Sunday, January 29, 2006

Congrats Jason!

Just wanted to congradulate Jason on accepting a position at Mantech International! He's going to be living in Columbia, Maryland starting in mid-June.

It's about an hour drive (assuming of course no infamous DC traffic) from Reston, just a quick hop over the Potomac.

Definitely looking forward to hanging out with the J-man. And best of luck to you!

(don't slack off too much the rest of the year, you still gotta graduate you know)

Dumb things I probably shouldn't admit to here

Living on your own is tons of fun. You can walk around all day in your boxers... be a slob for a week until you get disgusted with yourself and go on a massive cleaning spree... use foldup chairs as dining room furniture for an unspecified but very long length of time... leave little hairs from your electric shaver all over the bathroom sink... leave the toilet seat up... not that I do any of those things of course.

And besides, the myriad annoying little messes one can manage to make around the house isn't the issue here--it's the myriad opportunities for doing really dumb things that living on your own provides.

The Dryer
So here I am. I think it's about midday on Saturday and the laundry is really starting to pile up (oh that's another annoying mess for the list: saving 5 bucks by eschewing a hamper and piling your laundry in a heap on the bedroom floor). So I throw in a load and let it go. Finishes fine. I throw it in the dryer. Throw another in the washer. The washer finishes. The dryer finishes. The clothes in the dryer are, if it's possible, wetter than when they started. Ah well, oblivious me just decides they need more time. So I throw em back in on full power and let it rip. An hour later... clothes still soaked, and clothes in the washer probably starting to mildew. So I finally catch on that something is up.

I take all the clothes out and stare blankly around the insides of the washer. Then it hits me! That little contraption hidden in the back there is probably the lint filter! Now, since I didn't know it was there until now, it clearly hasn't been changed... ever. I wish more than ever I had a digital camera, because the chunk of lint stuck in this thing was truly impressive: about an inch thick layer of tightly compressed petrified lint comes out in my hand when I get this thing open. Needless to say the dryer works wonderfully after that.

Oatmeal + Microwave

I love sales, I definitely inherited this from my mom. Whenever I go grocery shopping almost everything I end up buying is on sale. So, this week they had Quaker Oatmeal for half off and I got a few containers. The change of pace in breakfast food would definitely be appreciated I figured. The next morning I get out one of my Tupperware containers, pour in some Oatmeal and some water, add a pinch of salt, and stick the sucker in the microwave, and walk away.

I go brush my teeth, start getting my work stuff gathered up, get some clothes on, and head back to the kitchen when the microwave beeps. I open the microwave door... and there is literally Oatmeal coating every single surface but the bottom of my tupperware container where it should be! What a mess... I'm still not quite sure what I did wrong, but I put a lid on now, and check on the stuff in one minute intervals in case it decides to try any funny business.

The Furnace
This one occurred a little while back, sometime in December, right as it was starting to get cold for the first time. I'm sitting at home, on the computer I think, when the thought suddenly occurs to be that I'm freezing cold. It's literally to the point where I can almost see my breath. I throw on my winter coat and insulated pants and dash over to the thermostat, which reads 50 degrees! So after turning it up to 90 with no effect, I assume, to my dismay, that the furnace is broken and that I have a very dismal couple of days ahead of me until my landlords can get someone out to fix the darn thing.

The only thing left to do is get out the folder of appliance manuals for the make and model of the furnace and start writing an email to my landlord. Fortunately, as I'm flipping through the furnace manual I see this little clause about proper technique for lighting the pilot light. The Pilot Light! Now I don't know much about furnaces, but that definitely sets off alarms. I head back outside to my utility closet and, after finally determining the location of the pilot and getting the cover off, discover that yes, of course, it's not lit. If fact, the thing had been turned off since I got there and the furnace had never been working. It had just never been cold enough for me to notice.

