Tibs Manor

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Soda Jerks, We Hardly Knew Ye

I forgot to mention this, over the weekend Lauren and I stopped into Soda Jerks, this little restaurant in Pasadena. They serve really good ice cream, sandwiches, etc. Kind of a silly pseudo-vintage atmosphere (lots of Olde Tyme Coca-Cola tin signs on the wall but they opened in 1994!), but the ice cream really is good and so are the burgers - the George Halas and the Jim Thorpe are particularly tasty. It's a pleasant place to go now and then. Sadly they are closing. I signed up for the mailing list, supposedly they will be reopening at a new location, and I really hope they make it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

ScummVM on the DS

It seems like every few weeks I learn something that makes me want the Nintendo DS even more. Today's new tidbit is learning that ScummVM is available for the DS. SCUMM, the Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion, is the scripting language used by LucasArts for many of their classic adventure games like Loom and The Secret of Monkey Island (but sadly not Grim Fandango). ScummVM is a virtual machine that runs on Windows, OSX, Linux, the Dreamcast (!), and now the DS, and it lets you use the code for the SCUMM games that you own to play them on modern platforms. Think of it as an emulator for one specific company's games. I've used the OSX version to replay several classic games, and the LucasArts graphic adventures have really held up well over time. I already have a GBA flash cart so I'm pretty close to having what I need to use ScummVM for the DS. Well, short of owning a DS that is!

If I do buy one of the current portables, I really don't think it'll be the Sony PSP unless big changes happen. I've played the PSP at the Sony store in San Francisco at the Metreon, and it definitely has a beautiful screen, but other than that I was unimpressed. I HATE the controls, and the games felt like the same old thing only smaller. The biggest strike against it is the whopping $250 price tag. Movie playback sounds nice but I'm not shelling out for a "universal" media format that plays on a grand total of one device, and having to buy a pricy memory stick to use my own movies doesn't sound much better. If I really need movie playback there are third party devices that add it to the GBA/DS as well, like the Play-Yan.

The DS has a worse screen and the graphics aren't quite as sweet, but I've played nearly ten games at demo kiosks (other than the Sony store, good luck finding a playable PSP anywhere!) and there are interesting, creative games. The touchscreen is put to good use in a lot of them, like Kirby: Canvas Curse and the demo for Metroid Prime: Hunters. Some of the big franchises are starting to show up, like Nintendogs and Advance Wars: Dual Strike. The price cut to $130 makes it nearly half the price of the PSP. I'm managing to resist, but I don't know how much longer I can!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Weekend Recap - Seating Chart Madness

Not a terribly exciting weekend. We did a lot of wedding planning once again. I am sounding like a broken record but what can I say? This time around it was mainly seating chart and program design. Program design was ok although I get a little frustrated dealing with Word's idiosyncracies at times. The seating chart was actually a lot of fun though. We had little strips of paper with everyone's name and it was like a big fantasy draft. Do we go for big laughs by seating my ultra-conservative Catholic brother in between a Protestant minister and a libertarian? We could construct a pregnancy table with the several expectant mothers in attendance - and then seat Lauren there too and really set tongues a'wagging! We're still tracking down a few lagging RSVPs so we couldn't completely finalize things, but we're pretty close.

Saturday night Lauren and I played battle 13 in our campaign of Memoir '44. I made some bad choices in my bridge crossing, and her artillery tore me up. I had some terrible rolls but she played really well, I'm not sure better rolling would have mattered at all. She won the scenario 5-3. That puts the series at 10-3 (there are 16 battles total), with Lauren on a roll, having taken 3 of the last 4. The expansions are coming out in about a month and look pretty cool, between that and an eventual replay of the campaign on different sides (I've played Axis, she's played Allies this time through), I'll have gotten plenty of use out of the game. Oh and we still need to replay the Battle Cry campaign at some point. The "Command and Colors" system is really a lot of fun, but I'm not sure that I want to experience the added complexity and lesser components of the upcoming Command and Colors: Ancients.

My Wallenstein game is going quite poorly. I am down to a measly 3 provinces. As of this writing, there have been 11 player-on-player attacks in this game. 7 of them have been against me. At this point I am the easiest target ever but some of those I have won, and I have also lost at least 2 battles that I had the majority in, it's not like I was always the runt of the game. 64% of attacks going against me, what am I supposed to do, anyone would be a weakling after that! Anything other than a last place finish is going to feel like a moral victory at this point, and I think even that is an impossibility at this point. I can't blame people, nobody else built anything worth attacking in year 1, but still it is not much fun being a punching bag. I'm no longer the leader guys, maybe your time would be better spent attacking someone who has a chance to win the game!

