April 2007

  • Game Night: 24 April 2007 – Marvel Heroes


    I had planned to do a complete session report for Marvel Heroes, the strategy board game by Fantasy Flight Games, but thanks to a long day at work on Wednesday I didn’t get to it right away and most of the details have evaporated. Instead of a full session report, here are some of the highlights I do remember:

    • Unlikely Outcomes: When the Green Goblin goes up against The Incredible Hulk, the end result should be one squished goblin. Thanks to some truly awful dice rolling, it was the Hulk who wound up taking a powder, while the Goblin went on to threaten Iron Man. Also unusual: Avalanche beat down Wolverine and the Dread Dormammu sent Captain America packing. Some of this was due to bad dice rolls, but there was also some excellent use of villains as backups, which allowed for re-rolling, stats enhancement and other sneaky tricks.
    • Awesome Soundtrack: Gus scoured his music collection to put together a excellent playlist of superhero theme songs (Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, The Greatest American Hero) and superhero-themed songs (“Superman’s Song” by Crash Test Dummies, “Superman” by Five For Fighting, and “Ode to a Superhero” an excellent parody of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” by Weird Al Yankovic).
    • Cheap Victory: I led the Uncanny X-Men (Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm and Jean Gray) to victory in our first game, but a review of the rules between games revealed that I had interpreted one of the key rules incorrectly, giving me the Arch-Nemesis token throughout the game when it should have gone to Gus or Miscellaneous G™.
    • The Learning Curve: It’s not all that difficult to learn Marvel Heroes, but we were all starting from scratch and it took me most of the first game to get used to the turn sequences and all the various phases and sub-phases within each turn. As a result, the game felt a little flat to me. It wasn’t until the middle of the second game that we really started to understand how Mastermind Villains worked (and even after two games we’d never had a hero and a Mastermind Villain go head-to-head in combat).

    I definitely think Marvel Heroes will make another appearance at Game Night, and now that we’re more familiar with the rules we should be able to concentrate more on the heroics and less on the crunchy rules.

  • Geekstuff: Random Tidbits for April


    Here’s a little rundown on what’s been flipping my Geek Switch lately.

    • Over the weekend I learned that Wizards of the Coast is releasing the Star Wars Saga Edition RPG in May. I like what I’ve read about the new system so far, especially the simplified Skills system.
    • On deck for Game Night tomorrow: Marvel Heroes strategy board game from Fantasy Flight Games. I’m really looking forward to playing this and I’m sure I’ll have a full play report sometime Wednesday.
    • I’m going to attend Origins in July, but I think I’m going to skip GenCon this year.
    • TMNT was a fun movie. I really liked the style of the animation, the story was fun and fast-paced, and it didn’t pander to the under ten crowd too much.
    • Forests of the Night by S. Andrew Swann is part sci-fi, part conspiracy thriller, part murder mystery. Oh, and it takes place in Cleveland, which is cool. The story involves a genetically-engineered tiger private detective who is investigating the murder of a human.
    • Maximum Ride: School’s Out — Forever by James Patterson was a quick read. The chapters are each only a few pages long, so a lot of the book is white space. It’s an interesting yarn, but I could do without the talking dog. Really.
    • I ditched my Song of Susannah CD set at Half Price Books today. I think Stephen King jumped the shark in the sixth installment of his Dark Tower series, and I’m not looking forward to reading (or listening to) the seventh and final book.
    • I deleted ten episodes of Battlestar Galactica without watching them. New TiVo rule: if the idea of watching the backlog seems like a chore, just delete them; I’ve got better things to do with my time than feel guilty about not watching a blasted television show.
    • Laura and I decided not to continue watching LOST after the show came back from its hiatus. How long can you string us along without really revealing anything? Two and a half seasons, I guess.
    • SciFi Channel will be showing Lake Placid 2 this Saturday (28 April) at 9:00pm. The original Lake Placid — about a killer crocodile menacing a lake in Maine — was written by David E. Kelley, who co-created Doogie Howser, M.D. and was one of the main writers on Ally McBeal. Not surprisingly, Kelley didn’t write the sequel. Instead of Bill Pullman and Betty White, the sequel stars John Schneider and Cloris Leachman. I’m going to watch it so you don’t have to.
    • The first season of The Dresden Files wrapped up a week ago on SciFi. Enough with these short seasons! I want a full twenty-plus episodes in a season! Raines, I’m looking at you, too.
    • I watched Fire Serpent over the weekend. The movie was touted as being “from the mind of William Shatner.” Normally, I’m all in favor of open-mindedness, but after sitting through this stinker I’d kind of like Bill to close his mind a little bit.
    • Speaking of Shatner, there are rumblings that his DVD club will be revived in the near future. Where do I send my membership fee?
  • 5 O’ Clock Shadow: Bonefish Grill


