Tuesday, June 27, 2006

HP a350n has a 300n DVD drive that won't recognize blank DVDs - I fixed it!!

My 300n DVD drive burns CDs great, but won't recognize blank DVDs.

There's a HP softpaq for this at:

My HP a350n has this drive and I love it for burning CDs. I was disappointed to have to go through this extensive search for it. Notice that the link above IS a firmware update, but not specifically for my computer.

The firmware upgrade listed at my pc's page on the HP website has a .exe file that won't run, because I "don't have the original HP software installed."

Notice everything that went wrong here:

1. The website looked like it was going to help, and it didn't.
2. I DO have the original HP software installed, and am not frickin' recovering to the D: partition backup of many moons ago.
3. I DON'T have original install discs because they weren't provided, and the HP make-install program failed, and the tech support guys in India were absolutely useless.
4. I shouldn't HAVE to do anything with the HP software. What about those poor bastards who moved the drive to another machine, or did a clean XP install to get rid of the HP shovelware?
5. The HP Update software doesn't detect that I need this update.
6. HP has not provided the new update to Microsoft to Windows Update, which would solve the entire problem.
7. TONS of PC owners have run into this problem.

If it works for your PC, I solved the problem that is all over the net, so YAY ME!!!!

If not, well, it was broken anyway.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Busy weekend

My family has been in town since Wednesday and fly out on Tuesday. I've been in Galveston at a beach house part of the time.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Earthlink, why you gotta cut me like that?

From the Earthlink status page:
"Created: 06/19/2006 16:21:47 Last Updated: 06/20/2006, 12:00 AM EST

During this maintenance Earthlink customers may experience inability to connect to the internet and, if connected, an inability to reach internet sites or services such as Email or web sites. Customers may also experience busy signals or be disconnected. We will keep you updated as this work progresses."

Yes, email is down, other functions uninterrupted.

Outlook, why you gotta cut me like that 2: Revenge of Outlook

Great, now my email has ceased to work entirely. NICE!!

Outlook, why you gotta cut me like that?

I can NEVER avoid hitting Control-Enter when I'm composing emails. Control-arrow does cool stuff, so does Control-Backspace, and Control-Delete.

Hitting Control-Enter sends the email, bypassing the spell checker and everything. No warning, just zip-zap, away it goes.


Twice in four days, people. Oh, so angry! VERY BAD WORD angry! The TO field is at the top, and the text box is at the bottom. I work from the top down and so if I hit Control-Enter with my hands clenched in fists of rage*, I send the VERY BAD WORD email and then I say, "VERY BAD WORD - VERY BAD WORD, BAD WORD, EXTREMELY BAD WORD!"

Uh, I also tend to compose emails with a rough draft, then go back and clean up anything that doesn't make sense, so if you get an email from me and it appears to be half-written, just send me a reply that says "VERY BAD WORD VERY BAD WORD." Alternately, my kids may have bumped me as I was typing.

Did I mention our corporate email has a feature for deleting emails if you sent them by VERY BAD WORD mistake? I'm spoiled.

This is a rant, not a request for alternate email clients or to install any plug-ins, although I hear if you like Thunderbird, you can get some at the liquor store really cheap. **

* That is a very long song, possibly the longest song they play on the radio, ever. It's still better than U2's "Sunday, Bloody Sunday"
** Heh. Give me a break, I'm using Firefox. I'll get there eventually, you hippies.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Dorothy Gambrell of Cat and Girl wants to give you free stuff

Dorothy Gambrell has a fantastic webcomic called Cat and Girl. My friend Rod introduced me to it a few years ago, and I've been a fan ever since.

As Cat and Girl will be 7 years old next week, she is celebrating by offering stickers and buttons
for free with a SASE. (If you send her cash, she also draws a picture of what she did with the money at her Donation Derby page.)

Her address is:

Cat and Girl c/o Dorothy Gambrell
89 Eagle St Apt 2L
Brooklyn NY 11222

Deadline: Envelope's gotta arrive by June 27th.

Anyway, she rocks and I sent her one of Dave Lartigue's Support Traditional Marriage: One Octopus/One Robot stickers, a note professing that, y'know, she's awesome, and, well, two bucks I had in my wallet.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS) startups & shipping costs

Yesterday, I also heard about a new game store that is going to open shortly up around the Jones Road area. While cross-pollination and competition between game stores helps the shopping crowd get a better experience, it also generally makes one or both stores go under. Follow my logic...

