Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Del.icio.us clusters

Del.icio.us is interesting. It lends
itself well to the following experiment/analysis: Some tags co-occur
with other tags much more often than others. This creates natural
clusters. For example, "php" and "mysql" are a pair of tags that are
more likely to apply to the same URL than say "philosophy" and "web".
So, it's pretty straightforward to analyze the RSS feeds they provide
and automatically generate the clusters, so I did it.

(Note, to illustrate some of these clusters I use a stylesheet which
will not get picked up by most RSS readers, so visit the actual page
if the diagrams make no sense) Most clusters are exactly the kind of
thing you'd expect, though some have interesting structure. Others
are amusing or surprising. One "standard" cluster is essentially a
web development cluster. I've collapsed some of the sub-clusters for clarity:

Web development cluster

php mysql lamp

apache mode_perl perl work

creative css html design

javascript webdev

foaf semantic xml rdf

software web

jsp java j2ee programming

So that's a pretty coherent, straightforward cluster. There are others including the Blogging/RSS cluster (rss atom syndication cool tech blog), the Recreation cluster (photography art photo annotation flickr geo photos games fun flash humor funny comics comic) and the Politics cluster, drawn out here.

Politics cluster

rumsfeld iraq
rnc dnc
political gop
election fraud

When you get to the somewhat higher level connections (which are that much more tenuous) there are some less obvious arrangements. All caps words represent an entire subcluster that doesn't have its structure shown:


mail windows

imap email
sputnik darpa
1950s 1960s

free reference
snort security


Some of the odd connections (eg "mail windows" and "ftp") may just be an artifact of the relatively small sample (less than 6000 tagged URLs).
I'll have to collect more data and continue the experiment. In any case, it's interesting to me that it exposes a hierarchical ontology in a rather straightforward way.

Monday, December 6, 2004

November 2004 Games

36 games played, 20 titles (8 new to me) over 8 sessions with 38 different people.

Hot Games for November, 2004

Buy Word (6 plays)
This is a fun word game. I'll try to write a full review soon.
Leapfrog (3 plays)
Interesting simple game of simultaneous action selection.
Light Speed (6 plays)
Still one of the best speed games around.
Princes of Florence (1 play)
I tried a prestige card focused strategy. Not a win, but some success.
Victory & Honor (1 play)
I'm wondering about it's staying power, but it's fun.
Electronic Catchphrase (3 plays)
beep beep beep
Heroscape (1 play)
My main current wish on this is that it didn't take so long to set up. Still fun.
San Juan (1 play)
Production buildings just aren't that useful.
Plupsack (2 plays)
I've come up with some new mnemonic approaches that make me less awful at this.
Typo (1 play)
Buy Word is better, but this is still a fun word game.

Sunday, December 5, 2004

NOAA Weather data

Back in 1993, I set up a web server and one of the things I put on it was a gateway to National Weather Service data. In the intervening decade, a great many superior weather services have appeared on the web. I'm not particularly a weather geek, but my early contribution in the area has always made me follow web weather information a little more closely than I might have otherwise.

I was pleased to see recently that the NOAA was providing forecast
data in XML
. I was disappointed to see that the query mechanism was
SOAP. Allow me to rant for a moment: SOAP is a bit of an atrocity.
SOAP is the "simple object access protocol" which is this abomination
in which you tunnel gigantic XML wrapped queries over HTTP in order to
access various web services. Then, XML documents are returned.
Great, I'm all for XML in appropriate places. If you're accessing a
web service that is returning structured data, an XML document is
almost the perfect response. However, an XML query?
Why? Why? Ok, I know some of the reasons, but when it comes down to
it, they're not very good. Just because you can beat a nail into the
wall with the end of a screwdriver doesn't make it the right tool for
the job. If only we had a straightforward method for requesting named
objects with arbitrary named parameters as a query, right? We do.
It's called HTTP and url-encoded form data. So, if I have a really
simple object "myObject" I want to call "myMethod" on with the named
parameter "myParameter" with a value of "myValue", in SOAP, I have to send:

POST /myProxy HTTP/1.1
standard HTTP headers removed for clarity
SOAPAction: "urn:myObject#myMethod"

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<SOAP-ENV:Envelope xmlns:xsd="http://www.w3.org/1999/XMLSchema"
<namesp1:myMethod xmlns:namesp1="urn:myObject">
<myParameter xsi:type="xsd:string">myValue</myParameter>

in contrast, if I were to use just a URL, it might look something like this:

GET /myProxy/myObject/myMethod?myParameter=myValue HTTP/1.1
standard HTTP headers removed for clarity

Both approaches return the exact same data. SOAP, I have to use third
party libraries which may be incomplete, poorly documented or buggy.
In the latter approach, I can use curl, lynx, wget, any web
, third party libraries or I can hack together a raw
socket implementation in minutes. Some people have taken to calling
this latter approach "REST" which refers to Fielding's
"Representational State Transfer". I'm fine with calling it REST if
the goal is to have a name for it but the real name for it is "the
world wide web". Having a queryable URL which returns XML is great.
Having to send it XML in the first place is unnecassary. Emerson
commented: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."
I'm sure this is exactly what he was thinking of. XML is cool, but
let's not over apply it til we get sick of it. WSDL is cool, but
let's just skip section 3 (SOAP binding) and focus on section 4 (HTTP
binding). If you have a strong reason to use SOAP rather than
straight HTTP, go ahead, but in essentially every case I've ever seen,
an HTTP binding would be more than sufficient and vastly superior.
Ok, the rant part is over.

So, in an effort to make the world a better place, I made a RESTish
HTTP gateway to the NOAA SOAP interface.

The URL is http://mkgray.com:8000/noaaforecast and it take parameters longitude, latitude, product, optionally startTime, optionally endTime and at least one of the weather parameters (maxt, mint, temp, dew, pop12, qpf, snow, sky, wspd, wdir, wx, icons, waveh) if you are using time-series mode. For example, if you wanted to see what was forecast to fall out of the sky near Boston:
If you hit the page too often (more than 30 times in a 6 hour period) you'll be throttled and given 503 errors. If you omit latitude, longitude, product or parameters when required, you'll get a 404. See the NOAA page for details on the format of the inputs (ie, the times) and the format of the returned XML.

Jordan's Furniture megastore

We visited the new gigantic Jordan's Furniture in Reading,
Massachusetts. Wow, it's big, but lacking in most of the charm of the
other Jordan's stores.

I've been reasonably impressed with the other Jordan's stores, even
the large ones. They are famous for their low-pressure sales approach
and quirky stores. They'll have free coffee, cookies, and popcorn.
One of them has a motion movie ride. The new store has a 3-d IMAX
theatre, a "trapeze school", a brightly colored illuminated fountain,
a Jelly Bellies store and an ice cream stand. Plus, a great deal more.
Unfortunately, this has the net feeling of making it feel rather
extremely over-commercialized. It's not that the other stores are
non-commercial feeling; they are retail stores. The new one feels crass rather than quirky though.

To top it all off, despite their overwhelming size, their selection is
only somewhat better. We went looking for entertainment centers. If
you want an entertainment center 46" wide and 68" tall, with swing out
doors and drawers underneath, they have a wide range of styles and
appearances. You want a narrower one? Well, mostly not. One without
doors? No. A taller one with cabinets above? No. The uniformity of
choice in a smaller store is unsurprising. In a store this large it's

Thursday, December 2, 2004

Why didn't anyone tell me?

JavaScript isn't awful. Well, it isn't awful anymore. When
JavaScript first came out, freshly renamed from the less misleading
"ActiveScript", it was awful. It was ill-defined, clunky, full of
security holes, and awkward in a great many ways. I wrote it off as a
tool used to make web sites do things they really didn't need to or
shouldn't do anyway. At some point, seemingly around 1999, this changed.

JavaScript is a clever language with an interesting twist on the
"standard" object model of languages like Java or C++. It's got a
relatively clean and useful set of built-in libraries, including the
valuable DOM. It's threading/timing model is a bit bizarre but
surprisingly useful. It interacts with XHTML in powerful ways to
enable some very useful bits of web UI. Through the use of
"bookmarklets" it puts a lot of power back in the browser which, in
the interest of "interactive" web sites has been gradually leached

JavaScript still has it's issues. The three biggest as I see it are:

  • It used to be bad. It really was bad. No DOM. No good documentation. No prototype inheritance model. Bad. First impressions make a big difference.
  • It's mostly used by non-developers. At some level this isn't bad, but it creates the problem that a lot of the JS code out there is awful because the people writing it don't really know what they're doing. It's horrible voodoo code which is unintelligible and barely functional, never mind maintainable or usable by others.
  • Most use of JavaScript is abuse. The most ubiquitous applications of JS are things like popup and popunder ads. Even image rollovers and other stupid UI tricks could be called abuse. Modern browsers (eg, Firefox) address the whole popup issue well, making this abuse less apparent. Unfortunately, a tool that is mostly used for bad things is often assumed to be a bad thing. JavaScript was used for a lot of bad things.

