So, about that Facebook post…

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.  It has been over a year since my last blog post.

And about that last post.  I’m beginning to wonder if this was one of my classic “defend that thing that I’m starting to realize is bad for me” moments.  As it was only a few short weeks later that I deactivated my Facebook account.  In fact, the reason that this post is here today is because it has been exactly one year since the deactivation.  And preceding any event with the word “the” makes it sound really ominous.

I was planning on a more in-depth post to go in to the reasons I left Facebook.  But right now I’m struggling to keep my eye open due to a small shot of NyQuil.  But soon, I promise, soon.

Yeah right.

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In Defense of Facebook

It’s difficult deciding my blog topics because I’m confident I know exactly who is reading.  So when I decide on a topic, I always worry that someone reading thinks that I’m calling them out.  I’ve decided against a few posts because I was worried about doing so.

However, let me say right here and right now: I love my wife’s potato salad.

But more on topic: This is not meant to be an attack on anyone’s position on Facebook. So, yeah.

I was noticing a trend on the technology blogs I read.  More and more, I see articles bashing Facebook.  Some citing privacy concerns.  Others detailing out the social impacts on our youngsters.

Wow, do I sound like a really old man when I use the term youngsters?

I’m not saying these concerns are invalid.  There are plenty of concerning aspects to Facebook.  Some people have a hard time not pressing refresh every 2 seconds like Stephanie pressed her epidural pain medicine button. Others start to feel their friendships becoming shallow.  If you feel that Facebook isn’t good for you or just a big time waste, stay away from it.  Even I can only take so many “Man, I’m so bored today.” or “<insert inside joke, even though a few hundred people are going to see this>” status posts.

But I want to say that Facebook rocks.  I like the connections I’ve been able to make with some older friends or family that lives far away.  I like seeing new pictures of people that I care about.  And yes, I like hearing about what is going on in other people’s lives, even if it’s mundane.  Although I will totally unfriend you if I get status updates about your pooping.  For poop, I read blogs.

Just this past Sunday, an old friend from high school stopped by church.  He was in town for a week or so, and thought “Hey, I’ll check out Mike’s church!”  How cool is that?  Not only did I get to meet his family, but because of Facebook, I knew he was studying to become a pastor.  That’s the sort of cool news I wouldn’t be aware of without Facebook.

So, to Facebook I say: Like.

 

 

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Sign #3949844 I Am Getting Old

This morning I placed two pieces of bread in the toaster and proceeded to stare at the appliance for 3 minutes before I noticed I had not fully pressed down the lever.

Frustrated, I pressed the lever down extra hard to make sure it locked. I walked away, figuring staring didn’t help. After a few minutes, I noticed it still hadn’t popped. Coming back to the kitchen I saw that I had failed to plug the toaster into the wall.

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A Tangible Goal

I’ve come to realize that I often set personal goals so high, I eventually ignore them.

When I started this blog, my intent was to blog maybe once a day.  Perhaps every other day on the outside.  And as you may gather from my history, I have had a grand total of 6 posts over 15 months.

Rather than get discouraged and give up, I am going to try again.  Only this time, I’m thinking that a post a week is more my style.  You may find though, that rather than the largish write-ups I’ve had in the past, I might have a much simpler post every so often.  We’ll call this “padding” or “cheating to make my goal”.

And this is one of them.

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I’m proud of myself

Yes, I’m so proud of myself, I decided to write a quarterly blog post about it.

We discovered a few months ago that the garbage disposal was leaking water under the sink whenever is was used.  Being the dutiful, thoughtful husband I am, I promptly put something underneath it so the water wouldn’t leak and then dutifully planned to replace it…. someday.

Unfortunately, God has a way of not letting me procrastinate anymore, and He promptly broke it completely last night.  Now, I’m pretty sure we could have lived with that leak for years (true story: there is a crumpled up Coca Cola can inside one of our ceiling light fixtures up stairs that has been there since we moved in.  It was placed there by someone who worked on the house).  But nooooo, God decided that it was time to replace it.

I don’t mind working the house, exactly, but I do hate trips to the home improvement store.  Typically the process looks like this:

  1. Drive to Lowe’s to pick up necessary parts and tools.
  2. Drive home.
  3. Work on home improvement project.
  4. Realize I am missing necessary parts and/or tools.
  5. Goto #1

Now, I realize a lot of you aren’t programmers, but I’m sure you can see that this simple algorithm doesn’t terminate.  Or least, it feels like it never does.

