Ludotheque: A

June 28, 2007

Inspired by Rick’s earlier post on the subject, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about games. I don’t just enjoy playing games, no, no—not geeky enough. I love game design. I actively enjoy analyzing, synthesizing, and comparing the mechanics of games. I like to consider what the intent of a mechanic is, and how a game expresses its theme(s) through its rules.

Rick pointed to a broad distinction that has arisen in the expanding realm of board games: eurogames versus… something else. This “everything else” category defies easy explanation, and it is pretty easy to make several distinctions within that category. I’ll draw out what I think is the major “alternative” to the eurogame in a minute. First, I want to tell you what I think eurogames are, and why they’re fun.

Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t just sit there

June 28, 2007

I saw a bumper sticker while walking through the parking lot outside the local library today which read:

“Don’t just sit there – Needlepoint!”

Now, I myself prefer cross-stitching, but either one is a good alternative to simply sitting while watching TV. I’ve certainly also known people who knit and quilt. What about you? Have any things you like to do as an alternative to just sitting there? (Obviously, your answer does not have to involve needlecraft of any kind.)

-posted by Dana

Introducing Classics to the Romper Room Set

June 27, 2007

We recently received a graphic novel version of Beowulf. We’re debating which section it should go in because, well, some of the panels are pretty… graphic. The first time I picked it up, and opened it, I turned to a page of someone (I assume Beowulf himself) emerging from a pool of blood. I wasn’t surprised though, because it’s Beowulf. It’s not a story about sunshine and lollipops.

Now, graphic novelizations of the classics are nothing new–we had them back when we called them comic books. Children’s sections are filled with retellings of the classics at a child’s reading comprehension level. Personally, I don’t think any version of Beowulf worth its salt would be age-appropriate fro the under 13 crowd.

But this brings up the larger question–should we be “dumbing down” the classics at all?

Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering why the planets are so cool

June 25, 2007

Following up on my review of Galileo’s Daughter, I just finished reading another Dava Sobel book, The Planets. I really like Sobel’s writing, because it’s clear that she really loves both science and history, and her enjoyment of her chosen subject matter communicates itself well and infects the reader, which has always been one of my personal hallmarks of a good teacher, formal or informal. (Actually, that’s one of the things that made me start this blog; I’d much rather learn about new things from people who are enthusiastic about said things than feel like I have to take a class or slog through a textbook on the subject.)

The Planets starts out, quite fittingly, with Sobel’s own recollections of learning about the Solar System as a child in school. Her memories of how simply neat the idea of other planets out there, circling around the sun along with the Earth, will probably resonate with the majority of her readers. Other early and largely undetailed scientific fascinations that seemed common to most of my peers were volcanoes, constellations, and whales. She points out that the planets were aided in their fascination-worthiness by the fact that you could memorize their names and relative locations in less than an hour, as opposed to countries or states. Or constellations, for that matter, now that I think about it.

That initial establishment of rapport through remembered childhood wonder sets the stage for the rest of the book. She leads the reader through each of the 9* planets, plus the Sun and Earth’s Moon. Above all, her perspective is that of, not hard science and astronomy, but scientific history and (accurate) popular science. While some more hardcore astronomy enthusiasts would no doubt wish for greater detail, for the casual, broad-ranging reader, she hits the high points of relevant history and current science for each celestial body, moving the story (and there is clearly a story in the history of each) right along.

Read the rest of this entry »

Finding a better way

June 22, 2007

When I left my old job, I turned in my laptop. I’d carried it for the last several years, bringing it back and forth between home and the office every day. Because I could be confident that I’d always have it with me, it was the machine I used for most of what I did, including writing. All of my important files were backed up on my home computer every night, but I still used the work computer whenever I needed to deal with them.

With the work computer returned to the company and no longer available to me, I sat down recently to work on a document from my home PC. This machine has a slightly different version of Microsoft Word on it than the work computer did, so I was a little bit nervous about how it might work out. It turns out that I had good reason to be worried.

