Category Archives: Bloggery

My general blog entries.

First Days With My BAHA

A couple months ago I had my surgery for a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA for short). Here’s my post-op photo.

Soon after I got my healing pouch thing removed, revealing the titanium stud (on medical paperwork it’s called an “abutment”). You can see it here with my old hearing aid.

I had to wait six more weeks to let that heal, but earlier this week I finally got my BAHA!

A few people have already been asking me how things are with it. I wanted to wear it for a few days before I wrote up my thoughts comparing it to my old over-the-ear (OTE) hearing aids. If you’re curious, the device is the Ponto 3 SuperPower.

The BAHA and Streamer

First, I want to talk about the BAHA itself. Like my old hearing aids, this comes with a “streamer” that hangs around my neck (although I can get a belt clip for it, should I desire). This allows me to sync Bluetooth devices like my phone to my hearing aid — my OTE aids could do this, too. The streamer also has a mic in the top, so I can take phone calls without putting the phone to my ear, as long as the streamer is visible.

The first big new thing is that I now have an aux jack in my streamer, which means I can connect directly to devices with the right port (with the cord, which was included). I was able to plug into my headphone port on my laptop and take a Skype call, and I can also plug into my recording microphone, and it all goes right to my BAHA. So I can pack up my huge, chunky headset I needed for video conferences!

A change from my old streamer is that I have to intentionally push an input button to get audio from my phone that isn’t a phone call (calls go right through automatically, which is a nice touch). It does mean that I have to intentionally switch to listen to podcasts or audiobooks on my BAHA, but it also means I don’t have all the random beeps and notifications from my phone going to my hearing aids. With my old hearing aids, it was really fucking annoying when I’m trying to have a conversation with someone and I keep hearing beeps in my ears because someone decided to send me a barrage of Facebook or Skype IMs.

What the BAHA, phone calls will always go through, which is the use case I need, but everything else only goes through if I tell it to. As such, it’s the best of both possible worlds. (Also, because it’s not sending me literally every noise, my streamer doesn’t need to be charged nearly as often — moderate use all day only dropped my battery to 60%.)

Finally, the BAHA uses different (larger) batteries, but I only have one hearing aid instead of two. So I suspect I’ll be buying batteries much less often.

Daily Use

So what does all that mean to my day-to-day life so far? Things are definitely louder, particularly background noise (which I didn’t pick up previously). I can now hear things like people’s conversations nearby me, fans, and even people yelling outside our house. I was worried that it would be harder to hear in restaurants as a result, but we went out to eat last night and it was actually slightly easier to understand people. Further, my family pointed out that I wasn’t speaking as loudly as I usually do in such environments.

One of the big things I’m getting used to is that I don’t have something in my ears, so I’m hearing with my ears and my BAHA. That means that most everything has a slight echo to it, particularly in small, quiet spaces. Luckily, it’s something I’m already getting used to.

Everything right now sounds very flat, like a monotone track. Originally I suspected this might happen, because… well, one device instead of two, so all my audio is going in only one way. But during my hearing test I was able to “hear” sounds on the left and the right, and apparently that’s an intentional design. The BAHA actually vibrates my skulls in different ways to give some left/right differentiation. So, I think it’s more that I have to get used to getting sound this way. That said, now that I don’t have anything in my ears, I can actually use headphones if I want to hear stereo audio — I just have to turn them up really loud. And since it’s not going through my device, I still hear everything around me (or I can mute my BAHA if I want).

There are some downsides, but they’re minor. For one, the BAHA doesn’t just snap on, but rather you have to put one side of the abutment into the BAHA, and then rock it over — think of it like the button on button-fly jeans, but backwards (the “button” is stable while the “fly” is mobile). This means it has some flex on the stud, which isn’t necessarily bad. But I’ve discovered if I bump it in a certain way, the BAHA will pop right off. It came with a little clip I can thread through it and attach to my shirt, so if I’m in an environment where I can anticipate that, I’m covered. I’ll probably do that when I go on bike rides, for example.

The other problem is more specific to me. In the pictures, you can see I have long, thick hair. And the hair covers the BAHA, without any loss in sound quality. But my hair brushes across the mics, so I hear rustling every time I move my head, which I got irritated with after a day.

On a lark I booked an appointment with a local hair salon, and the stylist I got has a boyfriend who is a barber, and his client has a BAHA, so she had the chance to talk things over with him and come up with some solutions! I just got home from there, and right now I have an undercut, but my hair is still long — we’re hoping that the hair will fall just over the BAHA and stop the rustling. But if that doesn’t work (and already I suspect it won’t), she’ll give me a shorter haircut so my hair doesn’t go anywhere near the BAHA. If nothing else, putting my hair in a ponytail right now keeps it well wait from the BAHA, which is certainly a start. But I may have to make more friends with hair stylists.

