Thursday, August 23, 2007

Publishing, Painting, and Pooping

I do have a few interesting topics simmering on the back burner, but I have a feeling they'll have to be put off until next week when I'm sure to have more free time (yeah, right!) For now, here's a few quick highlights of a day in my so called life:

1. Game Carnival #4

New collection of game articles from around the web was just published by Yehuda. It features two of my posts from Splitting Eights and many other interesting stories, many of which I have yet to read (but will in the not so distant future). This is just getting off the ground, so please take a look and comment on what you like.

2. We're Home Owners!

The Mrs. & I just closed on our new house this past Friday and have been packing, cleaning, and painting in our free time ever since. This is my first real experience painting rooms and boy has it been an eyeopener--painting is a ton of work! We've worked the bulk of two full days and a few hours here and there shopping for supplies, cleaning walls, spackling nail holes, taping rooms, applying primer, waiting for paint to dry, and finally...actually painting! It's been fun, especially when we've been able to do it together, but we sure haven't made much progress. Since we're moving the bulk of our stuff into the new place on Sunday, much of the painting will have to wait. Oh well, it looks like we'll have two rooms painted anyway, which is better than none.

3. Potty Training Hell

When I picked up my son from daycare today we were informed that he had pooped in his pull-up, and this absolutely must stop right away. Apparently when a child reaches three (he will do so in September) and he isn't potty trained, his parents go to Hell. As if the entire potty training 'battle' wasn't enough, we need a little extra pressure from the peanut gallery. From my reading on the topic, potty training is something that you lead a child to, but the doing is up to him. I can't force him to do it, I can only help facilitate the process. So, I guess what I'm saying is...I want this as much as anyone, so do something constructive about it or shut the f&@$ up!

So, to sum up: 1. good 2. great 3. grrrr

Maybe one of these days I'll actually write something about games again. I think I need a muse.

Friday, August 17, 2007

IR Princess

"The Mrs" here. Nathan mentioned to me that I might want to explain my IR Princess nickname, as I work in a unique, specialized, often unheard of field, and many people may not be familiar with IR.

IR = Institutional Research. I work at a small, private, liberal arts university. At the University, I work in the Institutional Research office, which is charged with creating all of the surveys that we give to students, faculty, and staff, compiling and warehousing the data that we get from those surveys, and doing statistical analysis of that data for internal and external monitoring of the University. While this quantitative data analysis (from the surveys) takes up the majority of our time, we also do some qualitative research when trying to assist various individuals and departments in changing or forming policy.

So, that is sort of what I do. I always have a difficult time explaining my job. I do statistics. And as I am the asst. director, my friend Rex has given me the title "IR princess".

That's the story. I hope you enjoyed it and I taught you a little about what I do. If nothing else, I'm sure that Nathan might have learned something :)

Back To Work!

After a fairly brief summer off from work, I'm back to the grind on Tuesday. It is quite unfortunate that we weren't able to close on our house a couple weeks earlier (we close this afternoon) since we have a lot of work to do before it is move-in ready. Now with both of us working full time while we try to pack, paint, clean, and move, and only having two weeks to get it all done before our lease ends on our current home, we're sure to be more than a little stressed out. Hopefully work will be slow and I won't have to put in outrageous hours right away as the semester begins.

My emotions are a little mixed as far as returning to work is concerned. Certainly I had a lot of fun at times and did manage to relax a little when the kids weren't screaming bloody murder. Also I had a little extra time to do some reading, and lots of time to jump start this blog. I have some doubts as to how frequently I'll manage posts in the coming months; my current feeling is that two articles each week will be a good number to shoot for. Last week when I returned to work for most of a week I had a tough time working up the motivation to write anything at all. The issue isn't necessarily finding the physical time to post, but rather a combination of having mental energy enough to brainstorm ideas and motivation to get words down on (virtual) paper. I can find the time but it has yet to be determined if I can find the desire. Stay tuned!

There have been downsides to having the summer off as well, and not just the fact that I haven't received a paycheck in a couple of months. Although I loved the idea of spending lots of quality time with the kids at first, as the weeks passed my patience with them grew considerably shorter. On bad days I felt I should be committed (oh, the peace and quiet of a nice clean place with no kids! I can deal with the mentally ill.) On good days (well, day, I think there may have been one of those) I could sit back watching my brilliant, beautiful children and think how wonderful it is to be a parent.

Maybe an even tougher aspect of the time off is that I don't know what to do with myself when no one structures my days. I'm so used to being busy enough that free time is at a premium and it always feels like I need to make the most of it. When I'm here at home all summer one day leads into the next, I feel like I waste too much time just fiddling with the computer, and I never seem to really get anything accomplished or very often have much fun. I need structure! Sure, you'd think I could have self-imposed some structure on my free time, but if that's the case you obviously don't know me. Maybe I should have tried to get committed, I hear there's lots of structure there! Maybe next summer.

After saying all this it might appear that I am just an ungrateful bastard that doesn't fully appreciate a great gift that God knows how many busy Americans would love to receive in my place, but really I did enjoy the summer, and I am grateful to have had it.

But I'm still ready to go back to work. Of course, catch up to me in a month and ask me what I think about that, my answer may have changed by then.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Session Report: More Settlers With Dinner

The Mrs. and I played Settlers again with James and Karin, this time at their house and eating their dinner.