I think the Houston Gamers probably spend 30 grand on board games a year. This includes the 5 or 6 guys who drop a few thousand, plus all us "couple hundred a year" folks, plus all the Magic cards, Heroclix figures, comic books, and concessions. I think we are spending about 80% of the actual game money online. Catch that? We are funneling 6 grand to local stores and 24 grand out-of-state somewhere.

A few years ago when no game shop wanted to cut discounts and you could get free shipping and 55% off from a dot-com internet shop to order one game at a time, the figure was closer to 90%. Unfortunately, these days with President Jimmy Carter at the helm, gas prices have made shipping crazily expensive compared to the good old days when I slapped $10 bills on the counter down at the post office to mail 65-lb. boxes across the country for $8.25 and could then buy a comic and soda with the remaining $1.75.

I could be off in those estimates on store business, maybe by a lot.

Anyway, most geeks hate conflict, so they'll avoid whatever shop is being more vocal and rude about the other (here's a hint, owners: don't tell your customers your personal problems or gossip about the competition. One, it's rude. Two, it takes the focus away from building rapport and selling more games. Three, you might need the other guy to buy up the rest of your inventory, so don't make him mad!). Even if the Houston Gamers are splitting 6 grand instead of 3 grand between a couple of stores, adding more stores will dilute the cash flow even further.

A game-store owner I know said his break-even point every day was $500 in gross sales. Sure, that was a year or two ago and he was open 7 days a week. Even figuring for inflation, and presuming I'm wrong and we really spend double that amount, we're probably giving the stores about a month each of required break-even sales. Is it small potatoes? Depends. Us board gamers like to show off, and it's a lot easier to grab someone and get them to play Ticket To Ride than to grab someone and fold them into your 8-hour session of Dungeons & Badgers. On the other hand, RPG enthusiasts spend tons of money on worthless handbooks for fat kids pretending to be elves, and I mean that as someone who's got upwards of $250 in GURPS manuals alone. Books are easier to store, and more fun to buy... very few people buy Amun-Re to enact weird solitare games.

Even with that, most gamers aren't buying much at their FLGS (friendly local gaming store). They'll grab small games, candy bars, individual CCG booster packs when they need a fast hit of crack (*see item #4 on this page), and sodas.

Anything else, they're headed online, for the 25-40% discount they can still get shopping around. Of course, these days you need maybe $150 to get free shipping.

Would you rather pay $40 plus tax for Ticket to Ride in the store, pay $36.65 to Funagain (and need to hit $150 total to avoid shipping), or pay $27.75 at TimeWellSpent.org?

Before you answer that question, you might want to read TimeWellSpent.org's current shipping policy:

"We have lowered our shipping prices for large orders when shipping UPS Ground. If you order $100 worth of games (that is before any shipping charges are added in) we will deduct $5.00 from our shipping price. If you order $150 worth of games we will deduct $7.50, and if you order $200 worth of games we will deduct $10.00 from our stated shipping price. This deduction now happens automatically within our system.This new shipping policy is for domestic, continental USA orders only and only for UPS Ground orders." Oy, that's going to be harder to comparison-shop.

This isn't a dig at any of the options. I have purchased from both Funagain and Timewellspent in the past, as well as from Thoughthammer. Uh, I think I got free shipping on all three of those orders, but only by ordering stuff for a couple of friends (again, taking money out of the mouths of the FLGS owner's kids).

Gotta watch the gimme-gimme mentality, as it's easy to go crazy buying online: the last time I made a big online purchase, I was enthusiastic about the first few games I put in the box and played the ever-living daylights out of them. I had a half-dozen I ended up not playing for a few months. Some that I bought on impulse turned out to be duds for my gaming groups, and I didn't get to play 3 others for more than a year. They didn't hit the table because DUH, I was playing awesome games already.

Penultimate anecdote - I'm all over the road here, swerving around:

Out of the 3 Magic booster boxes I bought on Ebay to split with my friend Tim, only 1 of the sellers actually came through in a timely manner and delivered what I wanted when I wanted it. Sure, I saved, oh, maybe 10 bucks. That was totally worth waiting a month for some comic book store jerks in Corn Country, USA to receive product that they sold before they got it, then shipped to me in a box with 5 sheets of tissue paper as protection. That is not an exaggeration. Honest truth, 5 sheets of tissue paper in a big box with room for the card boxes to roll around and get scuffed.

