Oops.

August 29, 2011 at 9:20 pm (Uncategorized)

So I’ve lived with Labgirl for I think close to 2 years now. That entire time we’ve had these hand-me-down dishes/bowls/etc that were pretty plain but did the job.

In those two years, I managed to break not a single one.

About two weeks ago, Labgirl had her bridal shower. Among the gifts we received during this shower were a number of placesettings of these beautiful, artsy, expensive plates & bowls.

So tonight I was carrying one of these bowls into the kitchen, and on the way into the kitchen, the entry way of which is a bit narrow, my arm bumps into the wall and….

Yeah.

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Martin Luther King Jr Memorial: Made in China

August 29, 2011 at 6:41 am (Political Ponderings)

Yeah, I guess I can see how that could be seen as controversial these days – in the middle of a recession where at least part of the blame has been placed on outsourcing a large portion of our manufacturing industry to China.

It is perhaps a fitting tribute to racial co-operation. However, the decision to outsource to China the carving of a new national memorial to Martin Luther King has raised eyebrows in the United States.

The 30ft-tall statue, which forms the centrepiece of a $120 million,  four-acre memorial to Dr King, opened to the public on Monday on the National Mall in Washington. It is the only memorial on the Mall that does not honour a president or fallen soldiers.

Standing in the shadow of the Washington Monument, the statue shows Dr King emerging from a mountain of Chinese granite with his arms crossed and is called The Stone of Hope.

However, there has been controversy over the choice of Lei Yixin, a 57-year-old master sculptor from Changsha in Hunan province, to carry out the work. Critics have openly asked why a black, or at least an American, artist was not chosen and even remarked that Dr King appears slightly Asian in Mr Lei’s rendering.

OK, I know most people won’t know and even less will care that it was sculpted by a Chinese artist out of Chinese stone and assembled by a team of largely Chinese workers.
And 20 years from now I doubt anybody is going to care any more – but right now, that is just another in the hugely long list of things our government has done under the new (hopefully soon to be old) administration since taking office.

Ed Dwight, a sculptor in Denver, said Dr King would be “turning over in his grave” if he knew his likeness had been conceived by someone living under a Communist regime.

“He would rise up from his grave and walk into their offices and go, ‘How dare you?'”

Yeah. Full article here.

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Games I dig: GOSU

August 28, 2011 at 12:31 am (Gaming & RPGs)

GOSU (short for “Goblin Supremacy”) is a card game through which 2-4 players wage war by building armies with the 4 different factions of goblins – the Ancients, the Alphas, the Dark, the Fire, and the Meka.

GOSU

Each player starts with a hand of cards each representing a different goblin, two activation tokens, and a random player is given the “advantage token.”

The cards are played onto the table, forming a grid 5 cards across by 3 high – for these reasons:

Each goblin card has a number of traits – the faction (color) it belongs to, what level it is (1-3), how many “battle points” it is worth (for use for the “big battle” at the end of each round), how much it costs to mutate (more on that later), and finally any special abilities it may have.

You start out on the first row by playing only Level 1 cards – these tend to be less powerful cards worth fewer battle points. The first card is free, and any cards from the same faction/color as that first card are also free – but if you want to play a card from a different faction, it’ll cost you 2 discarded cards from your hand.
You’ll have to decide if you want to focus on one or two factions, or try to use more even though it’ll cost you in trashed cards.

Level 1 cards are important, because without them, you can’t play Level 2 cards. Up to five Level 2 cards can be played on the second row, right above the row of Level 1 cards – however, there can’t be more Level 2 cards than Level 1, and you can’t play a Level 2 card from a faction that isn’t represented on Level 1 (If you want to play a Level 2 Meka card, for example, there needs to be a Level 1 Meka card already in play first).
This rule continues for Level 3 cards – to play one, that faction/color has to be represented on Level 2 and Level 1.

When you play a card, many cards have special abilities that come into play as soon as you place the card on the table. It may allow you to remove an opponent’s card from play, allow you to draw more cards, “trap” (or disable) a card for that turn, or any of a number of things. Special features like this can also sometimes be “activated” through the use of one of the 2 activation tokens you were given at the start.

