Monday, December 29, 2008

Suiting Up

So, I find myself working this week. This is a bit of a change for me, as I have traditionally taken the time between Christmas and New Years off from work. In fact, this might be the first year since 1999 when I have done this. In case you are wondering, it isn't a situation where I am out of vacation days, and have to work. According to my company's online scheduling tool, I currently have over 128 hours of vacation stored up (note that this may not account for the 24 hours I took for the three days before Christmas, so it might be a bit less), so I obviously could have taken the time off if I had really wanted. That being said, there can be some benefits to being at work when little else is going on.

1. If you are at work when nobody else is, you get to handle everything that crops up. This can be good or bad, but historically for me this has been good. For example, right before Christmas we got a request for a proposal for a bunch of audit work at a local St. Louis company. Normally the big wigs would handle this, but since they are all on vacation I get to step up and handle some higher-level work that I would normally not get to do, because they know I am available. Which I guess has more to do with letting the right people know you will be working, rather than just showing up when nobody knows you're there.

2. You can leave a bit early and the only people who will know about it either don't care (because they are doing the same thing), or, well, let's be honest; nobody here this week cares about how many hours you sit at your desk.

3. You get to spend time with the new hires, who haven't earned enough vacation time to take off. This might not seem very important, but in my line of work it can help to spend some time with the new people and figure out who is, and who isn't, competent. See, I'm probably going to have to work with these guys and gals at some point in the future, so getting some preliminary intelligence on them can only help.

4. You can dress up without people thinking you're going to an interview for another job. I'm actually wearing suits to work all this week, because I have a bunch and I haven't had to wear one in three months. Also, for the record, I look pretty stylin' in a sharply cut suit and should wear them more often than I do. However, modern America has become so casual that wearing a suit is generally cause for ridicule and mistrust, unless you're at a wedding or a funeral. And those things are getting more and more casual all the time, too. So, anyway, I like wearing suits, so I'm wearing them this week because I can. (Note: I said I'm wearing suits, not ties. Ties are for chumps and people who want to strangle themselves to death, but suits are great.)

5. Rush hour traffic is a joke. This is partly due to the fact that 3/4 of the workforce is at home or visiting relatives, and partly due to the fact that many of those who are working are long gone before 4 P.M. rolls around.

6. If you have actual work to do, there is hardly anybody around to bug you and keep you from getting it done, so I can be crazy productive. Not that there is usually much to do, but see #1 above for this year's situation.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Corporate Shuffle

This time up in my trip through my game collection, we come to a very unserious game. Corporate Shuffle is a variant on The Great Dalmuti, a card game designed by Richard Garfield, which is itself a take on the old card game Kings and Paupers. In fact, Corporate Shuffle really is same game as Dalmuti, except for a few rules changes. Well, that and the fact that it is the officialy licensed Dilbert card game, which allows them to put panels from Dilbert strips on all of the cards and in the rule book, which makes it (to me, a significant Dilbert fan) way better.

The basics of game are as follows. It is for four to eight players. There are five different positions in the game: the Big Boss, the Little Boss, from zero to four workers, the Senior Intern, and the Junior Intern, in order of priority. There is a deck of 60 cards, all of which are dealt out to all the players as evenly as possible. All of the players try to get rid of their cards, and you do this by playing your cards in sets. The winner of the previous hand always goes first, unless they can't, in which case the Big Boss determines who goes first. For example, let's say the Big Boss is going first, and has three "10" cards. He can play one or them, or two of them, or three of them. Whoever many he plays, the next player has to either play that man cards of a lower number, or he has to pass. You continue going around the table until everyone has passed, and the last person who played a set then wins the hand and starts the next set. You continue until someone plays their last card, which makes them the winner of the round. They will be the Big Boss in the next round. The second player to go out becomes the Little Boss, and so on, until the last person is left, who becomes the Junior Intern.

That's pretty much it. You play each hand of cards to win, and you don't keep score from hand to hand. You just play it for fun. Now, in The Great Dalmuti, it is written into the rules that you have special hats to denote the Kings and the Paupers. Corporate Shuffle doesn't have such a rule, but when I last played it (which would be earlier today) we used ties for the Bosses and lousy hats for the Interns. You can totally play it up for fun and just be as goofy as you want to.

I should also note that there are a few cards in Corporate Shuffle that differ its gameplay from Dalmuti. There are three "special" cards that bend the rules in different ways. My personal favorite is the Ratbert card, which is the worst one in the game. If you win a round in which the Ratbert card was played, rather than it being out of play (like every other card played), you have to take it back into your hand. And it is a super lousy card, being a higher number than any other card in the game. Then there's the card that lets you win a hand straight up, which is pretty awesome. You just play it and win; it's that great.

This is definitely a game that is staying in my collection, as it is fun, but it's not one of my all-time favorites, and its lack of real competitiveness (no scoring, remember) means that I have to be in the right mood to play it. When I'm in that mood, though, it's a great time.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Oh Yeah

In case you didn't figure it out from my last post, I'm back in St. Louis. I got back on Saturday evening, and this time American Airlines only got me there 1/2 hour late, rather than 8 1/2 hours late, like they did on my way to Puerto Rico. Even though it is very cold here in St. Louis, I am very glad to be home. 12 days is a long time to be away, and those bills sure do pile up!

