Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Not Too Big Of A World

I'm not quite sure how I missed this story, since it involved 1) board games and 2) the media screwing up. But somehow I did.

Basically, a woman in the UK got hooked on an online virtual game to the point that she let two of her dogs die and starved her children for two months.

It's a tragic story. But something quite irresponsible happened when the story was reported. (The link above is just to one of the stories with the most solid (though still wrong) information; any of the other versions of the story I saw either were no longer on the newspaper's web site, or had excised a lot of the information away. While I can't say for sure, it seems like all of the reporters worked off of the same source, since they all more or less made the exact same mistakes.)

Basically, whoever wrote the initial story got the information that the game she was playing was called Smallworlds.com, which is a fairly standard virtual game where a person creates an avatar of themselves and you spend your time playing hearts and mini golf with other people online. Fair enough. But the reporter apparently just typed in "Small World" and "Game" in Google and came up with the board game (by the company Days of Wonder) of a slightly different name. This board game--which I own and won all kinds of awards for being an awesome game--involves differing races (such as orcs and giants) trying to compete for living space. Two extraordinarily different things.

'Ello, tincanofcoldbakedbeansformykids69. You up for a game of knockoff Welltris?

The author, of course, confused the two, assuming they were one of the same, and also assumed that smallworlds.com was an online version of the board game. Now, the board game is a good game, but I'd be hard pressed to play it for an entire evening, let alone two months. Of course, the reporter, not able to find a screenshot of the online version of the board game--since such a thing does not really exist--they posted in the article a graphic for a Games Workshop game called Warhammer Online, which involves an online game where orcs and giants fight each other. This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with either smallworlds.com or Small World (the board game). It was an online game about what the reporter erroneously researched, so it had to be right! They even credited Days of Wonder for the "photo" of Warhammer Online. You know, so they don't get accused of not giving credit. 

Of course, complicating things is that there is an online version of the board game--but it's a pretty obscure sort of thing, and still not at all like anything described in the article. So even in the off chance that the reporter stumbled upon the reasonably unknown version of the thing that really didn't exist in a format that would make sense for the story, it still wouldn't have made the point the article was trying to make.

To complicate things, the organization that runs smallworlds.com blamed the board game, but only because they were also going off of the original article, which of course was wrong. And the main newspapers did print corrections, but of course at this point half of the articles are gone, half are rewritten, and half are left as is with corrections, so there is no longer any reliable way of looking at the story from an accurate perspective.

What is the point of all this? Well, two points, really.

1) Given how libel laws are in the UK, you would think that the reporter would have been a little bit more careful in their research. It was sloppy and potentially harmful to the sales of the board game. (Doubtful, but that's the sort of thing they look at in court.) Some reports I read were stating that the reporter was simply going off of the official court proceedings, which is a convenient way of blaming the court system (misreporting the court being quite the offense). Of course, that doesn't explain all of the additional "research" that still managed to get everything else wrong, including the Warhammer image. And it's a shame that, because of this mistake, board games--which tend to encourage socialization with other people--gets lumped into the stereotypical anti-social world of virtual reality and online games.

2) The article, of course, insinuates the exact sort of thing that I hate--blaming the activity rather than the behavior. I'm not saying that differing forms of entertainment that have historically been hit with the charge of "corrupting" individuals, such as rock and roll music and Dungeons and Dragons, don't have an influence. But it's an easy scapegoat which rarely, if ever, is the true cause of problematic behavior. In this case, the woman already had issues, and the game was simply something to point at so that the establishment can say "This caused it, not us." And, of course, in this case, the wrong scapegoat got fingered.

Of course, for me, it's a tragedy either way. For some reason, when it comes to things such as computer games or board games, where individuals spend hours upon hours of time poring over minute details just to win a meaningless game for no stakes, they're called social outcasts who need to get a real life. Thank goodness none of those well-adjusted guys in the mainstream are like that.



And, of course, if you do choose to engage in an inherently useless activity that sucks down all of your time and money for no reason except that everyone else is doing it, make sure it's a socially acceptable one.


At least the Disney ride didn't get implicated. Yet.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Achievement Unlocked: Orchard Crankiness

Me: Oh my goodness, those look like delicious apples in the back seat of her car.
Wife: Those are tennis balls.
Me: Son of a bitch.


The End

Civilization V: A Short First Glance-Over

I just got Sid Meier's Civilization V a few days ago. I haven't had a whole lot of time to play through it--just ran through the tutorials and maybe halfway through one chieftan-level game. Keep in mind this is more or less a first-impressions review, since I haven't explored all of the functions of the game.



A few things I like:
1. The new City-State system is pretty awesome. Basically, these are NPC civilizations you can interact with. You can conquer them like normal cities, or you may forge diplomatic relations with them. Mostly this involves bribes, but can also involve defending them against other players, completing missions, and supplying them with units. It's simple but a very nice (and somewhat realistic) concept. (Since you get all sorts of bonuses for being diplomatic, it is usually best to ally with them instead--though not always.) The best part is that the city-states are the ones that will determine a diplomatic victory--which actually makes that type of victory useful for once.

