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The Iron Y

Yeah, that’s my lame attempt at self-deprecation.

Note to self: the next time you write a blog post stating that a writer writes every day, don’t follow it up with a year of not writing.

 

I had a couple of projects offered last summer which I passed on simply because I was at a mental point where writer’s burnout seemed a valid option, so I’ve done (very) little writing this past year and concentrated more on hanging out with my wife and kids, shuttling the latter to and from various activities, helping out more at the elementary school my daughter attends (for which I wound up being awarded Patron of the Year honors which had been completely unexpected), playing video games with the kids, and watching too much TV (still). Basically, what I’ve been doing the last few years without the headache of forcing myself to sit at the keyboard every day either writing or attempting voice-over.

What I’ve discovered is that I still want to write, but the need to do so is less aggravating. Either I write or I don’t write. I spend a lot of time writing in my head, but when I sit at the keyboard, I wind up staring at a blinking cursor, decide to hop on the ‘net for inspiration, and two hours later I’ve surfed a dozen sites, given myself a headache doing so, managed not to write anything, and it’s time to pick the kids up from school. And wasn’t the whole point to do this without the throbbing skull? What I’d really like is a means to just think about writing and have the words magically appear on screen. That way I could write in my sleep.

Which would likely get me in trouble, so scratch that idea.

Now, when I say I haven’t been writing, I’m not being completely truthful. I still carry around my notebook and keep track of ideas as they float between my ears. I have notes for a couple of novels and half a dozen short stories, ideas for possible blog posts, and scribbles here and there on a setting or two that came to mind during the past year.

The kids and I were watching The Musketeers on BBCAmerica¹ and I found myself admiring the overuse of leather in the costumes, the dusty settings, the brawling sword fights, and the crack of musket fire. A few weeks after the season ended I saw Quigley Down Under (which I still think is one of the best Westerns ever produced), and I thought Musketeers + Old West + Pirates (since everything is better with pirates), so I began jotting ideas for what I’m currently calling the Crossbones & Cattle Barons, or Swashbuckling Old West, setting.

I know I want a continent ripe for plunder, discovered sometime shortly after a protracted war between various political factions across the remainder of the world. The continent has arable land, wide open spaces, mountains filled with jewels and precious metals, and it includes creatures not encountered in other countries along with a native population that fiercely guards its homeland. Tentatively, I’d be running this with the Honor & Intrigue system² because a few members in my gaming group (including me) are interested in seeing that system being used. Not that a system should have any real bearing on the setting itself and it probably wouldn’t anyway, but I do have a tendency to make system mechanic notes as I’m brainstorming.

I’d wavered awhile on including non-humans in the setting but decided since one of the major resources found in this New World would be Dragon Stones, the fossilized remnants of long-dead dragons, that having non-humans was a small step (and allows use of those elf, dwarf, orc, and goblin swashbuckler figures from Reaper). So, yeah, the standard fantasy races are there but with minor tweaks. Many of the standard fantasy monsters will be included as well but I’m working on reasons for them to exist and not drop them in just “because they’re in the monster manual.”

I know one of the towns at the edge of settled lands in this New World is Farkeep, a mining colony, at which is stationed a regiment of King’s Musketeers to guard against monsters and those natives I’d mentioned earlier . . . halflings (or gnomes). I haven’t come up with a better name for them yet, but I wanted a race that is small and would refer to the long-dead dragons as creators or deities. Yeah, I could go the 3rd edition D&D route and have them be kobolds, but I still recall images of the dog-headed creatures from the 1st edition Monster Manual. That may all change.

One of the areas near Farkeep is a ranch called The Iron Y, run by a retired alchemist named Yeager. He has a problem with those halflings (or gnomes or kobolds) and might wind up hiring a group of adventurers to exterminate the varmints. And, of course, the alchemist will wear a shooting iron slung low on his hip and chew up the scenery, claiming he had been born on the wrong continent . . . or maybe not.

I’ll keep plugging away at the setting, jotting notes as they come to mind, and I’ll try to post ideas here once every few weeks. We’ll see how things go.