A lot of that is just adapting to live with a BAHA, though. Already I’m really happy and excited that I got this. It was a long wait and lot of arguing with insurance, but in the end it was definitely worth it.

Disability and cyberpunk

Earlier this week I got a hole in my head. And I couldn’t be happier.

Taken in the recovery room of the hospital, hence the lovely iodine tan I have here.

See, for a year I’ve been fighting with my insurance to sort out coverage to get a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA). I get chronic ear infections due to my current over-the-ear hearing aids, so this is the best solution. I finally got the green light earlier this month, and Monday the procedure was done. I spent a couple of days resting and napping, and now I’m active but still healing. I should get to use the actual device in a few weeks.

Naturally, most of my friends have been making Shadowrun and Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. jokes, because seriously, putting a titanium stud in your skull so you can stick a Bluetooth-enabled computer to your head is just about the most cyberpunk thing ever. However, by chance, I got back from my surgery to a question from someone asking about disability erasure in cyberpunk fiction. The argument from the asker was that cyberware erases disability, and they want to avoid that. I disagreed. Here’s what I wrote back:

Cyberware is essentially another form of medical aid, like hearing aids, glasses, and prosthetic limbs. But no matter how advanced the prosthetic is, it’s not the same as being abled. For example, [once my BAHA abutment is] healed, I’ll be able to do cool stuff like stream audio to my head so I can listen to podcasts and take phone calls without using headphones! But I also need to keep it clean, keep it out of the rain, and avoid hairdryers. And even with the improvements I’ll get, I won’t have the same abilities as abled people, like being able to tell where a sound is located — the best I can usually sort out is “nothing is obviously causing that sound in front of me, so it must be behind me.” So even though I can hear again, my disability isn’t removed.

So, as long as characters recognize that prosthetics do not create ability (and thus erase disability) but rather create the approximation of ability while bringing new features and challenges, I think you’ll be able to present disabled folks authentically without erasure.

2018 In Review

2018 was… a complicated year.

Pro: Pugmire definitely kicked into high gear this year. The core game launched in late 2017, but this year saw the release of Pan’s Guide, The Secret of Vinsen’s Tomb, Thank You Darcy Cat, and Monarchies of Mau. I also Kickstarted Fetch Quest, licensed a Pugmire comic, kicked off a community content program, built partnerships with RPG streamers, and more. I even set up realmsofpugmire.com just so everything could be compiled into one space.

Con: This was definitely the year of reassessing my online presence. Social media has generally become more hostile to creators, both by the platforms themselves and the people who inhabit them. I’ve lost track of the people I’ve had to help through some form of online attack, and I’ve weathered a few myself. I’m lucky in that generally folks who know me see the bullshit for what it is, but it does mean I’m pulling back a lot more on personal social media, in favor of more professional output.

Pro: The move back from Ireland disrupted things, but now I’m back into the groove. I have one steady client, and I’m putting the finishing touches on a second. I had a few great short-term clients to work with as well. Sadly, one client still hasn’t paid me my final invoice in nearly a year, but that’s one relatively small roadbump. All in all, I’ve changed course and I’m in a good place professionally.

Con: However, recent changes to the healthcare system in the US have made life… difficult for me. I was expected to get a bone-anchored hearing aid earlier in 2018, but struggles with health insurance have made that impossible. I’m lucky that I can use my wife’s insurance, because getting it myself is challenging. I also struggled with another minor medical problem throughout the year that isn’t related to my ears. All in all, none of it stopped me from doing what I needed to do, but I have been low-key meh all year.

Pro: I am (slowly) getting back into being real-world social again. I haven’t been very social for most of 2017 and all of 2018, and that’s for a lot of reasons both personal and logistical. But we’ve moved into Atlanta proper (the Edgewood area, for those that know), I have better access to more things, and a lot of challenges have been either removed or I can get around. Once we get our dining room sorted out, I can be even more social as I start inviting folks over to game.

Con: I still miss Murray. I miss having a dog, honestly. There wasn’t a time in 2018 where that made sense, but 2019 might be the time to get a new fur friend.

Pro: Convention season has been pretty good to me this year. I can’t go to nearly as many shows as people would like, but I continue to be pretty good at choosing which shows will offer me personal or professional value. I already have a few shows targeted for 2019, but I am considering skipping some lynchpin shows and trying new (to me) conventions to try and shake up my network.

