Sunday, April 30, 2006

Nickel Tour: My Science Project (1985)

Here's the nickel tour:

The Netflix fairy brought me this old flick, mostly because we had recently seen Real Genius and The Manhattan Project. There's a certain genre of sci-fi that we don't see in this day and age very often- the semi-wacky sci-fi comedy. (No, the new Hitch-hiker's movie doesn't count.) usually you've got the kid/Trickster figures, a number of cop/Authority figures, the sympathetic wise Teacher and the weird Mystical Science Widget. Maybe we're ultimately better off with less eighties movies being made. My Science Project falls firmly into the category of the kind of movie you only like if you watched it as a kid and liked it back then so therefore it has nostalgic value and you enjoy watching it not for the content of the movie itself but rather for the positive associations that you recall from watching the movie when it first happened into your life. I give it a "Might be worthwhile for to see Dennis Hopper act like an ex-hippie."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

An Expanse of Emotion

The incomparable Yehuda has outdone himself recently. Thanks to the joy of RSS and catching up on my reading, he has made me laugh at a music album devoted to Cheapass Games (the company, not the phenomenon), cry by passing on the tale of Fred Basci on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and tremble with fear (or something) after watching a 1980s-era D&D television commerical (WMV, what can ya do?). He also reminded me of the weekly The Escapist journal/zine/magazine/collaborative blog/place to think about games and game culture.

More-or-less unrelatedly, I've picked up Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun, a sort of Understanding Comics for the game set. Even more unrelatedly, his original keynote was presented at the 2003 Austin Game Conference. Notably, I got the book through Amazon from with a used textbook sticker on it. All this helps me look at my back burners and stir some mental pots.

Oh, and mom: The Boston Globe has an article that calls blogs essential to a good career.

Enjoy the links!

Nickel Tour: Brick (2005)

Here's the nickel tour:

My brother and I got out of the theatre about an hour ago. You need to see this movie. Brick is a noir film set in a modern-day high school, but this is emphatically not a teen movie- instead a blend of non-direct narrative and 40's grit, all dark and seamy and hard-edged crime drama. I'm not saying it's perfect, but it's a hell of a ride as the story unfolds and the plot is revealed by our protagonist, Brendan, easily at home in a hoodie and denim as his predecessors in trenchcoats and fedoras. Don't believe me? As of this writing, the Tomatometer gives it 74% fresh. Josh alleges I showed him this trailer months back, but I know I saw it while I still worked at Dell. Heck, go watch the trailer yourself and tell me what you think. I give it a "I need to see it again" and a "I wish I could run a game like this."

Monday, April 24, 2006

Post-weekend quickie

I had a pretty full weekend: Games, games, a surprise western How-To-Host-a-Murder birthday party, no fragging, the devouring of Red Lightning, conference call with Red Five, no roleplaying, and Netflixen.

Speaking of movies, who misses the Nickel Tour?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Death of a stranger

A woman died on my lunch hour today.

I left the office for lunch with a coworker. We went to Maudie's along the 360. On the way back, we passed the scene of a hit-and-run between a bicyclist and two vehicles. Evidently the first vehicle clipped the bike and stopped, but the second one drove off after running over the anonymous cyclist [login info].

Driving past the congestion, I saw an ambulance, a fire truck, at least three police motorcycles, and at least four police cars. I also saw a human-sized bundle under a blue sheet that flapped in the wind. I think I saw the bike, too.

When I do count the clock...

I know that people die all the time. I know that right now, now as I write this and now as you read it and now as someone else reads it in the future, now someone has just died. It could be anywhere in the world or just down the street. Death sucks.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sunday games recap (Bonus!)

Yes, you read that right- boardgames played on Sunday that bear mentioning. At last Friday's game extravaganza, I made sure to pick up at least a few games that could be played as two-player. You see, I like to include Cat in games whenever possible, so I'm always keeping an eye out for one that I think she'd play, like, look at, or even just think about playing.

In order to stave off the Sunday Blues, we passed a pleasant day in front of the electronic teat, then off to a local diner (all right, Denny's) to review my edits and notes on the most recent draft of her first novel. Does anyone know a literary agent? We had planned to see Inside Man, the new Spike Lee heisty-drama with Jodie Foster and Denzel Washington, plus the Operative from the Serenity movie and some other actors. We wound up missing it, but no matter- off to the house (apartment, fine) for to get in a few games!

