Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Alan Dargin is dead

The wikipedia, along with other Australian news services, have the news. The famous Mills list broke the story for me.

This news had me feeling pretty low over the last two days and really quite sad right now. He was one of the first didj players whose name I knew, and his Bloodwood album was first didj CD I ever bought, back in the day of record stores, before the days of MP3.

The man was forty. I've never been to Australia, I never had the pleasure of hearing him in person.

I sat on the porch for a time tonight, cold and beset upon by strong winds- how very appropriate, I felt. I brought out my didjbox and played, in time with the wind, in time with my own heartbeat, playing a little for Cat to listen, more for nobody to hear.

YouTube provides:

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A little slice of perfect

On the last Saturday of the month, the Arts Council of New Orleans holds their Arts Market four blocks from our home.

Cat usually works mornings on Saturdays and often wakes me up with a coffee and promises of the market. Some days we just go and look, taking cards and memories for future decor. If Cat's low on any of her varieties of handmade soap, we buy. I bought Cat an anniversary present there. We did all our holiday shopping there one year.

Bamboula 2000 were playing, a loud upbeat tune as familiar as walking, the rhythms second nature and the words unknown- but you bet we all sung along.

Walking hand in hand with the woman I love, happily squelching in the park avoiding wet patches from yesterday's rain because we both have shoes with holes, smelling the kettle corn and the press of the crowd with dogs and babies. Inevitably, we will run into people here: This week I saw an old work buddy, his wife, and their infant. We missed my good friend Carl and his wife Jackie by minutes (they walked down to say hi anyway), and we said hello to the regular vendors.

We make new friends, too. There's a new Italian deli place I've never heard of, Just Italy. We each got a quarter-muffuletta, garlicky, oily, and perfectly dressed with damn fine olive relish. We hunkered down on the sidewalk, happily eating and looking at the crowd and the band and the vendors. The weather was perfect- no clouds, a nice breeze, sunny enough but not too. After devouring the muffs, we pick up another two quarters for later, share a Katrina moment with the deli guy and get a free T-shirt. Right next to the deli, hot fresh made-to-order crepes. I got Black and Gold: Nutella and banana.

Call it two slices of perfect.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dogs and cats, living together

First Castro steps down. Then they find an alleged Oswald-Ruby transcript. What will tomorrow bring?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Thrice again, I ROCK

Cat surprised me last night with a new PS2 And Guitar Hero 3! We spent a few hours last night a-rockin' and a-jammin' and just having a blast. I need to get my other guitar back so we can play some co-op.

For the record, I'm getting mostly 98-99-100% churning though Easy, notwithstanding the cat deciding he wants to knock things over and ruin my set. I'm out of practice, but the skills are still there. Rusty, but there.

Yes, I appreciate the irony of working for an arts conservatory and playing fake guitar.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Living in small spaces

YouTube linkery aplenty.

Here's an RV-classed house that's smaller than our current living space. It's 325 square feet.

(Direct video link)

Linked from that, a more movable house that folds up for easy transport.

(Direct video link)

I find it interesting that both appear to be of Canadian manufacture.

We're a long way from living in an ultimate engineered house, but I like the spartan/utilitarian approach to these designs.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wear clothes with your videophone

I'm trying out Skype to chat with my brother in Austin, and I'm pretty pleased with the audio and video quality. You sure can't beat the price. A buddy of mine uses it to talk to his mom in England.

I've got a MacBook with built-in camera and mic, so I could walk around the house and yard while chatting, showing off the dog and construction and the like. I really should get a BlueTooth headset to keep this up.

We're seriously talking about playing a board game or two over this, which rules.

Anyone else out there using Skype?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Valentine's Day Dining

Figaro's reopened last week. They've been closed since the storm.

Cat and I knew that we had to go, and soon. We weren't regular regulars, but we ate there perhaps once every two months or so. It's nice to have a neighborhood Italian restaurant that lets you eat some slow food.

We made a date for Valentine's.

To start, we had the famous Figaro's Terrine, a layered pine nuts/cheese/sun-dried tomatoes/magic/some other cheese/pesto/goat cheese/love/sun-dried tomatoes with crostini bread.

Then, salads: a mixed greens with almonds and vinaigrette for me; a most excellent spicy garlicky real Caesar for Cat. The only better Caesar I've had that comes to mind was made tableside for me.