2. The interface is very clean. I especially like the fact that you can more or less look around--although you can't really do anything--while the other players are taking their turns.

3.Technology pacts are awesome. You can't trade technologies anymore, which at first seemed odd. But the new pact--where, basically, two civilizations spend some cash, wait 20 turns, then both get a free new technology at random. I'm sure the randomness part might screw a player every once in a while, but all in all it seems like a nice addition, where it adds diplomacy and risk into the mix.

One thing I like but probably shouldn't:
1. The graphics are not mind-blowingly awesome. But they're certainly on par with what else is out there, which is fine, and is very functional. I don't want to have to buy a new graphics card every four months, and this is Civilization, not Starcraft 2. I am very happy with it, but I can see why others wouldn't.

A few things I don't like but probably should:
1. I'm not sure what to think about the Social Policy concept. I like it in the face of it, but one of the things I liked about the previous Civ 4 civics model was that you had to make a choice in what your society looked like--you had to give up X to gain Y. With the new model, you still have to make some choices, but not nearly as many as before. You can more or less have it all--I think there are only two out of ten that are mutually exclusive.

2. The Wonders are much less powerful. I understand why they did this, since Wonder Addiction can wreck a game, but I still loves me some wonders. 

3. Production seems mind-numbingly slooooow. I'm sure this is good, since the previous strategy for Civ has usually been "build everything in every city," and now you pretty much can't. Or perhaps I'm just not doing production right, I don't know.

A few things I don't like:
1. The technologies seem out of whack. Technologies and improvements don't really match up--why would Economics allow you to build a Windmill? Printing Press allows the Theater? The Courthouse is made possible by...Mathematics? I'm sure from a gameplay balance it makes more sense, but it irritates me. (To be fair, Civ 3 had the same issue, which was partially fixed in one of the expansions.)

2. I am not certain, but so far the AI seems overly aggressive and slightly irrational. This has always been the case in Civ games, so it's not a big surprise. But I haven't had to deal a lot with it yet, so I'm not sure.

3. Automating workers and scouts will cause them to blatantly violate trespassing agreements with City-States. This seems like an oversight that I assume will be patched, but we'll see. 


Now, I haven't dealt extensively with combat--mostly just against barbarians--so I can't speak much to it. I expect that wars will be shorter are more tactical in nature, but I don't know. And I don't know if winning the game is balanced or not, because I haven't finished a game yet. Still, so far, I recommend it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Someone at CNN Is Either Lazy or a Pervert or, More Likely, Both

Someone must really, really like Rachel Ray over at CNN.com. I don't think that means what you think it means, though:


Then again, I hear her cherry pie is to die for.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Podcamp 5

My wife and I attended Pittsburgh Podcamp 5 this weekend. I learned a lot, and I'll recommend it to anyone who is interested in expanding their online presence.



First things first, of course. For those who don't know, Podcamp is a convention (or, "un-convention" as they unconventionally call it) of people interested in using technology for their own use. It started off more or less being exclusively about podcasting, but has grown to include all forms of social media, from Twitter and Facebook to audio and Youtube. 

My wife has plenty of pictures on her site, so I'd recommend looking at those to give you an idea of how things looked. But for a free and decidedly volunteer organization, it was a well-run and impressive event.

Podcamp was two days, Saturday and Sunday, and each day a series of classes were held. (A full schedule can be examined here.) As you can see, with "extending your brand" and "managing multiple identities" to specific classes on fashion and food, there's a little bit for everyone. That particular setup was a good thing, because there were one or two classes that really applied to my own goals and I could safely plot out the entire day's worth of demonstrations. (Thankfully, they also recorded the sessions, so you can watch any of the sessions listed on that schedule.)

I was, admittedly, a little bit too excited. Like a week before the conference, I managed to purchase:

1) A ream of clean-edge business card stock
2) A pack of like 200 lanyards
3) A pack of like 50 retractable badge holders
4) A score of badge clips
5) A score of clear badge holders
6) A package of card stock

And then I printed out ID badges for me and my wife. Sure, they were giving them out free at the conference, but that meant I would have to wait an entire week. This was, of course, unacceptable.

So the day came and we got up early, kissed Dexter good-bye because we knew he'd be pissed at being left alone for more than ten minutes, and took off. I'll be honest--when we first arrived, my hippie sense started to tingle. I expected there to be a lot of young college students and maybe some mommy blogs, and at first I was seeing a whole lot of that (Not that I was drawing any large conclusions based on a few seconds of observation. I would never be so unfair and short-sighted. Ahem.) I was concerned I would feel out of place without wearing Birkenstocks and demanding organic Twinkies for the vending machine.

But then I was surprised--as the morning meeting room filled up, I saw an alarmingly diverse crowd. Sure, most were young people, but there were a lot of middle-aged and older individuals. Some were there for getting their personal blogs improved. Some were there for nonprofits looking for new ways to help people. Some were from businesses trying to improve their social media methods. And we were all gathered together in one crowded room, all looking for the same thing--improving ourselves through technology.