However, I’m so proud of myself this time because I skipped steps #4 and #5.  Last night, we drove to Lowe’s after a Friday evening visit to our favorite restaurant, Chick-Fil-A, and proceeded to purchase a brand new garbage disposal that I installed this morning in about an hour.  As in one hour.  I know, right?

Just to prove to you that the fix took place, here is our cruddy, old garbage disposal:

And here is the new one, all nicely installed and without leaks (so far, knock on wood):

A nice bit of hardware work from a guy that specializes in software.

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iPhone Game Roundup

Yeah, yeah, it’s been a few weeks since my last post.  Don’t worry, I will refund everyone’s money.

Since I’m currently addicted to three iPhone games, which take up my important writin’ time, it seems a good idea to do reviews of the aforementioned games.

Catan: The First Island

Yes, that Catan.  When the Catan blog posted that this game was going to be released in October to the App Store, I quite literally searched for the game at least twice a day, everyday, until the game was released somewhere around the third week.  Was the iPhone port worth my obsession?  In a word: yes, yes, a thousand times yes.  Ok 6 words.

The graphics, the interface, the sounds… everything has really come together well in this adaptation of Settlers of Catan.  The first version had a few issues relating to game speed like various animations taking too long, being notified of things that didn’t matter, etc.  In the update, the developer fixed all of those issues, plus added some additional UI enhancements like the ability to decline all trades automatically until your turn (which comes in handy!) With the faster UI, a single game can probably be played in under 20 minutes, although I haven’t taken the time to measure it exactly.  While there is an option to save the game on your turn, it appears that you can exit the game at any point and return to where you exited from, even if it isn’t your turn.

As for the AI, most of the reviews on the App Store claim the game is one big cheat because WAAA!! they never get the numbers WAAA!!! for their land and the WAAA!!! computers never trade with WAAAA!!! them.  Well, let me tell you, they are all wrong.  While the random number distribution isn’t always perfectly even,  it shouldn’t be.  That’s why we call it random, people.  Duh.  As for the computer not trading with them, they typically will avoid trading with you if you are in the lead or if you are trading stuff they don’t need.  Imagine that.

The only thing this game really needs is some online and Bluetooth multi-player.  I have yet to give the hot-seat multi-player a try, but it sure seems like it would be a pain.  So I preemptively review that portion of the game bad.  It’s sort of like the Iraq War method of reviewing that feature.  There are also still a few left over annoyances, like it takes a few too many clicks to perform a few tasks that are fairly common in the game.  However, the few nitpicks are far outweighed by the pure awesomeness that emanates from this game.  Catan is $4.99.

Get Catan at the App Store

Words with Friends

It may sound like an awkward moment, but Words with Friends is best summed up as follows: Scrabble with Push Notifications.  In the game, two players take turns laying letters on a board making use of double/triple letter and double/triple word score spaces.  As with Scrabble, letters with less frequency in the English language have a higher score value and vice-versa.

After an opponent completes their word, passes or swaps tiles, you get a Push Notification letting you know it’s your turn.  The use of these push notifications for asynchronous gameplay fits perfectly with this sort of game.

To start a game, you can choose from your iPhone’s contact list (which will search for the player by email), enter your opponents user name if you known or choose a random opponent.  There is also a local Pass and Play option.

Finally, the game does support a simple chat system which allows you to chat while playing.  However, the chat system does not generate push notifications.  If your opponent has posted something in the chat section, a small green notification icon appears over the chat button.

And best of all, Words With Friends comes in a fully-featured, ad-supported free version or a $2.99 without ads.

Get Words With Friends or Words With Friends Free at the App Store

Doodle Jump

The creator of Doodle Jump should be arrested immediately for drug dealing.

Doodle Jump is caffeinated crack in the form a downloadable game for the iPhone.  The gameplay is so simple, so innocent but after playing a few times, you also will be hopeless sucked in to this maddening addiction.

There’s no story, no complicated graphics, no amazing control scheme.  No, in this game you tilt the iPhone left or right to control the incessant jumping of The Doodler (at least, that’s what I call him).  You must tilt the screen to move the main character left and right to make sure he lands on a platform.  With each jump to a higher platform, the game scrolls upwards.  If you miss a platform and end up falling to the bottom of the screen, the game is over.