(aside: in order to keep the blog more honest (especially where it involves me), "The Mrs" (who, as a quasi-feminist, slightly despises that name and will from here on respond only to "Layla" or"IR princess") will be adding comments in purple. The blog owner (Nathan) states that he reserves the right to DELETE (not edit) any additions he finds particularly unsavory)

Dinner was great: ricotta stuffed manicotti, green salad with vegetables and olives, crusty Italian style bread, all delicious. I brought the wines this time around, although I managed not to pay much attention to the brands. I chose a simple Riesling and a Grenache/Shiraz mix, both of which were quite tasty. The Mrs. and I mostly drank the red (I'm a red kind of girl...and champagne! and long island iced tea! and shots of whiskey!), with Karin & James polishing off the majority of the white. Midway through our gaming later on we ran out of wine and had to transition into mixed drinks, so perhaps next time around three bottles of wine would be in order. They seem to be the white wine type, so I'm thinking two whites and a red is the way to go.

Everyone was eager to get to the game so we finished up with dinner and only paused for a quick smoke break before setting up the game. This time we jumped right into the random setup, unlike our previous one where we used the standard beginner's configuration. Everyone had lots of fun this time around and James and Karin seem quite addicted to Settlers, which is a very good thing!

The first game seemed to progress quickly until we had about six to eight victory points, where things began to stall. I was sitting on three cities, largest army, and absolutely no options for further building as close quarters gave me no room to place settlements. My only avenue to victory was pulling two vp cards out of the development deck. The Mrs. was stalled as well since she had lots of brick and lumber, all five settlements on the board, and was fighting over the longest road with Karin. She had no access to ore so had to rely on trading to upgrade to cities. James and Karin had been a little behind but began to edge closer as both the Mrs. and I spun our tires. I began to lose hope when the development deck got down to the last six cards, not even knowing if there were still two vps in there. Miraculously, two turns and two lucky vp cards later, I was the victor. An exhilarating win, indeed!

(Luck and persistence are the causes of this pathetic victory -- we were both at the same point, struggling with poor opening decisions, grasping at whatever we could do. The next game was much better....)

Karin suggested a second game, and we all heartily agreed. Certainly it is a good sign for things to come when everyone is up for another game when there are three exhausted kids in the next room and it is already 9:00pm. It was decided the kids could stay up a little later, and the game was on!

I don't remember a lot from our second game (defense mechanism), only that I had a good mix of all five resources and was building and expanding at a very healthy pace. Suddenly the Mrs. swept in, stealing the longest road from Karin, and adding it to her largest army and cities and settlements to score a decisive win. Still a fun game, but the ending was a bit of a shock, since I don't think any of us saw it coming quite so soon.

(Except Layla, who KNEW it was coming and tried VERY VERY hard to not give away the secret prematurely. The urge to shout "just give me the damn lumber so I can win already since it is happening ANY moment" was quite strong, but I called upon my meager allotment of self-control and managed to stun them. Honestly folks, it was a beautiful victory. I wish you had been there to observe their stunned silence at the massacre.)

This is as opposed to the previous game when the end dragged on a little until you expected someone to claim victory at any moment. We never had time for that feeling to develop in this one (too true).

Well, I'm quite happy to report that our first two sessions together seem to be pointing towards a frequent game night, which makes me very happy. Until our next meeting, I'll wait with much anticipation.

One last note: the unusually late bedtime for the kids (11:00pm) resulted in them both sleeping in until unheard of occurrence in the Todd house! Certainly no complaints here (Layla isn't so eager to embrace this late awakening...who knows what tonight will bring).

Save or Spend: The Basic Financial Balancing Act

I would like to think of myself as a saver, and I tend to subscribe to the latte factor philosophy of savings. (I believe it is David Bach that owns the term, but the principle is universal. To see his take on the subject and calculate your personal latte factor, click here .) Essentially this consists of paying close attention to the details of your daily expenditures, then finding and eliminating those 'little' items that you buy but don't really need.

The basic point here is that it is quite easy to spend $5-$10 each day on coffee, snacks, magazines, and other seemingly small items that, while enjoyed for a moment, are really not very important to your happiness or well being, especially considering the immense impact the unneeded expense has on your finances. Every day when you spend that $10 it never seems like a lot of money but over a month, year, decade, etc. it adds up to a considerable amount.

This principle is important to developing a saving habit and goes a long way towards shoring up one's finances.

The goal of this exercise isn't to try to cut out as many expenditures as possible, but rather to perform a simple cost/benefit analysis on your spending. It leads to questions like "Is that latte and croissant every morning really worth $300 a month to me?" If it really is, then go right ahead and keep on spending that way. For most people, however, the problem is that they don't intend to spend that much on those items, but simply have never thought about the true costs involved. Those people will probably realize that their morning treat isn't that valuable to their lives and will look for for less expensive ways to start their day.

I think some people may take this principle to an extreme and forget that it is really just a method to make you pay attention to where your money is going and make you compare the benefit you receive from purchases to what you actually spend on them. I've seen some discussion recently online about people who are obsessive about saving for retirement (usually not a bad thing at all!), but perhaps make too many sacrifices throughout their working lives to fund their retirement accounts. What is the point in putting away all that money for your latter years when you may only barely be scraping by today? If money spent now on activities and items important to you would improve your quality of life significantly, by all means it should be spent! Sure, this is not a problem most people have, but it is important to realize saving can be taken too far.