So, for 2019, I’m going to try and continue to be more social with people, build on my successes with Pugmire, grow into some new clients while continuing to find others, and maybe get a new dog. What are your plans for 2019?

Learning From The Past: 70s RPG Design

Earlier this year I read the first three volumes of the wonderful Designers and Dragons. The book about the 1980s and 1990s was more nostalgic than anything for me, as that was the time in which I was a fan of RPGs, rather than professionally engaged (my first freelance project was in 2002). But the 1970s was just before my time, so a lot of that era was relatively new to me. Thanks to DriveThruRPG.com, I was able to look up some of the games mentioned in the volume, and learned a bit about the 70s-era landscape. There were two products in particular that still sit in my brain as I mull things over.

Tunnels & Trolls

A reprint of the very first edition of Tunnels & Trolls.

In a lot of ways, Flying Buffalo is a time capsule. They comfortably have claim to being the longest-running RPG company, and they continue to sell (and preserve) books they made decades ago. And Tunnels & Trolls is the second-ever fantasy RPG, still running strong today. It’s a labor of love that I deeply respect. I learned to respect the game more when I worked on the mobile game port, using a modified version of the fifth edition.

What’s fascinating about T&T is that it presaged a lot of trends that came much later. In particular:

  • Solo play/choose-your-path adventures: Long before Choose Your Own Adventure or Fighting FantasyT&T was selling solo adventures for people to play on their own. You could theoretically play in a regular T&T game with other players, and then bring that character into a solo adventure. And they’re still a popular form of support product for T&T even today.
  • Fast combat: Many gamers think of 70s-era design as having slow, clunky combat. Looking at games like T&T, however, that’s clearly not the case. Each side adds up some numbers as a combat factor, rolls dice, adds everything together, and subtracts the difference from the other person’s Constitution. It’s not too far off from modern “abstracted combat” systems today.
  • Humor: A lot of modern gamers and fantasy enthusiasts don’t realize that there was a rich vein of humor running through fantasy prose and gaming in this time. Dungeons & Dragons hid a lot of it, but other products of the era show it better, including T&T. Spells are an area where this humor has persisted even to modern editions.
A small sample of spells from Version 5 of Tunnels & Trolls.

Empire of the Petal Throne

A reprint of the first edition of Empire of the Petal Throne, originally published by TSR

Coming out in the same year as Tunnels & Trolls (1975), Empire of the Petal Throne was another fantasy game put out by TSR. When the focus shifted to Dungeons & Dragons, the author (Professor M.A.R. Barker) kept control of the game and the world.

Over the years a number of companies have all made attempts to recreate the world of Tékumel, and the Tékumel Foundation has done a great job preserving much of the material from the past 40+ years, but the first edition has a number of eye-opening design decisions that seem at odds with received wisdom of 70s-era design. In many ways, it’s the opposite of Tunnels & Trolls:

  • A detailed science-fantasy world: Not only is Petal Throne different in presented a detailed and complex world compared to T&T’s sparse offering, but it’s also not a “traditional” fantasy world. The early history of the world talks about space explorers landing there and terraforming it, but over at least 25,000 years all that science-fiction technology is mutated into a unique fantasy form. (Surprisingly, I knew very little about Tékumel before I started working on Pugmire!)
  • Removal of good/evil binary: Alignment as presented by D&D as a divide between good and evil and/or law and chaos was a mainstay of many designs to follow, including Tunnels & Trolls. It wasn’t until much later that the idea that characters contain multitudes really started to penetrate into fantasy RPG design (you can find games that don’t involve it, but most of the big fantasy games of the time had some aspect of it). Petal Throne does have “alignment,” but mostly in the sense of which races are friendly, neutral, or hostile to humanity. There’s no mechanic that forces characters or races to be of a particular moral bent.
  • Non-European influence: In the introduction, Professor Barker mentions inspirations from his travels to “India, Pakistan, the Middle and Far East, and to Central America.” Those cultures clearly had an influence, making this a fantasy game not steeped in European inspiration — a recent trend in RPG design today.
An example of Toslyani script, one of the languages of 
Tékumel. Note the hand-written accent marks in the manuscript.

What’s Old Is New Again

Certainly, both of these games have flaws, and elements of them haven’t aged well. Tunnels & Trolls first edition has some strangely fiddly design elements, but is almost too simple. Empire of the Petal Throne first edition retains many of the design flaws of the original Dungeons & Dragons. Both, it can be argued, are not so much “flaws” as an indication that player tastes have changed over the decades. But I was pleasantly surprised that I could still learn some design tricks from some of the original games that inspired and shaped our medium.

