Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I have joined Facebook, so this blog will be silent for a while as I figure out what to do with it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Greetings from Columbia, MO

Greetings from rainy and cold Columbia, MO.  I arrived yesterday at 8AM, having driven in from Kansas City earlier in the day.  Yesterday was a little bit special because it was my 7 year anniversary with PricewaterhouseCoopers, my current employer.  After a busy day of meetings, we retired to a local Thai restaurant to celebrate my longevity.  Feeling a little emboldened, I actually ate a fried frog leg, as one of the guys had ordered some frog legs as an appetizer.  It turns out that frog tastes a little fishy.  In case you were wondering, it does not taste like chicken.

In other news, I'm wondering again whether I should shut this blog down and just join Facebook.  Decisions, decisions...

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

For My Father

Dad, maybe this will make more sense to you than it did to me.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bank of America Stories

Some of you may remember stories I have told in the past about how Bank of America never charges me for cashier's checks even though they should.  The first time was around six years ago, when instead of charging me for the service they sent me a thank you card in the mail.  The second time was close to two years ago when the teller simply waived the fee for reasons unknown.  Well, on Thursday, it happened again.  I needed to pay for something at work by check, and I forgot to bring my checkbook with me.  Since my company office is in the Bank of America plaza in downtown St. Louis, there is a branch right in the lobby.  I headed on down there to get a check made out for me.  While there, the cashier pulled up my info on the computer and declared that while I should be paying a fee, she would waive it.  Why?  Because Bank of America has my mortgage now (they got it when they purchased Countrywide a couple years ago), which means that I really should be in a different checking plan, that they offer especially to mortgage customers.  This special plan means that my checking account will earn interest with no minimal balance required, I get unlimited cashier's checks, I get free personal check printing, and a free safe deposit box.  They were bored on Thursday afternoon because it had been a slow day, so they happily upgraded me on the spot.  So, now I am getting lots of free stuff and earning interest where before I earned squadoosh, and I am paying nothing for the privilege.  It's good being me.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sports Despair

One of the interest things of being a sports fan and a pessimist at the same time is that I am always on the edge of (or fully immersed in) despair about something related to my team(s).  Let's use the St. Louis Blues as an example.  Prior to this weekend's home stand, they had a record of 2-1-2 (for those of you not in the know, that means they had won two of five games in the season, with two of those losses being overtime/shootout losses, thus earning one point in the standings, as opposed to two for a win).  This is quite respectable in the big scheme of things, but to me it means that we lost more games than we won, and thus the team was a pack of losers.  After two solid victories this weekend, the Blues are now 4-1-2.  This is good, right?  Ten out of a possible fourteen points in the standings is quite respectable.

Feeling relatively good about life, I recently checked the standings on NHL.com.  And what did I see there?  That EVERY SINGLE TEAM in the Central Division has a winning record.  Even Columbus.  And Nashville hasn't lost a game in regulation time yet.  Even with this quite respectable 4-1-2 record, St. Louis is in 4th place in its division.  Granted, if you look at the overall Conference standings, Of the top eight teams in the Western Conference, EVERY SINGLE TEAM in the Central Division is in that top eight.  So, while the Blues might be an improved team this year, SO IS EVERYBODY ELSE.  Thus, I despair.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Yeah, Google, Get On It!

Where would the world be without British humour?

On a more serious note, does this company even have a master strategy, outside of taking over the world?  Or is still just a bunch of engineers doing whatever they think is cool and having the good fortune of having a cash cow inside the company (internet search) funding literally everything else by itself?

Friday, October 08, 2010

Getting Decked

I've been on vacation since Tuesday this week.  While I have done some laying around, reading, and watching TV (hockey season has started!  Wooooo!!!), the big thing I did was strip and re-stain my deck.  Basically, I got tired of it looking like I swiped the deck from an abandoned property and just bolted it to my house, and wanted a deck that looked like its owner cared about it.  I worked around 3 hours a day on it, on average, for the past four days, with the end result being a very nice looking deck that hopefully will last for at least 3 years this time.  I applied some lessons I learned the last time I stained the deck, and I put two coats of stain on all of the horizontal surfaces, in the hopes that the sun won't be able to bake off both coats within one year.  It will be very nice to be able to sit out on a good looking deck over the weekend, and enjoy the fruits of my labors with some iced beverages and a good book.

No New Games - an update

At the beginning of July, I had decided that I was not going to buy any new games for the next six months, taking me through the end of the year.  I have enough games sitting in the basement that I haven't played a lot, so why get new ones just to stick them in the basement and not play them?  That was the logic, anyway.  It has been over three months since this experiment started, and I am proud to report that I have been "almost perfect" so far.  This past weekend was Archon, which has some room set aside for nothing but dealers to sell you stuff.  While I bought some books, the only new game I purchased was a gift for my friend George, so that doesn't count.  I did buy some special dice for the Arkham Horror board game, but that isn't buying an actual game, just an accessory which technically can be used with any game, so that also doesn't count.

Today, I bought some new games, and this is where the only breakdown has occurred.  Back in late June, I had received some American Express gift cheques from work as a "good job" reward.  I had never spent to date, and decided that I needed some new games.  This is perfectly acceptable per my rules because I'm  not spending my own money out of pocket, just using a gift cheque which was always intended for me to use for my pleasure.  So, I drove over to Game Nite and picked up an Arkham Horror expansion set, Pandemic, and TransAmerica.  Pandemic, especially, I am really looking forward to playing, as I have heard a lot of good things about it.  Unfortunately, with tax this cost a little over $100, which was the amount of the gift cheque I was using.  So, I did spend a bit of money out of pocket on new games, but it was totally unavoidable.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


This weekend was Archon, the St. Louis science fiction/fantasy convention.  In recent years it has been held in Collinsville, IL, but this year it moved to Westport, which is noticeably closer to my home.  While it is a sci-fi convention at heart, they do have a significant block of scheduled games, which I have taken advantage of this year.  While last year I played some games that I had already played and enjoyed, this year I focused on playing newer games that I had no experience with.  Somewhat sadly, while I did enjoy myself in some of those games, I didn't play anything that I felt I needed to add to my collection.  In fact, the only new game I have purchased at the convention is a gift for one of my friends; absolutely nothing new for me.  Well, nothing new game wise.  I did pick up some books at Glen Cook's table, including one by the author himself that I got signed, which was a nice touch.  I have to say that I do feel like the Westport facilities aren't as good for this convention as the Collinsville facilities, just due to the fact that the Westport convention center is too small, resulting in some events being in one area, while other events are in another area in a separate part of Westport.  It is kind of annoying.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Zulus on the Ramparts!

At the beginning of the year I was travelling to Detroit every week for work.  To entertain myself in the evening, I wanted some small (and thereby, portable) board games to bring with me.  Through some internet research, I discovered the game Israeli Independence, which was a quick-playing solitaire game where you played the nacent Israeli armed forces in 1948 defending your country against attacks from multiple directions.  That game used a newly developed game system called "States of Siege."  While I didn't find the game itself to be that much fun, I did like the system, which involves drawing cards or counters to determine which of your enemies (from none of them to all of them) advance on your position that turn, as well as how far they advance.  Since I liked the mechanic, I went looking for other games that use it.

I ended up getting two more games from designer Joseph Miranda that use this same system.  The first of them, Zulus on the Ramparts, I will be discussing today.  The game covers the battle of Rorke's Drift, a rather famous battle in British imperial history where a small group of British soldiers fought off thousands of Zulu tribesmen.  The game puts you in the role of the British commander, while the game system has four different groups of Zulu warriors advancing on your fortification.  Each round you pull a counter out of a cup, and it tells you which group of Zulus to advance, as well as how far to advance them.  If a group of Zulus ever reaches your inner fortification zone, you lose the game as the defenses are over-run.  To stop this, you get to take actions during your turn.  Actions generally involve the play of cards from your hand: volley cards let you roll a certain number of dice to try to kill or drive away Zulus before they reach you; character cards let you bring specific named characters into the battle, all of which have special abilities; you can build an inner fortification line (such that the Zulus have to move deeper into your fortification to defeat you); you can distribute ammunition (necessary after any large volley); form a reserve platoon (required to play certain volley cards); etc.  This is one of those games where you usually want to perform multiple actions per turn, but the game limits you to one (some characters have special abilities to allow additional plays, though always at a cost), so you have to decide which of the many things you want to do is most important.  All the while, the Zulus continue their implacable advance.

