This is the (I imagine) last website of Bob Portnell (that's me!). Please find my latest journal notices and useful files from my past and present.
Bob is a technical writer living in Sparks, Nevada. Bob is also a father, husband, nerd, disciple, and some other things. His internet presence beyond this website is not large.
Mail? My nvdaydreamer address in Google's mail service is my basic public contact address.
Facebook? Yeah, I'm back there again. But not using it for much. Find me under my proper first and last name. Invite me to be your friend, and if I know you I'll probably reciprocate. Fill my feed with FB game spam or rude politics, and I'll mute the source and unfollow (or maybe even unfriend) you. That's how I roll.
I've been crazy about dice since I was a toddler watching my grandmother play Yahtzee with friends. (Though compared to other gamers, I'm about average.) I've designed and bought "ideal" sets. I've written many dice-rolling programs. At this point in my life, I'm resolved that less is better. My personal dice set is now four pairs of d6 and d20, each pair in a matching color, for use with my Fake Book (see below). The Fudge/Fate box has ten sets of Fate/Fudge dice. The guest bag has eleven black/red DoubleSixes I bought with Traveller in mind, nine red/gold TFT dice, nine blue/gold TFT dice, five white Illuminati dice, and nearly three dozen d6 in assorted colors from previous collections. In the "back of the closet" are three d20s from the early 1980s including my first hobby die, two d10s in memory of my days with MicroTactix, and two aluminized d6s gifted to me by a daughter. Total of 124. That's not a lot, is it?
Bob's Dice Fake Book
A booklet that shows how to do any common dice roll with true mathematical fidelity using only a d6 and a d20. There are two versions: the printable version is great for printing with booklet settings. The tablet version is great for screen devices of landscape persuasion.
Dicepick Dice Rollers
Speaking of dice rollers, here are these two again. DicepickXR has positive dice on the right; DicepickXL has positive dice on the left. I'll probably write more rollers, as I explore the Python programming language. But these are my last word for the public.
Dicepick Manifesto, Brief Version: I like dice rollers, but I think most of them take us too far away from the physical and mental activities that make rolling real dice such fun. The DicepickXR/XL programs better echo the "real dice" process (or so I believe).
The first RPG I loved, and I'm over the moon to see it back in print and well-supported. Most of my roleplay these days is the solo sort using this game.
TFT: Bob's Option Helper (0.0 MB PDF) — A quick reference making it easier to see the relationships between options and movement in TFT Legacy Edition. Designed to be folded into a two-sided half-page card. (Don't tell anyone, but what I like to do is pick the movement on the initiative step, and then pick a valid action. Sssh!)
TFT: Superhero (0.5 MB PDF) — House rules and design notes for how we played superheroes in the '80s using TFT Classic. Contrary to the article contents, I probably won't revise this for TFT Legacy Edition ... but y'all can figure things out if you want. I've been pretty transparent.
I love Risus so much, I stole ideas from it for EZFudge (below). And I'm (twice) a member of the International Order of Risus, so I can completely testify to its utter grooviness. I've written a few rules tweaks and designed some variant character sheets. They're in the Risusiverse somewhere, along with many other, much cooler, things.
This is part demonstration Fudge build, part game-engine heartbreaker.
Essentials Edition (2.9 MB ZIP of PDFs) — Roleplaying basic rules, with updates to latest popular Fudge practices and revised fight scene rules.
Ultimate Edition — Available on request, but you don't want it. The Essentials edition is better.
It has been suggested here and there from time to time that EZFudge should be given a fantasy setting. I've worked on that for a while and concluded that EZFudge is not suited to supporting an interesting magic system. I recommend Fantasy Fudge, the not-very-heavy fantasy rules included in the free Fudge SRD.
I spent many, many years immersed in GURPS, and I even managed to get published a time or two. Probably my best GURPS work is Final Frontier (0.4 MB PDF), roleplaying rules for the Star Trek universe, rather minimalist by GURPS standards. Final Frontier requires GURPS Lite (3e), a 0.4 MB PDF. "This is the boiled-down 'essence' of GURPS: all the fundamental rules, but not the options and embellishments that often confuse new players." (I have no plans to update this to GURPS Lite 4e.)