Complicating matters are several different types of platforms.  Some move back and forth on the screen.  Others disappear after you hop on them once.  And yet others disappear after a set amount of time.  There’s also monsters which you occasionally have to shoot by tapping on the screen.  And then there’s springs, trampolines, super shoes and other power-ups.  But the heart of the game is the tilting back and forth as you climb higher and higher to beat your previous high score which is a feat that will become increasingly difficult as the game progresses.

The real downside of the game is that you often feel an urgent need to throw your iPhone against the wall.  Resist that urge because that thing’s expensive.

Doodle Jump is only $.99 and should be purchased by all iPhone/iPod Touch owners.

Get Doodle Jump at the App Store

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Board Games: Part 2

In my last post, I discussed an attribute of European board games often missing in their American counterparts.  The ability to choose from different winning strategies is key to the fun of any board game.  I promised in the last post that I’d discuss a few of the Euro games that have found some popularity among American audiences.  While each of these games feature what we’re looking for, there is increasing complexity and decreasing chance as we move down the list:

Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder)

Ticket To RideTicket to Ride was my “gateway” game.  Determined to get my wife a unique Christmas present, I decided she might like playing a new board game.  After a quick bit of research at BoardGameGeek.com (a site I highly recommend, by the way), I read reviews indicating that the combination of ease, production values and fun factor would be a hit, and it was.  We have played this game many times.

The game play of Ticket to Ride is simple: the board is a large map of the United States with routes connecting adjacent cities.  Players take turns claiming these routes with their trains by playing colored train cards which are drawn in a semi-random fashion (too complicated to discuss here).  The longer the route, the more points you score.  In addition to claiming routes, players can also try to complete a Destination Card by connecting two non-adjacent cities by claiming multiple routes between connecting cities.  Because the board is full of routes, there are many different ways to complete each Destination Card which leads to players constantly adjusting their strategies as other players claim their needed routes.  Occasionally, it leads to forced declarations of hatred towards your former friend.

The simplicity of the game means a newcomer can begin playing after only a short introduction.  And because of the decent amount of chance in drawing cards, even players not quite adept at strategy games have a chance of winning.  It also has the advantage of a short play time.  Most games can be completed in under an hour.

Trust me, you can’t go wrong by trying this game out.

Settlers of Catan (Mayfair Games)

Settlers of CatanThis is a game you may have heard of thanks to its increasing popularity in the United States. Or maybe you’ve seen someone with the shirt. Regardless of how you may have heard of the game, Settlers of Catan is one you need to try. I’ve only met two people who, after playing this game, didn’t immediately want to play it again.  But we don’t speak of them.  Especially when talking in the third person.

Settlers of Catan is a resource/production game. You start out with two settlements on a large island made from hexagonal tiles. Each numbered tile is of a specific terrain and produces a given resource.  At the beginning of each person’s turn, two dice are rolled and added together.  If the number from the nice matches a tile’s number that you have a settlement or resource on, you produce that resource, even if it isn’t your turn. When it’s your turn, you can use the resources in your hand to build roads, settlements, cities or development cards.

But resources and production are only a small part of the story. The main attraction of Catan is the trading. When it’s your turn, you can offer to trade the resources you have with any of the other players. This leads to a social dynamic that I’ve never seen in other board games. Friendships can be created with a simple exchange of sheep and wheat. Marriages are destroyed when a trade is refused.  Fun times are had by all.

While the snobs of the gaming elite have begun to look down upon this game, I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun, social game.

Puerto Rico (Rio Grande)

Puerto RicoAlright.  It’s late.  The “casuals” have gone home.  You know the type: only willing to play the likes of Apples to Apples and Scattegories.  Now it’s time to bring out the good stuff.

Puerto Rico is not a game for the weak-hearted.  This game will grab a hold of your face, shake you like a maraca and then punch you in the gut for good measure.  By the time our first try at this game had come to a close, three and a half hours had passed, and one member of the play group had forgotten his own name.

I’m not even going to begin to try to explain the details of this game.  At a high level, the game involves the choosing of a role which in turn determines what each player can do that round.  The roles all revolve around either earning doubloons or scoring victory points through the production and delivery of goods.  I’m pretty sure there’s a bunch of other stuff in there too, but my head hurts just thinking about it.

That’s not to say the game isn’t good: it’s phenomenal.  It can just feel incomprehensible the first few times you play due to the complex interaction between the roles and progressive steps one has to take to score victory points.  And yet, even after spending a few hours wading through its intricacies, the game begs.. neigh demands it be played again.  And again.  And again until you can reach the end of a game, look back at your strategy and make some sense of it all.