The game is, as all good solitiare games should be, hard to win.  I have about a dozen plays of this game to my credit, and I have won maybe 4 times.  There is luck involved in how fast the Zulus actually advance, and from which direction they advance, so sometimes I get jumped by a fast-moving group before I really have a chance to get my defenses set.  Sometimes, I just roll really poorly on the dice for my volley fires, and the Zulus just over-run me without even taking any hits.  Occasionally, though, you can get really lucky attack rolls and actually kill off a bunch of Zulu attackers.  One game I even killed all of the attacking units, and won the game outright, instead of barely holding on for the relief column to arrive (which involves running the deck of play cards down to the bottom).

I consider this to be a very good game.  It takes roughly 30 to 45 minutes to play once you have set it up, and it stays tense throughout, with that constant sense that disaster could befall you at any moment, but you just might pull yourself out of the fire in time.  If you have an interest in the battle, or in solitaire board games, this is worth checking out.

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Design

After over four years of blogging, I have decided it is time to update the look around here.  I don't know if this dark, depressing color scheme is what I will end up with, but it is stark enough to get me serious about figuring out how I want things to look.  Expect some more changes over the next few weeks as I keep tweaking things.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

New Kicks

Today I took advantage of a Macy's coupon and bought myself some new dress shoes for work. In the process, I discovered an interesting advantage to the orthopedic insoles I have to use in all of my shoes now. In the good old days, buying shoes was a massive pain in the rear end, because my feet are smaller than 99% of the male population of the universe, at least according to shoe companies. The end result of this is that I had to buy shoes, usually by custom order, from high end, expensive shoe stores. The upside was that I had some very nice shoes. The downside is that I would pay at least $275 per pair, and that was on sale.

Ever since I got my special insoles, though, I have to buy bigger shoes. Now, I can buy normal shoes at a normal store, because once I put in the inserts my feet now fit in a regular size 9 shoe. This means that the shoes today cost me under $70 each after the coupon. When you consider that I paid about $225 for the insoles, let's do some quick math.

Buying two pairs of shoes in the old days, on sale: $275 x 2 = $550.
Buying two pairs of shoes in the new days, plus cost of the orthopedic insoles: $225 + ($70 x 2) = $365.

Even with the added expense of having to buy the custom insoles, I saved $185. Thanks custom orthopedic insoles! You're saving me money!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Let the Fiesta Begin

Today I watched parts of the Flyers/Devils and Leafs/Senators games on the NHL Network. Just a few more days...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lightning Strike

Being under the weather today and having a day off from work, I figured this was a good time to discuss another random game from my collection, Lightning Strike. Lightning Strike is a bit different from most of the games in my collection in that it is a miniatures game, rather than a standard board game. The board for this case is whatever surface you are playing on, usually a table. A lot of miniatures games use pieces of terrain to make tactical maneuvering of your forces more interesting, but since Lightning Strike is simulating battles in the dark void of space, you generally don't have to worry about that. I have the 1st edition of Lightning Strike. There is a 2nd edition of the game, but the rules are not fundamentally different. The primary difference is that the 1st edition game comes with lots of card stock counters to represent the starships, fighter craft, and exo-armors that are fighting in the battles; whereas the 2nd edition doesn't include those because they expect you to buy and paint the miniatures the publisher wants to sell you. While I'm sure the miniatures look really cool, I am perfectly happy with my counters.

Lightning Strike is the space combat game for the Jovian Chronicles universe, which is set in the early part of the 23rd century. The set-up is that all of the inner planets of the solar system have been colonized and at least partially terraformed, and there are even colonies around Jupiter and Saturn. Due to a series of unfortunate events, the Jovian Confederation and the Central Earth Government and Authority (CEGA) are at the brink of war, and you get to use the game to play out their battles for supremacy of the solar system. Expansions to the game add in the forces of Mars, Venus, and more, but the basic game just gives you the Jovians and CEGA forces. This is enough to play many games, though.

The basic games system is not complicated. All units have a movement allowance given in centimeters, and they can move that far per turn. Small units can fly in any direction and pull off crazy stunts as desired, but warships use vector movement rules that attempt to follow Einsteinian physics (i.e., if a ship burns its engine enough to move 15cm per turn in a direction, it will keep going at that speed in that direction until it burns its engine in another direction. Units have varying weapons; when they take an action to fire, the player chooses the weapon and measures the range to the target. Each weapon has varying range bands; the closer the range, the more damage you can do with a successful hit. To make an attack (or perform any other skilled action) the player rolls a number of six-sided dice equal to the unit's skill rating. The highest die roll is the result of the roll, though each six after the first one adds one to the total. For example, a skills 3 unit that rolled 1, 2, and 4 would have a final skill check result of 4. A skills 3 unit that rolled a 2, 6, and 6 would have a final skill check result of 7. Certain things can modify those rolls (like taking careful aim, or taking evasive maneuvers, or overburning your engine), but the system itself is pretty simple. The defender also makes a skill check. The attacker's total is then compared to the defender's total. If the attacker's total exceeds the defender's total, then the attack hits. The damage is the difference between skills rolls multiplied by the weapon damage at the range band. This means that beating a defender by 1 isn't near as good as beating them by 5. This damage is then compared to the defender's armor rating. A successful hit can either do no damage, stun the defender (have to spend an action point to remove the stun before any other actions can be taken), cripple the defender (move at half speed and weapons do half damage), or kill them outright. So each side rolls some dice, and you compare the results to the attacker's weapon and the defender's armor. It goes pretty fast. Large ships have multiple systems that can be destroyed without destroying the entire unit, but exo armors and fighters go down all at once if you kill them.

For a set of miniatures rules, there is a surprisingly large amount of content here. Not only do you get some basic background on the Jovian Chronicles universe (I think that is removed in the 2nd edition of the game, though) and stats for close to two dozen different types of units, but there is also a set of campaign rules included to provide you with a framework for playing out a series of battles between Jovian and CEGA forces. It is a nice rules set. The game itself doesn't appear to be very popular. At least, I have never known another person who has ever played the game, but I hold out hope of one day finding someone to play a campaign against. Even though I almost never play it, the game is such a complete package (and the mental images of 50 feet tall mecha flying through space stabbing enemy warships with plasma swords are so awesome) that I'll probably always have it in my collection.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My Brother Makes This

My older brother, Christopher, helps make the software for this.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Crimson Skies

Wow, it has been many months since I have written about a game in my collection. The reason for that is because the game that got randomly selected was one I had just recently purchased, the old Crimson Skies boardgame from the gone but never forgotten FASA Corporation. Those of you who play video games may remember that back in 2000 Microsoft released a video game for the Xbox and PC called Crimson Skies, and the video game is set in the same game universe as the board game. The board game itself was first published in 1998, during the summer before I moved to Washington, D.C., and I never played it, or even actually saw it played, back then. In early 2001 FASA ceased publication, and the Crimson Skies boardgame was a victim of that time. Nothing new has been published for the game in about 10 years, but early this year I had a chance to buy almost everything ever published for the game for $15, and I just couldn't pass it up. Battletech, also published by FASA, is one of my favorite wargames ever, so at such a low price it was worth picking up Crimson Skies to see how it compared.

But first, a discussion of the game world for Crimson Skies. The setting for the game is in the later 1930s of an "alternate history" United States of America that shattered politically when the Great Depression started. By 1937, there are 19 separate nations where once one had stood. Because of this, land-based transportation like rail, and especially automobiles, have lost in transportation priority to airplanes and dirigibles. In the game you play pilots flying fighter planes against your opponent's fighter planes, and in some scenarios you are either attacking or defending a dirigible against the enemy. Granted, these dirigibles mount flak cannons and machine guns to defend themselves, and thus you can play out scenarios like that pictured on the box cover, which shows air pirates attacking an Empire State dirigible while Blake Aviation Security attempts to intervene. This is all very much in the vein of "pulp" adventure stories from that time, when men were men and women were women, which basically means that you are supposed to play the game in a daring and dashing manner, as if Errol Flynn was flying the plane in an action movie, fighting against sky pirates to save the beautiful dame in danger. Something like that, anyway.