Certainly it is important to save money for retirement, and there are lots of great guides out there for how much you should save and where you should put it. My point here is just to make sure you stay focused on the real goal for all of us: to lead a good life. Each individual must determine what they really want out of life, both now and far in the future, and plan accordingly. Spending too much now on frivolous things may make for a miserable retirement, but is an enjoyable retirement really worth misery in the present time?

The Mrs. and I are tackling this balancing act now, as we are both finally out of school and in the real world. Of course, making decisions about how much you need to spend to maximize your quality of life now and how much you need to save to maximize your quality of life in the future are not amongst the easiest you'll face in your lifetime.

The real point here is that it is vitally important to ask yourselves these questions even if you have no clue as to what the answers may be. Avoiding these questions, as many people do for far too long, only hinders you from controlling your own financial lives, and certainly reduces the chance of living a good life.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Country Boy in the Big City

Just a quick post while I'm packing for our big move...

We had a ton of fun in Ottawa, although we never did make it to any of the big tourist destinations. We did catch a glimpse of the Rideau Canal, but no art galleries, museums, or Gothic churches for us. This was largely due to running out of time, so our next trip will be sure to include more of those sights. We did spend a good deal of time driving around the city, and I'm happy to report that Ottawa is a very pleasant place to navigate. Sure, we had no idea where we were going most of the time, but we found our way eventually, and the driving process was much less stressful than I would have expected for any large city. One issue we had a tough time with was the lack of convenient parking; the spots we settled on were always a little further away from our destination than we had planned.

We ate at Anna Thai Restaurant on Holland Ave. Friday night, and the food was fantastic. This is coming from a professional cook, albeit one with very little Thai experience. In fact, I'd never had the opportunity to go out for Thai food until now, living as I do in rural America where they think Thai is something you do with your shoelaces. I've never considered myself someone who would like to live in the big city, but certainly if you can stand the cramped quarters and the rushed lifestyle, the food is well worth it! I can't wait to visit the city again simply to experience another good restaurant, an entity that if not completely extinct where I live, is certainly endangered. I don't recall names of dishes we had, but the Mrs. and I each started with a similar hot and sour soup with coconut milk, hers with chicken and mine with shrimp. I savored every sip of this delicious dish. One unexpected feature of the soup was that it contained sliced button mushrooms that were almost raw. At first I was skeptical, but it actually did work rather well in the end. I'm not sure if this was how the soup was intended or simply a rushed presentation, but it worked nonetheless. The Mrs. had a main course of chicken with vegetables and chilies: quite spicy but delicious. I had somewhat of a combination plate, one scrumptious shrimp spring roll with sweet garlic chile sauce, a good chicken and vegetable dish, and an orgasmic concoction of beef, peas, and eggplant fused together by a rich and spicy red curry sauce. I was very tempted by dessert (one of the selections was a ginger creme brulee which sounded heavenly), but I had practically licked my plate clean and was too full to consume another bite. If it wasn't for the variety and quality of restaurants in Ottawa I would be sure to come back to Anna on my next visit, and even so it might be hard to resist an encore at this fabulous restaurant.

So dinner was great, and the comedy club we attended afterward did not disappoint either. There were four comics performing at the club that night, but the best one by far was the MC of the evening, a Toronto performer named Andrew Evens. Check him out at He looked just like the actor who plays House on television, and got lots of laughs for his joke about finally looking like a celebrity and still not getting any. Two minor complaints about an otherwise great experience: 1. Our waitress was rude and bitchy, albeit attentive and efficient. If she smiled a time or two she would have been great! 2. The bartender downstairs made the Mrs. a terrible Long Island Iced Tea (even calling this drink by that name is giving it too much credit). In fact this was the second similarly bad LIIT she had been served that night since she ordered one at a bar we stopped by on the way. Our interaction with the bartender went a little like this (of course edited due to poor memory):

Me: "So, do you make a good Long Island Iced Tea here?"
Bartender: "Yeah, sure."
Me: "You don't sound too convincing there, dude. We got one over at the Heart and Crown that was a disgrace to the name and your profession."
Mrs. "Yeah, it pretty much tasted like sprite."
Bartender: "It doesn't even have sprite in it."
Us: "We know."
Me: "Okay, I'm not sold on this, he doesn't seem to be too confident in his ability to make one."
Mrs. "So what is the best drink you serve?"
Bartender: "Long Island Iced Tea."
Us: Questioning glance at each other.
Me: "You weren't exactly selling us on it a minute ago."
Mrs. "Okay, I'll take one, but it better not taste like sprite."

He pours the drink and she tastes it as we turn to walk away. "Yup, just like the last one." I shake my head. Apparently they don't know how to make a Long Island Iced Tea in Ottawa. A shame, really, but next time we'll know better. Apparently we need to get better at interviewing bartenders before we let them make a complicated drink like that. It's evident that it was just too much for him. We need to ask specifically what the bartender thinks the ingredients are before ordering, and if only one alcohol is involved and the drink is 40% coke and 40% sour mix...just steer clear!

