Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Technology on the march

Wolverine strikes a protective pose above Cat's new system. I'm not there, so Logan has to pull swing shift.

Brief specs: Shuttle XPC SK21G, AMD 64-bit 3000, 1GB RAM, 160GB SATA drive, her old combo drive, Ubuntu Linux 5.10 (Breezy Badger). About $500 from Fry's. Data copied, 64-bit hacks done, all is well.

Katrina in your face

Some time ago, a good friend sent me a link to Chris Rose's commencement speech at Ursuline Academy. Chris Rose writes for the Times-Picayune, the New Orleans newspaper, and Ursuline is a parochial girls' school, the oldest in the US, founded in 1727.

Rose's speech it worth reading- it might make you smile, or mist up a little, but it moved me; I wonder how you will feel?

Tonight, we're going to be interviewed by a UT student about our Katrina experiences. I'm not sure what we'll say or what they expect- our story isn't made-for-cable doom.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

O, this too too ephemeral silicon

Sad news. I believe that the processor in Cat's computer has fried, and that all the magic smoke has been let out and it has gone to Silicon Heaven.

Anybody have a spare AMD Socket A (462) proc lying around? I'm hoping that Fry's will be open during the holiday tomorrow.

Clean Install


Some of you may remember the oft-opened FrankenMac and know that I now have the as-yes-unnamed new MacBook. I've been working lately to get all of my data onto one machine, pulling info from Windows and Mac drives, CDs, and copies of floppies. Most of the videogaming stuff now lives on my loaner game box, Trogdor (don't ask, the machine came with the name).

As such, I'm preparing to sell my iBook. As much as I'd like the extra hardware to play with; I don't require it, I'm sure someone else could use it, and it would help offset the cost of the new one- and who couldn't use a spot of extra money?

I had an interesting conundrum in reinstalling on FrankenMac due to its changed hardware. How do you install an operating system off a DVD when you don't have a DVD drive? Where there's a will (and a geek or two), there's a way. The advice they gave me worked like a charm. I'm even going to be able to reset the patched, etc. system to its out-of-the-box state.

I'll give my loyal readership first dibs. Does anyone want to purchase a G3 iBook? Contact me for details.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

DOOM to obsolescence!

For those of you still puttering along with nearly eight-year-old operating systems, the Powers that Be at Microsoft have announced that Windows 98 support will end (again and again, but for real this time) on July 11, 2006.

Truly scary is the fact that MSFT originally extended the date due to pressure from businesses still running outdated, insecure, buggy, and already paid for operating systems.

How many of you are driving a car newer than your computer?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Delicious pasta sauces

I love the internet. I just received a case of Frank Sinatra's Pesto Sauce. Ol' Blue Eyes may not be with us, but he lives on with his fine line of gourmet sauces.

Props to eFood Pantry for stocking my favorite brand of green. I'd like to talk more about it, but with apologies to Elvis Costello, writing about food is a little like dancing about architecture. Next on my list of obscure food purchases from the web is Thai tamarind candy.


With apologies to Tom Lehrer, you might want to see his "Elements Song" (sung to a possibly vaguely recognizable tune) rendered in Flash.

While trawling the blogosphere, I found this great take on if Microsoft redesigned the iPod box. (About three minutes, the music helps. Name that tune!)

MacGeekery confirms what I've discovered with my new laptop- the wireless range is phenomenal. I am literally picking up more than twice the number of wireless networks that I could see before with FrankenMac.

I swear I am not making this up, I just picked up GURPS for Dummies from Half Price Books.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Friday Gaming Recap

When I arrived at Great Hall Friday, Dan, Kelly, Steve, and a fourth guy had started a game of Through the Desert (BGG, BUY ME!). I've played this once, and I think I won, but I oddly feel no real draw to play it again. I fully admit that its candy pastels could bias me, but I suspect that my feelings have more to do with the strategy itself. Perhaps I just didn't get the game, as I know that a lot of others really enjoy this one- it's the designer's favorite of his designs. Maybe I just haven't played it in long enough to have more than an observational reaction instead of my usual visceral response. Taking a closer look, I should like this sort of game- you're laying camels on a hex desert to connect oases and score points based on territory and routes. I really need to give it an honest go again.

