As I looked carefully at the beautiful porcelain pumpkins inside the card shop, on the cell phone I told him he was the scum of the earth. The colors on the pumpkins were subtle and gorgeous – orange can be offensive and embarrassingly tacky sometimes, but this one was not. “She thinks you are the scum of the earth and she always will”. I said about my sister who asked me some rather direct questions about my relationship with this married man while shopping in the new super-mall north of the city. “I fielded the questions pretty well – but I just hate lying to my sister.”

He defended that there are alternative explanations – and following your heart can bring you to some wrong places. Yes, it is wrong for us to be in this secret place together – the place following our hearts brought us to. I looked at a beautiful purple and orange vase – both colors I usually like least, but the artist crafted them to look stunning – making a perfect reflection in the fall sunlight. Everything got fuzzy for a while as we kept talking but I didn’t cry. I went to the coffee shop to build some blue marketing collateral for a school project in Illustrator.

“If you leave my life I will miss you,” he said gently when I got home – and I was lying in my bed looking at my white ceiling. We talked about my sister – and how protective she is of me. A few years back we didn’t talk for a year because she was so upset that I went back to my old boyfriend – even though he had a very bad temper. “I loved him and I did not want to leave him just because he had a fault. I had so many faults but he never stopped caring for me. Plus we had a lot of great times together.” But, his bad temper was a deal-breaker when it got physical – and one day I had to pile everything I had into a rental car and leave.

My sister was right with her black and white morality and my rainbow gradation morality seemed like a frill and not practical for real life. My sister thought I was crazy to have anything to do with my old boyfriend – but it was actually a nice part of me that cared for him so much – and truly believed he would change as he tried so hard to do.

Again – in the super-mall I was defending someone that I care for. Just a few days before I met him in his room while he was at a conference in a nice old hotel not far from where I live. I looked out the window at the bright green trees – he walked up to me, gathered me into his arms, brought me to his bed and we made love intensely while he fed me chocolate. Then we relaxed, I looked in his green eyes as we talked and joked while lying so closely together on the white sheets – holding hands. Not like the banker my sister set me up with – who watched The Gladiator as we had sex after drinks at a sports bar one night. He complained that I kept positioning myself wrongly for him – that I must have been used to someone taller.

What people say does not change my feelings for you.

I wrote to him.

I am four months away from finishing my MBA, I am moving into a new career, I am taking many things less seriously, I am learning new lessons: Love is never bad even if it is misguided. Love is a two-way street by definition – otherwise it is infatuation - if you think you have one-way love you are wrong. Bad things still happen – even when you try to be as good a person as possible. If no one knows, no one gets hurt – except for the people keeping the secret - and they know what they are getting themselves into.

Now I've done it. Clickety-clack go these keystrokes and it appears that I've begun an update to a story that I never truly meant to make public.

And so it goes.

She is all silver-smiles, and silken glances. That should have been my first warning. I should have stayed away. I should have known that I have no strength when it comes to women. I like to pretend it is so. I like to pretend I am a man of honor, integrity... hell, even fuckin' grit in the right situation - but women sap my spirit dry, mainly I believe to quench their thirst. A thirst that I will in no way ever comprehend.

I am not trying to get into her pants.

I already did.

As much as some would believe, we did not sit up at night, flashlights in hand, going over the blueprints of just how we were going to fuck over the people we care about. No, as so often happens in these situations; it just happened.

And now I have a juggernaut of emotions to play with. Fuck it. I juggle them like they are toddler-plush-toys. This is my life, and it's happening one moment at a time.

We played for one moment. We smiled, we danced, we traded beliefs on this and that chorus - whether indie has played itself into the ground, and what the next big-sound would be. We played.

We were foolish and we should have known what would happen next. Her body in my arms, her lips on mine, and her kiss driving all rational thought out of my head. The next step was just a foregone conclusion. But as you can tell, this story is tinged with bitterness and sadness.

I am the asshole.

This girl may be the most amazing, angelic spirit to walk this earth, but she is first my best-friend's ex-girlfriend.

And so it goes.

I make my mistakes and I make them decisively. I don't fuck around with, 'oh, I'm, sorry, was that your parking spot?' No. I am grand in my aggrandizement. One might write a story about it some day, if ever one had the inclination. Boy meets girl. Girl loves boy. Boy has best-friend who would kill him if he ever touched that love. Rip his guts out and display them to the world as pure and righteous justification.

And the world would cheer. Fuckin-Aye.

Caught between a rock and love. And if you, my dear reader, can tell me how to save any part of the situation I'm in, then you would be this era's buddha. Let god sing your praises.

Kids learning social skills, having fun as they go.

These being my personal experiences concerning RPG with children aged 10 to 14. It's not a factual node as such, since I do not back up my own observations with quotes or cite sources beside myself.

