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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RIP, Mom

May 23, 2011 at 6:33 pm (Uncategorized)

I suppose I should make mention of this, even though I’m fairly certain nobody really looks at this blog any longer…

Mom passed away a couple of weeks ago, after what became about a year and a half long battle with brain cancer.
“Officially” her passing was called at 12:35a on May 6th, though in reality it happened somewhere between 9:30p-11:30p on the 5th. I had just been over for a visit until about 9, shortly after which dad went to bed for a couple of hours before attempting to give mom a pill again around 11:30.
I got a call around 11:45 from dad, saying that he was pretty sure she had died, wasn’t breathing, and her color was changing.
Even in those last minutes, as he was saying that he was pretty certain she had passed, I could tell that a part of him was grasping at a tiny shred of hope that maybe she would start breathing again, that maybe she would wake up again.

But sadly that wasn’t to be. I drove right back over there again, right around the same time her nurse was arriving. Once there it didn’t take long for her to confirm that mom had in fact passed, though to “call” it she had to use the date & time when she made the determination, which came out to be the next day because midnight had passed.

Apparently the hospice service had notified her church pastor, who was kind enough to stop by in the middle of the night and spend some time with us, and had us join in a prayer.

And I stood by as the funeral home came to retrieve her, and I watched as they carried her away by hand after wrapping her in a sheet because the doorways of the house have turns that are too tight for a gurney.

And then I stayed the night so dad wouldn’t have to spend that night alone, only getting about 3 hours of sleep, and calling in to work in the morning to let them know I wouldn’t be there for a week or so.

I’ll miss her very much. We weren’t super close, as often happens between mothers and sons through the years, but I think of anything that just makes me wish I had gotten to know her better when I had the chance.

I do try to think of it as positively as possible: she was so bad off for many months that I can’t imagine anyone would want to spend life like that any longer than they had to.
And I do know that if there’s a Heaven, she’s definitely there.

Rest in peace, mom; I love you.

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Facebook is killing my blog

March 15, 2011 at 8:56 pm (Uncategorized)

Seriously I’m starting to wonder how big of a project it would be to go and just mass dump stuff I’ve talked about on facebook over the last six months or so onto here.

I do have serious amounts of stuff going on… but I’ve been talking about it pretty much exclusively on the FB.

I need to start writing stuff that’s longer than 3 sentences again.

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An update on mom’s cancer

September 25, 2010 at 12:24 pm (Uncategorized)

Been a while since I’ve written on this (or anything, for that matter), and for the most part there hasn’t been anything positive to write about when it comes to this.

Her condition went a significant step worse a few weeks ago, when my dad took her to the ER due to excruciatingly painful headaches.

On the night they admitted her they did ct scans and found that the brain tumor was bleeding. They gave her several transfusions of a plasma with some sort of special clotting properties, and felt they had the bleeding under control within a day or so.
However, the headaches kept coming, sometimes multiple times in an hour, and the doctors didn’t really seem to be sure what was causing it.

After many days of trying different variations of pain medication, none of which seemed to make much difference, but after several days they seemed to finally find a combination of drugs that seemed to keep her mostly out of pain.

But unfortunately her brain seemed to have taken a heavy blow from this incident. She had been having some difficulty talking and having confusion even before this, but now the nurses had asked her several “you should know this” questions such as where she was right at that moment, what year it was, what her husband’s name was, what her own name was, etc. She wasn’t able to answer a single one of them correctly.

Since then she has been having periods of being completely unresponsive, not eating (and not allowing anyone to feed her), days where she’d try to speak but only incomprehensible gibberish would come out, and other such bad signs.

She’s had slight improvement since then, but after being in the hospital for over 3 weeks my dad was pressured by both the hospital and Medicare to move her elsewhere for longer-term care, and on Wednesday we went together to check out a couple of nursing/hospice homes.
It was really, really depressing.

In the end he decided to bring her home and hire an in-home hospice service, who will providing a hospital bed and any needed supplies, will be sending an RN to visit at least 3 times a week and possibly more if requested, will have an RN on a hotline 24 hours a day, and will provide pastoral services.

I think this was probably a good decision for everybody’s state of mind and will be more comfortable for mom. There were aspects of those nursing homes that reminded me of something out of a nightmare, and in one the patient rooms reminded me of a jail cell. It’ll be a bit more work for the family to take care of her when she’s at home, but I think it’s the best way to go.