A wild and fun take on THE classic game, light, quirky, and flavorful. My twist is The T22 Hack (0.2 MB PDF), a rules hack to make rolling higher always better. Supports any version of TBH including the spanking new Second Edition.
Steffan O'Sullivan's roleplay game to be played outdoors. Here's my house rule to make Sherpa higher-is-better: For unopposed tasks, add the trait to the random number (and modifiers). The total must meet or beat 11. And here's my Character, Reference, and GM scene cards (0.1 MB PDF).
The classic space war game by Marc Miller, now ably published by Steve Jackson Games (and out of print again). I've written an article on the Basics of Space Flight which I hope is useful for the novice interplanetary traveler. One of these days I need to take a day to make the illustrations better.
Steve Jackson Games' card game of the fantasy gaming experience without the pesky roleplaying. I made a (legal-size) playmat! And a long time ago I made the one-page Flowchart. It's dated, but might still help you through the first few games.
Yes, just "stargazing." Maybe someday I'll put more investment into it, but for now I'm content learning and discovering via naked eye or binoculars. I've had two telescopes that didn't get used, so probably no point trying that again.
Being a nerd, I'm overprepared. I haunt weather sites — no point in going out if you can't see more than 10 miles up. I have grab-and-go bag with all my stargazing supplies: binoculars, basic star atlas, dim red flashlight, and a copy of Sky & Telescope's annual guide to sky events, Nightwatch. I don't use electronic tools in the field — I need my night vision! I just do a lot of prep, and here are some of my favorites.
NAVSTARS, my report that tells me where to look. Directions: Unzip the file, but don't open it with the browser yet! First, use a text editor to edit the location and time fields in the source code where indicated. Save, and then view it in the browser.
This is where journal posts will go, when I start to have them.
Fri 11 Oct 2019 — Top of the Stack
When the blogging thing starts all over again …
I love writing short, blog-like posts. Five hundred to a thousand words is a fun length, and I can get some good things said, or maybe interesting things, or maybe just drivel. I'm only human.
But 'blogging,' the activity of creating a weblog, building an audience and a brand, and trying to be important? Doesn't interest me at all. That's why I'm hand-coding this instead of resorting to pro-grade blogging tools.
In this journal will be: news about my life; brief reviews of things I want to review; rare commentary on the issues of the day; revivals of old posts from prior blogs; and whatever else I feel like.
Comments can always be submitted to my Gmail account, but history tells me there's little I do here that people find deserving of comment.
Sun 23 Feb 2020 — Where Have I Been?
A few updates …
The Star Wars Project: Going slowly. I'm trying to get traction on Clone Wars, and suddenly a new season drops. I think I need to look for a tablet stand for the exercise bike.
The Health Project: No progress. Intermittent fasting looks more and more like a good fit, if I can figure out when I'm eating. Do I start with breakfast before work? Breakfast at work?
EZFudge: Well. Months after getting a question about ranged fights, I looked really hard and realized I was not making clear a really vital design choice: one roll per round, made by the player. I'd also neglected to pick up the penalty to evade arrows, bullets, and beams. And then I looked at my character sheets for Final Frontier and noticed they were botched. (Especially Janice Rand, which I had never actually finished. Sorry, Janice! I hope you approve now.) All of that took fixing, since my software tools today don't match my tools from two years ago. But it's fixed now. I hope.
College: Not me, the youngest. College tour season is in full swing. She's seen one of her final five, and we're going to hit two more during spring break. Whee!
Sun 26 Jan 2020 — Pocket Boxing
In which Bob recalls two games and reports news …
Belated acknowledgement to friends and family who have or had birthdays in January. You know who you are or were.
My 2019 Reproduction edition of the Pocket Box edition of The Awful Green Things from Outer Space (hereinafter AGT) arrived. This was a Kickstarter from last spring, mildly delayed by production issues. It's still very fine. The new counters are great, and the rest is just as it should be. The publisher might have a few more of these in their online store come March. Or might not. I am not prescient. This is another of those "I only played it once but I loved it" games.
There are now 2019 Reproduction editions of Car Wars (first edition) in the world now, too. I was given a used copy of the original first edition, but never played it. Three more editions went by, but I didn't buy them. Fifth Edition stripped back to the basics and changed the scale. I bought many of the Starter Sets, but didn't play them. Sixth Edition has just funded on Kickstarter (bit of an understatement), and it looks nice but I won't be playing it either. I think this is all down to my feebleness at duel games plus my lack of patience with fiddly bits. I keep thinking about getting Mini Car Wars or Car Wars Classic (fourth edition, intermediate volume of rules between first ed. and fourth edition Compendium). Then the urge passes.
