Monday, December 31, 2007

Laptop bag

I need a laptop bag for my MacBook.

I'm looking at a nice Brenthaven bag, partially because I like the protection their cases offer. Tom Bihn's Empire Builder gets rave reviews, but goes over my $200 budget; I don't like having to buy a sleeve and strap as an additional feature. He's got a few other bags that are on my radar, though. Timbuk2 has another few options.

I'm also strongly tempted to go to the new model of Booq- I liked my old one a lot, but it was a touch too small.

Maybe I'll throw a dart. What are you using?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

I play a new game

Can you believe it? I do occasionally play a new-to-me game. Last night, I played B&L's copy of Pirate King (BGG, BUY ME!), about which I had only heard a very few things.

Short story? Pirate King is quite a bit like Monopoly (actually) where you have a relatively huge degree of control over your motion around the board and can fight the other players with a mini dicefest instead of paying rent. The components are all right, and evidently much improved in the second printing, but still have a hodgepodge unrefined feel. The art is great fun, but the game is ultimately just okay; better for the right crowd or the right mood, but far from awesome.

Long story: You've got your pirate ship sailing around the Caribbean, trying to buy island properties for the docking fees (rent) and make smuggling deliveries for income. Eventually, you fortify all your properties to the point where you have enough victory points to win. Alternatively, you go and kick the Commodore's ass, who has more cannon and crew than you'll ever have, for an instant victory. You have a few other ways to get points and income with Great Treasures (powers) and cards, but that's the game in a nutshell.

Movement is simultaneously clever in its design and aggravating in its execution. You just don't roll and move, mostly. First you drop a marker on a nearby space where you want to go- say, on the Free Parking Buried Treasure spot and not on the heavily built-up Boardwalk Tortuga. Then you roll a d12 and consult a chart to see if you made it- otherwise the wind is better or worse, and you can find yourself up to four places away from your marker and your desired destination. This isn't so bad for the smuggling deliveries, since you can do a drive-by with a bonus if you land on your target exactly. I do wish they would've spent their production budget on a custom die for the single most used mechanic in the game or opted for a d4 and a Fudge die (with its pluses and minuses). Same odds, less handling time for a player.

You land on a spot, you can buy it for the capture price on the chart if you're the first one there. This means a colored flag and a token to show the level for that property. If someone else owns it, you have to pay up the rent Docking Fee based on the location and how many houses and hotels its level of fortification. The way to get victory points is primarily through castles, so it's in your interest to build up as much as possible all the time. There's no penalty to mortgage reduce a place's fortifications if you need cash.

Speaking of money- it's colored glass beads in different denominations and plastic coins for the cheapest denomination kept hidden in a plastic treasure chest. Cute, but potentially a dealbreaker for the colorblind as well as a learning curve to remember how many rubies there are in a diamond.

If you don't want to pay rent, you can opt to fight instead and hopefully take over the settlement. Roll dice per number of cannon; high number kills a crewman. Not enough crew to man your cannon, you don't get 'em. Enough dead crewmen, you lose and have to pay big. You get crewmen and cannon by making deliveries or simply buying them at a friendly port.

The path around the board is a sort of double figure eight, and you can only change facing in a few situations. Scattered on the board are Community Chest Pirate's Booty and Chance Captain's Log spaces, where you pull a card and do what it says. I like the variety of art on the cards, but again, the components are an issue when facing matters and player colors are too similar in bad lighting (brown, black, beige and white). The first printing had small assembled ships and magnetic cannon; the version I played had hard plastic standees and tokens to keep track of cannon. I feel that a little more effort in the production design here would do wonders- a player aid mat with quick info, pawns with more obvious facing, maybe sliders for ship stats.

That's pretty much the game. As I said before, it's okay. It plays a little too long, but it overall has its ups and downs in terms of fun and tension. You definitely have the moments of excitement when you're waiting for someone to land on your high-rent properties, and it's fun to watch two of the other players duke it out; but you're also fiddling with too many bits and squinting at colors while staring off into the distance while you're cash poor with no prospects. I can't give it high marks, but you can feel the love poured into its creation. You probably know already if you want to play this or not, but: If you like pirates in your beer-and-pretzel games, you should think about playing it or a buddy's copy and give it a whirl. If you're no fan of luck in your games, or hoping for something deeper than the theme, then run far far away.

Finally, let me give a big end-of-the-year thanks to everyone who bought games through my FunAgain affiliate link- I'm going to use that accumulated customer credit next month. The Google money is much less, and the Amazon money is drips and drabs. But hey, ten bucks is ten bucks, right?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Read more

Jess Hammer has read nearly a book a day this year.

I'm way behind on my reading. It doesn't help that nearly all of our books are in someone else's attic. In the back apartment, not even one square foot of space is dedicated to books.

What have I read most recently?

Map of Bones, James Rollins. If you liked National Treasure, you'll like this. Cat pitched it as a "Da Vinci Code done better," and it seems that's about right. Religious conspiracies, action/thriller, globetrotting puzzles and a treasure at the end. Fine fodder for a plane ride.

Anthony Bourdain's The Nasty Bits. More of Bourdain's signature rants on food, eating, and the industries of feeding people. Evidently this collects several previously published sort essays into one volume. Not so good a read when you're hungry and trapped on a plane with no decent prospects.

The Playboy Winner's Guide to Board Games, second edition copyright 1979, Jon Freeman. Quaintly amusing, with some interesting historical value- contemporary reviews of games, several strategies on Monopoly and a scratch-the-surface assessment of Go, and a ticklish lumping of D&D into the Wargames category. Got this one in a trade.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hello, computer

Back in NOLA, back on the 'tubes. Hope yours was jolly.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

This city of mine

"Times are not good here. The city is crumbling into ashes. It has been buried under a lava flood of taxes and frauds and maladministrations so that it has become only a study for archaeologists. Its condition is so bad that when I write about it, as I intend to do soon, nobody will believe I am telling the truth. But it is better to be here in sackcloth and ashes than to own the whole state of Ohio." — Lafcadio Hearn, 1879

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Best Lifehack Ever

I just unsubscribed from Lifehacker- that's some 300+ unread posts I don't have to think I need to read to stay informed.

In a few weeks, I'll reexamine and see if I miss it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Glow-in-the-Dark Cats

Evidently, scientists in South Korea have genengineered cats that fluoresce under UV. Bonus: Cloning is involved. News articles have details. I have video.

(YouTube video link for my non-embedding readers)

Better living through science!

Mischa's pesto recipe

Simon and Ariel had a housewarming party, and I decided to make pesto. I love the stuff and it's vegetarian-friendly, which is a plus if you're not sure of a guest list. It uses cheese, so no love for the vegans here. (As you no doubt know, I love Frank Sinatra brand pesto sauce.)

What goes in my pesto? Basil. Garlic. Crushed red pepper. Black pepper. Lemon juice. Romano cheese. Pine nuts. Olive oil. In this batch, I added Asiago cheese, walnuts, sea salt, plus the secret ingredient: one packet of Splenda, I kid you not.

Whenever I cook, I do so in a very gestalt, organic fashion. I don't really follow a recipe from a book, but I will look at what others have done and extrapolate amounts and quantities and proportions. I taste my product constantly. One downside to the back apartment is that my mise is tiny- I've got barely a square yard to prep and measure and hold the food processor.

I bought four packets of fresh basil (one day, an herb garden). I started with two: wash in cold water, pick off the leaves, and toss the stems. Toss into the food processor.

Take a bulb of garlic. Peel it. Put all of the cloves into the processor. Chop. Add a bit of olive oil (Never don't cook with extra virgin olive oil. NEVER EVER, no matter what.) and blend a bit- ride the throttle and pulse, don't just whale it to "on." Pick out the whole chunks of garlic that didn't get food processed and just mince them. Re-add your freshly minced garlic.

Throw in some crushed red pepper, then a bit more because when you make it, you won't use enough. Slice a lemon in half, squeeze some juice in. Pick out the seeds. Put the other half in the fridge, but keep your squeezable half handy- you'll use it frequently. Grab a small handful of pine nuts, and process. Do this again: EVOO, lemon, small handful of pine nuts. Now add a small handful of walnuts, and remember the cheese.