My Pikmin game is going quite well though. I've been trying to go for two parts per day which has added a nice level of challenge. Right now I have 8 or 9 parts to go, and 15 days to do it, so I have plenty of wiggle room if I need to spend a day just sprouting new Pikmin or something. I know how to get about half of the remaining pieces so at this point it's just a matter of sitting down and doing it. The question is will I manage it before my redeye to NJ on Friday night, or will I have to pack my GameCube for the trip home!

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Life Aquatic

I finally got around to watching The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou last night. I guess I'd say I was disappointed, out of the Wes Anderson films I've seen (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tenenbaums) this was probably my least favorite. There were certain things I really liked...the idea of an "Air Kentucky"...the side cutaway set of the ship, I thought the shots using that were very cool...and the soundtrack was usual Anderson fun, especially Seu Jorge's acoustic translated renditions of several Ziggy Stardust era David Bowie songs. (There are a few of his albums on the iTMS that I may check out.) I know a lot of people didn't like the little animated sea life bits but I thought they gave the film an interesting look. Looking back on it I liked quite a bit about the movie - but it just didn't fully come together for me. For much of the movie I was bored, and much of the movie I thought was needlessly, intentionally weird. I'm glad I saw it, but I'm equally glad I didn't buy it.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

PBEM Wallenstein - Year 1 Complete

Year 1 of my online game of Wallenstein is complete. We're playing basic setup, five players. Some poor luck in battle has seen me weather the first winter with the lowest number of provinces, 6 (you start the game with 7). However, Wallenstein is mainly about building things, and I outbuilt everyone. Scores after the first scoring round are 20-16-12-10-9, with me in the lead. The second place player, hughthehand, lost two provinces to successful winter food revolts, which gives me an extra two point cushion. I'm going to need it, I am low on cash and there are some mighty big armies surrounding my provinces. We'll see what happens, only 3 turns to go. See the state of the game here.

"Because It's Hillman"

Last night during dinner I watched what was maybe the worst episode of the Cosby Show I have ever seen. "Hillman" (episode #325), perhaps better known as the "Because It's Hillman" episode (search for that phrase). This is the season 3 finale, where Cliff and the whole family (including Sondra, and Cliff's parents Russell and Anna) go to Hillman College for the retirement of the school president. Do you remember being bored by the longwinded speeches at your own graduation, or maybe the graduation of a relative? Well get ready to be bored all over again by several speeches about what it's like to be a "Hillman Man" and a LONG song sung by Clair. I normally kind of like the Hillman stuff, but this episode just shoves it down your throat. The episode is bizarre, it's like watching a home movie (and sometimes it appears to have been shot that way!). I don't think this is when the show jumped the shark - for me that would be either cousin Pam or Olivia's arrival, whichever happened first - but this stands as perhaps the worst episode during the golden age of Cosby.

Second Place

Had a night of second place finishes at the CalTech game club. First up was a game of Ticket to Ride Europe with Mladen while we waited for another group to finish up Bohnanza. We played very fast. For the most part we were playing in separate areas of the board so not a whole lot of interaction but towards the end of the game we fought over some areas. I think I prefer Europe to the original game, but the original does have somewhat better player interaction in terms of cutting off routes. That tension is greatly lessened in the sequel. Still a great game though and it does fix most of the perceived issues with the original game. Anyway Mladen won the game 108-107.

Next up was Hansa, this time a four player game with Mladen, Jimmy, and Rebecca. Jimmy wound up winning, I took second, Rebecca took third...final scores were 40-39-38-37! Doesn't get much closer than that. I was very happy to come in fourth, I made some boneheaded moves early but came on strong. I don't play a lot of Hansa with my copy since Lauren is not a big fan and I own enough games that we can generally play stuff we both really like, but I do like the game. It has a smattering of luck, good mix of strategy and tactics, and a very elegant ruleset with no fluff to speak of - it's the quintessential German game. It is a bit on the dry side however.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Sign of the Day

I passed a homeless guy sitting outside Starbucks on my way to lunch today. He didn't have a sign asking for money, or one of those not-really-funny-at-all "I'll be honest, I want to buy a beer" signs. His sign was asking for "a good acoustic guitar so that I can become self-employed."