No More Gifts = Awesome

My friend Ben runs a blog about what is awesome. I don't really like to step on other people's turf, but I would like to point out that being completely done with your Christmas shopping, and therefore not needing to actually stand in the (literally) 100+ person long line at the store anymore, is pretty awesome.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tooling around Puerto Rico

Finally, a day without work. Work has been a bit crazy, and not fun. Multiple meetings to tell us that we aren't doing a good job, but without any evidence to back this up. If they could show me something that I was doing wrong, then I could fix it. However, when nobody can point to anything specific that I am doing wrong, then I don't know what to fix. If there is even anything to actually fix. Maybe it's just a misunderstanding? I don't know. But, yesterday was Saturday, which is not a good day to worry about work.

So, yesterday, Ali, Sofia, and I drove up to San Juan and visited
El Morro. El Morro is an old fort on a promontory on the far western tip of San Juan. Americans shelled it during the Spanish-American War, in case you didn't know. It was pretty cool to walk around the fortifications and check out everything. The weather was gorgeous and windy enough that we didn't get too hot with all of the sun. After wandering El Morro for a bit, we went into old San Juan and found a nice tapas restaurant. Neither Ali or Sofia had eaten tapas before, so I got to introduce them to that style of food.

After eating too much, we drove east to
El Yunque National Forest, a full rainforest in the NE of the island. And, yes, it did rain on us while we were there, which we all through was quite fitting. We only hiked about 2 miles of trail, since we got there a bit late in the day, but it was still pretty cool. I'd never been to a rainforest before.

Today I am just hanging around my room in Palmas del Mar, doing some work (yes, I know, shut up) and taking it easy. If the Niners game is on this afternoon, I'll catch some of that, as Ali is a huge Niners fan and my room has a better TV than his does.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Experiences

When you are trying to work, and a bunch of guys in UPS shirts come into the office, banging on drums, and steel pan, and singing and dancing, and then everyone pours out of their offices and dances and sings in the common area, you know you're not in standard corporate America anymore.

An Ode to American Airlines

American Airlines, angel of the skies
You bestow upon us the boon of air travel
Winging to far away places, we reflect upon the beauty of the earth
As seen by God

American Airlines, in your infinite wisdom
You bestow upon us more than we have asked
Why fly from Chicago to Puerto Rico, as desired
When you can fly to Dallas, instead

American Airlines, in your infinite wisdom
You knew that I had never seen the land between those two cities
So you cancelled my flight to Puerto Rico
Knowing that I needed more time with you

American Airlines, time with you was not what I desired
It is, however, what you gave to me
You also gave much more time on the ground in Chicago
Than was sane

American Airlines, you eventually deposted me in Puerto Rico
Where I longed to be
Not because I really wanted to be there
But because I couldn't stand waiting in DFW anymore

American Airlines, at least you delivered my luggage
I was overjoyed to see it on the carousel
Which is more than was ever done for me
By US Airways

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Roughly 5 1/2 years ago, just because I wanted one, I got a Gameboy Advance SP. This was when those things were hot, as opposed to today, when they are at least two generations out of date. And, in fact, until recently I had not even touched that thing in well over two years. However, I have been travelling so much lately that I thought it might be fun to break it out (after I found where I had put it...) and take it with me on my trips.

You know what? This little game system sure has a lot of great games available for it. I have been playing a good amount of Advance Wars 2 (a game I got over 5 years ago) on it, and having a lot of fun. I also picked up a copy of Fire Emblem off of eBay right before Thanksgiving, and have been playing that game A LOT on those long flights to and from Reno and San Juan. And in the hotel. And, maybe, just a teeny bit while at home.

Just another reminder that something can be a bit old and not the "new hotness" and still be a lot of fun.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Under the Lily Banners

I think it's been a full month since my last entry in my game collection. Not wanting to let things get too stale, I bit the bullet and broke out the next random selection, Under the Lily Banners. Let's get one thing straight, people; this game is awesome. Fun to play, even more fun to mock the loser. Because he probably lost due to incompetent leaders that he had no control over.

This game is a wargame (third in the Mustket & Pike series) about the Thirty Years War, focusing on the battles France was involved in. This varies from small engagements like Mergentheim, all the way to the big enchilada, Rocroi. Before I started playing games in this series, I knew pretty much nothing about the Thirty Years War, other than the fact that everybody hated Cardinal Richelieu. After playing games in this series, I can tell you that warfare in this time period makes very little sense to my modern mind. Such ridiculous chaos. At a high level, battle consists of marching large masses of soldiers, armed with muskets (flint or matchlock, generally) and long pikes. They then shoot at each other at relatively close range and try to stick each other with pikes. You stand in a mass, so you can't maneuver much. If they attack near you, you die. Otherwise you try to shoot them. All of the skill is in the maneuver prior to the combat.