Cut your Romano into thirds. Take the first third and run it through the processor. Add your third pack of basil leaves (no stems, rinse 'em), adding EVOO and lemon. If you have fresh ground black pepper, grind it into the mixture, otherwise use regular black pepper. Add more, because you won't use enough. Then throw in more crushed red pepper, another small handful of pine nuts, and more lemon. Skip the EVOO this go. Process in waves.

Grab your sea salt and put in a little bit- but not too much. Chances are that your sea salt has large grains and won't dissolve or get crushed easily. So: sprinkle, pulse, sprinkle, pulse, sprinkle. You do not want to add too much salt.

Remember your middle third of Romano? Grate that into the mix. Might as well add half your Asiago, too. You want to get your crumbles of cheese all throughout the mixture.

Take your last bunch of basil and add its leaves with a bit more lemon and pine nuts. Process a little bit to mix things up, and tap in your packet of Splenda while spinning.

You can put this into the fridge for a good while- at least a few days. About an hour before you serve, pull it out of the fridge and let it get to room temperature. Take a healthy spoonful of EVOO and stir, do it again and probably a third time to get to the right consistency. Finally, drizzle a bit more olive oil on top- the first bite is taken with the eye.

This method sounds a bit insane, but it works. The method behind the madness is to avoid homogeneity in your pesto. You want layers of flavors and textures. One day, I shall make pesto like an Italian grandmother. Someone find me a quality cooking board and mezzaluna!

Mystery and engimas

For those of you in the know, my Saturday went extremely well.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

What makes a good game?

A few days ago, I played Junta (BGG, BUY ME!) for the first time. I've had this game on my radar for years, one of the older classics from the 80s (really 1978) that I had heard about but had never personally played.

I didn't love the game. I'm not sure it got a fair shake at the table. Pushing around chits and looking at old badly worded perforated cards didn't help my enjoyment factor- let's just say I'm spoiled by games with real components. I know that I want to give it another go at some point, because I'm pretty convinced there's a good game in there somewhere. But all that is beside the point.

A bit more research on BGG turned up a great quote from Filip Wiltgren:

Up until, say, 2 years ago [2004] I thought that Junta was an OK game.

But playing Junta at a gaming club was a real eye opener for me. I went from a tight gaming group where every game was good to an environment where I didn't know the players very well. And I discovered that a good game is a game that can be played with people you don't particularily know/care about and still be fun - it's when the game itself is fun, not the company playing it.

There is a ton a truth in that quote.

When you can pick up a game — hell, any activity — and enjoy it with your friends, that's super awesome and congrats. But a shared activity does not a good game make- I learned this lesson to my embarrasment about a year and a half ago, when I tried to play a game that came out of several episodes of 1000 Blank White Cards (BGG, WP) with a group of relative strangers who didn't get any of the references.

I like this reminder; It's a good wake-up call.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I <3 Gmail

Just under three and a half years.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


For a variety of reasons (Holiday shopping, BGG Secret Santa, Birthdays), I just realized that my Amazon wishlist still had my Austin address on it, not to mention an email address I haven't checked in more than five years. I sure hope nobody has bought me any surprises in the last three months.

Now I really need to go through and prioritize things.

Friday, November 30, 2007

November and writings

I did not write 50,000 words for NaNoWrimo. I wrote barely even a tenth.

I did not post thirty times this month for NaBloPoMo. I did about two-thirds.

But I did write. I hit my goal- not to write a novel or thirty blog posts this month, just to write enough to increase my volume. Now that I've got some of this under my belt, I've stirred up the writing bits of my brain and watched what floated to the top. I wanted creative Brownian motion and mental eddies, and I got what I wanted. Hooray for hacking the mind!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A few quickies

I recently found a little lifehacky site to offload birthday reminders. I want to avoid forgetting things, so feel free to enter your birthday (year optional, if you're shy) and have a machine kick me annually so I won't forget. Yes, I'm sure some of you would like a machine to kick me at some regular interval. [EDIT: link fixed]

You may have heard of a game variously called Werewolf or Mafia (BGG, WP). It's a social game, with one side trying to win over the other. Evidently, middle schoolers in New England can't handle the truth. Heaven forbid that children are exposed to anything potentially disturbing! [EDIT: link fixed also]

The Picayune has a nicely uplifting Post-K tale (alternate link) about a couple who opened a restaurant I want to explore, Cafe Arabesque.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mah-Jongg, nu?

After twenty-something years, my grandmother finally taught me how to play Mah-Jongg. I have to mix a traditional game review with a nostalgic anecdote for the ages, so please bear with me and enjoy the ride. (And yes, I do know that some spell the game mahjongg or mahjong or the hyphenless mah jongg, but fie on you. I also refuse to call it "Maahj.")

Mah-Jongg (BGG, BUY ME! WP) is not the computer solitaire game played with a set of Mah-Jongg tiles, but the name has stuck. With its familiar "Turtle" configuration, I know that game as "Taipei," after a computer version I played many moons ago.

Mah-Jongg itself is a four-player non-partnership set collection game a bit like rummy, usually played for money. You've probably seen the special tiles you use to play: four each of Winds, Dragons, three suits — Bams, Dots, Cracks — numbered one to nine, Jokers, Flowers, and Seasons. Different versions of the game omit the flowers, seasons, or jokers, and different versions have different scorings and hands. I've only played two hands using the American rules, so please understand that I'm not reviewing the entire world of Mah-Jongg.

One schtick in the version I played is that the legal hands and point values for the hands change annually. I'm not sure why this is done, apart from to generate revenue or sustained interest. Imagine if you're playing poker and one year you can make a 2-4-6-8-10 straight and next year you can make an A-3-5-7-9, and you sort of see the angle. Since we only had one card to pass among the four of us, play dragged a little. I suspect that avid players might learn the hands more readily, or simply have enough player aids so each player doesn't have to share. Hands can get pretty nuts (such as 333 666 6666 9999 in two different suits or FFFF NNNN E W SSSS etc etc.) and I suspect the real skill of the game is knowing what to keep before the Charleston and how to keep your hand flexible over the course of play.

Much like chess, it's impossible to talk about Mah-Jongg without mentioning the quality of the equipment. You can get plastic, bamboo, even antique ivory if you can afford. I learned on my grandmother's vintage set of faded Bakelite tiles rescued Post-Katrina. She never wanted to repaint them, so one Red Dragon looked red and another was dark blue or black. A few of the suited tiles had portions with no paint entirely. I liked the cool feel of the tiles under my fingers, smooth clicks and clacks as I passed tiles in the ritual known as the Charleston (like Hearts (BGG, WP) or Flaschenteufel (BGG, BUY ME!)- some left, some across, some right). But at the same time, I see through the tiles as actual tiles but instead see them as randomizers. In fact, someone has made a deck of Mah-Jongg cards so you can play the game without lugging around a full set, but you still need to manage a hand of thirteen cards. I don't know if they make bridge-sized Mah-Jongg cards.

Did I enjoy Mah-Jongg? No, but I'm not really a fan of rummy games. I get pretty frustrated waiting for one exact card/tile to make my hand, and seeing my hopes dashed as it gets discarded by an opponent.

Did I enjoy playing Mah-Jongg? Yes.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Italian Thanksgiving

What better way to celebrate the holiday than with family and good food?

I had turtle soup with a very nice roux; the Brucciolone, which at Salvatore Ristorante in Fat City is tenderized veal wrapped around cheese, vegetables, secret-who-knows-what-spice and an egg all over penne; and warm bread pudding with an unusually delightful cinnamon sauce.

What did you eat?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sleep is for the weak and sickly

I have returned from con.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Going off the grid for a few days. No laptop, probably no net. In airport, soon to con in Dallas. I hope I don't forget anything else.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Two days and ten plays

I had two separate alliterative requests for two dissimilar but tangentially related games this weekend- Ricochet Robots and Robo Rally. Yes, robots and mazes, but no, lasers and destruction versus competitive pathfinding.

