Monday, May 30, 2005

How to tell the United States is in a real estate bubble

How do you know? Because of sentences in articles like this one:

"It's possible that something fundamental in the nature of real estate has shifted over the last three years, powering the growth while tamping down the risks."

Sweet. **Maybe** **something** has changed! Ergo, nothing has changed, ergo, we're in a bubble.

I have mixed feelings about this:

1. People are going to get hurt.
2. I hope my house doesn't drop in value.
3. Will the entire economy tank?

It's the first one that is the most complicated. When I say, "people are going to get hurt," mostly I mean "people who were foolhardy/brave/stupid enough to get adjustable-rate mortgages." Anybody who got a giant home-equity line of credit, yeah, they're hosed. Anyone who bought on a gimmick loan like 102% LTV, or no-money down loans, or interest-only loans, yeah, they're hosed. On one hand, they're real people, and they're going to experience real pain. On the other hand... where did they think the economy was going to go?

Even people who put 20% down on a house might be hosed, if values fall far enough and fast enough.

I don't think we could ever have our own house's value drop to the point where we'd be upside-down. Even if we did, the night would be peppered with noise as hundreds of unwise neighbors decided to have a delicious last meal of double-barreled shotgun, regretting their own foolishness with adjustable-rate mortgages.

The last REAL bust I experienced was the farm crisis of the early 1980's. If I remember correctly, 20% of everything got foreclosed. The domestic abuse and suicide rates shot up, naturally. Not all costs are economic costs.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The fanciful lies of the A/C repair man are revealed / also, our budgeting system

Because, you know, when he charged our A/C on Tuesday for $230, surely that would last two or three months, maybe even 6 months.

Guess whose air conditioning is blowing hot air, not a full week later?

Thank you, Mary Hunt and Dave Ramsey, for your concept of a fund, for emergencies. Yep, that Emergency Fund is lookin' mighty good right about now.

If I were even more cynical, I could point out that we probably should have separated off a Freedom Account for A/C replacement, given the age of the unit.

Option 1: We could do a high-pressure test for $650 to determine the source of the leak, then have parts and labor to pay after that. Nothing ever costs less than $220 with the AC people. I guess they have to pay for the trucks and glossy binders full of full-color pricing sheets somehow.

Option 2: We replace the whole megillah for two, maybe three grand. That's hella-crappy, but the Emergency Fund can take that kind of damage, easy. It sneers at disaster!

My wife has called to inform me the ATM is out of cash-logical on the Memorial Day weekend; annoying, since I could have gotten money when I put gas in her car yesterday. We budget $200 a month for "consumables," and withdraw cash to keep us bounded by reality. We also have a coupon book with once-a-month coupons for $5 off groceries at Kroger, provided we buy $50 or more. This is the $50 trip to the store.

How does all this relate to boardgames? Not much. Boardgames are purchased with cash spending money. We each get $40 a month to spend as we like. Our other expenditure: one restaurant meal charged per month.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Memorial Day weekend plans

"Where Americans are going on Memorial Day weekend:
Destination/ Percent of travel volume
Cities 25 %
Small towns and rural areas 23
Ocean/beach 15
Mountain areas 11
Lakes 10
State or national parks 5
Theme or amusement parks 1
Other/don't know 10
Source: AAA survey" -Yahoo News

Other/Don't know?

I need a software tool to create a pseudo-graph:

The liquor store - 34%
Prime panhandling location - 23%
Court-mandated visit to children - 17%
Sweet embrace of death 13%
Jail, ultimately - 11%
Undeterminable due to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle 2%

Links, not much about board games, really.

good comic-analysis blog, too.

Evan Dorkin is the man, now and forever.

I, for one, welcome our Giant Robot Digger Overlords.

Last night, I taught Lee Guillotine. It's an okay filler, although there are a couple of cards that could have been edited a little. A FAQ for rules questions would be nice, and the rulebook's pretty sparse in that department. It's being reprinted this year, which is good. I hate it when games are more expensive than their gameplay would merit. Guillotine was about $30 on Ebay at the beginning of the year, and it's gone down with news of the impending reprint.