In the health news, I've been about as diligent as usual with the 20K resolutions, which is to say not at all. But I've realized my blood pressure is up and it's staying there, meaning my health risks are much higher than I thought and I really need to act on this.
In the reading news, my Bible reading plan is ticking along. I have read the three Middle Kingdoms novels by Diane Duane, and am moving into Harry Harrison's memoir. I checked out a book on the physics of sci-fi and fantasy, but was alas the prose was what a physics professor thought popular writing is like. Quite a disappointment.
In the Star Wars project, I watched episode I, watched most of episode II … again fast-forwarding through much of the "romance" bits. Oh, that dialogue. The Clone Wars pilot movie was reasonably fun. I am up to episode four in the series ... a long way to go and I'm not sure I'm liking it. Still. This is the road I've chosen.
Wed 15 Jan 2020 — This is Madness
Slowly digested over a thousand years …
The project begins. I subscribed to Disney+ with intent to catch up on the Star Wars and Marvel media libraries. Today I've started in the galaxy far far away … and I'm going chronologically. And horrifying as that seems, that means Episode I.
Actually, I'm having fun so far. It's just about "Summon Bigger Fish" time … I was pleased to hear Newman's "Fox Fanfare with CinemaScope Extension" … and the captioning is very very good.
Sat 11 Jan 2020 — Odometer Rollover
Reflections and resolutions abound …
A new year is upon us. Today is my 19,999th day. Both are causes for reflection and resolution. Here are a few fruits of that labor.
I often think how much I'd like a monastic lifestyle, and I try to make a personal schedule that echoes the Daily Office, or the Hours of the Church, or whatever your particular branch of the tree calls it. I have since realized it's impossible. I'm not a monk, I'm a working dude with a family firmly in the world. Anything I try to do to improve my life is going to have to fit into that ... not supplant it, not be supplanted by it.
What I really want is a discipline, a routine to cling to against the sciroccos of chaos that is my environment. In defiance of all the "small steps over time"/"one thing" crew, I will make all of the changes below starting tomorrow, Sun 12 Jan 2020, my 20,000th day of life.
As a side note: to support these changes, I have acquired the cheapest 10" Android tablet I could lay hands on. It's not fast or furious, but that's okay — it's an opportunity to practice more patience. And it's SO much nicer to read on or edit with than the phone. I revived my Logitech K480 Bluetooth keyboard, which also requires a certain flavor of patience but it works.
For spiritual me, daily Bible reading and more prayer. I've got reading plans and my Olive Tree bible study app and I'm not afraid to use them. In fact, I started this discipline yesterday. To strive for: patience, gentleness, and kindness … but any or all of the fruits would be welcome, really.
For mental me, more reading and games. The tablet makes this easy to approach. I started Diane Duane's Middle Kingdoms novels today. The TFT Helper app isn't optimized for my device or accessibiity settings, but it's cute. Hello, Ticket To Ride my old friend. And new games, too, surely.
For physical me, part one: exercise. Wake up is 5:15, do a few self-care chores, nudge the water heater if necessary, and then 30 minutes of activity, mostly calisthenics, bodyweight resistance, and walking or exercise bike. That's the start, and that's the minimum. After a few weeks, I'll add some evening cardio.
For physical me, part two: food. The evidence is building that intermittent fasting is good. So I will only eat between 7:00 AM and … 3:00 or 5:00 PM, I haven't worked out which. (Funny about the evidence on eating earlier in the day being better, that was known anecdotally at the Cooper Clinic back in the 1990s. It's all coming together.)
For creative and student me: I haven't decided yet. Possibly a daily post, plus get serious about learning some ASL. For work me, a new work-only backpack to keep firm boundaries between my employer's needs and my own.
Join me tomorrow for day 20K, won't you?
Thu 19 Dec 2019 — A Random Mess
In which Bob just starts writing and sees what happens …
First thought: I'm pretty happy with this blog. It takes a little coding to make a post, which I don't mind. And I don't have to feel guilty about not having tags or hotlinks or other organizers.