Now, though it's a nice language. It's being accepted more by
developers. It's being used in useful ways. So, if you're like me
and thought JavaScript was an atrocity deserving no attention, look
again. It's grown up a lot. The question remains: "Why didn't anyone
tell me, in the last 5 years, that it was so much better?"

For reference, I highly recommend the Rhino book by O'Reilly.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Where do you play so many games?

In response to my October games summary Iain asked where I play so many games.
I've been meaning to write an entry that answers that as part of it, so here's that post.

I'm very lucky to live in Boston which has likely the highest
concentration of "German" gamers in the US. Further, I'm lucky in
that non-gamer friends tend to like to play games a lot even if not in
the overall quantities I tend to. Finally, my family (wife, parents,
brother, in-laws) all have some interest in playing games. This
combination of factors means I get to play a lot of games.

In terms of the particulars, my gaming occurs in a few venues:

  • Hosted Sessions. Lots of individuals in the greater Boston area hold semi-public sessions on a weekly or monthly basis at their homes. Further, there are a number of private sessions which often have a higher fraction of casual gamers.
  • Gaming Events. These are periodic public and invitational events like the Unity Games events and the Gathering.
  • Friends. These aren't so much "sessions" as having frineds over or being out with friends and playing some games.
  • Family. As I mentioned, my family enjoys playing games. These won't usually be involved sessions, usually 1 or 2 games in an evening.

Before my daughter was born we hosted a monthly private session with
usually about 8 people attending, typically half regular gamers and
half people who don't game outside of my session. I expect we'll
resume these at some point.

Of the four categories above, about 40-50% of my gaming is at hosted sessions and 15-20% in each of the other three categories. One friend runs a weekly session at which I play an average of about 3 games so that represents a good fraction of the monthly gaming alone.

Sunday, November 7, 2004

Election Analysis Errors

In an analysis
by Mark Newman
(currently down), he presents some interesting pictures including
some nice cartograms. His final graph presents a remarkable
observation: There are two Americas, but not the two we think. There
are a small but sizable number of counties (roughly 400) that went
extremely strongly for Kerry and the rest of the counties which were
less polarized to varying degrees. It's a striking result. It's not
true though.

Upon thinking about this histogram, I couldn't imagine how this could
happen. Was this some sort of odd gerrymandering? Almost no
statistics on this scale ever show the kind of dramatic "edge". It's
not impossible, just unlikely. I skimmed through the USA Today data
and couldn't find any of the 400 "super-Kerry" counties. So, since I
couldn't find the raw data anywhere, I did what Dr. Newman presumably
did: I collated the data from the href=http://www.usatoday.com/news/politicselections/vote2004/president.htm>USA
Today site. Now, I don't know what tools he used, but I wrote a
couple of perl scripts to reformat the data for analysis. I ran it
through my scripts and I got a very similar result to Dr. Newman's,
though not quite the same: 362 counties voted over 98% for Kerry.
Wow. So, I decided to look at some of them, since I hadn't been able
to find one before. One of the counties was that of "Cape, NJ". I
went to the USA Today site to check out this county, to find it
doesn't exist. But, there is a "Cape May, NJ". Aha, there are 362
counties in the US with spaces in the names! Further, the balance of
those between 362 and his 400 is probably due to another data anlysis
bug caused by the fact that the numbers have commas in them.

In truth, there are no counties which voted more than 93% for Kerry,
never mind 400 which voted over 98% for Kerry, however I might wish
that to be true. There's only one voting region that went over 98%
for Bush: Glenwood Pit., ME. Maine
reports by town, not by county. There are two people there. They voted for Bush.

I'm sure this was an unintentional error (in fact, according to href=http://www.metafilter.com/mefi/36803>post on MeFi he had
removed the histogram before the site went down), but I was surprised
at the extent to which it wasn't questioned. Outrageous results
shouldn't be uniformly dismissed because it's often the outrageous
that's important, but at the same time, it should be greeted with a
greater degree of skepticism.

October 2004 Games

30 games played, 27 titles (7 new to me) over 8 sessions with 33 different people.

Hot Games for October, 2004

Goa (1 play)
Some of the shine is beginning to come off of this, but it's still great.

Victory & Honor (1 play)
Clever, different, interesting trick taking game.

Goldbrau (1 play)
Fun combination of business and simultanous action selection.

Puerto Rico (1 play)
I somehow went months without playing this. I apparently forgot a great deal of strategy.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1 play)
Another great and extremely clever trick taking game

Exxtra (2 plays)
An underplayed filler.

Ticket to Ride (1 play)
I managed to complete about 7 routes and still lose.

Crokinole (2 plays)
One of many perennials.

Ra (1 play)
Another old favorite.

Heroscape (1 play)
I continue to be surprised how much I enjoy this...

Thursday, November 4, 2004

A few Essen '04 releases

I recently played a few of the new Essen releases, "Tanz der Hornochsen", "Leapfrog" and "Pompeji". All of them were reasonably good, but none were amazing.

Tanz der Hornochsen. A boardgame (barely) version of "6 nimmt!" It's fun and it's got some good twists above and beyond the basic gameplay, which closely resembles 6 nimmt!,
but in the end, I'm not sure it adds that much. What does seem possible is that this may do better with fewer players while the original prefers more like 5 or 6 players. The tiles are a bit annoying compared to cards and the whole aspect of everyone having the option to buy cards before each turn really messes up the pacing. Fun, but I may mostly stick to 6 nimmt!, and I'm usually a big fan of novelty.

Leapfrog. A light little "race" game. It's not really a race game in the traditional sense, more of a second-guessing/simultaneous-selection game. Light, cute fun. It plays quite fast as well.

Pompeji. A game with a lot of luck, but a really nice bit of gameplay which involves running from the erupting volcano. Certainly not the deepest game, but there are interesting tactical choices and even some strategic planning. Some of the turn timing seems to introduce more luck than is warranted though. Running from a volcano is entertaining.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


A leader of great charisma rose rapidly through the ranks, and despite not getting a majority of the vote, became the leader of the country. He
had a
checkered past, but was a man of strong character. Shortly after coming to power, a major national landmark, an important building, was destroyed.
The attack was perpetrated not by another nation, but by a group who's ideology went against the very spirit of the nation. Unfortunately, this
attack was used as a basis for instituting laws and policies which heavily restricted civil rights and went against fundamental rights granted in
the constitution. The attack also united the nation with a strong national pride. This charismatic leader went on to engage in unprovoked
invasions of multiple countries and large portions of the rest of the world strongly opposed his actions. From there, things got far far worse.

The history I'm talking about is of course that of Germany in the 1930s, the rise of Hitler, the burning of the Reichstag by the communists, the
Enabling Act and subsequent invasions that are part of the much more well known history. I've never been a big fan of history, but it seems
imporant to know. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat
-- George Santayana

Lost Valley & Goldbrau

I recently played Lost Valley for the second time. Unfortunately, I have to report that my earlier impression was correct. It's nicely produced and if you really like exploration games, you could get into it, but
it is rather mechanical and nothing exciting. None of the mechanics really combine in interesting ways. You just do it and there's not a lot of fun, strategy or tactics. It is beatifully produced though.

Goldbrau, on the other hand, was quite good despite playing with three (I hear it is better with four) and getting one rule wrong for 2/3 of the game. I expect with four and the correct rules it would be very good. It combines
elements I like (business game, simultaneous action selection) with some clever mechanics (the brewery/beergarden split, the boss mechanic) along with being generally well crafted. It is a little fiddly and isn't perfect, but
it's quite good.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Triumph of Semantic Markup

Semantic markup is the new big thing, the semantic web and all that. I see it less as a cool new thing and more of a returning to our roots,
or at least the roots of the web as I saw them when it first started in the early 90s.

Back in the early days of the web (1993), I had a mantra I used when explaining HTML markup to people "Semantic, not Literal". That is, an html H1
tag does not mean "bigger font". It means "1st level heading". HTML markup was meant to be semantic, and not for any aesthetic reason. It wasn't
even for the reason of browser independence (though, had people stuck to semantic markup, this whole WML thing would have been simpler). It was
for the reason that semantic markup is much more powerful from an information access point of view. Specifying a font color is nice, but it came
at a cost of semantic ambiguity. Of course, HTML was never really fully semantic markup, it was just an appealing dream. People fell in love
with the FONT tag and a variety of other literal markup tags and mechanisms. The hope for semantic
markup was lost, and HTML became very much a literal presentation markup language.

Then, to add insult to injury, things like DHTML came along, flaunting the fact that HTML had become a presentation markup language, not a semantic
markup language. I resisted learning DHTML for a while because of this. Once you give in and accept HTML as a presentation language, DHTML is
sort of neat. When I first learned about CSS, I had some hope that perhaps it restored some of that semantic markup quality. Sadly, it did not.
It does do a decent job of abstracting out "style", but HTML is still essentially purely presentational. CSS allows it to presented in a variety
of styles, though, and it's nice having a relatively universal standard for those style details.