Formatting Woes

So the other day I was having a lot of trouble getting my TV show table to align properly. Turned out the problem was in some configuration setting that was replacing carriage returns with <br> tags all over the place. The workaround is either to remove excess whitespace, or to change that setting, which is what I've done going forward, and you should too if you know any html. I believe this is the reason why for instance the album covers on Shawn's page have that slightly staggered look to them (which I must say is actually a nice look). Anyway in the quest to figure that out I had stumbled across a similar bug, discussed here. When Shawn reported a formatting problem with my blog this was the page I returned to. It is a display bug that was only happening with IE (I generally use Firefox which is why I hadn't noticed it). The bug is that your top post appears below the sidebar. If this happens to you, in your template look for the line:


To fix the bug, just wrap that tag with a table (and then republish your blog), like so:

<table border=0><tr><td><$BlogItemBody$></td></tr></table>

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


I'm almost embarassed to have learned about this thing through Slashdot instead of the 'Geek, but there is apparently an open source implementation of Axis & Allies, called TripleA. The site bills it as a "Strategy Engine Framework," and it does appear that you can modify things a fair amount, but it's always A&A, you can't use it to play anything else as far as I can tell. You can play original rules, the rules from the computer release a few years back, or the 2004 rerelease of the game, and you can do custom rules, alternate scenarios, and so forth. It doesn't appear that any spinoffs like Axis & Allies: Europe or Axis & Allies: Pacific (and certainly not Axis & Allies: D-Day, which is squad and not tactical level) are supported.

For this sort of project to exist, the game generally needs to either be simple, or it needs to have a massive following (I'll ignore BrettSpielWelt, I'm thinking wargames and American games here). Axis & Allies certainly has the fanbase. For games that don't, there are more generic solutions available like VASSAL (Java) and Cyberboard (Windows only). These really are more like toolkits or frameworks, as they don't enforce rules, but instead exist as a sort of virtual tabletop. They support the notion of "cards" and a "board" and "dice" and other common things, along with tools to move pieces, roll dice, hide cards, etc., and people have created graphics and config files to play particular games, but it's up to you to remember that you can't move a piece from Australia to Kamchatka in one turn, or that you need to roll a 3 to do action X.

Ultimate Fighter 2

I watched the first 55 minutes of UFC's Ultimate Fighter 2 last night on SpikeTV. I had really regretted missing season 1, and I still do now, as I liked what I saw. Still too early to really judge but it seems like a good show. Much like Tough Enough I hope to learn a bit more about the actual training that these guys go through. Watching some crazy challenges should be fun as well. Although could any challenge be crazier than trying to drop 20 lbs. in two days to make weight? That's insane!

For some reason they officially started airing it at 11:05PM, but neglected to officially end it at 12:05AM, so I lost the last 5 minutes. No big loss, as Spike re-airs it plenty of times during the week, but I do wish I had seen the fight at the end. So no spoilers please. Perhaps it is Raw's fault for going a bit long, as it usually does, so shame on me for not padding. Incidentally, how long has the Raw belt had that spinning center?

Monday, August 22, 2005

PBEM Wallenstein

I've joined a play-by-email game of Wallenstein on SpielByWeb. I've played the real game 4 times now, but this is my first attempt at playing the online version. PBEM games tend to take much longer to finish than I normally care for, but the Wallenstein implementation has gotten high marks from the BGG crowd so when I saw a game starting up I figured I'd take a shot. Game progress can be viewed here.  

Weekend Recap

Had a pretty fun weekend. Friday night I drank too many margaritas and fell asleep watching Club Dread. I'd seen it once before, but I was able to use a Blockbuster free used DVD coupon to pick up a copy. Pretty limited choices, it was either that or Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. Picking Dickie would have been nucking futs. The coupons you get for joining Blockbuster's online service are pretty good, guaranteed two free in-store rentals per month (which applies to games as well), plus some decent deals on used DVDs.

Saturday was some wedding planning, primarily music. We've made final choices for our first dance song, Lauren's dance with her dad, cake cutting music, and wedding party introduction music. It has taken us a long time but I'm really happy with all of them. There is some cool stuff, some funny stuff, and we've managed to avoid most wedding clichés I think. Reading the online lists of most popular wedding songs will make you retch. I predict Kimmel will LOVE the introduction music.

Tried a new recipe Saturday night at Lauren's brother's recommendation...London Broil marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, ketchup, oil, pepper, and oregano. Grilled it up on the Next Grilleration, 7 minutes per side for rare. This time I tried it with the grill open, and I think it worked better. Takes a little longer, but it avoided the steaming problem you get with the closed grill. The meat looked a LOT better this way I thought. Also doing it that way makes cleanup easier. I had some of the leftovers as a sandwich the next day, excellent.

Sunday we took the day off from wedding planning and went swimming for an hour or so. I really should make more use of the pool at my apartment, it is a very nice perk and I hope I can get one again when I move in November. Later that afternoon we drove over to Alhambra for Vietnamese food at Pho 79. I had charbroiled pork with shrimp paste and imperial roll on vermicelli, Lauren had the same dish but with beef and no shrimp paste. It was pretty good. The shrimp paste is like eating the dinner of tomorrow, today! Picture a future world where all food no longer resembles the animal or vegetable from whence it came, and instead is extruded from tubes. Seriously it sounds gross but it tasted pretty good.