I went to sessions on telling a story and extending your brand. Both speakers did exactly what I was looking to do, but my wife and I also noticed that the speakers were largely confirming what we were already doing--which means we're heading in the right direction. (Her blogs, of course, have exponentially larger followers than my own, which isn't terribly surprising when you factor in her photogenic kindness and empathic inspiration, whereas I more or less focus on the humorous aspects of bat defecation.) If I were to do it again--which I plan to, next year--I might start attending sessions that extend beyond this. Certainly, it's difficult to expand significantly when you're limited to 45 minutes, but i was certainly satisfied with what was accomplished.

The actual sessions were done very, very well. The instructors were all knowledgeable, and the setup was perfect. Each session was broadcast live on the internet. Many of them integrated Twitter, videos, and other technology in each presentation, something that I expect will be more common as more tech-savvy students become teachers (at least those who become teachers in jurisdictions that aren't afraid to allow new ideas in the schools, which is a sadly small amount). Each classroom had a live chat room for the instructor, so individuals at home watching live feeds could pose questions or make comments.

One thing that for some reason I absolutely enjoyed was the Twitterfall. I'm not sure why I found this to be so compelling, but seeing what everyone had to say (including saying the exact same thing as everyone else at the same time) was fascinating. It also increased by Twittering for the day about a thousandfold, and for that I apologize to my mercifully few followers. 


At some point, someone thought it would be a good idea to get my wife, my friend Aaron, and myself on camera to give our thoughts. Two out of three ain't bad.

One of the main things to do at podcamp is to meet new people. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make a huge number of connections, though I did finally get to meet the singularly sweet and strikingly awesome PittGirl. Sadder still, I printed out about six million of the world's awesomest business cards and I didn't get a chance to hand any of them out. Being our first time, I was more concerned about getting a good seat and navigating around the place to really spend a lot of time networking. (Also, I tend to quiet down when around unknown people in real life.) But those I did speak with were very friendly, and next year I plan on being more comfortable.


As least when it comes to meeting people. The only complaint I really had about the place was the place itself--this was held at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh*, which apparently has not bothered to spend any money since the Great War in getting seats that don't hurt your ass when you sit on them for longer than ten minutes. I know, it's a classroom, and that's the way they are, but between my discomfort and trying to get my microwave-sized laptop maneuvered around I was sick of the whole thing by the time the session was over. This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it has been ten years since I was in a college classroom and my size is somewhat larger than it used to be.

I guess the only other improvement would be the sound quality. The in-room classes were fine, but they had a live feed into other classrooms if there were too many people. Unfortunately, the sound wasn't great and it was difficult to follow anything. A simple A/V glance-over should solve that problem. But this is a good problem--when you're forced to have overflow rooms, it means you're doing something right.

Alas, we didn't make it to the second day. We both overslept and by the time we would have made it most of the classes we were looking forward to were done already. (We ended up going to Penn's Colony instead, which, as my wife pointed out, is a touch different than what we did the previous day.) We also missed the Meet and Greet that was held the Friday before podcamp commenced, which I am sure reduced our networking opportunities. (Also, the fact that we don't drink.) I'm looking forward to it next year, and for anyone interested in this sort of thing I recommend it. If you need any materials to make ID badges, though, let me know before you buy anything.

*For some reason when this was first posted, I said it was held at the Pittsburgh Institute of Technology, which I don't think actually exists. If it does I bet it has something to do with steel. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

An Open Letter

Dear Candy Apple:

Why do you taunt me with your existence? Why do you have to be so big and delicious? I cannot wait to devour you, candy apple, but I can never eat you in one sitting. And since you are, you know, an apple, your shelf life is like two hours. Why are you so cruelly short-lived? The sweet time that we spend together, where I take a huge bite and about half of the M&Ms and graham cracker and dipped chocolate crack off and fall to the floor to form a rich tapestry of failure, is too short. And why, when I hate caramel so much, do I not curse you, as that foul syrup is the basis for your creation and, without it, you would never had been conceived in the first place?

I write this to you now, as you sit in my refrigerator awaiting the judgment we all know has already been decided: You will be kind of icky and rotten tomorrow, perhaps--at best--a sinful and unsatisfying breakfast. From there you will be heartlessly discarded, half-eaten, and sent to the netherworld, where nothing awaits you but fruit flies and the cold hand of the river Styx.

I will never forget you, candy apple. Until next year's county fair, when I forget the heartache and pain and buy a smores apple for like twelve freaking dollars and this soulless cycle repeats again.

Love,
Stephen

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Are You Ready For Some FOOOOOTBAAALLLLLL!!!!!!!

Football season has begun, and that means a lot of things to a lot of people. For a lot of guys, it means spending between 17 and 21 weeks eating incredibly horrible but very tasty food while telling the kicker loudly through your television set that so help you if me misses this he's personally going to be making next month's mortgage payment if the team ends up not covering the spread.

I love football, but I was a latecomer to the game--I never really paid attention until after college. As a result, while I enjoy football and watching the games, I have absolutely no appreciation for the statistical history of players or long-abandoned rivalries. And outside of my division, I know very little about football. Heck--I know very little about football in general.


ROLL TIDE ROLL

I know enough to not embarrass myself in front of co-workers and distant relatives, and that's about it. That is particularly transparent when it comes to fantasy football, where I know like four quarterbacks and two wide receivers and the rest might as well be Nicaraguan soccer players. So come draft day I more or less take what I am randomly dealt and act outraged at any proposed trade because I assume everyone is trying to rip me off.