The game itself seems to do an excellent job of capturing this aspect of war in this period. Each army is broken into "wings," (usually left, center, and right) which have orders. These orders range from "Charge" (which operates like you would think) to "Make Ready" (not ready to charge, but kind of ready to fight) to "Rally" (which involves trying to keep your peeps from fleeing off the board). The main trick is to use orders correctly. When entering combat, it helps to be under Charge orders. However, you can't rally your own troops, or re-orient formations, while under Charge. So, after you fight off the other side, you have to change orders in order to reform and rally your troops. This is harder than you would think. In modern days, we have radios and phones and satellite connections and whatnot. Back then, they had flags and runners. Who could get killed before ever getting you your new orders, leaving you clueless. This is represented by making the player roll for each wing when he wants to change orders. Fail the roll, and you are stuck under your old orders. Which usually means your troops do something stupid and die. I remember one game I played against my brother a year ago; one of my wings needed to reform, so I was trying to change to "Rally" orders, and I kept blowing it and I stayed in "Charge." For three whole turns. Yeah, I lost that battle.

Combat itself is in two parts: fire combat (with guns) and melee combat (with pikes). Fire combat works by moving next to the other player's units. When units are next to each other, they can fire. The problem with this is that moving next to the other player's units means that those units get to shoot at you first. Guns back then needed steady positions for firing and loading, so shooting while moving was hard (you can do it, but it's not as effective, and you can't move at full speed). So, you move up, get set, and then they shoot you. Which usually sucks. If you still live, you can fire back. So you need to get multiple units on one enemy unit to really get yourself in a good position. Which is harder than it sounds.

Once the firing is all done, you have the chance to initiate melee combat. Melee combat is really quite the dicey affair. While many wargames have units take hits of damage in melee, this game doesn't do that. There are only a few possible results from melee combat:
1. You wipe them out, and the unit is eliminated (representing more of everyone scattering and the unit breaking, rather than killing every last man).
2. You freak them out, and they retreat a hex or two, losing morale.
3. They freak you out, and you retreat a hex or two, losing morale.
4. They wipe you out.
That's pretty much it. So, games tend to have a lot of maneuver, and then short and nasty combats. Which, from what I can tell, was how things actually went back in the 17th Century.

This would all be kind of boring except for cavalry, the great wild card. Most engagements have a significant amount of cavalry. Cavalry can run all over the field, shooting the place up and causing all sorts of problems, sometimes for their own side. See, Cavalry are pretty impetuous. Whenever you fight close combat with cavalry and win, there is a chance they will merrily chase the loser all over the board, and sometimes even off the board. This does a wonderful job of ruining your formations. In the most recent game, a group of French cavalry merrily chased a group of light infantry to oblivion. In doing so, however, they ran all the way through the Belgian lines and got surrounded. Did I mention the French wing commander was with that unit? Yeah, problems. Proper use of cavalry (and a bit of luck with their, shall we say, enthusiasm for chasing beaten units) can really win or lose a game for you.

So, I really like the game. It isn't without its problems, though. The only significant problem for me is the size of the units and all of the status counters. Whenever a unit takes damage from fire combat, it takes an injury counter. Whenever a unit has its formation broken, it takes a counter. Whenever a unit loses morale, it takes a counter. Leaders also stack on units, and they can get their own counters. Thus, you can end up with a number of units side by side, all with a number of counters on them. This makes it difficult (for me, at least) to keep track of what is actually going on. Not an uncommon problem with wargames, but the status counters are the same size as the units, so it can get cumbersome. In the end, though, this is still one of my favorite games, even if my stupid commanders do frustrate me to no end.

One final note: the scenario book for the game contains good detail on the historic situation leading up to the battles, as well as the aftermath. It does a good job of providing a context for why all these people are trying to kill each other, and is a good starting point for learning more about the history of the period.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Puerto Rico es muy humido

Greetings from Humacão, Puerto Rico. I flew in yesterday, enjoying a lovely 9 hours of travel, which should have been 8, but who expects any airline flying in America to be on schedule? Not me, certainly. Once I arrivedin San Juan, I met my colleague (who flew in a bit earlier from L.A.) and we tried to navigate the local highways to get to Humacão. This proved a bit tricky due to the fact that all road signs were in Spanish. I took Spanish for two semesters in college, back in '93 and '94. You want to know how much of that I can remember? Not very much. However, I was able to figure out that "este" is east, so "oeste" must be west. So we got on 26 oeste, and started looking for 18 sur. Except that there was never a sign for 18 sur when heading west. Once we knew we passed it and we turned around, the helpful sign said you had to take 1 sur to get to 18 sur. Not that they mentioned that before. Then we need to take 30 sur and once again we miss it, because no sign mentioned that to get to 30 sur you have to take 1 sur (again; highway curves all over the place, causing no end of problems). We eventually find it and get to the hotel.

Let me tell you, it is kind of humid in Puerto Rico. And the temperate is a nice, mild, low 80's. This is a nice change from the snow that was falling when I left St. Louis. Hopefully there will not be more snow when I fly back on Friday!