We had an impressive turnout at the coffeeshop on Friday, and despite threats of bringing a camera, no such beast appeared.

Margaret (she requested), Double-T, Ben, and myself first played Ricochet Robots (BGG, BUY ME!), the mental robot maze game, and Mike jumped in partially through the game and managed to tie for first. Cat, Leslie, Jodie, and Allison ran away from the horrors of spatial-visual puzzles and cranked out several hands of the superior trick-taking game Die Sieben Siegel x1 (BGG, BUY ME!), with Ani joining in for some five-player action, killing Steven Seagal repeatedly.

Hot on the heels and primed for action, I introduced Vitrail (BGG, BUY FROM FRANCE), a color-matching puzzle game, which also went over pretty well. I still usually handicap myself, but Mike gave me a run for my money, nearly skunking Double-T and Margaret. The prevailing opinion holds that we need to separate the levels of skill so that everyone can enjoy. Some of the girls call it the "Euro-Trash game" due to the cartoon hipsters and beatniks on the box.

With five, we could play the colorful and hence aptly-named Coloretto (BGG, BUY ME!), a set-collecting game with a nice amount of play (and dirty, dirty backstabbing) packed into a single deck of cards. I think I lost both times we played, but the company enjoyed it enough for two games, so that's saying something.

Sheila and Phil showed late to the party, and looked a little restless to just watch play, so we made room for a six-player game of My Word! (BGG, BUY ME!). Honestly, I don't think I suggested it any more than "This will play six. It's a word game" and I promptly schooled everyone. I hear the new deck edition has a Ñ, so you can play with Spanish words. I know we accepted some Yiddish.

Sadly, our favorite coffee shop no longer stays open as late as I'd like since the storm. Many places have reduced hours even now.

Saturday's event-o-rama took place at Simon and Ariel's new digs, in a totally awesome time capsule of a hunting lodge from the sixties apartment. Lots of super huge ceilings and nearly-two story windows, dark wood, mirrors. Very very cool. The original plan was to play either Robo Rally or Fury of Dracula (BGG, BUY ME!), since both don't have the same general appeal and require smaller numbers.

Simon made fresh guacamole and served premade salsa, and we proceeded to play a few hands of the filler du mode, Die Sieben Siegel (BGG, BUY ME!). With five of us (Ben, Daniel, Simon, Cat and myself) familiar with the game, I had no need to teach and we jumped right in for the playing. It's a good feeling to have a regular game.

Bennett and Leslie showed moments later, presenting now an oft-encountered dilemma: a strange number of gamers (seven) for how many games? The gold-digging double-crossing team game of Saboteur (BGG, BUY ME!) hit the table- hey, it can take up to ten. People liked it, and Bennett and Daniel fought each other with cart accidents and broken lamps, even when they were on the same teach. After the proscribed three rounds, Leslie proved to be the best at both gold-digging and double-crossing.

Dylan called and said he had just gotten underway, so we played a few short hands of Oh Hell! (BGG, PLAY MY WAY) while waiting. Mad chaos with seven!

Now that we had eight the gang demanded strongly suggested we play Coach Ride to Devil's Castle (Die Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg) (BGG, BUY ME!). Neither Ben nor Dylan had played before, and wound up belonging to different teams, so it worked out. The vile Brotherhood of True Lies demanded the absolute subjugation of the Order of Open Secrets, and won. The best result of this round is that we'll probably finally play with the advanced items the next time. Too often, we've had new players as part of the crowd. I'm always amazed at the amount of postmortem discussion that happens at the end of the game, and I am totally looking forward to playing it at BGG.Con (in four days!).

Half the crew left, so we cracked our knuckles and played us four-player RoboRally (BGG, BUY ME!). It was a first play for Dylan, and Simon and Daniel only had played once, and I was still hoping for Fury of Dracula, so we played a shorter one-board three-flag race for supremacy. I almost always play with the house rule of two free Options at the start- it adds more fun. Less than two hours later, Simon danced the victory dance of joy at flag three with Dylan on his heels; meanwhile I was barely at two, and Daniel hadn't even hit flag one. I dearly love this game, but there is a delicate balance- if gameplay becomes too chaotic or frustrating, then nobody has fun.

The last game of the night for the lightweights who need sleep and wanted to call it: Blokus (BGG, BUY ME!), a abstract tile game I don't play nearly often enough. Amusingly, I still haven't opened my copy. Every time I bring mine out to play, it seems like someone else has their copy already open. I managed to find a home for all of my pieces and won handily.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Save the users

It's a hack that works. I woke up this morning with a rant, ready to blog.

Let's say you work as a professional typist. I don't mean in the 1950s-secretary sense of the word, but I mean a person who types for a living. One who types hundreds of words per minute, knows dozens of layout programs, eats word processor manuals for lunch, and can hand-tune the margins on a vintage IBM Selectric... not just someone who knows the difference between a hyphen, an emdash and an endash.

Now let's say that you, the professional typist, get a call from someone who wants to pay you to type up a research paper as per your regular freelance rates. This person is your client, or possibly just a customer.

Now let's say that you, the professional typist, work for a large organization that pays you for your capacity to type things. One of your coworkers in a different department sends a project your way- let's say the transcription of a presentation given at a conference. Unless money changes place, this person is not your customer, not your client. Yall are just coworkers.

Sometime in the eighties, corporate flacks, inundated with anti-drug messages, decided that they didn't like the connotation of "user" when applied to their employees, and started the disturbing trend of referring to "customers" rather than "users."

I can appreciate wanting IT monkeys to provide better customer service to users, but that does not make customers out of your users! There's a whole different relationship implied between a customer and a provider that is wholly inappropriate for the workplace.

The customer is always right, but the user doesn't know what they need. I don't mean that people need up-selling, but that quite literally a user doesn't — and shouldn't — know what they need to use their computers and systems. It's not their role and not their job to know that the one server connects to the other server via this-and-such encryption protocol because it's regulated by the Fed's TLA branch. They simply need to use their tools they need to do their job.

It's just plain wrong. It's the wrong word. Drives me crazy. Whenever I hear someone in a Corporate IT position say, "customer," I have to ask, "Do you mean the end-user?" Some IT positions are customer-facing, and some aren't. The person one supports is not unnecessarily one's customer.

Most importantly, I dreamt this rant- so the blog-a-day-slash-NaNoWriMo hack is working.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Race and demographics, conventional conventions

I found this post in my drafts, dated 9/7/06, a year after Katrina and once again at Dragon*Con in Atlanta. I didn't publish it originally because of its brevity and incompleteness. I didn't change much.

Race and demographics. The hotel we stayed in had two large weddings and one even larger family reunion, each of different demographics. One wedding was generic middle-class white and the other was upper-class traditional Indian. The family reunion was black. The moment I walked into our hotel, I felt out of place and disconnected. I know that a person of Race X will feel out-of-place when then see only Race Y faces. Our brains work that way, and our society continues to encourage racial insularity.

Going to a con really wraps the members (always "membership"; rarely "attendee") together with a sense of community that cuts across traditional boundaries. But yet, looking at a random sampling of several hundred congoers yields a demographic nonetheless. Cat and I always succumb to "That Guy Syndrome," which sometimes also happens with B-list actors, but it comes down to saying to yourself, "Oh, look, it's that guy with the long dark hair and scraggly goatee with a bit of a paunch and wearing a black T-shirt with a witty in-joke. No, wait, I just described at least two dozen people I can see right now without turning my head."
But a new con is just around the corner. With 500 or so folks versus 40,000 or so, there's a much more intimate vibe. I missed this year's Dragon*Con; I'm not missing this year's BGG.Con.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Curses, I missed a day! But I shall persevere and continue trying to keep my output up.

I have a high-class problem. How do I let people know that I want this as a present without accidentally getting more than one? Perhaps I should wait until I have a better address.

Speaking of presents, BGG is doing a Secret Santa. This is awesome with the downside that I might have to ship internationally. Oh well. I suspect that I'll just order from a foreign FLGS and have them ship locally.

Other things I need to do before it gets too close to the holiday/birthday/gift-giving season: Update my wishlists at Amazon, FunAgain, and ThinkGeek.