In this, the game reminds me a fair bit of a very popular card game (at least at the time) that I used to play back in the late 90’s, Magic: The Gathering. The game was (and I suppose is – it still has a strong following) somewhat similar in that most cards had their own unique abilities printed on that card. GOSU, however, is not a “collectible” card game as as MTG is – you get everything you need in one box without the need to constantly buy “booster packs.”

So anyway, as I mentioned, each of these three rows is restricted to a maximum of five cards across. So what happens if you get a really good card in your hand, but there are no empty spots left to play it on? Well, that’s where mutation comes in.
Goblins who can mutate into other goblins allow you to replace that card with a different one, usually at the cost of 2-3 additional cards discarded from your hand. Not only is this good for getting new cards out, but some goblin cards have special abilities that are triggered when they are mutated – for example when one of the fire goblins mutates and is removed from the game, it takes one of your opponent’s goblins with it. (Another interesting bit is that the Dark goblins have a special ability to mutate into a discarded goblin – thus raising the dead from the grave, so to speak!).

So, eventually you’ll get to the point where you either can’t or don’t want to play any more cards – either your hand is empty, or you have cards left that you want to hold onto until the next round.
When this happens, you pass. Your opponent can now continue playing if he/she wants and is able to, or that player can pass as well. When all players have passed the “big battle” begins!

The battle points of all cards you have in play are added up, and the one who has the most wins a Victory Point. If there’s a tie, the person who is holding the Advantage Token wins.
And the game goes onto the next round.
First player to get to 3 Victory Points wins.

It’s a very fun game that keeps you on your toes and thinking, trying to figure out the best way to use the abilities of your goblins as best you can, while at the same time trying to figure out your opponent’s strategy: is he light on battle points because of a bad draw, or does have have a trick up his sleeve that he’s holding to thrash you with later?

This is a game I don’t own just yet, but it’s on the wish list to pick up at some time when I get the chance – in the meantime I’ve been playing online.

Interested in trying it out? I’ve been playing it online at BoardGame Arena – click here to sign up and check it out (this link also gives me referral points).

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Checking out Diaspora – a future Facebook contender?

August 26, 2011 at 11:11 pm (Uncategorized)

So for several months I’ve been interested in checking out Diaspora; a new player in the social network arena, hoping to be attractive to people who are not fond of “the big guys” such as Facebook and Google+ tracking your every move and selling it to advertisers, among other privacy and content rights issues that sites like Facebook have had continual complaints about.

Diaspora asserts that it is different because it’s not a corporate entity – in fact, it’s not a single entity at all. But more about that in a second.

As far as “who runs it,” Diaspora uses a networking system that is different to all of the other popular social networking sites, as far as I’m aware.
There isn’t a building somewhere with a huge room with rows and rows of servers that are all run by one company. In fact, it really works more like a peer-to-peer network.
The main Diaspora “client” web site is in a way an application that can be hosted on any server, so there there can be any number of web sites that you can create your account on to call your “home” on the network. Then all of these host sites (or “pods” as they are called in Diaspora-speak) connect together to create a common information stream.

Although a while back I signed up to request to be a beta tester through their main “promotional” web site, JoinDisapora.com, but it had been months and I never got the invite. But through a bit of web searching I ran across one of the “pods” that is openly accepting new accounts – Diasp.org, and signed up.

It’s only been a few days, but what I’m seeing in this alpha product is actually pretty darned neat. It seems to be sort of an interesting mix of features between Twitter and Facebook, with a number of added nice touches.

