Archive for July, 2006

#704

1:42 am, Monday, July 31st, 2006

Just finished having some sushi take-out from Akasaka whilst watching Law & Order: SVU. Great stuff. I actually did a little calling around beforehand to see if there was a cheaper place nearby, but Akasaka seems to be the best deal. Hanabi and Koharu (other nearby sushi restaurants on Pacific Highway) were ~15% and 35% more expensive.

I installed Akismet last Sunday because my comment spam spiked to 19 entries (and I received 12 the day before). Most of it seemed to be for German online casinos. Anyway, I haven’t gotten any spam since Tuesday or so. Which is weird, because Akismet’s just supposed to filter it, not prevent it altogether. I think possibly the spambots somehow detected I’d installed it and stopped posting here to conserve bandwidth. Or maybe it was just a coincidence, I dunno.

Brett and I went to the Pink Martini concert at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville the Friday before last. The opening act, Bird York, was pretty awful and it was really hot outside, but after the sun set it was pretty comfortable. PM did this one as-yet unreleased song I really liked called Do Svidanya Mio Bambino. It was a good show. I was really surprised at how popular it was — there must have been over a thousand people in the outdoor amphitheater.

We were supposed to go to a Panic! at the Disco concert in Seattle on Friday, but the show was canceled because of a death in the family (Ryan Ross’ dad died earlier that day). Still trying to get the tickets refunded.

My primary machine is still suffering random lockups even now that I’ve replaced the failing hard drive. Since that leaves only the motherboard and processor unchecked, I had to order replacements. I settled on a socket 939 AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ (codename Manchester) for the CPU (dual-core, woo). My friend James (from CA) kept urging me to get a Conroe (the new Intel Core 2 Duo processor), but I checked the benchmarks and did some math: Turns out the X2 3800+ is actually a better value if you don’t overclock (and I won’t be). Anyway, I tried to find a motherboard that would support the Manchester and my Radeon 9800 PRO video card. Seems there’s only one that does — a Gigabyte board (the GA-K8U-939) which is out of stock everywhere I’d normally buy parts. Sure, there was a Biostar board that could handle AGP (via XGP), but it had a very short list of supported cards and the 9800 wasn’t on it. Seems everything is PCI-E x16 when it comes to video these days.

So I had to get a PCI-E motherboard. After a lot of consideration, I chose the ASUS A8N5X. Newegg had a combo for it with the Radeon X800GTO ($50 discount), so I got that. It’ll actually perform better than my 9800 PRO, based on the benchmarks.

I saw Lady in the Water and My Super Ex-Girlfriend last week. I really liked LitW; clever plot, lots of funny, quirky characters. It had a neat collaborative “deliberately irrational-but-enthusiastic suspension of disbelief” feel to it (which might sound obtuse but should make sense once you’ve seen it). Of course, I don’t know that I’d recommend it to anyone… I’ve enjoyed all the M. Night Shyamalan movies, especially The Village and Unbreakable, but it seems like everyone else I know hates everything he’s made since The Sixth Sense. My Super Ex-Girlfriend was pretty mediocre till the last thirty minutes. Had a nice ending. I think it’d have been better if they’d focused more on Prof. Bedlam.

Our last D&D game was pretty slow… yet another player joined the game, bringing the group to nine people (which is about four more than Keith and I prefer). The new guy is Jay’s brother; he’s playing a half-elf fateweaver (a custom class that randomly aquires and loses the abilities of other classes each day). Basically we cleaned out the airship we boarded last week, save for a high-level swashbuckler, taking a lot of damage in the process. Killed two barbarians and a blue-cloak (one of the wizards in league with the hollow-men). We negotiated a deal with the swashbuckler/captain to pilot the vessel for us for 675 gp/month plus repair costs. When we found out he wasn’t the rightful owner of the ship, we contacted New Avalosa. They showed up and neutralized him and offered us the ship for 750/month or the unspecified contents of a sealed chest. The party vote was something like 4 to 3 for the ship. (After the game, we found out the chest contained 180,000 gp — a prize I’d have preferred, even though the ship will be more useful for our long-term mission.)

After repairs and loot liquidation (I got a frost enchantment added to my bow), we headed up to the northern continent to investigate another question mark on the Dragon’s Eye stronghold map. As we landed near a ruined coliseum, about a dozen aberrations vaguely similar to fomorians came lumbering towards us.