After that we wandered over to Nucleus, which is this cool little store that sells a mixture of graphic novels, t-shirts, snacks, import toys, and art. Basically anything of Japanese origin or feel. It's just nice that it's not a dank nerdhole, it's got very friendly and helpful (yet neither overbearing nor cringe-inducing) staff, it's really well lit and cheerful, in general just a very fun atmosphere. We've been there twice now (first time we bought PJ a Don Hertzfeld t-shirt) and each time it is just fun to wander around and check stuff out. This time we checked out the gallery which is two floors and takes up about half the store. "Two floors" is being generous, the upstairs is really funny, the ceiling up there is about 6'5", you feel like a giant. There were original pieces for sale for between about $200 and $1000, and also lots of limited prints which were much more in my price range, more like $20 to $30. I bought a print of the piece you see here, Ninja in the Snow by Kazu Kibuishi (who hails from Pasadena). Lauren got a t-shirt and these great Tony Millionaire Maakies Drinky Crow coasters. All the prices are wrong by the way, everything is significantly cheaper in the actual store.

The other event of note was an epic playing of Hammer of the Scots, split into sessions on Saturday evening, Sunday afternoon, and Sunday evening. I played as the Scots. Lots of fun but terrible dice rolling luck from Lauren. As usual some memorable monents though:

  • Wallace invaded England and ran wild for a few turns before nearly being killed and escaping by sea.
  • managed to get King Balliol out of his French exile and into the game for the first time (we have played four times now). Adding a king (either repatriating Balliol, or crowning Bruce or Comyn) has associated penalties, but if you can get through them I think it's worth it, as the king is as strong as Wallace and if kept together they are a nearly unstoppable force.
  • The Norse block was incredibly effective. Vikings rule.
  • King Balliol was cut off from the main Scottish army and barely survived a hard fought battle, and then was nearly killed by a traitorous noble. Wallace was able to charge in the next turn and free the king and the two rarely parted for the rest of the game.
  • Hobelar Hobelar Hobelar!
I realized one of my favorite parts of the game is how each unit is an individual. I find it very fun to think of how well the Norse have fought over the course of the game, or how one particular English knight kept fighting one particular Scottish noble, and then ended up in the same army by the end. With the nameless hordes of Risk or Axis & Allies there's nothing like that, you can't get angry with a tank for rolling poorly. But you can get angry with blocks in Hammer of the Scots, I can tell you that!

Finally, how anyone gets through a game of this in 2 hours is beyond me, we don't play slow and still it takes over twice that long to finish. If it doesn't end early, the game has 9 years with 1-5 turns per year (the year can sometimes end early - having played several times now, on average I'd say a little over 4 turns). Our game for instance had 44 turns. A typical turn is choosing a card to play, moving between 0 and 3 armies (to multiple destinations), deciding order of battle, conducting the battle, retreats, and regroups. Plus some extra stuff at the end of the year. Finishing in two hours is about 3 minutes per turn, which is ridiculously fast, maybe you could really speed through everything without thinking but is that enjoyable? Anyway the way we play it, it's probably too much to take on in one day, but split into several days it is fun.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Fall 2005 TV Shows

Here are the shows (that interest me) that are having season/series premieres that are coming up in the next month or so. Sunday and Thursday are looking a little better than last season in terms of conflicts, and West Wing moving to Sunday should ease my woes with losing the last minute of Lost every week. Lots of conflicts on here and obviously I am not going to be able to watch even half of this stuff, but I usually only go an episode or two on most of these.

DateTimeShowNetworkConflicts With...
Thu, Aug. 189pmScrubsNBCReunion, Apprentice
Sun, Aug. 289pmRomeHBO 
Mon, Aug. 298pmPrison BreakFOX7th Heaven, Surface
Thu, Sep. 89pmReunionFOXScrubs, Apprentice
Sun, Sep. 118pmThe SimpsonsFOXWest Wing
Thu, Sep. 158pmSurvivor: GuatemalaCBS 
Fri, Sep. 169pmThresholdCBS 
Mon, Sep. 198pm7th HeavenWBPrison Break, Surface
Mon, Sep. 198pmSurfaceNBCPrison Break, 7th Heaven
Wed, Sep. 219pmLostABC 
Wed, Sep. 2110pmLaw & OrderNBCInvasion
Wed, Sep. 2110pmInvasionABCLaw & Order
Thu, Sep. 229pmThe ApprenticeNBCScrubs, Reunion
Sun, Sep. 2510pmCurb Your EnthusiasmHBO 
Sun, Sep. 258pmThe West WingNBCSimpsons
Tue, Sep. 279pmCommander In ChiefABCAmazing Race
Tue, Sep. 279pmThe Amazing Race 8CBSCommander In Chief
Tue, Sep. 2710pmBoston LegalABC 

