Archive for July 6th, 2008


And so, another holiday weekend comes to a close, and I face the prospect of going to work in a few hours. Weeee! I wonder what it’s like for people who actually enjoy their day jobs?

Not much happened this weekend, other than picking up some panda cories for my 10g aquarium. They’re cute little guys, less than an inch big, though they’ll eventually grow to just under two inches. I hope they thrive: so far, the japonica shrimp in the tank have been grabbing all the food, for all the world acting like bandit raiders. Hey, guys! Learn to share! Group hug! Big Hug


Assuming all goes well, next weekend (or the next after that), I’ll get another betta to replace the late, lamented Rocky T. Betta. Bettas are neat: just take my word for it. Meanwhile, I’ve got an algae problem that needs tending. At wits end

I’m also coming to the conclusion I’ve become a “holiday depressive.” You know, the kind of person who, as the holiday cheer grows, becomes more and more of a wet blanket? Nice to meet you. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Fourth of July … all the holidays I love lately leave me nearly paralyzed in my apartment in a deep funk. I wonder if this is common to middle-aged bachelors? Either way, it’s not fun.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Time for a bit of reading and then bed. G’night! Peace Sign


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(This is one of several posts I’m saving from my LiveJournal account, which is soon to be deleted. Originally written on October 22, 2004, it describes a future-history roleplaying campaign that I’d love to run someday. It’s based largely on my fondness for 50s science fiction movies and the future as they saw it. Enjoy.)

A while back, I described a couple of RPG campaigns I’ve considered running over the years. I’ve had another in mind, but it’s a bit different from the last two: a future history of humanity, but the future is that seen from 50s science fiction. Right now, I have three stages or phases in mind.

Phase One

Title: “The Aliens Have Hitler’s Brain,” or, “Saturn By 1970!”

Inspirations: “The Thing,” “Earth vs. The Flying Saucers,” “The Day The Earth Stood Still,” “This Island Earth*,” “Project Orion,” and “GURPS: Atomic Horror.” *(Among other glorious movies from that period)

Overview of part A: This campaign would begin with deception. The players would be lead to believe they are playing an espionage game set in early post-war Germany and Austria, and that their opponents are Nazi holdouts and Communist agents. Indeed, early missions would be just that. Soon, however, they would get hints that maybe Der Fuehrer didn’t die in the ruins of Berlin, that he may instead be leading a resistance (that didn’t happen in our world) from a redoubt in the Alps, near where the German, Austrian, and Swiss borders meet. Investigations would reveal two things: the Nazis made a deal late in the war with some “foreign power” (really, the aliens), and that the Soviets are hunting Hitler for their own reasons. This part of the campaign climaxes as the players realize just who Nazi’s “foreign patrons” really are and race to capture him before a) he can unleash the alien wonder-weapons and b) the Soviets capture him. In the base, they also discover that Hitler is now a disembodied brain held in a bell-jar. The Soviets attack at the same time, and the time wasted dealing with them allows Hitler and the aliens to escape in their Foo Fighters, although their immediate plans are foiled. The governments involved hush the whole matter up to prevent a panic.

Overview of part B: several years pass, and the PCs have moved on to various careers — Intelligence, Science, Investigative Reporting. The careers that always seem to pop-up in those films. The Space Race is on, pitting the US against whatever Stalin is cooking up behind the Iron Curtain. While the public knows nothing of the events in Germany and thinks the Space Race is just a nationalist competition to get into orbit, those in the know realize the danger we face and have decided that we can’t wait passively for “them” to come back. Besides, there are rumors that Moscow would like to cut its own deal with the aliens. (I need a good name for them.) Over the intervening years there have been UFO sightings and incidents, convincing some that “they” are watching us, but nothing iron-clad. That is, not until America finds the right way into space: Orion ships. The aliens decide they can’t wait any longer and attack. For the climax, think of the big battle at the end of “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.” Humanity wins, but there’s no hiding the alien threat any longer.

