August 30, 2004
First off, a huge contratulations to Greece for the wonderful job they did putting on these Olympics - an astounding achievement for a country of this size. The beauty and history of the country had a palpable effect throughout.
NBC also did a very nice job with the broadcasting, not letting themselves get in the way of the athletes and events as has happened sometimes in the past. I am sorry I didn't see nearly all of the prime-time material as Bob Costas can be very emotionally powerful at presenting things; I was definitely moved by his closing remarks following the closing ceremonies.
Moments that most effected me are below with a note that the USA I find wins too many medals and often does it in a 'we expected Gold' way that I find very unappealing. This is certainly not true of all of the US athletes but is most represented by the poor team play and attitude of the US basketball team. They in many ways looked like spoiled children denied a treat at the medal ceremony as they got their bronze medals while the joy of Italy with the silver and, of course, particularly Argentina with the gold was powerful. Both knew what an honor this was to be there - Manu Ginobli's comments in his interview with Sager were just wonderful and intense. Incredible congratulations to Argentina on a day so beyond what they had ever before experienced in sport as they won the Gold in both Soccer and Basketball on a single day.
Congratulations to German canoeist Birgit Fisher who won her 8th Gold medal (and also a Silver) in her SIXTH olympics at age 42 - what an accomplishement at that age!
Congratulations to New Zealand rowing twins Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell on their Gold - don't know why I cared so much about this but was really glad to see them win for some reason.
Also, great job Michael Phelps, the 8 gold hype for whom by the media really annoyed me, but he gave an amazing performance and acted wonderfully in spite of it.
On the downside for these Olympics were the Marathon interference, the shotput in Olympia (and others including the Greek runners) drug scandal and the American reaction over the Paul Hamm issue. A clerical error was made and can be corrected and should. Hamm did an amazing job in coming back from his fall but as it turns out it wasn't quite enough and the medal situation should be fixed. The US olympic authorities defending him keeping it I find hypocritical as well and feel that there is no question that if the situation were reversed, the US would manage to get a change made given our power.
The Olympics this year have been a totally different experience for me thanks to the combination of cable TV and especially TiVo. Before leaving for Oregon, I set up an Olympics Wishlist and my TiVo was recording some 12 hours a day of coverage throughout the Olympics. Due to prime-time conflicts with other stuff, this was mostly the more off-hours material broadcast on Bravo, MSNBC and late at night on NBC. At TiVo speed I was able to watch at least a bit of an incredible number of events and blast through all the stuff (like Wrestling and Boxing in particular) that I had no interest in. After this, it is just hard to imagine watching the Olympics any lesser way. OTOH, improvements in this scheme are obvious and definitely coming (the most obvious being multiple tuners to catch the prime-time stuff and when multiple channels are showing events simultaneously). I'll watch the Closing Ceremonies tonight but it has really been nice to see so much and yet not have to watch TV constantly to do it.
Movies: Bruce Almighty and Impromptu
Latest two movies from Netflix.
Bruce Almighty was really pretty lame. The actors were fine but the movie's plot and script were just not at all interesting. *1/2
Impromptu, OTOH, was excellent, particulary the hillarious first half's visit to the residence of the Duke and Duchess D'Antan. Emma Thompson as the Duchess was absolutely perfect and incredibly funny. Just a note since it is a 1991 movie and title doesn't give much away, the movie is a romantic comedy about the relationship between poet and feminist George Sand and composer Frederic Chopin in 1830s France. ****
Davis Mega Maze and Cirque's Varekai
Cthulia arranged a big group outing Sunday to the Davis Mega Maze which is a very large cornfield maze in Sterling, MA designed by Adrian Fischer and featuring 11 bridges to massively complexify the topology. We managed to make it through but had missed a couple of Bridges and other interest points so went back in to complete them (with a bunch of help from the Maze staff). Quite fun but an exceedingly hot day to do it and I ended up completely drenched in sweat. Others went off to get ice cream afterwards and I tried to join them before realizing I just didn't have time and rushed home to grab shower before going out again.
In the evening, we went to the Cirque du Soleil's Varekai, a travelling show currently in Boston. I had earlier seen the absolutely incredible O in Las Vegas and been blown away by it but, for a variety of reasons, didn't have nearly as high expectations of this show. Well, although it is true that I didn't think Varekai was as good as O, I thought it was still amazingly good and incredibly worth seeing. I wonder what the objections of those who warned me against it were.