NaNoWriMo word count: 2877 (way behind)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Math Trade, begone

Whew! I've moderated a giant trade for BGG.Con again this year, and it has finally closed. What's a Math Trade? I'm going to steal the words of Yehuda and call it a "massively multiplayer online trading experience."

The con's in just over a week!

NaNoWriMo total: 2877

Monday, November 05, 2007

Brain thumping

One neat thing about the human brain is the sort of crazy random nonlinear tasks it's good at doing.

Some people brainstorm, just letting the floodgates open and allowing the mind to wander. Like improv, this is more of a skill than most people realize.

I have a widget that acts as a deck of cards from the Oblique Strategies, a set of cards with nonspecific phrases and questions.

Here's three from the stack:

  • "Listen to the quiet voice"
  • "Remove a Restriction"
  • "What were you really thinking about just now?"

Already, your mind is moving along ways you didn't expect. This is a Good Thing.

This web version has a nice auto refresh feature, and is quite handy if you care not to pay more than a hundred bucks on eBay. I'd still enjoy a physical item to use, but I'd want a tool, not a collectible.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Daily update

I'm told the Saints won again today! Small price then, for me to miss watching the games. I think I may sometimes jinx the team.

Dinner yesterday: buffalo steaks from Whole Foods. (My mom calls them "Whole Paycheck.") Dinner today: a new-to-me Vietnamese place called Jazmine Cafe. I'd go back, but I miss a biweekly or weekly jaunt to Pho Tau Bay. I should go to the one on the West Bank and see how they're doing.

NaNoWriMo count: 2584 words. I need to be at 6668 by tonight to stay on quota. I'm not much worried, even though I've fallen behind. One good day of solid writing will get me back on track. I'll probably hit the keyboard a bit today in front of DS9.

I seriously need to start blogging about boardgames again, as well as update my various wishlists.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Voice to text to screen to...

Yikes, I almost missed my daily post.

I don't like to drive, and my mind tends to wander quite a bit. I tend to view almost all travel as a waste of mental effort- where the hell are my flying cars? I've got better things to do.

Yesterday, I wanted to remind myself to do something, and I didn't want to dig out my cheapie 99-cent pocket notebook out while driving and try to write. I thought about leaving myself a message and tried to find the voice memo feature buried somewhere in my phone.

Lifehacker mentioned a service called Jott, one of these hip new not-perfectly-named Web 2.0 kinds of beta services. The practical upshot is that you call the 800 number, talk, and both human and automatic transcription turns your message into an email or a text message. I found out that you also get the source audio, too.

Seems like there's some nifty potentials here: talk a text message to a group of contacts seems very handy these days, as well as possibly just voicing a blog post: Call Jott, Jott transcribes and sends to Blogger, Blogger autoposts. I'll give that a try soon, I think.

In other news, I obtained a copy of Leopard (gotta back up!) and had buffalo steak and garlic potatoes for dinner. Yummo!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Webcomics I read

Here's a quick and dirty post that I've meant do for a while.

I read comics. I like 'em. Pre-K, the music jukebox had a program called dailystrips that screen-scraped web pages for comics images. (This is back in the dark days before RSS was as popular as it is now.)

Right now, here's what I've got in my RSS reader, to the best of my recollection. (Mom, some of these use naughty words. You might not want to click.) I need to add this to my sidebar.

Can anyone suggest some comics I should be reading?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Cheating at NaBloPoMo

This post was written on the second of November. I'm backdating it for cheastings. I won't cheat again.

I just found out about NaBloPoMo, basically NaNoWriMo for blogs. Post once a day for the month of November. If I'm already writing some 1600 words and change for NaNoWriMo, a few extra for the ol' blog shouldn't be to much more difficult.

Thanks to Steph for the initial reminder.


I'm an hour late from starting- 50,000 words in thirty days? It's nuts. I've not participated in the National Novel Writing Month project before. I don't know what to expect.

I don't feel like your archetypical starry-eyed hopeful novelist.

I'm just going to write a novel as a hack.

Wish me luck.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Of foul language and naked oxen

First, I assume that you can read English. Secondly, I assume that you know how to swear in at least one language, regardless of your cursing habits. Thirdly, I think you should read Steven Pinker's article subtitled "Why We Curse." Astonishingly, the title has a number of asterisks, but the editors did not censor any word in the article itself.

I've had a huge problem with Yak-Shaving these days. I want to go to the bank before it closes, but first I want to write this article, and to do that I need to research and re-read the articles I want to link to, and I need to find which tab I've saved those links, which reminds me that I forgot to read my webcomics for today, and one includes a link to a book I want to check out, which reminds me that I need to go to the bank so I can get money if I want to buy a book. For example.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I hunger

I have absolutely no idea why I didn't have this book on my radar sooner.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, delivers exactly what you'd expect.

"You got your post-apocalyptic survival tale in my zombie horror! No, you got your zombie uprising in my alternate-history war memoir!" I picked this up on a lark at Maple Street Books, and almost missed it. Cat wanted a new crosswords book, and I was just noodling around. On our way out, World War Z leapt off the shelf at me, demanding to be read. I pretty much read the whole book in one sitting, stopping to eat. No, not brains.

This is a strong buy reco, especially if you like zombies, war, alternate history, speculative fiction, or any kind of post-apocalyptic tale- and it's all presented seriously. What would happen if we found ourselves in the middle of a real zombie plague? I found the tale very compelling- as an "oral history," the narrator is collecting tales from people across the world, assembling the whole narrative in chronological order.

Evidently, the (sadly abridged) audio version has a whole host of character actors reading the different parts, adding to the verisimilitude. I might check it out from the library, or obtain it on the 'tubes.

I haven't picked up a book in too long. Partially this is my fault. I mean hey, they have these things called libraries, you know? But when you've got your entire library in boxes in the attic, you don't really have the opportunity to stroll past the shelves and let something catch your eye. I've spent a good amount of time jsut thinking about reading a particular scene in a particular book.

I need to read this one again.

Friday, October 26, 2007

These things come in, er, fours

What a week. I've got one friend going in for gallbladder surgery today, another friend sliced his mouse finger open and needed five stitches, another friend of mine's father went in for a quadruple bypass earlier this week, and my grandfather was admitted for pneumonia yesterday.

Don't run with scissors, yall. There's something going around and tonight's a full moon.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Weather mine love

I love the rain.

Right now, we're in the middle of light showers moving from the Gulf across to Mississippi and beyond. I can hear the rain falling on the air conditioner and the roof, the wind blowing stray drops against the windows, the ebb and the flow of nature. Inside we have it cool, almost cold, and outside is warm and deliciously comforting. I watch insects flying between the raindrops, smell the damp earth and the wet, feel the near-subliminal spray of water on my arm as drops hit the fresh gutters above. If I had shoes on, I'd walk further than just the feel of damp mud-and-grit brick under my toes. I want the slick grass under my feet, but I know the dog craps in the yard. I'm breathing clear now, but the pressure and the mold or pollen kicked up by the water will hit me tomorrow, and I know I'll wake up with nearly-solid sinuses.

The weather reports that we got about a third of an inch of rain today, with a humidity of 91%.

There's a saying, older than but popularly attributed to Regan, about the causal value of the outside of a horse wrt the inside of a man, but now I can only kick back in five-dollar white lawn furniture and stare out into the night. I just am, blissful and content.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Got Potter?

We do. J. K. Rowling made New Orleans one of three stops on her book tour. NY to NO to LA. The Picayune has pix.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Tubes, Tracks, Trades and Sudoku

For the infovore, a lack of net access does not a happy camper make.

