I voted

Another election has come and gone, but I wasn’t really tuned into it.  A large part of it was the reason mentioned here, namely that voters can’t rely on candidates or their supporters to give reliably factual information either about the candidate or their opposition.  Perhaps it’s the downside to living in the information age that there’s so much information that disinformation is prevalent, and trying to call anyone on it just gets lost in the noise anyway.

When I’m listening to NPR during my commute, I find I have to check myself to giving into confirmation bias when I readily accept statements that confirms my world view and doubt statements that do not.  (On the other hand, when Putin says he supports peace in Ukraine and is not sending in tanks, I find it really hard to believe him or his foreign ministers.  I bet Putin has a good laugh every time he lies about what’s going on under the table because, even if the west denounces his actions and Ukraine throws accusations every other day, what does he care when Russians believe his propaganda.)

Anyway, the only election that really interested me was California State Superintendent for Public Schools.  (Okay, that’s not the only election I cared about.  But even though Obama’s approval numbers are in the 40’s, the GOP congress’ numbers are in the 20’s.  Yet they increase their number of seats?  That’s a serious WTH moment.)

Okay, okay: Torlakson vs. Tuck.  The contest was billed as a mirror of the battle over education in country, with Torlakson representing the establishment (heavy backing from teachers unions and incumbent democrats) and Tuck representing reform.  Except with his charter school and business school background, Tuck represents a very particular type of reform centered around test scores.  I want reform, but not one where students are reduced to test scores and teachers are paid and fired based on test scores, especially since I believe the tests are fundamentally flawed.

I recently bought a kalimba, specifically this one.  I wanted a chromatic kalimba because not having accidentals really restricts what songs you play.  My kalimba has an alto tuning, meaning it has exactly two octaves from G3 to G5, which is enough 99% of time, but…

Currently, I’m working on two songs:

Transcribing the songs for alto kalimba has been a fun little music theory project.  Turnabout Sisters can be played C4 (a fifth below G4) and G5, which fits in my alto’s range.  But at the end it modulates up, and the new high note is now out of range.  (Maybe I should have gotten the chromatic treble kalimba instead, which has two notes above the highest tonic.)  Anyway, I solved this by shifting down to the key of D since I didn’t use the low part of the range.  And since that’s the dominant (right?), there’s only the occasional note from the chromatic notes on the back of the instrument.

Time Travel drives me crazy though.  The piano version above, which I adore and is my ringtone, has a huge range.  The right hand covers 3 octaves plus a fifth below and a couple semi-tones above.  And then sometimes the left hand has the melody.  In order to fit these excursions above and below the tonic, I again transcribed the song in D, but now I only have 1 octave.  I’m not sure if it would be any better with the extra range offered by a treble kalimba; I haven’t tried transcribing it yet.

Anyway I shift up and down whole octaves, sometimes in weird places, to make some passages fit.  Then the song modulates to E… Kalimbas are not scale agnostic.  Playing notes in the tonic scale just uses the thumbs.  Playing in the dominant or subdominant scale is still pretty easy because there’s just one tine on the back so you can keep a finger there.  Deviating further means hunting for tines that you can’t see on the back of the instrument.

Anyway, the kalimba is fun, but it has limitations.

The game I’ve played the most recently is Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager.  It’s is very much a successor to Buzz Aldrin’s Race Into Space, which has the far catchier name.  However, X Manager and Y Simulator seem to be all the rage these days, and BASPM is very much a manager game, what with carefully cultivating three different staffs (engineers, astronauts, and flight controllers) while picking projects to earn prestige but not going overboard (read: overbudget).

I have to say that the first time I sent humans to the moon (it was a Gemini direct ascent), I got goosebumps.

The game’s interface sucks though.  I really hope they rethink it before the next module, which is supposed to cover space missions between the moon landing and current day, things like the space shuttle and space stations.


20-23 Sept: Bunnyfest

There wasn’t a whole lot to write about during the week.  I kinda wish that Scotland had voted for independence because that would have really pissed off China.  Instead, China is telling Hong Kong that they can’t choose their own candidates for elections, which undermines the whole idea of elections, doesn’t it?  Oh, Scotland mods are very popular in Civ 5 right now.