 60th overall pick from over four years ago? No effing way! He must suck!

Football is by far the most-watched professional league in America, and with good reason. For the most part, the NFL has done a good job in keeping up with the changing dynamics in the sports industry. With a branded television station, integrated computer applications, tie-ins with products, and a media empire that rivals most standard stations, they also have the wherewithal to let the other sports get a crack at the consumer collar the other seven months of the year or, in Detroit, the other twelve months of the year. The NFL has adapted--unlike baseball, where the pennant goes to he highest bidder New York Yankees each year--so it doesn't become a dry, feeble shell of its former self in its previous glory days.

  Go Packers!

Of course, football is not without its problems, especially concerning the players. Run-ins with the law, along with prima donna-ish behavior and the inevitable refereeing controversy, are usually expected each year and it's pretty much a given that someone, somewhere, is going to hit a hooker with a Camero while getting iced and transporting a pallet of HGH to their local STD clinic. Or worse.

 My only crime is loving rainbows too much. And apparently donuts.

There is also an impending lockout next year, which may mean an entire season without having your husband spend four hours every Sunday afternoon and Monday night and occasionally Thursday night and after a while closer to Christmas on Saturdays watching a one hour football game. Chances are something will be worked out, but to be honest I can't bring myself to pay too much attention to millionaires arguing with millionaires. If I wanted to do that, I would watch C-SPAN.

Because I am an unrepentant geek, I spend more of my time fantasizing about different ways to make the conference composition and league schedule more efficient rather than watching play action fakes and figuring out if the 3-4 defense is some incredibly complex idea that has taken decades to develop or if it's really just three dudes standing in front of four other dudes. As such, next week or shortly thereafter I will present to everyone my completely ridiculous but vaguely plausible master plan to expand the National Football League to 40 teams. It's so exciting it may want to make you want to move to [spoiler alert] Oklahoma City!*

Until then, there's an entire slate of new games coming this weekend for you to enjoy. And for those in Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City, or Tampa Bay, I think there's a crafts fair or something after church.

*Not really. Unless you are an oilman, an industrial fertilizer distributor, or a cowboy, there is no valid reason for moving to Oklahoma.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Candy Review: JBz

While on vacation months ago, my wife and I came across an odd little selection from one of those little overpriced popcorn shops that have absolutely awesome flavors of popcorn and taste immaculately wonderful so you buy about six canisters of the stuff then once you bring it home and it's been smoldering in your car for the six hour ride home and you've already eaten about four pounds of the stuff in one sitting, you stash it away, uneaten, until it gets thrown out a year and a half later when you need to make room for all the stuff you bought to make Thanksgiving cookies that will never be made.

The item in question was a tiny box called JBz, made by the Jelly Belly corporation.

 That title just screams "Totally Rad!" Um, I should probably check the expiration date on these.

Now, I've never been a fan of jellybeans--usually too sweet and the percentage of getting a licorice one too high--but Jelly Belly has always been a cut above the rest. The Cadillac and Black Label of jellybeans. I remember as a child going into a candy shop in Monroeville and picking and choosing from what seems like six hundred thousand flavors of Jelly Belly candies but was probably more like twenty. And they were so flavorful and--the best part--when we could we would mix two or more flavors together to make your own recipes, like banana, strawberry, chocolate, and pineapple to make a banana split. For those of us who society didn't trust with food processors or open ranges, this was as close as we were going to get to culinary creativity.

So, upon seeing these, I assumed that they were quality. Just look at that box: already I see four out of five awesome flavors. (Screw you, caramel. I've hated you since the second grade.) And that glorious little assortment that shows the graphical depiction of each of the flavors--for those who can't read and a picture of a brown jellybean would be inadequate--just makes me want to consume the actual box.
I just want to devour the portion of my monitor displaying this. 

So how are they? Well, I'll get straight to the point--they're awesome. But--and this is important--they are not jellybeans.


"Jelly Small Chocolate Round Thing That Is NOT An M&M" doesn't have the same flow.

I just kind of assume since they were Jelly Belly and it said "Flavored Shell" on the box this would be some weird candy-coated jellybean they cooked up at the Jelly Belly Institute For Unrepentant Awesomeness. But, in actuality, they are just M&Ms with different assorted flavors.

I'm not going to go through each one, since the result is pretty much what you would expect--they taste like coffee, coconut, brownies, vanilla, and poop. They are very strong and flavorful, and you almost don't want to just throw a bunch in your mouth like you would with M&Ms or regular jellybeans--they're strong enough that one at a time is perfectly acceptable. I swear, they won't make fun of you down at the Diogenes Club if you sip your wine and pop them in one by one.

At least not for that.

The verdict? They seem to be hard to come by, but they can probably be found in drug stores and specialty candy shops, otherwise known as tourist traps. But they are definitely good and even if you are a communist and like caramel you'll find something you like in that little box.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

This Is How They Get You

So I went to the vending machine today and saw some coconut-covered Gem Donuts for a buck twenty five. Even though I knew deep in my heart that this was an expensive purchase for snacks that I didn't really want all that much in the first place, my stomach said "Yum!" Who am I to argue with that?