But looking at the web now, the power of semantic markup is winning out again. href=http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2002/12/18/dive-into-xml.html>RSS has become an extremely rapidly growing and popular scheme
for information delivery. RSS
is a pure semantic markup with all the presentation details left up to HTML. I currently read well over 100 RSS feeds, only a fraction of which
are from blogs which prompted the success of RSS. This blog itself is accessible via RSS and many of the readers
access it that way. I read the
comics, the Times, a grab bag of web sites, a few search engine queries, and even a mailing list, all via RSS. It's very gratifying to see
"semantic, not literal" finally getting a lot of traction.

Two other random thoughts on RSS: I expect it won't be long before some RSS feeds start including advertising entries. It surprises me I haven't
really seen them yet. I just hope when the time comes it isn't overwhelming. There are some feeds I would keep reading even with a reasonable
dose of ads. Most, however, I'd stop reading if ads started being included. Until then, it's a nice little garden. The other thought is that
as the progenitor of RSS, share other qualities with the early days of the web. In the early days of the web, the thing to do was have your
own personal homepage you created. Rapidly, as most people had nothing they wanted to put on such a page, having a homepage became something that
while many people had them, it was more commonly something a university or corporation had, not an individual. Further, in the early days of the
web, the goal (as much as there was a "goal") was to share information. You weren't trying to drive banner hits, collect demographic data or
derive revenue. While some (many?) blog writers may now have those goals, the biggest goal I've observed is wanting to be read. RSS is a great
way to make it easier to be read.

(Footnote: If you're looking for a great way to read RSS feeds, there are a variety of href=http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=rss%20aggregator&btnG=Google+Search>RSS aggregator applications, but I will highly
recommend Bloglines as an outstanding web based reader.)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Somerville Parents' Group

My wife and I looked around to try to find a parenting group in Somerville, with little success initially. Then, one day we were downtown Boston
with the baby and a stranger in the elevator struck up a conversation, asking how old our baby was and whatnot. She asked where we lived and when
my wife said Somerville, she said "Oh, I was in a great new mothers group in Somerville!". So, she sent us the info and now my wife has been going
to this group.

Apparently though, they don't have much of a web presence, but they want to at least be findable by google, which is part of the reason for me to
post here about it. They have a members-only Yahoo Group: Somerville Moms, but it's hard
to find. They meet on Thursdays in Somerville. So, if you're looking for Somerville parents group, parenting group, mothers group or mom's group,
hopefully you'll find this. They also have support groups in Arlington, Brookline, Cambridge, Jamaica Plain, Medford, Newton, Stoughton,
Watertown, and Westwood. Their info number is 617-614-1967. I hope this entry helps other folks find these groups.

The same organization that runs these groups also runs a fathers' support group, but only in Newton. Anyone know of a fathers' group in
the Somerville, Cambridge, or Medford area?

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Back from an outage

Well, my server finally died. It has served well for over 5 years,
but some combination of problems including some sort of disk problem
caused it to finally give up the ghost. I finally got a new server
and am in the process of restoring everything to its former glory. A
lot of stuff doesn't work, and I'll post here when everything is back.
At the moment, all the static content (my
, miscellaneous other pages) is back, this blog is back,
but all dynamic content (the BGRS,
RGBRollcall, Game store database, Heroscape unit generator, etc.) is
down. I hope to have it back soon. If you notice any errors with
aspects of the site that I list as "back up", please
let me know.

Update 10/14, 12:21am: The game store database is back up.

Update 10/14, 12:31am: The Heroscape Unit Generator is back up.

Update 10/14, 8:02pm: The saved Heroscape units are accessible again.

Thursday, October 7, 2004

Heroscape Review

I wrote briefly about Heroscape
earlier, but its worth writing more. Heroscape is fundamentally a
miniatures game. I don't usually like miniatures games. They're
logistically annoying to play, lacking in good ways to keep track of
things like which units have moved already, sometimes requiring
rulers, frustrating rules about base contact and various other things.
Further, they tend to be really really complicated with lots of rules
aimed at enhancing the simulation, rather than enhancing the game.
Finally, a lot of them expect you to paint miniatures. Many people
enjoy that, but I don't have the time, patience or interest.
Heroscape manages to be different. I'll discuss the specific ways it
avoids these problems at the end.

Overall, this is a very good game. It's biggest "flaw" is that it
has a lot of luck. If substantial amount of luck bothers you, this
game is definitely right out. Despite that, it also has a lot of
strategy and tactics. It also has a lot of bits. It also has a lot
of opportunities for variation. It also has a lot of skill. It's got
a lot of themes. It's got a lot of fun. It's got a lot of luck.
It's got a lot of everything. Some might ask how a game can have both
a great deal of skill and a lot of luck. In other places a
theoretical game "ChessDice" has been suggested to explain such an
idea. In "ChessDice", two people play a game of chess. Then, each
rolls a six-sided die. The winner of the chess game adds one to their
roll. The higher roll wins. This is a rather silly game, but it's
got a lot of luck and a lot of skill. Heroscape is much the same way;
it's got a lot of skill, but there's so much luck that it only makes a
moderate impact. Unlike ChessDice, Heroscape is fun.

Another quality Heroscape had that some will enjoy and others won't is
the thematic dissonance. It can be very engaging in a geeky sort of
way to get into the idea of Vikings vs. Robots, for example. On the
other hand, some may find this a barrier to being engaged in the
theme. It doesn't do it for everybody. For that matter, it has a
violent theme; most scenarios have a goal of "defeat all of your
opponents units". At least it isn't collectible. (It is "expandable")

Enough with all the qualifications as to why some will not like it.
It's a really good game. The components are stunningly good. They
are beautiful, integrate well with the gameplay, are great little toys
and are complete. The provided unit cards address are well designed
and clear. The terrain is outstanding. The scenarios are fun and
clearly playtested. The initial army draft provides for a variety of
interesting strategic options. The units abilities are well balanced
and interesting. The complexity is close to what I'd consider
optimal. It's complex enough to be interesting but simple enough to
play quickly and cleanly.

The game is not collectible, but it is expandable. Further, because
they used standard miniature sizes, many have suggested using
miniatures from other games to use with Heroscape. I created the
HeroscapeUnitCreator with this in mind. All the same, I've only so
far played with the standard units and they provide a rich and
complete gaming experience which I don't feel will be exhausted any
time soon. I'm sure sometime I'll enjoy adding figures, but for now
there are enough interesting combinations of the provided units for it
to be very compelling. Further, the scenarios (both included, and
downloadable from the web site)
provide some interesting and well tested variations such as fog, acid
mist and mud.

The game succeeds by keeping the core of the game simple. The special
powers of each unit add a richness that prevents it from getting
tedious. The terrain system adds an understandable but deep set of
tactical options. And yet, they've done a very good job of leaving a
lot of things out. There are no "cover" rules, you either have line
of sight or not. There are never any penalties, only bonuses. There
is no facing. There are no squad coherence rules. There is only one
kind of damage. No unit has special powers that have to be looked up
anywhere other than on their card. Terrain and range don't interact.
Being one step higher than an opponent is just as good as being two
steps higher. Any number of rules could be argued for on simulation
grounds, but they've done a good job of picking a set that makes for a
good game. In the end the rules they picked make for interesting and
fun tactics.

The "ergonomics" is also very good. Something as simple as the unit
cards and the turn markers solves many of the bookkeeping problems
associated with miniature games. The "thematic dissonance" I
mentioned makes the units easily distinguishable in general. Yes,
there's three different Viking groups, but imagine if the game were
all Vikings. The hex based terrain allows attractive and interesting
layouts with simple and unambiguous movement and range measurements.
Line-of-sight is the only aspect that could even be vaguely debatable,
and I've found it easiest to just play "when in doubt, yes, you have

As a great many people have pointed out, the components are simply
amazing. The miniatures are beautifully sculpted and painted. The
terrain is attractive and durable. The cards and other miscellaneous
components are nicely produced. Finally, all of this is produced for
an emminently reasonable price.

In the end, this is certainly the best miniatures game I've ever
played. It's not the deepest but it is the most attractive, most well
designed and most fun. If the qualifications above (lots of luck,
thematic dissonance, fighting game) don't turn you off, you're likely
to enjoy Heroscape.

FackCheck, FactCheck, Oops

To tie together two previous entries: I wrote about
factcheck.org a while ago, long before
Dick Cheney's near mention of it in the debates made it
famous. I also recently wrote about knowing my audience. On FactCheck, however, while I got the URL right, I mistyped the text of
the link as "FackCheck.org". No big deal, the link leads to the right
place, and I just feel a little silly for such an odd spelling error.

But, it turns out other people have heard about factcheck.org, but
misheard as "fackcheck". Fackcheck.org doesn't exist, so what
do they do? Search Google for href=http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=fackcheck&btnG=Google+Search>fackcheck.
Link #3, my site. So, this week I've gotten a moderate number of
visitors who came to my site by searching for "fackcheck". Welcome,
whether you're here looking for fackcheck.org, fackcheck.com,
fact-check, fack-check, fack check or whatever.