Second thought: I have checked out a Python book from the library. I'm going to see what I can trick a NumWorks emulator into doing. Probably something like DicePickXR/XL.
Third thought: There are many games I love but I'm totally useless at playing them. It's hard to remind myself not to buy that, or that, or even that because ulimately they will not be played. Car Wars comes to mind here. The current Kickstarter program (hands tried to type "pogrom", which is interesting) for Sixth Edition is easy for me to resist, as it's out of my price range. "But what about the classic reprint," I whisper to myself. Then I think, and look, and I ponder at the 64-page rulebook … and all the counters and tokens and then the urge passes away.
Fri 13 Dec 2019 — Bye, O'Rhythm
In which Bob plays with numbers and mocks the hive mind …
I think I first met biorhythms in a paperback book my mom had. She was always interested in things like that. I became fond of them when they were presented in The Great International Math on Keys book that came with my TI-30 calculator. Biorhythms are for me a fun math game in which I put no particular stock. Like horoscopes (except astrology math I stay away from).
While browsing the Wikipedia entry, I came across the following which says more than I can. First quote:
Each of these cycles varies between high and low extremes sinusoidally, with days where the cycle crosses the zero line described as "critical days" of greater risk or uncertainty.
Later … a whole TWO SENTENCES LATER … this:
The numbers from +100% (maximum) to -100% (minimum) indicate where on each cycle the rhythms are on a particular day. In general, a rhythm at 0% is crossing the midpoint and is thought to have no real impact on your life …
… and I just couldn't not post that here.
Thu 12 Dec 2019 — Calculating Ways
In which Bob goes nerdy on old tech …
Being a teen in the 1980s, I think pocket calculators are cool. In fact, I think pocket calculators are way cooler than digital watches. My first calculator worthy of the name was a TI-30. Then I moved to a TI-35 (statistics!). Those saw me through high school. For my college math, I had a Sharp programmable in Radio Shack trade dress. There was a bit of a lull in calculator land for a decade or two until I had to help my wife get through her college maths. That's when the TI-8x series came into our lives and I got to play with the TI-82 and TI-83 Plus. After wife was done, there was another decade lull before the younger daughter, aka The Gifted One, had need of TI calculators. She has a TI-84 Plus CE in Lightning blue, and used a TI Nspire CX for a year which she liked better for stats.
My dear friend Gary also likes calculators. His like is focused on the Hewlett-Packard (HP) products, and he has a very nice collection of them.
Some observations here: HP and TI both created calculators with intent of reaching professional users: scientists, engineers, etc. The education market was a secondary thing. When desktop computing supplanted pocket calculators, HP's interest faded away. TI doubled down on education, managing to get the use of their product into textbooks and curricula for colleges and high schools. And with that market lock, TI has been able to keep their product price silly-high.
I wasn't paying attention when NumWorks hit the scene in 2017. I learned about it this fall and I am very, very fond of it. NumWorks is a programmable graphing scientific calculator aimed for the high school market, it's completely open source, and it's only 2/3 the price of a TI Nspire. It has become my favorite calculator-at-hand, since the software is also ported for a browser app and for smartphones. Same code, different case, you might say.
I saw many complaints that NumWorks is nowhere near as functional as the TI Nspire, TI-84s or HP Prime. The complaints miss the point. Remember when I said the TIs and HPs were designed for professionals? The NumWorks is designed for students. It nicely supports what students do in high school classes. Complaints about the version of Python in the calculator (!) go into the same bucket. It doesn't need to be the replacement everyone wishes existed -- it does what it does, well. I like it fine.
I do wish it were cheaper. NumWorks falls between the high end and the low end (Casio's graphing calcs) for price. But it's not like they have HP or TI or Casio resources to force the benefits of large scale. I'll buy one, probably sometime next year.
Sat 30 Nov 2019 — Logocycles
In which Bob learns, albeit slowly …
I've grumbled in recent posts about my tendency to revisit old problems, analyze them yet again, and more often than not come to an unchanged conclusion. After reflection, I think I can say there is some value in it, in that when I remember it all, I can be confident that I've done the homework, it adds up, and the answer is the right one for me. So it's a tiny bit of psychic security.
