It’s the season for Sinterklaas again — and that means chocolate initials. We’ve had some random initials given to us: last weekend we went to shop at a wholesaler, and at the cash register we got a chocolate initial ‘S’ (the generic default, from ‘Sinterklaas’) gifted to us.

It is (or rather: was) a 600 grams monstrosity of kruidnoten (with a slightly almond-like bitter taste, almost like cantuccini) glued together with milk chocolate and little chocolate crispy balls. It took us two weekends to work our way through it!

At work, we get a Sinterklaas treat every year. This year, it was a package of mini chocolate initials. So this weekend, our desserts have been…

Boring stuff about boring business software

As product manager, it is my task to introduce our new releases to our colleagues. And because this thing is completely new, I went all in: first an extended demo to introduce all the functionalities and to explain why you would use it, and then a second video that shows how to configure a freshly installed system to do the things I showed in the demo. All in all, it turned into just under 3,5 hours of video!

Me behind my desk, ready to start recording! I brought my own microphone, because it has so much better sound than the headset I have at the office, and I care about those things.

Saturday I went to my parents’, to help my father with his printer — or at least, to try again to get it to work with his laptop after a Windows 10 install.

Windows 10 driver fiddling

It was fun to see my parents and have lunch with them and the like, but this whole thing was seriously un-fun! At least it’s resolved now.

Yesterday we went to visit klik’s mother, to help her with her printer. We advised her a cool double-sided printing colour laserprinter, because she sometimes has to do large print runs. However, it was very slow to print — we’re talking 12 hours for 20 pages!
She lives at the north side of the Veluwe, the most forested area of the Netherlands. It started all off with pines being planted to provide struts for the mines in Limburg, but after those were closed down, the forests remained. It’s now slowly transitioning from “production forests” to more natural forests, with more diversity. It is also the area with the most wild deer and boars.
What with the fall colours, it was beautiful driving through the forest lanes!

Here’s two crappy cellphone pics through the windscreen of a moving car to give you a little impression.

The printer issue was ultimately ‘solved’ by using a USB cable instead of printing over wifi. We also had a great dinner at the Greek restaurant in town.

When we drove back home, through the dark, we talked about what would happen if we were to hit a deer or a boar on the road. Surely the car would be a total loss! To alert drivers to the wildlife, wooden cut-outs of boar and deer have been placed next to the road — but since we drive over that road often, we’re not impressed by that. So when we saw a boar rooting through the mud next to the road, we almost assumed that it was one of those cutouts! It stayed clear of the road, though, so there was no harm done. First time I saw wildlife there!

You might have seen the announcement that Amazon is going to create a multi-season “TV” series based on the Lord of the Rings. (If indeed it can be called ‘TV’ because it will be on their Prime video-on-demand service.)

What I find interesting is that the series will be set after the events portrayed in The Hobbit, but before Frodo sets out in The Fellowship of the Ring. Because that is exactly the default setting for the The One Ring RPG, one of my favourite RPGs at the moment. They have brought out some excellent sourcebooks with background information, as well as some collections of scenarios.
Most notable, there is The Darkening of Mirkwood, which is a really epic campaign about the events in Mirkwood during that time. There’s lots of good stuff in there, and if Amazon is smart, they’ll do something like that.

Believable maps

A few years ago, I invested heavily in the software from Profantasy, mainly their Campaign Cartographer product, the add-ons for creating cities and dungeons, and a lot of their Annuals which introduce new styles and techniques. At the base it is a CAD program, with some map-focused drawing tools, an art library and some effects to make really pretty maps. Not having any appreciable artistic talent, having the art part of making maps being automated really works for me.
But I never was able to produce a map that felt believable to me. I lack the geography knowledge for that. I mean, I know that rivers flow downhill from mountains to the sea and that they very rarely split, and all that. But making a mountain range that is believable with respect to its location on a continent and things like that? Nah, I don’t know how to do that.

So when I saw an article in my feeds about how mountains affect rainfall, I was very interested. I mean, I do know every fact laid out in that article, but to combine it all into a ‘rule’ for planning out your map is what’s new for me.
The author of the article has published/is publishing a set of books on worldbuilding, and the second volume is about making maps. I’ll be picking that one up as an ebook very soon!

Saturday was klik’s jukai, her layperson’s initiation into buddhism. It was part of the closing ceremonies of the zen retreat: there were three people getting their zen teacher diploma and two people doing jukai. As part of the initiation, klik got a buddhist name. I already knew this for weeks (which got me into trouble once she found out), and I had put it in silver foil on the box I made for her to store her rakusu: Gisho.