Shuffled Art

I’ve thought a lot about reader-ordered interpretation. I just finished “Building Stories” by Chris Ware, primarily because it’s clear that Aja intentionally emulated Ware in his run of Hawkeye. But something else came from it.
 
See, “Building Stories” isn’t really a book. It’s a box with 14 different elements inside it, like a poster, a broadsheet, a newspaper, a couple of hardbound volumes, and so on. Even a board as if from a board game. The title is a play on words, as the reader is building the stories from the disparate parts, but also each story revolves around various buildings, in many ways.
 
Which brings be back to Hawkeye, and comics. Because comic issues can (and, increasingly often, are) be shuffled around to present a different story. The official Hawkeye Omnibus, which I’m reading now, shuffles the order quite substantially from the monthly run. What once was a reference in issue #17 becomes foreshadowing when it’s read after issue #6. Even inside the issues Fraction plays with time that evokes Ware.
 
Comic books/graphic novels aren’t the only form of this, however. It’s almost a rite of passage as a fan of “The Prisoner” to develop a preferred viewing order. Many Star Wars fans found some redemption of the prequels by watching them in “Machete Order.” There’s even a card game called “Joking Hazard” which is based around literally shuffling comic panels and making a sensible strip out of the results. And video games like “Guardians of the Galaxy – The Telltale Series” get some value out of playing scenes over again to give new context to them.
I find it fascinating — the ultimate result of democratizing art. Over time art has moved out of the hands of an elite few (or the elite patrons of those artists), to the point where an artist can find an audience just about anywhere. And now, more art is coming out where the audience has control over the experience. It’s easy to talk about interactivity when it comes to games, but even “static” art like graphic novels and television shows can be interactive, in the right circumstances.

March Update

February has been one of those months where a lot of awesome things happened, but there’s not much I can share. But still, I’ll update what I can!

Pugsteady

One truism about the freelance lifestyle is that things are rarely steady. Granted, I got spoiled for close to a year, but last month I was hitting a bit of a drought. Now I’m back on top of things, and some of the upcoming opportunities might even turn into actual working-as-an-employee-to-another-company work! It helps that I have some really great friends with the means and opportunity to get me involved in some amazing projects. On top of it all, I’m going through a life change that’s exciting and scary. It’s all hush-hush at the moment, and there’s certainly still a lot of Pugmire stuff on my plate, but potentially some very cool things are happening!

Pugmire

The Kickstarter backer PDF went out, and I got some great errata. It turns out I was nervous for nothing — everyone seems to be really enjoying it, and the errata were relatively minor.

Monarchies of Mau Early Access manuscript went to layout and art direction, so we’re in the midst of discussing cat art and look. Now that the text of the book is locked down, we’re also moving on ancillary products, like dice, Guide screens, and cards. It’s great to see progress!

What Do You Want To Hear About?

That’s honestly all I can talk about at the moment, but hopefully I can discuss more next month, since some things are on the cusp of being out there to discuss! Is there something in particular you want to hear about? Leave a comment or use my contact form, and I’ll consider it for my next post!

Red Shoelaces

I was born in 1974 in a poor city in northern Ohio. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to regale you with my whole life story. But circumstance and environment shape perspective, so I ask for your indulgence). My developmental years fall in the 1980s and early 1990s. It featured concerns (and the eventual decline) of nuclear fear, the Cold War, and the twin god-emperors of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. I was angry and attracted to rebellion, but I was a hearing impaired, socially awkward nerd without access to nightclubs or musical friends. As a result, I wasn’t shaped by one musical movement, so I sampled from anything I could find. I listened to heavy metal and hardcore hip-hop before finding inspiration from bootleg punk cassettes. The rough lyrics and basic chords tunneled through my thick hearing and seared my heart.

When I went to college and got access to real subcultures, I dyed my hair sea-foam green in time for punk to evolve away from me. All my friends wore black, Victorian clothes, which appealed to my secret love of the literature but made me feel awkward and ugly. I grew to love Vampire: The Masquerade and became part of a massive live-action game on the campus of the University of Akron. But even then, the Brujah and the Anarchs spoke to me, the last gasp of old-school punk in a growing crowd of pale and sexy people.