First, we played Wooly Bully (BGG, BUY ME!). This is a tile-laying territory game based around sheep (Why are there more and more games cropping up with a sheep theme? I just don't want to know, I think). It plays with two to four, so we gave it a shot with two. I've got to step aside a moment and really speak about the quality of the components. Each double-sided tile shows forest, village, or sheep in four colors. Each sheep has a different pattern, for those of us with colorblindness, and each pasture has a slightly different shade of green. Very high quality, and nice touches on individual sheep made it a pleasure to look at. Sadly, I think players might readily succumb to analysis paralysis, as you have many options on each turn, and as you lay tiles that match on one, two, three, or even four sides, you'll pull more tiles, giving you more options, etc etc, vicious circle. But it's semi-light tile-laying territory game where you can throw wolves at the sheep to keep your opponent from scoring. I want to see this with four and see how vicious it can get, but Cat observed that there's not much room for table talk; if you can play a game in silence, then it's generally not going to win big on the Cat-o-meter.

As a quick aside, games play better or worse with different numbers of players, have you noticed that? A game designed for 2-4 might play like crap with three, and a game marketed as for 3-5 might simply not work with five players. Some games have expansions to let you play with more players; this usually doesn't work but is playable and therefore a completely different game. Look at Catan, am I right? But I digress.

Next, we got in three rounds of Tamsk (BGG, BUY ME!). I've wanted this game for many years; I last recall playing it before 2003 and probably sometime in 2002. I know that that copy survived Katrina, but now it's on the Left Coast. Recently coming back into print, I snagged a copy. It lists for $50, but is made of well-crafted material: six three-minute timers, sixty-four Bakelite ivory rings, and a hexagonal board. You're trying to get rid of your rings as you move your timers around the board; the center spaces hold more rings and therefore offer more movement possibilities, as once a space holds its maximum number of rings, you can't move there again. Did I mention that your pieces are timers? If they run out of sand, you leave them where they are, never to be moved again. Once again, we're talking about a game of territory, but the added dimension of time adds a delightful twist. Two players, maybe fifteen minutes per game if you're slow.

Tamsk is one of the games in the Gipf project, a sort of meta-game that can bring in its other games as part of a challenge. New pieces called "potentials" get back into the main game once the challenge is over. Imaging playing a round of chess, but each time you tried to capture a piece, you participated in a mini-game to determine the outcome: if you won, you got not only your original chess move, but also another nonstandard piece to bring in with its own rules and strategies. It's old news, but there are very interesting things going on in this world of abstract strategy. I've played only half of the six games: Gipf, Tamsk, and Zertz. The other three remain unplayed by me: Dvonn, Yinsh, and Punct.

Finally, we played three or four games of Times Square (BGG, BUY ME!). Yet another offering from Dr. Reiner Knizia, this is effectively tug-of-war with cards, a number of handsome wooden tokens and a somewhat tacked-on 1940s nightclub battle theme. This one is designed for two and two alone; I don't think teams would work. I don't normally like to talk poorly of a Rio Grande game; they have high standards of both gameplay and materials. In this case, the rules had many typos and editorial lapses; nothing game-breakingly awful, but definitely not the clearest sets of rules ever. Regardless, there's a fine game here. Indirect influence is the heart of the game as two competing nightclub owners try to lure one of two famous personages to frequent their club; Saucy Sue (plus bodyguards) and Champagne Charlie. Sue has her bodyguards to work around, Dancing Deb and Handsome Hal can both move tokens in different ways, and Charlie always follows the popular spot. Players have cards to move the various pieces, but always one and only one at a time. It took us a game or two to get the hang of it, but the time estimates are way off- this isn't a twenty- or thirty- minute game; we played one in about ten minutes; light with hints of medium-heavy. Definitely a keeper.

Oh, and happy Easter.

Laser printers are awesome

We just snagged this baby, the Brother HL-2070N. Network laser printer for less than $150. Mac and Linux compatible, with Linux drivers actually on the Brother web site (!) for downloading. The toner cart was about $60 from Office Despot, too, good for approximately 2,500 pages.

If you need help getting this to work under Linux, take a look at Linux Printing for starters, then take a gander over at this forum post, but you'll ultimately want to use these instructions and the Brother driver.

On the Mac, just look for it and it works under Bonjour/Rendezvous. There's Windows stuff too, but I haven't a Windows box to test.

But who cares? Laser awesome.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Friday Games Recap

Yesterday, open gaming, Great Hall Games.