I work with children, trying to provide them with sensible rolemodels and interesting activities (after school and before their parents get home from work). The Danish term for my position is pædagog (pedagogue) in a Fritidsklub (activity center for kids aged 10 to 14). Most days the kids are in the "Klub" a couple of hours (typically between 14.00 and 17.00 week days); they play with friends, do homework, use our Internet Café, or "hang out" with us, the pedagogues.

The children I deal with are "ordinary everyday kids". Which means that they are as kind, vicious, loving, thoughtful, and vengeful as most grownups - only more obviously so.

When a lot of people - kids - are more or less forced to interact, conflicts are bound to occur. And it seems to me, after more than ten years as pedagogue, that children are losing the ability to solve conflicts. They get on the cell phone to Mommy or Daddy, expecting them to help. Sadly the parents often think it is their job to solve their children's every minor problem, and the kids are robbed of the opportunity to learn1.

So, how to put kids in situations where they must solve problems and address critical situations, cope with failure and muster courage to try, try again - without the aid of Mommy and Daddy? One answer is: Role playing games!

Starting the fun
I picked out a handful of children I knew had "issues". Some were bullies and some were being bullied. Some always got into fights, apparently over nothing and anything, and some were so well adapted2 it was almost scaring.

I explained the RPG concept to them and asked them if they were interested. "Sure!" A couple of the older boys (12 - 14 yrs) already played Dungeons and Dragons so I put them in one group. Four girls (10 - 11 yrs) went into one group, and five boys (same age as the girls) into another.

I crafted some adventures that would challenge the players ability to cooperate, and I manoeuvered the character creation so I got teams consisting of very different characters. I drew a large map of a continent, and placed all the parties on the same continent although in different countries. And we were ready to go.

Having fun
I started out with these three player groups, but within a month I had two more. Trying to remember five different storylines, a good twenty characters plus companions and non-playing characters... It's not something I would recommend. (I could probably do it with more experienced players, who could remember their own stats and so on, but these players knew nothing, and I, the Gamemaster, had to know everything).

Each group played for a little over an hour (that was the longest time they could concentrate) every two weeks. Since there were five groups it made for a pretty full schedule.

I took the teams through some really good (if I may say so myself) adventures. I made it clear to them that they would die if they did not work together and take advantage of one another's special abilities. I gave them experience points for being accepting and supporting. I killed off a few of them to show I was serious.

And they did indeed get the picture. In the beginning it was very much "me": "When is it my turn?" and "I can kill this ogre (yeah, right!), step aside". Followed by: "Why did I lose so many hit points??" and "Could we have done it, if we had tried together?"3

Then they began to learn. They began asking for - and offering - help, and they learned that the best person for a job is not always or necessarily "me". They saw that acting as a group rather than as four individuals sometimes got them through some pretty nasty situations. They also found that sometimes a hero is just a gutsy, lucky person. Even if it isn't "me".

The great feeling when something turns out right...
This did not happen overnight. But as a year passed the changes became visible, not only in game but in the real world too. The bullies bullied less, and the "too quiet" kids began to speak up. The fights subsided and the older boys stopped taunting the younger ("Hey, we're all gamers, right"), and some of the lonely kids became friends with their fellow-gamers. I wasn't all peaches and cream but it definitely got better.

Even the parents noticed the change4. They told me that their kids entertained the family at home, with updates on the latest events in Erdophal or Arboretia. Some parents (to the younger players) came by and sat, very quietly in a corner, listening in and having a good time. The kids loved it, providing the parent was really quiet and didn't disturb...

RPG is not the solution to big problems5. But when it comes to learning kids some everyday "getting-on-with-your-peers" stuff it is a great tool. It lets the players try and fail under the cover of the character; the weak can be strong and the clumsy can be nimble. And it is a question of positive reinforcement as good behaviour is rewarded with XP and bad behaviour just gets the player nowhere.

Holding the reins
When RPG is used as a tool like described, it is very important that the pedagogue has an agenda. Be it "learning to cooperate", "accepting differences", or just "think, child, think before acting!" Without this premeditated agenda, the game may be good fun - but it may also miss the target: to educate the kids. During the two years these five groups played, the changes to the way they interacted were profound. No, they did not begin to behave like little saints, but they became more conscious of their actions. And that's a big step in a good direction.

  1. The term is Curling-children: children whose parents remove every little obstacle in the their path to make their life totally frictionless.
  2. When children are adjusted to only react to other people's needs to a point where their own needs become secondary - that's scaring!
  3. I know kids don't talk like that. Just get the general idea, ok?
  4. Yes, that was mild sarcasm.
  5. I have played with children who had been diagnosed with ADHD, ADD, and Asperger. But that's quite another story...

It's been unseasonably warm here in the heartland the past couple of days. Usually when the calendar makes its way into September, you don't see the temperature hovering somewhere around 90. I guess it's one of those "in-between" times, too early for an Indian summer and too late for any new blooms to blossom.