The game itself is played with either cardboard counters or painted pewter miniatures on a hex map. Five different maps are provided in the boxed game, and at least two more came with expansion sets. For the most part, the maps are for looks (fighting over downtown Manhattan or just open sky has no bearing on the game), except that some maps include high-altitude terrain hexes, which are (probably) impassable to your planes. You can try to fly through it, but if you fail your maneuvering roll get ready to hit that obstacle head on at 200 miles per hour. There are a few aspects of the game that are worth pointing out, so let's get to it.

First, this is not a "pick up and play" game. First you have to decide what scenario you want to play, which can be one provided with the game or a supplement, or one the player's design themselves. This can be as simple as "let's each take two fighters and dogfight" to "let's do a zeppelin raid over Manhattan, and the zeppelin is picking up special cargo, which the pirates must try to grab with harpoon rockets without damaging the container. There will be 12 pirates and eight defenders, and the defenders will be elite and the pilots are built with 500 points instead of 450." It can get even more complex than that. Notice that comment about "500 instead of 450" for the pilots? Before each game, unless you are playing in a campaign with persistent flight crews, you have to build your pilot from scratch. There are five skills plus a Constitution rating for each pilot, and you spend your points to buy their skill levels and any increased Constitution you want. This can take a bit of time, but it does allow you to match your pilot's skills to the plane you are flying. Ah, yes, you also have to select your planes. The base game comes with 14 different models, plus the rules to design your own, and expansion sets came with more plane types. Once you select your planes, you have to decide what ammunition they are using and what rockets/bombs are mounted on the hardpoints. Only once all of that is decided are you ready to play. It can be a quite a bit of work to get that all set up and ready.

Second, movement in the game is simultaneous and mostly blind to your opponent. All movement orders are written at the beginning of the turn, and once every plane has an order then they are all carried out simultaneously. The only exception to this is if one plane is tailing the other. In that case, you add up some modifiers to determine exactly how much information the tailed plane has to provide to his tailer about that plane's movement. This mechanic is actually quite common in aircraft board games, and I have run into it before with both World War I-themed games, as well as modern air combat games. It works OK, but it does take some getting used to if you aren't familiar with that mechanic. It also makes the game about impossible to play solitiare.

Third, the way that weapons do damage is both really interesting and kind of gimmicky at the same time. Each plane has a damage diagram, which is really a collection of small boxes organized to represent the layout of the plane's mechanical components. Whenever a plane takes damage, either from enemy fire or from failing to properly perform a maneuver that exceeds the plane's flight capabilities, you use a special stencil to identify the area of the plane that got damaged, and then you blacken all of the boxes not covered by the stencil. You can see an example of the end result in this picture. The specific stencil you use is determined by the caliber of the gun you are firing as well as the ammunition you loaded it with. Different types of rockets also have different damage layouts. As you take damage and blacken boxes that represent different aircraft components, those components break. In the case of guns or rockets, you can't use that weapon anymore. In the case of wing struts, elevators, flaps, and the like, your plane becomes less maneuverable, which can be a very back thing indeed if your opponent can now literally out-maneuver you. Hits to the cockpit canopy can stun your pilot, hits to landing gear make it harder to land safely (yes, you can lose a pilot and plane to a bad landing) at the end of a mission in a campaign game, etc. Hits to a fuel tank just lose you fuel, unless you were hit in the fuel tank by "burning" ammunition, in which case you explode instantly into a nice fireball.

Fourth, the game appears to be really intended for campaign play, where each player (or each group of players) controls an entire squadron of planes and pilots, which then fly multiple missions against each other. The biggest clue to this is that during missions, pilots gain experience points for successful kills of enemy aircraft, as well as other actions. After each mission, surviving pilots can spend their accumulated experience points to improve their skills. The end result is that a successful pilot in one mission literally gets better before the next mission. This can have an affect on game play, too, as you try to make sure that your really good pilot doesn't get cut off and shot down by enemy planes.

In the end, while Crimson Skies is an interesting boardgame, I doubt that I will ever play it again. It really demands campaign play to get the most out of it, and even if I did know other people that wanted to play it, who has the time to devote to that? Certainly not I, at least not these days. However, if you ever decide to play the game and want to get additional plane counters, I highly recommend grabbing the files from this site and printing them out. The counters work very nicely.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Muddy Blues

Yesterday, since the weather was so good, my friend George and I decided to take in the Big Muddy Blues Festival being held at Laclede's Landing here in St. Louis. The music was good, though I would have preferred to hear more blues acts than soul acts. It's only got "blues" in the name, is that too much to ask, for actual blues music? Ah, well. Before we actually headed down to the Landing, since I had to park by Keiner plaza, we decided to stop by the Arch (i.e., the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial) and check out the displays of the proposed upgrades to the park grounds, which are currently being considered. I found it interesting that all of the proposed changes made significant use of the low lands on the Illinois side of the river, which is currently just sitting there being an eye sore. While a number of those ideas looked good in principle, they all looked to be quite expensive; I wonder where the money is supposed to come from to pay for it all?

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Doin' Work

It has been "plant cutting" week here around the house. On Tuesday my father came up for a couple hours and cut some limbs off of the tree in the front yard. That tree hadn't been trimmed back in a few years and it was really getting too big, so it was good to thin it out a bit. Then, today, I did some work in the back yard cutting back on the lavender bush and some other plants in preparation for re-staining the deck later this month. The plants that were put around the deck had simply gotten too big, and I couldn't have painted parts of it if I didn't cut those plants back (or, in the case of what looked like weeds, remove them entirely). In the process I also found a couple wasp nests, but they must have been old and not in use anymore because dousing them with poison didn't produce any angry wasps. So it was a week of doing things that needed doing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I had a new experience this week. Last month, after Spain had won the World Cup, I had purchased a Cesc Fabregas Spanish national team jersey off of eBay. It was supposed to arrive within a couple weeks, but it did not. In fact, it never arrived, and I couldn't get the seller to respond to my queries. So, I opened a case with eBay about the auction. The whole process was rather painless. I explained the situation in my submission, and I got a response email saying to wait a week while they tried to contact the seller to see what was up. A week later I got another email from eBay asking if I had heard anything from the seller. I hadn't, so I let them know that. Less than 24 hours later I was issued a full refund for the price of the item plus shipping. So, while I still don't have that Fabregas jersey I wanted, I do have my money back, which is the next best thing. Now to find something else to blow it on...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Game Party

My friend Chris Fawcett turned 51 yesterday. To celebrate, we played games at his house all weekend. I wasn't there for all of it, but I got a good 8+ hours in over a couple different days. I finally got to play Struggle of Empires again (I was in the lead after the first two turns, but after the final turn I had dropped to third place. Drat!), and I got introduced to Silverton, an interesting blend of rail game and economic speculation game. I got destroyed in that one, but I had never played it before, and everyone agreed that I did about as well as could be expected when none of the card draws were favorable to me.

And, as luck would have it, Chris' house was about a mile from where the YMCA book fair was going on, so I was able to pick up some nice hardback sci-fi books for dirt cheap.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Today I begin a week-long odyssey of watching my parents' dog while they are in Florida enjoying the company of their grandchildren. Sam the dog is already trying to cop an attitude with me. Hey, if you don't pee, you don't get any carrots or green beans. You can mope about it all you want but I really don't care about what you think should be happening. Did you pee? No? Then no treats for you.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Game On!

This only really makes sense if you have experience with Bollywood movies and have at least passing familiarity with MMORPGs, but this is pretty well done.

