Saturday, November 15, 2008

Possibilities and choices

Today's bit of fortune-telling is courtesy of "The Silicon Valley Tarot", an online reading of which is available at the Steve Jackson Games website. The thus-far-unnamed Hedge-hunter may well find himself on a character sheet sometime soon...


Instead of an oddment, today I have found a Hollow, a portion of the Hedge that someone... or several someones... claims as their own. Ranging in size from a small campsite to a sprawling estate, these areas are rarely unoccupied, and certainly wasn't in this case. The motley of Changelings had set up a camp drawing on the images of a traveling circus of mdoest size. After talking my way past their embarrassed lookouts (easing their discomfort with a few extra goblin fruit I keep for such occasions), their leader insisted that I accept the wisdom of their "seer". Imagine my surprise when, after ducking into a six-sided pavilion tent, I found myself facing a pasty-faced Wizened in a lab coat, manipulating what could only be an actual Babbage Engine.

The somewhat androgynous person turned from the machine to face me, adjusting the lenses on his (her?) goggles. "Come to consult the machine?" she (he?) inquired. The voice gave no clue as to gender; I set the issue aside as irrelevant.

"Your colleagues in the rest of the motley insisted that I speak with you," I said.

The "seer" nodded and gestured at a worn Aeron chair. As I settled myself, the seer opened a large, portable bookcase and extracted a bundle of worn, blue-tinted punch-cards tied with what looked like magnetic tape. The seer untied the cards and presented them to me in the usual manner for Tarot cards. "Meditate on your question. Shuffle the cards, choose three, and hand those to me," were my instructions.

Having made my indecipherable choices, the seer ran them through the Engine and informed me of the results.

"First is the Firewall. Protection, fortification, civility, courtesy, protocol. You're well fortified against the barbarian hordes." It took me a moment's thought to realize that this seer drew upon the symbols of mortal technology. It made a certain amount of sense, given the technological bent to most of the decorations, and definitely piqued my interest for the rest of the reading.

"Next is the Flame War. Two pedants, locked in mortal combat, scorch each other with fiery words. Angry, aggrieved, they wield their righteous furies in rhetorical joust. Insult, invective, profanity - they will stop at nothing until one or the other is humiliated or banished. Quibbling, hair-splitting, dogmatism, nitpicking." I considered whether any of my colleagues or contacts back at my primary Freehold would meet this description and made a few mental notes.

"Last is Encryption, inverted. Beware of subterfuge, ignorance. Things are going on behind your back. Can you afford not to know?" I sighed. My forays into the Hedge and research into oddments were, by and large, meant to keep me out of the idiotic games that the Courts played endlessly. While this particular symbol was hardly unusual for anyone who was involved at all in any Freehold, the fact that it was brought to my attention did not cheer me.

The seer approached a chalkboard and began to scrawl with a singularly noisy piece of yellow chalk. "Jet-set betrayals," the seer said, after a moment's calculations. "Is that a Chateau Margaux you're pouring there, or is it your life's blood? The plusher it gets, the deeper the grave. You may be saved, but you'll have to wash dishes."

I carefully recorded the seer's words in a notebook, then gave my thanks. The rest of the motley thanked me for my visit, offering a few words of advice about the most recent goings-on in the Hedge and the location of a nearby portal back to the mortal world. Perhaps it was time to return to the Freehold for an extended period?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ranting about polls, not politics

Sorry, no oddments this time. I get the feeling that the Hedge itself has paused to sup on all the strangeness that the mortal world is generating during this 24-hour period.

Okay, let’s look past the politics for just a moment and look at these polls. I’m more likely to get a straight answer about Google’s page-rank algorithm, but I want to know who decides how to call each state as on this “board”. Take a look at these cropped screenshots from, taken as quickly together as my fingers could manage.

Frankly, this North Carolina shot strikes me as the most honest of the three. It shows that McCain and Obama are neck-in-neck, with 84% of the precinct results reported. 16% of the precincts remain, and it’s certainly possible that the lads will be scrapping for every one of those precincts.

Here’s one I just don’t understand. It gives Arkansas to McCain, with 55% of the results, as opposed to Obama with 43% of the results. All right so far, but the fact that 29% of the precincts have reported the results doesn’t seem to matter. Pause for a moment and review the previous example, then look at this Arkansas score again, and then explain how these two judgements can be posted on the same page from anyone, let alone on

To be fair, here’s one giving New Mexico to Obama with 56% and McCain with 43%... but only 12% of the precincts have reported! I may not have had stellar success when I was trying to learn statistics, but when 88% of a state’s precincts have not reported their results, exactly how can it be “called” for either side?

And, of course, the one that tops them all. As you can see, California is being handed to Obama with no results at all officially reported! What is going on here?

The math is clearly not on the side of the people running this board.
Unfortunately, publicity and page counts are. I mark this as just one more example of how poorly educated most U.S. citizens seem to be…

Full disclosure: I live somewhere in California. I very much wished to avoid declaring an allegiance to a political party before the election, because I feel that part of the election procedure violates the concept of a "secret ballot". I did vote for Obama, and I'm pleased as punch to have an end to the Republican nightmare in Washington. I'm also pleased to be alive on the day when the United States sheds its last vestigial racism where it really counts: putting an African-American into the White House.

Now, let's see how well Obama follows through on his promises...