Friday, June 27, 2008

When fun becomes a chore

Today I discovered that another person in my bar review course has developed a spreadsheet to help him win at the Facebook game "Mob Wars."

I did the only thing that a person can do in this situation. I pointed at him and yelled "NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRD!"

Now I'm wondering whether it's worse to build spreadsheets to help you win at life-consuming games like World of Warcraft or EVE Online, or whether it's worse to build spreadsheets to help you win at Facebook games, which are supposed to be silly little time-wasters. The former is hypercompetitiveness in an entire fantasy world where you're encouraged to throw away every waking moment; the latter is hypercompetitiveness in a game you aren't supposed to spend much time on, like using a protractor to calculate angles in Snood.

(Disclaimer: the most "outside work" I've ever put into a game would probably be reading a couple of guides on how the economic system in Victoria works, or possibly doodling an insane 5-2-3 formation to save Nottingham Forest from relegation.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I don't feel like joking, but I will anyway

1. I went to Wal*Mart today to buy some cleaning supplies because I am moving soon. (Just to another place in Moscow for a month, then somewhere in Boise.) While I was in the packaging tape aisle, I saw that they were selling large cardboard boxes. I was baffled, because in my experience, if you want large cardboard boxes, you can go to any business you want and they'll happily hand them over to you for free. I bet even the stockboys at Wal*Mart would give you a carload of boxes, unaware that they were depriving their store of $1.49 per box.

2. I think tabloids employ Celebrity Weight Estimators. When you see a headline like "250-POUND KIRSTIE ALLEY IN HOSPITAL," accompanied by an unflattering photo, you know that they didn't go and ask Ms. Alley how much she weighed. No, they got the photo, then asked some guy to sit down with his rulers and his equations and start calculating. "Given that Kirstie Alley is five-eight, and her waist in this picture is approximately 22% of her height…"

3. Do you think the guys in the Spanish Inquisition ever got indecisive about what torture method they should use? There doesn't seem to be much reason why you'd break one guy on the wheel and beat another on the soles of his feet, but then I'm not an expert in torture techniques.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Underwater Friends

I'm back from my brother's wedding, with some pictures of the flood damage to Iowa City along with the usual stiff and inhuman scenery photos. Get 'em here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

See also: Cottingley Fairies

To: Elaine Frontain Bryant, executive producer
John Chiappardi, field producer
Norma Fraser-Day, co-executive producer
Harris Levinson , line producer
Christine Lee Mahin, associate producer
Scott Mislan, field producer
Trey Nelson, field producer
George Plamondon, executive producer
Vanessa Raizberg, associate producer
Tricia Regan, field producer
Betsy Schechter , executive producer
Rob Sharenow, executive producer
David Miller, film editor
Brooke Moreland, film editor
Mike Ratkiewicz, co-editor
Nelson Ryland, co-editor
Lousine Shamamian, co-editor
Rebecca Wilde, production manager
Evan Benjamin, sound mixer
Claudio Musajo, sound mixer
Brad Schirmer, sound mixer
David Schumacher, sound mixer
Chris Tetens, camera operator
Guy Lanni, production assistant
Casey Mortensen, production assistant
Amit Sethi, title designer
From: Salieri
Date: June 16, 2006
Re: Your participation in the TV show "Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal"

What the fuck, are you shitting me?


But Ariel is still a hottie

Let's face facts: Arial is a lousy font. It's bland and it's kerned all wrong and it just says to the world "You there, you reading my document? You're not important enough for me to change from the default font."

So I've decided to start getting rid of Arial in my life, starting with my browser. Firefox and Safari both let you specify new fonts for browsing, but only Firefox lets you override the pages' default font selection. Let's see the difference, shall we?

Here's the web in Arial, as you've probably been seeing it.
Ho-hum. Bleh.

Now let's try something made by a professional designer, not by some schmuck at Microsoft. Like Optima.
Better, don't you think?

If you had a little trouble reading Optima at small sizes, then maybe you should try another classic, Gill Sans.
Gill Sans looks great bolded.

Of course, those are professional fonts, and if your computer doesn't come with them you'll have to pay for them. But there are plenty of good free fonts available at Fontspace. You're looking for legibility at small sizes and a full set of characters.
This one's called London Tube and it's a little funky but looks a lot better than Arial.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I should really be concentrating on the bar

"Monopoly" would be a better game if it involved more interpersonal dealings and less luck. It could also reflect the world of real estate and city management more accurately. Here's a little variant rule set for the game that I thought up.

1. Jobs and Elections. The game begins with an election. Players will elect, by majority vote, people to fill the following positions: Zoning Commissioner, Police Commissioner, Utilities Commissioner, Union President, and Congressional Representative.
Job Descriptions:

The Zoning Commissioner collects, on behalf of the city, all money spent on building houses. This money does not go directly into the bank: instead, it goes into an envelope marked "Zoning Department Budget." The Commissioner is the only one who has access to this envelope, and is free to embezzle funds from it, but you can't put money back into it. (But see city funds rules, infra.) The Zoning Commissioner's special power is the ability to initiate Eminent Domain proceedings. At the beginning of your turn, announce a property on the board that you're trying to condemn. If a majority of players vote for the condemnation, all improvements on the property are torn down, the city pays the owner the price marked on the board, and the property goes back into city hands.