Wednesday was the first session of my Seattle GURPS game with Martin. He’s pretty cool; really seems to know the game, just moved here from Montreal — has a neat accent. I also met Michael and Christian, the other two players (I understand another two will be joining the group in August). The game was short (about three hours), mainly just an introduction to the setting and campaign plus some character tweaking. I’m playing Cepheus Ovidius Scapula, an engineering prodigy from Roma Aeterna, Michael’s playing Kaleb, a necromancer with subtle powers, and Christian’s playing The Professor, an anthropologist. Since ISWAT teams consist of six people, we have three NPCs rounding out the group.

Our first mission was to an explore a newly discovered parallel. Long story short, it was a world hit with some kind of catastrophe circa the late 19th century. We found a LOT of radioactive undead that seem to have an affinity for lurking in the ocean shallows. I shot one with my 10mm service pistol which turned out to be a very bad idea — apparently these things can run. Thousands of them climbed out of the Puget sound and chased us — we barely made it back to the conveyor alive. In our next mission, we actually have to go back there (heavily armed and armored this time) and collect samples.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun. I was relieved to find that the GM and other players were nice and easy to get along with. I think this was Michael and Christian’s first time playing GURPS, but they’re picking it up really quickly.

Kay, gotta get to bed so I can be alert for D&D tomorrow. I’ll leave you with this neat wallpaper someone posted on 4chan.

MP3 Pirate
(1600×1200; 84 KB)

#703

9:53 pm, Friday, July 21st, 2006

Man, the spambots are really hitting this blog hard all of a sudden… I’ve gotten about twenty spam comments in the past week. Fortunately, WordPress allows me to kill them all in moderation so none of the junk has gone live. I figure if/when the average per-day spam gets above 10 comments I’ll install Akismet (it sure seems to work well for Krunk).

I saw Clerks II earlier today — the 5:15 pm showing. Best movie I’ve seen this year. Yep, even better than Thank You for Smoking. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much (especially the “pillowpants” scene… OMG). I think it’s even better than the first one. Heh, if you’d told me six years ago that Clerks II would be made twelve years after the first movie and that it’d be in color, have a dance/musical sequence in it, a surprising number of racial slurs and that it would be better than the original, I’d have called you a liar. I think it’s my new favorite Kevin Smith movie (a rank previously held by Dogma). Just fantastic. BTW, if anyone has a copy of the messages at the end of the credits, post it in the comments below… many of them went by too quickly for me to read.

I finally saw the first episode of Psych. I liked it… fairly funny, very likable main characters, an adequately interesting mystery. Definitely leaving its season pass on the TiVo.

I’ve been collecting these cheap little D&D miniatures for a while now. They’re a great value versus the traditional lead ones — they come pre-painted and they’re made of a pretty flexible plastic so they’re hard to break. I suppose some folks might prefer greater detail for their heroes, but these are still good for monsters and enemy combatants. I paint the bases of mine yellow to keep from accidentally losing them in other people’s collections and they store really well in adjustable storage cases ($3.00 ea. at Lowe’s). Here’s my current collection (minus a few larger minis).

D&D minis in case
(1000×598; 120 KB)

#702

11:48 pm, Thursday, July 20th, 2006

I just finished Axiomatic. Really original science fiction; made me think a lot. Though the book contains eighteen short stories, all entertaining and thought-provoking, only four really jumped out at me as “paradigm shift” triggers. They include The Hundred Light-Year Diary (which deals with fate and truthiness), A Kidnapping (ethics regarding duplicates, the nature of empathy, and a lot more), Learning to Be Me (fantastic thoughts on uploading and the continuity of being), and The Walk (the nature and value of individuality). I was particularly fond of The Safe-Deposit Box (its unwritten epilogue could easily be a great novel) even though none of its ideas were terribly revolutionary. The last story in the book struck me as oddly weak, but it could be that some of the concepts were just too bizarre for me to fully grasp (I had similar difficulties with elements of the wormhole mechanics in Into Darkness). Anyway, the whole thing definitely made me a fan of Egan. In fact, I just ordered a used hardcover of his Diaspora from Amazon for a mere $1.50. Hopefully I’ll end up with the American version this time… the Australian version of Axiomatic that I have is a little distracting to read because of their strange conventions (e.g. British spellings, swapping quotation marks for apostrophes, leaving off the periods after title abbreviations).

Finally started the RMA process on my 120 gig Maxtor drive (backed up everything onto the 300 GB external last night). I also came to the realization that my iMac was the very last PowerPC model Apple produced before they switched over to the Intel Core Duo chips. Which means it can’t run Boot Camp (and thus, Windows). Really sucks. Also means I wasted $20 on an adapter I can’t use. Oh well. Maybe I’ll see what I can do to upgrade my old desktop… it could use a new motherboard and processor — right now I’m using an Athlon XP 2500+ on an MSI KT4VL. Pretty antiquated compared to most other guys’ rigs on AnandTech. I mean, I’m still 32-bit for Pete’s sake.