    Bonefish Grill
    Yesterday’s 5 o’ clock shadow picture was taken a little after 9:00 at the Bonefish Grill in Willow Grove, PA. As you can probably tell, I was in a lousy mood after a second less-than-spectacular day at the office. I’ll skip the boring details; it should be sufficient to say that our upgrade did not go as planned.

    In my college Creative Writing class, I learned that ascribing human feelings and/or thoughts to inanimate natural objects is called a pathetic fallacy. This was true when the rain stopped (“its work finished” or something along those lines was what I wrote) after washing Jimmy’s blood off the roof and I suppose it’s true now. The weather in Huntingdon Valley is overcast and rainy, reflecting the general mood here.

    We’ll be wrapping up here shortly and then hopping on a plane back to sunny northeast Ohio. Surely it’s sunny in northeast Ohio.

  • Computerstuff: What’s in a name?


    As I mentioned recently I name my computers after characters played by George Peppard; my Windows XP box is Hannibal, after Hannibal Smith in The A-Team and my Ubuntu Linux box is Banacek, after the title character in the television show of the same name. Gerall Kahla calls this The George Peppard Paradigm and correctly observes that “hardware jocks” often give their rigs names that follow a certain theme.

    In the past, I’ve used a Star Wars naming theme; before Hannibal was Hannibal it was Vader and another Linux box was Fett. 1The same Linux box was also YTBN at one point: Yet To Be Named. My HP 48SX calculator—arguably the first “computer” I owned—is named Torquemada, but I’ve never established an actual Spanish Inquisition theme.

    Laura’s desktop, which she’s had about five years, is named Eeyore, after the donkey in A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. When we bought her laptop in January I expected that she would name it Piglet or perhaps even Pooh (but certainly not Tigger). Instead, she named it Emily, after poet Emily Dickinson. The theme is a little more abstract than those I choose; Gerall might call it The Stuff Laura Likes Paradigm.

    Do you name your computer(s)? If so, what inspires you to choose the names you do?

    1 The same Linux box was also YTBN at one point: Yet To Be Named.
  • Computerstuff: Hannibal Sinking


    Ultra Mid-Tower CaseBack in early March, I bought an Ultra Wizard Mid-Tower case from Fry’s, not because I needed a new case, but because the case was $2.50 after a $40 mail-in rebate.This assumes the rebate actually arrives in the mail, which it has yet to do. The case sat in the box until late last weekend when I decided it was time to rip out Hannibal’s 1Smith, not Lecter. My PCs are named after George Peppard characters. It’s a good thing I don’t have more than two, because after “Banacek” I’m pretty much out of names. guts and transfer them to the new case.

    It was only after I had installed the motherboard and all five drives in the new case that I realized my existing 92mm case fan wouldn’t fit. The Wizard has space for two fans: one 120mm fan in the back of the case and an 80mm fan in the front. Not wanting to risk overheating any of the components, I put the project aside until last night when—two new fans in hand—I dove back into Hannibal’s innards.