Upon request from one of the Nicks from the Renegades, I brought
Deflexion (BGG, BUY ME!), the laser game. I played about three or four games with Steve, with a surprise visit from John. I like this game more and more as I play it. I can't say for certain that I'm getting better at playing it, but I kicked ass and got same handed to me on Imhotep, the alternate setup- it's vicious. Now that I've had the chance to drag the box around, I have to complain about its size- a shade too bulky, coming in just under 16" x 18" x 3". After Nick eventually showed up, this game did get played more without me, and I know it went over well. I still need to get a miniature smoke machine, or just some dry ice.

Now, the moment that some of you have been waiting for- the moment where I admit that I made a huge error in the rules and basically have been playing Colossal Arena (BGG, BUY ME!) wrong for ever- literally as long as I've been playing the game and through both editions. The game has a rule that allows only one bet per creature per round- so you can't double up bets. This completely changes the entire game. On the bright side, we've got a variant that I've never seen mentioned. On the other hand, the five new players (one four-player game with myself, Kelly and two new players, John and Steve; one five-player game with myself, John and Steve again plus and two more new players, Nick and Marc) I introduced the game to got to learn the importance of reading the rules. On the real bright side, now I have an excuse to keep bringing and playing the game. In my defense, Judson reports that the original rules for Titan are ambiguous.

Finally, I brought out a game I acquired via a trade through Board Game Geek: Cape Horn (BGG, BUY ME!), a clever little tile-laying game of racing around Cape Horn (in South America, as opposed to Cape Horn over on the Lower East Side). The tiles, aka "wind cards," all dictate the possible direction a ship can travel. You win in one of two ways: land on differently-colored nautical stations in two of the three different regions and cross the finish line, or hit three differently-colored nautical stations in all three zones. I like the balance between acting and reacting, between planning for unforeseen events and actively leader-bashing. The rules for tile-laying all but require that you interfere with the other players, so there's a good about of interaction. I didn't win, but I don't care. I'm glad I own this one.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

How to fix Thesauru [sic] in Dashboard widget

Huzzah! I just solved a minor annoying cosmetic bug on my laptop, the as-yet-unnamed MacBook.


...should look like this.

I have Kurt Lang's font-informative post to thank for pointing me at Font Finagler, a tool to clear font caches. I downloaded it, ran it, cleared some caches, rebooted, and zang! All appears as expected.

It's the little things, isn't it?

Ice cream social

I spent Friday afternoon serving root beet floats to elementary school kids.

The company I work for, Xilinx, allocates money for its offices to spend on the local community: art, science, miscellaneous, and I forget the other categories. My office has adopted a local school, Dawson Elementary (home of the Dolphins!), and sponsors events and donated computers and the like. Thursday, the office admin asked me if I wanted to spend Friday afternoon working in a fluorescent-lit cubicle reinstalling Windows or to frolic in the vicinity of excited grade-school kids not in class and give them ice cream to support their annual sock hop. I think I thought it over for an entire second. Maybe two- one to process and one to decide.

For about an hour and a half I and a coworker's wife scooped ice cream and handed the cups off to get imitation Coke and/or root beer poured by my other coworkers. We had a little assembly line that would make Henry Ford proud. I also had a festive green plastic lei for some reason. (Lei = Sock hop? I don't pretend to understand.) Instead of a root beer float I had an Amp (Mountain Dew's energy drink) float to keep me going. After the haze of ice cream, my body craved vitamins and healthful food, so I met a friend for lunch and ordered a spinach salad and an empanada.

In an interesting stream of existential connectivity, after open gaming at Great Hall I ate at iHop with Marc to do some post-gaming geeking. Our waitress had a kid at Dawson elementary and I had evidently given her a root beer float and we got excellent service and hooked up.

