May 17, 2013

Great Books

Posted in Hobby at 4:03 pm by Transmuter

I’ve just gotten back into blogging and I’ve already let myself slip from my goal of one post every week. Sorry about that.

Over the past decade I’ve read a lot of books, many of them very good. I’d like to highlight several books and book series that I thought were excellent. I’ve read physical books, ebooks, and listened to audiobooks.

The Wheel of Time series is an epic 14-book fantasy series by the late Robert Jordan, and finished from his notes by Brandon Sanderson. My wife and I listened to every book in this series in audiobook format via Audible. We’d listen while doing chores around the house, before going to bed, and while doing hobbies. This series is very good, though it does drag quite a bit from around books 8 to 10. As soon as Brandon Sanderson began co-writing the last three books (12-14) the pace of the plot rocketed forward and the series went from plodding to zooming. I still haven’t had the opportunity to listen to the final book in the series, but I’m really looking forward to it.

After learning about Brandon Sanderson from his work on finishing the Wheel of Time series, I decided to check out his other works. The Mistborn trilogy is a fantastic series about a group of outlaws trying to kill the godlike Lord Ruler, a nearly immortal emperor with incredible magical powers, and the results of doing so. It’s action-packed, has an interesting magic system involving the use of various metals that are ingested to produce differing effects, and is generally just a fun read. Other novels by Sanderson, such as Elantris, The Emperor’s Soul, and Warbreaker, are also excellent reads. One not-so-secret fact is that all of Sanderson’s adult fantasy novels take place in the same universe, though most of them occur on different planets. There is even a certain mysterious character that shows up in many of the novels; he’s fun to look out for. Of particular note is The Way of Kings, the first in a planned 10-book epic fantasy series titled The Stormlight Archive in a similar vein to the Wheel of Time series. It’s a huge novel, but in it develops a fascinating world, interesting cultures, great characters, and an intriguing story. I strongly recommend it for epic fantasy lovers.

Another great fantasy series, but one very different from the epic stories of Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, is the Discworld series. Written by Terry Pratchett, the Discworld novels chronicle the lives of various people living on the Discworld, a flat, disc-shaped planet carried through space on the backs of four enormous elephants, which in turn are carried on the shell of an immense turtle. The series is silly, funny, witty, and couches some fairly biting cultural criticism in the guise of humor. Some of the novels follow Rincewind, a failed wizard who gets dragged into adventures despite his best efforts of running away from it. Other books tell the story of Sam Vimes, captain (and later commander) of the Ankh-Morpork Night Watch, the nocturnal police force of the Discworld’s largest city. Several novels have witches as the protagonists, though these witches tend to perform magic in a distinctly non-magical, very psychological way. The anthropomorphic personification of Death – skull, scythe, hooded cloak and all- frequently makes an appearance throughout the novels. Rather than being scary – to the reader at least – Death is charmingly businesslike in the way he reaps souls, and even seems to have a fondness for humans, although he has a hard time understanding their idiosyncrasies. Despite not understanding some of the jokes from time to time – some aspects of British culture elude me – I have highly enjoyed all of the Discworld novels, and eagerly await any more that Terry Pratchett is able to write.

On a histirocal note, I have been on a Roman history kick recently. The Roman republic and empire has fascinated me ever since I was young, but over the past year or two I’ve really been digging in and enjoying learning more about it. My favorite board game – Commands and Colors: Ancients – is set in the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. I’m eagerly awaiting the upcoming PC strategy wargame Total War: Rome II this fall. I’ve been reading a series of murder mystery novels by Steven Saylor about a Roman man named Gordianus the Finder, who acts as an ancient Roman private investigator living in the final decades of the Roman republic. The series, called Roma Sub Rosa, is very interesting, and Saylor has Gordianus and his family interacting with various historical figures. Saylor does an excellent job of making me imagine what life was like 2000 years ago. Usually it was dirty, dangerous, and not a lot of fun for most people, but people made do and lived their lives like everyone else has throughout history. I’ve also read a few very good non-fiction books on Rome. My favorite so far is The Punic Wars, by Adrian Goldsworthy. This account of the three wars between the Roman republic and the Carthaginian empire is detailed and very informational, but still has a very readable and approachable tone. I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in Roman history or military history. Ghosts of Cannae, by Robert L. O’Connell, is another good book about the second Punic war, and focuses specifically on the Battle of Cannae and the events leading up to it. Cannae is often regarded as Hannibal’s greatest triumph, and this book talks about it’s real and perceived impact on the history of the Roman republic. Caesar: Life of a Colossus, also by Adrian Goldsworthy, is a very interesting chronicle of the great Gaius Julius Caesar. It ranges from shortly before his birth to several years after his assassination, and focuses mainly on his political and military careers.