Reaching into my pocket I realize that while I have cash, all I have in change is a paltry nickel.

"I am not breaking two ones to get a buck twenty-five pack of donuts I don't want," I say to myself, and smartly start to walk away.

Then I see that Doritos are 80 cents, which, by my calculations, is less than a dollar.

"Well," I think to myself. "Why not. It's only Doritos, which is just corn, and corn is a vegetable and therefore healthy." So I slide in a dollar bill and get the chips. Down fall the packet, right past the donuts of which my desire has now decreased significantly.

Two dimes come out. Then my brain says "Hey! If you add those two dimes and your nickel, that's TWENTY FIVE CENTS, which, coincidentally, is the exact amount of change you need to get those donuts!" That is fate, indeed, and I would be a fool to pass up such an opportunity! So I slide another dollar and the change in and get the donuts.

Son. Of. A. Bitch.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Next Stop: November

Well, the reviews are in. The last of the primaries ended yesterday in what is decidedly a victory for the Tea Party. Now, we wait until November to see if the influence of the far right will translate into actual electoral success.

I have mixed feelings about the entire situation. For one, I think the entire influence of the Tea Party is a touch overblown. Moderates vs. extremists in primaries is hardly a new phenomenon, and has pretty much been going on for decades--at least since the advent of the primary. Now, however, there is an organized movement that pundits can point a finger towards and show that it Means Something Important. About the only novel thing is the number of incumbents that got knocked out, but as far as the difference between this year and others might be one or two Senate seats. (I'm not as familiar with House seats, since there are a bajillion of them and I just don't care enough to look. The House is full of fire-breathing gerrymandered retro-politicians from both sides anyway.)

Now, what will happen in the general election is a different story. If somehow the Republican party ekes out Senate wins in the likes of Delaware and Nevada, I will be genuinely shocked. As the polls stand right now--and assuming that Delaware is a lost cause for the GOP and New Hampshire a tossup due to the close results there--the GOP will pick up six seats. Without the Tea Party candidates, the ten seats to control the Senate was unlikely but wasn't out of the question--Delaware, New Hampshire, and even Nevada were in play. Now, they are most definitely not.

That said, I have absolutely no idea how to read this election. Not that I'm particularly adept at electoral analysis, but I usually have a pretty good grasp of historical trends and how polls work. It's entirely possible that the groundswelling of resentment will push the likes of Nevada and California over to the right--polls over the month of October will help us figure it out. A few points:

1. I can't imagine there will be any large sudden surge of support for the Republicans. I think we're seeing that surge in popularity right now--so the only way for it to go is back down. Whether the GOP can sustain this popularity between now and the beginning of November will determine how the election goes. With all of these loudmouth Tea Party candidates out there, I somehow doubt it.

2. Even the rosy control-the-Senate scenarios before the latest results were mostly wishful thinking. Everything--including California, which hasn't sent a Republican to Washington since before America was founded--would have to flip the right's way. Popular incumbents such as Russ Feingold in Wisconsin and Patty Murray in Washington would have to be vulnerable, which they aren't. The only thing that might work in the Republican's favor are a few unknown factors--for example, right now polls in West Virginia show the Democrat with a solid lead, but this is a red state that refuses to admit it. Deep-blue Connecticut has two wild card candidates. And so on.

3. Regardless of what happens, this election greatly increases the chances that Sarah Palin will become a power in the Republican Party. Unless there is a complete blowout of all Tea Party candidates--unlikely--even getting one or two candidates across the finish line will allow her, in the short run, to spin herself as a kingmaker. Ultimately, in the long run, I think she will become the next Patrick Buchanan--highly influential for an election cycle or two, but when she falters she will be abandoned; she will make several failed bids at the Presidency either with the GOP or a third party for a few tries before settling into a slightly influential job in the media with a core of devoted followers.

4. When did Newt Gingrich become such an asshole? Granted, he was a heartless asshole back in '94, but back then I thought we needed an asshole in charge. I still do, in fact. But while Gingrich was incredibly bad at maintaining his image--which, alas, politicians are more or less are required to do if they want to be leaders--he had creative solutions to problems that politicians had, for years, tried to fix by repeating the exact same thing over and over again. I'm not saying I agreed with everything he's ever done, but I at least respected the fact that he was willing to try something different. I've maintained that respect even through some idiotic comments he's made over the past few years, but the last month or so I think he's just gone off the rails. It's a shame, and perhaps I should have known better. I'm hoping that the next rising star that has that signature mix of innovative solutions and good PR with a dash of risk-taking will not be quite the douchnozzle. (Paul Ryan, anyone?)

