Our house is a tar pit

I am boggled by the ability of small mammals to get into trouble around our apartment.

Some of you may remember the Squirrel Incident of some months back. Well, last night, as my friend Julian and I sat around after a fine dinner and yarned about the usual sundries (plus, since Jen was not back from China yet, we could be even more self-congratulatory than usual), we heard a high-pitched squealing. Now, I know that there’s a rather bold family of raccoons in the vicinity; we’ve had guests trapped in our yard for a few minutes because there was a raccoon perched on the gate. So I figured a couple of raccoons were tussling in the back. Thus, we went to go peek.

In the darkness, we could see furry things moving at the base of one of our trees. Feeling puckish, I flipped on the back light to give the raccoons a startle. It was not a raccoon. It was a seething mass of raccoons. Nor did they startle. Instead, the enormous raccoon that must have been the mother of the bunch (I say enormous, which isn’t entirely fair. I’ve seen larger. Still, bigger than you figure raccoons generally are; somewhere between a beagle and a basset hound.) turned and looked at us. It’s a little unnerving when a wild animal gives you a “You lookin’ at me?” look.

So this large raccoon and her half dozen pups are all roiling around the base of this tree, and there’s a near-constant squealing, and it becomes clear after a bit that one of the pups has fallen into the crook of the tree and gotten stuck, and despite their legendary dexterity, the raccoons are unable to figure out what to do.

We are at a loss. We, being fully equipped with spatial intelligence and opposable thumbs, could resolve the issue easily, but wading into a mass of wild animals including the mother of a trapped baby is a quick way to the end that fate has reserved for Jen. So we watch for a while, until it begins to appear that the mother raccoon may be considering resorting to extreme measures that I, for one, do not want to see in my backyard, at which point we decided that now was the time to call Animal Control. Alas, they were closed, but the voice mail forwarded us to Emergency Services, who said they would send a unit over.

Naturally, of course, the act of calling Emergency Services inspired the raccoons into figuring out what to do, and they promptly dislodged the troubled raccoonling and disappeared into the night.

Raccoons are unsettling, I think because they’re the most pet-like of the wild animals. It seems like you ought to be able to go out and pet them, like you might a visiting cat, but at the same time you get that weird wild-animal sense that they’d totally be up for eating you if the opportunity arose.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Marketing evolution

I suppose I should clarify that I speak of the evolution of marketing, not the marketing of evolution (“Darwin — it’s the natural selection!”). Stupid no-genitive-case-having English.

Anyway, I observed today that a local survey company has actually succeeded in getting me to not beg off twice now. The trick: the framing of the endeavor. It’s a company doing research on musical tastes for local radio stations; they play me snippets of songs being played on the stations I listen to, and ask me to rate them.

Here’s the trick. They don’t just ask me to rate the quality of a song. They also ask me to rate how tired I am of hearing it on the radio. Who can pass up the opportunity to tell Big Radio “Don’t play that honkin’ song anymore, damn it!”? It’s like the recall election; how often do you get a chance to vote *against* a politician?

They also have better surveyors than some companies; their people banter with me about how profoundly played out some songs are, and tell me about songs I wasn’t familiar with. It’s not a deep relationship, but it’s better than the droning people asking me about local bond initiatives. (And embarrassing me when I realize I’m not sure if the district that I voted to approve a bond measure for is K-8 or K-12.)

Originally published on LiveJournal

Playtesting is hard

My friend Brian came by yesterday evening to test out a board game I’m toying with. It went pretty well, all things considered (which is to say it successfully illustrated several ways in which I failed dismally), but it reminded why it’s so easy for a game design project to bog down.

It’s easy to design a game — logistically, anyway. All I need is my brain and something to write on. I may need to spend some quality time crunching numbers, but that’s a process that I can fit into my life without too much difficulty. To playtest, however, is another process entirely. I have to find someone interested in playing a game that is, as I like to put it, “not guaranteed to be in any way fun”; we need to find an adequate slice of time that is available for both of us; we need to avoid the temptation to gab on about whatever comes to mind.

And when all is said and done, all that’s accomplished is a handful of data points. With card games, an evening usually gets two or three sessions in; last night we didn’t even finish a full play-through. This is OK for a first prototype, as even a partial play-through reveals all sorts of stuff that needs to be tinkered with that will change the gameplay pretty radically, but as you move closer to a final version, it’s damn hard to get in enough play hours to really put a design through its paces.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Linguistic drift

When it comes time to drink to an occasion, my mother is prone to utter “Slainte!”, an Irish toast she acquired from her New York Irish upbringing. Like all Irish words, “slainte” is not pronounced the way it’s spelled; it’s pronounced, roughly, “slahn-chyuh”. My mother, however, tends to say “shlanta”; that is, she pronounces an Irish word such that it sounds like a Yiddish word. If that doesn’t say something about the metaphysical state of being a New Yorker, I don’t know what does.

Originally published on LiveJournal