That's not quite the end of the story. Of course I'm relieved, but when I go to actually light it, an extensive search of my house reveals that there is no source of fire or flame anywhere! And thus the tale finally ends with a 2am bike ride to the nearest CVS to buy a lighter to light my pilot light so I can go to sleep with my winter coat hanging on the peg where it belongs while I'm inside.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Earliest Memories of Computing

Note: This post was written for my dad's blog chronicaling peoples Earliest Memories of Computing. If you're interested in more similar stories check out his site and contribute!

My generation, for the first time in history, grew up with personal computers in our homes. For as far back as many of us can remember, we've been word processing, loading games off of 8 1/2 inch floppies, and making art with Kid Pix instead of finger paints. Sure digital computers have been around three times as long as I've been alive, and some of the principles have been around much longer (you could get as silly dating computers back to the abacus or perhaps claim the basic theory has been around since the Church-Turing thesis of 1948).

I didn't just grow up with computers though, I grew up with Macs. In fact, until College the DOS-prompt, Windows, blue-screen-of-death world of PCs held an unknowable mystique. For me, computers were "happy" (and yes, occasionally "sad" or "blinking question mark") mac icons, "hello" greetings, and HyperCard. A "computer" was a bulky tan box which consisted mostly of a screen with a little 8 1/2 inch floppy below it whose resemblance to a mouth gave the Mac a cheerfull, friendly countenance. (Incidentally, computer anthropomorphism has been used by Apple since as well. Adds for the revolutionary new iMac design featured it mimicking an observer's motions).
I remember our Apple 2e, although we might have had computers older than that. The earliest macs I remember had no hard drive at all. Each program contained the operating system and program you wanted to run. I think at some point we had two floppy drives which meant we could keep one dedicated to the operating system and switch programs at will! Beside the computer there were a few large storage cases full of disks. In particular I remembered an amazing dungeon crawl game where you moved your avatar through a dungeon filled with monsters and items and made of square tiles of alternating colors like a chess board. After some Google research I finally rediscovered this gem: Dungeon of Doom! I also remember playing Artillery (another classic where you and an opponent take turns aiming and shooting your cannons at each other, adjusting your settings with each shot). I must have been in kindergarten or earlier. Like many my age I've been using computers as long as I've been able to grasp a mouse.

Helicopter Pilot, Shufflepuck, Daleks, Glider, Cairo Shootout, Banzai, Wheel... these are games I grew up on. I remember my three or four disks full of games being a treasured posetion. We were not a TV watching family (my dad only got us a color TV when I convinced myself that the black and white Star Trek episodes that we would watch every week were in color) and in a way the computer took its place.

Over all these years and through my rude reintegrated with the PC world (which I avoided all the way until college) I've retained a few important things from those early macs: a love of computers, a love of computer games, a fascination with being able to "communicate to" (program) a computer in its language, and a love for the aesthetic side of computers.

My life, even my career and friends, were definitely, if not obviously, influenced strongly by my constant silicon childhood companions. I've done independent thesis research on interfaces and human computer interaction. My fascination with the almost magical ability type commands into the computer in the right way and before your eyes see your instructions carried out, would lead me to my undergraduate degree and my current profession. The computer games I played as a child even shaped my hobbies today. I never stopped playing computer games (although I did start making my own), but my love of board, role-playing, and card games I think all stems from hours playing Dungeon of Doom and Artillery on the Mac. I suppose in a way it's ironic that these computer games would be my gateway to the very traditional game media which inspired the computer games to begin with.

Game Over.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Second Life

I recently heard about a pretty cool MMO, not new (it's been out for a few years now) but very cool. The "game" is called Second Life.

It's essentially a freeform space that allows "residents" the ability to buy land and build anything they want on it using their own textures and geometric primitives. Scripts can even be added to in game objects with a c/java like language to bring them to life.

The site claims that there are people who made all or part of their real life living providing a wide array of services in game. In addition to buying services or in-game objects and scripts, players can also buy and rent land, and exchange in game currency (Linden Dollars) for US Dollars at an official site or a number of player run sites.

