Saturday, December 31, 2005

Back in the T.X.A.S.

Flew in from California BOAC,
Went to bed on time last night.
On the way my laptop bag was on my knee,
Man, I had a direct flight.
I'm back in the T.X.A.S.
It's not quite NOLA but it'll do the trick
Back in the T.X.A.S.

Been away so long the cat hardly knew our face,
Gee, it's good to have wireless.
Already we have unpacked our case,
Four hours til 2006.
I'm back in the T.X.A.S.
It's not quite NOLA but it'll do the trick
Back in the T.X.A.S. Back in the T.X.A.S.

Well, the UT orange really knocks me out
I miss the Saints' black and gold.
It's New Years' Eve here in A-U-S-tin
In ten days I'll be another year old

Back in the T.X.
Back in the T.X.
Back in the T.X.A.S.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Four (or five) game reviews with non-gamers

Over the course of this holiday, I've had the opportunity to introduce a number of games to folks outside my normal game group.

We brought Apples to Apples as a default party game for people aged over twenty-five. Like most game geeks, I enjoy introducing new games to people, particularly if the players usually play nothing more exotic than mixing various editions of Trivial Pursuit. I'd say that the three separate groups of people enjoyed it immensely. Personally, I enjoy the game a great deal, and enjoy more watching players eagerly wanting to keep the game going after I step out. To me, that indicates that individuals enjoyed the game in and of itself, rather than just catering to me personally to play a given game.

If you don't know it, here's a brief rundown: Everyone gets seven Red Apple cards, which are things (Golf Ball Sized Hail, Japan, Hot Lava, Charging Rhinos, Cigarettes, Olive Oil, My First Kiss). The judge draws a Green Apple Card, which is an adjective (Sappy, Luscious, Temperamental, Nasty, Horrifying, Phony, Patriotic). Everyone lays down a card that they think the judge will decide is most like the Green Apple card. Whoever wins gets the Green Apple card and a point, then everyone draws a card and the next player is the judge. It's a good high-energy game that often turns hilarious and silly.

I like Apples to Apples. As a game, it works on many levels: virtually no set-up time, extremely accessible to non-gamers, strategically light, massive replay value, and it encourages and relies on player interaction. I know a few people who don't like it, mostly those who don't prefer party games, but I don't know anyone who hates the game.

None of the under-six crowd could play, though Out of the Box makes a Junior version for ages seven and up. I stepped out so the big kids could play and stepped into a two-player game of Operation with a five-year-old. Someone gave the child the game as a Christmas gift.

If you don't know it, here's a brief rundown: Everyone plays a doctor performing operations on a bedridden man. Like many mainstream American games, neither the art nor the gameplay has changed since the sixties. The game board consists of some thirteen holes into which little plastic bits (Water on the Knee, Bread Basket, Butterflies in the Stomach) fit into. Players must remove them depending on a random card draw. If successful, you get a dollar amount. This is a dexterity game, though- your little doctor tweezers complete a circuit when you touch the edge, causing a buzzer to sound and the man's red light bulb of a nose to light up. When this happens, someone has been dealt a random specialist card, and they then get a chance to perform the operation for double the money.

I last played this game a score or more in the past, so I particularly appreciated looking at this game with adult eyes. As a game, it pretty much sucks. Too much randomness combined with zero strategy (other dexterity games have some modicum of strategy, so I don't want to hear it), numbers too large and pieces too small for a child, and seemingly arbitrary scoring conditions equal not much fun. Most notably, it went on too long for two players, and we quickly abandoned the cards and money and just took turns performing operations. From a production standpoint, the production value particularly torqued me off- the "deck" of twenty-six cards includes two extra DO NOT USE cards as a printer's leftover. The cards and money both consisted of thin cardstock and paper, and didn't seem likely to stand up to the rigors of play.

Later in the week, we played the CSI board game, based off the popular TV show. Cat's parents had received it as a gift. Boy, am I glad they didn't pay for this stinker.

If you don't know it, here's a brief rundown: Up to eight players take on the role of the characters from the Crime Scene Investigation television show- the first one, set in Las Vegas. The game comes with eight mystery stories to play (yes, they sell an expansion pack with more stories), each consisting of some 27 cards (on extremely cheap cardstock- almost paper) and a few pages in the manual. The game (such as it is) consists of the players racing around the board (using a single d6 for random movement), reaching each of a number of departments for clues in three levels. Individual players must read all of the clues in each level before moving on to the next. Landing on another player lets you sneak a peek at one of the cards they've already seen. Various Disclosure spaces on the board lets you draw from the Disclosure deck for different effects- usually show players one of the evidence cards you've seen or look at one that another player has seen. In this mystery game, you must prove Motive, Means, and Opportunity for one of three suspects.