As I embraced my outdated aesthetic, I clung to Vampire‘s self-applied model of Gothic-Punk, and saw punk all around me. Again, I lived in Ohio, which did not have a thriving underground scene (or at least, not one I was invited to), but the media I consumed filled the void. Judge Dredd comics and Doctor Who episodes smuggled from friends in the UK. Hellblazer comics bought when I could afford them. Games of Cyberpunk and Kult played when we could find time. I sought out anything that felt punk to me.

And that’s when I met my first neo-Nazi, around 1994. And he terrified me. I remember swastikas tattooed all over his head, and the red shoelaces on his boots. In fact, he’s the one who explained the red shoelaces to me. It was a badge of pride, which became a warning as I refused to speak out against my friends of the “mongrel races.” If I ever saw anyone with red shoelaces, he explained, that person would hurt me as a traitor to my race. He told me to reconsider.

I was scared and angry, and in my head, I wanted to punch him back, punch him first, do something to get him to stop saying such horrible things. What I did was shake my head, refusing his bile, and then I hurried away. My whole body shook uncontrollably as I called the police and babbled incoherently before hanging up. I stayed to clubs and houses that firmly excluded neo-Nazis, and a few times I was the person who acted as lookout while my friends threw the punches I never had the nerve to throw.

After that, I had bigger concerns: I flunked out of college and looked for a job to pay for rent in a barely furnished house. But I let my hair grow out, ditched my leather jacket, and steered clear of people with red shoelaces in their boots. All my punk trappings became a costume for my character, not a part of me anymore, because I betrayed them. I had my first chance to throw a punch against tyranny, and I had failed.

Fast-forward to the 21st century. Over the years I’ve reincorporated bits of my old punk persona back into my life. As I gain more experience and access things on the Internet I never saw before, I’ve come to understand what I was actually chasing. I became an archaeologist of my youth, uncovering the connections and threads that got lost in fear and awkward Midwestern understanding. I discovered that while I had used the word “punk” as a hammer for every nail of “thing that spoke to me,” I wasn’t entirely off-base. If I had closer contacts to groups like the straight edge movement or antifa punks, I probably would have had a clearer path, and a better outlet for the anger and terror of my youth. When I got a chance to work on Vampire, I channeled that old-school punk voice because I felt it was lost under the polished, darkly erotic surface. I dropped “punk” as an exclusive term in describing myself, and instead made it part of my personal gestalt.

In recent months, I’ve been reminded of those formative years again. It felt like a second chance for me to reclaim discarded punk mantle and vindicate my past self-treachery. Neo-nazis weren’t something from World War II; they were a terror from my past, an evil I could slay now that I was older and wiser. Surely, I could finally punch a Nazi.

I learned that an alt-right rally was scheduled to take place less than an hour from my house, and I was filled with an old, familiar terror. I found myself glancing at a stranger’s boots once, checking his shoelaces.  I didn’t know what to do, and social media shouted about punching Nazis and not punching Nazis. I never had much of a punk scene in my life, so I went back to the scene I had constructed for myself: the TV shows and comics and books that influenced me.

I started from first principles, and I discovered all the things I ham-fistededly collated as part of the same movement had two things in common. They all had a sense of humor and a lingering sense that everything would work out in the end. The anger and violence (both physical and social) was there, but they could be directed to a purpose. The Doctor didn’t use violence, but he still stood up against fascists, angrily pointing out how ludicrous they were. John Constantine was an asshole, but he was an asshole that used his brain. As I move outside the punk sphere, most of my heroes used intelligence and conversation as much or more than violence: Sherlock Holmes, the Fantastic Four, Captain Kirk, Ford Prefect, and so on. While I had obsessed over the trappings, I had missed the result that not everyone who fought racists and fascism used a fist and a broken bottle. Some people rebelled through a loud scream, an angry satire, or a damning put-down, and not all conversation is about conciliation. In the end, I would never be Sid Vicious, but I could be Tom Baker’s Doctor. (Or, to steal the language of Vampire, I wasn’t a Potence Brujah, but I could be a Presence Brujah.)

My life is now based around words. They’re my weapons, my shield, my livelihood, and my obsession. Sometimes I tell my own stories, and sometimes I help others tell stories to each other, but this is who I am and what I do. Just because my hands shake from fear and adrenaline doesn’t mean I won’t stand up against what I think is wrong. Some days my words are careful and considered, and others they’re a jumbled mess of passion and anger. I know now that I didn’t fail when I refused to punch that neo-Nazi; I had succeeded when I refused to bow to his hateful rhetoric. I didn’t punch someone in the face, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t stand and fight. And now I know that not everyone with red shoelaces is going to hurt me.