It's a cute filler, and a decent buy for $9, which is what I paid for it. $30, no way.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Mystery of Dr. Maya V. Patel, quote-monger

Interesting. Who is Dr. Maya V. Patel? I spent a couple of hours searching:

She gets quoted on pages about sisters: "She takes my hand and leads me along paths I would not have dared explore alone"

Also on pages about belly-dancing:
"To Dance is to give oneself up to all the rhythms of life." Some of the pages inexplicably add "b. 1943."

“Dancing is as a great mystery as painting or drama. It serves no obvious purpose – yet it is as much apart of human life as food gathering and sleep.”

Also on books:
"It is very difficult for a man who has fallen in love with Rosalind and Heloise, Emma and the Duchess of Malfi, to settle for someone merely alive. And where is a woman to find a Sir Lancelot?" - Dr. Maya V. Patel (b. 1943)

Hmm, here's a 'Maya Patel', on horses:
"Small children are convinced that ponies deserve to see the inside of the house."

More Maya V. Patel quotes:
"Whenever I've needed someone to share my joy, or someone to hold me when my world rips to pieces, you're there. And I know you will be - tomorrow, always."

"Calm is a clear well that you may draw from whenever you have need."

"A grandma is the person you go to when no one else will listen."

She's not in Wikipedia, Bartlett's Quotations Online, or (not as the subject of a biography nor as an author), and yet these cut-and-paste artists would seem to indicate that I should be aware of who she is, and why I should accept her authority on this matter.

There's a Dr. Maya Patel here in Houston, and there's also a veterinarian Maya Patel who was in school in the late 1990's who specializes in treating cats, and has a winning smile. I'm going to guess neither of them are the source of these quotes.

Weird. The whole thing makes me think of Heraclitus the Dark, who survives only from aphorisms quoted by other authors.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Irony, the Crypt-Keeper reminds us, is good for the blood.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Super Happy Fun Secret Project Number One Good Time!

At the beginning of any venture, I encounter four fears:

1. Fear of the unknown.
2. Fear of failure.
3. Fear of success.
4. Fear of hard work without immediate gratification.

I'm an intrepid researcher, and can find out lots in a short amount of time, so #1 isn't bad.

#2 and #3 are tough, though. #4 hurts, although I have found that re-writing your requirements repeatedly can help you find manageable mini-projects.

If you treat projects as experiments, how do you decide when to move on? The glib answer, "When it's not fun anymore!," isn't much of an answer at all. Comments welcome, as always.

Houston Gamers wrap-up

I am a board game enthusiast, not a collector. If I pick up an out-of-print game, it's in the hopes of playing it, not in betting that the value will rise, or saving the pristine copy until the sun explodes. Those other personality types are fine, and without them, the used-game market would be smaller.

Tonight I tore the shrinkwrap off my copy of Wizards of the Coast's out-of-print filler Guillotine, and taught Jacob and Julie how to play (they were in Houston to visit her parents). They both picked it up with no problems, and we jammed through two games, easy as pie. A big line of French nobles need to be executed... for points! A hoot, overall. The cards could be a little clearer, as evinced by the large errata list at the 'geek. We only ran into two questions, and just made ad-hoc rulings and went on. Life's too short.

After that, it was off to Midnight Comics for the Houston Gamers, where I played Ticket To Ride: Europe, which is the vicious cut-throat "gamers' game" successor to the original 2004 Game of the Year winner Ticket To Ride. It was a 5 player game, and I came in 4th, although not by much.

Okay, Midnight Comics "has a policy about that homeless guy, where he can stay as long as he's not bothering anybody. He's not, you know right in the head, but he's harmless. Tell us if he bothers you somehow." That guy, by the way, didn't smell like sweat any more than the rest of us (the breaker on the AC went out before I got there, so it was about 80 degrees on the first floor, and 95 upstairs). He smelled like a chainsmoker who had been fed other chainsmokers. Generally being misfits, the gamer community tolerates quite a bit, and he wandered out of the store a few hours later with a cheery, "See you tomorrow!"