The real site is factcheck.org
and I highly recommend it. Cheney mentioned factcheck.com, which
someone (not Soros) set up to point to George Soros' web site. The
funny twist beyond the URL error is of course that Cheney was claiming
that factcheck.org defended his record at Halliburton which it does
not do. While Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, they did a great deal of
business (through subsidiaries) with enemies of the United States.
What factcheck.org does say is that the Democratic accusations of
improprieties regarding granting Halliburton military contracts are
overblown. Inappropriate granting of contracts to Halliburton:
overblown. Doing business with enemies of the USA: well, yes.
Spelling errors: in the age of google, they sometimes help people find
what they're looking for.

Tuesday, October 5, 2004


Slightly echoing my earlier comments on Fahrenheit911, it's a surreal world when the Democratic VP candidate is the one compellingly arguing for tax cuts,
defecit reduction and fiscal responsibility. Andrew Sullivan has an interesting article from several months
ago which expresses some similar sentiments. Now, we have a Republican administration and legislature leading the largest expansion of the federal government in decades. It's rather

Given that the debates aren't really debates (eg, the debaters are actually prohibited from directing questions at one another), I've been pleased and impressed at the
level of discourse. There's been some real substance there, and I think it managed to highlight some of the key issues that have concerned me. One of Kerry's quotes
that I thought well summarized the issue: "It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong. Certainty sometimes can get you in trouble." A
friend who grew up in Germany wondered aloud why Bush's attributes of being "resolute", "steadfast", and "determined" are considered a good thing. He observed Germany had leadership
with all of those qualities in the 1940s. Being resolute and certain isn't inherently good.

I'd support Kerry over Bush on social policy grounds anyway, but I find the unflinching confidence of an administration who has been in power through torture,
secret tribunals, an unprovoked war, institution of secret laws,
and increased limits on civil liberties to be extremely distressing.
Their certainty has gotten us into big
trouble in Iraq, and I'm afraid of where more might lead. 9/11 changed
a lot of things, but it shouldn't be a carte blanche for the disaster we've been lead through since then.

Monday, October 4, 2004

Quick New Game Impressions from UG8

Saturday was Unity Games
, which was a lot of fun. I played several old favorites (Ra,
Crokinole, Compatability) and several "new favorites" (Heroscape,
Einfach Genial, San Juan) and a handful of new-to-me games, which I though
I'd record impressions of here:

Rumis: Pueblo-like game of building using 3
dimensional blocks. It scores differently, in fact nearly opposite
and the gameplay is somewhat different (your pieces must touch your
other pieces). Overall, its good, perhaps has good or better then
Pueblo. Plus, it comes with a nice "Lazy Susan" style board which
Pueblo would benefit from.

Victory & Honor: Very good
trick taking game. In fact, one of the best new ones I've played in a
while. The twist in this one is that you play three tricks ("left",
"center" and "right") at a time. If you play a card to your "left"
trick, your left hand opponent must play the next card. It's a little
complicated to wrap a strategy around at first, but it's a lot of fun
and very interesting. Clever.

Betrayal at the House on the Hill: This new Avalon
Hill game is a lot of theme, which didn't really engage me, and only a
very little game. It's a sort of neat idea, but not especially and
the execution is mediocre. The components are nice, and there are
some creative ideas, but I didn't see much I really thought was compelling.

Mausen: Multi-player, card-counting assisted "rock,
paper, scissors". Enh. Not really interesting.

Friday, October 1, 2004

September 2004 Games

While fatherhood has induced an increased bias toward shorter games, I actually got to play a bunch of games this month. For various reasons, I also have some slightly more in depth comments this month than usual.

39 games played, 17 titles, (3 new to me) over 10 sessions with 20 different people.

Hot Games for September, 2004

Heroscape (9 plays)
I'm writing a more complete review which I will post soon, but it's certainly the big hit recently. I'm not 100% sure why I'm as enchanted by this game that at many levels is rather frivolous, but I'll try to deconstruct that a little bit in my review. Suffice to say, it's been a lot of fun

Typo (5 plays)
I already wrote a review of this. It's fun.

Magic: The Gathering (5 plays)
Ok, this one deserves explanation. I am not a fan of "collectible" games, by which I mean those with artificial rarities and random contents packages. I'm fine with "expandable" games, like the above Heroscape, or RoboRally, or Carcassone, but the random aspect bothers me as a consumer. Years ago, I played Magic to see what all the hooplah was about. It was fun, not amazing, but fun. A friend and I decided we weren't interested in diving into the money-draining pit of collecting, but if we each bought a bunch (about $40 worth) of cards, we could play together and it would be fun. It was, a little. Unfortunately, $40 worth of cards doesn't really give you a great deal of deck building flexibility. So, we played some and I largely abandoned it. Recently, another friend dove in head first and has a great many cards including many of the pre-constructed "theme decks", which we used in the 5 games I played. That works better as a game. It was fun with interesting gameplay, albeit quite a bit of luck. It seems like deck construction makes for a very interesting game, but to truly have all the options available to you, you need 4 copies of each card to choose from. That's expensive and impractical. A few games were fun, but for the few hundred dollars worth of cards it would take to make the deck building options feel reasonable, I'd rather have a bunch more German games.

Maharaja (1 play)
This is good. Nothing stunningly brilliant, but not totally unoriginal either. It's got several nice interlocking mechanisms and seemingly several paths to victory. It's not as good as I hoped it would be, but it is much better than I feared it might be.

Phoenix (3 plays)
Quick and entertaining two-player game which is more fun than it seems like it should be given it's simplicity and straightforwardness.

Einfach Genial (2 plays)
I need to play this more before I have a sense as to whether there any genuinely deep strategy or tactics options, but its engaging enough even before such depth (or lack thereof) is apparent.

Zirkus Flohcati (2 plays)
Continues to be great filler.

Tongiaki (1 play)
The chaos here doesn't really bother me.

Blue Moon (1 play)
I think the first time I played this, I may have played with the wrong rules. It's better with the right rules, or at least its better with the expansion deck I played with than with the built in decks.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Newbury Networks is hiring

My company, Newbury Networks is seeking applicants for a number of
positions. These positions include Professional Services, QA
Engineers, Sales Engineers, Sales Account Executives and Software
Engineers. All of these, except the developer positions, are href=http://www.newburynetworks.com/company/career.php>described on
the web site. The developer position description should be posted
soon. All positions are in Boston except for the Sales Exec and Sales
Engineer where we're looking for someone on the west coast.

For the developer position, we're looking for experienced Java
developers where experience in J2EE, wireless networks, security,
embedded systems and UI design are all valuable.

For those who don't know, href=http://www.newburynetworks.com>Newbury Networks is a wireless
security company providing physical perimeter security for 802.11
based networks. Feel free to email me (matthew@gray.org) with a
resume or just submit it to the address on our web site.

Sunday, September 12, 2004


Wow, Heroscape (official site, fan site) is an amazing toy and a rather fun game. It's pretty much a miniatures game, which I usually find appealing, but not actually enjoyable. This succeeds at being both rich in gameplay and simple. The terrain and corresponding rules are outstanding. Plus, it is an amazing amount of toy bits. It's a blast. There's something very geeky but very entertaining about a game coming down to a battle between a Viking and a robot.

I've written a web-based unit card creator for aiding in the creation of new units.

Updated: See my review of Heroscape and some unit creator improvements.

Sunday, September 5, 2004


Typo is "6 nimmt!" meets "Ghost". It is a new small card game from
Cwali. If you're familiar with the word game Ghost and Kramer's 6
nimmt!, it is rather obviously a direct mixture. If you're not, the
Cwali website has a
good description of play. I'm a big fan of 6 nimmt!, enjoy word games
in general, and have enjoyed Cwali's products in the past so I was
eager to give this one a try.

I like it, and it seems to do well with different numbers of players.
I've played with 2, 3 and 5 and it worked well in each number. The
play isn't quite as quick as 6 nimmt!, but unless players are
exceedingly pensive, it moves along fairly well. Unlike many word
games, it feels a bit more luck driven than is typical, but not
overwhelmingly so. With more players, the luck seems to spread out a
bit more evenly, while with two, one person can get a lot of bad cards
and be more hurt by that than they would be with more players.

I've seen other comments that point out that this game may more
strongly require evenly matched players, and I'm inclined to agree. I
don't think it's as strong a requirement as it may initially seem,
however. Certainly, playing with children may not work, and a broader
vocabulary will benefit a player, but not so much as to prevent
enjoyment of the game by others.

Like other word games, I imagine Typo would heavily reward studying of
word lists, especially the thorough learning of unusual 3 letter
starts to words. It's quite entertaining without such preparation,

Overall, I really like it. It's got a good amount of luck and has a
good playing length (30 minutes) for its depth. Further, it is nicely
produced and is extremely compact, which to me is a very positive
feature. Recommended, especially if you like word games and wouldn't
be put off by a fair bit of luck in it.