The doctors are now estimating maybe about 3 months to go, so I’m thinking happy holidays may not be in the plan this year.

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Tool Review: Harbor Freight “80 Piece Rotary Tool Kit”

July 1, 2010 at 5:13 pm (Tool Reviews)

I had originally planned to start posting these reviews mainly due to Harbor Freight’s web site not having the ability to take customer reviews, combined with the fact that the quality of many of their power tools, to say the least, varies.

They’ve since updated their web site so that customer reviews can be shown now, however as I mentioned in a previous posting, I’ve discovered that they are rather, well, selective about which reviews get posted on the web site and which ones don’t. That being, if it’s a bad review, they generally won’t post it – as a result there are many tools on the site that are rated 3/5 or 4/5 that should really be maybe a 1.

Take this little gem, for example:

That’s their “80 piece rotary tool kit,” (Item #97626) which I think has a “regular” sticker price of about $20, but is in their advertising coupons all the time for $7.99.
(Important side note: If you’re buying something at Harbor Freight, and you’re not using some sort of coupon or getting it on sale, you’re getting screwed).
Now, thing is, I’m sure they sell tons of these based on that price point, based on the primary selling point of many of their power tools, which usually seems to be along the lines of “It’s cheap enough that I won’t feel that bad if it’s a piece of junk.”

Well, please, let me save you the eight bucks.
I mentioned in an earlier posting that I consider this the second worst tool I’ve ever purchased, and there’s good reason for that. (The #1 spot is taken by a rechargeable screwdriver that was also purchased at HF, and will be written about at a later time).\

The main problem with it is that the motor has no power or torque to it whatsoever. I’ve tried using it on reasonably soft materials like pine and soft plastics, and putting any pressure on it (to the point where it would, you know, actually do something) causes it to completely seize up.

So after several attempts, I pretty much gave up on the thing all together. But then I had the thought, that maybe if I could at least use the attachments in my electric drill, it might not be a total waste of money, so I gave it a shot.

The kit is described as “80 pieces,” which sounds awesome, until you realize it’s actually more like 5 pieces that are repeated 20 times each in slight variations or duplicates.
One of the parts I tried to use the most is the cutting discs. There’s a reason they give you 25 of them – they are so fragile that I’ve actually broken a few just mounting them on the spindle. When I did actually get one loaded up without having it break on me, I tried it out, only to find out that these “cutting discs” aren’t able to do a whole lot in the way of cutting. In fact I think I could have gotten similar results using a nail file.
The “diamond burr” bits look like something that should work good for something like carving into that pine I mentioned, but even when mounted in the drill, they did very little as far as biting into and removing the material.

In a nutshell, if you found this using a search engine you’re probably tempted to buy this thing because it sounds like a good deal. It’s not – even if it’s only $8, that’s $8 you’ll be flushing down the toilet.

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Learning to play with wood

June 28, 2010 at 7:03 pm (Uncategorized)

For probably well over a decade or more, I’ve had this interest in woodworking.
In fact, during a phase of unemployment I went through about eight or nine years ago, I had applied to be an apprentice at a local cabinetmaking company.
I didn’t get the position, mainly because they wanted somebody who at least had some experience with it (which I didn’t), and since I’ve lived in apartments since being in my early 20’s there really just hasn’t been anywhere to practice it.

But a little while ago I was down in the basement here at the house, took a look at a workbench that was used by a prior owner that was just covered with junk by LabGirl, and that little spark of interest ignited again.

I went out and bought a bunch of power tools, stuff I’d had my eye on but had no use for in apartment living.
Bought Craftsman brand saws, a circular saw and a jig saw. Haven’t used the circular saw much yet but it appears to work fine, and the jigsaw has been a workhorse.
I then blew a bunch of cash over at Harbor Freight, buying mostly odds-and-ends like clamps, screwdrivers, chisels, rasps, etc etc etc, and did buy a couple of power tools, a corded drill, and a small rotary tool.
The rotary tool is a total piece of crap, but the drill does a fairly decent job, especially for the price. Will probably end up posting reviews of many of these since there don’t appear to be much along those lines out there on the ‘net already and the store’s web site I’ve noticed doesn’t like to post negative reviews (I thought it was cool when they finally updated their web site to allow reviews at all a couple of months ago, only to discover it doesn’t really matter because every time I’d write a negative review on something they’d never post the review).