The Houston Gamers have advanced degrees and high-paying jobs, and are also older than the freckle-faced urchins that live at Midnight Comics week in and week out. Also, the Midnight crowd is more Magic and D&D-oriented, logical since both pursuits are best carried out in large, uninterrupted blocks of time.

I like the Houston Gamers better. The vast majority have cell phones and real jobs, are interesting conversationalists, and good sports. They wear clothes that are not black. Also, the Midnight crowd is almost entirely male. Yes, the Houston Gamers aren't 50-50 but there are several married/attached couples that show up. Midnight's crowd has one or two women, and that's it. No me gusta.

Saturday, May 21, 2005


Went to test drive a car, wasn't able to. Stopped briefly at a thrift store in the area, and found a copy of Set, in shrink, as well as a copy of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, which I had been seeking. Formal review to follow.

Keep those cards and letters coming...

Friday, May 20, 2005

"Super Happy Fun Secret Project Number One Good Time!"

Yeah, that's right, it's a secret.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Lego Star Wars Demo fails to run

I finally installed the Lego Star Wars demo (250 meg, if you remember)...

On launching, it told me to get bent because blah blah something vecters video card.

Holy cow, are you kidding me? I download a quarter of a gig for nothin'?

I wasn't going to buy the game, anyway, so don't let me pretend that I was.

Still, that's not cool.

Monday, May 16, 2005

How much do you want $15?

I got mailed a check by Citibank. You know, a screw-you check. If I deposit it, I get $15, and get enrolled in Super Bogus Account Insurance.

If you lose your job, you don't have to make payments. Uh, unless you lost your job due to becoming disabled through sickness, illness, disease, accident, injury, or pregnancy. All it does is shut off the finance charges, though.

If you die, they'll cancel your outstanding balance, up to $10,000. It's only $0.85 per hundred bucks, which is $85 a month to insure an outstanding balance of $10,000. $250,000 of term life insurance coverage costs me a couple hundred a year or so, if I remember correctly.

In other words, they're selling life insurance that's 25 times as expensive and doesn't actually offer a cash payout. Nice work if you can get it.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Slow news day.

I went to one garage sale, and didn't even make it down to the local thrift stores. A week or two ago, they had a copy of Mayfair Games' Road to the White House... in shrinkwrap for $4. I felt guilty about passing it up.

After reading the reviews today (getting psyched to go thrifting), I actually talked myself OUT of going to look for it. It's nothing that'll hit the table soon, and there's a copy on Ebay that's at $6 with no bids. Eeh, I don't need another mediocre game in the house.

I took a short nap, we did the finances, and then watched the first episode of the new Dr. Who series that premiered recently in the UK. We both are big fans of the original, and thought the new series was great: the new Doctor is enigmatic and gives people a lot of lip. Excellent!

Some friends of ours invited us over for pizza and board games tonight. The pizza was elaborate homemade stuffed-crust calzones. As it turned out, we left before they started gaming, just because the Li'l Monkey was getting tired. They had probably a dozen people, and were going to start old-school Risk on two tables. I'm definitely going to pass on some game party invites, presuming I ever put another game party together.

Wednesday Night Magic (late post)

Sweet, I swept all three Magic games Wednesday. Casual play is awesome.

Game 1: Tim was playing Goblins with splash of black, against my green-black deck that's not tuned yet. He started well (3 goblins, plus a Honden of Night's Reach), and I held back until I could encourage him to make a bad trade, at which point, the cleanup began. Nezumi Graverobber flipped, I fetched something big from his graveyard, and death for Tim followed.

Game 2: Tim was playing red against my degenerate blue. I fiddled with some of the deck, but it's about the most horrible thing I ever play. It contains two dumb infinite combos, plus some broken stuff that's restricted in tournaments. Around turn 5, I put 4 creatures into play for free via Tinkering out a Mycosynth Golem (Junk Diver/Extruder/Extruder/Flowstone Sculpture). Tim's situation deteriorated rapidly after that, no infinite combo needed.