What do the players do? They can be scientists in the space projects and those tasked to protect them from alien and Communist interference. Or they can be unaffiliated with these, but their jobs lead them into dangerous encounters, much like Gene Barry’s scientist in “War of the Worlds” or the flight crew in “The Thing.” Not all adventures would involve the Alien-Nazi plot, thus letting me work in other themes from 50s sci-fi, such as people and animals mutated by radiation (Inspirations: “Black Scorpions” and “THEM!”), or weird visitors from beyond who aren’t necessarily bad (“It came from Outer Space”).

Part B ends with the defeat of the aliens and the successful launching of the USS ORION, Earth’s first real spaceship.

Phase Two

Title: “Into the Dark”

Inspirations: “It! The Terror From Beyond Space,” Heinlein’s “Farmer in the Sky,” but I need others.

Overview: In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, mankind begins to colonize the Solar System and, thanks to the discovery of the “Atomic Star Drive” can now travel to nearby star systems in a matter of weeks or months. The aliens who so threatened us in the 50s are nowhere to be seen, though evidence of their presence is found on Mars, Titan, and in Alpha Centauri. They seem to have hastily evacuated after their defeat on Earth. There are hints, however, of a “war in the heavens,” the stars mankind cannot reach yet.

This phase allows the players to explore the wonders and dangers of space in a less military or conflict-oriented setting. Possible character types include colonists, Federal Marshals, and explorers, scientists, and archaeologists (to research the lost civilization of Mars and the abandoned alien bases). There is still conflict with the Soviet bloc, who have developed their own Orion drives and are making secretive trips of their own along with the newly-arrived Chinese. The phase ends with a devastating nuclear war between the USSR and China that grows into World War 3*. The aftermath sees the foundation of the Terran Federation.

*(Hey, I said this was inspired by 50s sci-fi, didn’t I? 🙂 )

Phase Three

Title: “Monsters, John! Monsters from the Id!” or “Star Trek the way it was meant to be”

Inspirations: “Forbidden Planet,” “Star Trek” (the original series), the Terro-Human future history of H. Beam Piper, various other old science fiction stories of “man out in space.”

Overview: It’s the year 2300 and Mankind is exploring its arm of the galaxy. Atomic power has been replaced by “anti-gravity” (or some sort of 50s hand-waving), and Earth ships now resemble the flying saucers they once fought against. We’ve found the aliens who once attacked us, and a Cold War now exists between us and their Empire. Naturally, Hitler is still alive; alien tech has kept his brain healthy. He is now the de facto ruler of their Empire, plotting his revenge. Mankind encounters new civilizations, some more advanced, some less.

Players could be explorers and scouts, sent to find new worlds for colonization, or the crew of a Federation saucer sent to find out what happened to them. They could be diplomats sent to find allies among the stars to hold off the threat of the “Stern Reich.” The major “feel” of this campaign should be that, even though we can travel the stars, space is still vast and empty. The setting should never feel crowded, nor should the PCs feel that they can just zip back to Earth or radio for help at a moment’s notice. They should feel like they are out on a limb by themselves, a limb that could break at any moment.

I’m not sure how this phase ends.

As you can see, phases two and three are less-developed than phase one. I need to fool around with the ideas some more and firm up what I want while still leaving plenty of opportunity for players to do what they want. (The eternal dilemma of the GM) Suggestions and ideas for source material that fits the “Atomic Era” view of the future would be welcome.

Oh, as for game systems, I had originally envisioned GURPS, but I haven’t bought 4th edition. Of course I could use 3rd edition, but now I’m leaning toward making it a HERO campaign with some optional rules to give it a grittier feel.

Ta for now!

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Obituary for Dad

(Last LiveJournal salvage job for today. This is in memory of my Dad, who passed away on Super Bowl Sunday, 2006.)