So those are my picks for some great books I recommend. Check them out! I mean, literally, like from a library. That’s where I found all of those books about Rome…

Advertisements

May 5, 2013

BGG Contests

Posted in Board Games, Games, Hobby at 8:17 pm by Transmuter

So on Board Game Geek, the wonderful website that is all about board games, there is at least one contest a week. These contests require contestants to fill out a multiple choice quiz about a new or upcoming board game; more correct answers means more contest entries. Winning usually means acquisition of a copy of the game in question. The primary purpose of the contest is for game publishers to raise awareness of one of their games in hopes of attracting more buyers. I have entered more than a hundred of these contests.

I originally started doing the contests for the unique microbadge that you get for entering each contest. Up to five microbadges can be displayed under your avatar when posting on the BGG forums. It’s a fun little game on the site to collect as many as possible and display the microbadges most relevant to your current interests. Despite not expecting to win any of the contests due to large volume of entrants, I still entered the contests for these little geeky badges.

I actually, finally won my 56th contest, sponsored by Polish publisher Rebel.pl. I got my choice of one of five of their upcoming games, and I decided on The Cave. The Cave is a game where players control a team of speleologists, scientists who study caves, and race to achieve the best and most discoveries in a large cave system. Points are awarded for being the first team to photograph underground rock and crystal formations, the first to dive in and explore underground lakes, the first to get through tight squeezes, and so on. Teams must return to the base camp to resupply their stocks of rope, oxygen tanks, and most importantly food. I found the game to be quite fun, and I have enjoyed my half-dozen or so plays.

49 contests later I won again! This time I won a copy of Torn Armor, a miniatures skirmish game that was funded via Kickstarter. The game is scheduled to be released around November 2013, but I’m looking forward to trying it out. Painting the miniatures should also be fun.

Speaking of Kickstarter and miniatures, last year I went in with a couple of my friends to back Reaper’s Bones kickstarter project. This project was not for a game, but simply a huge number of plastic miniatures for use in role playing games and the like. It appears that the minis should finally be arriving sometime this month. It’s going to require a lot of painting, but it should be enjoyable. I will make a more detailed post once they come in and I have had a chance to paint at least some of them.

April 27, 2013

Great TV Shows

Posted in General at 8:06 pm by Transmuter

Over the last few years I’ve had the pleasure of watching several excellent television shows (though mostly on Netflix, etc.). I’d like to talk about some of my favorites here, in no particular order.

Avatar: the Last Airbender

This animated series has a great story, good voice acting, excellent martial arts choreography, and does a great job mixing humor, action, adventure, and drama. I strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in any of those aspects. I haven’t yet seen the sequel, “The Legend of Korra”, but I am excited to.

Futurama

Back when this show first came out I was a big Simpsons fan. However, I wasn’t as taken with Futurama, despite it having a similar art style and humor, as well as a sci-fi theme, so I never bothered watching it much. Fast forward to about a year ago, and I started watching the show again on Netflix. It was great! I guess the show just resonates better with my current phase of life than it did for me as a teen. My brother mentioned he felt the same. I don’t really have anything specific to mention about the show, just that I enjoy the unexpected jokes, non-sequitors, and slapstick humor the program delivers.