Two Gigs, Twice

My MacBook (the first Scottish laptop) still needs a name.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mayorial thoughts

The Times-Picayune has endorsed Mitch Landrieu for Mayor of New Orleans.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Most geeks know (or should know of, or should at the very least have met someone like, or potentially aspire to be like) the Bastard Operator from Hell, aka the BOFH. Those who don't should be aware that computer administration is stressful to say the least and that said administrators often have conflicting views and agendas with the users they support. This can lead to further stress, cruelty, or amusement, depending on your perspective.

That said, let me give a shout out to PC, the man from the trenches still over at D'hell. His latest post on supporting users will make you grin. Also, I want to encourage his blogging by sending him a few readers. (I'll let him answer what the PC stands for.)

For more amusing facets of tech support life, I've enjoyed Computer Stupidites.

Happy 200th post!

Hello, loyal readers. Some of you have been with me since the beginning, and some of you are just joining me.

Either way, I've got a present for myself.

I was up late last night with my new MacBook, fiddling and playing and learning about the Migration Assistant in OS X. Did you know that Apple's Target Mode will only work with the master drive? I wound up having to clone my drive to a firewire enclosure and then import that way. By and large, all went swimmingly well. A few apps needed to be reinstalled with their Universal Binary counterparts, and apps are extremely cranky if you change your username (I wound up having to import twice due to this), and I want more RAM, but I'm loving it so far.

In other news, I've been slacking on my blog lately due to console addiction. I rented Destroy All HUMANS! and have spent too much time basking in electronic chaos for a few hours most nights. This is a great game, and I'm probably going to wind up snagging it in the future.

This is just a quick update, so expect more later!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

MacBook is here!

Wahoo! The new MacBook is here! Apple Store, here I come!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Power and electrons

My office building had a scheduled power outage this weekend to accommodate construction on my floor.

Saturday afternoon found me shutting down Linux, Sun, and Windows machines plus various networking hardware before the scheduled cutoff time at five PM. We had a slight mixup with the security guard during the outage, and others in the building weren't as prepared as I, so the power didn't go off until after six.

I'm thinking of the sound, now. First an audible clunk, almost more felt than heard, as someone throws the breakers. Next, dozens of UPSs squealing simultaneously (such an ugly noise!). The cacophony of all these little batteries, all starting within a half-second of each other, all different brands and tones and pitches and frequency; all crying out at the same time for life in the dim and the dark, behind doors and echoing out of the lab and across cubicles. Then the realization in the Count Basie silences between the beeping that the unconscious thrumming of the HVAC and temperature control have ceased, and a swift but fleeting feeling of isolation and dependence on the industrial complex and electricity, and all that implies to a near-sighted knowledge worker/skilled technician.

Coming home, I learned that our home theatre has started to flake out, with the DVD player deciding that it now wants to be convinced to play DVDs. That's unacceptable, so we went to Fry's and snagged a new Sony Home-Theatre-in-a-Box. Setting it up was a dream- the disc changer and receiver meshing together into a single slim component with color-coded speaker cables. The whole affair capped off with my ritualistically THX testing and calibration using the Star Wars DVD.

I brought all the machines back up today, and all went well. At a guess, I'd say it took about half the time to bring things back up; it's faster to press a button or two and move on to the next than to type "shutdown -h now" or "shutdown -y -i5 -0" or click Start | Shutdown | Shutdown. Not to mention simply finding the right keyboard or mouse for a given system, logging someone off when they forgot to follow directions to do so, or shifting mental gears between OSs.

After a tasty cheesesteak at Texadelphia with Cat, I then went to my brother's to help him with his new KVM and data transfer, fiddle with a FireWire card, watch some Patton Oswalt stand-up, and donate the old surround sound to his entertainment.

Current projects on my biscuit: Bring up a Windows Gaming Box, figure out how to bring up Musicbox, revise 1984 Prime (my award-winning roleplaying game), catch up on my backlog of movie reviews.

