July 28, 2003
Top 50 Magazines
I was pointed to what seems a very good list of the Top 50 Magazines, selected by the Chicago Tribune. The list seems pretty good with Cook's Illustrated which I've recommended here before at the top. There are several I would probably be willing to subscribe to in terms of the money but I have a feeling I wouldn't find the time to read them. (via What's in Rebecca's Pocket)
TV: Monster House
Had this recommended to me and TiVo'd an episode and now have added a season pass and recommend it. This is a Discovery Channel show where they take one week to turn a house into a theme house based on some theme which the house owners are really into (race cars was the theme of the one I saw). They don't totally remodel the house given the limited time but make a fair number of pretty major changes and very cool additions. The show doesn't show nearly all the work done and there was a ton done at the end which I had the feeling wasn't being counted into the week but it was pretty amazing and could lead to some cool ideas of things to do to a house to give it character.
Games before WBC
Went to MIT SGS for the first time in a while on Friday and, walking in, didn't recognize almost anybody which was pretty amazing and great that there are a bunch of new people. Turned out, though, that a bunch of friends were downstairs having a beer so I went and joined them, seeing several people which I hadn't seen in a while. We then went back up to the War Room and played two good games of Euphrat & Tigris.
Yesterday, Brian came over and we played Titan, Star Wars: Queen's Gambit and Battle Line, all games I really like and all games which I may be playing this coming week at the World Boardgaming Championships in Maryland and I needed the practice.
Went to David's for the second reading of his first play on mathematician Kurt Godel. The play was significantly revised, with the whole structure changing and a bunch of scene changes as well. As before, I quite enjoyed the reading although it got quite hot after a while and my chair was uncomfortable which detracted a bit from my enjoyment. I hope David manages to get this on a real stage!
July 24, 2003
Pub Trivia 3
Back for Trivia at the Kinvara last night but this time with Matt replacing Bill. This left us a more balanced team as Matt knew most of the tv/music/movies/sports questions but didn't know other categories well at all, whereas Bill was good at everything. Although perhaps not quite as strong overall, the more balance left me feeling much more useful in terms of answering questions. As with the past two weeks, we went into the final question with a slight lead and the category was TV which is a very strong one for Matt, although not good for Mark or I. The question was "What soap opera has had the longest run and in fact has the second longest run overall of all shows after Meet the Press?" Matt right away thought of Guiding Light although then heavily started second-guessing it but I was pretty sure he was right based on his quick response even though I personally didn't have a clue on the question, and we submitted it and got it right for a winning score of 99 for a $40 gift certficiate which covered most of our bill.
July 22, 2003
Movies: The Maltese Falcon
I have seen, mostly on video or DVD, the vast majority of really major films since like 1980 but am quite unknowledgable about older movies and had never seen this one. Often, with the older stuff, I am also quite disappointed in even very well regarded movies but not with this one. The acting is excellent and the plot interesting and fun. ****
Games: Outpost and Merchant of Venus
Played both of these great but older ('92 and '88 respectively) games on Saturday. In both cases, I wish I had more chances to play them but most of the people I play with have some antipathy towards longer games. These two both have some other issues as well in that Outpost has terrible components and is rightly nicknamed "Math in Space" and Merchants has a ton of little chits which German gamers aren't that used to. Both are still highly recommended however.
July 18, 2003
Games: The Golden Deuce and Game Design
Played The Golden Deuce last night which is another game based on the traditional Chinese game Zheng Fen and relatives, as are Tichu and Gang of Four and others. The game isn't terrible but nor is it good. The main innovations it has are a board which is used for scoring but adds absolutely nothing to the game and is a bit confusing as to how it works and the very bad idea that when a player passes he draws another card. This later change causes one to be unable to reasonably plan how to play a hand as your cards will change as the hand progresses. Overall, the game is mediocre and I'll probably give it a 5.