The main window (or “stream” window) is, unsurprisingly, very Facebook-like. There is a comment box at the top for you to enter your latest updates, under which a stream of updates from people you are following is listed, along with some links on the sides:
Diaspora Main Screen

The status box itself is a bit different than you usually see, and has a few interesting features. The basics are of course there like text entry and the ability to add a photo attachment, but Diaspora also adds the ability to group your contacts into “aspects,” such as friends, acquaintances, work, etc – and you can create custom aspect groups as well, such as my “gamers” aspect that I created in anticipation of following other gamers. You can then select any or all of these aspect groups as those who can read the message you’re about to post. Something like this can, I suppose, come in very handy when you want to post something that would only be of interest to certain people, or that you only want certain people seeing. (I’m not a member of Google+, but from what I understand their “circles” function is very similar to this. The Diaspora team appears to be of the opinion that they likely stole the idea from them, considering Diaspora was in alpha well before G+ started accepting beta users).
A status update can also be tagged as “public” using the little globe icon at the bottom, which means that your post can be searched and read by absolutely anybody on Diaspora.

Diaspora status window

Add to this the “hash” functionality of Twitter, where you can “tag” a message to make it come up in searches for that subject by others; for example, if you’re a fan of cheesecake, and you you’d like other cheesecake fans to be able to find your message, you can write something like “I love #cheesecake!” and thusly when someone searches for the “hash tag” of “#cheescake” your message will come up.
One cool feature regarding these that Twitter doesn’t have, is Diaspora offers the option to “follow” a hash tag. My assumption is that just like “following” a person, that means that any public message that is posted with that hash tag would come up in your stream. As of yet I have not witnessed this actually working, however, so I guess that remains to be seen.

Other small touches that are nice include the ability to sort by time of the original post, or to have new comments on posts you’re following show up at the top of your stream rather than constantly having to completely switch your view (or open a new tab, as I tend to do with FB)… this is the default behavior of the news stream. When you post a status, you can choose to have that update cross-posted to Facebook, Twitter, and/or Tumblr (though you can post messages through Diaspora, you can’t actually read updates from these services).
And of course the basics are there such as a “like” button, the ability to privately message friends, the ability to “mention” others in your posts using the @ (originally a Twitter thing, later adopted by Facebook), an update notification that also emails the updates, and so on.

SO:
Stuff I Like:
I think many of the features of Diaspora are very cool – pretty much everything I mentioned above is something that I think is a really neat feature to have. I also like the “your information belongs to you, not us” policy. I really like how they took some of the best messaging features of both Twitter and Facebook and seem to have been mostly successfully in mashing them together.

Stuff I Don’t Like:
Keep in mind, Diaspora is currently in alpha as I write this, so anything that’s a gripe may change later.
First off, although in theory I absolutely like the way it works, the “non-centralized” (or sort of peer-to-peer like) nature of Diaspora is really confusing, even to geeks, let alone the general public. I know that “staying out from under a corporate umbrella” is one of the main points of the system, but I think this could hurt their growth from plain old everyday users. There isn’t just one web site to go to; in fact currently there are a couple of dozen, and the list is likely to keep growing. I suppose if they eventually set up at least one “primary” host site at “Diaspora.com” or something like that it could be helpful, but without corporate backing whoever hosts that probably wouldn’t be able to take on the traffic other social sites get.
A huge annoyance I discovered today is that although the system automatically signs you up to receive updates on posts you’ve commented on, you currently can’t STOP receiving updates. There’s one “welcome” post I commented on that gets probably a half dozen comments a day that I really couldn’t care less about, that get emailed to me. No way to stop it.
The site is heavily javascript based, which for the most part is not a big deal, but there are certain points, such as when I scroll down far enough that it needs to load more messages in my stream history, that Firefox locks up solid. I’ve had to halt the FF application repeatedly. I did notice that tonight I was not getting this problem, so maybe it’s being worked on, but we’ll see – maybe I just had a lucky night.
There are currently no associated apps – just messaging. There’s no photo album (though they are currently trying to get Cubbi.es to integrate), no calendar, no groups, and of course no games. Of course, they are still in alpha just getting the messaging system to work, so maybe some of that stuff will come in the future.

Overall, I have to say that at least after just a few days of playing with it, I’m really enjoying using the system  – if only there were more people there to talk to. Apparently JoinDiaspora is getting ready to start sending out the beta invites to their “main” pod though, so maybe that will help. I’ll definitely be keeping up with this one!