To hell with that, and to hell with those country bumpkins (I grew up in a neighboring state. The real problem wasn't that they were hicks, who at least would be obliged by their honor code to refund my money as soon as they realized they didn't have my game. It's that they were comic book store clerk geeks, traditionally regarded as amoral, bitter virgins, and truly didn't care when or how my product arrived). Both my FLGS owners know what's up, so they sell booster boxes for $85 plus tax. Retail price on them is $142.50 or so. If you call them, they can tell you how many boxes they've got, and they'll hold one for you until the end of the day.

Last question: Where are we going to play? The online store can't put up card tables in their storefront/mom's basement.

Answer: In the store with the best environmental conditions. I used to tolerate a lot, but these days, I need a non-smoking room, and there'd better be a working toilet that's got running water in the sink, not standing water/urine on the floor. Ideally, I'd leave without fantasizing about hitting the other patrons in the store so hard that they go into geosynchronous orbit, high above the earth. There should also be no overpowering smell of nerd sweat, cat pee, or any combination of the two.

In all other types of businesses, this is a given, but not at game and comic stores. Sometimes you don't cry when the FLGS goes under, because they deserved it.

If you do find a local store you like, yes, buy their products and don't a dick about it. If you can't, buy online and don't be a dick about it. See how it works? Either way, move on and enjoy the games.

Next post: Oh, man, I could really use a copy of Power Grid right about now...

Late Saturday at the Houston Gamers: Power Grid game is awesome

I learned Power Grid and also got in a game of Ra at the Houston Gamers yesterday.

Power Grid has been at the top of my Wanna-Learn list for a while. It's highly-ranked at the BoardGameGeek, and Aaron Fuegi's Internet Games 100 List, both excellent sources for finding games to research.

Here's the problem: it's fairly complicated, and usually takes 3 hours to play. Add in teaching time, and that' s a problem. Every time I go to the Houston Gamers, it's already 9 pm. If everyone's in the middle of games, it's hard to get a quorum going on a 3 hour game that's a brain-burner, especially since many of them have been gaming all day at that point. My Thursday night regular crowd is NOT going to start learning a complicated game at 7:30 pm when I need to be at work the next day.

R.J. owns a copy, and Chris B. wants to learn it, and I now want to play more, so that's a much more hopeful scenario to throw together. It's right up Larry's alley, too. He owns Caylus, and Power Grid is about the same complexity, although the mechanics and theme are entirely different.

Uh, I think I like 5-player Ra more than 3-player Ra. It's a great auction game, but there's something about the 3-person auctions that leave something to be desired. It's also much easier for one person to dominate the bidding process. I also keep losing the 3-player games I play by about 1 hojillion points, which might be a factor.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 112, New game titles played for the year = 18.

Greg is addicted to Metroid on Game Boy Advance (video)

My buddy Alan is addicted to creating YouTube videos. Here's the best one so far: our mutual friend Greg is addicted to Game Boy Advance.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Thursday: big time fun

Tom, Chris N., Chris B., R.J, Crystal, Tim, Timothy, and Rodney showed up. Wow.

I played and taught Citadels and Bohnanza as San Juan was played in the other room at a 2nd table. When everyone but R.J. packed up a little early, I dropped out of Bohnanza to play some more Blue Moon. We got in 5 games, some of which I won. I am starting to see more why people like it, although it still feels more like a trick-taking game than a strategy game.

This went well. R.J. is talking about applying for a position with my employer of some kind, as his teaching contract is up and he is looking again.

My mom, my aunts, one of my sisters, and my niece are flying in next week, so no game night next Thursday... It's been a lot of fun keeping this on a regular schedule, so I hope we can retain our momentum and headcount.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 110, New game titles played for the year = 17.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Dave Lartigue rocks (buy his stickers)

Dave Lartigue, aka Legomancer, is selling awesome stickers, way cheap. Go buy a few and tell him I sent you. I bought 3 for my car and as gifts for friends.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Sunday: back to normal - massive Attika session

In the morning, Lee was doing some tele-commuting, and Cori was down for a nap. I took Alexis to PetSmart (PetsMart?) (PeTsMaRt?) (P3tsm4r7?) (beats my pair of jacks) to look at the animals.

She particularly liked the mice, hamsters, and chinchillas, which were all "mice" to her. She also liked the birds, fish, and cats. Frogs and turtles got some vague interest, but since they didn't move much, they bored her more quickly.

After that, we went to Home Depot. They didn't have the screen door Lee wanted, but I was able to get some garden soil and some seed packets. As soon as I got home, I got the soil into some pots and the seeds planted. I still have one packet on the counter, and will wait and see what comes up before planting.