Also, sometimes I catch news that I'd missed that can be important to me. For instance, English Bibles (not Bibles from England, but Bibles in the English language, although I do have two here in the former sense). I like scholar Daniel B. Wallace's opinions on what Bibles a believer should have. Summed up: Have an Authorized ("King James") Version, for its beauty and historical importance; and also have a translation that's readable, a translation that's accurate, and a translation that's elegant. In my library, the elegance is covered by the Revised English Bible, the readability by the Common English Bible, and the accuracy by the New English Translation (NET). (I also have a New Revised Standard Version, as it's the long-preferred translation for academic use.) (And we have at least four other translations in the house as well, plus others I have in electronic form via the Olive Tree Bible Study app to which I've been connected since my Palm PDA days.)
But the news I'd missed was that at long last the NET Bible had found a mass market publishing partner, the Thomas Nelson imprint of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. So now there are muliple print formats, including large print which makes my middle-aged eyes happier and economy versions that make my wallet happier. Oh, and Olive Tree is part of HCCP, so electronic versions too.
(You can probably infer things about my beliefs from my Bible translation preferences. And you could easily be correct.)
You might be wondering "What about <insert translation here>?" And I would say, "I'm sure that's fine. I probably have a copy of that somewhere. But these are the ones that speak to me such that I keep copies with me always (i.e., in my cloud drive and on my reader device)." The Word doesn't need me to specify how it should speak to you.
Mon 18 Nov 2019 — Echoes and Reverberations
I don't remember Memory Land being this round …
As I've been window-shopping (screen windows count) for the tablet mentioned in the previous post, I remembered that I've done this same assessment of my tech needs twice before in this decade, and with mostly similar results. Both times, a primary motive was to get stuff off my phone and let the phone focus on the really mobile activities (phone, messsaging, GPS, audio, stuff for emergencies). The other device would be something I can do light editing, reading, web stuff, and media viewing on.
In 2011, the solution for browsing, productivity, and media was a Nexus 7 tablet. I dug this tablet very much, but the screen wasn't much larger than my phone. Plus I had issues with the limited memory in the version I bought. So I passed it on to a new home. In 2015 or so I bought a 10.1" 2-in-1 tablet on the theory that it would become my personal activity machine, and I'd get out of the desktops altogether. That didn't work, mainly because the OS would update monthly and consume all available memory.
What is different now is that I do most things in a browser, with apps connected to cloud storage. (Hey, I've been paying for this cloud for years … might as well use it.) For Windows, I run a portable version of that browser on a stick. I use the store versions of it on MacOS and Android. Working well so far.
I'm back to thinking that 10.1" is the right size, comfortably between my 5" phone and 14" laptop, for my budget and the activities. The winner is … the Nook Tablet 10. Eventually.
Sat 09 Nov 2019 — Round the Whirl'd in 80 GHz
In which Bob looks yet again at his use of tech …
Tech is everywhere and it's cheaper all the time. And my needs and wants likewise change over time. Every couple years or so, I find myself heading down a rabbit hole of overanalysis and there's nothing to do but ride it out and see where it takes me and if I learn anything. Welcome to the 2019 edition.
Fitbit? Not wearing any more, didn't make me feel motivated or tell me anything I didn't already know about myself.
Watch? I keep fending off impulses to put my Casio hunting watch back into service. Sun and moon rise and set times were cool, but they're as easily found online or with a phone app. So, no.
Last time I did this dance, I settled on having documents or web browsers on the laptops at work or at home, and keeping my smartphone just for interesting things I do on the go ... listening to music or podcasts, for instance. Oh, and taking phone calls and messages. Two things have happened since. I don't really have a home PC, so I've been doing more and more document handling on the phone. Also, I do my e-mail through the browser. And for both of those things the phone has been terrible.
I'm just about resolved that I need a tablet again, to have a larger screen factor to handle my reading, browsing, and e-mail. I had a Nexus 7 back when, and also a 10" 2-in-1. I think 8" or 9" would be right for what I have in mind. And I think Android would be fine, since the phone has that. But of course, few manufacturers are doing Android tablets any more, and I'm stuck with either more expensive than I want, or less reliable.
Alternatives? 7" would be fine, I guess. I don't think I want to go to 10" … I found that big for a tablet but too small for typing. With Black Friday coming, there may be a deal to be had somewhere.
So, the idea sits and gels.