Anyway, an unexpected final highlight of our trip was shopping at Ikea. Granted the term 'shopping' here is used in only the loosest of ways since we didn't actually purchase anything there. We did compose a wish list totaling somewhere in the six digit range, but didn't actually pull the trigger on anything, largely because most of the items we wanted wouldn't fit in our car. Of course the fact that we just bought a $120,000 home and have almost no money to spare may have entered into the mix as well. We were very impressed with the store since in our area furniture is either much more expensive or much poorer quality than the items there, and usually it is both. Maybe next time we're there we'll actually buy something.

The final word on Ottawa for now: a beautiful city that I'll be sure to visit many times in the future. It certainly doesn't hurt that it's only an hour and a half away...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Cooling Off Party

This past Thursday, the Mrs. and I attended a cooling off party at the home we are purchasing. It was an odd feeling to be hanging out in the house we'd just bought with the sellers and many of their friends. In a way it makes sense since we needed to learn how to deal with some of the house's quirks before we moved in, but it was also quite strange since our perceptions of the party were quite different from that of the other guests. While everyone else there was recounting memories of the sellers and the home, essentially celebrating their time there, we were studying the layout, brainstorming paint colors, and considering furniture placement.

Perhaps the party allowed us a short glimpse of the life our place will have once it is filled with our friends and memories. A couple of odd moments--

The sellers' two year old dumped his drink on the hardwood floors periodically throughout the evening. Each time he did we would cringe just a little. "Those are our floors!" yelled the voices in our heads.

We talked with a woman at the party who we had met once before and discussed in conversation with friends another time. We were bound to remember her since her name is Rainbow ... needless to say she's the only one we know. She lives in the town we are moving to and has a daughter the same age as ours, so perhaps the second meeting means we are bound to become friends.

The house is truly beautiful with lots of natural light and great features, but it has really begun to sink in that there is lots of work to be done in the next couple of years. Most of this is cosmetic, but will still prove to be quite time consuming. I'm sure when all is said and done the finished product will be spectacular, but getting their might just take a bit of elbow grease.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Mrs.

Good Morning Blogworld. As Nathan appears to be taking a sabbatical (now that he has a JOB again), I, the Mrs., have been given clearance to write a short post. Not yet a blogger myself, I am forced to rely on the kindness of others when the need to "get something out there" becomes too overwhelming.

Anyway -- on to the post! I woke up this morning after a horrendous night filled with one screaming almost-3 year old. The joys of parenting. Despite that loss of sleep, I still managed to be up and out of bed by 6:40, giving myself AN ENTIRE 20 MINUTES without the kids and husband hassling me. Since I am taking a vacation day, I did what any young parent would do when given child-free, non-work time: I hauled a few trash bags out to the Mazda and removed a few weeks worth of garbage from its interior.

Uninterrupted 'me' time always leads to random thinking. This morning's thoughts starred our daughter, Abby, as I contemplated her apparent knack for making new friends easily. A few short antidotes come immediately to mind:

1. A few weeks ago the four of us were out at a playground in the burgeoning metropolis of Massena. I was resisting the helicopter parenting urge quite well by sitting on a bench and doing a little recreational writing. Yet a conversation between Abby and another child caught my attention:

Random Boy: "Hey, what's your name?"
Abby: "Abby"
RB: "You want to be friends?"
A: "Sure."
Me: "Abby, what's his name?"
A: ::shrug::
RB: "I'm coming Abby!"

Random boy proceeds to shamelessly follow her around, chattering away until his parents decide to leave (which is THE ULTIMATE in awesomeness for other parents because it offers that wonderful "he is leaving too so this is a good time to go" option. Of course, It has come to my attention that this might be encouraging that awful peer pressure (oh honey, everyone is doing it. c'mon, you know you want to leave the park too!), but sometimes you are willing to do almost anything to avoid a 50 minute ride home of ... well, of a 4 year old who is bitter and wants to demonstrate to you just how pissed off she is.

2. A few weeks ago (ASIDE: to me, everything seems like it was a few weeks ago. It wasn't yesterday and I think it was this year so a few weeks sounds appropriate) we took the kids up to Parc Safari. We have been trying to bring them every year and, as this is the last year we can go without getting passports, we knew we had to make some time for it. Anyway, parc safari was fine. Not as great as other trips because it was HOT and overcrowded, but the kids were cooperative so it made the day pretty enjoyable. ANYWAY, because it was hot and sticky and Parc Safari has a "water park", Nathan took the kids swimming. Immediately, Abby picked up a friend who followed her around (although this time the friendship was more mutual with Abby loving this little girl and following her around as well). I would repeat some of their conversations (as they had many) except Abby's new friend didn't speak a word of English and I speak maybe 14 words of French. Trying to recall ANYTHING from my 3 years of high school French, I was able to direct Abby to say "Je M'appelle Abby," to which her friend said "OK." Her friend kept running back to her parents and I heard the phrase "ma ami" a few times. Her father and I exchanged that friendly our-kids-are-getting-along,-isn't-that-nice-even-if-we-cant-communicate-with-one-another smile. Although it is great to be social with other parents, the language barrier made it so nice because it wasn't even a little awkward to NOT make small talk.
Meanwhile, Abby and her friend are running around, talking at each other, not really caring that they can't understand anything that the other one is saying. It was adorable and awesome.