Unless you’re willing to put in hours to learn this game, I have to recommend the first two before you move on to a game as complicated as Puerto Rico.

Hope this post inspires some of you ditch the American roll-fests and try playing a board game that’s actually fun!  Game on!

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Board Games: An Intro

One of the passions in my life is the playing of board games.  And one of the reasons more people don’t play board games is that most of them stink.

Well, most of the ones we play in this country do.  You see, in Europe, playing board games is done by more people, more frequently.  Why is that?  It’s because they have some pretty awesome board games.

Typically, when people analyze board games, they might place them on a continuum with one end having games that are heavily chance based, while the other side has games that are more skill-based. While this analysis can be useful, I think it misses a more fundamental factor: the ability for the player to affect the outcome by choosing from different strategies.  Yes, this may sound like I’m simply taking the side of skill-based games, but I’m not.  Games that have a large chance factor can still be enjoyable if the player can alter their play to continue to be competitive.

As an example, let’s compare two games.  One of these games is Monopoly: a game I’m sure you are familiar with.    In Monopoly, players take turns rolling dice, moving around the board and buying properties in an attempt to take away their opponents cash.  For the most part, the only strategy in this game is to purchase every property you land on and upgrade them with houses and hotels when possible.  The victor is often determined by who happens to land on which properties first, or who draws the best cards.  If you happen to keep landing on already purchased properties, especially earlier in the game, there isn’t a lot that you can do.  The game quickly gets boring as you find yourself unable to keep up with your opponents.  The fun factor is only reduced when it take hours to finish this horrendous game.

However, let’s look at another game called Ticket to Ride.  In Ticket to Ride, players take turns drawing cards and claiming routes on a large map of the United States to score points.  This game, originally from Germany, is one that many board game aficionados find too dependent on chance because of the heavy emphasis on drawing cards.  However, it’s been our experience that this game continues to be a hit, even though one might get frustrated by poor card drawing.  The simple reason for this is that Ticket to Ride gives you something very important: options.  Yes, you score points by claiming routes, however you can also get additional points by connecting cities.  And you have the ability to choose between scoring a lot of points by connecting two distant cities, or perhaps connect closer cities to score a smaller amount of points, but do so more often.  The choice in strategy is yours.  I’ve seen some games turned around midway through because a player was able to adapt their strategy to what was going on in the game.  Now, Ticket to Ride is far from being a perfect game (more on that another time), but the point is that Americans who play this game are often awoken to an entirely new type of board game:  Games that don’t suck.

Board games that contain a large number of strategies, in addition to deemphasizing chance are common in European style board games.  For this reason, they are often called Euro-style or just Euro games.  In my next blog post, I’ll discuss a few of the more popular Euro games that have made their way to America.

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Hello, world?

So what’s the purpose of this here blog?

I’ve gone back and forth trying to decide whether or not I really wanted to try another blog.  I created one several years ago, promptly posted 3 or 4 times, and then let the thing die a quick, painless death.  The truth of the matter was I had no idea why I was even attempting to create one.

So before starting another, I knew I needed a reason and a purpose if I was going to be putting in the effort to post a few times a week.  But after thinking about it, I didn’t have a good single reason for doing so.    So instead, I came up with a few:

  • Programming: Being a .NET programmer by day, I often encounter problems.  Occasionally, I solve them.  More often, I find a solution elsewhere, but still might be able to improve upon the idea.  Coming home at night and discussing how I used .NET events to keep my decoupling of the ViewModel from its View generally leads to blank stares.  So, from time to time, there may be a programming specific post.  But don’t fret if you’re a non-programmer: I’ll make sure it’s categorized properly so you can use my handy-dandy “Non-programming” RSS feed to filter that stuff out.  Of course, that’s like eating the Oreo’s without the filling.
  • Writing practice: I’ve always hated my writing.  I often read back stuff I’ve wrote and am reminded of why I prefer to write code.  But perhaps with enough practice I might be able to write something that doesn’t make me wince.
  • Other random thoughts: there’s a lot that goes on in this head, most of which you don’t want to know about.  But I can post about the other 2.42%

I fully expect to peak at about 3 readers, 4 if I allow my older son to start using Google Reader.  So this isn’t about fame and fortune.  Just fun.

Well, my fun at least.

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