I tried the Lemongrass Tofu at Loving Hut.  I don’t know what spices they use, but it’s not just lemongrass.  I think there’s some garlic and not a little heat.  Anyway, it’s really good.

I joined Nextdoor, but it isn’t that interesting.  Most of the posts are for people selling stuff or looking for services or recommendations.  Maybe I should talk about Loving Hut.

I’ve been in this mood all week where I want to play an RPG, but none of the couple dozen RPGs I’ve collected through Humble Bundles.  Instead, Rebuild came out with another beta build, and I played that more than was healthy, mainly mucking about with finding a good mix of classes and figuring out how to best use builders (whether to replace useless buildings or keep expanding; balancing keeping a defensible base or fencing in rival factions).

I also started an American Civil War scenario in Civ 5.  The twist they add is that new infantry units are green and fight with 20% penalty.  After their first combat, they gain a random modifier, some good, some bad.  Good divisions get upgraded to corps while bad divisions get disbanded to free up manpower.  (The other twist is that resources limit how many units each side can field.  Manpower limits infantry units.  Infantry corps use 3 times the manpower as divisions for not quite 3 times the combat strength, but it’s the only way to get density.)  I sent a large expedition to take the Shenandoah Valley and had Leesburg threatened by the counter-offensive, but reinforcements saved the city.  The only problem it I might not have left enough time to seize Richmond (the scenario is a short 50 turns).

I volunteered at SDHRS on Saturday and at Bunnyfest on Sunday.  So many cute rabbits.

SDHRS got Meze Greek fusion to bring their stand, and I got a fiery feta with pita chips.  The best way to describe it is Greek nacho cheese: it’s spicy and flavorful and easy to dip, just with feta instead of… whatever nachos use.

We also sat next to the kettle corn stand, and that gave me a hankering.  So I made kettle corn for the office Monday.

17 Sept: Resistance is futile

So the bad news is that Spymaster, a game I’ve been anticipating for over a year (manage your own resistance cell in occupied France!), sucks.  As in soft launch sucks.  It’s F2P, but not Supercell’s F2P, where it’s possible to have fun without paying, but F2P that’s crippled unless you make regular payments.  Apparently the “play” is missing from the free-to-play.

The good news is now seems like a good time for someone to make a game about the French resistance.

I had the idea that, for my quidditch game, on your turn you play cards as actions, and on your opponent’s turn you play cards for currency to buy better cards.  There might be some interesting trade-off of deciding which role to save each card for.  Then I realized the distinction between playing on your turn and opponent’s turn was moot since effectively the sequence of play would be:

  1. Buy cards.  Possibly refill hand.
  2. Play cards.
  3. Usual end of turn clean up.

all on your turn.  Oh well.

2 – 14 Sept: Mostly about food

Last week, I did make this casserole.  Yes, a casserole using a rue and cheese in the binder instead a can of condensed soup.  The casserole was pretty good, but then it would be considering all the cheese in it.  It was easy to overcook the broccoli.

After I made that lovely schedule with all the regular housecleaning chores, I promptly ignored it last weekend.  no baking soda to make a drain volcano, and both Sprouts and Trader Joe’s sell them in sizes fine for cooking, but not for cleaning.  I’ll buy in bulk in my next Amazon order.

Well, I did do this weekend’s task: clean Bunbury’s room.  A lot of shedding and “territory marking” has accumulated, and it was good to clean it out.  I also spent this morning volunteering at SDHRS, cleaning hay and poop out of rabbit pens.  (The trick is to first sweep up the easy to reach poop so you can safely walk around without accidentally treading on it.)  It was a poopy Sunday.

Meanwhile, my ramekins arrived!  There were extra yolks, so let’s make some creme brulee!  With soy milk instead of cream.  They were good, and the fat is not missed.  Neither Sprouts nor Trader Joe’s has gelatin so, to make panna cotta, guess what else is going is in the next Amazon order?