Entrees: Portobello stuffed ravioli in a light alfredo sauce for her; a sherried chicken in penne for me. Naturally, we shared. All was delicious.

We had a lovely slow dinner on the patio. It took us maybe two hours to eat; the server warned us that they were slow, operating with a limited menu and reduced help in the kitchen. I know that I saw the owner hustling back there, and I don't think they had more than two servers for fifteen-twenty tables.

Step by step and bite by bite we come back from the land of LAMRON.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

...and speaking of comedy

My brother's improv troupe, Murphy Improv, has their debut performance tonight in Austin.

Steve Martin is a very funny fellow

Steve Martin has a piece in the Smithsonian mag about his comedy. I can't quite call it a funny article, but I know that at least two of you (Josh and Marc) will appreciate it.

If you don't feel like reading a bio piece interspersed comedy insight, I'll just quote one of his bits for you.

I had the plumber joke, which was impossible to understand even for plumbers: "OK, I don't like to gear my material to the audience, but I'd like to make an exception, because I was told that there is a convention of plumbers in town this week—I understand about 30 of them came down to the show tonight—so before I came out, I worked up a joke especially for the plumbers. Those of you who aren't plumbers probably won't get this and won't think it's funny, but I think those of you who are plumbers will really enjoy this. This lawn supervisor was out on a sprinkler maintenance job, and he started working on a Findlay sprinkler head with a Langstrom seven-inch gangly wrench. Just then this little apprentice leaned over and said, 'You can't work on a Findlay sprinkler head with a Langstrom seven-inch wrench.' Well, this infuriated the supervisor, so he went and got Volume 14 of the Kinsley manual, and he reads to him and says, 'The Langstrom seven-inch wrench can be used with the Findlay sprocket.' Just then the little apprentice leaned over and says, 'It says sprocket, not socket!' [Worried pause.] "Were these plumbers supposed to be here this show?"

Saturday, February 09, 2008

What a difference a day makes

Yesterday seemed to prove the old adage about bad things coming in threes. Today, on the other hand...

Today, my man Simon lent me his old Sony Ericsson T68i with plenty of gizmos: a camera attachment, an analog converter, even a German power adapter in case I happen to travel in the next little while. Luckily, T-Mobile had already unlocked his phone, so it was a simple matter to slap my SIM card and bam, phone service. A few minutes of convincing my laptop and my phone to play nicely, and through the miracle of Bluetooth, I had all my contacts.

Today, we also hit up the Saturday farmer's market in the Warehouse District; I had plans for exactly two things: red lentil balls and whole milk from Smith creamery. I made out with no lentil balls, some fresh tamales (cheese/jalepeno and veggie), my coveted whole milk straight from cows, a slice of Cajun bread pudding, a taste of mango popsicle, four bucks worth of incredibly delicious and fresh spinach, a free Lexmark all-in-one, and an almond praline variation called "Nipples of Venus."

Today, I hacked at a borrowed AP. Finally I have a working (and legitimate) wireless bridge on a nice, strong signal. Hooray, tubes.

Today, we arranged a fivesome for Fury of Dracula (BGG, BUY ME!). Bennett arranged to be Drac, and Margaret, myself, Leslie, and Daniel teamed up to stomp his fanged self. The game dragged a bit in the middle, but we seriously weakened him with our use of allies that hurt him while at sea and when he used some of his powers in combat. Margaret came down and killed him with a stake very close to Leipzig. Go, Team Hunter!

Today: we once again have water. Hot water, cold water, running water. The sink is refreshing. The toilet is a relief. A shower is glory.

Losing and broken, also dry

I lost every game I played tonight and my cell phone fell and broke.

Games played:
Manhattan (Margaret won)
Hey! That's My Fish! (Ben won)
Ricochet Robots (Margaret & Ben tied)
Set (Margaret schooled all of us, twice)
Chase (Simon won)

Cell phone:
Dropped 1.5 meters
Flip detached

Oddly, my cell still works via Bluetooth and USB so I saved all my contacts and pictures. I'm also due to play some games tomorrow night. Looks like I have T-Mobile in my sights tomorrow. I've got to find a phone that plays nice with iSync.

Also some fool with a backhoe has denied the household water. Should be back tomorrow morning.

