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.