<a href="http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-us&amp;brand=v5%5E544x306&amp;from=sp&amp;vid=8cb424dc-cbdb-40be-90c5-8fb450462d2f" target="_new" title="Season 4 - Music Video - ">Video: Season 4 - Music Video - "Game On"</a>

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Seeing Old Things As New Again

You may remember a while back when I noted that I had burned my entire CD collection to iTunes and boxed up my CDs, such that when I want to listen to music on my stereo I just plug in my iPod and go to town. One of the interesting things that has arisen from this action is that older CDs, which I had not listened to in years because they were buried in the depths of my CD racks, are now coming back to my attention because iTunes gives all albums equal screen space. So, I have been spending some time recently listening to albums that I have not listened to in years; in some cases, well over five years. It has been an interesting experience. I have also realized that while some of these older albums are quite good and I should not have shunted them to side as I did, some of them were not listened to for a reason, as some of the albums just weren't that good or were purchased during one of my "open minded" periods where I was trying new things only to learn that I just don't like some things. The end result of this is that some of those old albums are going to get deleted from iTunes entirely, as I can't imagine ever listening to them again. On the other hand, there are some albums that have a handful of really great songs on them, with a lot of "meh," so I just need to create some good playlists to include the good stuff and leave the lame stuff behind forever.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


I am done with Dallas for the time being, and am back in St. Louis, where I hope to be for a good six or seven weeks, if all goes according to plan (it almost never does, unfortunately). This is conveniently timed so that I can be in town as we breach the 100 degree mark today, which is lovely. I kind of feel sorry for the guys that mow our lawns, as they get to work outside all day in this heat. Yet another reason to go to university and get a degree, so that you can get an inside job with air conditioning. I don't really have anything new to report, just work and general life stuff. I'm trying to get caught up on some reading during my time in town, and I got a couple books finished off over the weekend. So far, I am surviving my "no new games" ban, which is in place until the end of the year, just fine. Maybe something will break my will power over the next few months, but I'm feeling pretty good about it so far. I've only found one game that I really want to pick up, so as long as the number is small I should be able to manage it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Back in Dallas for a few days. Last week when I tried to leave on Friday I had the distinct pleasure of getting my flight cancelled. See, right when our plane was supposed to land a shade of the Biblical flood decided to open up on DFW, causing them to shut down the airport for about 40 minutes, with no planes allowed to land or take off. After circling for ~25 minutes, my plane got re-routed to another airport entirely for re-fueling, and then we got word that our crew was on another plane that got re-routed somewhere else, so we were hosed. So, I didn't actually get home until about 10AM on Saturday morning. It could have been worse, of course, but I was operating on ~4 hours of sleep, had a headache, and just wasn't in a good mood the rest of the day. Ah, well, such is life, I guess.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Greetings from Dallas

Hola from Dallas, TX. I am here all week doing an audit at an aviation parts distributor. Did you know that Dallas' road system was designed by rabid squirrels? I can't provide any documentary evidence to support this claim, but all you have to do is try to drive on the roads around here to figure it out for yourself. Maybe instead of being rabid, the squirrels were just high on weed; I guess that is another possibility. Anyway, something was wrong with those squirrels.

Even though Dallas is having temperatures in the high '90s, it still feels nicer than it does in St. Louis right now, because the humidity is modest. Dallas is also quite flat, or at least the area around the airport where I am working is quite flat. Maybe the downtown area is more varied, but out here the only rising land are the freeway overpasses.

Wherein I Answer the Internet's Questions

Occasionally the Internet asks me questions, so I thought that it might be fun if I actually start answering some of them on this blog. Why? Why does anyone write anything on their blog? For attention, of course.

Here is today's question, picked up in an advertisement on ESPN.com
Answer: Quite easily, thank you very much. While I'm sure that certain people would find that their lives are meaningless when they are not wearing ugly shoes on their feet, I have found that I prefer rather classic footwear, like non-flashy sneakers or a pair of cordovan leather laced shoes. Thanks for the question.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Best. Blog. Ever.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the greatest blog of all time. I could lose days looking at all those concept drawings... so good...

Monday, July 05, 2010

Fireworks and Jack-Booted Thugs

Last evening my friend George and I went to the Manchester city fireworks show at Schroeder Park. It is a pretty good show, and much easier to navigate than heading downtown for Fair St. Louis. However, whoever they have responsible for music during the fireworks needs to be sacked. About 1/3 through the show, they started playing the Imperial March from Star Wars in the background. Now, I try to be a reasonably open-minded person, but on a day to celebrate American freedom, we're playing a song about intergalactic oppression? Really? Is that the best you can do? Maybe it was intended as some kind of subversive statement, but most likely the poor sap handling the music just doesn't know any better.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Man, I Really Like The Economist

Leave it to the British to take their own language to task in an entertaining and informative way.

No More Games (kind of...)

I have decided that I will not spend money* on games for the rest of the year. Why am I taking such a drastic step when playing games is my primary hobby? Well, it turns out that I own a lot of games. This wouldn't be such a big problem if I was playing them all the time, but it seems that I spend most of my time playing other people's games, and not my own. I have a relatively small handful of games that I play using my own copy, so I figure why spend money on something that I'm not going to play? This is also a way to attempt to get some actual play from the games that I already own.

*"money" is defined as cash/check/credit card. If I get a gift card, and thus can buy something without spending actual money out of pocket, then that is a totally acceptable loop hole.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Vuvuzelas for BP

If you have watched any of the world cup matches you will have heard what sounds like a swarm of insects in the background. This is not because South Africa is being invaded by a horde of locusts, but rather because the locals like to blow on cheap plastic horns for two straight hours. Seeing how annoying this is, a forward-thinking individual decided to gather some money to hire people to blow vuvuzelas at the BP headquarters in the hopes of annoying the poor people who work there.

Part of me thinks that this is hilarious, and part of me thinks that this is just mean. Let's be honest here, it is the poor sods that work the trenches that will have to bear the brunt of this, as the executives can just jet off to Cabo during the whole thing and say it is a "strategy session." But, still, the idea of expressing displeasure by blasting vuvuzelas at someone is pretty hilarious.

General Update

I don't usually go almost two weeks between posts, but there hasn't been many exciting things going on. First of all, I'm working in St. Louis for the next three months or so, so I don't have any new travel stories to share. Second, I've been watching a fair number of world cup matches and while they are generally fun and interesting, putting up a blog post getting all excited about the latest David Silva goal really isn't my style.

Something interesting did happen last weekend, though, as I turned 36 years old. Oh, and on Monday I had a CT scan done of my head as one of my doctors thinks my sinuses are all messed up. But blogging about medical conditions is boring. Maybe I'll find something interesting to write about soon.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Worst Case Scenario

From xkcd.

Back when I was younger, my father liked to play a game with my brothers and I where we would try to figure out the "worst case" of whatever possible thing we could think of. If I remember correctly, the ending was always the world being destroyed in a massive fireball. That doesn't happen in this scenario, but you have to admit that James Carville riding a burning alligator is a pretty awesome image.


My trusty Impala finally got to 100,000 miles this morning on the way back from Gold's Gym. To be honest, I figured I would get here quicker than 8 years and 2 months, but it is what it is. I hope this isn't some kind of secret code to the car to start completely falling apart.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Greetings from Seattle (again)

I am back in Seattle today. I flew in this morning, did some work, ate dinner at Naan 'N Curry, and am now at one of the two Marriott Courtyards in Tukwila, WA. The thing is, it isn't completely clear why I am even here. The people I am auditing are in St. Louis, which is where I live. You would think I could audit them from there more easily than from ~1200 miles away, but I go where the client tells me to go. I'm only here for a few days, though, as I fly back to St. Louis on Wednesday. It's kind of one of those "much ado about nothing" situations where you head all over the place so that someone can watch you sit at a desk. Just watch, next week I'll be in St. Louis and be auditing people in Seattle. Ain't life something?

Saturday, June 05, 2010

A Significant Change

For as long as I can remember, I have been a pretty musical person. I have sung in choirs, I have played three different instruments, and I have purchased lots and lots of recordings over the years. When I think of past events, I tend to hear specific songs in my head that are indelibly linked to those prior events. So it might seem kind of strange to everyone that this afternoon I boxed up most every CD that I own and put them in the basement.

Why would I do such a thing? Well, it turns out that having all of my music on my iPod, and hooking said iPod up to my stereo via a simple audio cable, is a simpler way to listen to music. It also frees up some space in my living room, which is no mean feat. I got the idea to do this about three weeks ago when I took down all of the pictures and posters off the walls in my home in preparation for having a new roof put on (no use in having them fall off the wall with the constant banging and vibrations from the roofers). Rather than just putting everything back up in the same place it came from, I am taking the opportunity to redecorate. Down comes the old family picture from 1998, up goes the photo of my brother, sister-in-law, and nieces as just one example. So, I figured, while I was doing that, maybe I should deal with that pile of CDs that I really wasn't listening to anymore since I had everything on my iPod.