5. The existence of the Tea Party itself will always be an enigma to me. On the one hand, I appreciate the enthusiasm manifested in their movement, and my own personal ideological beliefs have benefited from their actions. On the other hand, they seem completely blind to the political realities that not everyone wishes they lived in Utah or Alabama. True political realignments take time, energy, and patience to take effect. (I think we're in that right now; despite the 2006 takeover by the Democrats in Congress and Obama's crushing victory was more a reaction than a true signal of voter preference.) The effect the Tea Party is going to have in our electoral ideological map is going to be largely negligible; it might refine some of the ragged edges, but essentially we're going to be in the same trajectory we have been for about a decade and a half. But this sort of thing also breeds backlashes and over-reaction, which are tactical mistakes that have little long-term effects.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Large Heaping Bowl of Thank You

Thank you, man in the big white PennDOT truck barreling down 28. By cutting me off, you shaved an entire four seconds off of your trip so that you can stand around watching other people tear up the same stretch of road you guys just worked on last year for who knows what reason besides spending absolutely the most amount of other people's money you possibly can for no reason at all.

Thank you, asshat in a big stupid truck. I am certain your big stupid truck benefited greatly from weaving from the passing lane to the righthand lane repeatedly as you slow down on the exact same grades you slow down on every time you go anywhere for any reason and are therefore shocked--shocked!--that people pass you and then speed up as fast as physics allows when you have a full twenty feet to spare. I'm certain this will get you to your destination a whole lot quicker, and won't cut into your time of paying moldy slags for sex in the darkened bathrooms at rest stops and downing bottles of amphetamines and Red Bull after you piss in a cup and throw it out the driver's side window at two in the afternoon on the residential street you're not supposed to be driving through.

And thank you, douchcake in a steel blue convertible with the top down when it's 55 degrees out. I know that it's very important that you pick up your Rogaine and Viagra from the pharmacy as soon as possible, because the expiration date of the blond in your passenger side looks to be about up, but I would appreciate it if, when it looks like traffic might be backed up and hasn't moved for two minutes, you don't stop right in the middle of the intersection. I'm sure you could comb the feudal law books to point your sandstone fingers at the statute that puts you in the right, but to everyone else you're just another lost asshole chasing a nonexistent dream.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Board Game Review: Campaign Manager 2008

Following my previous review of 1960, we'll now take a look at an election much more recent: Campaign Manager 2008. CM08 was designed by Christian Leonhard and Jason Matthews, the same folks as 1960. It is published by Z-Man Games and was released in 2009.


Now, there are obvious parallels between 1960 and this game. While the feel of the game is very reminiscent of 1960, the rules are quite different. A 1960 veteran would feel quite at home here, and a CM08 player could easily move to 1960, but the games are, at their core, quite different.

The goal of CM08 is to elect your candidate: either Barack Obama or John McCain. You are playing as a campaign manager, not the actual candidate, so the game play is based more on the unglamorous groundwork of politics rather than grand strategy or lofty, uplifting oratory. To win, both players will duke it out in 20 battleground states--the game assumes, quite rightly, that Obama is going to win Illinois and Massachusetts and McCain is a shoe-in for Texas and Arizona. The designers picked out those states that are perennial battleground states, such as Florida and Ohio, added the states that flipped since 2004--such as North Carolina and Indiana--and a few that were close, such as Montana and Missouri. They basically took any state that was even close to questionable and included it in the game.

There is no board in this game. The states are won one at a time, with four states available at any given time. Players win these states by playing cards from their hand. These cards are selected from a group of 45; each candidate has their own unique card set. Of those 45 cards, players choose 15 of them in a drafting phase. Each player draws three cards, chooses one, and discards the other two. The final 15 cards are what will be used for this game. This gives players control over the type of tactics they will use during the campaign, but also restricts them enough to make each game unique.

Let's take a look at a state:


To win a state, a player must have all of the support (the large blue, white, and red circles) and have the issue (the triangles on the left) point towards the issue where you have the support. The states start out with a pre-determined setup--in this case, Obama starts off with two support in the economy (the bottom circles) while McCain has one, and the remaining one is undecided. By playing various cards from their hand, a player alters support, issues, and demographics (the squares on the right side). At any point if a player has more voters concerned about the issue they have all of the support in, they win that state.

For example:

In this state, Obama has managed to get all of the support tokens on defense. However, since the issue is pointing towards the Economy, he hasn't won the state--but the moment the issue tips towards Economy, he wins this state. Of course, by that time McCain may have removed some of Obama's markers...

Once a state is won, the winner picks another state to contest. Then, a card representing a news item is drawn, with some sort of effect--such as the issue moving in a direction or the demographic changing. The effects of the card normally apply to the just-drawn state, but not always.



The demographic doesn't have any direct effect on who wins a state; however, many cards grant bonuses due to a specific demographic, so it's worthwhile to pay some attention to it.

Placing support, changing the issue, and changing the demographic are done simply by playing different cards. For example:

Each card has a title that reflects some event that actually occurred during the real-life campaign, along with text that identifies what you should do. The cards are fairly straightforward.

Game play is simple--players simply take turns playing one card or drawing one card. The instructions on the cards are easy to decipher, and there aren't a ton of rules beyond what has already been described. There's a "Negative Campaigning" penalty on some cards--they have pretty strong bonuses, but allow your opponent to roll a die and collect some sort of bonus for themselves. There are Media cards, which remain in play until your rival plays one; only one can be in play, so you must discard yours when that happens. But beyond that, the rules are not complicated at all.