Conflict resolution predictions (for what I will watch, not ratings or series success or anything!):
  • Prison Break will win Monday nights. I love 7th Heaven but I get it in syndication anyway and catching up on those episodes is not hard. Missing a Fox show is harder to make up. Surface looks intriguing but I think it may just get lost in the shuffle. I always think scifi series look good but in practice I tend to dislike them, I cannot accept the relatively crummy production values.
  • Apprentice will beat Reunion. Reunion sounds like a cool idea but it could also easily blow. Scrubs will continue to be the only show that I record to VHS!
  • I will TiVo either West Wing or Simpsons, and watch the other live. Probably West Wing live so I can see it in HDTV. Sunday night is one of the few nights I think I can definitely commit to a live show of something.
  • Law & Order will beat Invasion. I will try to watch Invasion once at least. See notes on Surface.
  • First showing of Commander In Chief will be crucial. I'm very excited about this show, I like Geena Davis and I love Donald Sutherland so if the show comes together it might win out. I had a tremendously fun time with Amazing Race last year though, so Commander In Chief has some very high standards to meet.
Two other notes, on FX Shows - I really need to either catch a Shield marathon or wait for the latest season DVDs. I missed the last season and I am not happy about that! And at some point I need to check out Rescue Me.

Thursday Night Gaming

Played two race games last night with Lauren. First up was another playing of Fearsome Floors. We played a bit slower than usual but still at a decent clip. Forcing yourself to move fast and not allowing takebacks seem key for this game, you could take forever and analyze the monster movements but it would take away from the game. Part of the fun is watching the monster eat your characters because of mistakes you made! We both were about to escape our third character on the same turn but Lauren moved first and so won the game.

Next up was our old favorite Odin's Ravens which hasn't hit the table in quite some time. Lauren jumped out to a huge 7-0 lead in the first flight and I was able to score a few points but never really recovered. She took the win 14-5 after 5 flights.

I wrapped up with a bit more Pikmin.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Perfect Wife

Well obviously it'll be Lauren.

But anyway on the Howard Stern Show (probably NSFW) this morning, they had a guy on claiming to have The Perfect Wife. Howard did his best to find something wrong with the woman but was unable to. In the end he agreed with the guy and gave them $500.

The funny part was that the business this guy ran is actually a game shop that he plugged on air, GameDaze. More accurately it's a chain of 8 shops (plus a website) in the Phoenix area. Seems very reminiscent of the old Wizards of the Coast / GameKeeper retail shops, a mix of topselling German games, traditional American games, chess/go sets, and little game-related paraphenalia, all selling at MSRP. I will say that I was unaware that the Carcassonne expansions were wargames. I'm amazed at two things. First is that a guy who has a business that certainly appears to be aimed at families would go on the Howard Stern Show and talk about how much sex he and his wife have. Second is that he's able to operate 8 different game shops within one small area! The brick & mortar board game shop row is a tough one to hoe. Then again if he needs the $500 from Stern, maybe business isn't so hot.


I realize I'm about 3 years late coming to this game but better late than never. I've had a chance to get into Pikmin this week and I'm glad I did. It's a quirky little game, I guess it should be categorized as a real time strategy game, but it's somewhat puzzle oriented as well. If Commandos and Lemmings had a baby, it might be this game. You grow and control this little army of dudes called Pikmin, which come in three varieties and have different strengths/weaknesses. Red Pikmin are good fighters, yellow Pikmin can handle bombs, etc. So far I am only through 3 of the 30 days in the game so I have only come across two types. It's pretty simple gameplay so far although I suspect it will get a lot more complicated as things go on. One thing I really like is that the game is split into 30 days as mentioned, and each day takes exactly 15 minutes. So it's an easy game to just play for a bit.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Weekend Video Games

I intended to pick up a copy of Prince of Persia: Warrior Within at the mall this weekend, as it's been down to $30 on the GameCube for quite awhile. Then I got to thinking that lately I just haven't enjoyed sequels nearly as much as the originals (except for Halo 2 of course). So instead I picked up F-Zero GX and Pikmin, both used, for $25 total. I haven't given Pikmin a try just yet. F-Zero is fun so far. It is blindingly fast, I still think Burnout 3 feels a little faster, but they're both in the same class at least. There are some interesting driving techniques that let you make 90° turns with ease. Nice and arcadey, just the way I like my driving games. It is also chock full of Japanese weirdness; this is the first game I've played that let me answer post-race sports-reporter interview questions while fans in lizard suits danced in the background.

