Shadowrun, Fourth Edition

Shadowrun is a cyberpunk roleplaying game with elves and magic. It’s set in, in this edition, 2070, after magic returned to the world in 2012, awakening dragons, elves, dwarfs, orks, trolls, and magic. The player characters are freelance criminals who do dubious work for corporations. Although, since large corporations are effectively countries, they might better be described as freelance secret agents. The ethical background of the player characters is, to say the least, rather dubious. Despite this, it’s a game that I’ve liked since the first edition, and I have the rule books for all four editions, along with some supplements. I’ve even managed to play it, once, which is more than can be said for a lot of the games I have on my shelves.

Compared to the previous editions, I think that the fourth is an improvement. The rules have been simplified and streamlined, making it look a lot easier to run. At a glance, the general balance of the systems also looks good. By far the largest apparent improvement, however, is the better integration of deckers into the game. Deckers are the characters who deal with computer matrix, and in previous editions they would always have little solo adventures without the other player characters, and then have nothing to do while the others did their thing. That’s bad game design.

The new edition makes use of wireless networking to bring the deckers along, although, as they no longer have cyberdecks, they are now called hackers. Most of the time, a hacker is only partially in the matrix (Shadowrun has called its virtual world the matrix since long before the film came out, but it never seemed to run into a trademark clash), and thus can participate in actions in the real world as well. He can become fully immersed, but this is set up as being something that he does briefly, before rejoining the real world and moving on.

That’s the biggest difference. Shadowrun has a metaplot, which means that the background has moved on since I last looked, but it’s still recognisably the same world. It still feels like Shadowrun, and I still like it. I’m really not at all sure why, though. Some sort of atavism, perhaps, and the same reason that pirates are popular. Shadowrunners are a lot like pirates, after all, in that they kill and steal for a living, but still manage to be somehow heroic. When I played, I think my character was rather less violent than the setting assumed…

Still, it’s well put together, and I like it. Another recommended game.

Better Not Die, Then…

Today, I got a letter from the life insurance company saying that they wouldn’t insure me. I didn’t know I was that sick. Actually, I suspect I’m not, but the combination of asthma, slightly high cholesterol a year ago, and non-Japanese may have put them off. This means that I can’t get really useful life insurance, because that product was the only one that I could both afford and that would actually cover Yuriko and Mayuki. We’ll have to have a look again at various products, but I suspect that the answers are likely to be the same.

So, I’d better make sure I don’t die.

In better news, one of my students today told me that Mayuki’s name was nice. “It sounds very natural, but it’s rare. I’ve never heard it.” This was exactly the effect we were aiming for, so it’s satisfying to hear that we succeeded. Another student has told me that the meaning is good, too, which is something else we put a lot of thought into.

Mayuki is still being good, and work is still going well, so all in all life is not at all bad at the moment. Just as long as I hold on to it.

Atheism and Agnosticism

Recently, atheism has become a a major topic of discussion. One of the most notable proponents is Richard Dawkins, professor of zoology and originally author of The Selfish Gene (which is, incidentally, a very good book). The debate has even made it into the Guardian with some frequency. All this attention to the topic makes me want to write my own blog article about where I stand, because my position is a little complex.

I’m only going to attempt to explain my position, not convince anyone else; I won’t be providing all of the evidence for my assertions. Since I suspect it will get quite long, I’ll also hide most of it from the front page.
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Mayuki is a Good Girl

So, one reason why I’ve not been posting much about Mayuki is that she’s been good. Sleeping, particularly at night, drinking milk, using nappies, and waving her arms and legs around in a generally uncoordinated fashion. Pretty good for a baby of her age, really.

She’s also been cooperative with my teaching; she’s been quiet while my students have been here. This may be just coincidence, but she kept it up for a whole week, so there’s a good chance that she is, at least at the moment, basically quiet enough for me to continue doing lessons here. Alternative strategies may become necessary in a year or so, of course.

So, no news, and that’s good news, because everything is going well.