Thursday, September 2, 2004

Habanero Cheddar

Cabot "Hot Habanero Cheddar" is really good. It's actually
quite spicy and rather tasty. I've had other spicy cheeses,
particularly various varieties of Jalapeno Jack, which are all well
and good, but none nearly as flavorful as this. I've found it locally
at both Shaw's/Star and BJs Wholesale.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

August 2004 Games

As expected becoming a father causes a substantial slowdown in game playing. It's worth it, though.
Shockingly enough, I did play some games this month with family and friends while Genevieve slept (sometimes).

11 games played, 7 titles (0 new to me) over 5 sessions with 5 different people.

Hot Games for August, 2004

(ok, all the games for August, 2004)

My mom kept wanting to play this.

Loopin' Louie
It can even be played with a baby in one arm

Another family hit

I really like the opportunities for clever tricks here

Durch die Wuste
Enjoyable as always.

King Lui
It plays differently, but well with 3. Scores are much higher.

Master Labyrinth
I like this, but it always feels a little incomplete, like there should be more to it.

Monday, August 30, 2004


I've been a Linux user for over a decade now. Before that, I
used the C64, GEOS, MacOS (before it was called that), but I've never
really used Windows for any period of time by choice. On several
occasions over the past decade I decided to give Windows a try again,
usually in a dual boot configuration. Each time it didn't last long
and I was promptly back to using Linux exclusively. Windows simply
lacked the customizability, the transparency, the power, and the
convenience of a Linux system. More recently, href=http://www.cygwin.com>Cygwin and less crash-inclined releases
of Windows have made my required occasional use of Windows tolerable,
but no reason to use it by choice. When it comes down to it, I
decided I was just set on Linux and to some extent it wouldn't matter
how good an alternative was, I was set in my ways.

Then, because we were having a baby, we decided to get a video camera
and come up with a solution for doing video editing. I had seen
iMovie and been impressed with the apparent power and simplicity.
That, combined with having heard some good things about OS X and being
comfortable with its unix foundation, made us decide to get a Mac. I
know there's some good video editing stuff for Linux, but I'm not yet
comfortable with the maturity of that subsection of the linux
application base. So, a few months ago, we bought a 17" PowerBook.

Initially, I was reasonably happy with the PowerBook and MacOS.
Click-to-focus still annoyed me and it took me a while to learn to
like Expose, but it was ok. For the purpose we bought it for, video
editing, it excelled. Both iMovie and iDVD are outstanding pieces of
software for doing what I want to do. I'm sure if I got more
interested in doing really elaborate productions, I might prefer a
more sophisticated system like Final Cut, but I'm pretty happy with
iMovie for now.

So, I've continued to use the Mac for almost 4 months, and I've got to
admit, I'm a convert. It manages to pretty cleanly integrate the
convenience of a casual use GUI with the transparency, accessibility
and power of unix. It's not just that if you drag a file into a
terminal window, it expands to the fully escaped pathname. It's not
just that it ships with perl. Those are nice, but what really does it
that most of the apps seem to store things in open or obvious ways.
iTunes puts a bunch of mp3s in a transparent directory hierarchy. iCal
uses vCalendar. Mail uses a bunch of mboxes. Address Book, well, it
lets you export to vCards.

That said, the included apps are all of sufficiently high quality that
I haven't felt as great a need, as I often do, to fiddle with them.
Mail's junk filtering is great, and it's filtering rules setup is
cleaner than most. iMovie continues to please, as does iTunes.
iPhoto is even pretty cool although it doesn't handle large libraries
gracefully at all. In fact what really has me converted is the DWIM
factor. (DWIM == Do What I Mean) Linux and Windows both have had the
problem for me that they wouldn't do what I meant. With Linux, I have
sufficient access and transparency that I can force it to DWIM. OS X
comes pretty close to DWIM most of the time, and I can force it on the
rare occasion that it misbehaves (for example, creating several
smaller iPhoto libraries).

I still rely on my Linux server, so I'm not a complete convert, but
the PowerBook is pretty sweet.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

A Good Sign

Genevieve and the interesting shirt

Some time ago, Angela Gaalema gave us a sleeveless Plenary Games
shirt. The shirt is lovely, but at XXL, rather excessively large on
either me or my wife. Recently, my wife happened to throw it on and
discover that by virtue of it being sleeveless and very large, the
sides open up conveniently, making it a reasonably effective nursing
top for feeding Genevieve.

But, the good news doesn't end there. On various occasions,
especially when being changed, Genevieve will stare rather intently
(and calmly) at the Plenary Games logo. They say infants like high
contrast black and white and the Plenary Game logo has that, but I
instead take it as a sign of interest and we'll see if I can get her
to play a game of Fresh Fish before she's out of diapers.

Saturday, August 21, 2004


(my photo from BGG<>

Recently, I've had several occasions to play "Mississippi", a
game from the late 1980's published by Mattel. It's not the greatest
game in the world, but it is a very good race/puzzle game. Given that
it was published in 1987, before the deluge of quality games from the
past decade, it is especially remarkable and worthy of a bit more

The basic mechanics are simple: pay logs to move forward or receive
logs for moving backward. If your boat ends up adjacent to another,
you may end up getting a push forward, or they may, depending on the
orientation of your pieces. This bumping is the core mechanic of the
game and some involved chain reactions may be produced.

The game play can feel a little dry, but not overly so, especially
given the kind of game it is. The components are nice, but nothing
remarkable, with the one flaw that some of the pieces are hard to
distinguish colors, occasionally leading to confusion. The whole
thing plays in 45 minutes, which feels about right.

Overall, it's fun and stands up well to today's more demanding
standards. Recommended, particularly if you like abstract,
puzzle-like race games.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Hush little baby

Genevieve is usally pretty good about being consolable.
That is, she'll be upset at times and need something, but we can
usually pretty rapidly figure it out. This evening, however, this
didn't seem to be the case. We fed her, changed her, swaddled her,
rocked her, talked to her and held her in various ways, with only very
limited success.

I had read that babies like white noise, particularly loud white
noise. So, as an experiment, I opened up
Audacity, told it to generate some
whitenoise, set the volume on the laptop to maximum and hit play.
Within 10 seconds, she was entranced. Still wide awake, but entranced
and quiet. Despite having read about babies' penchant for loud white
noise, I was rather surprised. Try it sometime for yourself. Really
loud white noise is quite annoying. However, half an hour later,
she's now asleep in my lap as I type this, with rather irritating
white noise blasting out of the laptop.

Thursday, August 12, 2004


A couple of weeks ago, we finally got around to going to
Antonia's in Davis Square. It's a teeny Italian place which has
apparently recently changed hands. They were unusually busy for a
Sunday night (or so they implied) and it took them longer than
expected to seat us. The ambiance and decor were nice, and the air
conditioning mostly managed to keep up.

We started out with a couple of appetizers, an eggplant dish and the
jalapeno raviolis. Both dishes were good, though I wished the
jalapeno raviolis had been a bit spicier. There was the hint of
jalapeno flavor and a good garlic flavor, but not anything I'd call
spicy. The eggplant appetizer was quite good as well.

For dinner, I had the Gnocchi Carbonara which was outstanding.
Wonderful gnocchi with an exceptionally done carbonara sauce. They
managed to strike an impressive balance; cream based sauces so often
seem to be too heavy or too mild and this amnaged to find a delicious
savory "sweet spot". The Fettucini Alfredo, on the other hand, fell
solidly on the too mild side of things. It was entirely pasable, just
a bit on the bland side. Next time I think we'll be getting two
gnocchi dishes.

The prices were quite reasonable and the service was polite and
helpful, if a bit slow and occasionally seeming to have difficulty
understanding English. The view into Davis Square adds to the
ambiance and let's you stop at JP Licks for ice cream afterwards.
Overall, definitely recommended, if you get the gnocchi and avoid the

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Monday, August 2, 2004

July 2004 Games

It's been a busy summer with less time for games, but even still I
played more games for a July than I have since July 2001.

31 games played, 25 titles (2 new to me) over 8 sessions with 26 different people.

Hot Games for July, 2004

A great abstract that seems to have a very reasonable learnin gcurve with a lot of tactics to learn.

Power Grid
I'm not so good at this, and I always end up sputtering out in the endgame, but it's a load of fun.

San Juan
I must say I'm surprised, but this keeps getting better.

Lord of the Rings
I finally got around to playing with the "dark tiles". Nice twist. Definitely harder. Sauron (Sean) got us in Shelob's Lair.

St. Petersburg
It's different, but it even plays well two player.

I like this game because it seems to lend itself to some surprising tactics.

I should play this more.

I used to think I finally had a handle on this one, and now I'm beginning to doubt it.

One of the all time greats, still.

Monday, July 26, 2004


I mentioned Piattini in my
post about Back Bay Restaurants, but it
deserves it's own full review. In many ways, Piattini is a conceptual
cousin to tapas, or perhaps even closer to a restaurant like
Cuchi Cuchi. While they have traditional entrees,
their recommended approach is to get several small appetizer sized
dishes they call piattini.