That said, I've got the wireless bridge back up with a smokin' hot bleeding-edge new third-party firmware for my Linksys WRT router (v24 RC-4, for the curious) and once again have the wireless up, this time with the device acting as a repeater for a signal across the street. If you like teh hax and you've got a compatible chipset, check out the DD-WRT firmware and really open up the possibilities with your existing hardware. Do more with less, I say. Even so, I won't stop you if you have a few thousand lying around and buy me something nifty from Fluke. (NB: PLEASE BUY ME SOMETHING ELSE INSTEAD)

Coming back from the store (now local Rouse's and no longer national Sav-A-Center), I saw two streetcars on the St. Charles line. The Picayune says that the RTA plans to have half the line open by November first, and the entire line open by Q1 2008. For those of you following at home, that's two and a half years before an icon of the city is back to its pre-LAMRON state. As a city, as a nation, we will all feel the aftereffects of Katrina for generations. Back in the day, I had a job and an apartment where I could streetcar downtown every day if I wanted. I enjoyed that kind of commute.

USPS by way of BGG tradings brought me three new-to-me games: Ta Yu (BGG, BUY ME!), Oltre Mare (BGG, BUY ME!), and Senator (BGG, BUY ME!). Ta Yu is an aesthetically savory abstract game of laying tiles and connecting rivers, diverting their flow to where you choose. Senator is a political bidding game I recall a a light bit of enjoyment after one play. I've not played Oltre Mare, but it looks to be a interesting Venetian trading game. Hopefully, I'll get these to the table soon. Current reco for these games: Buy Ta Yu, Play Senator first.

Cat does her crosswords, and I've started to get my shirt handed to me by the daily Sudoku puzzle. I'm still developing solving skills for this kind of puzzle- but I do so enjoy seeing people solve puzzles as a kind of insight into their thought patterns. I'm barely an armchair neurologist, it's not even funny. Maybe an ottoman neurologist.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Night the second

We have moved into the mother-in-law's cottage! Now we are out of Bennett and Leslie's hair (sort of) and have our own 500-square-foot 340-square-foot space. Tomorrow, after an interview, I plan to start schelpping some of my fourteen-ish boxes of boardgames out of their living room and into the guest room.

One of the guiding principles of decluttering is to have two things go out for every one thing that comes in. Dollars to donuts, if you've got something you want to get rid of, someone on Craigslist or Freecycle will take it off your hands.

Today I threw away three spoons. We have a complete set of decent silverware, but these last three spoons came from an absolutely ancient set of flatware. Plus, they can't stand up to my hitherto unknown feats of strength, since they constantly bent under the simple pressure of my thumbs.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Serendipitous Interactive Fiction discovery

I've recently started reading up on Inform 7, a natural-language approach to writing and coding up interactive fiction.

When I think IF, I think Zork ("You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here." So familiar, and so evocative). Right after Zork, I usually think Zork II and Zork III, but also the other classics of Infocom: Planetfall and Suspended, the Enchanter trilogy and Wishbringer. All of these I played on my trusty Commodore 64, but I distinctly remember playing the first Zork on a Compaq luggable in the mid-80s at my aunt's house in Houston, running off five-and-a-quarter-inch disks. I know I owned and never finished Stationfall, the Hitch-Hiker's game (briefly played on an Amiga), Ballyhoo and Hollywood Hijinx. Thanks to the wonderful series of tubes and Bittorrent, I can play all of these and more. I'm primarily using a great multi-game engine called Spatterlight for Mac OS X, which rules- I'm a big fan of using one app that pulls double (or triple, or quadruple, or quintuple, or...) duty instead of several.

I've also started searching for other, good, IF to play. As much as I love the old classics, they have a tiny bit of roughness around the edges- lack of UNDO and the inability to use X for EXAMINE keep cropping up out of habit. Save early, save often. But the medium has evolved in the last score years.

While doing research for game suggestions, I started at the no-frills but hugely complete Baf's Guide. I wandered into one of the IF newsgroups and happily discovered that the thirteenth annual IF Comp is in full swing. It's too late to submit an entry, but it's not too late to donate a prize or play and vote. Who knows what this year brings?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Harry Lee, dead at 75

The sheriff of Jefferson Parish died earlier today. The Picayune has some good coverage. Hell, his Wikipedia article is worth reading.

He held that office for almost thirty years, nearly as long as I was aware of the word sheriff, and certainly one of the first times I ate Chinese food at their family restaurant.

UPDATE: The New York Times paints an unflattering picture, NPR also weighs in.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Update, briefly

My Macbook in in the shop for a failed optical drive and a cracked case. Here's hoping it comes back soon.

I also have two job leads, so keep your fingers crossed on that front.

You know how much I love wordplay and dialects, so rate yourself: Yankee or Dixie? I'm 83% Dixie, which is a little stunning. What about you?

Also, someone on BGG posted a deathmatch-style Wiz-War variant. Fun!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What's next, zombies?

Seriously, I think this opened up one of the Living Dead movies.

I swear I am not making this up, but USA Today is reporting"Peru blames meteorite for strange illness." The Beeb and the AP also have the story.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Imagine an Evil Google

I normally don't talk about what I'm reading my RSS, I just share them and move along. I assume that some people read what catches their eye, but there must be some folks who don't know that I'm doing this. I read a lot, especially lately, and I don't write nearly enough.

Maybe I should write more about what I've read lately, perhaps do a little more op-ed pieces.

My man Ken, who I missed at Dragon*Con, points us to a short fiction piece by Cory Doctorow called Scroogled. Read it, read it.

What has massive, effortless, ubiquitous search done for you lately? What do you fear it could do? What might you hope it would do?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Web plus cell phone equals nifty

I've got a 504 area code again for free, plus all kinds of lickable 2.0 phone handling features. Feel free to test one of 'em out- GrandCentral will call you, then call me. Handy if you don't have my number or want to save on long distance calls, or if I finally get off my tail and sell some stuff on eBay/Craigslist.

I wonder if there's Asterisk under the hood here?

Ben Franklin got it right

If you would not be forgotten,
As soon as you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worth reading,
Or do things worth the writing.
Thanks to Aaron for the knowledge of this quote. Ben said a lot of good things; Wikiquote pegs this one at 1738 from Poor Richard's Almanack.

While checking my sources, I finally found a correct attribution for another good one. I used to have a bookmark with this quotation.
“Any man with a moderate income can afford to buy more books than he can read in a lifetime.” - Henry Holt

Friday, September 07, 2007

Productivty hack du jour (or du hier)

Following on the heels of the popular and possibly successful Inbox Zero from 43 Folders, someone has come up with Buddy List Zero. As of press time, the site is a little content-light, which seems oddly apropos.

In a nutshell, the basic idea revolves around culling down incoming distractions by getting rid of IM-associated clutter. I particularly like the notion of removing buddies you haven't chatted with after a month.

I'm going a little more extreme, and basically turning off Adium, my handy Mac cross-platform chat client. I still have Gtalk active, so if you need to IM me, there's your venue. If you only contacted me via AIM/ICQ/MSN/YIM for chatski excitement, be advised that I won't constantly be online and available for the near future. Most of you should have my email address or my cell if you need me.

Let's see how this works, shall we? Maybe I'll get some work done.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Platform agnosticism

Right now, I have my MacBook talking to my Ubuntu server using Samba, a protocol designed for Windows.

Monday, September 03, 2007

How to be teh AWESMOE

Guitar Hero.

I just picked up Guitar Hero 2 and its "encore," Guitar Hero Rocks the Eighties, plus two guitar controllers. I've played the game once or thrice before, but now I own 'em both and can rock out whenever I can crank the volume. Better still, I have two guitars so I can play with or against someone.

Bennett and I can play Freebird.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Katrina was two years ago today

I remember Cat and I were sitting in my car, right around Slidell, listening to Mayor Nagin give a mandatory evacuation for my city, watching the skies, wondering if Katrina would hit.

Two years, a few thousand miles, and almost five hundred blog posts later, I'm back in the city and still thinking about the future.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

One Cool Thing at Gen Con

Better late than never, right?

(Direct link to video)

There's always next year.

Monday, August 13, 2007


Twitter is another one of these newfangled Web 2.0 sites that I only peripherally know about. In a nutshell, Twitter acts like a micromicro blog: You text or IM or email a more-or-less one-line status update. "What are you doing?" asks the site.

Wired has a good article suggesting that the aggregate data of Twitter has value to you- you can know what your people are up to in the gestalt. Go read that article.

