifth expansions separately, This was really the first time I got to collate all the cards and alien power sheets and so on, finish punching and bagging the bits, and really read through all six rulebooks together. I made a few notes.

First I had to devise a mnemonic for the order of the expansions: I Can’t Always Stand Down. It represents the first letter of the second word of each set:

  1. Cosmic Incursion
  2. Cosmic Conflict
  3. Cosmic Alliance
  4. Cosmic Storm
  5. Cosmic Dominion

My favorite new aliens are as follows (I haven’t played these yet):

  • Bride (seems kind of sexist, though)
  • Greenhorn
  • Lizard
  • Lunatic
  • Mite
  • Pygmy (seems kind of racist, though)
  • Relic
  • Squee
  • Swindler
  • Sycophant
  • Tourist
  • Vox
  • Voyager
  • Warhawk
  • Winner

General comments follow. I am not claiming these observations are original, merely offhand. I’ve been out of the Cosmic scene for some time.

  • The main Fantasy Flight rulebook explains that opposing Morph card with Morph card is impossible, because there is only one. But the expansions are lousy with Morphs. So much for “impossibility”.
  • Retreat cards are clever. I’m not sure I’ve seen just that mechanic before.
  • What about “times i” kickers for imaginary card values?
  • What if you could kick Artifacts, for double or quadruple their effects?
  • Why did Fantasy Flight put so many good, standard Artifacts and other cards in the Rewards deck only?
  • There are lots of identity theft mechanics in this edition (for example, the Swindler). Swapping hands might spoil a lesser game like Aquarius, but Cosmic is more substantial.
  • The Empath flare also has modern and “classic” forms, much as Filch and Schizoid do, but this is not mentioned in the rules, as far as I can see.

Work proceeds. Play proceeds.

Work proceeds, slowly, on the “imaginary games book”. I was aiming for a word count of around 50,000, and I currently have about 43,000.  I have about 75 game writeups in mixed states of completion — more complete than not, but always ready to take a higher polish, and there’s the rub.

Why has it taken me years to write 50,000 words (fewer), the length of a short novel? First, I’m a slow writer. To quote Thomas Mann, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

Second, it’s slow subject matter. To say I’ve been writing 75 notional reviews of imaginary games for the past couple of years is to say I’ve been halfway designing 75 games during that time. The term of art is design fiction — in this case, game design fiction.

Third, it’s the slow subject matter multiplied by my slow writing. They’re not merely additive.

The parallel world is called Counter now, not Glob or Lila or Loka.  The little Roman penal colony that started all the trouble on Counter is called Victoriæ, home of the Caïssan Mysteries, and if you don’t know who Caïssa is, I politely suggest you look Her up.