August 26, 2004
Went last week again to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon with time also in Portland. The plays we saw were The Royal Family by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber and, by Shakespeare, King Lear, Much Ado about Nothing, Comedy of Errors, and Henry VI Parts I, II and III (as two plays). All the plays were wonderfully done but King Lear was definitely my favorite as the overall acting, set and costumes were all wonderful and it is simply an amazingly good play. Oddly enough, I liked it the most despite a couple of flaws including that Lear's Fool was played by the understudy (due to some kind of emergency for the regular Fool) and he was actually reading his lines onstage at times from a held script which certainly took one out of the scene to a significant degree.
Other highlights of the trip were a visit to the Portland Rose Garden and the absolutely wonderful and gorgeous Portland Japanese Garden which I was completely blown away by the beauty, serenity and craftsmanship of. On an opposite note, the ride down the Rogue River on a 40MPH Jetboat out of Grant's Pass was really exciting and fun. A final highlight was the excellent food, ambience, and service at the Chateaulin restaurant in Ashland. I have now eaten their twice and both meals number among my best 25 or so in my life probably.
A minor lowlight was our trip to Klamath Falls when we came unbelievably close to running out of gas (and had to beg a tiny bit of gas to make the last 9 miles to a station) and then had a one minute trip in a canoe before we returned to the dock as we were sure we were going to capsize if we continued. I think this later incident was mainly the fault of the very tippy canoe but was annoying.
Thanks to Katharina for her wonderful hospitality to us.
August 13, 2004
Small NYT puzzle hunt
There is a small and not too difficult puzzle hunt by the New York Times online. Ten puzzles and then a final Meta.
Link: Charades movie trailer
Very cool fake movie trailer for The Big Charade. From Peter's Static Zombie.
August 10, 2004
World Boardgaming Championships AAR
Its something of a tradition after the WBC to write an After Action Report (AAR) so I figured I would do one here. There is going to be some gaming minutiae that will only be understood by those who know the games so apologies about that (and the extreme length) in advance for those who don't know the games or care.
I drove down on Tuesday with Marty and Mark (who I was rooming with since Michael couldn't make it again this year) who were kind enough to pick me up at my place on their way down from New Hampshire. We took Michael's western route and both ways the trip from/to my house was about 8.5 hours, including a lunch and gas stop. We then checked in to the hotel and I watched a game of Tichu and said hello to lots of people there until the events started in the evening. Unfortunately, nothing I really cared about was going on that evening but I played in a runaway (not by me) game of Atlantic Storm and I think later Ra which I won.
The Titan tournaments started Wednesday morning and I began trying to defend my 2 Player win of last year. I got of to a great start beating Sean McCulloch on great dice on turn 3 (after going first) with Wlo Wlo attack. Nothing he could have done about it and obviously not an interesting game but an easy advance. My 2nd round game ended up getting delayed a bunch until David dJ and I played after dinner (which he was nice enough to treat me to at the expensive hotel restaurant). I made a memory mistake leading to a bad attack and then also rolled poorly to leave him strong enough to kill my Titan stack on a 6 which he promptly did - a major mistake on my part which I was made to pay for in the worst way and David went on to win the tournament. I am not nearly as good at the memory part of this game as most of the other top players but this was a horrible error early in a 2p game where there just isn't that much to track.
In other events I managed to qualify for the later rounds of Star Wars: Queen's Gambit (in an excellent game with Phil Rennert that was by far the closest of this I have ever played), Ra and Medici but ended up not playing in any of them due to time constraints (mostly from the very long Titan events). In Alhambra, I qualifed for the semis and played in them but got very unlucky with a horrible initial money deal of 7-8-9 Yellow (and never even got to use any of these in an exact purchase the whole game). However, despite this I was fully in contention until I made a massive blunder, effectively costing me two entire turns later in the game. Two properties with no walls were available for exact cost but unfortunately they couldn't fit in my palace. However, I was in a position to overpay for another property which I could then place first and afterwards (but on the same turn) fit in the others and really open up my palace again. Unfortunately, I made an idiotic blunder and overpaid for the Fourth property (a better color but the wrong wall configuration to allow in the exact buys) so I had to put the exact buys in my Reserve - a total disaster. I still managed a solid second but would have had an excellent change to win if not for this blunder. This 4player game also featured an incredible number of ties at the end including 2 3-way ties - many more ties than I have ever seen.
Other interesting games were the late night Liar's Dice tournament which I just made it into and went against Chuck (thanks for the delicious cherries that were all I ate this day) and Rick among others. Despite carefully not sitting next to him, Chuck made a bluff early on that painfully cost me 3 dice. Rick was greatly favored by having a newbie on his left who seemed unwilling to challenge almost anything, and by rolling incredibly lucky dice at the end. Despite my early loss of dice, it came down to Rick with 3 and Chuck and I each with 1 but for his last 3 rolls Rick rolled 3s of a kind and won easily. I went out last with a challenge I knew would lose but no possible raise.