This weekend I hit up Kiki’s Place (good fish tacos, with more fish than batter, and they have this one awesome red creamy hot sauce) and Tandoori Hut for the lunch buffet (goat curry and tandoori chicken were great, chicken tikka and mango mousse was good, it’s weird that they don’t have chai).  Meanwhile, Loving Hut now considers me a regular; they accidentally forgot to charge for a Peaceful Pink this last time, and the guy told me to just add it onto my next bill.  (Aside: Pretty sure I could make a Peaceful Pin.  In fact, any non-dairy smoothie is basically soy milk, juice, and fruit.  Remove the fruit, and you have a drink that doesn’t need a blender.)

Okay, stuff unrelated to food.  I finally made a budget, and it turns out that even without my end-of-the-year bonus and higher housing costs, I’m still in the black.  Yay.  I didn’t realized I spent that much on games though.  Now to get my investments in order…

But this week there was another Humble Android Bundle, and I have to support Android game developers (by buying their games at heavy discount… whoops).  My favorite of the lot is Color Zen (nice aesthetics, puzzles that require some thinking) even though the it is similar to KAMI.  Other notables are The Room II (nice exploratory puzzles, as usual, though I’m having trouble getting it to save my progress), Tiny Bang Story (this is my first hidden object game, at least it’s hand drawn), and Kingdom Rush Frontiers (one of the few tower defense series I will give the time of day).

This got me playing some other Android games that I’ve let languish on my phone.  I got Bullseye Boxing because of a Pocket Tactics article.  It reminds me of Devil’s Attorney, and I ended up playing that instead.  I finally beat Devil’s Attorney on hard by maxing out my Materialism stat asap and writing a Python script to use dynamic programming to find strategies that optimized the expected number of actions to finish off a target.

Speaking of writing programs to do my thinking for me, I bought Calculords, which is by far the nerdiest game I have installed right now.  However, while finding expressions in order to play cards isn’t hard, finding a partition that uses all the numbers is non-trivial, and I wrote a program to help me with that.  Except it runs incredibly slow with 7 or more cards, so I may have to rewrite it.

I also finally played Ascension.  Like Star Realms, it also has semi-permanent cards that stay in play until removed, blurring the line between deck-builders and tableau games.  This gives me ideas for my Narbonic card game, which I at first envisioned as a tableau game, but a deck-builder is an interesting mechanic for how a player develops their engine.  Combine them for the best of both worlds.  Lab equipment or personnel can be semi-permanents.  They may get damaged/injured during a fight and get sent to the discard deck until they’re repaired.

Speaking of deck-builders, I’ve been thinking about my Quidditch game.  The thing about sports games, compared to other games, is that there’s little sense of progression: generally, both sides play about as well at the end of the game as they do at the beginning.  If anything, many games model attrition as the game goes on (literally, in Blood Bowl; many racing games track wear as the race continues).  So what if, in Quidditch, each player could modify their deck to react to what their opponent was doing.  Oh, right, that’s a deck builder game.  Though I don’t know if I want a straight up deck builder where players, say, play 2 chasers for enough agility points to buy a better chaser card as accumulating slightly more powerful cards doesn’t have a strong visceral feel to it.  I still want players to move the quaffle around the pitch and counter each other’s moves.

Finally, I finished Sorcery, Part 1.  First I had to write down the the spellbook to make it easier to look up spells (honestly, do they expect you to flip page by page through the book to find spells?).   I’m so used to adventure games beating me up and teaching me lessons before I could advance that I was surprised how easy it was to finish.  I did rewind twice: once when I lost all my equipment in a village, and another time to the black lotus.  But the rewind feature allowed me to pick up my game again in seconds.  Nice feature.

I also played the demo for Pixel Defenders.  It’s like Triple Town, where you place pieces into a map and combine 3 things to make an upgraded thing.  Except instead of annoying bears getting in the way of matches, we husband actions used to slow down and defeat monsters.  It is tempting to buy the full game…

An idea I’ve been kicking around for a possible mobile game is an old idea I’ve had since middle school based off the game Hunt the Wumpus.  Except instead of wandering more-or-less blindly, you’re mapping out a 3-dimensional cavern and can deploy sensors (active and passive) and traps.  Meanwhile, an opposing team is doing the same.  But to do that, I’ll have to figure out how to procedurally generate cavern artwork.