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Games I dig: Troyes

August 24, 2011 at 9:44 pm (Gaming & RPGs)

So I have two primary hobbies right now: board games and woodworking. And gaming has nearly become an obsession – I think about it all the friggin’ time… what I could be playing if I wasn’t busy at work or dealing with some project at home, what games are out there I would like but haven’t picked up yet (currently my collection is around 170 or so, but there is always room for more, is what I say), what games my friends would really enjoy on the very rare occasions I manage to get them to play, etc.

The one that I’ve been obsessing over the most lately, even though I don’t actually own it yet (and have doubts that I ever will), is Troyes.

Although Troyes does have a board that is used extensively during the game, I would have to say this could be described as primarily a dice game.
Each player gets a bunch of dice, and then what that players does with those dice determines how he or she fares in the game.

But it’s just the sheer number of things that you can do with those dice that make this game so interesting.
Players start by placing a few meeples (or pawns) on three different buildings shown on the board. Based on the number of pawns you have in each building at the start of your turn, you are given that number of colored dice that are specific to that building; for example, red dice to indicate military units, white dice to indicate religious units, and yellow dice to represent civil units.

Also at the start of your turn you are given an income, which can go up or down based on various factors in the game.

In general, the goal of the game is to gain the most victory points by the end of the game. There are a huge number of ways to go about this, and figuring out the best way to do this is of course the heart of the overall strategy.
When your turn comes around, all of the dice you were given are rolled, and then those dice can be “spent” on various actions depending on how high they rolled. For example, the red (military) dice can be used to ward off an attacker to the city. The white (religious) dice can be used to build part of a chapel, or the yellow (civil) dice can be used to set up a merchant, just as examples; each of these choices has pros and cons as far as the effects on your income and influence, and it’s up to you to figure out how best to reach your goal.
Don’t have the right dice? Well, buy them off of another player, if you have the cash – whether they like it or not.

“My Goal? You mean getting the most victory points?” you may ask. Well, yes, but that’s not all – for you see, each player is assigned a “character” that also has his own specific goals – such as having more money than anyone else at the end of the game, or the most military victories, etc – and each game you have to figure out the best way to do that – so it’s different every game.

Sound complicated? Well, it is. It took me a couple of games before I even really understood the basics, and now that I’ve played a number of times I still have not figured out any good strategies – every time I play I totally get my butt kicked, usually by a wide margin.
But the thing is, even with this complexity (it’s often referred to as a “gamer’s game,”  which I’m usually not a big fan of, the game keeps calling me back. It’s both complex and fun, which in my experience can be hard to do in a game.

Oh, and a quick bit of trivia: the name Troyes is French, so it’s not pronounced “Troy-ez” which is how us Americans really want to say it. It’s pronounced “Trrwah” or something like that.

Interested in trying it out? I’ve been playing it online at BoardGame Arena – click here to sign up and check it out (this link also gives me referral points).

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Hating my job, and learning CAD

August 12, 2011 at 7:45 am (Uncategorized)

I bitch about my job to the point were a number of people around me are probably well tired of hearing about it. And, you know, I’d be happy to stop bitching if they’d just stop doing something on an almost weekly basis that pisses me off.

Their most recent noteworthy move was to end up in such a bad negotiation fail with our main client that it ended up resulting in the equivalent of about a 30% pay cut. And the same week that went into effect? Additional overtime. Yup, they apparently saw our cut in pay as a perfect opportunity to have us work more without it costing them anything additional. They are so awesome like that.

I mean that’s not the only thing I hate about it, although it’s certain a contributing factor. There’s also the fact that the work is just mind-numbingly boring, that we get a constant flow of negative feedback and nothing positive, that their “QC” standards are f’ed up to the point where making one or two typos a month can cost you an additional 10% pay cut, that my supervisor is ineffective due to the fact that she’s never done our job and thus has no idea what we’re talking about half the time when giving feedback… it could just go on and on.
So what do I like about it? I’ve thought about this and have come up with… flex-time scheduling. I’m not a morning person, so I love this feature, which basically refers to how instead of having a set start time in the morning, we are given a four hour window under which we can show up for work. I love that because I have the speed of a tree sloth in the morning.