All of the dishes I've tried there have been quite good and some are
really exceptional. They have a squash ravioli which is a bit sweet
and absolutely delicious, as well as a tasty tortellini dish. I
haven't recently sampled their entrees, but when I did in the past,
they were exceptional particularly the filet they had on a seasonal
menu on one lucky occasion. For a typical appetite I'd recommend
about 2 piattini per person, where they are large enough to share with
two, or perhaps three people, but certainly not more.

They actually call themselves a "wine cafe", but I must admit, I
haven't really sampled their wines much, but what I have had has been
quite good. Their decor is rather nice, and they have limited, but
pleasant outdoor seating, though naturally on a nice evening that
fills up quickly.

It's also worth mentioning that their sandwiches for lunch are quite
good and rather reasonably priced given they are on Newbury Street.
Overall, highly recommended, especially for dinner.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Me in the news

Back in the early days of the web, I was in the news a lot. It was
rather cool. Well, this week, due in part to the DNC here in Boston,
I'm in the news a lot again. It's still neat. Here are the mentions:

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

They Control the Colors

Years ago, someone told me that the reason why various
consumer goods seem to be color coordinated is because there exists a
group that periodically decides what the new colors will be. That
way, when you buy dish towels, they have some hope of matching your
mixer, which can match your throw rug, which can match your curtains.

Well, I finally got around to looking up this "color cabal", and it's
called the "Color Marketing
and they annually put out a list of new "Consumer Colors".
On their web site, you don't get to actually see the colors, but you
can read about "Eureka: A yellow targeted at a youthful audience",
"Oxygen: ...this breath of fresh air is an aquatic blue-green
influenced by silver", and "Orsando: Sand-inspired brown, ... you want
to wiggle your toes in it". href=http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/005397.html>Others
have written about this group as well.

There's something very amusing about a relatively quiet industry
organization having such a dramatic impact on the color of more or
less everything.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Top of the Hub

Prior to the late 1990s, this restaurant with a view was owned by
Stouffer's and the food was correspondingly unsurprising. Sometime in
the late 90s, it changed hands and now the quality of the food matches
the quality of the view. (The "Top of the Hub" is on the 52nd floor
of the Prudential building, providing a stunning view of the Boston

This evening, we went and had an outstanding meal. We ordered the
Arugula Salad (a regular favorite), the Avocoado Soup, the Vegetarian
Lasagna and the Beef Tenderloin. As I ordered the beef, an amusing
interaction occured. I said to our server, "I'd like the Beef
Tenderloin, cooked rare." He looked at me funny and said, "How about
Medium Well?" I must have returned a rather shocked look, because he
continued: "To preserve some of the flavor". At this point I realized
he must have misheard me and I clarified that I wanted it Rare, at
which point he seemed much relieved. The meal arrived quite
deliciously rare. In fact, all of the food was wonderful. We ate
around sunset which provides a spectacular view of Boston both in the
light and in the dark, both of which are worth seeing.

As one would expect, it's a bit pricy, but not unreasonably so. They
even had a tasting menu (which we did not opt for) which included a
wide range of dishes for $65 a person or somewhat more with wine.
Overall, highly recommended.

Sunday, July 4, 2004

June 2004 Games

June was another slow month for games, with a great many other
priorities surpassing game playing. I will soon be redefining what
constitutes a "slow" month. Fortunately, I did get to play several longer games.

24 games played, 17 titles (1 new to me) over 7 sessions with 22 different people.

Hot Games for June, 2004

I am extremely fond of this game. I liked Traders of Genoa, also by Rudiger Dorn, but this is even better. It's got interesting auctions, a complex but manageable system of interlocking bits and a variety of paths to victory. It seems to be a bit north of two hours, and I hope that gets lower with experience, but I really don't usually mind.

Power Grid
I was never a huge fan of Funkenschlag, but Power Grid manages to fix the two "problems" it had: components and length. It's still not short, but it's an outstanding business game.

I'm saddened that other people don't seem to enjoy this as much as I do.

Ma Ni Ki!
It's so cute and it's good filler.

Mole Hill
This is a clever game with a good lesson in advance planning.

Electronic Catchphrase
"Vittles" is very hard to clue, if "tender" doesn't send people down the right track.

Royal Turf
Go Nougat!

San Juan
This is experiencing a greater durability than expected under a pretty heavy load of play.

Apples to Apples
Not as novel as it used to be, but still fun to pull out occasionally.

Lost Cities
Played every year from 1999 to 2004 and deserves it.

Friday, July 2, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

A week ago, I saw Fahrenheit 9/11. It was very good. And, for all
the lead up hype about how it was "propaganda" and what not, I found
it very honest. Further, most of the griping reviews I've read about
it fail to cite anything in it that's actually misleading. One
article had the odd twist of claiming the movie made some (genuinely)
fallacious claims that did not actually appear in the movie. Odd.

In any case, the other comment I've heard repeatedly is that it
somehow is "not a documentary" because it has an opinion. Give me a
break. Documentaries express opinions. If a documentary were simply
a recitation of facts, who would want to go see them? A documentary
shouldn't contain lies (and F911 doesn't seem to), but presenting
those facts in support of an opinion or view strikes me as the whole
point. Fahrenheit 9/11 makes a compelling case for its opinion and is
worth seeing whether you agree with Mr. Moore's politics or not.

The final thing that struk me, having seen this movie, is how hard it
must be to be a conservative right now. I've traditionally thought of
conservative politics in terms of certain principles: fiscal
restraint, small government is good government, states rights,
Constitutional conservativism, supporting capitalism, moderate
isolationism, and an array of similar ideas. Today, there are no
major options that support these ideals. Kerry certainly represents
the more liberal view, but Bush is no better. He's dramatically
increased the size of government, exercised little fiscal restraint,
advocated Constitutional amendments to limit states' rights, gotten
involved in a very messy war and overall acted in opposition to a
great many "conservative" values. It must be hard to be a
conservative. There's something very strange about living in a world
where the president under whom the budget was balanced, under whom
welfare was reformed and under whom business most flourished was the

Sunday, June 27, 2004


This game has a really clever mechanic. Usually, for me, that's
enough to make me really enjoy a game. With Alexandros, this is
unfortunately not the case. It's an area influence game, which isn't
my favorite genre, but that's not my main problem with it. It isn't a
bad game, it just isn't good enough.

The really clever mechanic is that the boundaries between the areas of
interest and influence are determined by Alexandros moving around
where he moves in (roughly) straight lines on a triangular grid, one
segment per player turn. It's neat. The rest of the game is a
relatively standard area control and cardplay game, but well crafted.
The components are nice and attractively produced.

The problem I observed is that it's easy for someone to fall badly
behind, and worse, it's easy to play unintentional kingmaker. I've
only played it twice (which will probably be about it), but it even
seems it may be a bit difficult for someone to not
accidentally make a bit of kingmaking move. I understand any
multi-player game is going to have a bit of kingmaking potentially,
but Alexandros seems to have it a bit more than I enjoy. Further, the
only way around this is for players to consistently gang up on the
leader(s), which happens naturally, but it's frustrating as a
fundamental game requirement. Finally, the luck of the cards isn't
overwhelming, but it is sufficient it can stymie attempts to hit the
leader even when that's the obvous correct move.

Overall, it's a nice set of mechanics, including one novel and clever
bit, but which falls victim to a few standard problems. The game is
fun, but the novelty is not so engaging as to distract from the
problems. In both games I've played, the problems rapidly outweighed
the fun. Not recommended, but not so bad as to not be worth a try. Rating: C

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Extremely useful websites

I tend not to use this site for the usual blogging purpose of listing
"cool links" and whatnot. There's already a great many sites that do
this far better than I ever could and there's only a limited value in
re-citing useful links.

There are, however, two sites I've been reading regularly for many
months and feel they're unusually valuable and often unknown:

  • FackCheck.org is a
    site run by an independent non-partisan group funded by the Annenberg
    Foundation. Basically, they analyze political advertising and write
    detailed response papers indicating what claims are true, false,
    exaggerated, incomplete or otherwise in need of clarification.
  • Footnote TV is a site
    which outstandingly cites references to news and issues addressed in
    various television programs, particularly "The Daily Show" and "The
    West Wing".

They're both extremely worth following.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Copyright, Patents, "Intellectual Property"

To me, one of the more interesting problems of recent times is that of
so-called "intellectual property" by which people mean copyrighted
works, patented inventions, trademarked terms and a variety of other
pieces of information. Calling it "Intellectual Property" is really
an awful name given that it lacks most of the qualities usually
associated with "property". It's non-rivalrous, in that I can have it
and give it to you and in no way diminish the extent to which I have
it. It's possible for two people to both have it without knowing it
or even ever having come in contact, in the case of simultaneous
inventions or works. It has zero marginal cost to produce "copies".
The list goes on. It's not really property.

While I was in college, I was first exposed to the whole idea of "free
software" and later, "open source". These are very compelling models
for software and I use and contribute to such projects regularly.
However, I started a proprietary software company, I hold a patent, I
wrote a copyrighted book, and don't have a problem with the idea of
proprietary software or other works as a governmentally granted right.
I have a great deal of respect for the ideals of folks like Richard
Stallman, but I think a world in which all software was copylefted
would have some incentive issues.