A lot of folks in my regular boardgaming group didn't make it, but as it happened, I met up with another couple, Steven and Lisa, and Cat showed up as an unexpected surprise bonus.

The evening began by my setting up Carabande (BGG, OOP GOOD LUCK), a first for my travels to Great Hall. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, this is a great game. Sadly long out of print, for no reason that I know of- Spiel Des Jahres games should never go out of print. I don't need to restate the many things that I've said about Carabande. It's got broad appeal, it's teachable in less than a minute, it looks good. This time we played it, I learned that it's a good litmus test for sportsmanship. Like the recently seen article on the Waiter Rule, I could make a case for the Carabande Rule: Take a game with fast and loose rules and see who takes advantage of them. It really speaks to one's sportsmanship and sense of honor. I played three games during the course of the night- one with five, one with eight, and one nearer to the end of the night with four. Most spectacular of all, GHG provides some large flat pieces of pressboard for miniatures gamers to set up their escapades and fields and units, so we had the luxury of a flat surface for the track. It makes a great difference.

Next, I encouraged a four-player game of Wheedle (BGG, BUY ME!), based on (as I understand it) Pit (BGG, BUY ME!). Wheedle is a fast, intense, simultaneous stock-trading game of begging, pleading, and (you guessed it) wheedling to get the cards you want to make scoring sets. Wheedle has a kicker, as expected from Reiner Knizia- the center holds a single card for open trading, but whatever leftover card remains there at the end of the round goes bankrupt and scores negative points. It plays well with four and six; I haven't tried with five yet.

Next, I had the opportunity to play a four-player version of Dilbert: Corporate Shuffle (BGG , OOP - SORRY), a game that has seen many names, including its currently published name of The Great Dalmuti (BGG, BUY ME!) and the standard playing-card semi-drinking game variation known as Presidents and Assholes. This is a game about getting rid of cards in sets, sort of like Bullshit without the bluffing. There's a significant social aspect to the game, as the winner of each round is the "Big Boss" and the loser of each round is the "Junior Intern." Seats change with the roles; you tend to stay on top once you get on top. Overall, I felt the game was a little lacking, but I'd very likely give it a go again or Dalmuti an honest shot.

After this, Cat took off and I got to pull out the requested Wiz-War (BGG, OOP - COMPLAIN TO CHESSEX) and got in a three-player game, which surprisingly turned into a knock-down-drag-down bloody violent last-wizard-standing situation with some very clever maneuverings at the end before we were kicked out by closing time. I cast Walking Dead on Steven, causing him to lose a half hit point per space walked, he countered by casing Lock In Place on me for a few turns, and started manipulating Lisa's treasures around my home base such that he could cast Swap Home Base after using a Warp Wand to pop through a wall before I could get him back and thereby have two treasures very near to his (newly moved) home base and grant him the win in sight in less than two turns. I came out of Lock In Place with Disease, Dispell Creationed his Create Door to keep me away from him, walked up to him, damaged him with Disease and then punched him to death. Most exciting! I love the interactions between the cards in Wiz-War, and I truly barely care about winning some times, as long as the play was interesting and clever and a surprise.

More soon!

Frozen water with sugar and flavor

I just had a snowball.

Some of you might wonder how I managed to get a snowball here in the desert, but some of you are likely nodding your heads in understanding. Cat and I ran by Casey's New Orleans Snowball stand and each got one frozen tasty treat. (For you non-natives, imagine a larger Sno-Cone with more smoothly shaved ice and thicker syrups with more flavor options.) So many choices- Dreamsicle, chocolate with condensed milk, bubble gum, ice cream, even Hurricane-flavored... I settled on a raspberry and blackberry mix; Cat got a sugar-free wild cherry. We also talked food a bit with the eponymous owner, Casey.

No pictures, sorry. We ate 'em too fast.

Now to get started on the first of several backlogged games postings.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Proof and edit

I'm reading Cat's first novel, and you're not.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Save Early, Save Often

I learned this mantra back in the days of Infocom's text adventures. It means that you lose nothing but a bit of time by saving or backing up, and you gain so much more. Save before disaster happens; Save when you're thinking about it; Don't put off saving; Keep extra disks (or CDs, DVDs, hard drives, servers, iPods...) for the express purpose of saves; Always double-check your saves; Don't overwrite an old save if you can help it.

This is doubly true now, when the majority of the world's information is on little magnetic platters with one-year warranties.