Growing Bigger

Oops, I seem to have skipped a few days there.

We went back to the clinic on Monday to have Mayuki looked at, and she now seems to be putting on weight at an acceptable rate. We’ve increased the amount of formula she’s getting in addition to breast milk, because she’s still a bit behind where she should be. However, the nurses seemed to think that she would be able to catch up over the next couple of weeks, which is good.

She’s being a really remarkably good baby, all told. She doesn’t cry much, she basically sleeps quietly between about midnight and eight am (admittedly with wakes for feeding, but she’s quiet then and goes back to sleep quickly), and doesn’t complain at all about her bath. In fact, I think she slept through it a couple of days ago. Even more important, yesterday I had my first English lesson since she was born, and she was good and quiet all the way through.

I don’t imagine that we’re going to be that lucky all the time, but overall I think there’s a good chance, at least at the moment, of her being quiet most of the time I’m teaching, which is a relief. I rather need to be doing that, and teaching away from home is, in general, inconvenient. On the days when I have several consecutive lessons, it’s pretty much impossible.

Other than that, things have been going pretty well, settling into something of a routine. The Shinto course I’m taking started again today after the summer holidays, so I was able to go to that; it was interesting, but confirmed that I still have trouble following jokes told as muttered, fast side comments during an academic lecture. I followed just about all of the actual content, though.

If life continues in this general pattern, it looks perfectly manageable.

A Routine?

Things seem to be settling into a bit of a routine now. Obviously, it’s still a routine that gets disrupted and moved about by Mayuki’s moods, but even that can become routine. I don’t know when in the evening i’ll have to carry Mayuki around the living room to keep her calm, but I can be pretty sure it will happen. I am trying to give her her bath at a fairly consistent time every day, though.

I’m a bit tired today, so I think the new baby is finally catching up with me. Yuriko also looks a bit tired. I am sure that everyone with experience of having children is deeply surprised.

I think Mayuki may be putting weight on now that she’s on the bottle as well, but it’s a little hard to tell over a couple of days; really, we’ll have to wait to go back to the clinic and see what the results are. She is still lively, and made some new noises this morning. According to Yuriko, she laughed properly yesterday. It’s not clear whether it was a real laugh, but it was all the right sounds.

One odd thing is that she really doesn’t seem to like having her legs covered. If we put anything over them, she kicks and fusses until they’re bare again. I can only assume that this is because she is too hot, or, at least, not too cold. She doesn’t seem to be chilled when I pick her up, so that’s a good sign.

Taking to the Bottle

We took Mayuki for another check-up yesterday, and her weight is not climbing quickly enough. It looks like Yuriko’s milk has not come in fully yet. Mayuki’s weight has been going up, so obviously milk has been coming through, but there hasn’t been enough. So, we’re on to supplementing with bottle milk for a little while. Fortunately, we got a free sample of suitable formula from the clinic, and that may, if we’re really lucky, last long enough for Yuriko’s milk to get going properly.

Mayuki is certainly quite enthusiastic about drinking from the bottle, and does seem to be a bit more settled now. Still, she cried quite a lot yesterday evening. It’s a bit unfortunate that, with work starting again, I can’t help Yuriko as much now as I could before, but there’s nothing to be done about that.

So, it looks like Mayuki has to stop being the slender baby she is at the moment, and put some weight on. Baby fat is OK when you are actually a baby…

Life Insurance

Yesterday, I applied for life insurance. Now I have a daughter, this has become rather necessary. As is normal with these traditionally complicated and intimidating things, I had to do it in Japanese. (At some point, I will have to make a will in Japanese as well. The main reason that hasn’t happened yet is that I have no idea what I have to do, and I know it will take me some time to find out. Given that I do know that the basic rules will give everything to Yuriko and Mayuki, it’s not yet urgent. Anyway, back to the other death topic.)