With four players, it took us about an hour to make it through Level one, playing by the rules. We quickly got sick of the lack of excitement, the frustration of random movement, the dragging sense of play, and lack of real competition. I think the dissatisfaction generally stemmed of the requirement that players must get all of the Level one and Level two clues before even attempting to guess the truth. Mid-game, we changed the rules to more cooperative play and started to have more fun- even so, I felt we had more of a chore than a game. At one point near the end, we had all guessed most of the crime, but decorum dictated that we continue through the motions and get everything before attempting the win. I don't think the mystery story itself had any inherent failings- one suggestion on Board Game Geek for recouping some fun from this game dispenses with the board completely, playing only with the cards. Do not get this game, even for a die-hard CSI fan.

A day trip to a Monterey game store (yes, there's a beach in the city, too) yielded a number of other purchases. For purposes of this post, I picked up the Party Crate edition of Apples to Apples and Dragon Delta. Mmmm, gift cards.

The Party Crate edition has more than a thousand cards and comes in a nifty wooden case. I'm glad we got this- The sturdy crate, card shoe, and the extra cards really are worth it.

Dragon Delta is a game I've wanted to lay hands on for some time now. I last played it more about three or four years ago, ostensibly as part of game research for developing a MMORPG for a startup.

If you don't know it, here's a brief rundown: Two to six players are competing in a race across a river by building bridges across the many small islands in its middle. Unlike many other race games, this has no random element. Each player has identical cards representing the various potential orders (move one or two, lay one or two stones to support planks, lay one or two planks, pick up a stone or a plank, hop over another player) plus dragon cards to cancel other players' actions. Each lays down five orders, then each card in turn is revealed simultaneously. Yes, you can use other players' bridges, and the start and end positions are designed such that players are virtually certain to cross paths. First player across the river to their goal island wins.

This went over well, thankfully. Strategy-wise, I'd rate this as medium-heavy, leaning towards light. I like the non-randomness, I like the player interaction, and I like the fact that when another player plays against you, you're more set back than screwed. A player almost always has choice and options, a very good thing says I. I really look forward to getting in a six-player game of this once we return to Austin.

Left edge of the country

That tiny figure in the distance is Cat. I'm looking out at the Monteray coast. Forgive the low picture quality, but it came from my cell phone. I'll do a big photo dump later.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Nickel Tour: Madagascar (2005)

Here's the nickel tour:

More of a two-cent tour, really. Madagascar is a Dreamworks animated feature. We're talking Shrek and Antz, not Toy Story or Finding Nemo. As such, the picture includes many sly references just for the adults. I saw the "Madagascar Penguins" in a short before Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, but I hadn't seen the original movie until now. I don't think I've even really seen it now, either. Evidently, Americans put video entertainment on the magic moving picture box in order to placate their young and keep them quiet. Interestingly enough, the cult of the Great Glowy Box doesn't appear to care what sort of active colorful shapes appear on the video screen, much less what kind of musical noise or vocal antics come out of the speakers. As long at the tube engages the brain (or should I say disengages the brain?), the content is virtually irrelevant. The medium matters more than the message. To wind up my rant, I only caught some of this movie as it performed its baby-sitting duties in the background. What I saw, I liked. I give it a "I shall Netflix this so I can actually watch it."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Day of the Foodie

food·ie n. (informal) a person with an ardent, refined, or particular interest in food; a gourmet.

I had five kinds of apples over the course of the day: Red Delicious, Fuji, Granny Smith, Ambrosia, and Braeburn.

Breakfast included some kind of extra-tasty bagel; it had a thicker, crunchier crust, so I can only presume that the bagel-maker boiled it a little longer than your off-the-shelf grocery bagel. I topped it with some kind of gourmet chive-and-onion cream cheese.

For lunch, I had a leftover salad made of organic mixed greens, chunks of gorgonzola, asian pears, and honey roasted walnuts in some kind of mild vinaigrette. I may have also snuck a bit of Gallo Italian dry salami.

Dinner. Ah, dinner. We went to a place called Tarpy's Roadhouse. I can't speak to the wine, but we had two kinds of bottled water- still and fizzy. Evidently the water here is so hard, not only can you eat it with a fork and pick it up with a magnet, you'd overall rather drink bottled water.

One of the back waiters brought the table some extremely creamy and tart butter for a half-loaf of very fresh sourdough. The fantastic waitron, Lara, brought us our appetizers "family style," so the kitchen placed each of our appetizers (Calimari, fried artichoke rings, five spice asian barbecue ribs that literally fell off the bone, and bruschetta with garlic spread and goat cheese) on a central, raised platform.