Helping Keith move was interesting. Got to meet his girlfriend, Tristan, and see parts of Seattle I never had before. I’m still amazed that I’d somehow managed to forget what a painful, dirty, sweaty process moving is. I told Brett to punch me in the face if I ever offer to help anyone move again. But they did feed us well — Mountain Dew, Gatorade, meat lover’s pizza, and old-fashioned milkshakes. Fine people.

Okay, time for the summary of Monday’s D&D game. Skip the rest of this post if such things bore you.

This was our seventh session. Some interesting guesstimated statistics: We’ve now spent about 60 hours on the current campaign and have averaged roughly 200 XP per hour. The party treasury stands at 5,481 gold pieces. Significant group-owned magic items: A custom Bag of Holding (increased weight capacity), a refilling goblet of water, a Ring of Protection +1 (usable only by characters of evil alignment), Gauntlets of Wind (windstorm-level, 23 charges), 8 potions of cure light wounds, 5 potions of Swim, 2 potions of Jump, a cloak of Pass Without Trace, a wand of Cure Light Wounds (49 charges), a Staff of Healing, and a potion of Resist Fire.

We began the game by leaving the Tree of Life stronghold and returning to Trawna for supplies. I hadn’t been paying much attention to my ammo use and a self-audit revealed I only had 5 arrows left. In town, I bought a crate of 2,000 and put it in the BoH. We plotted a course to the eastern question mark on our stronghold map. It turned out to be a 900-mile journey, so we bought horses and enough trail rations to sustain everyone for a month.

Beyond the walled city of Elsin (in the middle of the Crysin river) and just short of Caltrin, we made camp and were visited by a mysterious stranger who helped himself to our food. He had phenomenal reflexes, no eyes, some kind of amnesia, claimed to have killed 2 or 3 archons, and paid for everything he took with rubies that turned to dust the next day. I’m not entirely sure what he was or how he fits into the hollow-man invasion. The next day we were walking on the road when a magical fog suddenly surrounded us. Apparently it was the work of a bronze dragon. Initially it just wanted food (i.e. us or our horses), but then spotted our Bag of Holding and decided it’d make a good addition to its hoard. We managed to convince it otherwise by telling it about the mysterious traveler and willingly feeding it four of our horses. Chaotic good alignment my foot — I’m positive that thing was evil and nothing more than a thuggish robber. If I ever get the opportunity at a higher level, I’m going to come back and kill it.

Later on, still on the trail to the question mark, we fought a war troll who’d attacked and eaten two women. Part of some caravan, I guess. That’s where we picked up the potion of Resist Fire and the Staff of Healing. Then we had a brief encounter with the wandering temple of Boccob — an animated building that nearly killed one or two party members (of course, we could have avoided it… but at first glance it looked like such an easy target for looting).

We briefly met a family of half-elf weres (weretigers, I think) in the valley just before our destination. I scrounged up some wolfsbane for everybody and the night passed uneventfully. The next day we climbed the ridge and spied the temple we’d been looking for. It was guarded by 25 men in armor similar to the hollow raiders’, but colored red and black. Within their ranks were 3 or 4 people in blue cloaks like the one worn by the wizard woman we tangled with at the Dragon’s Eye stronghold. With a spyglass, I managed to spot an airship moored behind the temple. Further scouting showed that it seemed to be manned by about 8 of the red/black soldiers. We formulated a plan — I had my eagle animal companion and an owl (summoned with my Nature’s Ally spell) distract the crew while Shay (Jay’s half-dragon cleric) flew us all onto the deck of the ship inside the Bag of Holding.

Krieg, our warforged, nearly died during the battle but we emerged victorious anyway. Even managed to manacle the helmsman… we might keep some others alive for interrogation too. Someone disappeared below decks right when the session ended; we’ll have to take care of them next week.

XP for the night was 1900, if I remember correctly. Most of us made it to 5th level. I added undead as my second favored enemy (now I get +4 to damage when fighting them).

#701

2:31 am, Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

Alright, I’ll try to make this quick. I saw A Scanner Darkly at the Grand Cinema in Tacoma on Saturday night. I missed the first five minutes of the movie because parking was hard to find (had to walk four blocks) and apparently these little independent theaters don’t run 15 minutes of previews and ads before the film like the big ones do (Regal, Carmike, etc.). A supremely weird movie. Depressing overall, even though there are lots of funny bits. Downey, Cochrane, and Harrelson were all very entertaining. The two main characters (Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder) could’ve been played by pretty much anyone. It kept my interest all the way through, but I don’t think I’d really recommend it to anyone.