In the Battle Line tournament, I drew the co-GM (and excellent player and all-time AvalonCon/WBC plaque winner) Bruce Reiff in my 4 player pod. Not surprisingly, we both won breakthroughs against our first two opponents (me despite terrible cards and Bruce in one game with so good cards at the start that he had basically won after the opening deal) and faced each other for the chance to advance. In this game, I had much better cards than before (although probably only a little better than Bruce's this game) and quickly won two neighboring central flags. I then decided to play an early Traitor for the win unless Bruce had the right Tactics card (one of two possible saves) to respond. Unfortunately, he did and from that point things went badly for me. First off, I didn't pay enough attention and let him draw the last Tactics card giving him a big edge. I also twice had difficult decisions over where to play a certain card and after making a choice immediately drew a card to make it the wrong choice - Doh! I perhaps should have played Scout at one of these points but I find the card weak and didn't want to be in a position of not being able to play a Tactics. Still, with Bruce's advantage in # of Tactics cards, this was probably a very bad decision and I should have overcome my anti-Scout prejudice. Anyway, with all of these things and Bruce drawing a bunch of important Troop cards, he won at the end with a 5-4 win even without needing to utilize his Tactics card advantage.
The multi-player Titan tournament, which is the tournament I care most about and which I haven't won in all 8 tries here (and 3 elsewhere) became something of a comedy of the absurd for me. I started off the tournament in a game where I was by far the most experienced player and ended up being in a significantly leading position (only due to one player not taking advantage of absolutely incredible rolls to run away with the game as he 100% should have) but then made an attack of Ttn13 Angx2 Ran Cycx3 (Archangel call) against Giax2 Ang Wbex2 in the Tundra. I (and all the experienced players I talked to later) thought this attack was a slam dunk but somehow (absolutely shockingly to me) he managed to get a mutual out of it (did require some lucky dice from him but nothing really outrageous). After the battle, I decided it had just been a terrible mistake but before the battle I just couldn't fathom it being so bad. Anyway, after this incredibly painful loss, I managed to do horrible in the preliminary round (which allows you to play 6 games and then takes the 16 best overall finishers) with a mere 2nd and three 3rds and two 4ths. This was massively worse than my results in any other Titan tournament where usually I will get 2 wins in 4 games or so. Amazinlgy, the attendance this year for Titan was very poor and this horrible showing put me 18th in the ordering. In most events, this would give me a good chance to advance as some people don't show up but that is rarely the case in Titan. The event takes enough effort that usually all 16 players always show up. However, this year there were two people who Bruno thought might not show up so I decided to show up in the morning and hope. By the 9 AM start time, unfortunately for me both of these people had showed up but one other (the eventual winner of the game I blew earlier, as it happened) and the 17th player (first alternate before me) had not. However, I thought at least one of them would so when Eric came down to get me for the Ra semi-final which I was also in I decided to bail on my chance at Titan and play Ra. Unfortunately (at the time), when I arried for Ra, the GM gruffly told me I was out (which I thought really mean and inappropriate given the situation but didn't want to debate so simply left). When I returned to the Titan room (now expecting to miss both semis) however, nobody else had shown up so I began to hope again. At 9:13 (with Bruno calling things at 9:15), incredibly Eric returned to tell me the Ra GM had screwed up and I was back in but by this point I decided to stay and hope and watched the clock till 9:15 when I finally sat down to play (turned out the missing person had gotten some sort of short-term stomach thing but was fine by later in the evening).
I got lucky to score a bunch of early points in my semi-final when quite new and very young player Teddy made an unwise split and bad roll and I caught him for almost 200 points. The game then to a degree turned Kyle's way as he killed Phil but he then made a (IMO unwise) attack on me that just barely resulted in giving me 2 Angels and Teleport at 401 points (he had mistakenly thought it was a few less points) despite his rolling much better than me in the battle but not quite good enough. This attack also opened up a 1 in 3 attack on his Titan and I immediately rolled a 6 and made the 4 on 3 attack (with Angel call). I managed to find an acceptable setup but Kyle moved in and rolled an amazing 15 hits (all on skill 4) when he rated for about 10 giving him a serious chance in the battle. However, I rolled average (just enough to get my Angel in) when I needed it and engaged him and took him out (with very good rolls at this point) without my Titan even being involved to take the win. I was very glad to be past Kyle's lucky dice (and excellent batteboard play).