Game 3: Tim's multi-color deck against another red-blue deck (not degenerate but fun to play). I was glad to see this match-up, to test some nonbasic-land killers I threw in. Tim played 2 Lithatogs, and had a couple of other critters, too. I had some little guys, but nothing that a Lithatog or two wouldn't chew up. I got an Earthshaker into play, triggered it once, and Tim elected to let the Lithatogs die, instead of spending land to keep them out. This was a gamble-he was hoping to draw something great. He didn't, I swung, then hit him with ye olde Glacial Ray to finish.

I loaned Tim the Knoppix boot cd I made a few months ago, to help him out with some computer experiments he'll do later in the week.

There was a weird brainstorming session at work that was interesting and sort of scary. The moderator had a set of open-ended questions that never were resolved.

Tonight, to change things up, I listened to The Crystal Method, instead of the usual Sneaker Pimps remixes. I also read an essay about the publishing industry, entitled The Profit Motive.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Dear Music Fan...

A Google tool to feed morons ground glass AUTOMATICALLY is in pre-beta!

Therefore, please do not post your playlist of MP3 files, unless you are offering them for download, offering a critique, explaining how to get them, trying to sell your CDs, advertising your band, or in general, expanding the sphere of human existence.

If you do feel the need to display gosh-darn useless page, remember to use robots.txt at the beginning of your page, so it's not indexed in major search engines. That way, when I'm looking for music reviews, I don't see your page.

Ask yourself: Is my post helping anyone anywhere learn anything? If not, don't post it.

Write a better post. Revise to make your post awesome. Post judiciously. Red Robot.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

A modest proposal...

MD5 checksums are used by Bittorrent to verify individual "chunks" are good.

It is possible, with work, to generate a second dataset with the same MD5 checksum.

There is currently no way individual citizens can help fight piracy at the torrent level. Just busting trackers as you can doesn't help-the trackers jump around.

Also, it is currently presumed by the RIAA and the courts that anyone whose IP is trading chunks of data is bad, because they can't be helping out.

Proposal: Create torrent-botching software to help individual users fight piracy. The software downloads chunks, generates garbage datasets that check out good, and re-uploads them to botch illegal downloads.

I imagine really dedicated users of this software would show up on the logs of lots of trackers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Publishing Experiment in Ethshar

Lawrence Watt-Evans wrote some damn fine fantasy novels set in a fantasy world called Ethshar. The novels were fun to read, and can be read in almost any order, unlike the nightmarish Terry Goodkind and Robert Jordan monstrosities. Unfortunately, the Ethshar novels were just under the popularity line that would have justified more new novels.

Soo, check it out. He's posting new chapters every time donations reach a certain level, and anyone above a certain donation level gets a free copy of the book when/if it's eventually published.

In a world where webcomic artist Randy Milholland received $22,000 from his readers, enabling him to quit his job and produce webcomics full-time, Watt-Evans is sure to get there, sooner or later. Milholland currently produces 6 to 8 comics a week, so his fans have been rewarded for their loyalty.

Can the loyal fans of the Ethshar series (or of Watt-Evans' other novels) do as well? I imagine they will.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Houston Gamers wrap-up

Saturday I got paged twice from work, which I resolved in an hour or so. After that, I headed out to the Houston Gamers meeting, which was at Dragon's Breath, a little store that's on Shepard, way way farther inside the Loop than I normally go.

I had tried to check it out a couple weeks ago, but gotten sidetracked and ended up hanging out with Larry, instead.

I was packing 3 Magic decks. Since Tim had canceled twice (!!) last week, he was planning to meet up with me and we'd throw down. To be fair, he ditched me for family reasons-the first time his wife's music students all canceled, so he got to spend time with her. The second time his dog got a piece of glass in her paw as they were out on the evening walk.