But -- what are these stories leading up to? Well -- I was just thinking about the incredible differences between Abby's ability to make friends and my own. Grown-ups, and I suppose I could be lumped into that category now (kids, husband, home ownership, real job, 403B ... all of these things would point in that general direction) just don't accept others that easily. We are too guarded. We have been taught to not become attached to people very quickly and, even if we do, certainly not to show it! We don't want to offer them anymore friendship than they are giving us and we certainly don't want to be publicly or privately humiliated for "loving" someone more than they love us.

I know that not all children have an easy time making friends, even when they are very young (as Abby is). So I have to wonder where her ability to put herself out there and make friends is coming from. Thinking about that 2 of us, I sure as hell know it isn't Nathan, so I guess it must be me. I will admit to being a fairly social person, especially under certain conditions (with people I already have a connection with, and if games or (even better) alcohol is involved). But I would like to harness more of those wonderful, "child-like" characteristics that would enable me to walk into a room filled with strangers and come away with some of their contact information. But perhaps what is a more important skill to learn is how to read people in order to accurately choose an appropriate topic of conversation as well as recognize their willingness to extend the relationship past a random house cooling party.

Anyway -- that is my 9 cents for the morning. I appreciate the ability to get it all out there. Nathan has been encouraging me to start a blog of my own. But, much like Ryan does for Creed in that wonderful show, The Office, I needed someone to screen my posts for me before taking it to the Internet. So -- please let Nathan know what you think by way of the comments thread. You hold my future in the palm of your hand. Use this power wisely.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Movie Games

My daughter loves video games, although she calls them movie games. This makes sense, I suppose, they are games and you do play them on a television just like movies.

A couple days ago my mother in law was visiting our area and staying in a nearby hotel. My brother in law had his PS2 with him along with his special guitar controller for the game Guitar Hero II. My daughter, after realizing that the instrument was actually a controller with a 'Wow!' said to him: 'You like movie games too!?' This line made me smile instantly. Her innocence and somewhat sheltered life was certainly evident here. She didn't realize that video games make up a huge industry around the world comprised of hundreds of systems and millions of players. She was just overjoyed that her uncle shared this hobby that to her was her own personal thing. To her this seemed a very unique and profound connection.

Of course, upon further reflection, her love of video games reminds me how assertive they truly are and how easily they can become the object of obsession. Of course, she loves board games too, but when Super Nintendo is offered (and even when it is not) it's certainly the activity of choice. With video games, the action comes to the players almost automatically, there is no need to set up the board or keep track of pieces in play. The visuals and controls are simply right there, obvious and blunt yet instantly appealing and addictive at the same time.

I've always liked video games since I was a child, especially the older Nintendo stuff, but this particular line of thought makes me glad I've chosen to pursue board games as my primary gaming outlet. It also drives home the point that what Nintendo I do let my daughter play must be a treat on rare occasions, not an everyday obsession. I feel board games are more constructive, better both socially and creatively. Board games will be the rule, movie games the exception.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Topic Diversity: Strength or Weakness?

As I've been posting this past week, it has occurred to me that my blog has become quite topically diverse. Looking back over my week of entries, I've noted the following broad categories: Monday, travel; Tuesday, kids' games; Wednesday, gambling, online board games; Thursday, food & wine, board game session report; Friday, goal setting; Saturday, classic video games; Sunday, blogging. This is only a glimpse of what is to come since I will certainly cover much more ground in the coming months than I have to this point.

Obviously the major reoccurring theme here is games, so I suppose you could say I write a blog about gaming. Over the long haul, however, if half of my posts discuss the gaming hobby and half cover my numerous other interests, is that really a 'gaming blog?'

Many blogs out there display much more of a singular purpose, acting like a magazine or newsletter covering one topic in depth. There are cooking blogs, sports blogs, personal finance blogs, and many many more. These strongly themed blogs may have occasional side notes on other aspects of life but tend to be fairly focused. Can a blog gain heavy readership and survive with such scattered themes as mine? Obviously not everyone who might stumble on a particular post will enjoy all of the topics I discuss, but what are the chances that enough of it is interesting to the point that they become a regular reader?

Comments from the Mrs. just recently led me down another train of thought:

There are many sites that cover a wide range of issues, events and thoughts. Although this type of blog tackles many different issues, usually it has a strong sense of perspective to tie the whole affair together. For instance, an economic blog might discuss almost anything happening in the world today yet approach each point from the perspective of an economist. This in itself becomes the theme of the blog despite the topics of discussion varying to a great extent. Another of this type of blog would be a feminist one. The events, thoughts, and stories related by the blog's author, though covering lots of ground thematically, would all be presented from the feminist perspective. These strong viewpoints give like minded readers plenty of opportunity to connect with the site and keep coming back for more.

Though I do have my own perspectives on life none are so recognizable, marketable, or thematically consistent as those I mentioned above, and thus probably aren't enough to hold a blog together on their own.

Thus I'm left with a little perspective, a partial theme (games), my writing style, a wide variety of topics that may or may not interest readers, and (thus far) a remarkably consistent posting frequency. Is this enough for a blog to gain a loyal following and a little visibility, or must I change my focus to achieve those results? Should I simply quit caring if people are reading and be satisfied that my blog is fulfilling its primary task of giving me an outlet to practice my writing and explore my own thoughts and interests? Might a wide variety of topics even be a strength, perhaps attracting many different types of readers, each finding Splitting Eights via a post closely related to their individual interests?