I haven’t been keeping up with DDP Yoga.  For a few days after that first session, my back was really tense and aching.  I think all that “activating your muscles” just made them knot up.

29-30 Aug: Games

I guess the theme for today is games.

How to lose your faith in humanity: read the comments on any YouTube video about a game.

Anyway, I had heard that Google had teamed up with Udacity to host a MOOC on Android development.  Except the first time I checked it out, I couldn’t see past Udacity’s paid guided version to see the free-as-advertised version.  There’s also a course on UX design, which may be useful when we design Beast Academy online (may be too late for AoPS version 3).  There look like fun things to try out when I have time.

So thoughts naturally ran to what games I could make for a project.  Finger Ball would be easy to implement: the rules are simple, and I’ve already worked out the AI (though adding in an adaptive AI using n-grams might be cool).

However, my quidditch design (the one where each house plays like its element: Gryffindor = Fire, powerful but only in bursts; Hufflepuff = Earth, slow and steady wins the race; Ravenclaw = Air, quick and mobile; Slytherin = Water, fluidity means tough to pin down but can still hit hard) is the design that’s worrying me gameplay being dragged down by too much extra junk, so maybe having a computer handle some of the junk will help.

Then I thought about my command & control game, but the current iteration uses cards to mimic command & control problems by preventing players from ordering any unit they want.  It would be gimmicky to port that to the computer, so I’ll leave that as a boardgame.

Instead, what a computer can do that a boardgame can’t do easily is hidden information and uncertainty.  For example, a wargame where the player’s orders aren’t put into effect immediately, the player is uncertain how long it will be before they take hold (or how the situation will change in the mean time), or even where exactly units are at the moment.  Dean Essig has made a slew of games simulating similar command & control issues.

Meanwhile, Calculords has come out on Android.  It’s probably the nerdiest game on my phone right now.  I wrote a Python program to help me score Calculord bonuses while deploying the maximum number of cards, which I’m pretty sure was not the way the game was meant to be played.  Luckily, my program only really works for up to 6 cards, 7 if I’m willing to wait minutes, 8 cards is impractical, so I have been doing some of my own thinking.

In non-game news, I fixed my disposal.  Internet to the rescue!

27 Aug: A new beginning

I’ve finally moved into my new place.  Let’s dust this blog off.

Today, I was greeted at work by donuts.  Nice!  As compensation for an all-hands-on-deck Python grading session.  Meh.  So I got to learn tkinter in order to grade homework.  We also got a free lunch out of it.  Who says there isn’t a free lunch?  Oh, right… the grading.

Look, freakin’ Russian paratroopers were captured inside Ukraine.  Can this farce end already?!

I let Bunbury into the living room again today to explore a bit.  It was cute to watch him hop around, exploring and rubbing his chin on everything.  But he was also hungry and wanted to test everything to see if it was food, so back he went with his salad.

We lost another war in Clash of Clans.  But now I have permission to kick out some inactive people, so I expunged 5 people who I’m not sure even play anymore.

I made this recipe for dinner.  I paired it with leftover Lucky Lemongrass from Loving Hut (soy protein fried until it’s crispy, and I have no idea what spice mix they used, but I need to find out) and quinoa cooked in chicken broth.  It was so so good.

The Top Gear guys appeared on Phineas and Ferb.  Ha!

1-8 Nov: Games, games, games

I’ve played a lot of games over the last week:

1-3 Nov: I tested the new 2:1 rule for RAF.  You can see the write-up here.  The rule was deemed needed because, well, players like me broke the solitaire system.  The game isn’t completely fixed, but it’s a start.

4-5 Nov: I also bought into the early access program for Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager.  It’s still early beta.  Lots of kinks to work out.

6 Nov: I finally finished a game of Endgame: Syria.  I wrote a little Python script to help me assign units in the combat phase.  As a result, I didn’t particularly care what forces I used, and I won the war, but there wasn’t much to salvage.

7 Nov: After a couple years in beta, Desktop Dungeons finally released.  I had to at least play it a little.

8 Nov: My boardgame order came in.  We played a game of Escape: The Curse of the Temple at work.  I’m hoping to play the other two games over the weekend.