Sat 02 Nov 2019 — Over My Shoulder: The Dice Fake Book
In which Bob answers the question "What were you thinking!?" …
In the early 2000s I had this notion: If you're going to use d20 for all actions, why not use it for all results as well? My solution, being under the sway of the PlainLabel Game System at that time, was to make lots of itty tables. The tables I made did deliver the average values correctly, but they did not deliver correctly equal weights for each outcome. Bad. (Interestingly, this math heresy appeared in the final edition of d20 Weekly … and another math heresy to make all GURPS rolls higher-is-better appeared in the final edition of Pyramid vol. 2. Oh, and for the record, I think the Blue Rose method of effect checks is a much, much better solution to the "use only d20" problem. Schooled by Steve Kenson again.)
In reflections this year on how to reproduce the "0 to 9 twice" dice of days long gone, I decided the solution was a d6 with the d20. And in a trice I saw this was the solution for just about any common gaming dice roll, and even a bunch of uncommon rolls. I resolved to share this amazing insight with the world.
It was first necessary to decide which dice needed emulating. I wanted the usuals, of course, but I also wanted to be sure I covered the wacky dice used in the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. One wrinkle was how to handle the d7. Then I made the tables. Then it was time to write and layout the document.
First attempts came to six digest-size pages, digest-size being the natural habitat of RPGs. I wanted eight pages for easy booklet printing. What could I add? Fudge/Fate dice came to mind, naturally. There are 81 outcomes for Fudge dice. That's very conveniently close to 20 times 4. So I made a Fudge table that, true, wasn't an exact emulation but was very, very good. What's another common roll? Well, 4d6 keep the highest 3 ... or 4d6, drop the lowest one, if you prefer. The attribute roll for D&D. Hmm. 1296 possibilities. A 2d20 table would be too big. A d6 and d20 table ... 120 outcomes? Factor of ten? Good enough.
The battle of layout began in earnest. Most of my side jokes slipped away. The introduction shrank. But the disclaimer grew. What was I to do with that? Then I realized the disclaimer should be in really small type. That saved my disclaimer snark and the pagination.
A fake book in music is sheet music with just the melody notes and a chord notation. The experienced player is expected to be able to elaborate well based on that beginning. So it is with my dice fake book. Starting with a d6 and a d20 only, the experienced player can generate any roll they need. Two of each is better, of course, and better still if they are in differing colors. My (non-Fudge) dice bag is now exactly 8 dice, four sets of d6 and d20, each in a specific color.
And that's how that happened.
Fri 01 Nov 2019 — Propulsion
In which Bob reports on the battle with inertia
Wow. The gap between posts here makes it clear that while I was willing to do the work to set up a blog page, I still do not necessarily know what I want to do with it.
I have started several 'where am I now?' posts, but I've done so many of those and there's nothing new there. I'm still stalled on just about everything I want to do vs. everything I have to do. Any time I think I'm lined up to start making progress on something, a new factor enters the picture and I'm dumped right back into stasis.
I did finally break down and buy the big Fantasy Trip box. There was an unexpected windfall and there was only one left in Warehouse 23 — a situation guaranteed to have me clicking 'buy'. Now that I've bought in, I will probably pick up the other set of Megahexes and maybe some more counters. The extra copies of games may end up with youngest daughter, who I think is having a good time as DM.
With the demise of Yahoo! Groups and the reduction-in-force at Cumberland Games, I have been lacking my dose of S. John Ross's genial wackiness. But it turns out he's focusing that energy into small doses on the Twit-thing. It's tempting to go back just to hear him and the conversations with other folks we both know and like. But Twitter ... guh. No. I can't. I'll just peer in wistfully from the web every now and again. We'll always have PyraMOO.
In my Kickstarter impulse buys, the Big Eyes, Small Mouth material is nice. I'm curious to see the Fourth Edition. A version of Champions Now was turned out. I'm disappointed, and that's all I'll say about it here. Over at Bundle of Holding, that Catalyst games bundle was a happy-making haul. And here comes The Magical Land of Yeld, based on the Modest Medusa comic (or vice-versa).
And here I am again, just blathering about games. Maybe it's 'cause I don't have or won't take permission to write much about the other things going in my life. Maybe it's 'cause I love games and always have, and RPGs have just been deeply important to me (along with the people I played with).