Please reply. I would love to hear some of your thoughts on this.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Super Bomberman

Recently I've been reminded of my love for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System due to my daughter's somewhat disturbing obsession with video games. While most of my favorite games for the system are mostly solo experiences, what is probably my #1 game of all time, Super Bomberman, is delirious fun with four players. All the bomberman games are fun, but out of those I've played the first Super Bomberman for SNES is the best. The best part of this game is its intensity. Power ups are littered throughout the levels, quarters are tight, and explosions are everywhere.

What makes this game GREAT:

  • Power-ups are cool and powerful. Kick is great, but the flexibility of punch to both get you out of scrapes and wreck havoc upon everyone else is a beautiful thing. Detonating bombs are some of the most fun you can have on a console.

  • Completely accessable to new players. The controls are a cinch to learn, and getting comfortable with the game takes a couple of minutes for most. Nothing is hidden, players can see everything going on, it takes almost no experience with the game to understand what's happening on screen. Each game is extemely short at two minutes, so even if you make a stupid mistake or even have an entire terrible match, it is a short wait until everyone starts from scratch and players have a fresh start. There is basically nothing here to prevent anyone from playing right away and having fun.

  • The intensity is unparalleled. Very close quarters, crazy music, sometimes 6+ bombs per player, bombs being kicked and punched to all corners of the screen, full screen explosions, 'explosive diarrhea' poison, four bombermen launching into a blood frenzy simultaneously: if most levels didn't start off slow and only accelerate after a few seconds, it would almost be too much! Later chapters lacked the same intensity: Bomberman 2 replaced punch with throw and it tones the game down immensely. Bomberman 64 opens up the play area and allows easy 3d movement--meaning it is far easier to avoid explosions and the high pressure environment is gone.

  • Four player simultaneous action is awesome. Sure, the five players of Bomberman '93 is cool, and I've yet to play that version so I suppose it could be superior. Let's face it, though, blowing your friends to smithereens is pretty much as fun as it gets, especially when you can multitask and obliterate three at once.

  • The battle mode levels are a lot of fun. Lots of cool levels exhibiting special characteristics to spice up the basic game. One small weakness the game does have is that the adventure mode is very easy and dull. To me this does not reduce the game's stature in any way because battle mode is a completely different game and does not rely on the other in any way for its greatness.

At this point, being for such an old system, Super Bomberman probably is loved by many but may never be played by many others. This is a game that is very different from the majority of video games out there, especially since it is heavy on player interaction. It is very competitive and will cause lots of trash talking, but this is all in good fun! I have the suspicion that many people who don't generally enjoy video games would love this one. I personally have always had great success when introducing Super Bomberman to those not well versed in the world of video games. The first level played is usually enough to hook about anyone--it is simply a ton of fun. If you own a SNES and don't have this one you should definitely track it down--just remember you'll need a super multitap in order to play those 3rd and 4th players, and Super Bomberman with two players isn't half the game it is with four. Happy bombing!

Friday, August 3, 2007

My Goals For Fall 2007

I believe it is vitally important to have defined personal and professional goals in our lives, yet I have not spent the time to formulate any in a terribly long time. Even having had the summer off, far too many important aspects of my life have gone unexamined, and frankly been allowed to slip altogether too much. Especially since autumn should prove to be quite busy for my family and I, it is essential that I focus on these important issues. Here is a quick rundown of what I'd like to accomplish in my life from now until the end of 2007, in no particular order:


  • Find one on one time to spend with each of my kids here at the house. This could be playing a board game, reading a book, finding a quiet corner and chatting about the events of our day, making plans for future fun, or most anything that allows us to connect. Certainly I'd like to make this happen every day or at least 5 or 6 days each week.

  • Work on becoming more patient with my kids. I need to learn to step away from them when they frustrate me and take a personal time out to breath and relax. Explore the concept of meditation.
  • Spend time alone with the Mrs. to ensure we stay connected throughout our busiest times, at the very least spending a few minutes each day to give each other our full attention and to chat. Go on a full-fledged date at least twice a month with NO KIDS!

  • Plan at least one fun activity each week where we all get out of the house and enjoy ourselves as a family.

  • Stay better connected with my Mom & Dad, try to call each of them once a week.

  • Do a better job maintaining relationships with my brothers and with my two closest cousins--all of whom are dear to me but I interact with far too rarely.


  • Look for new friendships and gradually develop the few that I have begun in this area.

  • Be social in our neighborhood once we move into our new house. Host parties, invite people over for dinner, and generally get to know everyone around us. Find ways to get active in the community.

  • Reestablish and maintain relationships with friends from my past through facebook, email, telephone, and face to face whenever possible.


  • Share my love of board games with a couple of new people every month. Explore possible gaming relationships with people I know now. Sometime early next year have enough interest to start a weekly board game group in the Canton/Potsdam area.

  • Continue to explore the gaming blog community, give lots of feedback to those bloggers I enjoy reading, keep up with all the gaming blogs I enjoy. Listen to at least two gaming podcasts weekly, including The Dice Tower.

  • Buy one or two new games and share them with friends, building my collection, the breadth of my gaming experience, and my gaming friendships.


  • Propose new recipes to test for the St. Lawrence University catering department.