If you use Twitter, tell me. I want to know what you're doing.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

In which I finally play one of the great games

No, I don't mean Puerto Rico (BGG, BUY ME!), the number one game on Board Game Geek. I mean Bridge (BGG, WP), also known as Contract Bridge.

I didn't like Bridge at first, much like I didn't like Tichu (BGG, BUY ME!). I can't for sure say why, definitively. Both are partnership games, and there's a lot of strategy behind each one. I haven't really played partnership trick-taking games of any kind beyond Spades (BGG, WP) in high school except for Sheepshead (BGG, WP) and Njet (BGG, OOP). Part of my original dislike of both Bridge and Tichu stemmed from rampant confusion; I simply hadn't had the brain structures in place to grok a game that depended so heavily on good partnership play.

Right now, Bridge kicks Tichu to the curb and laughs at it. I forsee playing Bridge for many years down the line. I also forsee learning Tichu again, now that I've played and am starting to grok Bridge.

I told someone that we learned to play Bridge, and they asked me if it really was an "old person's game." With Bridge, once you've played it for a while, you get to know your partners and their play styles, leading to a more involved game and deeper play enjoyment. Fundamentally, it's not a shallow game. The game of the game is really in the bidding, and a ton of information passes between players, particularly when in conjunction with a bridge convention, which is an agreed-upon method of imparting said information.

What are the other great games? Certainly Chess (BGG, WP) and Go (BGG, WP). Everything else is up for grabs. Some folks might want to include Backgammon (BGG, WP) due to its age, but I've never played. I know I should.

I also read today's Bridge column in the paper, so I know I'm sold on the game.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Story-Games Name Project

If you roleplay and need a better names reference than a baby name book, check out the Story-Games Name Project, now up on Lulu.

The contents are all Creative Commons, so you can do what you like. With a little digging, you can even get the source PDFs for free, without the nice layout and snazzy art. And hey, eleven bucks ain't that bad for an awesome source book. If you're still waffling for some reason, here's a preview.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Faint glimmer of hope

Gen Con is next weekend, in Indianapolis. It's a twelve hour drive or a $350 plane ticket. I can probably scare up crash space from people I know who are going, so lodging isn't really a factor. Registration at the door is $80. I could spend X-hundred-dollars plus on games and food and the like.

Sadly, without a job or cash flow, I need to plan for next year. Maybe I'll buy a lottery ticket.

Dragon Con and BGG.Con are in September and November, respectively. At least I'm pre-regged for both.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Austin garage sale today

My brother's film production company is having another garage sale to raise money for their next film project.

If you're in Austin, you should swing by:

Today, 8am-2pm

5210 Martin Avenue
, in North Central Austin.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Sitrep, posrep

Geeks and the military love their wordplay.

My position is within a half-mile of this location.

My situation is not as easily Googlable. Cat and I are living in our friends' guest room, and the mother-in-law cottage is not yet completely renovated- that should be done in the next couple weeks, though. Then we'll have a roof over our head to call our own.

I finished the last Harry Potter book the day I got it, so feel free to discuss it with me- I no longer need to be kept spoiler-free. Cat's on the last few hundred pages right now, and I keep hearing cries of "Oh no!" and "What?" from the couch. I have to keep quiet and continually ask her what she just read so I don't accidentally spoil her.

Living with five cats and a dog does not do my allergies any good. Particularly when one of them (Zapruder, you may have met him) sleeps in the same room as we so he doesn't start a fight with the other cats. Let this be a lesson! Get your cats fixed so they play nice with others! I have a lot of thoughts here- why are dogs so different than cats? Is it because they are more social creatures? Is it because their brains are bigger? Is it a few thousand years more of animal husbandry? But there's no doubt in my mind that dogs have a language center in their brains that cats lack, making dogs more like little furry people. Right now, I can't wait for health insurance so I can get some real allergy meds.

Speaking of health insurance, I've got a job interview tentatively lined up next week. Keep your fingers crossed that it's awesome and they hire me. I also have a small repair job or two based on my rep for awesomeness. I don't know if I could make a living out of these onesy-twosey jobs, but I don't know if I'd want to.

Game-wise, I've only played a few things. Most of my games are still in boxes.

But what of the city? So much is different, and so much is the same... but a lot of things are hauntingly familiar, or missing. I know it's not even been two years, but halve any city's population and see what parts of it die and what can survive. It shocks me to see empty lots or boarded-up buildings next door to bustling houses or businesses. If I had the money, I'd invest in land. I still daydream about starting a new industry to help the city come back.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

95% unloaded

We have almost the entire truck unloaded right now into various places- the attic, the guest room, and fully sixteen boxes of board games in the living room for easy access. The furniture is going into a basement tomorrow before we have to return the truck.

Mad kudos to my homies for helping schelp boxes over a few hours. Afterwards, we went swimming and threw small plastic beach balls at each other.

Lunch was a classic Roman Pizza duo: Buffalo Chicken Pizza and a pizza made with garlic sauce, not red sauce, topped with garlic and salami. I call it Garlic Love. Dinner was Dot's Diner: Cat got a B6 (pancakes, eggs over medium, and bacon) and I got an L2 with cheese (two mini Dot's burgers and delicious fries laced with addictiveness), don't be shy with the Tabasco.

Home again, home again, jiggety jig

Pulled in at my mom's place a hair before midnight; made it to Bennett & Leslie's about 12:20 or so. Unpacked the essentials, played a hand of Oh Hell (BGG) and I lost by one point to Daniel, and now we just need to acclimate the cat to the other three cats and the dog.

The drive took about twelve hours for a noodle over five hundred ten miles. I didn't count on A) the rain which stopped nearly the instant we hit the state line, B) Houston sucking twice: The first time was due to a closure of the I-10, and the second was a three-out-of-five-lane closure due to an accident. C) the truck was actually quite pleasant, just not really good to drive much over 65, so I forgot to guesstimate the travel time with the reduced speed.

It still hasn't quite hit me yet. I'm expecting to have to go away in a few days.

Tomorrow, decent coffee and Harry Potter 7 and schlepping more boxes. We might be able to get away with not needing a storage shed, too.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

We are in Iowa. Iowa, Louisiana. About two hundred miles to go before we sleep. There is a nice sunset here, Houston sucked and the rain has stopped. More later.

Friday, July 27, 2007

95% packed

Nearly done. Just the miscellany of daily life is left: food, computers, bedding, clothes, toiletries, a handful of this or that to put into the last few boxes. A bunch of the crew showed up to play sherpa. They are a great group of people. I'm glad to have known them and to have brought them all together. Do things fall apart without a center?

Right now our apartment is so empty that every room echoes. We have more stuff inside that we evacuated with. Hitting the road in about fifteen hours.

About to shower and play my last games in Austin.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Firefly (the bug, not the show)

We saw fireflies in our courtyard last night. Amazingly cool. Just for a moment, I could see how our ancestors believed in fairies. Cat and I spent a little while looking at their erratic and pale green glow... following them, I even caught one for a fleeting moment.

A picture wouldn't do justice.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Brazilian Steakhouse

Last night, John and Jen took us out to go eat at Estancia Churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse. In short, it was a damn fine place to eat.

I had never eaten Brazilian-style steakhouse before, but evidently everyone and the grandmother has heard of all-you-can-eat steak "with the swords." Yes, all you can eat. They served us two courses: a salad and a meat course, both unlimited. The salad bar was very nice, with delicious artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, huge mushrooms, hearts of palm, lettuces, cheeses, fruit and more. All very fresh, crisp, and never empty.

To get meat, we had a signal for the servers. Each diner has a laminated card with a red side and a green side. When there's green side up, men in pantaloons with Brazilian rotisserie on swords appear out of nowhere to slice freshly cooked meat at your request, directly onto your plate- a small set of tongs makes up part of your silver service. We had leg of lamb, beef ribs, chicken breasts, pork sausage, bottom round, and two or three kinds of house special seasoned beef.

Finally, I had the best flan I've ever had there. Amazingly rich, creamy, and possessing the right balance of egginess and caramel.

If you ever get a chance to eat at a churrascaria, do so.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Manhattan: a fine game

Manhattan (BGG, BUY ME!) is due to be back in print in a month or so, and I highly suggest you pick it up.