The game is over once one player reaches 270 votes. Both players start the game with the uncontested states already awarded. (Obama starts off with an extra two votes due to the math; McCain starts off with more support in a few of the vote-rich states, so it more or less balances out.) There is a scoring track that allows you to place markers equivalent to their electoral vote, so it's easy to see when someone wins. (It's a little difficult to eyeball, so I use it as an approximation, and I do the arithmetic in my head when it gets close.) Games are pretty tight, so it's unlikely either player will win until nearly all of the states have been awarded.

What is good about this game:
*It's simple. There's a few tweaks in the rules here and there, but for the most part it's a matter of playing cards that place support, change issues, draws cards, or changes demographics.
*That said, it's not a shallow game. There is a significant amount of strategy involved. Choosing which states to concentrate on, deciding where to allocate your resources, and trying to outguess your opponent's actions all play a part.
*It's balanced. Whatever is available for the McCain player is also available to the Obama player. The news cards have the same event for both sides.
*Luck is minimized. Sure, your initial card draft may leave you with a card you don't want or you don't get a card you wish you did. However, there are enough cards in the deck that duplicate one another it's pretty rare. And an advantageous news items may hit your rival while you get hosed. You also run through your deck pretty quickly, so if you miss an opportunity you'll get it again fairly quick. These problems aren't common, and your rival is under the exact same restrictions.
*It's quick. The first few plays might take up to an hour, but once both players get a few games under their belt a session can be over in about a half hour.

What I don't like about the game:
*The deck is only 15 cards. I understand the reasoning for this, but it makes the game a little boring, especially since many of the cards are close duplicates of one another. I would have liked a 20 or 25 card deck out of a 60-75 card pool.
*Both sides are, for the most part, exactly the same. McCain gets a few Defense bonuses while Obama gets the equivalent bonuses for Economy. Aside from that, there are at most three cards that are different between the two. Effectively, it doesn't really matter whether you play as McCain or Obama, and I think that's a shame--they could have added a lot more flavor to the game without sacrificing a significant amount of simplicity.


This is a good game. It's simple and quick enough that you'll have fun; and the balance between complexity and brevity is done well. Personally, I expected a little bit more differentiation between the two candidates, but beyond that this is a solid game. I grade it a B.

Next up is the first game in the series--and the most complicated one--Twilight Struggle, the epic battle of the Cold War.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I'm Big in Latvia

I was looking at some of the statistics for this blog this morning, and I happened to notice they have a list of what nations comprise my readership. The top ten list of nations are, in descending order:

United States
United Kingdom
Canada
Germany
Australia
Russia
India
Netherlands
Brazil
Latvia

No real surprises here--a list of hyper-aggressive G20 nations wouldn't be too terribly different, so I suppose it makes sense that it's a reasonable who's who of English-heavy nations that enjoy candy reviews and cleavage jokes. And I suppose I scared off all the Frenchy Frenches with my Fort Necessity post.

But...Latvia?

Nothing wrong with Latvia, but it just seems so out of place. They're good people, I'm sure, but I don't know any Latvians and they're not exactly known to be lovers of sarcasm and board games, at least out of proportion to their population, and certainly not a country that I would think would be scoping out my blog.

So I wonder why? Are they amused by my anti-bat hijinks? Are they impressed with my fanboyish Nixon obsession? I suppose it could be the World Cup, but they didn't even qualify this year, and Spain, Argentina, and Uruguay are conspicuously absent from the above list.

Anyway, I crunched some numbers. Turns out that, based on population and page views, I am more popular in Latvia than I am in my own native country. 1.2 times more popular, to be exact. I'm not sure what that means, but I suddenly have a craving for pierogis, beet soup, and caraway cheese. Go Team Riga!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tax Cut Blues

[Editor's note: I had a much better, much wittier version of this post yesterday. I was just about to publish it when I re-read it and realized I had made a grave error in calculation, and displaying my ignorance to the world was not something I was willing to do. Again. So I deleted it. Ten minutes later I was brushing my teeth and realized I was right in the first place. Alas, my past was deleted and cast into the cyberheavens. However, I'm now too lazy to actually re-write what I had before. so here is a lame short summary of yesterday's genius.]

There's been a lot of talk lately about the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts that are set to end at the end of this year. Congressional Democrats want them to expire, since this will help plug the gap between lagging tax revenues and their massive spending; Republicans treat tax cuts like Christmas Candy and want to make all of them permanent; and President Obama wants to keep most of them except for the taxes on the very rich. (Oddly, no one has proposed, you know, restraining spending as a solution, but you'll have that.)

There are several factors involved here; it's a fairly established economic theory that raising taxes in the middle of a deep recession is a bad, bad idea. Of course, so is running a massive deficit, so the (legitimate) argument is which one is worse. For a Lafferite like myself, of course, the answer is easy, but it's at the very least debatable.*

I'm a good libertarian, in the sense that taxes are one of the few areas I'm willing to go Full Metal Unabomber on--if it were up to me, our current expenditures would be on roads, cops, and bombs, and nothing else, what with us having a Constitution and everything. However, I'm aware enough that in today's political culture, cutting the gummit to the raw bone and letting everything from Medicare to FDA Space Monkey Experiments wither on the vine is not only a bad idea but politically impossible, so I respect the fact that politicians have to pick their battles.