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1. The first season of which we thoroughly enjoyed. The second season was less enjoyable for the kids because it was a bit darker (and methinks the third season will be even more so) and they found Rochefort less amusing as a villain than Cardinal Richelieu. And I thought Peter Capaldi was excellent in that role.
2. Which you might recall my mentioning previously as being a variant of the Barbarians of Lemuria system.

Sushi!

I started eating sushi somewhat regularly about five years ago. Golden China, a local Chinese buffet/hibachi restaurant, serves sushi alongside their other fare. I’d typically get a plate of veggies and chicken to be grilled and while that was cooking, I’d grab a sampling of the sushi. It was acceptable. Not that I’m any kind of expert where the prepping of raw fish is concerned, but A) the sushi never appeared dried out and B) I never felt ill afterward, so I guess it was prepared correctly. Of course, I made sure to get sushi right around noon, when it was first prepared.

Unfortunately, Golden China lost the use of their hibachi awhile back (and their buffet was never a high-point for me) so I haven’t returned in some time. However, I’d started looking for other places in the Moore area to satisfy my cravings for raw fish, and I ran across a couple of places: Sushi Hayashi at 104th and South Penn (in OKC) and Go-Go Sushi just north of South 19th Street (in Moore) on the I-35 Service Road. The former has been around for a few years and is worth visiting every once in awhile (the prices are rather steep). The food I’ve tried has been good and the place is a relaxing, usually quiet place to enjoy my meal.

The latter seems yearly to be awarded OKC Gazette’s Best in Asian Dining (or at least receives nominations every year) and while I find the prices more affordable—with the inclusion of a lunch-item-only bento box with your choice of a couple of different sushi rolls (from a very short list), house salad, miso soup, rice, and tempura vegetables (which I haven’t developed a taste for anywhere)—the atmosphere is more akin to McDonald’s, a noisy, chaotic, get-in-eat-your-food-and-then-get-out kind of experience. Go-Go Sushi does offer hibachi items as well, but I don’t recall if they are on the lunch menu.

Then about a year or so ago, Volcano Sushi opened. It, too, is located on the I-35 Service Road in Moore, just south of South 19th Street (about a mile or so south of Go-Go Sushi). It’s a small, quiet place. The menu is fairly dense and while the majority of items are of the sushi variety, it has hibachi items also, and I noticed some of those are included on the lunch menu.

I usually visit sushi restaurants alone. None of my friends like eating raw fish,1 and though my wife and son have at least broken down and tried sushi at least once, neither of them cared for the experience. I seem to recall both grabbing (and draining) glasses of Dr Pepper shortly thereafter. But back over the summer, I had a craving for sushi and, since the kids were with me, I had to figure out what to do for their lunch. I remembered the hibachi items on Volcano Sushi’s menu and suggested we go there. After a bit of grumbling from the kids, they agreed and, after ordering the hibachi chicken lunch special, my son decided the place was worth a second visit.

Alas, the second time around wasn’t a good experience for them: the chicken was overcooked and the lo mein was over-saturated with soy sauce. They haven’t asked for a repeat visit.

But last week my wife and I were trying to figure out where to eat lunch, and I had a craving for sushi. So, of course, I suggested Volcano Sushi and after she wrinkled her nose at the thought, relented. Naturally, she avoided the sushi but did order a bento chicken dish along with the shrimp tempura, which she enjoyed.

And today, when we went out for lunch, she was the one suggesting Volcano Sushi.

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1. Except you, Nathan, but you don’t live here, so in this case, you don’t count.

Hey, You Got Your CCG in my RPG! (part 1)*

So let me see a show of hands. How many of you have decks of collectible card games (CCGs) lying about the house? Just one? Two or three? Half a dozen or more?

Off the top of my head I can think of 7th Sea, Sailor Moon, Dark Age, Doom Trooper, Card Captors, Legend of the Five Rings, Dark Eden, and Legend of the Burning Sands filling various sized boxes back in my game room (and I know I have at least half a dozen others). Some of those are only one or two decks while others are nearly complete collections . . . and they spend most of their time just taking up space.