Could be worse!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

An end to Mardi Gras; a return to normalcy

Chris Rose sums up life after Mardi Gras:

I love this time of year. I really love this time of year in this place. It's like nothing else in America, and we say that all the time around here, but this time -- this time -- we really mean it.
This is our first Mardi Gras since the hurricane, no offense to John's parties back in Austin. It's such a damn relief to actually be back to normal in New Orleans.

If you don't understand, ask me. I'll do what I can to explain.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

January Games Recap

What kinds of dickens did I get up to in the first month of this new year?

Ricochet Robots (BGG, BUY ME!) has enjoyed a new resurgence of popularity with my group. Some of the gang have started to request it specifically, or pull it out and play it when I'm not pushing for it. I've taught the game with the actual rule for tiebreakers, which definitely gives an advantage to a weaker player; Now that the collective skill level has gone up, I wonder if we don't want to remove the tiebreaker rule or add in some of the fifty-odd variants with the silver or the black robot. Maybe we need to master the diagonal walls first. I do want to pick up the original edition so we can mix and match the boards, too. Five plays.

I need to find my Zendo (BGG, OOP BUY RULE CARDS!) set. I know that you can play the same game with different bits: Legos, say, or coins. I know that some people have played with physical beer bottles or images online, and others have even rendered the standard Icehouse pyramids. Once again, I've got the interesting position of introducing this game enough so that I can play! Four plays.

Carrousel (BGG, IMPORT FROM FRANCE OR CANADA) remains a quick filler that is often well received. You can stretch it to five in a pinch, but it plays so fast that one person could sit out. I am a little rusty, but that's fine for introducing it. The learning curve generally isn't as steep as that for Ricochet Robots. Three plays.

Hey! That's My Fish! (BUY ME!) has cute wooden penguins, so you know you want to play it. If you're cheap, poor, or unsure, you can make your own set with about fifty or sixty poker chips and a small handful of pawns. I don't know the distribution, though. We play a little more "friendly" than we should; it helps to check the FAQs with respect to some specific situations about isolation. All things considered, HTMF is a deceptively deep abstract strategy game. Three plays.

Someone else owns Rumis (BGG, BUY ME!)! Dylan works as a substitute teacher; one of the math teachers has Rumis as a in-class game. He borrowed it, since I have no idea where my copy hides right now, and the loaner hit the table a few times. I have really decent visualization skills, so this sort of three-dimensional building is right up my alley. It doesn't hurt that the game is visually attractive, brightly colored blocks on a turntable. Maybe I need to play more striking games in the hope of attracting assersby. Three plays.

I still don't own Set (BGG, BUY ME!), but Simon does. The competitive nature of the group tends to comes out with this one, but there are those of us who are colorblind and can't play. It fascinates me that sometimes, my brain is "on" with this game, and the feedback from a success keeps me playing and doing well. If I start off poorly, I tend to stay on the bottom and my brain just doesn't kick start in time to keep up. Simon and I wound up playing a bit of practice Set, made up on the fly: flip over two cards, and name what third card would complete the set. Mix it up by having one person deal two cards, then ask the other person to name the right value for a given quality. Want some solo action? Check out the daily New York Times Set puzzle. Three plays.

Qwitch (BGG, BUY ME!) is another game I don't own. It's sort of like Uno on crack- each card has a number and a letter on it. You've got to play a card on the stack in the center, either one up, one down, or equal, as dictated by another card. So, if it's "down" and the card is a 4 C, then you can play a 3 anything or an anything B. You've got to state what you play, too, which adds an extra gear to engage between brain, eyes, and mouth. Three very fast plays where I got schooled.

Ah, Chase (BGG, OOP TRY EBAY). Simon requested, and I obliged. The punk's starting to learn something. Two face-to-face plays and several more online.

Bennett and Leslie bought me Luck of the Draw (BGG, BUY ME!) as a present. It's a pretty silly party game that doesn't require any particular talent, as the judging factor is unknown until after you finish. Quick, you have forty-five seconds to draw "Inside the Oval Office." Now that you're done, would you say that it wins in the category "Used the most graphite?" Much laughter, here. Two plays.

Bringing Manhattan (BGG, BUY ME!) out usually results in it hitting the table. It only plays four, and sometimes you have five. It still remains one of my top favorite games, with a goodly amount of tension between what you want to do and what you can do. Plus, it's back in print! I need to try one of the monster variants. Two plays.