After that, the main course arrived: Venison in a cherry-port reduction, a mound of mashed potatoes with garlic and chives, and a handful of very crisp asparagus with a smidge of butter. I had never had venison before, and I loved it. I could instantly taste the distinct flavor and understand why folks hunt deer, though I don't think I could put my finger on the precise difference in the meat. It reminded me somewhat of the flavor of buffalo, only leaner in texture and somehow with a harsher taste. I've heard people talk about "the wild taste" when talking about venison before, but I don't have anything else to compare it with... yet.

Desert appeared in the form of a Tres Leches cake with cream and sliced strawberries. If you've never had this kind of cake, imagine a moister, creamier pound cake- almost the density of sponge cake with a thick, rich texture reminiscent of flan or creme brule.

All in all, a most excellent day for the palate.

Monday, December 26, 2005

A Mo-wha?

It's called a modem, little Johnny. It's short for modulator/demodulator, and it allows nice clean digital signals to pass over dirty analog lines- typically to push beautiful ethereal TCP/IP over clunky POTS (Plain Ol' Telephone Service) lines.

What this means to you the reader is that I'm trapped on the other side of a dialup connection in a strange land lacking an abundance of wireless.

I suppose that I could attempt to compose a blog post offline. The muse may not favor me without a live distraction to the intarweb, however. We shall see.

Nickel Tour: March of the Penguins (2005)

Here's the nickel tour:

Narrated by Morgan Freeman (in one day, says the IMDb), this documentary shows the incredible lengths the Emperor Penguin goes to in order to breed and reproduce. In a nutshell, the species walks some 70 miles day and night across Antarctica, mates, lays eggs, then the mother walks back the 70 miles to eat, then back to feed the chick while the father walks the 70 miles to feed himself. All this happens in the freezing and the occasional dark and the barren, frozen, wasteland of Antarctica. The Wikipedia mentions that the Religious Right used this movie to support their views on conservative family values and intelligent design. However, in captivity, the Emperor Penguin displays extremely nonconservative sexual behaviors. Furthermore, the oddity and the odds against the chicks in the rookery speaks against intelligent design. Regardless of the implications, the film is beautiful and moving. I give it a "Definitely worth watching."

Saturday, December 24, 2005


Cat got me a new didj for holiday/birthday/anniversary!

The instrument pictured here comes from Marko Johnson, creator of the compact Didjboxes. Instead of hauling around a five foot piece of wood (and try explaining that "club-like object" to the TSA) while globetrotting, you can use a 16-inch long traveling didj instead! The Mindblower, which I now have, measures about 9 x 5 x 2 and can easily fit into a laptop bag. It gets its name because of its awesome sound from the player's perspective. The top has three holes- the center is intake, the other two function as outtake- one for each ear. Imagine a letter M, if you will. The musician (that's me) plays the center point of the M, and the sound ricochets back along the legs of the M and towards the ears. Stereo, baby! I play more sidesaddle than straight-on, but I can really hear the difference. That doesn't totally alleviate the bizarre sensation of playing a didj the size of a cigar box that actually sounds like a didj.

My second blogworthy present came from my brother. It's a TV-B-Gone, a keychain-sized device that acts like a remote control with one function- it turns off televisions. This genius little gizmo has a database of IR power off codes for most every make and model of television. You press the button, it starts transmitting these codes. The practical upshot of all this is that it lets you turn of virtually any television from 20-50 feet away. Mischief and distraction-free restaurants are in my future!


Tomorrow will find me hurtling through the air at some tens of thousands of feet toward the Left Coast of our nation. Have a good weekend and a happy holiday, folks.

Friday, December 23, 2005

This one's for you, mom

Today I went to one of the weekly meetings of the Launch Pad Job Club, a local-to-Austin networking organization for job seekers. At the first meeting I went to, the organizer hosted a speaker who talked about various non-Meyers-Briggs personality types and how they work and communicate together. Naturally, I thought about applying this real-world semi-scientific data towards gaming, but the overall thrust of why different people communicate at different levels sunk in on a professional level.

Today, my second meeting, the organizer gave out door prizes for the holiday (I got peach jam) and had each of us introduce ourselves and state a company where we would like to have an in or a contact or a foot in the door. As it turns out, one member works for Apple, so I'll soon get in contact with her and see what happens.

I had an interview earlier this week with a non-profit organization for a part time teaching gig. Part time on the order of a couple hours per week; gig on the order of a couple three months. I think it went well, but I need a full time job.

