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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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