Tonight’s D&D game was a lot of fun… best one we’ve had in a while, I think. I’ll summarize it in my next post. Pat, Brandon, Anthony, Keith, and Ian were all there. Highlights: We fought and killed a mimic and a war troll, had encounters with a bronze dragon and a family of were-somethings (weretigers?), found the next sleeper’s temple/stronghold, successfully completed the first phase of assaulting/capturing an airship, and a lot of us (including my ranger) made it to level five.

I happened upon this Nova Roma organization while doing some research for my Infinite Worlds GURPS character (an inventor from Roma Aeterna). They seem to be a Roman version of the SCA. Interesting to read about, but I’ll bet most of the “citizens” are a little nutty (if what I’ve seen of the SCA membership is any indication).

This Larry King Live transcript has some really fascinating details for anyone who regularly watches Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List. Do a Ctrl+F for “100 interviews” and read down from there. I’m not sure how biased her account is; I’d really like to hear Matt Moline’s side of the story.

Brett and I are going to help Keith and his fiancée move tomorrow. (They need some extra manpower for the larger furniture.) Shouldn’t be too bad, their new apartment is only eight minutes away from the old one.

Got a call from Dr. Ames’ office this morning saying my IgM Western blot (Lyme disease test) came back positive. Not a great way to start the week. I think I’m going to try to get a second opinion.

#700

12:16 am, Saturday, July 15th, 2006

The big seven-oh-oh. Hard to believe I’ve written that many posts… Some semi-interesting statistics: Since switching to WordPress 65 posts ago, I’ve written 25,522 words (for an average of 392.6 words per post). Site traffic is holding steady at 500 MB per day. The whole wing-dang-doodle is taking up 379.9 MB of space, including email. A mere 0.79 MB of that is the actual MySQL database.

Season three of Stargate: Atlantis premiered earlier tonight. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to watch… really cool stuff. Atlantis is so much better than SG-1 now, IMO. I love that Michael (the semi-human wraith) is back on the team’s side. And now they have three major starships — the Tau’ri-built Prometheus, the Ancient-built Orion, and (as of s3e01) the wraith hive ship. I wonder if the next Stargate spinoff will be more of a Star Trek: Voyager kind of thing. That’d be pretty cool.

Last night I grilled some steaks (round tip — they were cheap) and made some mashed potatoes and country (i.e. white) gravy to go with ‘em. For today’s dinner, I combined that leftover gravy with a can of cream of mushroom soup and used it as the glue in a chicken-broccoli-fusilli casserole. Topped it with freshly grated romano cheese. It came out pretty awesome, but next time I think I’ll use more “glue” and a bread-crumb top-crust.

Did you know Steve Jackson Games has started doing podcasts? I listened to the first one all the way through. It was pretty cool to be able to hear what Dr. Kromm, Ken Hite, and Steve himself sound like. Steve’s voice kinda surprised me. Oh yeah, and Shadlyn Westrich (the current Warehouse 23 manager) was on there too with a fun endorsement of the Lunch Money card game. I find it hard to sit at my computer and listen to podcasts (or at least pay attention to them anyway), so I think I’ll just download SJG’s bi-weekly “Fnordcasts” and burn them onto a CD-R the next time I have to make a long road trip.

Forgot to mention my Tuesday GURPS game with Martin got pushed back to Wednesday the 19th. I really need to get him my character. It’s going to be a Maj. Carter/MacGuyver-type with the Quick Gadgeteer advantage.

Just got my Maxtor 300 GB hard drive installed in an external enclosure and hooked up to my laptop through IEEE 1394. Now that it’s formatted with NTFS, I just have to hook it up to my desktop so I can backup the failing primary on there (the 120 GB Maxtor). Then I think I’m going to install Boot Camp on my iMac so it’ll run Windows XP and use that as my main machine. Stat-wise, it’s better than my desktop in every way but disk space (which is hardly a problem now with my two external HDs). All I’m really waiting on is a display adapter (ordered from the Apple store) so I can hook it up to my widescreen LCD.

Planning to go see A Scanner Darkly in Tacoma tomorrow. I have high expectations, despite Joe’s endorsement. Looks like a lot of good things are coming out on the 21st — I’m really looking forward to Clerks II and Lady in the Water, and (to a lesser extent) Monster House and My Super Ex-Girlfriend.