I left my decks in the car, and went in to see what the fuss was about. I got there about 3 and parked on the side street. I was glad I scouted the location earlier-traffic wasn't too bad, but the place is invisible from the street. There were some teenagers playing D&D in the front room, and I could see familiar faces in the back room, so I walked back to discover practically everybody:

Lewis, Michael, Doug, and Laurence (I have never seen his name spelled, in the probably 4 years on and off we've been gaming together, so I might be butchering it. The way I know most people's names is through session reports or via posts on the HG website) were at one table, and in the middle of Ys, which looked interesting. They played Niagara and Maharajah later, I think-Ray Mulford joined them for some of that.

James Spurny, Kevin Nunn, Amy, Joel Garrick, and Rick Jones played Liar's Dice with me, using a weird set Kevin had picked up somewhere. It came down to Rick with three dice against me with one, which I lost. I traded my copy of Liar's Dice (and another $1 garage sale find) via the Geek for Ticket to Ride. This really is a decent party game. Rating: 6.

Amy and I cracked into the giant plastic tubs of everything in the universe, and pulled out Mystery Rummy: Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde. After cracking into the rules, we played and I won, 104 to 60-something. Rating: 5. Why would I play this when I can play Wyatt Earp instead?

Kevin Nunn, Amy, and I cracked into Railroad Dice: Germany. The basic idea is that you have a zillion dice that have railroad tracks and stuff on them, and you use them to get income and build track to get stations to build more track. Kevin mused, "You know, I play this so much, I should make this a 10 rating." I had never played before, and Amy had only played the basic game, which has a number of rule changes that make it different. Amy handed me an early lead, and Kevin also stayed in, having command of at least one very profitable railroad all game. Amy lost the only railroad she was getting paid on.

I don't know how I feel about Railroad Dice. You roll a lot of dice, then you stare at them until blood seeps from your pores, and then you do it again. There is a certain rich-get-richer feel. Also, you aren't forced to build anything on any given turn. After I tried it a couple of ways in the first few turns, it seems like the secret is waiting until you can roll hella-huge dice, then do whatever you want. If you build toward ANYTHING but don't get there, you're a chump-someone else is going to move that track around.

I didn't feel like I was building a railroad, but it is cool. It feels like Carcassonne, in a way: once your opponents roll their dice, you can stare at it and see what their best move would have been, and what you would have done. However, unlike Carcassonne, the turn order is varied. After you're start player, you can walk away from the table for a while, if you were of the mind.

Kevin also purchased 20 extra expansion dice, and since one of the two end conditions is running out of dice, that made the game longer, but not too long. We called the game, declaring me the winner, since I was consistently about 5 passengers up from Kevin, and Amy was way behind. Kevin pulled out Control Nuts, which he picked up at the Gathering of Friends, but I couldn't stay. It sounded like Wallenstein was also on the menu.

Anyway, Railroad Dice: Germany was interesting, probably a 6 or 7, but I'll need more plays to be sure.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Worst made-up statistic ever

I hear this statistic right around Mother's Day every year, so linking to a stale article is fine:

"According to his list, she's: raising her kids, cooking meals, keeping house, caring for pets, dispensing medication, going to meetings, managing family finances, providing transportation, assisting with homework, resolving family problems, keeping a schedule and maintaining family harmony."

Well, guess what. So does dad. He's the exterminator, legal staff, manager of inter-bank relations, plumber, sommelier, budget analyst, pharmaceutical tester, barber, chauffeur, bodyguard, website usability analyst, financial planner, network administrator, hardware tech, psychologist, security guard, video game playtester, social coordinator, and prison inmate.

He also is trapped in an office at least ten hours a day, five days a week for 45 years or death from heart attack, whichever comes first.

As a final aside, "Crittenden calls the best test for valuing unpaid labor the 'third person criterion', developed by economist Margaret Reid in 1934: if a third person could be paid to do the activity, then it is work. Cooking, cleaning, child care and yard work, for example, all fall into that category."

I think we can all agree that Ann Crittenden and Margaret Reid are better off not trying to value unpaid labor in this manner. For instance, there's a shiny nickel in it if Ann wants to recite "Howl" in my front yard. Ergo, reciting Howl is work.