As a producer of creative works I recognize the value of a "creative
commons", as described by folks like Lawrence Lessig and well
discussed in a recent piece
on DRM by Cory Doctorow
. I also see the value in protection of
works as an incentive. While it is true that a great many works would
be created even without the ability to legally prevent copying and
redistribution, many would not. As has been pointed out by many, this
would still be the case even if the duration of the rights were
dramatically reduced.

If copyright were a "mere" 10 years, I can't imagine many works would
go unproduced as a result. Blockbuster movies certainly wouldn't be
shied away from. Most books don't stay in print that long. Much
software is useless after that long. And yet, every decade or two
there's a court case to extend the duration of copyright.

Patents seem to be a somewhat different case. Reducing the duration
of patent protection would probably have limited impact on software
inventions but could substantially deter more costly innovation such
as pharmaceutical development. Given that patents are individually
inspected and evaluated anyway, it seems natural that the patent
office could assign a term for a patent on a case-by-case basis.

It's a real shame that the recent case opposing to the copyright
extension didn't succeed. I fully believe copyright and patents are
important to encouraging innovation, but much shorter durations would
be a real societal benefit without be a substantial deterrent to such

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Goa and Power Grid thoughts

I played Power Grid with 2 players for the first time. I liked it.
It definitely feels a bit different than the multi-player version, but
it's still quite good. The auctions are quite different, and the
competition for cities is not relevant starting in Step 2, but the
quality of someone needing to occupy all the cities to end the game is
very appealing. While I'm unlikely to seek it out frequently with
two, it also seems it would be a very good introduction to the game
and provides an environment to experiment with the tactics a little
less disruptively.

I continue to enjoy Goa a great deal. It's long, but worth it. It
appears there are several errors in the translation on the Geek, when
compared to the Rio Grande rules. I encourage those who've learned
the rules by reading the rules on the Geek to check their English
rules if they have them. A few specifics:

  • You can place the flag marker on any place on the edge or in any unoccupied square, so long as at least one tile is orthogonally adjacent.
  • When you draw expedition cards, you discard/play (playing at most one) down to your hand limit after you draw.
  • The expedition cards for getting to the fourth and fifth rows are awarded seperately for each column, allowing up to 10 to be awarded per game. (This is unclear even in the Rio Grande rules, and I have played it both ways)

With experienced players, the game is close to the 90 minute estimate
and a lot of fun. It's a lot to keep in your head at once and I'm
tempted to allow planning on paper next time I play.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Good online game stores

It seems over the past year or so there has been a deluge of new
online games stores. I have ordered from a few of them, but for a
long time I ordered from href=http://funagain.com/cgi-bin/funagain/home?;;RGBR>Funagain
primarily. Their selection is essentially the best of the domestic
online sellers and their prices are usually competetive (plus, they do
price matching, if you're willing to deal with it). Recently though I
have used Game Surplus for my
orders and have been quite pleased. In addition to having outstanding
prices and a selection that approaches Funagain's. Further, they are
in Pennysylvania which means their shipping to Boston only takes 2
days even via UPS ground, which is very nice, especially compared to
the sometimes substantial delays that shipping from Oregon (Funagain's
home) seemed to yield.

Both Game Surplus and Funagain have well done web sites and shopping
cart systems which used to more of a distinguishing characteristic.
Additionally, both are responsive to special requests and questions
over email which makes it nice to do business with them.

Sunday, June 6, 2004


Ma Ni Ki!

Ma Ni Ki!

by Dominique Erhard

Rating: A

This is a simultaneous puzzle solving game in the spirit of Ricochet
Robot, though the puzzle itself bears essentially no resemblance to
Ricochet Robot. The basic idea is you have three animals on two
platforms and you are trying to change their configuration by issuing
commands like "Ma", which moves the bottom animal on one platform to
the top, or "Ni" which swaps the top two animals on the two platforms.
As a result, the game is a race to shout out multi-syllable commands
such as the eponymous "MaNiKi", or "LoNiMaSo" or the like.

The game is a blast, and the components are absolutely beautiful
rectilinear wooden animals, along with cards showing the 24 possible
target configurations. No individual puzzle is very hard, but the
speed element makes it appropriately challenging. My only concern is
that it may get a little repetetive after several plays.

The game suggests an "advanced" variant of excluding the "Ni" command
from the options. Another advanced variant that I expect to try is
requiring all solutions to be four syllalbles or fewer, with one
exception. If the current puzzle is a stack of 3 animals and the goal
is to move that stack wholesale to the other platform, the shortest
possible command to do so is five syllables. All other
transformations are possible in four syllables, although some of them
are subtle and a lot easier to find as five or six syllable commands.

Overall, a very entertaining and clever game. It also has the
advantage many puzzle games have of easily allowing a virtually
unlimited number of players and easily allowing the introduction of
new players mid-game. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 4, 2004

How big is the boardgames market?

There's a lot of attempts to define and estimate the size of the board
games market. Even many of the publishers don't have precise numbers
because they sell their games to distributors and retailers and do not
get sell-through numbers reliably through their customers. There are
a few obvious things that could be measured to try to measure the size
of the market. The traditional way is to measure the total copies or
dollars of a game sold or a similar number. These are interesting,
but number of people is more interesting.

The question "How many board gamers are there?" is very specifically
predicated on the definition of a "board gamer". When I ask the
question, I even more specifically mean German-style board game
player. So, I am excluding focused Go and Chess afficionados,
ConSim/War game players and other people who could reasonably called
board gamers. By this definition, I think the number is between 2,000
and 80,000. If I had to go down to a specific number I'd say there's
about 4,000 "serious gamers" and about 40,000 "casual gamers". One
obvious way to try to measure this though is to measure total copies
of particular popular games that have been sole.

Presumably, if there are 100,000 copies of Carcassonne sold, there are
roughly that many people who own a copy. Naturally, there's some
fraction of those still in the distributor and retail channel.
Further, there's some number of those copies that were never opened,
never played, or played and abandoned. So, the total number of people
who actually play it with any regularity is somewhat lower. But, even
the initial number is hard to obtain for any given game.

In an attempt to come up with at least approximate estimates, I took
to looking at the href=http://www.boardgamegeek.com>BoardGameGeek collections data
as a starting point. For a number of games, there's a known print run
size and it is known to be essentially completely distributed.
Further, for man other games, print run/distributions sizes are
approximately known. Given this and the number of BGG collections a
game appears in, it is possible to estimate the number of total owners
any given game has. This number will not be precise, but it seems to
be reasonably accurate, within about an order of magnitude. Overall,
I estimate between 1 and 10% of most "German-style" games are
reflected in the BGG collections for typical games. More "mainstream"
games yield lower percentages and extreme niche games are higher
percentages. The table below shows some of the games I based this
estimate on.

BGG ownersBGG %
ad acta1500815%
Ticket to Ride100004634.63%
Apples to Apples1000000~10000.1%

Thursday, June 3, 2004

Chase Mortgage Customer Service

I recently found a problem on my mortgage statement caused due to a
sequence of errors by Chase, my bank and me. I called Chase customer
service to try to get it resolved and was appalled at the service I
received. The customer service representative was unhelpful,
uninformed and rude. I asked that she have someone who could help me
call me back the next day.

Nobody called the next day, and I went to their web site and sent an
email inquiry, expecting that to go to into the black hole that is
often email support. A bit less than 48 hours later I received a
polite, helpful, informative and apologetic email back explaining both
what they would do and what I needed to do in order to correct the
problem. I was shocked.

A couple weeks later, I checked back online and my online statement
did not seem to reflect the changes I expected it to. I sent another
email inquiry. Another 48 hours later and I got back another
response, again politely apologetic, indicating the problem had indeed
been resolved and their online system unfortunately did not always
reflect those changes promptly.

Today, I received both a paper statement and a hand signed letter from
Chase indicating the problem had been resolved and apologizing for the
confusion. While I am still rather disturbed at their response when I
called, the quality of their email support largely made up for it.
Given that email support is probably an economical solution for them
and at many levels a preferable solution to me, I'm pleased to know
they are using it effectively and I'll naturally use it in preference
to the phone in the future. I hope their poor quality phone service
is not at all an intentional attempt to drive people to the
easier-to-manage email support.

In any case, if you have a customer service issue with Chase, skip the
phone and send them an email.

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Recent Games Played

Blosxom is nice. It made it very easy to add a "Recently Played
Games" box to the sidebar of my blog. A little self-indulgent, but
that's what blogs are for, right? I also added a "Send me a
note" form in the sidebar, but that's just HTML.

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

May 2004 Games

May, 2004

May was a really slow month for games, but after April, that's ok.

27 played, 24 titles (3 new to me) over 9 sessions with 22
diffent people.

Hot Games for May, 2004

St. Petersburg
A local pulled this off the prize table at the
Gathering so it's naturally gotten a lot of
play. Very good. My copy should arrive this week.

I continue to enjoy this, particularly with 4 players.