If anyone knows someone in the Austin area who could use my IT, writing, communication, people and/or game design skills, drop me a line and I'll shoot you a copy of my resume.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I cried when Floyd died

"Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control. ... I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art." -Roger Ebert

"Games are popular art, collective social reactions to the main drive or action of any culture. Games, like institutions, are extensions of social man and of the body politic, as technologies are extensions of the animal organism. Both games and technologies are counter-irritants or ways of adjusting to the stress of the specialized actions that occur in any social group. As extensions of the popular response to the workaday stress, games become faithful models of a culture. They incorporate both the actions and the reactions of whole populations in a single dynamic image." -Marshall McLuhan

"I think the real indicator [of gaming's success as an art form] will be when somebody confesses that they cried at level 17." -Steven Spielberg

"I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like." -Gelett Burgess

Floyd asks if you want to play Hucka-Bucka-Beanstalk. -Planetfall

From the fanboy department

I just saw the trailer for X-Men 3. Kelsey Grammer is the Beast, and the guy who played Claire's boyfriend (not Gabe, the blond guy) on Six Feet Under is Angel.

Furthermove, they're remaking The Producers with Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman, and Will Ferrel as the Nazi.

Also a new trailer for V for Vendetta.

So much entertainment, so little time.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

It was a good day

My day began with a Dr Pepper.

No ordinary Dr Pepper, mind you, but the rare and wild Imperial Cane Sugar variant, also known as Dublin Dr Pepper. Short story: Blah blah corn syrup blah blah cane sugar. Real story: In the 1970s, everyone started switching to the cheaper corn syrup for their carbonated beverages. Those stubborn (and right-thinking) folks from Dublin, Texas refused to convert over their Dr Pepper plant to the new-fangled nonsense. In short, when you drink an Imperial Cane Sugar Dublin Dr Pepper, you're drinking pretty close to the more than 125-year-old recipe. And damn, does it taste good, with a wonderful rich smooth flavor. Thanks to the power of the Intarweb, you can buy it online. No, I'm not shilling for the company, I just want to spread the goodness.

After dropping off Cat to intern as a locksmith, I watched Rob Zombie's great little horror movie called House of 1000 Corpses- Never fear, there's a Nickel Tour in the near future. (Mom, don't watch this movie.)

Next, I dropped my car off at the brake shop. I actually had a decent customer experience in a mechanics' shop, can you believe it? My wallet didn't fare as well as my morale, but better to spend a little now and fix the problem than a lot down the line to fix a bigger one, right? Thank you FEMA money! Wheee! Trivia: One of the mechanics told me that he once had a $9,000 brake job on a truck of some kind. I think at that price point, I'd start thinking about a new car.

While waiting for the brake technicians to finish, I met Francois and had Indian buffet for lunch. I also got to geek out a little about games. Huzzah! Mmm, Beef vindaloo and naan.

My local gaming shop also called to let me know that my Fudge dice had come in. Yipee! Funnily enough, I had once tried to order these from another game shop, and to this day, I'm convinced the clerk thought I meant dice made from a yummy confectionery, instead of for the Fudge RPG.

After picking Cat up, I came home to find that my print copy of Dogs in the Vineyard had arrived via USPS. Here's a big shout out to Vincent- Hooray!

To wrap up the evening, I went to a coffeeshop, had tea, and got to geek out some more with Scott. Hoody hoo!

I didn't even have to use my AK.

Nickel Tour: Lifeboat (1944)

Here's the nickel tour:

It's 1944. The war is on. A U-Boat attacks an Allied ship; both sink. Eight survivors make it to a lifeboat. They soon pull one more man from the water, and he's a Nazi. All in all, I found it an interesting character drama, but not as compelling as I had hoped. John Steinbeck wrote the story and Alfred Hitchcock (spot the cameo) directed. I give it a "Dated but kicks Gilligan's ass."

Character creation

I recently accepted an invitation to join another roleplaying group. They meet weekly and alternate between two GMs and two games- Living Legends and the Serenity Role Playing Game. I've just made characters for both systems, and they present an interesting contrast- I doubt the games could be more different.

Living Legends, by Jeff Dee (incidentally also the GM), is superhero game that says it follows in the footsteps of Villains and Vigilantes. I haven't played V&V, but Jeff wrote both, so I expect he knows whereof he speaks. The manual is oddly dry, containing almost nothing about the setting. True, "it's comic books!" and there is a little bit of setting online, and UNI Games does have more product coming out, but nonetheless I missed seeing some setting in the main book.

Physically, it's a Lulu book with black-and-white comic book art. System-wise, it's pretty crunchy. Jeff told me that he was a pretty hardcore Simulationist GM, and it shows in the game. Nicely, he has random character creation alongside a choose-your-own method, so the nefarious Dr. Random can always supply some needed inspiration in a pinch.

As a superhero game, I've only really got Palladium's Heroes Unlimited and GURPS Supers with which to compare, having never played Brave New World, Capes, Champions (does Fuzion count?), DC Heroes, Marvel Super Heroes, Mutants and Masterminds, or With Great Power. I like my character concept for Jeff's "Monstrous Heroes" game, so I slogged through character creation. Eventually I had to resort to a provided spreadsheet when I discovered that I had purchased everything incorrectly. Nothing wrong with nonrandom character creation.