  • Research flavor combinations and dishes that I would like to explore in the future. Read one book about food and find and read food blogs that I enjoy.

  • Start a food journal with my thoughts on ingredients, dishes, combinations, recipes, what works and what doesn't.

  • Learn as much as I can about wine. Drink wine with dinner at least once or twice each week. Read the wine bible from cover to cover.

  • Volunteer for more responsibility at work if the opportunity presents itself, look for occasional experience baking and working the line in a restaurant setting.


  • Hit the $10,000 level in my retirement fund through work.

  • Rebuild our personal savings level to $10,000.

  • Start a taxable investment plan with a small monthly contribution.


  • Read one book on an interesting and important topic.

  • Read the New York Times and Wall Street Journal (or other good daily newspaper) online on a daily basis.

  • Listen to NPR three to four times each week.

  • Thoroughly research the 2008 political candidates. Get well versed on the issues important to me and each candidate's stand on them. Get a good feel for the character of each of them. Generally learn as much as I can about the political landscape and become much more firm in my political opinions.

  • Publish my blog at least three times weekly no matter how busy I am at work!


  • Engage in one aerobic activity for at least half an hour three to four times per week. This could be a jog or a walk, playing tennis, going to the gym, etc.

  • Find time to play tennis in particular at the St. Lawrence fitness center once a week if possible.

  • Begin a strength training program even if it is very light at first.


  • Try to figure out exactly what it means to be spiritual without necessarily being religious. Stay open to learning about the religious experience. Although I went to church as a child, I've never actively believed in God or had a personal religious life. (I also don't actively believe there is no God, I've just never had an experience that moves me in such a way to find meaning in any particular faith.) This is an area I understand very poorly and would like to explore.

Well, there you have it. The chances of me achieving all this are probably slim to none, but so long as I remain dedicated to giving it my best shot I'll be in great shape at the end of the year in a lot of ways. If anyone out there is interested in setting up some personal goals for themselves as well and would like to keep each other accountable I would be very open to that! Also, I would love to hear your comments on any of these topics.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Meatloaf & Sheep

Last night the Mrs. and I had friends over for dinner and a game. Karin works in the same building as the Mrs. and James is her husband. The dinner: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, beef gravy, tossed salad, whole wheat dinner rolls, berries with Creme Anglaise, a bottle of red, and a bottle of white. The game: Settlers of Catan, basic game.

Act I: Dinner

Sometimes when I get a little too excited about a meal I tend to overdo it just a little bit. This was one of those times. Of course, the meals never seem that time consuming or complicated when I'm brainstorming what to serve; that part only becomes glaringly apparent when I actually begin the cooking. The bad side: the meal was obscenely labor intensive and took much more time than planned. The good side: everything turned out precisely how I intended and I was completely satisfied with my results. I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to food and it is extremely rare that I make such an unqualified statement such as this.

Of course since the preparation and execution of dinner was so much more than I had realized, my other big job of the afternoon, cleaning the house, was only half completed when the Mrs. arrived home from work. So I scrambled to finish the meal while she finished the housework. A little more hectic than I like, but everything turned out okay. The meatloaf and rolls were especially popular.

We drank two bottles of wine with dinner. The white was under the Black Tower label, a 2005 vintage of a grape called Rivaner, a variety I have never tried before. Its flavor was quite pleasant, very fruity, a touch sweet, and tasted strongly of grapefruit (although no one else agreed with me on this point). This is not a wine I would choose to drink on a regular basis; I prefer whites that are much more dry and typically that are much less fruity. To me it would best serve as a wine to enjoy on its own on a lazy weekend afternoon rather than drunk alongside a meal. The red was a Yellowtail Shiraz/Cabernet blend which I have had several times before and has proven to be very enjoyable. This is a very inexpensive wine, yet to my (admittedly fairly untrained) pallet, quite delicious. Also, being an assertive blend, it was strong enough to stand up to the bold flavors of the meal. The wine and the company were so good we relaxed for some time after the dinner drinking and chatting, a most pleasurable time indeed.

Act II: The Game

Our guests had a generally positive attitude toward board games, yet had never tried any of the modern strategy ones I typically play. The gateway game I usually reach for in such situations is Settlers of Catan. You can say all you want about weaknesses in the game after hundreds of plays, but there's just something about Settlers that sparks an interest in those new to the hobby. As James put it in response to a comment about liking board games: "I like that kind of game." Whatever you want to say about Settlers, either positive or negative, it is that kind of game. It's the kind of game that a lot of people would love except for the fact that they've never played one. There is this realization midway through that first game that they are glimpsing something grand, discovering something fun that they didn't know existed. Settlers really has that power to redefine someone's opinion of what board games are all about.

What makes the game a slam dunk besides exhibiting many great qualities of modern board games is that it is so accessible to new players. Not only is Settlers easy to learn and grasp strategically, the die rolling mechanism combined with the static starting board layout for beginners does a great deal for leveling the playing field and giving any newcomers an excellent shot at winning. This fact certainly adds to positive impressions after a player's first game.