Of course this concept is nothing new. People have been selling and buying virtual items and currency for as long as massively multiplayer persistent worlds have existed. Second Life is unique, however, in that they encourage this free market economy, even giving players full intellectual property rights and ownership of anything they possess or create in game.

Sort of makes me wonder... if people can make their entire living through such an online world, what if it were possible to hook yourself permanently into such a world? Perhaps leaving your body in some sort of life support, perhaps (even more futuristic) discarding it completely. Of course such scenarios are the bread and butter of futuristic cyber-punk horror stories. But might people actually do so voluntarily? What if it was a way to save off physical death? To live forever in a Second Life?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Washington Correspondent's Guide

The New York Times ran a pretty cool mini-guide to 10 US cities. Washington was one of the ten they did. I'm half posting this as a reminder to me :) so anyone else can probably safely ignore it. Unless of course you're dieing to know where the best grub in D.C. happens to be.

Washington Correspondent’s Guide

Favorite Restaurant: 1789 at 1226 36th Street NW in Georgetown; 202-965-1789.
Cozy, elegant warren of rooms - one with a cheery fireplace - that just seems to define
Washington. The French-inspired cuisine is homey and adventurous all at the same time.
Big wine list, great old-fashioned bar. Dinner for two, with wine and tip, about $150.
Favorite New Restaurant: Black Salt, 4883 MacArthur Boulevard NW; 202-342-9101.
Superb seafood restaurant, with attached fish market, in a leafy residential neighborhood
near the Potomac River above Georgetown. Every night, there is a whole, roasted fish
special and several varieties of fish stew. Oysters on the half-shell, and local greens.
Dinner is about $100 to $125 for two, with wine and tip.

Favorite Hotel: If cost is no object, the Four Seasons in Georgetown, with its big rooms,
crisp sheets and pampering spa at 2800 Pennsylvania Avenue NW; 202-342-0444, rates
range from $350 to $495. For family visitors, especially children, the Embassy Suites at
Chevy Chase Pavilion, 4300 Military Road NW; 202-362-9300, has big rooms, indoor
pool and adjacent to a fine mall and other nearby stores, for $129 to $309.

Favorite Shop or Shopping Area: Mazza Gallerie and the adjacent stores on upper
Wisconsin Avenue on the border of the district and Chevy Chase, Md. Williams-Sonoma,
Tiffany and Company, Saks, Nieman Marcus, etc., all within a few hundred yards.

Favorite Way to Spend a Rainy Day: Any of the Smithsonian museums on the Mall,
including the Museum of Natural History with its brilliant new mammal exhibit.
Favorite Place to Meet a Friend for a Drink: The Bombay Club, 815 Connecticut
Avenue NW; 202-659-3727. British Colonial-style redoubt with rattan furniture, great
martinis, cocktail piano and a comfy, quiet, dark bar, frequented by lobbyists, journalists
and Indian expatriates.

Favorite Place for People Watching: Reagan National Airport, especially the Delta and
US Airways Shuttle departure lounges, where you're apt to see television journalists,
members of Congress, corporate chieftains and everybody else. That elderly man
struggling with a ticket machine might just be Robert McNamara.

Favorite Place to Hear Live Music: In winter: The Birchmere, in Alexandria, Va., a
nightclub-style venue for folk-rock-bluegrass from Roseanne Cash to Mary Black. In
summer: Wolf Trap Farm Park in Vienna, Va., home of outdoor classical concerts and
touring musicals.

Favorite Place to Go for a Walk: The Capital Crescent Trail, which snakes from the
Georgetown University boathouse on the Potomac to suburban Maryland, along an
abandoned rail line.

Favorite Place to Buy Gifts: The Stephen Decatur House gift shop, 1610 H Street NW;
202-842-0920. Gift shop in historic home a block from the White House features
Washington-themed Christmas ornaments, reproductions of White House china, silver,
jewelry and decorative housewares.