Doctor Who

This show took me a few episodes (of the new series) to really get fully invested, but once I did I was in for a fantastic ride. All three modern incarnations of the Doctor have been great, in different ways. The shows have been interesting, funny, and occasionally scary. The quality of each episode can vary, but I still consider myself a fan of the series. I have to go on record that the Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, is my personal favorite incarnation of the Doctor, though Matt Smith as the Eleventh and Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth are also both very good.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

No, I don’t consider myself a “brony”. I had heard good things about the show, and since it was on Netflix my little girls started watching it. Curious, I watched it with them and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was significantly better than the My Little Pony cartoon my sister used to watch as a kid. The show has definite slapstick elements inspired by the old Looney Toons cartoon, it has great songs (certainly not the cheesy junk found on other shows my girls watch like Strawberry Shortcake), and most episodes illustrate some positive value while somehow avoiding delivering it in a heavy-handed way. I enjoy the mythological flavor of the various creatures that inhabit the world – chimeras, dragons, pegasi, hydras, and so on; they were things I thought were cool as a kid when I read about Greek mythology and played D&D. Overall, I recommend the show to anyone with younger kids (my 3-year-old son likes the show as much as his older sisters). You definitely won’t go crazy having them watch this kids’ show (until they listen to one of the songs on repeat 20 times in a row).

April 11, 2013

So Many Games!

Posted in Board Games, Games, Role-Playing Games, Video/Computer Games at 9:18 pm by Transmuter

I have played a lot of games over the past four years, so I’ll just cover the highlights.

Role Playing Games

Right after we moved to St. George I tried to keep up with my California D&D group by playing over the internet, but it just didn’t work out for me. A year later, after we moved into our house we met some people in the area that were interested in RPGs and board games, so we formed a group. We played D&D 4th edition for several months, then I discovered Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, which really caught my imagination. After the D&D campaign died due to lack of interest I decided to run a short S7S campaign, and everyone involved in the 4-episode adventure really enjoyed it. Unfortunately shortly after that two of our group moved to Alaska, where they lived for a year before moving back.

Board Games

Since the RPG group broke up I started getting into board games more, facilitated by the fantastic BoardGameGeek website. I found a few other people in my neighborhood who enjoy board games and play with them whenever we can find the time. I learned how to play Battletech by playing it on the computer via MegaMek. I played board games online at Yucata.de. Recently a primarily board game focused store opened up in town – Game Haven. I found out about and started attending the Saint George Area Board Game Group, which meets weekly at a local library.

PC Games

So shortly before the Cataclysm expansion for World of Warcraft came out I started getting pretty tired of the game. I got the expansion and played it for about a month before dropping WoW for good. I haven’t even touched the game since the Mists of Pandaria expansion came out.

So years ago I posted how I really disliked the Lord of the Rings Online, but every few months Turbine did a free weekend for returning players. After playing the game a few more times courtesy of these free weekends I really started warming up to the game, so much so that I ended up buying the first expansion, then the next, and then the game went Free-to-Play. I got my father-in-law and most of his sons into the game, and I bought the third expansion, but unfortunately started petering out on MMOs in general. At some point during this my wife and I got Star Wars: the Old Republic MMO, which was pretty awesome for a while, but rapidly lost interest and had zero interest in playing once it too went Free-to-Play. I played Age of Empires Online for a while – I was even in the beta – but haven’t played it much recently. My latest favorite is Mechwarrior Online, a team-based Free-to-Play online game based on the old Mechwarrior games, which themselves were based on the Battletech board game. MWO is really great, and I love the strategy of choosing your ‘mech and its weapon loadout and the tactics of helping your team achieve the battle’s objectives.

As far as single-player games go, here is a list of some of my favorites I’ve played in the last four years (in no particular order): Minecraft, Assassin’s Creed (I, II, Brotherhood, Revelations), Batman: Arkham Asylum / Arkham City, Sonic Generations, LEGO Lord of the Rings, FTL, Sins of a Solar Empire, Terraria, Mass Effect (1, 2, 3), Civilization V, Half Minute Hero, Cthulhu Saves the World, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Greed Corp, and Atom Zombie Smasher.