I got my copy as part of a trade (big surprise), and knew very little about it beyond a few base facts. The game won the Spiel des Jahres in 1994, the first for Andreas Seyfarth of Puerto Rico (BGG, BUY ME!) and Thurn and Taxis (BGG, BUY ME!) fame. I've played both of the latter, and while T&T won the SdJ in 2006, I'm not as captivated by either of those two games as Manhattan, and it gets a fair amount of table time in my circle. This simple game of building skyscrapers is way more vicious than I ever anticipated.

Gameplay is pretty simple and tight: You will make exactly twenty-four moves during the game, placing your buildings with the aid of cards. Each player has a set of buildings, or floors- mostly one story pieces, some twos, some thees, and a few fours. The game board has six different neighborhoods- Wall Street, Soho, Downtown, and so forth, each a three-by-three grid with no special powers for the neighborhoods.

Each player starts with a hand of four cards- the deck consists of repeats of nine different cards, one for each of the nine positions you can place a building. The clever thing is that each is played in relation to how the player perceives the board: Say I have a card that lets me plunk down a building in position 1, if you think of an area like a phone dial pad. That same card, if played by Bob on my right, lets him play on position 3- and so on, with that card letting Fred play on position 9 and Fritz on position 7. It's a great way to maximize play value return on the components, but that's kind of a dry observation- I should have some pictures here. For an added bit of cleverness, you pull aside the pieces you're going to use each round, so you're committing your building power before you know how you can really use it.

You control a building if your color is on top. Points are awarded at the end of each round as follows: 1 point per each building you control on the board, two points for each neighborhood where you control more buildings than anyone else, and three points for the tallest building on the board. If there are ties, no points for anyone.

Now, here's the fundamental rule for taking over buildings: You can only place a piece on a building if doing so would give you at least as many floors as whoever currently owns it. It's relatively easy to get locked out of a tasty position, too. I haven't played a two-player game yet, but I believe it would be very compelling.

I keep bringing Manhattan to game nights, and it keeps getting requested. It's tactical and fun, and just mean enough. Having your moves limited by cards also greatly reduces the whole spectrum of opportunity, so you can focus on strategy by retaining a few cards between rounds. There's also a few variants in there which have yet to hit the table; I'm looking forward to trying the ones with the monster that destroys buildings.

I doubt I'll tire of Manhattan for a long time.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Lifehacking with knots

Applied topology is cool.

I found this link on Lifehacker, a Aussie fellow who focuses on efficiency and knot-typing as a side interest. I'm trying out tying my shoes a little differently.

Inspired by Thoreau

From yesterday's A.Word.A.Day:

It is difficult to begin without borrowing, but perhaps it is the most generous course thus to permit your fellow-men to have an interest in your enterprise. -Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)

I haven't read Civil Disobedience or Walden in quite some time.

Undesired work is a kind of evil.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Packing for the move is like a Reverse Katrina, a little.

Now, all the books and CDs are packed. None of the games or RPGs are yet, and the movies are waiting for their cardboard shuttles.

I'm going through boxes of mementos I haven't opened since I packed them a year a half ago- stuff that got emptied out of drawers and into boxes for salvage. Some is crap, just receipts and papers that I didn't go through. Some is valuable, either financially, for providing memories, or for utility.

We found the vintage 60"x40" Apocalypse Now poster. It was hiding behind the didjes.

I'm finding correspondence from my college days, and photographs I've forgotten about, along with disposable cameras I never developed- who knows if the film is still good after several years?

The apartment has stacks and stacks of boxes, cardboard edifices of things. It's eerily reminiscent of moving in, leaving home, and facing the unknown... and all the memories they stir up.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Moving date set

You read it here first, people. We're getting a truck on Friday, July 27th.

Penske rocks! Cat basically filled out a request for a quote, and they gave us a call and offered us a discount. w00t!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Just got paid today me a pocket full of change.

I haven't had access enough to post to Blogger lately, for which I apologize. I've got some links and articles shared over in the sidebar.

For my RSS friends, please click on an ad or two, okay? If not, that's okay. You can still read my shared Google Reader items.

Speaking of ads, I've gotten something like less than forty bucks credit over at FunAgain, about four bucks at Amazon, and less than fifteen from Google Adsense. Hooray! You too can be famous on the internets and get paid for it... eventually, and in small amounts.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Time flies like an arrow...

...fruit flies like a banana.

By the time you next have to pay your rent or the house note, we'll be back in New Orleans.

I suspect my dance card will fill up faster than usual. Call now to reserve your spot.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

One megaplay

About this time, I played my one thousandth game since I started keeping track in September of 2006. The game was Time's Up! (BGG, BUY ME!), and I shared that play with about a dozen other people split up into three or four per team. Team Monkey consisted of Dan and Kelly plus Emily. Team Lloyd, headed by Bryon, also included Kim and Logan (with mascot Jack), plus Shannon. Team Caffeine, led by Mischa, included Chad and Jen, plus Andrew. Team "Richard" was Nick, D-bomb, and Jack.

Team Caffeine won.

Cat asked me what I thought about having played a thousand games. I think it's a good start.

Massive excitement about future movies

They are making a movie of I Am Legend.

I am massively excited about this. Admittedly, I want to see Flicker more, and I would love to see any video anything based off the Island in the Sea of Time stories, but this is a great little story that needs a better treatment than Charlton Heston gave it back in the 70s.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

T minus two hours

Soon, I leave to work. Gotta run some errands first, and after three months full of free time, I really don't like having to adjust my schedule based on external factors. Times like this make we wonder how everyone else takes care of errands outside of nine to five, and why more "normal" service providers don't have later hours. Imagine a mechanic that stayed open until midnight!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Moving party!

A few months ago, Cat and I were interviewed twice by a social worker about our Katrina experiences for some study done by the University. Last night, the three of us got together for dinner and catching up, and she offered to help us move... and find boxes.

Many hands make for light work, as the adage tells us, and a few people have asked me if there's a big send-off thing that might happen for me before leaving. So we might throw a moving party. Get enough people over here, bribe 'em with some combination of pizza or beverages or games, and make it the social event of the season.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Music, Music

I have a drive chock full of music. About 120GB, all told. The twist is that I don't have a dedicated machine to play it with.

I've wanted a personal music box, set up to stream or broadcast or share or hoover or whatever the buzzword 2.0 is these days. I just need to spend the time to set it up... and go through the data. Too much of my digital music is untagged, and that fact makes me wince.

Maybe I'll start carrying around a fat USB drive so I can start making archival backups of music as I travel. I think a Mac Mini might be the best smartest roving ripping device, but that assumes people still have CDs. Any suggestions? MY USB jumpdrive is only a gig.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Geek of the Week

Hey, neat. They made me Geek of the Week over on BGG. Seek it out if you want to peek on me speaking from my beak about be(eek)ing Geek of the Week!

There are entirely too many close front unrounded vowels in that first paragraph. Wheee!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Working the the Coal Mine

I have a job.

My temp agency/staffing people/recruiter/whatever have come through and found a position for me at a local Austin company- I'm going to be rolling out laptops to end-users for a month. The timing is right (only a month-long project), the location is actually within the city limits (and about ten or fifteen minutes from my apartment), and the pay isn't insulting. Sadly, it doesn't seem like the actual work will be very interesting, but working directly with a lot of end-users scratches an important itch for me.

For some reason, a drug test is good for a year, but a background check is only good for three months. That seems backwards to me, but what do I know? I'm not a professional nationwide staffing agency. The notion of a drug test to do work (particularly for computer monkey work) makes me standoffish and slightly offended.

Yes, I had to pee in a cup and give it to a man. Small comfort that I've never worked a job having to handle other humans' bodily fluids.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Cosmic Encounter makes me happy

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Insert kopek

Wired has a great multimedia spread (read: photoessay) to accompany an article on two guys who are restoring Soviet video games from the Cold War era.

Game over, tovarich.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

New-to-me games this week

In an effort to post my game session reports in a more timely fashion, here are the new-to-me games I've played this week, ranked by number of games played.