So far I haven’t really done anything significant – mostly “handyman” type stuff around the house – I did build two collapsible sawhorses, which came out pretty good, this one, and another I added a 6″ wide “flat top” to:

Let’s see, what else was I inspired to do around the house…. umm I got the pocket door in the kitchen working again, which was a major pain in the ass and required taking the door frame apart to get at it, along with lots of struggling and trial and error with “universal” roller/caster parts available at the hardware stores.
Replaced the screening on the sliding patio door including a new cat-proof framing system.
Replaced all of the door moulding that LabGirl tore off sometime before I moved in during a fit of new homeowner fixer-upper excitement that didn’t make it to completion.
Removed several large bushes & stumps in front of the house.
OH, and I almost forgot – I cat-proofed my computer desk – for some reason the cat LOVES the wiring behind the desk and was constantly getting back there, and would constantly fight with me over it whenever I tried to keep him out of there. So – viola!:

It’s really nothing more than a piece of scrap plywood I found in the basement that I cut to fit the opening in the back panel fo the desk, along with a couple of hinges & a handle so I could access the wiring back there when I needed to.
It didn’t take long for me to discover that I would also need to put barriers on the sides of the desk towards the back, because now the cat would just try to go in from the side instead of from underneath – so those “wings” were added shortly after.

My current project is a test to see how hard it would be to sand & re-stain the kitchen cabinets to hopefully help them look a little more modern – mostly on the back of one of the less-used doors right now.

I have tons of plans bookmarked to try out, including stuff like patio furniture, a pergola for the back yard, etc – but as it turns out, wood costs money, and the paychecks have been a little more slim than usual lately so I’ve had to hold off.
Maybe something a little more small/simple for the time being like a bird feeder or something 🙂

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Proposals, Engagements, and Other Such Mushy Stuff

June 13, 2010 at 9:02 pm (Dating and Girls)

So I suppose I should attempt to write an actual entry about this 😛

On May 17th it was 2 years to the day since LabGirl and I first met over a cup of coffee, in a little cafe nearby.
We got our wraps and our drinks, and an obnoxiously rich dessert.

And over dessert the talk got a little mushy-like, and we talked about how great the last couple of years had been,
I told her that I would really like spending forever with her.
She returned the sentiment.
I told her that was great, because I had something on my mind I had been meaning to ask her.
Which was when I put a little box with a pretty little ring in it in front of her, and asked her if she would marry me.

She kinda put her hands over her mouth, got really choked up, and managed to get out an “of course!” before trying on the ring:

Looks like the wedding is going to be October 2011!

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Harbor Freight’s new web site “forgets” to post the bad reviews

June 11, 2010 at 6:35 am (Uncategorized)

I was pretty happy to see that Harbor Freight finally updated their web site to allow customers to post product reviews. Considering *many* of the tools they sell are crap, this is much needed to allow for a better informed customer.

However, what’s NOT needed is for the site to skew the ratings to a dishonestly high rating because they fail to post the bad ratings.

Prime example: I’ve bought several of their power tools, and posted reviews for many of them about a week ago, most in the 3-4 star range because I’ve been pretty content with most of them.

However, among my purchases was this “80 piece rotary tool kit” (Item #97626):

It is seriously the 2nd shittiest tool I’ve ever bought, right behind a useless rechargable screwdriver that runs out of power in about 5 minutes and doesn’t let you keep the charger plugged in for more than a few hours without worrying about catching something on fire, which would be my #1 (and was also purchased at Harbor Freight).
Anyway, this one I gave 1 star, along with a detailed explanation of why.
My 3&4 star reviews have been posted for days now. The 1 star review has yet to be posted.
I had been thinking of posting reviews on this web site anyway back when they didn’t have customer reviews on the site, due to the varying quality of their products. Looks like I may have to continue planning on that, considering how they apparently are going to be “selective” about which reviews they allow to be shown on the site.

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May 27, 2010 at 10:34 pm (Uncategorized)

I SO don’t have time to write much right now, but I needed to get this down before it slips my mind to blog it again.

On Monday May 17th, I asked LabGirl to marry me.
She said yes.
There was much rejoicing.

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