Weekend Movies

Watched two DVD's this weekend, Shaun of the Dead on Friday night, and Clue on Sunday. Shaun was even better than I was hoping for, it was really funny and very cleverly done. I'm a casual horror fan, while Lauren doesn't really like the genre much, but we both thought it was great. If Spaced comes out on Region 1 DVD I may have to rent that to see what it's all about. A worthy entry to the undercrowded horror-comedy subgenre.

I have seen Clue many many times already. When I recently learned that Lauren had never seen it, and then noticed it for sale at Best Buy for seven bucks, I had to pick it up. The DVD is basically devoid of features but it is in anamorphic widescreen, and it does restore the random ending feature. I had only ever seen this movie on VHS previously, where you see all three possible endings in succession. That's an option here too, but when you start the movie you can also set the DVD to play you one ending at random, the way you would have seen the movie in theaters. That's what DVD is all about, right, recreating the theater experience? (We got ending #3 by the way, which is my favorite.)


Hot on the heels of VP100 (which has itself seen some improvements over the weekend, I'll submit a new version to PokerFilter soon), and inspired by the TwoDimes Poker Odds Calculator, I put together the promised page to compare various video poker strategies. You can either be dealt a random hand (good for practice), or pick a hand yourself. You can then add up to 25 different trials. For instance if you are dealt 8♥9♥10♥J♥J♦, you can do one trial holding the open-ended straight flush draw, and a second trial holding the pair of Jacks. Submit the page, it will run 5000 iterations, and report back with the hand results and overall payoffs.

Still working on it...I want to add some more result fields, like %won/%lost, average win/loss per hand, etc...I need to add an option to vary your bet (since the royal flush payoff varies with the maximum bet)...the page in general needs some aesthetic work (it should say "straights" instead of "ST" for instance)...I need to modify my PHP install to allow for longer execution time so that I can up the number of iterations. Lauren has given me some reading material for some statistical tests that I'm going to be looking into, I may try to work that into the page as well. Once this is finished I'll provide a link; if you'd like to see what there is so far (it is completely working and quite useful and fun already), just e-mail me.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Video Poker 100

You may recall my raving about my favorite video poker machine in Las Vegas. Well I liked it so much I wrote a JavaScript/DHTML version that lets me play for free. My good friend Brad has posted an article about it on his site PokerFilter, and is also graciously hosting it on said site, at this link.

Obviously this is all play-money, for fun and amusement only, etc., no real money can be won or lost here.

Instructions - when you first hit the page, you can pick your bet amount and number of hands. Click "deal" to get your starting hand. Click on cards you want to hold, click "draw" to run your draws. Rinse and repeat.

If you're on IE for Windows, or Safari for OSX, you can hold cards with keyboard keys 1->5 or A->G, and deal/draw with the spacebar. There are some bugs still...Firefox on OSX has trouble displaying the HTML entities for card suits ( )...the "hold" indicators vary according to platform, and keyboard shortcuts only work on some browser/OS combinations. But it works and it is awfully fun if I do say so myself. All in JavaScript so very low bandwidth, only time it hits the server is for initial page load and for the various popups. I learned a few new tricks writing this thing that will actually make parts of my job easier I think.

Next on the agenda is a version to allow user-specified hands and a far higher number of trials (without the spiffy animated reveal, I don't want to display 1,000 or 10,000 hands of cards!). I'd like a page where I can enter a given hand, and see how different strategies on that hand pay off in the long run. This shouldn't be terribly hard to write the basics, I can reuse some of this code for the display side, and the new bits won't be hard, I just need to pick a language. I'll just need some help if I do any real statistical analysis. Good thing I'm marrying an economics doctoral candidate!

CalTech Game Night - Fist and Amun-Re

I made it to the CalTech Game Night for the first time in ages last night. Got two games in, Fist of Dragonstones and Amun-Re. I played my normal terrible game of Fist, and then taught Amun-Re to two new guys. I barely won, they both played quite well for first-timers. I made some early mistakes and was fortunate to come back for the win. Amun-Re continues to rise in my opinion, win or lose I like it more each time. I think it's got some of the best theme-mechanics meshing of any Knizia title, it scales very well and plays very different with varying number of players, and it's just got lots of gameplay variety.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

New Games!

I finally pulled the trigger on two games I've had my eye on for awhile, I guess I'll chalk these up as a birthday gift to myself. I ordered Crusader Rex and Rommel In The Desert direct from Columbia Games. Shipping was free if I ordered both, how could I resist? Columbia Games has a no questions asked 30 day return policy for their games, so even if I hate one or both I can get my money back.