Some bits of the form were partcularly odd. For example, one of the declarations I had to make was that I was neither a US citizen, nor possessed of the right of permanent residence in the US. Not sure why it’s impossible for this company to insure the lives of USAnians.

Another really odd bit was the box to authorise people other than the insured person to claim the insurance money. This is for use when, due to exceptional circumstances, the insured person is unable to make the claim himself.

This is life insurance. If I can make the claim, they are unlikely to pay out.

So, anyway, I filled that in, figuring that it was probably the result of some not-as-well-thought-out-as-it-might-be regulation. I really don’t want a legal technicality to get in the way of any applications.

Life insurance is an odd product. After considering the full range, I’ve gone for one that doesn’t pay money back while I’m alive, because I can’t afford enough cover if I go for one that does pay back. Thus, I am paying out lots of money from which I will never see any benefit. I will never even get to see anyone else benefitting from it. And, of course, I really, really hope that all the money I’m paying out will simply disappear and be completely wasted. And yet I still think I’m doing the right thing.

Yes, definitely a very odd product.

The one I’ve gone for is a bit different to the standard. Instead of paying out a lump sum on death, it pays out a monthly sum for the rest of the term of the insurance (up to my 60th birthday), or five years, whichever is longer. This means that the payout drops as time goes on, but then so should the amount of money necessary. By 2031 Mayuki will be 24, which is old enough to become independent.

The main benefit of this is that I can actually afford to take out enough insurance to cover Yuriko and Mayuki’s needs. On the lump sum plans, I can’t afford the premiums.

Anyway, as long as they accept my application, that’s now done, and the money will just go out every month, so I don’t need to worry about it. I can concentrate on trying to make sure that it’s completely unnecessary.

Feeding Troubles

You would think that, if anything were instinctive, breast feeding would be. Apparently not, however. We went for another check-up for Mayuki yesterday, and she doesn’t seem to be getting enough to drink. The main problem seems to be that she has been sleeping through times when she should be fed, and hasn’t been attaching herself to the nipple properly. So Yuriko got a few instructions on how to encourage her to do it properly, and now we have to wake her up to make her eat, whether she thinks she’s hungry or not. We’re going back for another check-up in a couple of days, to see is Mayuki’s weight gain is back on course. If not, we may have to go with supplementary bottles for a little while.

The natural question is “how did people get on before there were clinics to give advice?”, and the answer is “the infant mortality rate was about 1 in 4”, so I think I’ll stick with the modern system and clinics, and follow the advice. As things stand, there is no significant risk that Mayuki will die in the next twenty years, and I’d like to keep it that way, thank you.

On the bright side, she’s started making new noises. In addition to burps, hiccups, and sneezes, and the extensively-practised cry, she’s started saying “ah” and such from time to time. Not very consistently yet, but I suspect this is the first step towards baby babbling, and thus the very first step towards talking. She’s got quite a long way to go yet, though.

These Lungs Were Made For Talking

…but for now they’re going to cry. Yes, Mayuki has truly discovered the wonderful potential of her lungs and throat for making a piercing sound that, if continued for long enough, makes whatever is bothering her go away. Whether her mother appears with the Magic Milk Machines, or her nappy suddenly gets dry and comfortable, or Mummy or Daddy just comes to hold her, something good happens.

Of course, sometimes we fail to make the hiccups instantly go away. (Actually, that’s unfair. Mayuki doesn’t actually cry much when she has hiccups. She just looks somewhat bemused.)

In many ways, it’s a good sign; it shows that she has energy, and that her lungs and voice are developing normally. The fact that she cries a lot in the evening and early night is also, according to the Paranoid Parents’ Primer, normal, so that’s nothing to worry about. And, of course, crying babies are one of the necessary rites of passage of parenthood. You can’t be a proper parent until you’ve done it.

On the bright side, she’s started smiling in her sleep, and this morning, she smiled at me while her eyes were open. It’s still a bit ambiguous whether it’s a proper smile, but we’re nearly there.

The real trick will be getting her to smile at her grandparents and aunts over the internet.