Serenity, by Jamie Chambers (incidentally not the GM) working with Margaret Weis Studios, on the other hand, is based on the movie of the same name. (Insert Firefly rave here.) I've ranted previously about the poor quality of the production, but physically, the book is solid. Much like the original West End Games d6 Star Wars, the book is very pretty- hardcover, glossy pages, photos from the movie, etc. Serenity (the RPG) has a whole licensed property it can build from. On the one hand, you can just refer back to a scene in the movie or an episode, and chances are that players will know the deal. (I don't have to describe a Stormtrooper.) But on the other hand, players will demand all sorts of game details that the original creator just didn't spell out on the big screen. (So, okay, the Hulk and the Thing get into a fight. Who would win? Who's stronger?)

System-wise, it's pretty light. Players can make up many of their skills, and with a good concept, you can finish a character in less than fifteen minutes. The haphazard and graphically-heavy user-supported forums make mention of a great idea I intend to steal- the 3x3x3. Basically, each player creates nine NPCs for the GM- three Allies, three Contacts, three Enemies. As a player, I like the power and control over my character's story. As a GM, I appreciate delegating some GM duties, getting a better handle on what a player wants out of the game, not to mention new sticks and carrots. The Serenity system also makes use of Plot Points to allow players to gain narrative control and fudge die rolls.

So I've got a very crunchy simulationist indie supers game completely in the hands of its creator versus a medium light narrative big-name-but-still-small-press licensed property game in the hands of a fan. I game in interesting times, in the Chinese sense.

This article inspired this post. In a nutshell, the article promotes random character creation as a means to better roleplaying. Worth reading. Contrariwise, Ron Edwards' article on Fantasy Heartbreakers notes that "in old D&D, rolling 3d6, in order, to determine one's one's attributes was a near-guarantee of a really shitty character."

Time to percolate. I hope you do the same.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Flood Washington

The Gulf Restoration Network has an campaign to generate 300,000 email messages — one for every displaced Louisianian — demanding category 5 protection for New Orleans and Southern Louisiana.

I don't like to bring politics here too often, but the President stood in Jackson Square three months ago and swore that "this great city will rise again." Three months later, much of the city still has no power and most of the people have yet to return. This form will send an email to your congressthing for you. Please take the minute or two and participate.

If you'd rather buy swag, check out:
Proud to Swim Home
Those Bastards (scroll down for Nagin and FEMA)

There's tons of stuff on CafePress: Got mold? Still proud to call it home, FEMA Trailer Trash... it's all good.

Post-Katrina humor

Natives go read The Creole-Tomato, right now. I had to subscribe.

Everyone else: well, like it says, "IF YOU AINT FROM HERE, YOU WON'T GET IT" (sic).

You'll have to read and hopefully understand the importance of the article on the endangered wild Turducken, nod sagely at the Op-ed piece by The Special Man, and hungrily read recommendations on where to eat in Baton Rouge.

But once you non-natives read the statement from the Pave Our Lake spokesman ("Told You So."), you might just get it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Roast beef poboy, dressed, no lettuce

Today I ate well.

Lunch found me at Gene's New Orleans Style Poboys & Deli, very near to a friend's house. I absolutely envy the ability to walk a block or two and get a poboy any time you want. Gene's a New Orleans native and an Austin resident some five years and change. Pre-Katrina, he made trips back to the city to get ingredients. Maybe next time I'll get breakfast and sample their grits.

I had coffee at Flightpath later- they make a blended beverage from CDM coffee & chicory. The barista who served me used to live in New Orleans, though I think he moved here before Katrina. I mentioned to him that I finally had a decent poboy- and of course, we started talking food- but he first asked the telling question of a New Orleanian and their poboys: "How was the bread?" A poboy ain't a poboy unless it's on real French bread. It's just not right on subway-style bread. The crunch in the crust is part of the overall aesthetics of the sandwich.

Gene got good bread. I'm ready for another one.

The Economics of Disaster

I just read a Forbes article about how The Red Cross has had to borrow money for the first time in its 125-year history.

Quick data points from the article:
The Red Cross took out a $1 billion line of credit.
In two months, they raised $1.3 billion for Katrina. September 11th prompted $1.1 billion of donations in four months.

In the past, I didn't really donate. Maybe I'd drop a bit of change in a Salvation Army kettle, or give a dollar to a street musician. Sure, I thought about donating to public radio, but I figured that others would cover it. Now I'm in no position to donate anything other than my time. Soon I can donate blood, though.

If you haven't yet given money, and you can, the Red Cross has a page for Katrina donations. For another lean-back approach, many of the Coinstar change machines you see in grocery stores accept donations.