Word pretty much destroyed all of the formatting in my document. It mashed all of the indentation, the formatting of block quotes, punctuation, and altered all of the section and subsection headings so that the entire table of contents was useless. Then, to add insult to injury, the program repeated its “improvements” each time I tried to correct them. I hate it when software is so confident it’s smarter than I am that it refuses to let me make decisions, and even worse, when it actively thwarts me in the decisions it pretends to offer.

With my 220 page document ruined, it was suddenly very worth my time to find a better option. Being the sort of obstinate person I am, I went whole-hog, and began experimenting with not just a different word processor, but a whole new paradigm in how I am writing this particular text.

Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Try This At Home

June 20, 2007

My life has been changed of late due to the discovery of a wonderful hair styling tool.  It’s called the “CHI Turbo,” and its effectiveness in straightening one’s hair is amazing.

Sadly, my post is not about hair styling, but about the warning labels affixed to hair styling and other implements in commerce. My CHI Turbo’s label contains several warnings.  One reads as follows: “In Canada, not for household use!”  I suppose this means I will be in violation should I travel to Canada with my CHI.  And why, I ask, is it unwise, or even illegal, for me to use the tool in Canada but not in Raleigh, NC? 

Anyone who has purchased household items of late will have encountered the warning labels that have become a part of our lives. The ubiquitous warnings on bed pillows are of particular interest. “DO NOT REMOVE UNDER PENALTY OF DEATH!” reads the tag on most pillows. It makes me think that going to sleep in the comfort of one’s pillows is a dangerous act if one’s sense of feng shui requires label removal before installation. 

And there is what I think of as the “lawn mower” warning. This is a pictorial story in the owner’s manual of my new lawn mower, indicating that using one’s lawn mower as a hedge trimmer is a bad thing (picture of lawn mower shaving a hedge, encircled in red with a red diagonal slash). Who, I ask, would think to use the lawn mower as a hdege trimmer? And who could wield the mower thusly? I can barely push the mower around my small flat plot of turf, much less thrust it into the air to attack a privet hedge. 

Returning to grooming tools of a personal nature, my hair dryer also came equipped with various warning notices regarding electrocution. These mostly have to do with the warning about not drying one’s hair while soaking in the bath tub, a multitasking effort that most certainly leads to a bad end.

Finally, back to the CHI Turbo. Its prohibitive labels are graphic in the extreme. One of them indicates that one should not use the CHI (which is heated to a very high temperature, I must admit) to straighten one’s eyebrows. Whether in Canada or not, I think this is a very bad idea. It makes me wonder (and not for the first time) how Homo sapiens has made it as far as we have.

-posted by B Barron

Green Tea Allergy?

June 20, 2007

I heard something the other day that I’d never heard before. We were talking about the purported benefits of jasmine tea, and green tea in general, at work the other day, and one of my coworkers said that she can’t drink green tea, because she has a horrible reaction to it. She said it made her jittery, anxious, and have big mood swings all day. After her first experience drinking green tea, she had no inclination to do so again. But with all the news about the health benefits of green tea, she tried something with green tea extract in it. Same reaction. No more green tea for her. She said she also had a friend that this might have happened to as well.

Now, I know, the plural of anecdote is not data. And I certainly drink a lot of green tea, as do many of the people I know, with no ill effects. But I was curious to see if this was an acknowledged phenomenon, given how widespread green tea and its extracts are becoming. I’m sure people can develop a food allergy to pretty much anything, but usually it’s to a certain thing in the food, and what would it be in green tea? Is it in other stuff, too?

Read the rest of this entry »

Walking the walk

June 19, 2007

Today, for those of you who don’t keep up on such things, is World Sauntering Day. This is a day during which one is supposed to walk in a “very casual, yet stylish” way. Of course, it never fails but that today would be the day I spent limping around everywhere I’ve had to go.