Yeah, I know, I could just get rid of them, but A) they’re good games and B) I always find it difficult getting rid of something that can be used for something else or that I’d like to play again at some point down the road.

Thus bringing me to an idea I had awhile back using CCGs as a Drama Deck (or Plot Cards or Power -Ups or some other player and/or GM aid) for a roleplaying game. There are a few discussions banging around RPG.net and other forums about hybrids or systems designed with card decks involved. There are a few RPG-CCG hybrids that have surfaced over the years—Dragon Storm, SAGA Dragonlance and SAGA Marvel, Untold, and Dark Legacy—but I’m more interested in using all those card games gathering dust and somehow jiggering them into whatever RPG my group happens to be playing at the time.2

This all ties in with a project I’ve jumped into recently . . . Gamer Lifestyle Bootcamp, an online course designed to get the participants up-and-running with at least one published RPG product by the end of the month. While I know people who have, I’ve never jumped through the writer-publisher hoops myself. Any writing I’ve done has been turned over to someone else who did layout and so on. So I figured I’d bite a d20, cross my fingers, and take the plunge.

More on that and the inclusion of CCGs into RPGs next time.

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*Forgive any lack of coherence, I’m still recovering from the week away as a parent counselor for my son’s class at a YMCA camp. It was a fun but thoroughly exhausting week.

2OK, so I don’t have a regular group currently. Maybe I’ll need to go back to my old group, RPG books under one arm, beggar’s cup in one hand, wearing a sandwich board reading: Have Dice will Game. Now, that being said, Sundered Epoch does have a short article on using Magic the Gathering cards to build encounters in a fantasy campaign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing Down Orcs in a Bugatti Veyron*

Not really, but the moment someone creates a game where I can do just that, I’ll buy it.

Around the occasional burst of writing and/or voice-over work lately,2 I’ve been playing Gran Turismo 5, which I picked up a couple months ago. I’d been playing Sid Meier’s Pirates on Xbox (which I still think is one of the best swashbuckling video games around) and happened to catch one of the Fast and Furious movies on TV one evening after shutting down the console. I soon felt a need for speed (but not that franchise—I don’t like having to dodge police cars while racing around town: they always catch me. And with Hot Pursuit, when I play the police, the bad guys are always getting away). So, having been a fan of the original, I broke down and picked up a copy of GT5.

I’ve been having fun with the game. True, I’m really bad at racing games and my style of video driving is to set traction as high as it will go and use whatever monster car I can get away with using for the race. Oh, and brakes? What are those? That car, the wall over there, the grass, all do wonders for slowing the car down as it takes corners. Of course, that means I wind up spending money to rebuild the vehicle, but at least with GT5 I can keep racing long after the car would realistically be headed for the scrap heap.3 Of course, after a session of ripping past other cars on the track, slamming head-first into the barrier on the London track (or any of half a dozen others with sharp turns), doing so repeatedly because I just don’t take the corners slow enough (but the monster car allowing me to pull first place anyway) when I go out to run a few errands, the kids often complain, “Dad, this is a van, not a race car!”

Insert evil cackle here.

One of the things I enjoy about GT5 is playing the game while I’m cooking dinner (or picking the kids up from school) since the game allows the player to race (A-Spec) or to run a set of drivers who race for you (B-Spec). It is particularly amusing since I picked up the Red Bull X2011 Prototype (the fastest, most agile, monster of a car in the game) and have had my lowest level drivers racing against opponents driving Honda Civics or maybe a Lotus Elise (or similar) and winning by several minutes. Yes, that goes against the grain of struggling for the win, achieving victory despite having the slowest car in the bunch, and so on, but when I want to play but have something else that I need to be doing at the same time, it helps to put the drivers in a car that allows them to win without any coaching.

The kids often watch while I play. My son has tried driving but dislikes the PS controller. My daughter just likes watching the cars go fast. But one thing I have noticed is they both tend to pay attention to cars on the road and during the first episode of the current season of Top Gear USA (which both my kids love) they saw the cars that Rutledge, Tanner, and Adam were driving and said, “Lamborghini, the really fast car that looks like a Lamborghini, and and the American snake car, whatever it’s called.”