What is interesting about all of these games is how well they show how tricky game design is. Both this one and Gang of Four are very similar to Tichu but the small (but very important) differences of Tichu make it a much better game (and I mean orders of magnitude better). The Devil is in the Details. I've never wanted to design games myself and don't think I have the creativity for it but the details are something I am quite good at, or at least in realizing where they are wrong even if I don't know how to fix them.
July 17, 2003
Pub Trivia 2
Well, Mark, Bill and I again went to do trivia this week. We again did quite well, heading into the final question (which is worth a LOT) with the lead but the category was "Sports" which is our worst category, particularly since they are often Baseball questions which is the sport I know least about. I was hoping the question would be a really tough one which almost nobody would get but it turned out it was "What team did the Red Sox beat to win the 1918 World Series?" which is, in Boston, a very easy question all things considered. Despite that, none of us knew it which was sad! We couldn't even remember, of the teams we thought of, which ones were in the National League so it came down to basically a guess between the Cubs, White Sox and Senators and we chose the Senators but bid very low. It was the Cubs but surprisingly only one team passed us by so we ended up second, winning a $30 gift certificate covering a good portion of our food and beer.
Oh, there was one other very funny thing. We went again with the team name "We No Grok" after my teammates rejected my alternate suggestion of "Death to Shrubs". Well, another team's name was "What the Hell is Grok?" which I think is particularly funny as they probably think we are "We Know Grok" since they only hear the name and think grok is a person or thing or something. For anyone who doesn't know what 'grok' is, read Stranger in a Strange Land. I came up with the team name after learning that 'grok' was used in The 76th annual Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee on Making Light.
July 16, 2003
The Economic side of Online Games
Julian Dibbell is a professional write turned professional Ultima Online player and is chronicling the experience in his blog - Play Money. The blog is fascinating and Dibbell is an excellent writer for this (he has also written a book on MUDs (or a Moo actually) called My Tiny Life). A particular post I would recommend is this one on the tax implications of all of this, even for the people who are just players and not in it at all for the economic stuff.
Before taking to it himself, Dibbell also wrote an article for Wired on the Ultima economy.
For myself, I was playing a lot of Diablo II online a while back and did make one purchase (around $20) and one sale (around $50 and my only eBay sale ever) for real money. After I stopped playing, I unwisely let my characters die out with all their stuff due to inactivity at a loss of probably a few hundred dollars in value.
Games: Blowout Tichu game
I think last night's Tichu game was the biggest blowout game I have ever seen. We played 5 hands and the score was 1200 to -300 with Melissa and I winning. We had 2 one-twos, three Tichus, one Grand and on average ALL the card points in the three hands they were counted (95, 100, and 105 I believe) while they missed a Grand (in the one hand we didn't call a Tichu) and missed an overcalled Tichu. Pretty amazing but of course it was by far mostly just lucky cards.
July 14, 2003
Movies: The Hurricane
Watched The Hurricane last night and thought it was excellent, significantly exceeding my expectations, although a bit long. Denzel Washington is amazing in the title performance although I have the feeling that the character he creates is much more a composite of himself and Rubin Carter rather than simply a portrayal of him, largely combining both of their best qualities. The Canadians and Lesra are also extremely likable. ***1/2
July 10, 2003
Went to a local pub that Mark knew about last night for their regular Wednesday night trivia game. This obviously drew a lot of people as the place got crowded just before the game started and there were like 25 teams. Our team was Mark, Bill and I which was small but pretty good. The questions were fun and interesting and pretty hard. For the most part, Bill carried us with the high point being when they gave us a choice of two questions (one on Rap, one on Rock) with 4 answers each and Bill knew all the answers for both. We also were lucky with a couple of guesses and headed into the final question (which is worth a lot) in the lead by one point.