How about this: if it's stressful at all to perform, or if there are genuine direct negative consequences for anyone in the the entire household if the activity were to be ceased entirely, then it's work (on the general principle that work sucks, and it never ends). Don't clean? Great, your house is full of dust, crumbs, bugs, etc. Don't play Final Fantasy Tactics until 3 am? Uh, nothing happens. If it's intrinsically fun and you pay money to do it, it's not work.

Notice what this does: Balancing a checkbook is work. ironing tablecloths isn't work-it has no negative consequences unless Martha Stewart audits your domicile for napkin compliance and stabs you in the eye. Nice.

My current open browser windows...

I read a lot of weird stuff.

I've been enjoying Stay Free a lot. It's anti-corporation stuff, sorta like Adbusters.

A 3-issue subscription is only $10.95, which is freakin' cheap, given how cool it is. Circulation of 15,000. Hell, Asimov's Fantasy & Sci-Fi only has a print run of like 40k or so per issue. You know, for geeks.

The question remains: Is the blog turning eyeballs into subscribers? Time will tell.


Questionable Content.

Of course, the 'Geek. They're so geeky!

I just now figured the keyboard shortcut for making links without editing the raw HTML. That's awesome. Flip over, grab your link and Ctrl-C it. Flip back, highlight your link-phrase-to-be, and Ctrl-Shift-A. Ctrl-V, pow, link's there. Sweet.

Plus, Jambo keeps catching my eye. You know, since I haven't played Blue Moon at all since I bought it. Maybe if I get rid of games like Star Warriors and Dragonhunt, that would free up the shelf space for some more games I might ever play in the next hundred years.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Webcomics will be the death of me yet.

Sweet. This is probably the third or fourth time I've tried to read the Achewood archives. I've read a lot of webcomics, and still keep up with some of the majors daily, but something kept me from reading those archives. I'm thinking about paraphrasing Robert Frost, "Something in nature does not love webcomic archives..." Also, he wasn't in Houston, which perpetually ruins my mood.

I'm simultaneously working backward through those, reading What If? comics out of order, and getting vaguely worried about tomorrow's work activities.

On the bright side, I did score a few extra hours for Ye Olde Time Carde, and working tonight means I don't have to burn Saturday night working, which means I'm going to hit the mighty mighty Houston Gamers meeting.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


My cousin learned today she passed the Bar Exam she took back in February.

I will celebrate by listening to Sneaker Pimps remixes and waiting for a client to call me so we can load some data.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

What If?

Okay, I have been reading old Marvel "What If?" comics.

When I was a kid, I read maybe 3 or 4 of them, and they were bad-ass. The Thing kept mutating until he almost died! Conan and Thor were buddies! (Hey, I was 13.) Plus there was a Dr. Strange-centered issue. So the few back-issues I found were enough to convince me that What If? was awesome. Each one is basically a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode. The story-telling's always hellishly compressed, and the leaps in logic are never questioned. There's some great What If stories like the one about Spider-Man having a daughter, which led to the Spider-Girl series.

Like so many other childhood events, such as eating a pint of ice cream without breaking a sweat, playing Pool of Radiance on a Tandy 1000, and listening to horrible eighties music, I am no longer able to enjoy What If? with a non-critical eye. The dialogue is awful. The art is eeeh. The hot chicks are early eighties hot chicks.

Also, the issues are steeped with the minutiae of the Marvel Universe, circa 1984. Seriously, What If:
  1. Nova had been four other people?
  2. The Avengers fought the Kree without Rick Jones?
  3. The Invaders had stayed together?

What If: Comics were so boring that I decided to look for better ways to spend my time?

Who the heck is Nova? I know the Kree are aliens, and they fought the Skrulls, who were shapeshifters that invaded Earth repeatedly, without me ever caring at all. I know Rick Jones was a regular guy with no powers who liked to hang out with the Hulk, and that he was boring. I know one of the Invaders has super-speed, and was named the Whizzer, proving, as always, that early comics are unintentionally hilarious.

However, nothing in these speak to me at all.

They were, however, better than ROM: Spaceknight, another Marvel stinker-roo I read recently.