February Upstate Board Game Day

Today was another one of the Upstate Board Game Group’s Game Days. This time, my little brother was at a friend’s house, so I ended up going there by myself. Although I was sorry he missed it, I did get to meet several other board game enthusiasts: Allen, Karen, Robert, and “Scooter.” I also got to learn about four games I had never played before.

We started off by playing Colossal Arena, a game where you place bets on up to eight mythological creatures, betting on which will survive five rounds of combat. The earlier you bet, the more points you get, but the greater risk you take. Also, if you have the most bets placed on a given creature, you can control that creature’s special power. For example, one lets you draw additional cards, while another lets you remove a power card from another creature. These power cards each have a number, from 0 to 10. Each round, players take turns placing bets, playing power cards, and drawing cards. Once each of the surviving creatures has a card on it, the creature with the lowest number dies. After five rounds, only three creatures will be standing, and whoever bet the most on these creature wins.

It took me a few minutes to understand exactly how this game worked–mostly as a result of the pace at which the game was explained to me–but once I did, it was a lot of fun. I might have to buy this, as it’s only $15 at Board Game Geek.

The second game we played was Caylus. This one took forever for Scooter to explain, but once he did, the game moved along quite nicely. The game is set in medieval France. The king is building a castle in the town of Caylus, and you and your opponents are master-builders. Each turn, you hire workers to work different tiles along a winding road, and each of these tiles has a different effect. Some give you money, some give you one of the five resources (cloth, wood, stone, food, and gold), and others let you build different kinds of buildings. I won’t go into a full explanation of how the game works, but I will say that it was a lot of fun to play. There are a ton of different was to get prestige, from building buildings (with still more new effects) to building parts of the castle to earning the King’s favor to selling off gold and other resources to building monuments and other prestige buildings. It’s a little overwhelming at first, but it’s a blast once you get into it.

The third game we played was The Downfall of Pompeii. In this game, you try to get as many of your people as you can to escape from Pompeii. The game begins a little slowly: you place people in the various town buildings, placing them as near a town gate as you can. Eventually, the volcano erupts, and lava tiles start to appear in the city. From that point, you try to move as many of the people in the buildings out of the city as you can. It’s a fun little game, although not worth the $45 retail. I might have to find this one used.

The last game we played was Management Material, in which you play an office worker trying to avoid getting into management and losing your soul. It doesn’t have the strategic depth of the other games, but it’s fun and a little silly.

Overall, I had a really good time. I’m looking forward to next month. I want to learn how to play Battlelore and/or Battlestations, so I hope that someone brings one or the other. Even if they don’t, I’m looking forward to next month!

A Plea to Communicators

Use fewer words.

In non-fiction communication–whether written or spoken–terseness is a virtue. Use as few words as necessary to communicate your point clearly, and no more.

This dictum is less applicable to fiction and conversation, but even here few will complain if you use fewer words.

At first it seems like we would naturally use fewer words. After all, writing more words seems like more work. But in reality, concise writing is more difficult. Why?

First, people do not think concisely. The first draft of most writing is full of clichés and lengthy sentence constructions that are the result of how we think. The remedy is revision: Go back and eliminate every unnecessary word. This applies to speeches as well as to writing: You should be practicing your speeches enough to know where to cut out extra words. (Also: Stick to your outline!)

Second, people learn bad habits in school. Instead of teaching how to write concisely, teachers demand that students reach a minimum quota for their papers. Naturally, the student wants to do as little of the tedious research work as possible, so he pads his paper with empty, meaningless words and phrases.

They teach that you should write by creating an outline–which contains most of the paper’s content–and then pad that to fill in the minimum space.

The remedy for this is for teachers to grade on content. Too often teachers grade primarily on grammar and meeting length requirements, because content is harder to grade than these objective factors.

Take the time to learn how English works. (I recommend The Writer’s Options: Lessons in Style and Arrangement by Max Morenberg and Jeff Sommers if you need someplace to start.) Revise everything you write at least once.

By writing more concisely, you improve your chances of getting your point to across to your audience.

Adventures in Linux

This weekend, on a whim, I decided to install Ubuntu Linux onto my laptop. Previously, when I tried Ubuntu on my desktop, it worked, but was a real pain to use; it seemed like on every hand there was some new driver issue or problem to deal with, each of which would take the better part of an evening to fix.

On my laptop, it’s the complete opposite. Ubuntu has been an absolute joy to use. It’s even been able to do stuff that I would have thought impossible for this older-model Toshiba. For example, it’s capable of running Beryl, an awesome 3D desktop program, even though the laptop has a pitiful video card. Here’s an example of what Beryl can do on a system with a good video card:

YouTube Preview Image

On mine, it’s not nearly as smooth, but it still works pretty well.

Anyways, I guess the lesson here is: Ubuntu is a lot better on older, more common hardware than on Franken-PC’s like my desktop. And when Linux is working properly, it can be a lot of fun.

Possible Fix for Wii error codes: 51330, 52030, 32002

After a few days with the Wii, we discovered that the Internet had quit working for the Wii. We tried all of the stuff at the support site–changing the router to broadcast at channel 11, entering a static IP address, all of that. None of it helped.

But we did get it working. It started working again when we removed the old Gamecube memory cards from the back of the console. Once they were out, the internet started working fine.

Hope that helps some Googler out there!

Microsoft Word is a Terrible Product

I HATE Word. It’s a bizarre franken-product, somewhere between an honest-to-goodness text editor (like emacs, vim, or even Notepad) and an honest-to-goodness desktop publishing program (like InDesign, QuarkXPress, or even Microsoft Publisher), which only succeeds at being bad at both text editing and desktop publishing.

Now, I’m not a master designer, but I do know my way around a few design tools. For example, in every competently designed desktop publishing program, you can drag out “guides,” little colored lines that do not print but which mark, say, the center of the page, or the left margin, or any other given point on the page. It acts like the straight edge of a ruler, so that you can make sure you’re getting everything lined up properly. Word either does not have this basic feature, or it is buried deep in Microsoft’s terrible user interface.

And on the other hand, it’s not a good text editor. If you ever try to write a program or a web page in Word, you will quickly learn that this is a huge mistake. Word “helpfully” autocorrects your quotation marks with “smart quotes,” which, while nice enough if you’re writing a letter, aren’t recognized as quotation marks by compilers or browsers.

In fact, the only thing Word seems to be actually good for is writing and sending letters, especially using mail merge. But most letters and memos are being sent by email now. While hand-written personal letters are still being sent, typed paper letters and memos are a dying breed (and good riddance!). The vast majority of typed letters are some kind of mass mailing–usually junk mail.

The only other thing that I can think of is academic papers, since there are strict requirements on the “right way” to indent and italicize and double space your documents. But in the real word, almost all of what people use Word to do, they could do better with another program.

The thing that reminds me of my hatred is that today, I am forced to use Word to write something for work. I worked on a database for my employer. and now I need to write documentation for it so that people other than me can use it. I would use InDesign, but I need something that can be revised in the future, and only one of the computers at work has InDesign. All of the computers have Word, and everyone sort of knows how to use Word, so I’m stuck with it.

(Now, Microsoft, if you had just made pictures in Word work right, you could have spared the world this rant against your product. When I move a picture to within two inches from the top of the page, it should not immediately jump up to meet the edge of the page. The picture should stay where I put it, or at the very least, move from the edge of the page when I drag it or use the arrow keys. Grr.)

So, no, I’m not planning to buy Office 2007 just yet. How about you?