Being stuck at home "recuperating" offers up plenty of time to think and to get to play the role of observer. While most of the world is off making a living in one way or another, here I am at home, taking advantage of something called short term disability and lamenting to myself just how bored I am of it all. The clock doesn't seem to want to move and my ambition to do anything other than think of my plight makes me feel selfish. There's a whole world going on all around me.

For instance...

My neighbors are young, maybe 22 or 23. By today's standards, they're young to be married and on their own and even younger to be parents to a little kid who's about one and a half. I gotta give 'em credit though, she's trying to finish up school and he's out there busting his ass at whatever job he can get his hands on to provide for his family. They seem to live in a constant revolving kind of door, when one comes, the other goes. There's always a peck on the cheek at the door and some last minute instructions on how their baby is doing and then it's off to try and form a better life for all of them. When they first moved in, I expected the worst. Loud parties, people coming and going at odd hours, constant bickering and any other stereotypical behavior I could think off immediately planted itself in my mind. I'm happy to say, that once again, I've been proved wrong.

Anway, their schedules being what they are, they don't seem to have the luxury of spending too much time together. Yesterday was different though...

I guess it got to be around four in the afternoon when one of them got home. Normally, this is when the trade off would occur but this time all three of them went outside and filled up one of those kiddie pools. Outside of all of the tatoo's and body piercings, they looked like your typical American family enjoying a sunny afternoon in suburbia with their kid. Giggles and laughter and smiles all around.

Normally, I'd go outside and strike up some conversation about the weather or something else bland and non-threatening but this time I had the feeling that the time belonged to them. I would've felt like an unintentional intruder so instead I peeked through my window and the screened in porch and shadow of some sunflowers and slowly but surely, a smile was brought to my face.

They had traded in the kiddie pool for a sprinkler. They took turns running through it with the baby cradled in their arms and as they reached the end of what qualifies as our shared front lawn, the smiles on their faces were priceless. Then they put the baby down in the middle, probably just to see what she would do when she had the water all to herself.

After sitting there for maybe half a minute or so, she smiled one of those baby smiles. Most of you might know what I'm talking about. It wasn't directed at anyone in particular and you could just manage to see a couple of baby teeth breaking their way up through her gums. Then she raised one of her hands up in the baby style, with her palms upturned and her little fingers outstretched and twisted a little and she looked as if she was trying to catch the droplets as they fell down towards her. The look in her eye was magical.

I think it was the look of discovery.

Everybody seems to notice when the world has gone through drastic changes as a result of such things as natural disasters and wars. The newspapers and the television are there to serve as a constant watchdog and bring those thing into our living rooms. That's their job and it serves a purpose and for the most part, they do it well.

On a personal level, there's been a few too many drastic changes that have marked themselves on my calendar this year. The death of friends and my own health issues have obscured much of what I'd normally try and focus myself on

These days though, it's the more subtle changes that will most likely bring a smile to my face. I just hope I keep noticing them after I make my return to "normal".

Linux: an anecdote with a moral

So I got Red Hat Linux installed and running on a computer yesterday. It's not bad. I used UNIX a lot in college, and I use VMS at work, so it's not too scary or foreign looking. I like the GUI a lot, but there is some fiddling that I still need to do (mouse sensitivity, etc.). I like it, and I think it will become my primary computer. This way, my wife and I can each keep passwords stored on a separate computer, and I'll quit leaving icons on the desktop. I've been looking for a good platform to learn Python and PHP, test Perl scripts, and do other random things anyway.

However, just like everything else, there were some bumps along the way. First, it came with the Mozilla browser. I've got nothing against the Mozilla browser, I just prefer Firefox. Downloading and installing that was no problem. Pinning it to the menu took a little while, but I found a FAQ. What really stumped me was trying to update GAIM. My install CDs are old enough that I had version 0.5.8 (or something close to it) installed. It didn't work. Turns out the recent version is 1.5. Maybe that's why. I downloaded the rpm (first time ever), and tried to install it. "Sorry, I can't do that, Dave." It tells me it can't get an exclusive lock on /usr/var/Packages (or something close to it).

So where do I turn? The Internet, of course! This is where the trouble really started. I found only one message board post when I googled the rpm error. This person was having the same problem that I was. You know what they told him? "Quit installing Red Hat. Install either Mandrake or Debian". Nobody tried to help him at all. Eventually, I decided to try logging in as root. After all, if root can't get an exclusive lock, nobody can. And it worked. All the message board residents had to do was tell him, "you need to either su or log in as root."

So, all you Linux types. If you want more people to try Linux, don't be surprised when we ask questions. It's new to us, and if it can confuse a software engineer familiar with Windows, UNIX, and VMS, what chance does the average Windows-only user stand of getting it all right the first time? Be nice. After all, you'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

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