Favorite Day Trip: Charlottesville, Va., and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Only a
couple of hours away, and a world apart.

Sight You Shouldn’t Miss: The Lincoln Memorial, preferably at twilight. It never fails
to awe, and it's hard to read those words carved on the walls without feeling better about
your country.

Most Overrated Sight: The Mall. Terrific vistas of the Capitol and the memorials, but
overcrowded, dusty, pocked with souvenir stands and in summer, often uncomfortably
lacking in shade.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Intense T&E Game

Wow monuments make for cutthroat, high-scoring Tigris and Euphrates games. You can tell by the scattered tiles and wall of disasters surrounding the two monuments that they were the focus of most of the game. You can also tell that lion went to town with the bule-green before me (urns) grabed it far too late.

Still I think I had a respectable finish. One more tile would have given me 11. That puts me down to 7 concurrent games going on time to join some more me thinks!

As a side note, there's a new Tigris and Euphrates card game out this year. Looks like the game mechanics are very similar, with kingdoms being made up of columns of cards (each card representing one of the four T&E tiles).

That's it, the thermostat is going down to 55

Panera Lunch: 7 dollars.
Groceries: 23 dollars.
Fitness Club: 33 dollars.

One Hundred and Thirty Dollar Heating Bill: Priceless.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Guildpact Prerelease

What a fun day! Prereleases are pretty much the only (non-online) magic I get to play these days and they're always a blast.

Without further ado here was my card pool (cards included in my deck are in bold):

Leyline of Singularity
Train of Thought
Crystal Seer
Infiltrator's Magemark
Vedalken Plotter
Grayscale Gharial
Tattered Drake
Stasis Cell
Vedalken Entrancer
Torch Drake

Greater Mossdog
Gruul Hodorog
Bramble Elemental
Beastmaster's Magemark (x2)
Doubling Season
Dowsing Shaman
Dryad's Caress
Gather Courage
Stone-Seeder Hierophant

Moonlight Bargain
Douse in Gloom
Strands of Undeath
Roofstalker Wight
Orzhov Euthanist
Shred Memory
Hissing Miasma
Caustic Rain
Cry of Contrition

Harrier Griffin
Ghost Warden
Absolver Thrull (x2)
Veteran Armorer
Benevolent Ancestor
Oathsworn Giant
Lionheart Maverick (x2)
Guardian's Magemark
Dromad Purebred

Sparkmage Apprentice
Scorched Rusalka
Viashino Slasher
Sabertooth Alley Cat
Fencer's Magemark
Rain of Embers
Seismic Spike

Gruul Scrapper
Scab-Clan Mauler (x2)
Gruul Signet
Savage Twister
Burning-Tree Bloodscale
Ghor-Clan Savage
Wild Cantor
Streetbreaker Wurm

Pollenbright Wings
Selesnya Sanctuary
Selesnya Signet

Golgari Rot Farm
Golgari Signet
Golgari Guildmage

Flash Conscription
Boros Signet
Thundersong Trumpeter
Searing Meditation (foil)
Boros Swiftblade

Djinn Illuminatus
Wee Dragonauts
Izzet Signet
Izzet Boilerworks
Leap of Fire

Angel of Despair
Conjurer's Ban

Dimir Infiltrator
Consult the Necrosages
Dimir Signet

Spectral Searchlight

Skarrg, the Rage Pits

My mana base was much more solid with this build than any of my opponents (with 6 mountains, 6 forests, and 2 plains supported by various guild kharoos and signets). I saw many four and five color decks throught the day which I felt was not necessary even in this inherently multi-colored format. There's something to be said about playing your best stuff, but I think even with all the color fixing available in Ravnica, it's often best to leave out some bombs for a solid mana base and curve. That said, it's almost impossible to stick to just two colors. So I'm very happy with a solid Gruul build splashing white for access to both Selesnya and Boros.