Don't forget; today is Mother's Day in the US. What did you do?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Seems somehow shifty

It bothers me that Austin, for all its bike lanes and pro-cyclery, has very few sidewalks.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A few days of RPGs

Martin Ralya's Treasure Tables sent me a link to this great thread over on RPG.net about collaborative settings creation by asking semi-leading questions of players.

Earlier this week, I ran the second session of Cyberpunk for the Renegades. I had actively propositioned my players in order to get solid feedback and it paid off in spades- well, maybe hearts. I got three out of five responses to my mini-survey and had enough to run for a five-hour session. For the record, I asked the following questions:

  1. NPC list
    Give me a short list of three to five NPCs you want to see. This can
    consist of NPCs already introduced that you want to see more of, or a
    request to have one step in to fill a role. Please also add a sentence
    or two's worth of commentary about each one.
  2. Sub-plots
    I want to see a short list of three to five (one- or two-session)
    sub-plots for your character, and one or two sub-plots for someone
    else's character (PC or NPC).
  3. Plot Arcs
    Next, I want to hear one or two long-term story arcs showing where you
    want the story to go for the whole play group.
  4. Boundaries
    Finally, give me one or two things you don't want to see happen, and I
    don't mean anything obvious like "I don't want to die."

Right before the session, I gave out bonus XP to those who responded. Well worth it to have creative fodder. I do enjoy collaborative and group story creation, I don't much like it in the middle of a Cyberpunk game. I think it plays against theme to have a warm-and-fuzzy shared story in a gritty and dark urban dystopia.

Sunday night was supposed to be second session of locally grown Seven Leagues (review), but we wound up playing Primetime Adventures instead. I really enjoyed PTA, but I felt that we were missing something. The collaborative series-building was great fun and a large part of the appeal. Our series is Cold Watch, the television drama of a group of troubleshooters in cryogenic suspension on a generational starship. Each episode we unthaw to solve troubles. Best of all, I didn't have to run.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

There ought to be a German word for it

I got a new phone recently, in part because I wanted to have a Bluetooth phone to sync with a new laptop I plan to purchase, as soon as Apple gets their sorry behinds in line and announces the new consumer Intel Macintosh laptop on hopefully Tuesday. After I stopped putting off setting up the sync and actually did it, I took a closer look at my address book in its current incarnation.

At this moment, I have some 809 cards in that database.

Data, data, always about the data. Much of this information started its life on my Palm III (was it an IIIe?), sometime right around Y2K. Since then, it moved to a Palm m130 and bounced variously between the Palm Desktop on Windows 95, 98, and 2000, gathering mass over time- though never on Windows XP. It moved to my Mac once I got it and started using a full-time laptop. By this time, I had been using my Palm less and less over the years- when it died the first time, I had a replacement screen via eBay and brought it back to life. The second time it died, I let it lay, accessing my information only on my computer. Tulane provided me with a Palm, so I got to using it again; a cellphone rounded out a home for data.

Post-Katrina, it seems needed and obvious to cull data. I don't need businesses that may no longer be open in a city five hundred miles away. I don't need client information from old tech support clients from two jobs previous. At least three people in my address book are now dead.

German has a great feature to make these wonderful portmanteau words that describe a complex emotion or situation. Maybe Weltanschauung-cart-angst. But English doesn't have a word for postponing the necessary culling of unneeded information due to old memories.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Horizocon recap

Wahoo! I found my notes for the games I played during Horizocon last month. I've got this on the back of a flyer for Ikkicon, an anime convention due to hit Austin in February. So, twelveish hours of gaming:

For standard convention fare, I brought Carabande (BGG, STILL OOP). It always surprise me that so few people know it.

Here's Mike in front of a regular figure-eight track incorporating the ramp and both chicanes. I think we had a six-man race on this track.

Here's Blake striking a pose with a full eight-person race spanning at least three generations of con-goers on what I think was a full track using all available track sections.