I've read the bulk of the rules for Rommel, it looks like a step up in complexity from the wargames I've played. But most reviews still point to it as a perfectly reasonable game for a Eurogamer to tackle, with relatively simple (if slightly obtuse) rules, fast action, and decently short scenario time. Any game that has been around for 20+ years has to have something going for it! I've written some thoughts about Crusader previously, since then I managed to find an older version of the rules and read those. They have changed since then so I don't know exactly what the rules will be, but the system does seem similar to Hammer of the Scots which should make it quite easy to pick up. I'll write more once I get a chance to play either game.

Three Games

Got in 3 short, fun games last night with Lauren. First up was our first outing with the recently acquired Fantasy Flight Games reprint of Knizia's Through The Desert. This game has been described as a simpler, multiplayer version of Go. I know next to nothing about Go but there did seem to be some vague similarities. In any event it was a fun game, very simple rules, and very fast which should help get it to the table often. There does seem to be a lot of strategy though, it was by no means a random game. Very close scores.

After that we played a game of Fearsome Floors, this time with the correct rules, and with all the advanced features (teleporters, turning stones, etc.). Both changes definitely made the game better. We wrapped up with two quick games of 10 Days In The USA, which I won a few months back at a SoCal Games Day. This is basically rummy with a few twists. Lots of luck but fun and fast.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Bawk bawk bawk buhgaaaaawwww!

I love the new Burger King ad campaign. I saw the commercials the other night and thought they were pretty funny but I didn't get around to hitting the website until tonight. My word, it is funny and surprisingly catchy tunes. I think 4 songs from these guys qualify as an album for Shawn's quest. I downloaded the mp3's, watched the full length video for "Bob Your Head". I was on the edge already but then Lauren told me about the Meaty Cheesy Boys (which does sound sort of familiar), and then I was gone, I could not stop laughing, I literally had to go and lie down. My face was all red and my chest hurt. The last time I laughed that hard was for Dr. Porkenheimer's.

I Survived

This weekend was my bachelor party in Vegas. In attendance were Ryan and Jay from Duke, PJ from Caltech, and my two brothers. All in all I had a really tremendous time, lots of laughs and way too little sleep but so much fun. We stayed at Treasure Island, which had a nice if very crowded pool, and much better rooms than I had expected. Drinks there at "Mist" on Friday, and dinner at "The Steak House" there on Saturday night which was excellent. My brother in law Gian sent some champagne in his absence, a very nice touch. I played some poker at the Mirage (lost), checked out the Wynn (definitely nice but I didn't think quite as nice as Bellagio, and much less distinctive), and hit my favorite cheap activity in Vegas...

The penny-a-play hundred-hands-at-a-time video poker machines at New York, New York! This is so much more fun than regular video poker. You choose a bet anywhere between a penny and a nickel, and you choose how many hands you want to run, anywhere between 1 and 100. You get your 5 card hand, choose how many to hold, and then the machine will run however many hands you chose, at the bet you picked, and each hand pays out at standard video poker rates. It's just a lot of fun to see so many hands at once, and it's oddly satisfying to see the statistics in action. You get immediate (if statistically insignificant) feedback to questions like "if I have a low pair and a high card, is it better to keep the low pair or the high card?" It is obviously chump change and to me is more like playing a video game than gambling, but I have so much fun with this machine.

A big thank you to all involved in the weekend, and regrets to those unable to attend, you were definitely missed. Jim, sorry for all the 3am phone calls.

Friday, August 05, 2005


After drooling over the Creative Zen Vision and noticing it had support for TiVoToGo (T2G), I decided it was time to check out the state of affairs of TiVo HME software. I have previously used various versions of JavaHMO and was never really thrilled. The music performance was spotty and pretty plain, and the T2G features never worked at all. I'd also tried iSee iTunes and that was even worse. It added the album art feature that I wanted but it was horribly limited. You couldn't browse your full iTunes library, only the playlists you had created.

Anyway, it appears that JavaHMO has been rechristened Galleon, and while it still has problems, it's a lot better. You can still browse music by folder, it has added support for iTunes playlists, and the T2G features do work. You can even initiate downloads from the TiVo itself. It crashes if you push left while the stupid Winamp style screen is loading, but as long as you're careful, it seems to work ok. And honestly there were ways to crash JavaHMO too so what's the difference. Still no support for iTMS files but I doubt that will ever come. I couldn't get my iPhoto albums to load but I only spent about 20 minutes on this whole thing last night. Hopefully with a little time I can get things working the way I want.