A few days ago, I noticed a PayPal-run "Tip Jar" over at Waiter Rant. I started to look into getting such a button of my own over in the sidebar. Right now, I don't feel so good about doing that. So this holiday season, give a little if you can.

Okay, soapbox over. My birthday is next month, so you can make it up to me then. :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Nickel Tour: The Lonely Guy (1984)

Here's the nickel tour:

Steve Martin (you know him, you love him!) plays the titular character, a "lonely guy" in New York in the mid-eighties. Amazingly, Charles Grodin is funnier as the supporting lonely guy. One commenter on the IMDB observes that Martin suffers for playing the straight man in a comedy, and I agree. I didn't laugh as much as I wanted to, and most of my grins and chuckles shared time with blank stares, counting the seconds to a knowing payoff, and eye rolling at this dated film adaptation of a surely even more dated book. Some of the sight gags worked well, despite being cliched- Martin opening curtains in a potential apartment to reveal an underwater vista with live fish, but wait for it, a tire floats by. A lot of the film comes off this way- not a one-two punch of comedy, but rather more a feeling of desperation in making sure the audience gets the joke. I give it a "They should've called it The Lonely Film."

Monday, December 12, 2005

A full weekend

Even unemployed, weekends have meaning.

Friday night, I ran my first game of Dogs in the Vineyard for the so-named "Renegade Roleplayers of Austin" group that I've pulled together. All in all, the players had a good time, and I believe I finally laid to rest any lingering doubts about roleplaying frontier Mormons with a different name. I figure the gang of four got through my town in about five or six hours- we broke around 2AM. If I do up the notes for the town or create an Actual Play post over at The Forge, I'll let my loyal readership know.

Saturday was a day of Netflix. Between the Simpsons and the Family Guy movie, I had a cartoon-riffic day. I also caught up on my sleep.

On Sunday I played Serenity. This session really came together- partially because we played twice in a row with the same players and partially because we removed an in-game complication allowing us to make choices and decisions.

I had a little bit of heaven for dinner, as Cat had made red beans and rice. Believe me when I say that you missed out.

After that, I hung out a bit with Francois and discussed 1984 Prime, New Orleans, publishing, and game geekery in general. I feel the motivation to start selling or -dare I say it?- even playing my game. During the course of the evening, Greg Costikiyan's insightful article I Have No Words & I Must Design, came up in conversation. If you haven't read it and you care about games, I encourage you to give it a read.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Frozen water

Yestermorning, I woke up to 21-degree weather. Cat and I had to de-ice the school bus before it went anywhere- about a quarter-inch of ice. This marked the third time in less than twelve hours that I needed to remove ice from my car before driving it anywhere. I've seen ice before, of course. In New Orleans, I've seen frost and a thin layer of ice on my car and on the grass, but it usually melts as soon as the sun comes up. I've never had icicles hanging from my car, nor nearly slipped on patches of ice on the ground, nor needed to run the car and heater for about ten minutes before the ice had warmed enough to scrape it off with a combination of a spatula, a shop rag, and elbow grease.

Today, however, we enjoyed a balmy 29. No ice.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Happy Birthday!

Today is my brother's birthday. Why don't you give him a present and click on one of his ads?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Police Action

Monday, I witnessed part of the manhunt for a local serial armed robber.

I had contacted a fellow named Russ via craigslist about buying some wargaming and roleplaying books. We met at a coffeeshop, Texpresso, near the Alamo Drafthouse to geek out and haggle. We wound up talking more about languages, local restaurants, and international travel than games or computers.

About five minutes after he left, patrons in the shop started noticing about a half-dozen police cars in the parking lot. Cops started milling about- most had their service revolvers out, but I saw three with readied rifles. A few minutes later, someone said that it looked like they cops had started to block off the parking lot. I very nearly left when Russ did, but I wanted to hit the net and try one of Texpresso's signature and eponymous drinks. A patron came in and told us that someone had robbed a bank, and the suspect had locked himself into one of the women's restrooms. Ah, Dame Rumor!

I sometimes have my digital camera in my laptop bag. Monday, I didn't. As fortune had it, my new whiz-bang Nokia 3220 (it's like a rave in your pocket) with a camera and a stock and this thing that tells time had just run out of juice. I had enough power to make a call, but not enough to run the camera. Shades of Apollo 13!

I started reporting to Judson via IM all of the developments. His first question? "Where are you in all this? You sitting on the floor? Assess your cover." Despite sitting near to a large glass window, I felt secure. Not only was I out of the line of fire, I could reach much better cover into the cafe and behind the counter very quickly. And who says that roleplaying games don't prepare you for real life?