Lawrence Ellsworth Ragan, 11 July 1917 – 5 February 2006.

My Dad died this morning at about 1AM. According to the nursing home, he closed his eyes and just … shut off. While I’m saddened at his passing, I’m more glad for him that it’s over. I’d known most of my life how he dreaded the thought of growing senile and “going to a home,” and when it came true I just felt terrible for him, even if he could no longer understand what had happened. Now at last he’s free of it, and, if there is an afterlife, I’m sure Mom was waiting for him with a hearty “Larry, where have you been? The windows need fixing and…” And he’ll be smiling.

I learned his final decline had started about a week-and-a-half ago, when I received a phone call telling me he had been taken to the hospital. The eventual diagnosis was pneumonia and congestive heart failure. He’d recovered from worse before, but what told me this was the end was his refusal to eat. Even pureed foods were spit back up. Nothing changed through last Friday, until the doctor gave us a choice: we could either have a feeding tube inserted into his stomach and force feed him and hope he recovered, or we could sign off on”comfort care” only, meaning he would be kept comfortable until nature took its course. My sister and I, his last two remaining children, chose the latter. It wasn’t a hard choice to make, as odd as that may seem. I knew in the back of my mind that his refusal to eat was his way of telling us that he wanted to die. To force him to live, I believe, would have been selfish and mean on our part. And I couldn’t do that.

In his life, Dad had been a sailor (served in the 30s in the Philippines and China), a laundryman, a soda jerk (where he met Mom), a railroad brakeman (who once rode a runaway train), a janitor, and a maintenance company executive. He and my mother were married for 63 often-tempestuous years. We were never very close and, though I of course loved him, I didn’t know him very well. I was much closer to my mother and, I think, he never got the emotional part of being a father. He was a damned hard worker, and none of us ever wanted for a thing, but I don’t think he knew really how to “be a Dad.” I don’t blame him for that. Rather, I hold his parents responsible. They were divorced when he was young, and Grandpa spent most of his life in the Navy. Grandma was too busy going through husbands 2-5 to be a mother. From what I understand, she left Dad in a series of military schools. Knowing this makes a lot of my memories of him more understandable.

It was only after Mom came down with cancer that I came to truly admire him. They were in their 70s, retired, and now she was knocked flat with chemotherapy, unable to do anything for herself or to help around the house. So, what did he do? He not only took over running the whole house and caring for her (at times sleeping at the foot of her bed, in case she needed help during the night), but he went out and got another job to bring in extra money. And he did this for years.

Think about it. How many husbands would have just given up, or even walked out? To the day she died in 2001, he refused to surrender to despair. I never knew he had such a reservoir of strength in him, and I only hope I can show even half as much, should the need ever arise. Whatever he had done wrong in the past, he more than atoned for it in those last few years of Mom’s life.

My one real regret is that I didn’t get to know him better in his last years. When I would visit after Mom’s death, he’d tell me stories of his time in the Navy or on the railroad, and I’d be fascinated. I’m sure they were embellished (“Darned Irish fibber” as Mom would say to him.), but, who cares? If he wanted to exaggerate to impress his son, fine. He’d earned that right. I enjoyed hearing them, true or not. That’s why, more than his death, his senility saddened me. It’s onset was only a year or so after Mom died, and it’s like a window into his life closed that will never open again. (Just as with a photo album we can’t find, pictures of him his mother took from the time he was three days old(!) until he was 12 or so. It went missing a few years ago, and I’ll never stop kicking myself for not taking it when I had the chance.) I know we’re supposed to be grateful for the time we do have, but, still….

Anyway, there’s not much more to say. He’s gone and I now find myself in the weird position of being the oldest male in my extended family. It’s a strange feeling I get thinking about that. For those wondering about my state, don’t worry. I’m at peace with what’s happened and, indeed, I plan to enjoy the Super Bowl today. (Dad loved football, and I bet he’d be rooting for Pittsburgh and Bettis today.) I’ll be flying to Sacramento next Saturday for a family and friends get-together as a memorial, and then back here on Sunday.