    It wasn’t pretty. After I connected all of the cables and fired up the machine I found that Windows XP wasn’t seeing my main applications drive. Plenty of cable reseating and system rebooting later I determined that the problem was most likely a bad IDE cable. After replacing the cable, the drive was once again where it should be, but Norton Internet Security 2007 was reporting an error that—according to Symantec’s support page—required reinstallation of the product. Hoorah.

    Once I had the Norton reinstall straightened out, I decided to run some of the diagnostic tools on the Ultimate Boot CD to make sure everything was working properly. Everything checked out fine until I ran PowerMax, Maxtor’s hard drive diagnostic utility on my data drive; the tool immediately indicated that the drive was failing and suggested I visit Maxtor’s website to determine the nature of the failure based on a hex code generated by PowerMax. Oh, goody.In hindsight, I probably should have seen this coming. A few weeks ago, I noticed that iTunes had misplaced a number of MP3s from my library; this was probably an early warning sign that something was amiss with the drive.

    Unfortunately, Maxtor has been acquired by Seagate, and for reasons I cannot begin to fathom the the page detailing the PowerMax diagnostic codes is inaccessible. The drive is failing but Seagate doesn’t seem to want to tell me what’s wrong with it.

    I had already planned to steal Eeyore’s external backup drive, 2Laura’s desktop is named after a mopey donkey; her laptop is named after Emily Dickinson. I offer no commentary on this, merely simple fact. but Hannibal’s failing hard drive made it an imperative, so I scavenged the USB 2.0 card from Eeyore and stole the 17″ LCD monitor while I was at it. Score!

    Now that I’ve back up the roughly 60 GB of data from the failing drive to the Maxtor OneTouch external drive and moved the bulk of my documents onto my 80 GB applications drive, I’m faced with the fact that I’ve got a 160 GB hard drive that could turn into a brick at any time; clearly, it will need to be replaced.

    The problem with replacing the hard drive the investment starts moving into the territory of real money. The case and two fans set me back less than thirty bucks (again, assuming the rebate arrives), which is fine, but the idea of spending a hundred dollars or more on a computer that is in the neighborhood of seven years old doesn’t sit well with me. A hundred bucks represents a fifth of the cost of a new, low-end desktop system and today’s low-end systems make Hannibal look like Matlock.

    1 Smith, not Lecter. My PCs are named after George Peppard characters. It’s a good thing I don’t have more than two, because after “Banacek” I’m pretty much out of names.
    2 Laura’s desktop is named after a mopey donkey; her laptop is named after Emily Dickinson. I offer no commentary on this, merely simple fact.
  • 5 o’ Clock Shadow: Spectacles


    5 o' Clock Shadow - 12 April 2007

    One of the things I like about The Colbert Report is how Stephen Colbert handles his glasses. It’s easy enough to add dramatic emphasis by whipping off one’s glasses and gesticulating angrily, but what I really enjoy is the way Stephen pushes his glasses up on his nose. It’s a simple motion, but Colbert does it very deliberately and with an air of dignity.

    As a spectacle-wearer, I’m all too familiar with the tendency of eyewear to slide down the bridge of the nose. Short of nailing the silicone pads in place, there’s little that can be done to prevent the friction-reducing effects of moisture and skin oils from allowing gravity to dragging my glasses inexorably toward the center of the Earth.

    Over the past twenty (!) years, I’ve developed a technique for pushing my glasses up on my nose, but since The Colbert Report premiered I realized that my method — thumb and forefinger placed on either side of the nose, drawn upward and coming together at the bridge, bringing the glasses up with them — is inelegant, if not downright Cro-Magnon.

    Colbert employs two methods when adjusting his glasses. The first, which I am demonstrating in today’s five o’ clock shadow photo is to grasp the top and bottom of one lens and lift the glasses into their preferred position. This method, done properly, is powerful and effective, exuding confidence, style and class. Executed poorly, it makes you look like the mutant superhero Cyclops (fear my eye beams!), who even the most die-hard X-Men fan will admit is a complete tool.