We still kill Steven Seagal — er, I mean play Sieben Siegel, die (BGG, BUY ME!) fairly regularly, and it's not uncommon for people to request it, snag it when I'm not looking, then play it without me there to teach or push it. Times like that, I know I'm being a good gaming evangelist. Two plays.

Yes, I actually played Zombie Fluxx (BGG, BUY ME!) and didn't stab my eyes out after the fact. It's Fluxx with Zombies, and there's not much else to say about it. The art is better for the zombie theme, there's a card that will definitively end the game, and you get to think about zombie movies. Andy Looney does a good job of pitching it in this video. Two plays.

Gaming-wise, I'm pretty lucky. I don't often play games I don't enjoy on some level. Alhambra: the Dice Game (BGG, BUY ME!), however, does not cut the mustard. The original Alhambra is a fine game, well worth checking out, and rules exist to merge the two, but I only played the standalone version of the dice game. Granted, we played with six players and we cut the game to about half its length, but even so: everyone felt that it went on for far too long. It's fundamentally a cute press-your-luck game with a bit of area control and powers, but there's not enough there to merit the time investment. Zounds, the downtime! One play with six.

Dan introduced me to Barbarossa (BGG, BUY ME!) back in Austin, and I snagged my own six-player version at the BGG.Con marketplace. This one's an interesting little guessing game with clay. You make two little sculptures, gaining points for guessing correctly. But the twist is that you also get points for being guessed at the right time of the game- if yours is too easy or too difficult, you'll lose points. I liked it enough to acquire it, but there's an emphasis on guessing instead of making that might be a turn-off for some. One play.

Blokus (BGG, BUY ME!) is finally turning mainstream. I've seen it at regular shops, not just the crazy out-of-the-way ones. One play.

Good old Bohnanza (BGG, BUY ME!), the best game about trading beans. I know how that sounds, but it's true. I've seen this go down once or twice with people who don't understand the essential coopetition involved, and the session can really crash and burn if you're too selfish. One play.

California (BGG, BUY ME!) is a new acquisition for me. It had shown up on Tanga as one of its deals-of-the-day, and the BGG trade market had a surplus. Yes, people game the trade system, picking up surplus to meet demand. Does it really surprise you that people can play games with real goods? But California is by the same designer as Zooloretto and Coloretto, but this is a game about remodeling houses and getting guests to show up to bring you presents. Like *Retto, you've got limited decisions on your turn, so things move pretty quickly. The house theme definitely appeals to your non-stereotypical gamer person. One play with three, learning as we went.

Carcassonne? Not a fan. Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers (BGG, BUY ME!), the not-expansion? It doesn't grab me. The scoring is a bit simpler, the special tiles add some zing in your decision-making, the art is more kid-friendly. I can't see myself ever waking up with a mad desire to play this, or really any of the Carc series, but I know that a lot of people really enjoy it. The downtime and the inherent passive-aggression doesn't really pull my chain. I'll be aggressive in your face, thank you. One play.

Judson came through and returned Die Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg (BGG, BUY ME!) to my shelf! There's a few tweaks needed to help out new players, but soon we'll be ready to play with the advanced items. I plan to throw them in the first chance I don't need to teach the game. One play.

Doodle Dice (BGG, BUY ME!) reminds me of an uncomfortable cross between Yahtzee and Squint, rolling dice and trying to match a given pattern on a card. You can steal cards from other players, which is satisfying, but I did feel my decisions lean toward ending the game rather than winning it. My gut tells me that better games to fit this niche exist. One play.

Ingenious (BGG, BUY ME!), another gifted game. So far, there's not much gender bias with this abstract when it comes to ability, which is refreshing. I like this plenty, but need more practice. One play.

I found Jitters (BGG, OOP) at the thrift store. For a buck, it's hard to pass up a word dice game that Cat might really love. Critically, this game is a little lacking and really shows its age down to the eighties spectacular outfits in the photographs. I hate to throw down jargon, but this is really multi-player solitaire, giving you nothing to do when it's not your turn beyond try to affect the evil eye on the timer. It has a few cute rules when it comes down to it, and the noisy timer unquestionably contributes buckets of tension. One play.

Then there's Metro (BGG, BUY ME!), which makes me reevaluate my assumption that I like tile-laying games. Again with the downtime for six players! One play.

No Thanks! (BGG, BUY ME!) is a great little filler with a bit of strategy, which I evidently need to rethink. One play.

I barely can score when playing Pit (BGG, BUY ME!). It is pretty frantic fun, and monochromatic for those who need. One play.