I don't own Flaschenteufel (Three plays, BGG, BUY ME!) yet. I will. This is a great trick-taking game that's right up my alley. You get forty cards (a deck of 37 with three cheat sheets), a cool wooden bottle for the Imp, rules, and the short story by Robert Louis Stevenson in English and German.

Read the story, it's actually pretty good. If you don't want to, check out the Wikipedia for a plot outline. If you don't want that either (and I thank you for remaining on my blog), here's the story in a nutshell: You buy a bottle containing an Imp. As long as you have it, he'll grant your every wish. Catch the first: If you die before you sell it, off to Hell you go. Catch the second: You can only sell it for less than you paid for it, in cash. How much would you pay for such a bottle? More importantly, how much could you sell it for?

Now, the story falls into place when you play a trick-taking game where trumps get progressively smaller and scarcer. You're basically "buying" the Imp for trumps. The catch is, of course, if you still have the Imp at the end of the game, you get negative points.

The game is really quite elegant and totally up my alley. It's very high on my must-pick-up list. It would be higher if I didn't know someone who owned it already. Strong buy reco if you like trick-taking games.

As for a pure negotiation game, I'm the Boss (Three plays, BGG, BUY ME!) takes the cake so far. Sure, there's a board and cards, but these exist to support all of the simultaneous negotiation that takes place between players- the board hows the deals available, how much money they could be worth, and which investors need to sign on to make the deal go through. The cards are ammunition and defense: stealing investors, ways to muscle in on a deal, ways to kick investors out of a deal by sending them on trips, a whole gaggle of cousins and nephews and siblings to take over a deal for cheaper. And it's all about the money.

If you like backstabbing, dealing, pleading, bargaining, and any sort of mean-but-fun negotiation, this game should be right up your alley. This is a dandy game by Sid Sackson that is thankfully back in print and in English. I suspect that I'm going to enjoy this one for a good long while. Strong buy reco if you like multiplayer negotiation games.

I also got to play Friedemann Friese's newest offering, Fiji (One play, BGG, BUY ME!). Unsurprisingly, it's a green game that starts with the letter F in German and English. It's sort of an auction game, but it reminded me a little of Santy Anno with its resolution and dependencies on other players. Thematically, players are offering fake beads (or real jewels) to the natives; in exchange, they get shrunken heads and therefore points.

Each player offers one to four beads in four different colors and cards show what happens based on the offerings. So, if you have the most red (say), you get one blue. Or the player with the least yellow and green, everyone else gives one green to the pot. And so forth. At the end of four rounds of bidding and taking, points are awarded (based on most of or least of), then the cards are shuffled, and you play three total rounds of awarding points.

The game is fast, and with much of the result depending on player's choices, it feels really chaotic- but there's a fun amount of mind-reading and second-guessing, too. "If I want the most reds, then I could put out four, but someone else will do so as well, and if we both put out four, then ties are discarded and the points go to second place, so I want to aim for second place, but..." In case of ties, all tied players are out. So if we're seeing who has the most blue, say, and I have four and you have four and Fred has two, the Fred wins because you and I tie and are therefore out. Medium play reco, stronger if you like chaotic games.

I finally arranged to have Keythedral (One play, BGG, BUY ME!) hit the table. I'm often reluctant to open an unfamiliar game out at the coffeehouse, just in case something gets lost or spilled in the not brightly-lit space. As a result, some games simply don't make it out of their shrink soon enough. I also need to get into the habit of reading instructions before play. Even so, I'm super glad that I finally got to play this one.

How to describe Keythedral? It's very definitely a Eurogame: move things, collect other things, take actions, trade thing one for some value of points, trade thing two for some different value of points. But the art and design is very nice- a hand-drawn almost watercolor effect, somehow charming without being cutesy.

The game board itself is made up of octagonal resource/field tiles with player's square cottages/houses at the holes. Imagine Settlers of Catan with a players choosing the board layout, and you're on the right track. Each turn, players rotate choosing a cottage to activate, and every cottage with that number sends out one worker- if your adjacent fields are already full or an opponent has placed a fence, then the worker sleeps in and you get no resources. In our game, it felt a pretty tight setup, and there was a great trade-off between choosing the right cottage to activate so you would get first pick before the others. Once everyone's deployed all the workers, then you get your resources (wood, stone, wine, water, and food) and players take turns again taking actions. Actions are usually trading resources for resources or crafts (stained glass, gold, ironwork), buying law cards, putting up or tearing down fences, upgrading cottages to houses, or actually throwing resources at the Keythedral to build its seats and therefore earn victory points.

We played the shorter game with three, just to get our feet wet. Everyone (including our two cohorts who watched the game since they showed up late and we'd change venues for more gaming once it was over) enjoyed it and said they would happily play it again. Definitely a good buy, and I haven't played with the expansion nor any of Richard Breese's other Key games: Keytown, Keydom, etc. Strong play rcco, moving along to a buy reco.

When I played Kremlin (One play, BGG, BUY ME!), I wasn't sure what to expect. I saw a mid-80s Avalon Hill box, which almost always means lots of chits. But the guys who owned the game said it was a fun political satire game of influence, where you get to speak in funny Russian accents. They also said it wouldn't take very long.

To win, your faction needs to control a party chief who is not too sick to wave in the October parade each year. You've got ten years to do this, and you need to wave successfully three times to win. There's a very interesting method of secret influence on the various politicians (each with names like Andrej Purgemoff and Juri Nikotin and Nikolai Shootemdedsky. Cold War humor, remember?), and the basic mechanic for using politicians to take any action due their office is stress points; the more stress, the higher their age, and the easier they sicken and die. Your influence is secret: I say I've got 1 influence on so-and-so, and take an action if nobody objects. The next turn, I go to take an action, and you say, "Well, I've got 2 influence on them, so I'll do it this way instead" and so forth. There was a definite undercurrent of knowing when to reveal and when to bluff that needed more attention.

Sadly, when playing with six (mostly newcomers), the game dragged for far too long. There's a ton of housekeeping and chit movement, and a very Avalon Hill-ish phase order printed on the board. I found myself longing for a remake of the game, one with much tighter and faster gameplay. It took us three hours for three turns, and we did not finish- the person in the lead had one point. There's definitely some good ideas here, but I can't help believing the game has aged badly. Strong avoid reco, but pick it up to steal ideas from.

Keeping in with the Russian theme, I also played Message to the Czar (One play, BGG, BUY ME!), a lighter game of positioning couriers across various inns. I picked this one up as part of a trade, and it simply had never made it to the table- the rules are super simple, though. Of course, when I got back to hit the BGG entry, I discovered that there are some radical rules changes that happened in the second printing. I still want to try the game with the newness, so I'm going to reserve judgment at this time.

Other games played this week include:

  • Jungle Speed (BGG, BUY ME!), still super awesome, thought my reflexes are slowing in my old age
  • Ca$h'n Gun$ (BGG, BUY ME IN ENGLISH! BUY ME WITH BLACK GUNS!), a great game to introduce to non-gamers at a party, plus the new English edition (besides rules in English) has bright orange guns for safety
  • Wiz-War (BGG, PRE-ORDER!), continually popular- I haven't played this much Wiz-War since high school
  • Bohnanza (BGG, BUY ME!), surprisingly unknown to some people- it's a good gateway game or filler, plus it plays up to seven
  • Carrousel (BGG, IMPORT), still excellent for the right visual-puzzle crowd- I suspect I will happily play this game for years to come
  • Cineplexity (BGG, BUY ME!), a marvelous party game with people who like movies, plus you can play it in the car
  • For Sale (BGG, BUY ME!), recently requested by some transplants from Florida- very interesting to see a different groupthink
  • King Me! (BGG, BUY ME!), speaking of groupthink and mind-reading
  • Letter Head (BGG, BUY ME!), looking to get more play of this- the book comes with more than a dozen different games to play with the deck
  • Sheepshead (BGG, USE A DECK OF CARDS), slowly introducing this to more and more players with help of the cheatsheet on BGG

Also, one night's session recap is briefly over at the Austin Stink blog.