Anyway, it's easy to complain about taxes, and the Bush Tax Cuts have been reduced to Dick Cheney handing out large sacks of cash with a big dollar sign painted on the side directly to pharmaceutical executives and oil barons. People hate this; while the gut reaction is to view tax cuts like this as giveaways to the rich, it's nearly never the case. For those who don't know, when a corporation gets taxed, they more or less pass that cost on to the consumer, so you end up paying the taxes anyway. And it's the rich that are employing people and giving us mortgages and breeding innovation so that they can make more money. And for some reason when we give tax incentives to businesses it's Corporate Welfare (boo!) but when we do the same thing to your mortgage payment it's Reinvesting In America (yay!).

So imagine my surprise when I hear this report on NPR yesterday:


Consider this: If everyone's tax cuts expire on schedule this year, the government stands to collect an extra $238 billion next year. Only about 15 percent of that would come from the very wealthy, those making more than $250,000. The rest — $202 billion — would come from everyone else. By letting everyone else off the hook for higher taxes, the president would add $202 billion to next year's federal deficit. And he can't blame that red ink on his predecessor, George Bush. (Scott Horsley)

Here it is: those evil Bush Tax Cuts that were nothing more than a filthy gift to his rich friends suddenly becomes only 15% of the total. The bulk of the tax cuts--85%--went to individuals under the threshold. (Yes, 250 large is still pretty rich, but it's not as rich as you think.**) So under the Bush administration, this was a disaster for income equality, but now that they are set to expire they need to be preserved for the benefit of the middle class. 

The Pledge: I hate being an apologist for the wealthy, since there are so many that are undeserving of defense. But it doesn't take much to look in your community and know that there's one kind of person creating new jobs, and it's not the broke hobo in the gutter. I'm also of the view that the government is going to spend the money regardless of when and how they collect it, so might as well give me my moneys now.

*The Laffer Curve, for those who do not know, is a theory that reducing tax rates actually increases tax revenues--since getting money into the hands of businessmen and innovators will allow them to create new jobs and new products, thereby increasing the tax base--it assumes (quite correctly, in my opinion) that people in the free market can do a better job of getting that money to its most productive use than the government is. While the Laffer Curve doesn't work in all situations, it works well enough that it has to be considered.  
**The $250,000 is for joint filers. It wouldn't take much for two middle-aged schoolteachers in New England to exceed this, and I would hardly consider them rich. Also, I'm fully aware that that 15% is represented by only a small percentage--say, 4% or so. I don't think it invalidates the point, but it's another case of the people getting taxed the most are the ones that also get the same proportion of relief, and there isn't anything really wrong with that.
 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fort Necessity

Yesterday, I had scheduled a day off of work for my birthday. My wife had generously proposed a trip to Fort Necessity, and so we made a day trip with myself, my wife, and Dexter.

The trip itself was wonderful--the facility itself is first-rate, and I recommend anyone who can to visit. (It is close by to Falling Water and not too far from the pending United 93 Memorial, so it would be easy to hit all three in a day if one were so inclined.)

After a long and winding trip down, you know it's going to be a good time when your initial contact with a historically designated battlefield greets you with this:

"Please, kind sir, may I have the privilege of shooting a half pound of grapeshot through your abdomen?"

I'm fascinated by the French and Indian War, not least because I live in a town that was a prominent battle site (though, due to the rampant demand for KFCs and stone and gravel pits, you wouldn't know it from driving through the place.)  My plan was always to more or less visit a large number of these forts in my lifetime, since most of them are pretty much surrounding the area that I live in, followed east towards Maryland and north to Canada. Alas, it seems that most of the prominent ones either have little to no actual things to visit or have developed into large cities and/or universities.




Once you go through the self-guided tour inside, where they have uniforms and weapons from each of the participants (for those who haven't figured it out: it was French and Indian allies versus the British, which, at the time, included one Mr. George Washington.) This was a small initial skirmish that more or less began the Revolution--the consequences of the entire conflict eventually led (albeit a few decades later) to the establishment of American Independence and the beginning of the destruction of the British Empire.

 It's good to know our historical heritage is being represented by subtlety.

The site is also part of the National Road, one of the first colonial highways to connect the coast with the interior. It has been preserved by pouring blacktop and cement over it and rechristening it US-40, heavy  construction of which apparently is still continuing today. I'm sure if PennDOT existed in 1754 they would have worked on it every single year from then until today, and still somehow stuck the Brits with the bill.

Dexter, of course, had a blast. He couldn't get enough of using his snoot to root out those frogeaters and Injuns.
Where all the white women at?
  

Of course, my birthday wasn't just a recollection of our nation's history. My wife also got me some awesome birthday gifts: a new MP3 player, which I planned on purchasing myself here within a few weeks after my old one shit the bed; a Mario Bros. T-Shirt; and tickets to the first Pittsburgh Penguins pre-season game in the new Consol Energy Park against the hated Detroit Red Wings. All in all a pretty good birthday, not least of all because I spent it with my wife and my pets.

Also: cake