The only CDs left are most my anime and video game soundtracks, which were stored in a different CD rack than the others. I've got about half of those ripped to iTunes, and once I get them all (well, the ones that aren't lousy, anyway) they will also go into boxes and then I will have no music CDs left for general listening. The only impact this is going to have is on my music listening in my car. This would normally be a big sticking point, but recently I have found that I spend most of my time in the car listening to the 101.1 ESPN radio station here in town, and if I'm not listening to that I'm listening to KDHX or some other music station. So, I don't think this is going to have much of an impact at all, actually. This also means that if I can't get it digitally, I'm going to think twice about purchasing any new music on a physical CD, since I have nowhere to put it anymore.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Small World Syndrome

The hotel that I am staying at this week in Renton, WA is literally around the corner from the world headquarters of Wizards of the Coast.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled internet surfing.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


My A/C died over the weekend. I noticed last week that it was having trouble cooling my house, and then on Sunday I realized that it wasn't putting out cold air anymore. In a brilliant piece of timing, I am in Seattle this week, so I can't get it fixed until over the weekend. Which also means that I will miss my second cousin, Stephanie Nelson, getting married in Paola, KS next weekend. Then, today, I was flying to Seattle for business. Fog kept us from landing in Chicago for about two hours, which meant I missed my connection, which meant I got to sit in the Midway airport for six hours, so I completely missed what I was coming to Seattle to do, anyway. Ain't life grand?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The European Economy Explained

Leave it to the British to properly put this in perspective.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Understanding the Gulf Oil Spill

I have personally found the reporting over the Deep Horizon oil rig leak in the Gulf of Mexico to be quite lacking in technical details of the actual problem. I mean, why can't you just drop some bombs on the hole in the ground to plug it? The most recent issue of Economist has a nice breakdown of the technical difficulties facing the recovery team, as well as the various methods that are being tried to deal with it. I found it to be informative.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Charts are Fun

I like charts like this.

Car Issues

I have recently been having problems starting my car. I took it to a local auto parts store on Monday and had them test the battery. The guy said the battery was fine, but that it sounded to him like the starter was weak and/or putting too much of a strain on the battery. Well, whatever the actual problem is, yesterday after work when I went out to start my car, it just wouldn't go. One call to AAA later, I got my car jumped by a towtruck, and it started up, but the towtruck operator noted that it sounded like the starter was "hesitant." I had a coworker drive me from my hotel to the worksite, and he will take me back to the hotel to pick up my car this afternoon, and then we'll see if it will start on its own or not. Hopefully if it needs a jump we can just do that again, but either way it is going straight to the shop once I get back to St. Louis. Then I can find out if it really is a bad battery, or a bad starter, or both, or a bad wire, or a corroded connection, or what. Oh, and get the trunk opener fixed; that's annoying.

Monday, May 17, 2010

So This Is Pretty Awesome

Remember that scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Han finds a freezing Luke in the wastes of Hoth and uses Luke's lightsaber to cut open his dead Tauntaun and then puts Luke inside? Well, did you know that you can sleep in your very own Tauntaun right now? This is both "freakin' sweet" and kind of creepy at the same time. Hopefully it doesn't actually smell worse on the inside, eh?

Speaking of awesome, this past weekend I got to see my younger brother graduate with a PhD from the University of Iowa. Way to go, bro! Now finish that paper and make it actually official!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Sign of the Times, Perhaps?

Here is an interesting story about the upcoming WWII victory celebration that Russia is planning, which for the first time will involve soldiers from the Allied nations (USA, Great Britain, etc.) marching in Red Square as part of the military parade. Whatever you think of the underlying reasons (an actual acknowledgment of historical ties vs. a cheap political play), having US soldiers marching through Red Square isn't something I thought I would be hearing about any time soon.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


This past Sunday I took all of the pictures off of my walls, in preparation for the roof on my building getting replaced. It was recommended by the Homeowner's Association that if you didn't want your pictures falling off the wall during all of the banging and hammering during the roofing work, you really should take them down yourself. So I was looking at my bare walls and I realized that this is a perfect opportunity to re-think my wall decorations. The last time I made any changes at all to my wall art was 2 1/2 years ago, and most of the stuff that was up there has been up there for close to five years. So, I'm putting some thought into changing what pictures I have on the walls. I know my nature photos (spider rock and 'yellow day') are going right back where they came from, but everything else is up for review Does anyone have any suggestions for me of stuff that I should look into?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

So, Should I Join Facebook?

I've been doing this blog for almost four years now, and I have almost 500 posts in that time. However, I am wondering if anyone still reads this. Should I just join the 21st century and join Facebook like everyone else in the known universe and give up all of my privacy? I'm not sure.

I Really Want to Drink a Fanta Now

Admittedly not as awesome as the Brawndo ads, these Japanese Fanta advertisements are completely awesome. I especially like the DJ and Soap Opera ones.

North Korean Jokes

The original listing has a notation up front that the jokes aren't actually funny, but the one about the fish is hilarious, and I also like the one with the two guys in the subway car. I guess Kiwis just have trouble with black humor.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Over There

Ready for 2010 World Cup yet?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Goin' South

Greetings from sunny Orlando, Florida. I am down here for a week to visit my nieces. I'd say I was also visiting my brother and sister-in-law, but let's be honest here and acknowledge up front that they are not the actual reason for the trip. My nieces are about 3 1/2 months old at this point, and they already show different personalities and preferences. I got to see them for the first time in person at Easter, when they were in St. Louis, but I only got a few hours with them at that time. Now I get a whole week. Rumor is that I will be put to work doing various things while I am down here, like helping to move furniture around the house, but that just goes with the territory.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Clean Up Time

Today is the first day of my two-week vacation. Many people plan far in advance all of the cool things that they will do on their vacation. I, however, spent most of the day organizing and cleaning in my house, to get ready for the carpet cleaning crew coming in tomorrow. I figured this was a good excuse to do some cleaning up and sorting of things, which did not happen much during my three month stint in Detroit. I'm not totally done, but I got through a lot of it. Tomorrow I am going to go through my clothes and select stuff to give away, as my church is having its twice annual "community closet" this coming Saturday, and that is a good way to get rid of stuff I no longer need but is still perfectly usable. Once that is done with, I should be pretty much done with that. Then I can really just relax for a few days, which should also include some hiking in local parks, something that I don't do enough of.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

This Joke Almost Writes Itself

In the "headlines I never expected to see" category: Russian leaders to visit St. Louis to examine government. It's because our city government is such a model of openness and civility, I'll bet.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ignore This Post

I'm just getting an image up on the web for linking from another site.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Baseball is Here

I don't care if the Yanks and the Sawks played the first game of the season on Sunday, just about everyone else played their first game on Monday. That is also the day of the first Blue Jays season (a major choke job of a game, I must note), so I'm declaring that the first real day of the baseball season. My hometown Cardinals out-slugged the Cincinnati Reds, so people in the Lou are pretty happy today. I mean, Albert Pujols is on track to hit 324 home runs this season, so what's not to smile about? Also of critical importance is the fact that the Cubs started their season with a sixteen run performance! Don't get too excited, this IS the Cubs I'm talking about; they gave up those sixteen runs, they didn't earn those points themselves. Thus, all is right with the world.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Not in Detroit

For the first time in almost three months, Monday morning today did not find me flying to Detroit for work. Instead, I got to simply get in my own car and drive to my own office in downtown St. Louis for work, instead. It was a nice change, I must admit. Not much else to report; I had a nice weekend with the recently expanded family, but I was also sick, so I have a bit of a hazy memory about parts of it.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Even though I don't really care about college basketball, I still filled out a bracket this year on ESPN.com. I don't follow college basketball, so most of my picks were made with about five seconds of thought. Interestingly enough, I checked this morning and found that I was in the 94th percentile of all brackets on the ESPN site. There are a number of possible reasons for this result:
  • I am some kind of college basketball savant
  • I am unreasonably lucky
  • The tournament committee had no idea what they were doing when they set up the brackets this year
  • The rest of the world isn't near as smart as it likes to think it is.
I leave it up to you, dear reader, to draw your own conclusion.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sports Night

This week has been filled with work during the day, and sports at night. On Tuesday, my work team and I drove out to Auburn Hills to enjoy the Pistons/Pacers basketball game. Well, "enjoy" might be a strong word. We were at the game, but we spent maybe half of the time there actually watching the basketball game, which was pretty lousy. Seriously, only one player on the Pistons (Andrew Bynum) actually seemed to be putting forth any real effort, and the Pacers weren't much better. Anyway, we spent the rest of the evening in the club that our super swank tickets got us access to. Free food and drink the entire day, plus a great view of the parking lot. I also picked up a Pistons T-shirt for 40% off. It can't say good things about a franchise when they start selling T-shirts for almost half off and the season isn't even over yet.