I use Synk for backups on my Mac, and I really like its one-click backup once you've set it up. Once I get a dedicated backup machine with the space, it'll be even easier; I can just set up real archiving and synchronization as a cronjob. It's cheap (free if you have a .edu address) and it works.

I just backed up my laptop. When was the last time you backed up your computer(s)?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Didj Day Delight, Apple Anticipation

Another meet of the Austin Didj Group went down today. One fellow showed up right as i started to wonder if anyone would show up. He had wanted to get in on the didj goodness for some time, but logistics prevented. He had also never played before. While I gave him my semi-standard "play a didj in five minutes" spiel, Robert showed up with his awesome two-legged didj (which looks exactly like this), called variously "The Twins" and "The Lady." As luck would have it, one of the random parkgoers that our trio attracted happened to already own a PVC didj, but didn't know how to play it. So we became a foursome, a-tooting and a-buzzing.

Most of you know that I've had my eye on a new laptop (not just a portable) for some time. I found a few helpful posts on Apple's forums that helped me restore some of my performance, freeing up drive space with Monolingual by wiping out unused languages. I just read an article over on Think Secret that tells us to expect a widescreen consumer laptop, the MacBook, in the next month or two. Instead of buying a used or refurb now, I plan to hold off and buy a new new new one.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Tyranny and Oppression

Today's A.Word.A.Day came with this quotation; It seems remarkably apt for this day and age.

    If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. — James Madison, fourth US president (1751-1836)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

New John Varley book!

I just found out that a new book from John Varley came out yesterday, Red Lightning. It's a sequel to Red Thunder, a story about getting to Mars in a very unlikely fashion. Plus, there's a Cajun as a supporting character. I'm about to drive out right now after dinner and buy it. I may follow in Cat's footprints and re-read the first one first.

If you haven't read Varley before, do so. I don't mean to appear like a total sell-out here (see the ad below), but his books are really that good. I've bought stuff sight unseen because his name is on it.

If you want to get started, I strongly recommend the following - not necessarily in order: The John Varley Reader (a book of short stories); Steel Beach and then The Golden Globe (life in the solar system after humans are totally wiped out on Earth, but way better than that); and, of course, the Gaia trilogy: Titan, Wizard, Demon. If you can find something out of print by him in a used bookstore, snap it up. On the other hand, as the man says, the three Gaia books are back in print and he can get royalties again.

Monday, April 03, 2006

This is not your father's Cyberpunk

...but it's not CyberGeneration or CP v.3, either.

It has been decided that I would be volunteered to run a regular roleplaying game of Cyberpunk 2020 for the Renegades as part of our regular Thursday game.

I'm bringing in massive house rules this time. One large chunk covers character creation and is more-or-less the standard stuff from the rulebook, just meatier.

Not for the first time, I wish that TableSmith or something like it was available for the Mac. I've always loved random idea generators as a creative tool, either using cards or dice or just choosing something from a list. Not for the first time, I wish for automated random generators. To get an idea what I mean, take a look over at Seventh Sanctum and play around. Times like this, I really do wish I could program. Maybe this urge will be strong enough that I might act on it. I have been looking at Ruby, after all.

The second chunk of additions is crazier. I've decided to use Keys from TSoY's Solar System for experience points. You hear that, Clinton? Wacky Indie Narrativist Player-Story-Control merged with the game that brought GM advice in the form of a book called (and I swear that I am not making this up) Listen Up, You Primitive Screwheads! In all seriousness, I actually think that Keys might translate well to Interlock and its Improvement Points, as well as my traditionally character-centric reactive style of running.

We made characters last Tuesday, and I run this Thursday.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Quicky Web Clicky

Okay, I've got two of 'em for ya.

First, Optimus Prime. You know him, you love him. Some fan made a really awesome computer-generated rendering of the eighteen-wheeler Transformer doing his thing. If you like you can check out the low-res YouTube version or scope out the hi-res video links as found in this forum.

Second, Google Reader. Zang. If you've already hopped onto the RSS bandwagon, you must check out Google Reader. It's a nifty web-based aggregator. If you're not already living la vida RSS, you might want to consider looking into it anyway. In a nutshell, RSS is kind of like the tickertape at the bottom of CNN on steroids: you get the headlines, and can read the full article if you want. Of course, it doesn't have to be news or even anything respectable. I've got a mishmash of other blogs and news and reviews in my list that will now follow me wherever I may be in the wild and wooly internet.