Proud papa moment, and no, I’m not a car person in any way, shape, or form. I just like the video games.

At the same time I purchased GT5, I had also picked up Lord of the Rings: War in the North and, while I like the game, it doesn’t have the same pull for me that GT does. Now my son, on the other hand, loves War in the North because he likes the Middle Earth setting and it’s a two-player game, allowing him to play the game with me.4 I, of course, am running the dwarf while my son is running the ranger. We’ve had fun despite a glitch (or two) where the AI-run elf wizard hangs a couple of areas back and we realize she isn’t with us and have to backtrack, only to have her stay where she is while we press on and cross our fingers that she shows up at the portal for the next area.5 I’ve had a suspension of disbelief problem with the bomb goblins, whatever they’re called. I don’t recall reading anything about TNT-toting goblins in The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, which seem more a Warhammer than a Tolkien motif.6

Anyway, we’re slowly pushing our way through the game while my daughter sits to the side pointing out things we’ve missed (tracks for the ranger to follow, weak areas in the rock for the dwarf to break through, that orc jumping from the behind the rock).7 She seldom wants to play video games (aside from a few on the Nintendo DS), but she is always our best lookout. Maybe we’ll finish it. Maybe not, but we’re having fun with both games.

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*OK, maybe in a long straight-away. Any turns in there and the orc would likely dodge the Bugatti, which steers like a “bucket of rocks” as I’ve seen posted on various GT5-related forums.

2Yeah, sure, around is a word, through is another, and even though instead of are two words, they more accurately describe my time spent in front of the console.

3There had been another racing game I’d tried a few years back (may have been the Need for Speed franchise) where, after every race, all the money I’d earned—and then some—was going toward rebuilding my car. Yeah, I know, learn to control the car better. But I drive sensibly in real life. I don’t want to be forced to do so in a video game. In a video game I just want to drive fast.

4I have the gratuitous violence turned off so no geysers of blood when orcs and goblins are cut down though some areas don’t even require the blood to be rather intense.

5So far we’ve been lucky and she has shown up by that time.

6But I could be mistaken since the lotr.wikia indicates there is mention of the goblins possessing dark technology and being fond of explosives in The Hobbit. I’d need to reread the book to verify this.

7When I had Warhammer 40K: Space Marine (which I never I finished), my daughter was the one who got me through most of the areas I completed because she spotted things long before I ever did. Good eyes and good ears.

Too Much TV

A couple of weeks ago as I sat down to catch up on various TV shows I missed during the last few months, I realized I watch entirely too much TV, boob tube, idiot box, whatever you wish to call it.

I’d written awhile back about Too Many Books* but it wasn’t until I noticed I was behind four or five weeks’ worth of Revolution that I started thinking maybe I should drop something from my watch list. Not that the list is all that long—just three or four hours on Monday, two or three on Tuesday, two more on Wednesday, about four on Thursday, and the same number on Friday. Well, there are a couple of hours’ worth typically on Sunday as well, but who’s counting, right?

Wait. At minimum, I’m looking at nearly twenty hours of TV every week.

And I get on to my kids if they watch more than an hour or so each day.**

Hey, kids, do what your parents say, not what they do.

At one time I could count on programming sticking with the fall through late spring routine with summer repeats, and I would spend time outside for four or five months. Then along came USA Network with their summer line (and Monk). I was hooked and started video taping episodes.*** I think that station single-handedly beat out of me my typical avoidance of the TV during the summer. Oh, that and the summer heat keeping me indoors over the last few years. I used to love being outside in 90-degree weather, garbed in heavy period clothing, stomping around on stage, spouting Shakespeare, and drinking iced tea.

Now, anytime the temperature rises above 80, I’m heading indoors, and still drinking iced tea.