    The second method Colbert uses—pushing directly on the bridge with his middle finger, his index finger curled toward his palm but his ring and little fingers splayed apart. This method is more emphatic and deliberate than the first, but positioning hand and wrist in front of the face makes it somewhat less dignified. This method works best during a dramatic pause, while the frame-adjust method can be executed at any time.

    Regardless of the method, I admire Colbert’s ability to inject drama and even gravitas into the simplest of activities, and use it to enhance the character he has created for The Colbert Report. Don’t ever switch to contacts, Stephen.

  • Geekstuff: Orc Warrior


    Orc WarriorWhen I began taking pictures of myself every(ish) weekday at five o’ clock I had no idea of the potential consequences. Case in point, the orc warrior drawn by Natalie (The Fuzzy Slug) and inspired by the picture from 28 March.

    The orc is as yet unnamed, but Natalie has suggested Kronk the Jubilant and Sam Chupp has suggested that he is clearly “Warrior Ootj’k, of the G’nprah Clan, which is part of the Yekn’m Tribe. Either way, kudos to Natalie for taking a goofy picture and turning it into excellent (if still goofy) art!

  • 5 O’Clock Shadow – 09 April 2007


    5 O'Clock Shadow - 09 April 2007If this works, I may love Flickr forever. After uploading today’s 5 o’clock shadow picture, I noticed the “Blog This” button above the image (yeah, I’m not always this quick on the uptake). I clicked it, configured my blog settings and preferences (there’s a direct hook into the WordPress API, sweet!) and here I am, writing a post directly from Flickr. I imagine I’ll have to go into WordPress to tweak the tags and possibly the category (honestly, I’m all but ignoring categories in favor of tags these days, which is probably not the best practice).

    I was using the Flickr Photo Album plugin to import photos into blog posts, but I deactivated the plugin when I discovered it was rewriting my tag links to point to non-existent Flickr photo albums. Perhaps that’s the preferred method for those whose WordPress blog is a photo album in disguise, but I put those tags there for a reason and not every post is a photo post, so I want the tags to link to a list of related posts.

    At any rate, today’s five o’clock shadow is brought to you by Flickr’s integrated blogging function and by Miscellaneous G™, who bought me a fez once upon a yesterday.

  • Webstuff: Twitter and Jaiku


    I signed up for a Twitter account in late February after hearing about the service on the technology podcast This Week in Tech (coincidentally known as TWiT). A couple of days ago, Leo Laporte — the head TWiT and probably the most friended person on Twitter — announced on his blog that he was switching from Twitter to Jaiku in an effort to create distance and distinction between the TWiT podcast and the Twitter service, which are unrelated. The announcement resulted in “The Leo Effect“, a wave of new account signups at Jaiku.

    So what are Twitter and Jaiku? Why — apart from the name — would a discerning Internet user choose one over the other?

    Central to both services is the ability to post short, 140-character updates, either from an SMS-enabled cell phone or from a web interfaceTwitter also allows posting of tweets via some instant messaging protocols; Jaiku does not presently offer this functionality. Both Twitter and Jaiku have made their API public, which allows developers to create applications like Twitter Tools, which allows users to display their latest tweets in the WordPress sidebar as well as post tweets from within their WordPress blog. I suspect that “The Leo Effect” will result in a host of new plugins and widgets for Jaiku.. On Twitter, these updates are referred to as “tweets”, while on Jaiku they are known simply as “jaikus”. The 140-character limit is anything but arbitrary; the services are both designed to be used by on-the-go types from their cell phones. SMS, the text-messaging service available on most cell phones today, has a built-in 140 byte limit on individual messages. This translates to one hundred and forty 8-bit characters or — for languages like Chinese, Russian and Arabic whose characters are more complex — seventy 16-bit characters.