Last night, I went to the Red Wings/Blues game here in Detroit, which was more enjoyable than the basketball game (because the players cared about winning), but also less enjoyable (because the Blues lost). Interestingly enough, I got to sit next to the sister and nephew of Andy McDonald, a player for the Blues. Who knew that I would be able to find some rabid Blues partisans in the heart of Red Wings country? Surely not I. I didn't even bring a jersey to the game because I didn't want to get doused in beer by the drunk locals, but they turned out to be quite well behaved, even while inebriated. Who knew?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lehman Brothers, the Post-Mortem

So, the Valukas Report is out on the downfall of Lehman Brothers. Those of you with adult attention spans may note that Lehman Brothers was the Wall Street investment bank that Paul Volker, then the Treasury Secretary, allowed to go bankrupt. Then the banking world quite literally blew up and the government felt obliged to use my tax money to pay bonuses to AIG executives because they had lost so much money they couldn't afford to pay for those bonuses (or anything else) on their own.

I haven't read the entire report. I mean, it's 2200 pages, and I don't have a stake in the inevitable lawsuits. I did read the executive summary, though, and things look bad for some former Lehman executives. Not that they care, of course. It gave me flashbacks to when I recently watched the documentary The Smartest Guys in the Room, about the failure of Enron, where you see that executive management knew that they were cheating and just didn't give a damn. Just crazy stuff.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I Don't Know How To Respond To This

Everyone once in a while I come across something so indescribable, I just don't know how to respond. I mean, you took only God knows how much of your valuable free time to create this? Really? Yeah, it's awesome, but really? Wow.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Unsorted Thoughts From Last Night's Detroit/Calgary Hockey Game

  • Joe Louis Arena (hereafter referred to as "The Joe") is old. It is so old that they didn't build a sound system into the arena, they just have a bunch of speakers hanging from the ceiling over the jumbotron. It looked like when you walk into a church that was built in the '60s and then they had to jury-rig some contraption to hang speakers when they realized that sound systems were useful inventions.
  • The jumbotron hanging over center ice couldn't be any newer than 1985. I've seen college rinks with nicer jumbotrons. The video screens had obviously been redone at some point, but the rest of it screamed "old school."
  • The Wings have over 50 banners hanging from the rafters, including eleven Stanley Cup champion banners. The Wings have been around for about twice as long as the St. Louis Blues, and they have 11 Stanley Cup banners (very roughly, one championship ever eight years), while we have bupkis. Depressing.
  • It had been a number of years since I sat in a seat near the top of the upper bowl, and had forgotten the unintentional hilarity of sitting near guys who obviously started pounding their alcohol at least two hours before they even opened the doors to the arena.
  • The attendees at last night's game had obviously not gotten over the US/Canada Olympic gold medal game, no matter which side of the Detroit River they hailed from. I heard more than one random "&#*% Crosby!" at completely inappropriate points, followed by cackling from the Canucks in the building.
  • The most obnoxious Flames fan in my section was wearing a San Jose Sharks Joe Thornton jersey, so it was hard to figure out why he was rooting for the Flames. Maybe he just roots for all Canadian teams?
  • The Joe looks smaller than the Scottrade Center, but I don't think there is a bad seat in the entire place. I could almost touch the ceiling I was so high up, but I had a good view of the action. Well, except when those jerks started walking down the stairs and then stopped and stood right in my line of sight while Calgary scored their final goal, but the only cure for stupidity is pretty permanent and not legal in most civilized countries, so I refrained.
  • Inside The Joe you can get Tim Horton's vanilla dip donuts with red and white sprinkles. I was sorely tempted to get one.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Sometimes Things Actually Work Out

The Saturday before last I had the extreme pleasure of watching a part of one of my teeth ping off of the bathroom mirror while I was flossing. Well, actually, it was part of a partial porcelain crown that had been put on that tooth almost four years ago, but the important thing is that what should have been securely fashioned in my mouth was instead flying through the air and bouncing around the room. On the plus side, there was no pain involved, or cold sensitivity, or anything that would indicate actual damage to the tooth material. Instead, the porcelain addition just broke off. I was pretty sure that the dentist would use this as an excuse to charge me hundreds of dollars to completely redo the original work. Instead, they just glued the piece right back in place (thankfully I had saved it) and shaved a bit off the top so that there is a little less impact when I chew, and that was that. Didn't even charge me anything. Hey, sometimes things work out OK.

Monday, March 01, 2010

A Voice of Reason

When I lived in the Washington, D.C. area I generally avoided the Washington Times newspaper. It wasn't that its reporting was horrible, but its editorials were written by people who could only see one side of an issue, and defended the Republican cause to the death no matter how wrong-headed or outright dumb it might be. Granted, the Washington Post generally does this for the Democrats, but at least the Post occasionally admits that some issues have certain shades of grey that require thought. Anyway, so I generally ignore the Times. However, one of their "community" writers, Jim Picht, is consistently good, and quite level headed. I have no idea how he got a job writing for the Times, but there it is. He has some pretty good things to say about the current "government is broken" meme that I completely agree with, having worked for Congress for over five years. The system is working exactly as it was intended to by those who wrote the rules 200+ years ago. And where there is failure, it belongs to the voters for putting utter nimrods in high office.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

So, Curling

The most interesting thing to come out of my own watching of this year's Winter Olympics is that I have spent a significant amount of my time watching curling matches, both men's and women's. And not just ones where the US team is competing, but all kinds of different matches. Admittedly, part of this is because I am daily checking out MSNBC and CNBC to see which one is showing a hockey game (NBC, in its Universal (get it? It's a joke!) wisdom, changes it up constantly so that I have to check both channels every day), but it turns out that the game itself has much more strategic depth than I had been led to believe by jokes on TV talk shows back when curling first became an Olympic sport. It also doesn't hurt that the participants are not ugly people, in general. I even remember back a few years ago when I was out bowling with some co-workers up in Seattle and one of them mentioned that the way I bowl reminded him of the way that throwers throw stones, in that I get down and low during my release. I even think I would like to give curling a try some time, just to experience the sport first hand. Anyone know if there are tournaments in St. Louis?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tolkien the Poet

I know the man wrote a lot more stuff than just his famous Middle-Earth stories, but I still get surprised when I come across other cool stuff he wrote, like this.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Joining the 21st Century

So, I am getting ready to wrap up my sixth straight work week in Detroit. Six weeks is my longest straight out of town deployment period yet in my career, matching some earlier projects, but this is only half way there with my current project. We'll see how I handle it as I continue to set new personal records every week. One thing has certainly helped, though; my new iPod. Right after Christmas I splurged on a brand new 64gb iPod touch, with the intent of just packing all of my electronic entertainment on it rather than trying to bring multiple DVDs with me, or having to select what albums/songs I wanted to put on my old 2gb iPod every week. Now I can just have the entire thing in my bag at all times. I realize that people with full-size iPods figured this out years ago, but it really is nice to have your entire collection readily available whenever you want it. Interestingly, I find that I am using my iPod more to watch TV shows than I use it to listen to music. I also have some of my favorite YouTube videos that I encoded to MP4 format on my iPod as well (like Terry Tate and Auto-Tune the News), which is fun. I haven't done much with games on the iPod yet, but I'm sure I will get there before too long.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Spending Money

So, this weekend I spent the most money I have ever spent in one place at any one time for consumer goods, outside of a computer purchase. Jos. A. Bank was having a big suit sale, and I needed to replace a couple of my current suits (which have gotten too small with age; it couldn't be that I have gotten too big!), so off I went. I also needed a new topcoat, as my old one, which I had been using since 1998, was simply too small and was too tight across the chest. Oh, and my suitcase that I use for my Detroit trips broke on me (the handle would no longer come up), so it needed to be replaced, as well. It turned out that everything I needed was on sale, so I pretty much spent 1 1/2 hours in one store and got it all. Oh, and a new tie, too. I've learned over the years that I really like nicer suits (as opposed to my typical JCP purchases), but they cost too much at regular price. However, when you can get three suits for ~$700, that becomes a good strike price for a good quality tailored suit.