The Police Commissioner collects the $50 bail for getting out of jail, and also holds onto any rent collected by a player who's in jail in the Police Budget. Again, embezzlement from the budget is allowed. That extra rent should be so powerful that you don't need a special power.

The Utilities Commissioner collects Water Works and Electric Company fees, as well as assessments for street repair, into the Utility Budget envelope. Embezzlement rule applies. (The utilities are city-owned and can't be bought: you pay 10x your roll when you land on them.) At the beginning of your turn, you can declare or cancel a Construction Project. While one is in place, all players roll one die to move.

The Union President collects fees for building repairs and hotel construction into the Union Budget envelope. Embezzlement rule applies. At the beginning of your turn, you can declare or cancel a Strike. While the workers are on strike, nobody can build improvements on their properties.

The Representative doesn't get an envelope. But, every time the Senator passes Go, the Representative may change the Income Tax rate, the Luxury Tax amount, or the amount of money you get from passing Go. (Naturally, the old rates still apply for your turn: you can't land on Income Tax just after passing Go and declare that the tax is zero.) You'll have to get your extra money by having people bribe you to change the rates.

Taxes, property purchase money, and other unspecified payments go straight to the city budget (i.e. the bank).

Every time a player is sent to Jail, his or her job comes up for election, and people in Jail aren't eligible to run. If anyone draws the "Chairman of the Board" card, everyone's job is up for election.

3. Zoning. At the beginning of the game, all properties are zoned R-1. You can build one house per property on any block you own. If you want to build another house, you have to request that the property be rezoned R-2. All players vote on this rezoning, and majority rules. You'll have to do this again for R-3 (three houses), R-4 (four houses), and C (hotel).

4. Mortgages. At any time, any player can negotiate a mortgage to another player for any amount of money. While the property is mortgaged, no one collects any rent from it. But the next time the mortgagor lands on the mortgaged property, the mortgagee either has to pay back the full amount of the mortgage, or the mortgagor forecloses, becoming the new owner of the property and any improvements thereon.

5. City Funds. The bank now represents money in the city's general purpose budget. If the city can't meet its payment obligations (for Go, Chance cards, whatever) out of the general purpose budget, the players must negotiate payments out of the departmental envelopes. If there's no money in the departmental envelopes, the city is bankrupt and everyone loses.

"But Sal," you say. "How am I supposed to get other players to agree to do things that will only benefit me?" Well, Sparky, how do they do it in real life? I'll tell you how. Back-scratching, alliances, smoke-filled rooms, bribes, and cutthroat politics.

I don't think anyone would ever actually play this version because it would take even longer than real Monopoly, but let me know if anybody tries it.

This version of the game should use street names from Chicago.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Beautiful game, less-than-beautiful logos

With the European Championship underway, I thought I'd critique the logos of some notable international soccer teams.

England's Bolton Wanderers have an absolutely ghastly design that must have originated sometime between 1975 and 1985.

Cornelius, the Corn Flakes rooster, is pulling in a little extra pay in his second job as AS Ascari's logo.

Denmark's FC Midtjylland makes a bold choice, using Courier for their logo.

Nottingham Forest's crest appears to depict the results of French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

Hannover 96's logo would be great for a gas station.

Chief Blackhawk asks himself, "What the hell am I doing in Belgium?"

Players at Nybergsund in Norway are known for their curious throw-in technique.

N.K. Zepce play in Bosnia, and it would appear that their style of play involves tripping over the ball, then getting crushed between converging walls.

If it weren't for the oddly-placed pink, Palermo would have the most awesome logo in all of sports.

Friday, June 6, 2008

When will they put this one on a poster?

An Untitled Poem, by Martin Niemöller and Salieri

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and I said "You've got the wrong guy.
I never spoke up.
You're looking for my neighbor,
he's a trade unionist."
Then they never bothered me again.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Bunch of new pictures

A few new ones of Moscow, plus Sun Valley. For the first time, I've uploaded the full-sized photos to Flickr, so you can use these pictures as desktops if you want.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Fun with the CDDB!

I'm not in Moscow right now. I'm in Sun Valley.

Have you ever been to Sun Valley? Maybe you have, maybe you haven't. If you haven't, maybe you've been to Breckenridge or Aspen or Vail or Banff or any other ski resort town in the world. If you've been to any of those towns, you've been to Sun Valley (except Sun Valley has bonus dead authors).

Anyway, because I won't be able to make it to the BarBri lecture tomorrow, I'm listening to Professor Chemerinsky talk to me on CD. When I put the CD in my computer, the CDDB decided that it was actually a recording of "The War of the Worlds" by Orson Welles.

Frankly, I think Orson Welles would make for a better lecturer. Chemerinsky is, as we say in ski resort towns, a darsh.