I recently played the "short game", where you only
play to the number of VPs proscribed for one more player than you have. Works well.

Nice Knizia abstract.

I still enjoy this, especially with the variant.

San Juan
I actually wish I'd played more of this.

Industrial Waste
It always surprises me who likes this and who doesn't. I still enjoy it a great deal.

6 nimmt!
This went on a brief, undeserved hiatus in March and April. Good to have it back.

You're Bluffing
This really makes you think differently, and that's nice.

Adam & Eva
Lighter, but among the best of the flag influence games.

Friday, May 28, 2004


This blog uses blosxom, a relatively minimalistic blog system
implemented in perl. I've played around with a few blogging systems
and have been fairly dissatisfied. I'm hoping blosxom will contradict
that experience. At various points in the past, I've used Squishdot,
blogmax, and my own persona wiki modified for blogging.
All were in varying degrees annoying to use, annoying to extend, and
ugly. Blosxom has some promise to be reasonable to use,
straightforward to extend and acceptably attractive.

This blog uses a heavily modified layout derived from "href="http://www.blosxom.com/flavours/general/pureSqueezed.htm">pureSqueezed".
The stuff in the righthand column is the find plugin, the categorytree
plugin, the morentries plugin and the calendar and archives plugins together.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

2004 Spiele des Jahres Nominees

The nominees for Spiele des Jahres for this year came out a little while ago. They are:

  • Dawn Under (Dicke Luft in der Gruft)
  • Einfach Genial
  • Raja
  • Saint Petersburg
  • Zug um Zug (Ticket To Ride)

A lot of the online discussion seems to favor Ticket To Ride for the
win. Ticket To Ride is certainly a good game, but I'm not convinced
that isn't because it's the only of the list that's been widely
available in the US. I'm not convinced I have any special isnight
into the like selection of the Jury so instead I'll just comment on
the four out of five that I've played:

  • Dawn Under: This is a good memory game,
    especially beautifully produced, but I wouldn't give it any special
    credit. It's got a few interesting twists that make it a bit more
    than simply a memory game. While I've played many memory games that
    are more than kid's games, I would put this one squarely in the
    good-with-children category.

  • Einfach Genial: This is a light, entertaining and
    approachable multi-player abstract. I've only played it a few times,
    but it's been fairly universally well received. It seems like there
    is room for deeper tactical play, but it also lends itself well to a
    more casual analysis. It also is very nicely produced.

  • Raja: Haven't played it yet.

  • Saint Petersburg: I've played this one several times now
    and I'm no good at it. It doesn't feel especially novel, but the
    mechanics go together very nicely. With only a few plays, it already
    seems that there are several effective paths to victory, which bodes
    well for the games continued value. Despite all that, I'm not sure
    how it will hold up in the long run, but it seems it will continue to
    be enjoyed.

  • Ticket To Ride: I like Ticket To Ride, but I'm not ga-ga
    over it the way many people seem to be. It seems composed of
    reasonably standard mechanics and lucky selection of route cards seems
    it might overly dominate the game. Certainly it's no TransAmerica
    killer, as some have claimed. All that said, it's a good medium
    weight game which is nicely designed.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Recommended Variants

In general, I am a strong proponent of playing the rules as written. Most of the time, games have gone through extensive playtesting and there are reasons why the rules are in place. Introducing house rules more often than not reduces the quality of a game. Naturally, people should play however they find most enjoyable, but I'll be the first to admit it isn't always obvoius what is the "most enjoyable". All of that said, there's a few games where I've found a variant or house rule that substantially improves the experience. Some of these (for example, the Attika variant) are reasonably specific to my tastes. While I know several people who prefer my variant, others prefer the original rules. Others, such as the Vinci variant I haven't seen anyone prefer the original. So, on with the variants:


Vinci is an outstanding game, but it can have a bit of a serious engame problem. Specifically, it there is serious analysis paralysis as people maximize their score and minimize the score of the players who are doing well. This problem is completely and simply fixed by utilizing hidden scoring. At the end of a complete round, if one or more players have passed the winning point total, they announce so and the player with the highest score wins. I've played it many times this way and highly recommend it.


ZooSim has a rich-get-richer problem in that income is derived from the number of zoo tiles one. Naturally, this is somewhat offset by the fact that purchasers of the early tiles presumably pay dearly, but it's been my observation, even with experienced players, due to the blind nature of the bidding, it is hard to effectively force that payment and a player who wins two tiles in the first round is at a serious advantage. The variant I've played with that fixes this effectively is to have income simply be 3 units per round, regardless of zoo size.


I find the "connect two shrines" win condition dissatisfying. Additionally, I find it can turn into a game of chicken where other players try to avoid spending the resources to stop someone from achieving this condition, hoping their opponents will. Eliminating this victory condition reduces the amount of player interaction. After a few testing games, I've found that making the connection of two shrines grant that player 6 cards is effective. It's a substantial reward enough to try to connect, but not so much that it ends the game.


This isn't so much a variant as an interpretation of the rules. We now play with "passing by intent". What I mean by that is that as soon as you intend to pass and make any effort to do so, it is considered passed. That puts the onus on the receiving player to grab it and get on with their clue giving. It's also a lot less frustrating and essentially unambiguous which team gets the point when the buzzer goes. If you're in the process of passing it, it counts as in the next players hands.


This one is again, not so much a variant as a more complete set of rules. These are usually called the tournament rules.

The so-called "Tournament Rules" for Loopin' Louie are used in the Gathering of Friends tournaments as well as by many people in casual play. The rules are as follows:

  1. All players start with 3 chickens
  2. Louie is started and players play until only one player has chickens remaining. (ie, play 1 game by the standard rules)
  3. Louie is stopped. The player with one or more chickens remaining removes one of their chickens from play altogether. If this is their last chicken, that player is the winner.
  4. All players put all of their chickens that have not been removed from play onto their barn. Return to step 2.

As a result, for each round a player wins, it becomes more difficult for them to win the next round.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

New To Me Games

These are games that are new to me, with the newest at the top, along
with whatever ultra-brief commentary I have on them. I periodically
update this, but the post time will no longer change and it won't show
up as new in RSSI fees.



  • Der Herr der Ringe: Die Rückkehr des Königs Ugh. Uninteresting game of dice rolling.
  • Stapelei Simple, extremely compact dexterity game with a donkey.
  • Nuba Older abstract Knizia game worth a few plays

    April (Gathering of Friends)

    • DickeLuftInDerGruft Beautiful kids memory game
    • SunkenCity Light exploration and screw-your-neighbor game
    • Kaleidos Find words in busy pictures. Ok, but not as fun as I'd heard.
    • Masterdieb Amazingly produced geometry, memory and role selection game.
    • SmartyParty Fun party game with lists whose imperfections can be annoying
    • DestinationTresor Clever, novel and enjoyable deduction game
    • Tongiaki Somewhat chaotic but some real opportunity for interesting tricks.
    • PayoffMachine Old 1970s game with marbles. Rather Neat.
    • 5thAvenue Disappointing, but worth another play.
    • MaNiKi Very entertaining animal stacking puzzle game
    • Marco Polo Light but strong game of carefully timed cardplay
    • StPetersburg Few new mechanics but a very good game none the less
    • OldTown Older deduction game (sort of) with a very nice mechanic but very random results
    • Immer oben auf! Fun and cute animal stacking memory game
    • Goa Outstanding complex game in the mold of PrincesOfFlorence or PuertoRico
    • Zopp Fun dexterity game
    • RailroadDice Clever mechanics, fun game, but has some endgame problems
    • OhPharaoh Disappointing pyramid building game with some potential
    • PowerGrid Outstanding Funkenschlag rework
    • MangaManga Dull realtime cardgame
    • LostValley Beautifully produced but blandly mechanical game
    • Spy I liked this like Knizia cardgame but most others were unimpressed
    • Saga Interesting smallbox card game with a nice twist on influence games
    • LePasseTrappe Simple, fun, entertaining wooden dexterity game
    • MusicMystery Music trivia game. Not my thing.
    • Memoir44 BattleCry in World War 2. Fun and nicely produced.
    • BlueMoon Nice Knizia two player. Needs more plays, but I'm in no rush.


    • Alexandros Some nice mechanics but led to a bad kingmaker result.
    • SanJuan Very good. Lots of potential.


    • Hansa Not bad, but awfully monotonous commodity collection game
    • EinfachGenial Fun 2-, 3- or 4-player abstract from Reiner Knizia
    • Corsari Very light and seemingly overly-luck dominated card game
    • TicketToRide Nice middle-weight game of connecting cities and building rails
    • Maritim Interesting puzzle movement game. _Way_ too long with six players.
    • Landlord A "take that" game from Friedemann Friese. Not bad for a "take that" game, but...


    • Mississippi Interesting older Mattel game all about chain reactions
    • BalloonRennen Very chaotic and random, but we laughed a lot everytime someone slammed into the mountains.
    • Industria Pretty good, but feels a bit scattered. Worth another play.
    • UndTschuss Interesting, but I'm not sure what I think yet
    • Yinsh Very good