Upon returning home, Alex reported seeing, "Mice, birds, fish, kitties, and monkeys." Not sure where she got that part. "Mice hop!" She hopped around to demonstrate. It's good to know I have an ace in the hole on Sunday mornings.

In the afternoon, I got a haircut, then Lee took a nap and I watched the girls downstairs. We loaded up and went in for church. Lee went to the service, the girls went to the preschool, and Larry came over to play Attika. We got in 4 games, which was great. The starting player won each time, but all the games played differently, so we couldn't tell if it was a coincidence.

Larry will be in Houston again full-time soon, which should mean more Thursday gaming.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 103, New game titles played for the year = 17.

Thursday night: Weird

R.J., Chris B., Michael, Crystal, and Michael's friend Stephanie came over. We all played Family Business, a card game about mobsters shooting each other. Once it finished, I got Michael and R.J. to play chess, since I knew they are both enthusiasts. Stephanie and Crystal watched them play as I taught Chris B. how to play Jambo.

Every time I play Jambo, I like it less. It's a 2-player card game that looks cool, except that it isn't. You have turns that are setup turns, and you have turns that are do-something turns. It takes at least one game for people to figure out what to do, let alone get good at it.

Crystal, Michael, and Stephanie headed out right after the chess game, in search of more food. As Chris and I were a few turns away from finishing, Lee and R.J. got out San Juan, set up, shuffled, and started playing.

As soon as Chris and I realized we could be playing San Juan, we tossed the Jambo cards down and headed into the other room to play 4-player San Juan. We played, and Lee won by a single point. It was a tight game, except for me. I trailed in the back the entire time, having made at least 2 major blunders. Quitting Jambo was still the best option.

After that, Chris B. headed out, so R.J. and I played chess once. R.J. has played tournament-level chess, so I lost. It's been about 5 or 6 years since I've played chess against another person, as opposed to online opponents or computer games. It was nice to do that for a change, but I'm too obsessive to enjoy chess on a regular basis.

So, Family Business, Jambo, San Juan, chess...

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 99, New game titles played for the year = 17.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Craigslist scam: I guess I'll just ship that to you...

I had an inquiry on a video game I posted to Craigslist, as follows:

"Thanks for the responce,really i need this item urgently actually i am purchasing the item to my brother abroad,i'm just sending it as a gift to him,and my mode of payment is through (money gram express),and as for shipping i will handle that with my fedex account, so all i need you to do now is to get to me back with your full name and address so that i can proceed with the payment.hoping to hear from you
reply asap

Of course, this is a scam. Money Gram Express payments can be cancelled easily, so this guy is offering to write me a check he can void, at will, with no penalty.

My reply:
"Awesome! I take United States dollars, in physical form, and United States coins, in physical form.
You can use your Fedex account to ship me $75 in cash or coins, and then I can ship the N64 to your brother.

Todd D."

Strangely enough, I got no response.

I dropped the price down to $30, got a phone call in under 12 hours, and delivered it that night to a nice acne-covered gawky kid. Did I get my particular cost back on that? No. However, since I owned the game, my original purchasing price was a sunk cost, and I wanted to go ahead and sell so I didn't drag out the process over several weeks.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Sunday: convalescence

Lee was still sick, but has antibiotics she got yesterday. I made chicken vegetable soup with the beans I had soaked from last night. I got a little carried away so I have an entire week's worth of lunches packed away.

Larry came over again for more gaming and hanging out. Lee and I taught him Aladdin's Dragons, which he enjoyed. There's a lot of blind bidding, with just enough information to make the decisions tough.

Given how late last night went, we decided to call it an evening after that game.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 95, New game titles played for the year = 17.

Saturday: Larry hangs out

Lee was under the weather and I ended up watching the girls from the time they got up at 7 am till Cori dropped off past 7 pm. I emptied, refilled, ran, then re-emptied the dishwasher. I ran the diaper laundry and another load of laundry.

A recurring joke with most gamer husbands/fathers is the central currency of the house being the "Daddy point." You earn them for doing chores and spend them to go out and go gaming. I'll have to revisit that in a future blog post.

Larry came over and the 3 of us played Puerto Rico, just like in the old days when he was renting our spare bedroom. He won 56-44-43, with an unusual set of events which he managed perfectly.

After that, he and I played San Juan and two games of Blue Moon. 4 games in total tonight! Wow, I'm still only breaking even for the week... I knew 1 game a day for a year was going to be tough.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 95, New game titles played for the year = 17.