My other option was to throw black in there. I do have some goods in black (three removal cards) as well as the Angel of Despair and you might consider me crazy for not playing them. But besides those the color is so shallow. Both Angel and Strands can't really be splashed although I could see myself putting in the Disembowl and Douse in Gloom. As it was though, I had a strong bunch of creatures with good acceleration and a handfull of tricks. Ofthen removal wasn't necessary as my guys were the biggest on the board and were backed by pump from Wildsize, Skarrg, and Ghost Warden.

I do think I made a deck constrution mistake in not including the Golgari Guildmage. Even without black he's a good guy. Also, with the Golgari signet and kharoo I'm second guessing myself even more about not going 4 color and splashing for my black goodies (or even dropping white to go more heavy black and get to use the Angel). Of course, without white I loose the Pollenbright Wings, Thundersong Trumpeter, Ghost Warden, and Harrier Griffin--three very solid creatures and a game winning enchantment which all mesh perfectly with my general plan of turning massive red-green men sideways. I feel it's a toss-up but leave a comment! Let me know what you think :).

How did the actual tournament go? Well I called in to record an audioblog entry after each round of the tournament, so I'll let them speak for themselves:
Round One vs Gereth (2-0)
this is an audio post - click to play

Round Two vs Paul(2-0)
this is an audio post - click to play

Round Three vs Ryan(2-1)
this is an audio post - click to play

Round Four vs Zach(1-1-1)
this is an audio post - click to play
So there you have it. An undefeated record with 11 Guildpact packs at the end.

Some impressions of individual cards:

Gruul Scrapper--I was really not impressed with Gruul Scrapper. He just never did anything amazing for me even when he came out with haste. He did fill a spot in my deck where I didn't have much action however.

Streetbreaker Wurm--Go go gadget cheaper Craw Wurm! A beatstick for sure.

Wild Cantor and Scorched Rusalka--Decent one drops on their own to start the beats flowing, amazing when you play Scab-Clan Mauler turn 2.

Ghor-Clan Savage--Another huge beatsitck. With the right deck its pretty easy to make sure this guy will always come out with his counters, just don't try to combo him with Spectral Searchlight :(.

Absolver Thrull--I didn't end up main decking these guys, but I almost always had targets for them and wish that I had. Since I had (almost) no enchantments the worst they could do is be a 2/3 dude. However with Pillory of the Sleepless hanging out with Faith's Fetters, as well as all the Magemarks (which I don't really think are worth playing) there are always targets out there.

Overall I had a great time and loved the set. It provides a lot of answers (like the absolver thrull) which I think makes for very interesting and more skill testing matches. I love the Gruul already, although I would really like to get my hands on some of the Izzet's toys. They look like a very fun guild as well (I really wish I would have had time to do a draft and force Izzet.dec). Ahh well, there's always the Magic Online prerelease in February.

Friday, January 20, 2006

One tech gadget down

w00t! After much planning I finally headed out to the local Best Buy to pick up my bran spanking new 2GB Ipod Nano. I don't really have that much music :) but iTunes gift cards from my good buddy Chris and my parents as well as a Borders gift card are helping that along (I recently bought two audio books: The Five People You Meet In Heaven and A Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy as well as some music from iTunes).

One down off the 'ol wish list--now back to paying down student loans and putting money into ROTH-IRAs :(

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Beatbox Giant Productions

Beatbox Giant Productions

Absolutely hilarious. If you haven't seen the Ask A Ninja podcast, check them out. The next best thing to Real Ultimate Power.

Miles per Junior Bacon Cheeseburger

I glanced at my bike's odometer today and it says that since I purchased my bike about six months ago (just a few days after I moved up here to the Washington area) that I've ridden a total of 548 miles. To be fair, the number is actually higher since I've definitely forgotten to put my speedometer/odometer back on a times. Recently though I've tried to be good about it since I want to get an accurate figure for just how much I ride on my commute to work.