More annoying is the fact that although I can now do T2G downloads, I am stuck with worthless .TiVo files instead of mpegs. TiVo doesn't yet support T2G on OSX. The best workaround I've found so far is here; I do have Virtual PC with Windows XP installed so this solution should be ok for me. But it's annoying, I shouldn't have to boot XP just to do this. I doubt I'll be doing it often in any case, but especially if it's this involved of a process. I suppose that the Zen Vision can handle .TiVo files directly which makes this a bit less frustrating, but it'd be nice to be able to dump TV shows to disc to watch on the plane now, without buying additional hardware. I also need to see if the PSP supports T2G, that would push me a little closer towards one of those.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Fearsome Floors

Last night Lauren and I played our inaugural game of Fearsome Floors, the new boardgame she got me for my birthday. I had played once before at the Caltech Grad & Post-doc Game Society. This did not prevent me from screwing up one inconsequential and one very major rule in teaching the game. In the end we each managed only two escapes from the dungeon, but my guys got out first so I won.

I definitely like the game, it's quite different from anything else in my collection. Playing with just two players gave the game a much different feel - it was a lot less chaotic, even with my incorrect rules. Not that a bit of chaos is a bad thing in a game with a theme of being chased by a monster! I am really liking diceless race games. Mississippi Queen is one of my favorite games with or without the expansion, and I enjoyed my one play of seminal classic Hare and Tortoise.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Rings and Anniversaries

Lauren and I bought our wedding bands the other night. Hers is a plain platinum band that matches her engagement ring quite well. Mine is white gold and thicker (but not Big-Man-On-Campus-College-Ring thick or anything). It is also round on the inside but kind of a cross between round and square on the outside, looks pretty cool. I really thought about titanium, it's so nice and light (and cheap!) but in the end I didn't find one that I liked as much. The ring saleman had the standard idiotic "just buy both" solution to my dilemma. We are paying the price for procrastinating though, as there is only about a 50% chance that my correctly sized ring will arrive in time for the wedding. If it doesn't, then for the ceremony I have to use the big one that rattles around my finger and then pocket it afterward so it doesn't fly off in a fit of dancing.

A very happy anniversary wish to Shawn and Michele. I guess that means my two year anniversary of living in California is coming up any day now. I will celebrate with a $5 shrimp burrito from Rubio's and a can of Cactus Cooler.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Birthday Recap

It was a fun birthday weekend. Lauren gave me a copy of Finstere Flure / Fearsome Floors, Rodney Dangerfield's autobigraphy, and a diecast Mini Cooper from her European trip. The Cooper came packaged with a small card game of some type and is published by a company called "Top Ass".

For her birthday, I got her a piece of luggage and whisked her off to Palm Springs. It was a nice town, although the end of July is NOT the time to see it. Lots of stuff was closed completely or closed early in the day. Who would have thought that summer in the desert gets warm?

The highlight was an afternoon and evening spent in Mount San Jacinto State Park. We took the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to get there. This is supposedly the steepest aerial tramway in North America (number two in the world, although I can't seem to find out what is number one), and it sure felt like it. It was a little hazy but still some really nice views of the desert, the massive windmill farms, and the mountains.

Up top was very cool, there was an observation building and then the park itself. We took a very easy hike and just looked at trees and rocks and streams. It was very pretty and very relaxing, and it was only about 60 degrees up there! Did you know a Jeffrey Pine smells like butterscotch? We watched a short movie about the park and the tram, it is quite the engineering marvel. We ate dinner up there too. There was a nice restaurant and cafeteria style dining and we accidentally had bought tickets for the cafeteria style, but it was actually surprisingly good. We both had ribs.

The other notable activity was a visit to the Palm Springs Air Museum. This is a WWII air museum with two main display halls, one for the Pacific Theater, and one for the European Theater. Very cool place, lots of planes (all but two of which are still in working condition) and interesting displays on stuff from women pilots to the tuskegee airmen to spam. I saw a Ramses brand condom from like 1910! The place is staffed by veterans - I had a long conversation with one in the Pacific Theater room about the various planes he had flown, he had some interesting stories.

There was also a third room that contains a B-17 Bomber that we crawled through. We briefly spoke to a former B-17 pilot who told us how he had encountered a chinese "oriental" woman and gotten in a fight with her about democracy. By that I mean he had encountered her earlier that day. He had been shot down during the war, and claimed to be good friends with the two Germans responsible, who now live in California! Also, apparently that movie Memphis Belle is misleading; the ball turret, while it may look terrifying, is much more heavily armored than the rest of the fuselage, and so is in fact one of the safest places to be while on the plane. Still looks scary as hell to me.

Benefit Watch

Despite my green contract employee badge which prominently displays "Discount Type: NONE", I do get a few perks working for WDIG. Today we got an email offering us free one year subscriptions to ESPN Insider. Add this to the 10% discounts at Starbucks and Quizno's, and the free use of the North Hollywood Gym showers. That's right, just the showers. Programming is sweaty work.

If they hire me fulltime there are better benefits available, like "insurance."