Who cares who won? It wasn't me. As competitive as I am, I don't mind losing at Carabande. I feel the game almost transcends simple winning and losing because it's so involving. Maybe I'm assigning too much value to play, but the game won the Spiel des Jahres for a reason. Carabande's elegance and simplicity are a welcome distraction from heavier games while maintaining the immersion needed for a satisfying game. On the other hand, explain why it ranks in the top 100 (#95 at time of writing) over on Board Game Geek?

One of the next games we played was good ol' sixth edition Wiz-War (BGG, OOP STILL). Amazingly, other gamers had heard of it and wanted to play. Huzzah! I'm glad I brought it, as I got in a good competitive four-player game and got my treasures handed to me. I probably should eBay my old fifth edition, don't you think? Some of you may realize that I plan to bring out Wiz-War as often as possible, with the hopes that I'll eventually raise enough people who will ask to play it with me as opposed to the other way around.

I also had the opportunity to pull out a then-new game called Sucking vacuum (BGG, BUY ME!). The tagline for this game pretty much sums it up: "Six astronauts. One escape pod. Two seats. You get the picture." This is a relatively light and backstabby game about running around the International Space Station and holding your breath while beating up your fellow scientists as you scramble for one of the coveted seats to freedom and life. Did I mention you have to speak in a silly foreign accent? This has a fair way to keep everyone in the running as you steal space suit pieces from each other and try to get someone else to break open the airlocks and let the Breathsucker in. Barring that, you can always luck out and find Annabelle the helper robot to walk over and beat up your esteemed colleagues. Fun stuff, but I need to find a chit list so I know which pieces to play with. I played with four; the game supports three to six. (I'd like to see a six-player game.)

Now, a quick review of a three-player game of Wallenstein (BGG, BUY OVERSEAS?). This is the game with the famous cube tower (aka "The Cat Feeder. Check out the picture; it's in the lower left-hand corner.) I had heard good things about this non-wargame of the Thirty Years' War as a heavier strategy option. However, looking at it, I felt fear- the fellow explaining it didn't do the best job and it has a lot of bits. It's also a game where you're making decisions; interestingly, a limited number of them: ten different actions each for three seasons (score in winter) for two years. You've got a number of "no order" cards to use as you delegate orders to your provinces. This is definitely a resource management game worth playing. (Pity it's expensive and hard to find.) Let's talk about the cube tower/Cat Feeder. Basically, combat resolution is done by scooping up colored cubes representing the forces involved (players, farmers, etc) and dumping them into the Feeder. The Feeder has grates to trap some of the cubes inside, so there's no guarantee as to what goes in coming out instantly. You also get a feel for what kinds of cubes remain inside to plan your next move (Check out these Detailed images of the Cat Feeder). I'd absolutely play this again if I could. It's a longer game, medium-heavy, running around two hours with three. I assume the maximum five players would run longer.

I also introduced Ricochet Robots (BGG, BUY ME!) to strangers. I love it when, while playing another game, someone pulls a game out of the stack and expresses interest to play it. Notably, a new rule about breaking ties that encourages fairness and discourages the runaway leader problem has been brought to light. In a nutshell, the player with fewer chips breaks ties- therefore keeping the scores more even throughout the course of play. I also suppose that this game could be played solitaire for practice. I know there's java versions out there to play online, so have fun. RR is also delightfully cooperative, as players compare solutions. Definitely a meritocratic game with a visible learning curve.

For more tasty strategy after Wallenstein, we had a three-player session of Colossal Arena (BGG, BUY ME!). This is easily one of the best games to be had for less than twenty bucks. I would totally rule at this game if I could do sums in my head faster. I love juggling kingmaking and alliances and passing information with a single card. For some reason, I often think of bridge when I describe this game, though I've never played it.