Lately though I’ve been spending more time watching TV (and still reading) than much else. Writing? Nope, well, aside from the occasional post here. Voice-over? Uh-uh, not while the kids are out of school. They do OK to be quiet while I make one recording. Anything longer than thirty minutes and they can’t hold the noise in. Painting those miniatures I received awhile back? Nope, at least not until I get the area around the painting table cleared so I can reach my paints. Drawing? What’s that? Oh, yeah, I used to do that years ago before I went to college. I still have the stuff around here somewhere to do that . . . .

Now, Bob Meyer in Write It Forward: From Writer to Successful Author indicates he watches TV against all conventional writerly advice, but my guess is that he sits with pen and paper in hand and analyzes what he’s watching, making notes on scenes that work, scenes that don’t work, interesting character ideas, and so forth. I used to do that. OK, I still sit with a pad of paper and pen at my side. Unfortunately, I too often get caught up in the spycraft of Burn Notice or laughing at some quip made by Hank Lawson that I forget to actually write anything. Oh, well.

Recently I received a newsletter from Johnn Four of Gamer-Lifestyle, a game writer course/support group that I’ve been following off-and-on for awhile. I’d noticed there’d been little activity there this last year, and in his newsletter, Johnn Four mentioned he’d been hit with a case of burnout—no gaming, no writing, little else besides watching TV and reading “weird books.” Hmmm, I dropped from gaming with my group about a month ago. I’d decided I just wasn’t having fun playing games at this time. I still read game rules, still ponder tweaks for game systems, but just haven’t gotten back into gaming.**** Maybe the GM Slump is a full-blown case of burnout?

The TV schedule hasn’t let up this summer either. USA Network’s summer line-up is in full swing again (with the new addition of Graceland, which my wife dislikes but I find amusing) and SyFy (I much prefer when it was SciFi—the new logo is goofy) has added Sinbad, a one-season only British import***** which reminds a lot of the old Hercules: Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, shows I think my kids would likely enjoy.

Aside from a few bouts of homeowner angst and painting the outside of the house or doing a bit of yard work, about all I’ve done the last couple of months (aside from shuttle the kids to-and-from various summer activities) is read.

And watch too much TV.

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*And I still have a never-ending stack of books that I am working my way through. Some that were on the list then have been finished and others have taken their place. Some still sit near the bottom of the stack(s) scattered throughout the house.

**They usually don’t watch TV during the week and reserve most of that time during the weekend, often switching on the TV and watching one show, then half-watching the next while playing a game, or drawing, or doing something else.

***Yes. And I still have a functioning VCR along with a small stack of movies on tape. I’m slowly tracking down DVD replacements.

****Well, that’s not true. My kids and I played a game of Novus Mundi over Father’s Day weekend then later that week, my son and I played Okko: Legend of the Asagiri, both of which were enjoyable.

*****The production company canceled it after one season for some reason. Too bad. The family and I enjoy this show because it is family friendly.

Dem Bones and . . . Dwarves!

Oh, my eyes were bleeding!

OK, not really, but it sure felt that way after receiving my Vampire pledge box of Reaper Bones miniatures last week. I was giddy. Christmas in June.

I opened the outer box and this is what greeted me:

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Santa came early . . . or really late.

My son took one look and said, “That can’t be 200 miniatures.” Then I opened the white box and pulled out the inner plastic bags and laid those on the table.

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Good thing Bones don’t need air.

He still shook his head and went to play video games while I took a few more pictures. I didn’t start counting minis until a day or so later. I was trying to figure out how best to go about it when I ran across this life (and time) saving link, which shows the Vampire pledge level of minis plus gives a list of the optional add-ons with links to larger images of the minis. Now, while there was one noticeable error*the page definitely helped me with the process. It took only a small handful of hours rather than an entire week to wade through the 240-some-odd miniatures in the box.**

My daughter helped open the smaller bags to extract individual miniatures. Once done, we set those on the table to see just how many miniatures were in the box.

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Nearly 250 miniatures. Not enough to cover the table. Should’ve ordered a few more boxes.