I woke up this morning badly dehydrated, and when I tried to get out of bed, both of my legs cramped up, and I collapsed. After stretching them out some, I was able to stand up, and eventually get ready for work. I almost didn’t make it to the car, but I did somehow get into the office. I spent the rest of the day hobbling as my calf muscles (the gastrocnemii, to be technical) slowly unwound. Even once they’d loosened up again, they hurt from having been cramped up for so long.

Knowing that I was dehydrated, and that this was likely the cause of the excruciating cramps in my legs, I drank a huge quantity of water today. In spite of this, it took until well after lunch before I could even walk at more than a slow, grinding pace. Even now, my legs ache when I walk. What should I have done to speed up this process?

The web offers little help. I have found any of a number of sites which recommend that I gently stretch the muscles that are cramping, which I certainly did. Suggestions for gentle massage also abound. Several sites suggest that one should attempt to replace lost electrolytes, as well. I had already thought of that, and tried drinking a bottle of Gatorade that I bought when I had to stop for gas on the way to work. I pity the poor clerk who tried to make pleasant conversation with me as I limped up to the counter. I fear I might not have been polite. Perhaps as punishment for my treatment of the clerk, the Gatorade did nothing to ease the discomfort in my legs.

I begin to fear that this is a problem for which there is no quick and easy solution. My conditioning in a culture of instant gratification has made me ill-equipped to deal with this situation. With luck, however, it will have gone away on its own by morning. Tomorrow, so help me, I will saunter.

Participation Points

June 19, 2007

It occurs to me that what I often do here, writing about my thoughts as inspired by reading something in a book (a la the Animals in Translation series of posts), is pretty much what my tutorial professor back in college claimed he was trying to get me to do when he gave our class what I still consider to be one of the most ineffective assignments I ever did in my entire four years of (predominantly quite satisfactory) undergraduate classes.

What he wanted us to do was a reading journal, written as we were reading through our assigned book, The Fountainhead. (The class was on Frank Lloyd Wright. The main character of the book is purportedly based on him, and we had to read something of length to “test” our academic skills in what amounted to a prep class.) We were given no real guidelines about how to keep this journal. I even remember asking if there was a length requirement, or a suggested number of entries, and being told no, we should just write when we were inspired to do so. So I did.

One thing you must understand about me is that I read very quickly when I’m reading fiction, and tend to become absorbed enough in the story that I literally do not see chapter breaks at all. (That whole “I’ll just read to the end of this chapter” self-deal thing is kind of pointless as a result, alas.) I really had to make myself think about it consciously in order to stop reading and write something down more than once every 100 pages or so. I was quite pleased with myself when I finished the assignment and had eight pages, front and back, of journal entries.

The person who turned in her journal just before me had 60.

I received a poor grade.

I was not pleased.

Read the rest of this entry »

Board Game Invasion

June 18, 2007

The field of board gaming is in a state of ongoing revolution. While the new wave of board games, sometimes called “Eurogames,” is highly variable, they tend to share some traits in common. I’m hardly an expert, but I’ll try to lay out a description…

1) They are relatively less luck-based and more skill based then most board games. At the same time, they contain at least some measure of luck or at least randomization, which makes them difficult to “solve” or to determine an optimal opening sequence (When I was in high school chess club, the part of chess that always bored me was learning the various openings and gambits, etc.)

2) They have a medium complexity of rules. They are in general more complicated than most of the games you probably played as a kid, but less complicated than the war games that have long enjoyed a fanatical following. The best of them (in my opinion) have rules that may seem rather complicated, but fit into an intuitive whole such that after having played them once they mostly make sense.

3) They take a medium length of time and have a defined endpoint that consistently gets closer rather than farther away. A good example of a game that fails this criteria is Monopoly. Not only does this game go on forever, at any given moment there’s very little way to determine just how much longer it will take to end…unless one person is very dominant, in which case the game will still drag along, bumming the other players out, until that prson wins. Eurogames are thus far easier to get together and play in the evening for busy people who need to go to work the next morning.

Now some individual reviews, from a fairly arbitrary list of games…

Read the rest of this entry »