So, yeah, I spent a lot of money. I'm a bit surprised Mastercard didn't call me to find out what was going on, as that definitely did not fit my standard purchasing pattern.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Academy

This kind of thing is why I got a business degree.

Sleep is For the Weak!

This past week in Detroit started out promisingly, but soon decomposed into my own private version of hell. See, last week my colleague and I worked our tails off to finish up a large accounting review project. We then gave it to the manager, who sat in it for almost a week, to the point where I had to remind him to look the thing over. He did, and decided that he wanted the whole thing re-written in a different way. Granted, his way is better organized than what we had originally, but since it was due TODAY, it kicked off a flurry of work that involved even later nights than last week, including a Wed-Thu all nighter in which I got at most 40 minutes of sleep. Yeah, that wasn't much fun. I did survive to the end of the week, though, and I have discovered that I can get by on much less sleep than I would have guessed. Who knew!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

St. Louis is "Distinctive"

According to fancy-pants people in D.C., anyway. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has put St. Louis on their current list of 12 "distinctive cities, and now St. Louis is in competition with a bunch of places I have never heard of (and some I have) for the top position. What does it all mean? Who knows? Probably that we're old and have old buildings that old people think are cool, or something.

Monday, February 08, 2010

More People Have Jobs, Yet Unemployment Is Up?

Did you happen to catch the most recent jobs report coming from the government? First-time unemployment benefits requests went up 20,000 in January, yet unemployment dropped from 10% to 9.7%. What the heck? It turns out that the professionals are trying to figure out what is going on just as much as the rest of us, but did you know that those figures come from two different reports? I just recently learned that, myself. And government statistics get adjusted at least twice in the months after they are first issued, so the bottom line is that nobody actually knows what is going on. News reports sure could try to minimize the confusion, though.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Klingon Attack

The last time I wrote about a game in my collection, it was Federation Commander, a Star Trek-themed board game of starship combat. While the base games are completely playable on their own, the publisher has put out many expansions. Since the first one came up randomly as the next game to discuss, let's see what the first expansion pack, Klingon Attack, has to offer.

As you might expect from the name, the Klingon Empire is the focus of this expansion, though all of the factions in the Klingon Border base set are dealt with. Specifically, this expansion gives you new starships, new map boards (featuring planets on them), new scenarios, and new counters for the new ships. While not required to obtain enjoyment from the base game, this expansion provides more options to players of the games. The new scenarios and new ships provide new game play opportunities, while the extra ships allows you to play out larger battles and provide more tactical options to the players as they select their forces, even for the scenarios included in the basic game.

This particular expansion does not provide any new ship systems or rules, but other expansions do. This is generally kept to a minimum (with Distant Kingdoms being a notable exception), though, with each expansion focusing on providing new ships and scenarios for a specific number of factions. if you plan to play the game enough, the expansions are worth picking up, but are not necessary for more casual play.

That Wasn't Fun

Sorry for dropping off the face of the earth last week, but it was pretty crazy. I don't think I had a workday less than 11 hours this entire week, punctuated by last evening's two hour delay at the airport due to a mechanical problem on the plane I was supposed to be flying out of Detroit on. At least I eventually did get out of the D, and back to the Lou, in one piece. I am still trying to recover from the lack of sleep, though. Thank God for 5 Hour Energy shots!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Television News Reporting Explained

You know it's true.

(via Dean's World)

Monday, January 25, 2010

How YOU Doin'?

Hello, everybody. Back in Detroit for another week of delirious fun and excitement reviewing year-end journal entries. Speaking of delirious fun and excitement, those were a couple good football games on Sunday (not that I got to see much of them). I especially loved the perfect ending to the Saints/Vikings game. You can put me in the "Brett Favre, please go away forever" camp, as the man annoys me, but how about that last throw, eh? Brilliant stuff, perfectly scripted.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Primarily A Question For My Brother

Hey, Mark, this book sounds interesting. Think it is worth reading?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tell Me Something I Don't Know

I-270 in St. Louis called one of nation’s worst commutes.

In other news, human beings breath air. I do like the following line in the article:
The Daily Beast ranks I-270 — particularly southbound at Dougherty Ferry Rd/Exit 8 — No. 45 on its list of 75 congested “highways to hell.”
Yeah, that would be MY exit, so I know all about this particular piece of fun.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Back in 'The D'

As opposed to last week's travel adventure, things are different this week. First, my luggage arrived on time. In fact, it was the most on time luggage pickup in history. Literally, as I walked up to the carousel it started spitting out bags, and right when I got to the opposite side of the carousel, where the bags come out, there came out my bag. I literally didn't need to stop moving, just grabbed it right away and off I went. In other news, maybe I should try this to make sure I never lose a bag again. Seems a bit extreme, though.

Tomorrow I am supposed to be heading to the North American International Auto Show with some coworkers. I haven't been to a real auto show since 1992 at the latest (maybe it was 1991), so I'm not really sure what to expect. I did bring my camera, so I might even have some cool pictures for you in the next week or so.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Federation Commander

In the beginning, was Star Fleet Battles. Back in the 1970s, a group of guys in Amarillo Texas got together, obtained a license to use material from the Star Fleet Technical Manual (which contained technical details about ships from the Star Trek series), and created what many people consider to be the greatest starship combat game of all time. Back when I was in high school and in my undergraduate years at university, I played quite a bit of Star Fleet Battles (SFB). However, the game does have a downside, in that it is quite complex. Those of you who have never played it simply can't understand how complex it can get. If you played a scenario with all of the rules, those rules would number well over 1,000 pages. Craziness, though being able to handle that much game certainly puts one in the annals of greatest gamers of all time. Because the game was so good, it was successful despite its complexity, and stayed a regular seller over the years.

Fast forward to 2005, and the company that still publishes SFB put out a brand new game line, set in the same general universe, called Federation Commander. The basic concept of the new game was "let's take everything cool about SFB, and make it less complex." I am happy to say that the new design is very successful, and has everything I like about SFB in a package that I can actually play. Most elements of SFB are streamlined in Federation Commander, but all the cool stuff is still there. You still allocate power at the beginning of each turn, but it is no longer a strait jacket on you. You still have lots of impulses, but they are bunched up now, so it is easier to deal with. You still maneuver and fire weapons in the same way, but there are set weapons firing points. It is all there, but doesn't take as much time as SFB does.

The publishers did do something a bit odd, though, with the game. Sticking with the SFB model, every few months they are putting out a new module for the game. Each module adds new ships, or even new races. However, rather than there being one base set, there are two separate starter sets: Klingon Border, and Romulan Border. Both sets come with six map boards and the full rulebook, but they each have different ships and races. Both come with Federation ships, but Klingon Border has the Klingons (duh), Kzinti, and Tholians, while Romulan Border comes with Romulans (duh) and Gorn. I do not have the Romulan Border set, but I do have the Klingon Border set, because Klingons are rad to the max, even if I don't play them very well.

The basic gameplay consists of using your available energy (produced by engines) to power your engines for speed, your weapons for firepower, and your shields for protection. Damage goes first against your shields, but if it eliminates a shield then further damage goes straight to your ship. There is a damage track that you roll a die on if you take damage, and then you mark off the relevant damage to your ship on your handy data card. In a net, yet money-grubbing, approach, Federation Commander ship cards are all laminated and full color, rather than the black and white pages you photocopied out of a book for SFB. I really like using the dry erase markers to keep track of stuff on the new cards, but they don't give you quite enough for large battles. Too handle this, they will happily sell you "booster packs" containing additional cards. And, to make it necessary to buy these, each one of them comes with at least one brand new ship card not appearing anywhere else. So, if you want all the ships, you have to buy all the booster packs. Sneaky one, guys.

For a game about giant spaceships slugging it out, maneuver plays a surprisingly important role in things. Just charging straight in, guns blazing, only works well if you have a much more powerful ship than your opponent. Instead, the game is one of maneuver, where you use missiles and perhaps other ships (if your side has more than one) to try to put your target into a position where you consistently hit the same shield with multiple weapons. While doing this, you are trying to make sure that your opponent has to spread his shots across multiple shields on your ship(s). One of these days I am going to get good at the maneuver part of the game, but currently I tend to find myself pincered by the people I play against, and then I end up with a ship resembling Swiss cheese. Ah, well.