Last on my notes sheet is Bohnanza (BGG, BUY ME!). I know that there are a number of expansions for this game, but I haven't played with any of them. This was either a four or five player game; a little slow at the start, but rapidly understanding how it goes. The fault of this game is the number of the cards- with 150ish cards, shuffling takes some time. It's also hard to do a practice round, given the time it takes to see the results of made decisions. The social factor plays well, so it's important to get a group that understands the interaction is a huge factor. (I recall playing a three-player game of Settlers with a fellow who didn't like to trade. Miserable session.)

All in all, I had fun with Horizocon. I played board and card games with strangers, avoided the nutty CCG people and their $10K tournament, and disparaged the RPGA. I'll get my con roleplaying fix elsewhere.

Also a big shout out and thanks to my readers who have bought something off Funagain through one of my affiliate links. Now I've got store credit to spend!

Home again, home again, jiggety jig

Hooray! Power and all the comforts of home!

I have a huge backlog of posts to get out of my head, notably a few game session reports (both board and role-playing), some interesting thoughts on the convergence of work, play, and World of Warcraft (plus interesting thoughts on second Life), my award-winning role-plying game 1984 Prime, dining out in Austin, and the ever-loving and world famous Nickel Tours.

But first, unpacking, errands, lunch, and cleaning out the fridge. Oh, and comforting that traumatized and co-dependent cat who was left alone for nearly a whole day without human contact. Doesn't your heart just break?

In the tech side of the world, I finally got Deflexion (the LASER game!), and rumor control claims that the new Intel MacBooks will be ready for purchase Thursday. I've already told my dotted-line boss that I plan to not be productive in the near future...

Flip that switch and what do you get?

So we lost power Thursday night. Good thing our telephones have alarm functions, or I would have missed work.

It's the rainy season here in the desert, and Austin has had some severe storms these last few days, including hail! Our palatial estate is one of the fifty to eighty thousand homes in the area now without power. Cat suffered at home Friday during the day, but neither of us wanted to spend another hot night with no power or internet or air conditioning. Reading with flashlights under the sheets is one thing, but this is ridiculous.

The power company said it could be as late as Saturday evening for us to regain power. We checked into a hotel for the night, right next to IHOP. (No, it's not the Dru-ry.)

No power, living in a hotel, watching bad television, eating from a quick pick-up run to the grocery- It's just like being home!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Nickel Tour: Duck Soup (1933)

Here's the nickel tour:

Yep, this is a Marx Brothers film. Someone over on the IMDB calls this one of the greatest comedies of all time. I disagree. I've seen too much of this film already. Too many of my contemporaries have aped the Marx Brothers' routines and gags and bits. Almost every time Groucho set up a bit, I knew the punchline already. Whenever Harpo did something obnoxious, I'd wonder why nobody saw him and/or cleaned his clock. Whenever Chico spoke, I wondered what was up with the lingo. I don't recall Zeppo doing anything particularly notable. I'll say this, though- watching the camerawork really hits home the fact that back then, movies weren't really movies yet; they were stage productions on film. I give it a "I'd rather watch Buster Keaton."


Fetch the hot water!

It's amazing just how wonderful hot tea and soup taste and feel when you're feeling under the weather.

I've heard something from Dame Rumor that suggests that allergies can be mitigated by using local honeys in your hot tea. I can't tell if it's some holistic new agey nonsense, but it sounds reasonable.

Red Zinger right now, if you're curious. I plan to return to your irregularly scheduled blog about games and movies soon.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Game Design (mostly roleplaying)

I didn't win the Game Chef this year. Moyra Turkington took the coveted Golden Spatula with Crime & Punishment, the roleplaying game of writing for and acting in crime shows.

The wave of the blogosphere also brought me some sales figures for My Life With Master.

Between trying to measure myself up to others and trying to clear sinuses full of mucus, I'm not doing so hot. My man Left Coast helped me out by talking a bit of 1984 Prime. No matter what, I published a game. I committed to printing and distributing my own work. My other cohort, Monsieur Hieronymous, suggests I set a firm release date for 1984 Prime- something like July 4th.

I had a whole rest of a blog post here about narrativism and immersion and the willpower to enact creation, but I have too many histamines. Chicken soup for me.