    The ability to [post a short message on a web page] is insignificant compared to the power of The Force.
    — Darth Vader

    So you can send a message to a website with your cell phone. What’s the point? The real key is building a list of contacts whose updates you want to see and (presumably) who want to see your updates as well. On Twitter, updates from your contacts can be delivered directly to your cell phone or to an instant messaging client (I use Jabber via Gaim Pidgin IM). Thus, you can keep in constant contact with your contacts (or “friends”, if you must). It’s up to you to decide whether or not this is a good thing.

    Jaiku takes the basic functionality of Twitter and expands upon it, adding a sprinkle of Tumblr, giving users the ability to add pretty much any RSS or Atom feed — be they photos from Flickr, posts from a blog or even a feed from Twitter — to their “stream of presence”. Anything in this stream can be commented upon via the Jaiku website, whether it is an SMS message, a blog entry, or a photo from Flickr. My own Jaiku includes the following:

    • The RSS feed for blog entries from KJToo.com. This post will appear on my Jaiku stream shortly after I publish it.
    • The photostream from my Flickr account. As I add new photos to Flickr, they will appear in my Jaiku stream.
    • My Twitter RSS feed. My “tweets” already appear on KJToo.com thanks to the Twitter Tools plugin. They will also appear in my Jaiku stream. This allows me to keep using Twitter and still take advantage of Jaiku’s expanded feature set. The main drawback to this is the delay between the time I tweet and when that tweet appears in my Jaiku stream.
    • My Squirl feed. When I add new items to my Squirl collections, they’ll appear in my Jaiku stream.

    Of course, everything in my Jaiku stream is already available at KJToo.com, so why would I want to collect it all at Jaiku, too? It’s a fair question, and one to which I don’t have a good answer. One of the benefits of creating a single stream of presence at Jaiku is also something of a drawback. Every item in a Jaiku stream — whether it’s an SMS message, a photo retrieved from a Flickr photostream or a blog post from an RSS feed — can be commented upon at the Jaiku site. This is nice in that it allows for a lot of interaction, but not so nice because (as far as I can tell) those comments won’t automatically be transferred to the original source of the jaiku.

    For example, if someone comments on this blog post from the Jaiku website, it will be seen by anyone who reads my Jaiku page or has added me as a contact there; unfortunately, the same comment will not be seen on KJToo.com. This allows for increased interaction, but also segregates that interaction based on where a reader sees the content.

    Unlike Jaiku, Twitter seems to have no aspirations to become (as Evo Terra has called it) “a portal for all things me”; there are no options to import RSS feeds from other sources, there’s no secondary commenting system, and there isn’t a library of icons to associate with individual tweets. Instead, Twitter focuses on their bread and butter: the aforementioned tweets.

    That’s why I’m keeping my Twitter account and will continue to use it. Jaiku will doubtless introduce a post-via-IM feature in the near future, but Twitter already has it and I’m interested to see what their development team will do next. I also want to see what other developers do with the Twitter API. Already there is the ridiculously addictive Twitter/Google Maps mashup, Twittervision (which seems to be somewhat broken at the moment) and a host of tools for integrating Twitter into blogs; I have no idea what people more technically-minded than I will create.

    My final reason for sticking with Twitter is simple: it’s where my friends are. There’s a small but active group of authors, bloggers and podcasters in my circle of friends who use Twitter, and the only reason I would drop the service completely is if they all decided to switch.

  • Photostuff: Flickr


    5 O'Clock Shadow - 06 April 2007I decided to give Flickr a shot, so I signed up for an account and uploaded all of my five o’clock shadow pictures. I also installed the Flickr Photo Gallery plugin from Silas Partners. The plugin includes a version of Lightbox, which makes me a little nervous as I’ve gotten to like Slightbox over the past couple of months. I’ll have to poke into the code and see if there’s any way to make the photo gallery work with Slightbox.

    [Edited to include a more friendly URL for my Flickr album.]