I hadn't been that useful (other than contributing our team name We no Grok) up to this point but the question was "What city is the highest (elevation) in the world?" and he then clarified it to indicate it was a capital. Well, I didn't know the highest city but was sure I had been taught in high school that La Paz, Bolivia was the highest capital in the world so we went with that - the only other suggested try being Kathmandu, Nepal. Well, it turns out Lhasa, Tibet was the answer which is definitely higher but is debatable whether it is a capital due to Tibet being subsumed by China. The announcer called it the capital of the 'autonomous region' called Tibet. When I got home I looked it up and found this excellent answer. Only one or two teams actually got this right but there was also a bidding element to guessing and we had bid a lot so in missing we moved to fourth. This won us tshirts (as opposed to gift certificates) which I was actually happier with until the tshirts turned out to be totally generic and lame with just a big bottle of Coors and a football on the front. Still, fun time and I think we will go again. With a good fourth, we could probably cruise.
July 09, 2003
Kingmaker in Ad Acta
I played the game Ad Acta last night for the first time. It is a pretty interesting game with the unusual theme of being bueracrats shuffling files around and trying the get the right file processed at the right time. Unfortunately, this game for me was completely ruined at the end by a kingmaker situation (where a player who can't win or even improve his own positions decides who among the other players will win). There were three of us and two of us were very close at the end while the third person was basically out of it. He had one more file to process but it would have gained him very little to do so and he decided instead to spend the last two turns entirely working against me. The result was the score was something like 26-24-20 (he had the 20) whereas otherwise it would have been something like 30-26-20. He took the attitude that this improved his relative (percentage scoring) while I in his situation would have figured I can't affect my position in the game so I will do the best I can for myself (trying to process the last file to get to like 22) or at least not interfere with the two players in contention. Either is a reasonable choice to make, but from my perspective I felt like I played well for 90% of the game only to have it become a 2-1 game for the last 10% and leave me no chance to win and this was demoralizing as it made me feel the first 90% of the game was pointless.
I may not play this game again despite liking the first part, worried this will be a common occurence. Maybe, though, it wouldn't happen in the four player version.
July 06, 2003
Movies: Winged Migration
This movie is basically entirely footage of birds, mostly flying in their annual spring and fall migrations, with a bit of commentary. Simple, but the photography is incredibly beautiful, and the movie covers a huge number of species and locations and is done with no special effects - how they managed to get all of this material I don't know but imagine it is mostly a lot of people and a LOT of time. If you are going to see it, well worth seeing it in the theatre where it will likely only be for a very short time now. ****
July 05, 2003
This was suggested to me in discussions regarding the earlier reviewed The Italian Job and, having now seen it, I am not surprised why. A similar movie in many ways including that the heists all go with no problem and the only real trouble is with the protagonist thieves' putative allies. This one is written by David Mamet and you can tell - as is common with Mamet, he seems to be constantly showing off his brains. Works pretty well but, atlhough I really liked all the four major characters of the heist team (particularly Hackman, Lindo, and Jay) the movie just wasn't quite as fun as The Italian Job. ***.
After writing this, I went and read Roger Ebert's review and wanted to quote the last little bit as it really does highlight the very best thing in this movie:
Consider the exchanges between Lindo and Hackman: They have a shorthand that convinces us they're worked together for a very long time and are in agreement on everything that matters. Most modern caper movies convince us the characters met this morning on the set.
July 04, 2003
And the Sky Full of Stars
Happy Fourth! Just got back from the Boston fireworks which were wonderful. The entire sky from my viewpoint was lit up a bunch of times and there were some fireworks types I had never seen before and they did a nice job putting up speakers so the music could be heard in Cambridge. I had a quite nice view from the balcony of Walker at MIT but I am annoyed I don't yet have my kayak as out on the water is the 99 percentile view and cooler and so nice on the water (I did this one year with the MIT Outing Club). I definitely will plan to be on the water in my kayak next year.
Spent the earlier part of the day with my family having a nice barbecue late lunch/early dinner and playing with Isaac. Also ordered a new air conditioner as mine is no longer up to the task. I hope the new one I ordered isn't too heavy and overkill but would rather one too powerful than not powerful enough.