April 3, 2013

What’s “New” in My Family

Posted in Family at 7:53 pm by Transmuter

So, here’s a quick overview of the major changes that have happened in my life since August 2009:

  • Darien, my third child and first son, was born. He is now three years old, and an adorable terror of a child. He’s super loving and tender, but also stubborn and independent.
  • We bought a house! Yes, soon after Darien was born we moved into our first owned home.
  • We got a new car. My father-in-law traded us his CNG-powered sedan for our Jimmy.
  • Kyla is now in first grade. Crazy! She loves reading; according to testing she is reading at a 4th grade level.
  • I got a new job. I am now working for a small software company as a combination pre-sales engineer and IT manager. It’s far busier than my last job, but I’m learning a lot and really enjoying it.

I think those are the main things. For far more detail, visit my wife’s blog. She’s been much more consistent at blogging than I have.

The Hiatus is Over!

Posted in General at 7:13 am by Transmuter

Hello to anyone who still has this blog on one of their blog aggregators (I’m sure nobody actually visits it manually anymore)! After a hiatus of 3-4 years I’m finally back! With luck, and a little willpower, I’ll be posting regularly to this blog again.

In my next post I plan to detail some of the major changes that have taken place in my life since my last post, so stay tuned!

August 25, 2009

Blizzcon 2009

Posted in Food, Games, Video/Computer Games at 2:21 pm by Transmuter

I’ve been a slacker recently about updating my blog, I know. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to.

I have until the beginning of September to play WoW. Once again, in order to save some money, Chiemi and I have canceled our WoW accounts. On the bright side, I’ve managed to level Kinz, my rogue, to level 80! Yay! It’s about time the guild master reaches the level cap. I went through a real lull in my interest in playing a rogue from about level 73-76, but once I got past that block I started enjoying him again. He’s doing some pretty decent damage now (considering the crappy gear he has currently), and he feels like he serves a purpose again.

Ever since patch 3.2 came out I’ve been running heroic dungeons a lot with my paladin. Getting emblems of conquest is great for non-raiders like me, and the new Trial of the Crusader has a lot of great loot – of which I’ve acquired all of the tanking gear except the dang shoulders. I’ve been stuck with my Tempered Saronite Shoulders for forever! I’ve run Gundrak a ton, but never got the tanking shoulders there, and I’ve run ToC a bunch and no shoulders there either! What’s the deal Blizz? 😉

In other news, the upcoming MMO The Old Republic is looking awesome! It’s like Knights of the Old Republic, but multiplayer and much refined. I totally want to be a Jedi, but I’ve been really impressed on how Bioware is making the other classes just as cool as Jedi and Sith. For example, the smuggler is a ranged class that uses a cover system. Moreover, the smuggler is supposed to have a bunch of awesome one-liners, gets to flirt with/romance a bunch of NPCs, and is generally the rocking Han Solo type. Pretty neat! The game is also completely voiced! Crazy! I’m totally going to try this game when it comes out. I felt sure I’d end up switching to this game once I was done with WoW in a couple years, but then I went to…

BLIZZCON! Woo! It was just as awesome as when I went two years ago, only bigger and with more people! This time my sister Jennie bought 5 tickets, one of which she sold on eBay, so we each had a ticket with one to spare. My brother went for the first day, but somehow got bored and left early. Go figure. The biggest news for me was the expected announcement of the next WoW expansion – Cataclysm. The theme for this expansion is that this super-dragon named Deathwing escapes his prison in the elemental plane of earth and bursts out into Azeroth, causing worldwide catastrophe. As a result of this, Blizzard will be revamping all the zones in the original WoW, improving and streamlining the leveling experience, changing the terrain of many zones, and almost doing a reboot of the franchise. If you’re interested, check out the World of Warcraft website, or a news site like wow.com.