Gisho means “good start”, and is a reference to the concept of the “beginner’s mind”. That is the idea to approach everything with an open mind, never rely on routine. It is also a reference to a figure in a book of zen stories that is also called Gisho. It’s quite fitting.

When I visited friends in Groningen while klik was on her retreat (and I’ll write about that at a later time), I waked past a store selling decorations. Normally I’m not a fan of ‘decorations’: it’s all just stuff that simply accumulates — that doesn’t make my life any better. But I saw this excellent christmas tree ornament, and I had to get it! I mean, who thought it would be a good idea to mix buddhism with christmas? The two don’t have anything in common! But it’s a proper buddhist depiction of the Buddha: the right ‘curls’, the right ears, the right robes, the right meditation posture. And it’s large as well: 17 cm in height!

It will be the proud centre piece of our christmas tree come December!

A few years ago, my in-laws gifted me with a small Japanese maple tree. We kept it in a pot for a year (or maybe two?) and kept the tree indoors during winter. But then it had grown enough that it could be put in the ‘full ground’ in the garden.

We used bits of electrical wire (brown, visible in this photo) to guide the branches to spread out instead of growing upwards, and that worked quite well.
Normally, the leaves are a reddish-brown colour, but what with the fall, my trees has really intensely red leaves! I love it.

Dicepot

I remember that back in the 1980’s, being hospitable meant having a tall glass filled with cigarettes on the table, next to a heavy table lighter and an ashtray. Visitors could take a cig and light right up: smoking was meant to be ‘cosy’, something to enjoy with friends.
I don’t miss that (I’ve never smoked), and that’s not how we roll in our house. Instead, we have a little glass pot on top of a piece of rootwood, which we originally bought for a mini-flower arrangement. We filled it up with dice: many of the games we play at home (and that includes RPGs) use six-sided dice. So if you come over to play a game, you can select the dice you want to use!

I guess we can add one more Chessex reference packet before the pot is completely full…

Rakusu-box

Yesterday I dropped klik off at her retreat. It runs from Sunday afternoon to Saturday morning — early morning.

On Saturday, klik is going to do her jukai, a lay Buddhist ordination. It is a logical extension of the journey she has been on ever since she started zen meditation. As a friend of ours said: “If you want a house on the beach, you must learn to swim as well.” Her teacher is also leading the retreat, so it is a natural occasion to do the jukai.
When you do your jukai, you can start wearing a rakusu, a shortened version of a priest’s robe. (Though I just call it a bib… Scroll down on the page about the retreats to see the group photo: the people in front are wearing their rakusu.) You can buy them, but they’re quite expensive: it doesn’t take a lot of trouble to drop EUR 300 to get one. And of course every sect has their own version, so better make sure you’ve got the right one!
Klik made her own, based on the rakusu of her teacher, which she had on loan for that purpose. It was a lot of work — and try finding the right wooden rings! But she managed, and it is a beautiful piece.

I wanted to show my support and add something to the festivities. I decided to make a box to hold the rakusu: it’s something I can apply my skills to, and I like building boxes. I decided to got for the Japanese book box which we learned to make in a workshop a few years ago. Unfortunately, we lost the description, so I had to reconstruct that on my own. That took me one failed try and one failed scale model, but then I had a good idea on how to make it work! I ended up with a spreadsheet where I can plug in the desired inner dimensions of the box and the thickness of the board, and that will give me all the dimensions of the boards, linen and paper!
So this is what I have been doing today:

Box making pictures

I’m very pleased with the result, and I can’t wait to have her teacher give her the box with the rakusu in it!

The largest exhibition for tabletop gaming is held every year in Essen, in their ‘fairgrounds’ building — four days with six large halls filled with booths from game manufacturers, publishers and dealers. (And, because it’s Germany, there are also booths selling grilled sausages in between.) There is, predictably, a large offering from German manufacturers (not only is the majority of the public German, but there is a real designer boardgaming culture in Germany), but there are also many international offerings. Design collectives from Japan, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan bring pallets of their games and sell out during the pre-orders, and there are visitors from all over the world.
We’ve been going there for a few years now, and we went on the first day — not that we had a specific list of games we ‘needed’ to get before they sold out, but because the first day doesn’t have the most public. (And still it’s noisy and sometimes you’re stuck in foot traffic.) And yes, I did have a list of games I was interested in, but that was just a tentative list: things that I thought looked cool, but if we didn’t see/find them, it would be fine too. There was only one thing that I really wanted to buy, at the request of a friend who wanted to buy it for his wife.

Our day at Spiel Essen 2017 (picture heavy)

And then we arrived home, eleven hours after leaving. Kind of tired now…