And then, as they say, life goes on.

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Obituary for Mom

(Another post saved from my LiveJournal account. This is an obituary I wrote for my mother, who died several years before I ever had a blog. It was originally posted February 24th, 2007.)

Today would have been my mother’s 88th birthday, had she not died on Memorial Day weekend, 2001. I didn’t have an LJ account at the time, so I couldn’t do a eulogy for her, as I had done for my Dad. Today seems a good day to correct that.

Mom was born Edna Catherine Parr in 1919. She hated her first name, so her friends knew her as “Catherine” or “Kay.” She came from English and German stock. Her English family, the Parrs, I’ve traced back to the 18th century — a village in Suffolk called “Exning.” Her German ancestors, the Zelts, apparently came from Bavaria or Alsace early in the 19th century. My great-great-grandfather, who came to America, Jacob Zelt, was a brewer in pre-Civil War Pennsylvania. Near as I can tell, he lied about his age to avoid being drafted into the Union Army. Sneaky devil. 🙂

Unlike her older brother and sister, Mom wasn’t an extraordinary student in school. By her own admission, she was “too interested in boys.” She was the editor of her senior class yearbook (San Bernardino High, 1937. I have a copy!), however. She met Dad soon after graduating, which lead to their marriage in 1938 and four children after that. (In case you’re wondering, my siblings Rick, Sharon, and Larry were 19, 15, and 13 when I was born in 1958.)

I can’t speak for my brothers and sister, but Mom and I were best friends. With her children grown and gone, I was a chance for her to have a second family. She had a very nuturing nature, and often said she wanted nothing more than to be a mother. (Those who slag stay-at-home moms, take note.) At the same time, she loved meeting people so, when we were old enough to be in school, she took part-time jobs in retail, which she loved. She had a marvellous way with customers.

She didn’t have the varied careers Dad did, but she was a rock of steadiness for us. A good Catholic, she refused to get a divorce, even though they were separated several times before I was born. (I should be grateful, since I wouldn’t be here to write this, otherwise!) She loved the Church, and always nattered at me that I should start going again. Sorry, Mom. 🙂

Mom was always very supportive of me, paradoxically being both over-protective and yet encouraging me to push myself. Her philosophy of raising children, “You don’t have to be the best. We’re proud of you if you just always try your best,” is something I want to pass on to my own, should I ever have any.

Lest anyone think she was a demure Donna Reed-type, forget it. Mom always encouraged her children to stand up for themselves. More than once in grammar school I was told “You never hit someone first. But, if someone hits you, you him them right back. Even if it’s a girl.” And if someone in any way threatened or attacked her family — watch out. The German in her came out, real quick. She may have been short, but she could have intimidated Andre the Giant. (What is it about our parents that, even when we’re bigger and stronger, they can put us in our place with one word or look?)

To give you an idea of what she was like, let me relate one story. When I was in the 6th or 7th grade, after we had moved to Sacramento, I was riding bikes with a friend on a Saturday afternoon. I don’t even remember the kid’s name –  let’s call him “Mike. ” We got to my house, and I brought Mike in for lunch. Mom wasn’t expecting us, but she made us sandwiches and chips and sat and talked with us. Just doing the “Mom thing.” When we left, as we were getting on our bikes, Mike turned to me and said “I wish your Mom was my Mom.”

It didn’t hit me until years later, but, think about that. How sad was his life that he wanted someone else for a mother, and how lucky was I? I don’t have a quantifiable answer, but I do know I was damn lucky. Even late in her life, when I published my first book, she made over it like it was something she wanted to pin to the fridge with a magnet. And, you know what? I was glad.

So, happy birthday, Mom. I hope there were daffodils on the table and all your collies, from Queenie to Melody, were there with you.

Miss you.

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