In fact my semi-final game ended hours before the others but in the end it would be my friend and teammate Dave Finberg (for whom this was his team game), Russ (from Seattle) and Joe in the final after an excellent (and reviving) steak dinner with Bruno, Chuck and the Seattle guys. The game was in flux when Russ's Titan stack made an optional attack on Dave's Angel stack. Unfortunately, Russ fought the battle (which he should win but at significant cost) in an incredibly too risky fashion and Dave won the battle with ease and his stack was actually better than it started and with a ton of points. This move really should have virtually ended the game in Dave's favor and I was pretty much demoralized. However, Dave then a few turns later attacked 7 on 5 with his Titan stack against Joe's Angel stack in the Marsh. Joe took maximum advantage of the terrain and a bunch of one-off rolls by Dave to completely strip Dave's Titan to Ttn10 (Ang for the battle). Two turns later, he then caught Dave's Titan with his Titan stack and won the battle comfortably at the loss of one of his two Behemoths. I thought this attack was a good move but the end result did leave Joe somewhat behind me in stacks and recruiting, both of us with about 200 points. I then focused almost all my efforts on trapping Joe and did succeed at preventing him recruiting but he managed to get upstairs and seemed likely to escape. However, after he rolled a 2 I rolled a great 6 enabling me to block his Titan's only route down in the Hills with a 7 stack he likely couldn't beat and my Titan stack in the perfect spot 2 behind to kill him if he came down on a 1 or managed to beat my 7 stack (which wasn't likely). He rolled a 5 or so on his next turn and decided (wisely I think) to come down and make the Hills attack (after miraculously _winning_ an irrelevant Gar Gar against Gar Cyc in the Woods attack). He was Ttn8 Ang Beh Ranx2 Tro (no Ang call) attacking Angx2 Beh Gua Cycx3 and definitely needed to get lucky to win and didn't. Luck was pretty average and this definitely favored me and I finally took the multiplayer Titan plaque. There also turned out to be a reporter for the Towson Times there who had been talking to Don, Bruno and Jay and then interviewed Dave, Joe and I at the end of the game and promised me a copy of the article. He was a very nice guy and Bruno did a great job of taking him around and explaining things. The funny thing about this tournament is that I won no more than my share of games (two out of the eight I played) and so despite winning the tournament, my rating in the game (which is very high) will assuredly drop by quite a bit (not that I care).
I also probably played at least as many open-gaming games as I did tournament games throughout the week, mostly with the Titan crew and had a great time with these. I played liked 10 Tichu games (with some 15 different players, none of whom I had to teach from scratch amazingly) with the Titan group but also with Rich Z, Snoop, Chuck, Bob, Tom and others. Also taught and/or played St Petersburg, San Juan and Power Grid in open gaming. I thought I was pretty good at San Juan but got my butt kicked (despite no obvious mistakes I am sure of) in the heat of this I played, coming in last (two players did have opening Prefactures). Either I am not as good as I think or I got an unlucky draw of opponents or there really is more luck in this than I thought (like I couldn't draw any building above a 4 for the second half of the game).
The game dominating open gaming this year was Texas Hold 'em no-limit tournament poker. I didn't manage to play at all myself but it was getting played every night, at least in one case in a 3+ table tournament of like 30 people. I think the standard scheme was a $5 buy-in and I heard no objections to this. Other very popular open games were St Petersburg, Tichu (even when I wasn't in it), and Power Grid.
In the course of the week, I also had an early political discussion (it seemed the vast majority of attendees were anti-Bush) and a Lord of the Rings movies discussion. Not surprisingly, these strategy gamers agreed with me that the military maneuvers in Return of the King were utterly idiotic in the movie.
Thanks to David, Alan, Chuck, Bruno and the Seattle Titan guys (missed you, Andy) for excellent dinners and conversation. Thanks to Mark and Marty for driving (with out of the way door to door service for me) and conversation. Thanks to Eric with his very generous help over the Ra semi fiasco. Thanks to all the GMs but particularly the incredibly generous Bruno for time out to run their games, teach players, spread the word of the con and so much more.
August 02, 2004
Dead Show Friday
Went to an excellent Dead show on Friday evening with Mark (and ran into Paul and friends there). The second set was universally excellent starting with Terrapin Station into an absolutely rocking St Stephen and later Scarlet-Fire. I was totally into it and dancing throughout till the eventual R&R during the excelent Drums. The show finished with China-Rider and a Ripple encore. Best show (and certainly set) I have been to since they came back. The first set also had something a bit off with the sound that was fortunately fixed for the second. The evening was also beautiful once the sun was down and it cooled off and there was a day-off Full Moon which was gorgeous. At one point I took a nice walk around just really enjoying the evening and vibe.
Link: World Demography
Interesting article on the world demographic situation with the US being an exception among rich countries in maintaining a fairly steady population and Europe and Japan's population significantly aging and decreasing at current trends. Surprisingly interesting read of statistic after statistic.