I didn't want to leave the cafe, as I had two file boxes full of games, plus my laptop bag. I felt that the police would take a dim view of an unidentified man carrying two suspicious-looking white boxes into this situation. Also, one officer had stationed his car directly behind mine, using both my car and a white pickup as cover for his car, which he then used as cover. I did have a good view of his little staging area as he searched through the weapons in his trunk. "Great," I thought. "With my luck, a shootout happens and Progressive doesn't cover bullet holes. The city better buy me a new car."

About this time, speculation had it that the bank robber had hostages. People came out of the Drafthouse in ones and twos, and cops escorted three cooks out, frisked them, and let them go. I saw one woman sobbing into a man's arms about thirty feet past the window. By this time, the cops had largely holstered their weapons and had a much more relaxed attitude. Two Feds or detectives had pulled up and started talking to the civvies outside. Shortly after this, the office moved his car from blocking mine and I took the opportunity to leave and go have lunch.

When I got to my car, I plugged in my phone and took a poor-quality-at-a-distance shot of the restaurant draped in crime scene tape; I'll try to transfer it off my phone and have it available here for the teeming masses.

To see the shopping center where this all went down, check out these two Google Maps. Hope this helps!

Winter comes to Austin

It's 22 degrees right now. That's ten degrees below freezing. The little school bus (aka Blueberry aka my Saturn aka the car) had ice over the windshield, roof, rear window, and trunk. What's next? "Snow?"

It's despicable.

Monday, December 05, 2005


I stumbled across Darren Lock's review of a new remaster of Queen's A Night at the Opera for the 30th anniversiary of the. The new album also comes with a DVD of the tracks remixed in 5.1 surround sound, plus videos and audio commentary by the band.

Yes, I just added this to my Amazon wish list. I may buy it before the holidays, though.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Nickel Tour: The January Man (1989)

Here's the nickel tour:

I've seen this movie before, and I remember really liking this movie. It used to stand up to the Kevin Kline Moustache Theory of Comedy. You know the one. If Kevin Kline appears in a movie with a moustache, it's funny and good and all is right with the world. January Man has Kline as an ex-firefighter returned serial strangler catcher. The supporting cast is okay, Alan Rickman rocks, Danny Aiello is a New Yorker, Rod Steiger yells and screams, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is the female romantic lead, Susan Sarandon doesn't act like Janet Weiss. Plotwise, I nearly fell asleep. Maybe I'm watching too much CSI, or Silence of the Lambs changed everything, but I just want more out of a police procedural/serial killer flick. I give it a "Not as good as I remember."

A brief personal computing history

Today I realized that I haven't purchased a computer for myself since around 1997.

At some time in the mid-eighties, our family had a TI 99/4A computer. I don't really remember using it for much beyond playing games, though I know that I learned a little bit of programming on it. I know that the New Orleans Central Library did not consistently title books on the system, as I had to search for "TI 99 4A," "TI 99/4A." "TI 99\4A," and "TI 994A" to find books on the subject. At the time, the price point for getting network access prevented me from any online research.

In 1986, my grandmother bought me a Commodore 64. I distinctly remember purchasing a 1200 baud modem from Toys R Us for $89. With this modem, I connected. I couldn't afford Q-Link, the pay-per-minute online service that eventually became AOL, and my parents wouldn't let me make international long distance calls (much less any other long distance calls), but I did have my own phone line. In New Orleans, I belonged to several of the dozens of BBSs, and even ran one of my own for a while. I had many happy years with my Commie, joining my first user groups, pirating my first software, doing my first hardware hacking, the list goes on and on.

I bought my first computer sometime in the early nineties, before I left high school. I paid about $1,200 for a 386 IBM clone with a 100MB hard drive, both kinds of floppy drive (remember those?), and probably about 16 megabytes of RAM- though it could have had only eight megs of RAM. It came with MS-DOS version 5. "Lazarus," as I eventually called the machine, stayed with me throughout several incarnations. I upgraded it first to a 387, then to a 486SX, and eventually to a 486DX. At some point, I bought the MS-DOS 6.22 upgrade (the last pre-Windows version). I most commonly played StarCon and Civilization one, used WordPerfect 5.1 for papers and stories, and good old Telix for modem work. I had Windows 3.11, but most of my applications (and games) lived in DOS. Lazarus and its 100MB hard drive still functioned pre-Katrina, though it basically existed to test some extremely low-end floppy-based Linux distributions.

Shortly after college, in 1997, I had the opportunity to make use of one of two laptops a roommate had- I called them "Black Box" and "Beige Box." Both systems had 486 processors and awful battery life, but the Compaq-branded Beige Box had more memory and a trackball built into the right-hand side of the screen, with its buttons on the back. I still miss that ergonomic design, which allowed full keyboard access while mousing, something that many modern trackpads interfere with. I still used Lazarus as my primary system, using the laptops for lightweight tasks in more comfortable locations. Both systems had Windows 95.