Can you believe I won a game of Power Grid (BGG, BUY ME!)? Like most economic games, it really helps me if someone really knows the game to make quick calculations or assist with doling out the right amount of money so I don't shoot myself in the foot. I don't remember my exact strategy, but I remember someone telling me that you have to make sure you can power at least X number of cities to even have a hope of winning. So I pushed hard to make sure I had the power plants, paying a bit too much perhaps, and my initial placement in the northeast of the USA made sure that I had lots of nearby and cheap connections. I later found out that the X I remembered was the wrong number for the number of players we had. One play.

The game still likes Qwirkle (BGG, BUY ME!), and it's less common now for someone to have a huge lead. I should get a draw bag for the game, since my box has four split corners. We usually play four or occasionally three. One play.

I like Sheepshead (BGG, DECK OF CARDS), but I feel that it's almost outliving its welcome. I plan to pick up a few more new trick-taking games soon, and several play with five. One play.

Struggle of Empires (BGG, BUY ME!) looks like a game I wouldn't like, but instead I was pleasantly surprised. I don't think I've played a Martin Wallace game before, so I didn't know what I was in for. You've got auctions for allies, dice-based combat that's not too random, exploration, special powers, and the imperial conquest theme that goes over so well. It reminded me of Vinci and the Age of Empires board game, but more fiddly in a good way. This is definitely a heavier game for those who want a nice chuck of meat on their game. Arguably, the auction to set allies is the most interesting mechanic, but the sheer quantity of special tiles will keep things fresh. One play.

I did recently acquire Ta Yü (BGG, BUY ME!), a rare partnership abstract that has a grand aesthetic when it comes to the look and feel of the game. Allegedly, a new and cheaper version will come back into print soon, but it's rare that the elegance comes through for a game in the mechanics as well at the production value. One play.

You still want me on your team in Time's Up! (BGG, BUY ME!), even though I have a severe weakness with the sports figures. I'm going to get the expansions (and some blanks) soon. One play.

TransAmerica (BGG, BUY ME!) is barely a "rail game," since it's more of a connection game. I like it, Cat doesn't, and I don't own it. I'll play it when I can, and I think I prefer TransEuropa. One play.

Und Tschüss! (BGG, OOP) is a clever little blind-bluffing card game about collecting points. The German phrase means something like "So long" or "You're outta here," referring to the fact that players are slowly eliminated from the round in their effort to score points. Turns out this is also a Martin Wallace game. Since the deck is just the numbers 1 to 15, -5, and -10, it's pretty easy to make this if you had to. One play.

Another Cheapass game, Unexploded Cow (BGG, BUY ME!) proves that it's important to have someone know the rules before trying to teach it. I have no opinion on this one, since we didn't really finish the game before others showed up. One play.

I really like Vegas Showdown (BGG, BUY ME!), but I like bidding games. This one suffers from really poor marketing, but it's worth checking out. To steal someone else's line: It's refreshing to have a Vegas-themed game that doesn't revolve around gambling, and that may be why it's done so poorly in the market. Regardless, I do need to get some real poker chips instead of the plastic ones. Also, I've just discovered that I missed a rule all this time, but it's only applicable for the three player game. One play.

Vinci (BGG, SADLY OOP) is a grand game, something like the elegance of Diplomacy mixed with the random powers of Cosmic Encounter. I don't want to have to make my own copy, but I might: A map, some chits, a few cheat sheets, and some colored tokens. The flow of the game also reminded me of Gheos, where the trick is knowing when to abandon a civilization and let it decline. I'll talk this one up some more once it hits the table again, or if I ever acquire my own. One play.

Wheedle (BGG, BUY ME!), the old standby. One play only- they're learning.

Wizard (BGG, BUY ME!) is slowly taking over the hearts and minds of the Oh Hell crowd, and since Jodi has the D-Luxe bidding wheels, there is a tactile appeal. I think you need to cut the game in half for three players, though. It's less fun to manage a twenty-card hand. One play so far.

I need to not slack on some of these recaps. I have some drafts that I can rework for your edification.

I'm going to place an order soon, so feel free to buy something through those affiliate links- I could always use the store credit.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Everywhere else, it's just Tuesday

I'm aware there's some sort of American football game happening either yesterday or today, and there's something about the Presidency this week.

Happy Mardi Gras!