This particular session was interesting (atypical?) in a couple of ways. Many games I've played end with one person being left relatively behind in the scoring, this time I believe all players had at least eight vps at the conclusion of the game: everyone was really in it to the end. At one point or another in the last few turns each player had nine points, due to the longest road card being passed between the Mrs. and Karin several times right near game's end. James was the victor, I believe with just settlements, cities, and one development vp contributing to the win. The Mrs. had both longest road and largest army, but failed to close out the win because she kept drawing development card soldiers instead of the one vp she needed to close the deal. Karin stumbled at the very end when the Mrs. finally secured the longest road for good, and I ended the game one wheat shy of building the city that would have been my tenth vp.

Another interesting point was that the number distribution of resource rolls seemed to be almost dead-on long term expected ratios. Funny that this would seem atypical, but certainly a very large percentage of Settlers games have a noticeable tendency towards a few numbers in particular. I noticed no such variation this game. There were lots of sevens, sixes, and eights, somewhat less fours, fives, nines, and tens, and very few of the least common rolls. Overall a very entertaining game, although it did drag at times because we had all been drinking and two of us were brand new players. We all look forward to our next game.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Tilt In Poker, Blackjack, & Settlers

The term 'tilt' in the world of poker involves being thrown off one's game usually after stumbling upon some bad luck. According to wiki: "Tilt is a poker term for a state of mental confusion or frustration in which a player knowingly adopts a sub-optimal, over-aggressive strategy." When lots of bad things start happening to you, especially after losing big hands where you had a large advantage, it is only natural that you start pressing a little. Every time a long shot hand beats you there is this little voice in the back of your mind saying 'if that hand can beat my monster one, maybe I can win by playing more hands like that too!' Although you may rationally acknowledge that those weaker hands will lose you more money in the long run, it is very difficult to ignore the sensory evidence that says the opposite. Before you know it you're playing far too loosely and losing more and more money. Overcoming tilt is one of the most difficult roadblocks to becoming a serious poker player. Recognizing the beginning of tilt in your game and having the emotional strength to correct it keeps you true to your strategy and gives you the greatest chance to leave the table a big winner.

Sometimes you just need to walk away

Although it is a poker term, tilt could be a useful concept when applied to other types of gambling and gaming. It might not hold the precise meaning of the original word, but certainly recognizing this type of behavior in any game will result in increased player effectiveness. I can relate this phenomenon to situations in my experience with blackjack. Blackjack requires a great deal of willpower--first to stick with your basic strategy and betting system, and then to follow through with your predetermined quit points. When high percentage plays start turning against you (dealer upcard of 6 vs. your 20 draws to a 21, for instance), and your session bankroll starts to shrink it is difficult to stay on track with a rational betting system. Often your gut reaction to these situations is to start making large 'inspirational' bets, desperately hoping to win a huge hand and recover a chunk of your bankroll in one big play. More often than not this type of behavior will bankrupt a blackjack player. Even if you win such a bet it sends the wrong message to your subconscious: that inspirational betting is a good strategy! Another key to blackjack success, quit points, can be very difficult to follow if you become frustrated and start to tilt. Once you have lost a predetermined portion of your bankroll the proper move is to step away from the table, swallow your pride, and accept your losses. As any blackjack player knows, however, when you are down big to the house it is very difficult to walk away! With a well timed winning streak, that small pile of chips left on the table could transform this into a winning session! While this is certainly a possibility, the most probable outcome of this line of thought is complete bankruptcy. The lower your bankroll gets, the less likely you'll be able to even make the proper bets to take advantage of weak dealer hands, and the more likely that the minimum bet at your table is much higher than a reasonable bet for your current bankroll.

The Dice...they hate me!

I even found myself exhibiting somewhat tilt-like behavior when playing Xplorers on Asobrain Games several days ago. Earlier in the week I went through a streak of about eight games where i won six times and placed second twice. All of a sudden all the good breaks that had been going my way started turning on me. Numbers stopped falling my way. Other players scraped up the resources for settlements blocking my way just before I could. Every development card I bought seemed useless to me. Nothing was going right. Of course, it's impossible to win at Settlers of Catan when everything is going against you, but the real problem starts when you start making bad decisions because of those uncontrollable disasters. I found myself basically going on tilt. Instead of spending resources this turn on a small advance I would wait another turn hoping to hit a big number and get back in the game. Invariably a seven would be rolled and I would be left with nothing at all. Once you get to that point where frustration starts to take over, many little mistakes follow. Maybe you make a poor trade, build a road in the wrong location, forget to play a soldier at a key time, etc. Maintaining control over your emotions is one of the most important aspects of game play.


It seems to me that this tendency towards tilt doesn't often appear in board games, probably because there is less at stake in a typical board game than in a poker tournament or at a blackjack table. My frustration level during this rough streak in Xplorers was higher than in most board games since I was playing ranked games. Every game I lost, especially by a large margin, cause my Xplorers rating to plummet. I went from about a 130 rating (excellent) to about 48 (pretty mediocre) in this one rough stretch. Even though this rating is a pretty foolish reason to become frustrated, it was enough for me at the time. Also, the fact that Xplorers games typically clock in at about 30 minutes rather than the hour+ of a live Settlers game, it takes a lot less time to lose a lot more games! I guess the lesson here is to always be aware of this tendency to tilt in games. When you begin to get frustrated during rough stretches, it is imperative to either regain control of your emotions or stop playing the game! By the time your next session rolls around you'll be back in control and ready to play at your best. Of course, for some of us, our best isn't exactly that good, but that's a story for another day.