In 1998, I purchased my first laptop, Digital Equipment Corporation's HiNote VP 717, for $900 from a friend. I eventually dubbed this system "Barnacle" due to its tenacity. At the time, a good friend had almost convinced me to purchase one of the new fruit flavored iMacs. If I had purchased one of those systems, I likely could still have used it actively as an OS X machine. As it happens, you can still buy one of those iMacs for $100-$200. The HiNote won't fetch more than $20 even if it worked. Barnacle represented my first foray with Linux, as I flirted briefly with Red Hat Linux version 6 around 1999. I successfully got an external ZIP drive and my wacky PCMCIA modem working, but video problems plagued me, and I eventually went the Windows 98 route, going back to Eudora for email. Major games included SimCity, but not the Sims- poor Barnacle didn't have the speed to run it. In mid-2000, I dropped it while moving a desk and broke the screen. I continued to use my laptop with an external monitor, effectively turning it into a desktop system. Around 2003, I found a replacement screen on eBay for $25 (as opposed to $500+ when it broke), installed the part, and Barnacle became a Linux test box for lightweight distros, such as Damn Small Linux. Its battery eventually gave out, and I did not salvage it from New Orleans.

In early 2001, I did some work for an architect friend of mine I met doing tech support for a friend. She paid me in cash, as well as with an old computer she no longer used. This system, now dubbed "Fornit," started life as a Red Hat 8 system for Cat, as she hadn't had a computer of her own in ages. Fornit stood about three feet tall, had a plastic foot bezel for support, and weighed a ton. I consider it my first real in-kind gift.

In mid-2002, I received a free system as a gift from my then-employer. "Sandbox" cost $300 and came with Linux. A low-end Wintergreen system with an 1100 MHz Athlon processor and a 10 GB hard drive, Sandbox became my primary gaming and web-goofing system, as most of my work happened on my Linux system at work. Eventually, its CPU fan clogged with dust and stopped, leading to a fried processor. A good man from the New Orleans Linux Users Group gave me a spare proc he had lying around. Eventually, virtually every part on that system failed: its memory, its hard drive, its proc, its power supply, and I think its optical drive.

Sometime in 2003, I did some more in-kind work for a lawyer friend of mine and got another cast-off system. This timed nicely with the death of Sandbox. I never gave this system a name. Mostly I played emulated and older games on this system- C64, SNES, DOS.

In mid 2004, while at Tulane, a student gave me a semi-dead G3 iBook for parts. Its optical drive broke when she dropped something on it while open, and it had a flashing question mark indicating that it couldn't boot- a dead hard drive. Before the holiday season, I had repaired it to usability. "FrankenMac," my current system, has had more surgery and more invasive surgery than any other system I've owned. I've replaced its 20GB hard drive, its optical drive twice (first a combo drive, then a plain CD-ROM), and a reed switch in the display. I also scrounged a power adapter. All told, FrankenMac utilizes parts from six different machines.

The two Windows boxes I evacuated from New Orleans need to go back to their owners. I may buy a cheap Dell for games. Right now, unemployed, I have no line on donated systems or acquired pieces parts. Rumor Control says that Apple plans to release a new, Intel-based line of iBooks come the end of January.

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

"Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night..."

"...stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

So spake Herodotus, as we all know. The United States Postal Service's unofficial motto sort of applies here. Well, apart from the fact that hurricanes trump "swift completion."

Today, the 3rd of December, I received two Netflix movies that originally shipped on the 30th of August.

According to a spokeswoman from the USPS, "a letter mailed across town now must travel to Baton Rouge for a postmark, then to Houston to check for forwarding addresses, back to Baton Rouge, then on to St. Rose to be sorted for delivery and back to the appropriate local post office."

I'm honestly not complaining to receive mail. On some level, I'm amazed that our postal system works as well as it does.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Nickel Tour: Dead Calm (1989)

Here's the nickel tour:

In this installment of "Eighties movies I've never seen before," we touch on a thriller that launched Nicole Kidman's career- she still has he kiwi accent as the wife of Sam Neill in the middle of the ocean on a boat with a crazy man, Billy Zane. Even though this movie had some obviously dated plot points, it captivated me almost from the opening shot through the end. As always, Neill does a wonderful job going slightly mad. Zane, while almost too pretty to play a lunatic, also convinces. And Kidman does quite well with the script she has. The isolated environment of the ocean and the limited cast (three, plus a dog, not counting characters seen on a videotape) really work well for this sort of story. I give it a "I really want to see a remake of this, set in space."

CNN talks about the didgeridoo

The Famous Didjeridu Mailing List (Remember those? LISTSERV, anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) sent me a link to an article about didj crafting at CNN. Once you've digested that, you can find out more starting at the Wikipedia. If you want to see and hear real didjs for sale, check out L. A. Outback and the Didj Shop.