Now, overall the miniatures are rather nice. They’re clean sculpts with few blemishes. Several figures look as though they are competing in a limbo tournament and will need some work, but the best thing about the Bones line—no drilling and pinning together disparate parts to put the silly things together. I have several of these minis already in metal but haven’t put them together for just that reason. Of the figures in this pack, the only ones that required any assembly were 3 of the giants and the griffon, but the pieces slotted together easily and it looks like the fusion glue I applied will hold them together without any problems.***

Once I finished with the Bones minis, I went ahead and pulled out the dwarves from the Kickstarter I’d pointed out awhile back and set them in their bases.

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I haven’t glued them in nor have I started any work on them. These pieces being metal have a high degree of flash both on the individual figures and on the resin bases.

Here’s an image of the troll figure that came as an addition with the dwarves.

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I think both Kickstarters were worth the price. I managed to get some really nice miniatures in both sets. Of course, my wife just looks at them and shakes her head, muttering about the house sinking because of all the minis stored in boxes in the back room.****

But when the waters rise, at least the Bones will float.

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*The first mini shown is Danar, male assassin; however, the Bones list link shows an image of Kellen, nobleman adventurer.

**I swapped out the Sophie the succubus on motorcycle Kickstarter exclusive for 4 extra giants (the frost giant king and queen and the fire giant king and queen) and an extra pack of 5 necromancers (can’t have enough wizards raising the dead).

***Sorry, no pics of those minis, either before or after. Oh, well, here’s a close-up of the frost giant king.

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****At last count, I had over 3,000 miniatures. Of course, that was made about 20 years ago when I was trying to maintain them on spreadsheet. I have no clue how many minis I have now.

 

Cetaceans Camping*

Bad, Darin. Bad, Bad, Darin.

The WordPress Blog Police are pounding on the door of the office, telling me I’m being charged with attempted blogicide. I’ve gone nearly two months without seeing to the care and nourishment of this blog, and its followers have likely wandered away in search of better forage elsewhere while Write-Voice-Games withers and dies.

Ah, well.

The term blogicide is rather amusing. I ran across it a year or so ago on Hella Sydney when Nezza commented that she’d committed that act on her blog by not updating it after a two month or so stint.** Oddly, even though the -cide suffix means “someone or something that kills a particular thing”*** according to urbandictionary.com, blogicide is “One who blogs without thinking. Or says something in a blog that is obviously stupid to everyone but the person posting.”

Huh? Oh, I get it. Suicide by blog. Ha ha.

Urban Dictionary. What a joke.

Nearly six months into the new year and I still have no clue where I’m going with this blog.

It began last year as a point to co-author a story, but during the holidays, I grew slack on my end, and Nathan over at Speaking Out has since split his blog in two**** and has moved on from Menagerie (though he does seem to have links still working), which is fine. My brain just hasn’t gotten back involved with those characters since I dropped that intergalactic ball. Who knows, maybe we’ll team up again on something with a predetermined beginning, middle, and end and not go the serial route.

During the past year, I added a number of “Thought for the Day” posts (OK, so they should be called “Thought for the Week” or “for the Month” as infrequently as they come) and a handful of gaming-related posts along with a few related to various voice-over projects, but no real focus on where I’m going with this or even an idea of where I want to go, which I would have chastised my composition students for a few years ago.

Oops.

Not doing what I teach? As in, “Do what I say, not what I do?” Perish the thought.

Or perish the blog?

No, the blog will remain up and running, but will likely limp along with posts only once a month or so until I’ve figured out exactly what I want to do with this thing.

What posts have you enjoyed? What posts have you disliked? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

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*An odd example of my rather circuitous line of thought which started with the joke: What do you call a dolphin with someplace to go? Answer: A porpoise with a purpose, which of course, led me to the phrase “for all intents and purposes.” Yeah, I know, “Darin, you’re weird.”

**She got it back up and running then allowed it to lapse again back in September 2012. Hopefully, she picks up that blog again (or another) because her sense of humor is one that often gives me a stomach ache from laughing so hard. Something I miss.

***Longman Dictionary.

****Well, three, actually: Speaking Out on Life, Speaking Out on Nate, and he recently started the Speaking Out on Blogging sitefor a blog instruction course he’ll be teaching in the fall.

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