Now there's two main reasons that I ride a bike to work. One is because it's good exercise, and two because it saves money. But just how much exercise, you ask? And just how much money? Well my friend, you've come to right place.

My average speed is about 9.6 miles per hour, I weigh around 135 lbs, so while riding my bike I burn about 381 calories per hour (or so I'm told).

Now, at 9.6 miles per hour, those 548 miles of riding equal about 57 hours on my bike or 21717 calories burned.

That's a big excess of calories that my daily torture has earned me! How will I spend this hoard of burned off calories you ask? I plan to cash in on them all by eating Junior Bacon Cheesburgers because according to Wendy's I've earned 59 of them (at 370 calories each).

But what's the cost? Well first how much do I save not driving an old junker around (we're dealing with gas costs only here--with no insurance or car payments of course it's even better)? The national average gas price is currently $2.32 per gallon (and this is being conservative because of the insanely high gas prices over the summer). According to wikipedia (which, incidentally we know is full of lies, but lets press on regardless) the average "car shaped object" gets 21 miles per gallon of city driving. So I've saved about 26 gallons of gas or about 60 bucks.

I suppose that's alright... but we're forgetting to take into account my bike's mpjbc! For the laymen out there, that's my "Miles Per Junior Bacon Cheeseburger" or how many delicious Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers I must consume to power my vehicle.

We said above that I've got to eat 59 burgers which, over those 548 miles of riding, works out to be just about 9.3 mpjbc--damn I'm a gas guzzler.

Regardless, buying those 59 burgers at 99 cents a pop is, well... about 59 dollars.


I saved a whole frigging buck fifty for my FIVE HUNDRED MILES OF BIKE RIDING!

There's a moral in here somewhere... but I've got an extra buck fifty of cheeseburgers to buy.

Wendy's: Best Economy Fast Food Meal Ever

Junior Bacon Cheeseburger$0.99
Medium Fries$0.99

Extra Value Meals at most restaurants are a complete ripoff. First, you're buying a drink that probably costs only a little less than all the above items combined. Then, you usually have to get the largest fries or side available and often end up "upsizing" it anyway, tacking on a bit more...

Cheerios & Rasins

Breakfast of Geoff
this is an audio post - click to play

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Song of Ice and Fire

I recently finished the second installment of George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire. A Clash of Kings delivers the goods with the same page turning plot and lovable, hateable, interesting charecters which we met in A Game of Thrones.

I whole heartedly recommend the series to anyone.

BoardGameGeek -- the internet hub for all things board game!

Tigris and Euphrates

Tigris and Euphrates.

I'm currently playing any 8 contiguous play by email games through BoardGameGeek's free online service (if you're interested in the site itself I've got some comments on it here). I just keep joining games until it's my turn in one of them often enough that I don't go crazy waiting.

Dark Galaxy

My home planet.

I've always been fond of browser based massivly multiplayer strategy games. The interaction with thousands of other people inevitably creates interesting diplomacy and the whole experience usually only requires a few minutes of attention each day to log on and make your move.

There's a new game starting on January 29th so I'm signed up and ready to give this old favorite another try.

Riding in the rain... on a cell phone...

What a morning. Not only does my power go off in the middle of the night and fry my alarm clock (I hate my power company, but that's another story) but it's pouring outside. Now even for normal people, a dull, dreary, rainy morning is a pretty poor way to start off the day (it's no wonder researchers are using a Draw a Person in the Rain test to diagnose stress and depression--just my luck I'm sure the depressed people show someone riding to work through the rain on their bike). So, bad enough for normal people, really bad for someone without a car. So what could be a more perfect time for a little narative:

this is an audio post - click to play
I ended up making it to work more or less in one piece, at which point the nifty barometer on my desk told me it was raining outside :(. If only my office had a window for me to throw it out of. Of course a window would force me to watch the rain all day...


Angry Turtle

Photo courtesy of my dad :)