So, yeah, Federation Commander is great. If you like games of starship combat, you will be hard-pressed to find anything better.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Greetings from Detroit

I successfully made it to Detroit this week. I happened to arrive in the city ahead of schedule, but my luggage did not. Yes, Delta made a hash of getting my luggage onto the right plane in St. Louis it seems. So, I arrived in Detroit ready to go, while my bag was in the Bahamas or something. Wherever it was, the weather was likely better than in Detroit, where it snowed all day. At least I got to be inside. The upside is that my luggage did actually finally get in my hands about 10:40 last evening, so I had clean clothes to wear today. That is always a good thing, something that I am sure my coworkers will appreciate.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Settlers of Catan

Today I am covering one of the most famous boardgames of the last two decades, The Settlers of Catan. This game is considered by many to be single-handedly responsible for the uptick in boardgame play in the U.S. over the last fifteen years or so. I don't know how much truth there is to that, but I do feel that the current popularity of "euro" games would have been muted without the breakway success of Settlers, a German design. Catan is also one of only a handful of games that have successfully broken out of the "hobbyist" market that most board games are sold to, selling millions of copies around the world.

So, how is the game actually played? The basic gist of the game is that you are trying to develop the island, and are competing with the other players to develop the fastest. Every player starts out with two settlements and two road sections. Every round you collect resources and try to build more roads and settlements. You can also upgrade settlements to cities. The last thing you can do is buy special cards that will either give you special abilities or give you victory points.

The basics of play are simple, but there is a lot of strategic depth to the game. First, the playing board is made of a bunch of different hexagonal tiles, which are randomly laid out. Each tile represents a type of terrain, most of which produce resources of some kind or contain a port where you can trade resources with the bank. The non-water tiles will have a number on them (with one exception), and then on every player's turn two dice are rolled to produce a number, and all tiles with that number produce their resources. If a player has a settlement or city next to that tile, then they get to gather those resources. That is pretty simple, but it is a total race to get settlements in place around resource tiles before another player cuts you off, as there are spacing requirements around settlements. You can also use roads to cut off access to parts of the board, as new settlements must be built on your roads, and only one player can have a road in any specific section. Thus, play can get pretty intense, and the initial placement of settlements and roads is usually critical to eventual success or failure.

Settlers is published in the U.S. by Mayfair Games, and they are currently on the 4th printing of the game. I actually have the original Mayfair version of the game, which admittedly is a bit worn, but it still works. The only real problem with the game is that it is for three or four players only. They sell an expansion that allows up to six players to play the game, but I have never played with it. I can't say that I am really good at this game, but I can usually hold my own and be competitive. If you have not played strategy games before, and are looking for a relatively inexpensive game to try out to see if you will like them or not, Settlers is a good game to try.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


A quick turnaround this time. The randomly selected game this time is Helltank, a small game of futuristic armored combat published in 1981 by Metagaming. This game fills the same genre as Ogre and G.E.V., games which I have enjoyed for years. Both games cover armored combat in the 21st century, but there are differences. Helltank, unlike Ogre, doesn't assume that everyone goes to tactical nuclear weapons, and it doesn't include cybernetic units. Helltank also has more unit types, including attack helicopters and "air cruisers," magnetic levitation weapons platforms that fly. Cool beans! Another differences is that where Ogre/G.E.V. just gives you a certain amount of units to play with, with Helltank you have to pick one of seven different time periods, which impacts what units are available, as well as what those units cost.

Game play in Helltank is relatively simple, though there are some complexities. Every unit has a movement type, a combat range, a movement allowance, and an evasion movement allowance. When evading, you move faster, and are harder to hit, but you can't fire. Critically, as long as your unit hasn't fired yet this turn, you can put it into Evasion movement as soon as you are fired upon. Units that haven't fired yet this turn can also interrupt an enemy unit's movement to opportunity fire on them outside of the normal turn order.

The combat system itself is different from what I am used to. Most games like this give each unit a combat factor, and then you compare that to a defensive factor on a chart and try to beat the target number on a die roll. This game, however, simply has a large chart where you compare the firing unit to the target unit, and you are given a target number to roll under or equal to. You then apply a lot of die roll modifiers (for terrain, evasion, etc.) to that roll. The end result isn't that different from what I am used to, but it allows for certain units to be really deadly against certain units, but pathetic against other units (like AA units being good against helicopters, but not against tanks).

The game comes with enough different units so that there is a lot of variety in games, even if you play the same scenarios again and again. One thing that I feel is lacking is a regular infantry unit. The game comes with jet-pack infantry, but where are the regular ground-pounders? I can't come up with a good reason for their absence. Additionally, the game comes with only one map. Granted, there is a good variety of terrain there, but after a few games it would get old fast. It looks like you can use maps from other games pretty easily, though, so if your collection is big enough that shouldn't be a huge problem.

In the end, I can't help but compare this game to Ogre/G.E.V., and I find that while the game has some differences, I still like it. In fact, my ratings at boardgamegeek are identical for both games. They play in the same sandbox, but they do different things, and that is OK.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Tea Tabulation

In a post yesterday I noted that I was out from work because I was sick. Well, I am definitely getting over it. In fact, today I started feeling pretty normal, but I was still out of work, so I wanted something to do. What I ended up doing was going through all of the tea that I have and listing it out. I had wanted to do this for a while, because I was curious what I had accumulated. Well, let's just say that there was more of it than I had remembered. I am listing the name of the tea, and then the brand is in parenthesis after. If the tea is loose (i.e., not in bags) than that is noted after the name. Any special notes are at the end.

Actual Teas (i.e., not herbal concoctions)
Caramel Vanilla (Republic of Tea)
Coconut Chai (World Market)
Vanilla Mandarin (World Market)
Goji Raspberry Green (Republic of Tea)
Sweet Coconut Tai Chai (Celestial Seasonings) - I have two different coconut chai styles because this one is decaf
Pu-Erh loose (World Market)
Genmaicha loose (SereneTeaz) - a Christmas gift from my brother, Mark, this is green tea mixed with puffed rice. It is pretty odd
Black Currant (Twinings)
Blackberry Sage (Republic of Tea)
Wild Maine Blueberry (Republic of Tea)
Black Currant (Stewart's) - last year I got both of my Black Currant teas from my mother. I haven't even opened this one yet
Pear Luna loose (Teavana)
Island Oolong loose (World Market)
Darjeeling Choice Estate loose (World Market)
Dragon Well loose (World Market)
Peach loose (Kaffee Klatch) - this stuff makes great iced tea in the summer
Orange Sencha loose (Two Leaves and a Bud) - picked this up in a fancy tea shop in California during vacation in 2007; still unopened
Orange Flower Oolong loose (Octavia Tea) - picked up at same tea shop in California in 2007; this stuff is awesome)
Blueberry White loose (Archer Farms) - purchased at Target, of all places
Green Jasmine loose (Archer Farms)
Sencha loose (Teavana)
Ceylon Kenilworth loose (Teavana) - the Kenilworth plantation produces the best Ceylon tea, in my opinion
English Breakfast loose (Teavana)

Herbal Teas
Dream by the Fire Cinnamon & Vanilla (Republic of Tea)
Spiced Apple Cider (Republic of Tea) - not as good as it should have been
Orange Spice loose (Hartley's Herbs) - whoa, I forgot I had this. This stuff is a good eight years old at least, and probably not worth consuming anymore. Still smells good, though. The oddest herbal tea ever, it looks like a bunch of moss with sticks and stuff in it
Tangerine Orange Zinger (Celestial Seasonings)
Chamomile (Full Circle)
Tension Tamer (Celestial Seasonings) - this stuff has catnip in it, for real
Organic Mint Melange (Trader Joe's)
Chocolate Roasted Mate (World Market)
Plantation Lemonade (Eastern Shore Tea Company) - this was supposed to taste like pink lemonade, according to the container; they lied to me
Herbal Unwind (Twinings)
Chimayo Sunset (New Mexico Pinon Coffee) - another thing I forgot I had that is probably too old to use anymore; includes actual dried New Mexico pinon bush

... now that is a long list. Maybe I should stop buying new tea until I get this stuff drunk.