#699

2:26 am, Thursday, July 13th, 2006

Well, I’m back in Federal Way. Beefy was busy pretty much the entire time I was in the Tri-Cities (with what, I have no idea), so I mostly hung out with Jones and Paige. On Friday night we all went and saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, then watched Venture Bros. DVDs while playing Scattergories and Quarto. Paige thoroughly trounced us at Scattergories, but the margin wasn’t as wide as it was with Pictionary. BTW, the special features on the VB DVDs are awesome — especially the “behind the scenes of the live-action movie” mockumentary and the “how Hank and Dean are animated” bits. I can’t believe how Monarch-like Chris McCulluoch is in person.

The pirate movie was okay. Way too long, but the special effects were good and there were some funny parts. There was something really familiar to me about the Davy Jones character and I finally figured it out from the actor’s IMDb listing: He played Phillip in Shaun of the Dead. And he was Slartibartfast in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I don’t have much else to say about the film except that Orlando Bloom annoys me. He was cool in Lord of the Rings, but I don’t care for him sans elf ears.

Monday’s D&D game seemed to go awfully slowly, mainly due to the group ballooning in size, too much table talk, and people not paying attention (esp. during combat). Brandon (Anthony’s friend) and EJ (Brandon’s friend, I think) joined the game as a monk and a sorcerer. Basically, we woke an archon at the yuan-ti-infested castle and fled back to the orc cave via the waterfall tunnel/underground lake. There, we found Chernoy (our NPC rogue) murdered (along with our horses) and our Chest of Holding smashed apart (the resulting explosion killed nine “hollow men” raiders). Fortunately, we’d transferred all the party loot into Chernoy’s Bag of Holding which we’d taken with us into the hidden valley.

We walked to town and liquidated the loot we’d collected. The average share ended up being something like 7,500 gp per person. I used mine to get my bow enchanted again… it’s now a +1 Bow of Shock that deals 1d8+1d6+4 damage. Very effective in the hands of my ranger. Eventually we caught an airship north to Trawna, a gnomish city on the eastern continent. Then we traveled by foot to the next “X” on the map (the one we took from the Giant Eye war stronghold). After a run-in with some werewolves (Saur and Ollimar, Pat and Keith’s characters, became infected) we discovered the Tree of Life stronghold. Long story short, it seems some enemy wizard had snuck in and summoned a demon which turned everyone to sand. We looted the place, briefly tangled with some nigh-invulnerable feline guardian golems, and opened a portal to another mummified archon’s throne room. Cloven (Anthony’s rogue) navigated a tight maze of wickedly fast animated stalactites to fill her offering dish with magical water from another part of the complex thus bringing her back to life. She explained that her purpose (and that of all the other “sleepers”) was to defeat the hollow men/raiders (same as they had in the previous war). So now we’re on a quest to reawaken the other uber-powerful sleepers (I think we have 11 to go) to stop the world from being conquered by these Borg-like drones. Oh, and she cured Saur and Ollimar of their lycanthropy.

I submitted a model for the 3rd weekly SketchUp 3D Challenge. Here’s my post. It was hardly my cup of tea — “design a soccer trophy.” But I managed to crank out something I’m not too ashamed of. If you’re wondering what the circular symbol on the embedded medallion is, it’s a Teamgeist ball viewed head-on. This week’s challenge is to design outdoor furniture. I’ve built an unorthodox deck chair; I think it’s my best 3D work yet. Here’s a sneak peak (90 KB).

I finshed reading Monstrous Regiment on Saturday. It was very good, but (as predicted) didn’t top Going Postal. In my own personal hierarchy of Discworld books, I think I’d rank it my fourth favorite, right after Small Gods and The Truth. I’m now about fifty pages into Greg Egan’s Axiomatic. I picked the book up because a few people on the SJG Forums, including the terrific Phil Masters, mentioned Egan as a good Transhuman Space-ish author. I haven’t seen a whole lot to support that claim yet, but the stories I’ve read have been mind-blowing. Especially The Hundred Light-Year Diary… it made me think about fate and the philosophy of free will in completely new ways.

My mom got me a little propane grill while I was visiting. It’s really cool — I grilled chicken with it on Tuesday and today I used to to make some really fantastic patty melts for lunch. Tomorrow I want to do steaks.

As promised, here are my 4th of July fireworks photos from the Pasco baseball stadium. Next time I’ll have to remember to bring a tripod.

Pasco Stadium Fireworks 2006
(800×754; 54 KB)
Pasco Stadium Fireworks 2006, #3
(1000×883; 179 KB)
Pasco Stadium Fireworks 2006, #2
(600×571; 38 KB)