Good Samaritans -> Voltron?

Humorous opening sentence in this article: "(May 7, 2006) — A Long Island school librarian and a teenager from Rochester combined to rescue a man whose pickup careened off Interstate 390 and wound up underwater in a Brighton pond with the man still inside."

Combined into what? Voltron? (flash site with LOUD audio of Voltron combination sequence.)

Nice rescue, though.

Thursday night: Thoughts about Scheduling, also Blue Moon?

Monday was a holiday, so everyone I typically invite over for gaming was already giving off vague signals of stress and overwork.

The final rundown:
  • Crystal and Len - Guys coming to work on their TV did not show up as promised, but also didn't call them to reschedule until later in the evening (?!!).
  • Rodney - Miserable due to allergies, needed to rest.
  • Jackie - Needed to go grocery shopping for the week. They moved this weekend so that is reasonable.
  • Timothy - Needed to watch son while Jackie went grocery shopping.
  • Chris B. - Sick as a dog, couldn't even make it to work.
  • Tim - Still has itchy patch from shingles and doesn't want to give our infant chicken pox.
  • Orlando - Has friend (?) crashing at his apartment.
R.J. made it over and he, Lee, and I played Attika. It was R.J.'s first time at the wheel, which I finished up with a massive 6-building placement for a surprise win. I don't usually do this in teaching games, because it's usually not a good way to get them to play again. 1A, R.J.'s an experienced gamer, and 1B, I couldn't help it. I love Attika so much.

R.J. and I played a second 2-player game, which he won by the barest of margins. Again, I love Attika so much.

He then pulled Blue Moon down and we played 2 games of that before Cori woke up again and it was daddy time once more. When I came downstairs, I joined R.J. and Lee in a discussion of the merits of higher education.

I'm not sure what I think of Blue Moon. It's like a collectible card game, except it's not collectible. You buy the base set, and you get two beautiful decks of cards for 2 of the fantasy races in the game. Each player uses one deck, and if you like the game, you can buy more fixed decks of cards. You don't HAVE to buy them all, and most people don't.

Maybe the depth I want out of a game is in there, but maybe it's not. Blue Moon ends up being more like a trick-taking game where you're going to play a variable number of tricks each round. You'd like to go out while you're ahead, but you only have access to 6 cards in your hand, with the rest being in your draw pile.

Yes, the cards' artwork is gorgeous, I suppose, and that helps Blue Moon a little. I've heard some gamers say they ended up gradually buying all the extra decks, which are about $10 a pop, and that each one does feel different to play with and against. Interesting.

Final thought: I haven't tried to see if Lee will play it. Ultimately, any 2-player game my wife doesn't like is going to hit the trade pile.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 91, New game titles played for the year = 17.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Tuesday/Wednesday combo post

Tuesday we got the girls to bed on time, and we celebrated with a game of Attika. Wow, I like Attika.

Wednesday for our anniversary, I bought a colossal rotissiere chicken and a bottle of Pinot Grigio. We played San Juan (Lee won by a single victory point). Wow, we like San Juan.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 88, New game titles played for the year = 17.

Saturday night lateness at Kevin's

Over Memorial Day Weekend, Lee and I got more sleep than usual.

That is important and relevant. Both of us have had creeping crud - some kind of virus the girls brought home from day care. Since attendance there is low for the summer, hopefully we will get a few months off from the endless parade of penicillin deriviatives in our fridge. No, we are not giving them antibiotics for viral stuff. What do I look like, a college medical center?

Gaming: I headed up to Kevin Nunn's place on the far northwest side to get in on his all-day extravaganza. Most of the extravagance was past, leaving only Kevin, his wife Debra, my friends Amy and RJ, and Jean, who I have gamed with a couple of times before but not gotten much of a chance to talk with. (Yes, yes, with whom to talk. Screw you guys.) They were lackadaisically working their way through some Dragonball Z boardgame, put out by Fantasy Flight, I believe. As I understand it, one of them got it for $2 during a Funagain sale.

Claiming hunger, they adjourned, and we all went to Denny's. We played Smarty Party, which I had never tried before. Cha-ching, one more game played for the year. I would describe it as "Huh, an okay trivia game, I guess." By the time we got back to Kevin's place, it was 2 am, and I was crashing.

It was good to see everybody again and hang out for a little while.

I have a couple more games played so I'll post again soon. I also have a Linux/Wordpress related post cooking.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 85, New game titles played for the year = 18.