Now, frankly a guy can only take being bent over a barrel so many times, and I’ve seen that barrel so often that I’m starting to refer to it by name, holding on as I have deep, meaningful conversations with it about how only it understands me, as I try to keep my mind off of how I wish my company would invest in some lube before rolling out now policies.

So I’ve been looking for something else in my field. And looking. And looking. And looking. They’re just not out there. I have had many other coworkers who have bailed, and taken jobs in companies like retail or customer service… but I’ve done those jobs, and I can tell you as much as I hate my current job, I’d still have to be a step away from being homeless and starving on the street before I take another one of those again. Dealing with the general public just irritates the living hell out of me.

Before I got into my current field I used to do computer support. It paid fairly well, was relatively stress-free, and although it did have it’s periods of boring down-time, the work itself was more often than not interesting enough to keep me engaged in what I was doing. But I got out of that field because it really dried up after the “dot-com boom” was over and companies started to realize it wasn’t that cost efficient to pay an IT guy to be on staff all day after day when there usually wasn’t enough stuff breaking to keep him busy – so they largely started to lay off IT staff and decide to “call it in” when they needed support. That, and although the opportunities are better in large cities, the city I live in is practically an IT desert. And when companies hire now, they’re usually looking for somebody that’s an absolute IT God that knows the ins and outs of every system ever made by man.. and is willing to work for $14/hr. Because they can, because the job market is that cutthroat. So among other reasons I decided this was no longer the field for me as of about 10 years ago.

But I need to do *something* to advance myself past where I am. And after a few discussions with people, I decided to try to take up CAD drafting. This was something I was interested in a while back, but had been told that as a breed drafters were dying out – companies had gotten to the point where they expected people like engineers to just take this on as one of their responsibilities instead of hiring separate staff to do it. Apparently though although this does happen, there are still plenty of companies that hire drafters just to draft, and I’ve thought it would be awesome if I were one of them. I’ve always had an affection for design and at one point was considering going back to school as an industrial design major (these are folks who design mostly consumer products), but going back to school full-time with unpaid internship requirements does not mix well with being a middle-age adult with financial responsibilities; plus I’m not thrilled about the idea of added more debt on top of the school loans that I already have that are taking me forever to pay off (and I’m still not even close).

But CAD appears to be something that can be fairly self-taught. There are a large number of inexpensive (or free) software packages out there that emulate the more pricey programs that are often used by businesses, and there is an endless supply of learning materials out there. Really I figure it should just take some time to learn how the packages work and then get a ton of practice with them, and once familiar with one of the “grandpappy” software programs like AutoCad branch out into a few other popular packages to get an idea how they work.

Then, I figure, maybe if I’m lucky I can land a few temp or contract jobs to “get my foot in the door” of an industry I have zero job experience in. And then hopefully after doing that for a little bit maybe land something full time.
I’m already having daydreams of landing a position with a large aerospace company that is actually within walking distance of my house. That would be so awesome.

Now deciding which CAD program to learn appears to be a little tricky. There appear to literally be hundreds of options out there, with many programs that are specialized for specific types of work (mechanical design, architecture, etc) and the program any company decides to go with appears to almost be a crap shoot.
But from the research I’ve done, the “big daddy” still appears to be AutoCad. At the very least, it appears that a large portion of other programs get the basis of the way they work from this program, and I think it’s probably the best place to start. Doing a search of schools that offer CAD training, it appears the schools all appear to share this opinion as well, as it’s really the only CAD class that schools offer.

I’ve also been seeing a lot of talk about a program called SolidWorks being extremely popular in the world of mechanical drafting, and as this is probably the area I’m most interested in (and is also probably the most prevalent in this city) that will probably be one to keep my eye on as I advance in my learning. (Interestingly, this $5000 (!!!) program is made by the same company that makes DraftSight, the freebie AutoCad clone I’m currently using to learn on).

With my wedding now being only two months away, and being on continuous overtime at work, I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to dive into this, but I’ve started and hopefully I’ll be able to pick up speed soon.

(I have to admit, SolidWorks does look pretty damned cool).

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