Other interesting things we saw at Blizzcon were the vendors. There was a vendor called WarcraftPrints.com, where you can have custom posters, postcards, etc. featuring your character printed! It looked really cool, and I can’t wait until the website goes live in a couple of weeks. Another vendor, FigurePrints, has a similar idea except they make a 3D figurine out of your character. I’d never seen them in person before, and I have to say I was blown away. They look fantastic! The only issue I have is that the colors look a bit whitewashed. They could stand to be more vibrant. It’s still amazing!

nVidia had a booth where they were showing off their 3D technology. When paired with a compatible monitor and a recent nVidia graphics card, their 3D glasses create a pretty impressive experience. I was able to log on to my character and play around for a while. Flying on my netherdrake was really neat, and large mobs actually become rather imposing. The glasses themselves are a far cry from the 3D goggles of yesteryear. It’s still nothing you’d want to wear out of the house, but they’re basically just the size of bulky glasses, and quite light. If I had the cash to spare, I’d seriously consider getting these.

We all got to play the demo of Cataclysm while we were at Blizzcon. It was pretty cool. We got 20 minutes to play the starting zone of either the goblins or the worgen. I played the goblins this time. I really liked the look of the zone – very Gilligan’s Island in my opinion. Chiemi and I also got to play the Diablo III demo while we were waiting for my sister to get her face painted. It plays really nicely. I played the newly announced monk class, and Chiemi played a wizard. She said she liked it, but there was too much gore. I agree; if there’s a reduced/no gore setting in the final game, it’ll probably be a game we buy.

After the Diablo III demo, we met up with my sister again, shortly after which we were approached by a man from WoW Stories who asked us if we had an interesting story relating to WoW. After hearing our vague assertions to the positive he directed us to his booth. On the way there we were given winning tickets by an Intel booth guy because we were wearing the Intel buttons that we had been given the day before. We were excited to actually win something! We continued to the WoW stories booth, where we were recorded on video talking about how Chiemi and I got into WoW as the only game Chiemi was interested in that we could play together as a couple. After that we went to the Intel booth to claim our prizes. My sister and I both got a little Intel-branded bag and Chiemi got a cool little folding chair! (Our girls loved the chair when we brought it home.) Blizzcon was a blast, and I hope to be able to go back a third time!

Oh, one more thing. For lunch on Friday Chiemi and I decided to walk around the convention center neighborhood in search of a place to eat. After walking way too far we got to Mimi’s. We like Mimi’s, so we went there to eat. After much agonizing about what to get I ordered meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I almost felt bad about choosing such a boring dish at a nice restaurant, but I was really craving meatloaf for some reason. Well, I’m glad I chose the meatloaf because it turned out to be one of the best meals of my entire life. From the appetizer bread to the juicy meatloaf and slightly chunky mashed potatoes, the whole meal was phenomenal! I felt like I was in heaven every time I took a bite of that meatloaf, and I’m not one to get enthusiastic about food. To top it off, the service there was fantastic! The glasses were replaced right before we drained them, the waitress seemed almost psychic in her ability to offer exactly what we were wanting before we were even able to ask for them, and everyone was very friendly without being overbearing or annoying. It was great!

I’ve had a good month.

June 1, 2009

What I’m playing

Posted in Games, Video/Computer Games at 10:42 am by Transmuter

Well, since I haven’t posted in a while I’ll make a quick update on what I’m playing recently.

I haven’t been playing WoW much recently. I’m not sure why, but I’ve been a bit bored of the game. I feel like I should be running at least the Argent Tournament dailies to get the mounts and pets, but I can’t muster up the willpower. I’m almost completely geared out in heroic/BoE equipment (I really only need to upgrade my shoulders), and I’m not in a guild that raids. I like to run dungeons, but I don’t need to run them for myself, so I don’t bother joining PuGs. Fortunately, my sister is out of school and is playing again, so I’ll probably run some dungeons with her to help her gear up.

One of our guildies was recruited by a somewhat larger guild that is raiding, and he’s enjoying it. Another guild member is probably going to switch soon. If he likes the guild atmosphere too my sister and I might join, leaving the Homestarmy for those members not really interested in raiding. I was concerned my wife would be unhappy if I left, but she seems ok with the idea, so that’s good.

Also, my father-in-law has been playing Titan Quest with some of his kids, so I bought it. It’s actually quite a fun game. At home I’m playing a warden, wielding spear and shield, while my work character is a soothsayer who lets his liche king and pair of wolves tear through enemies for him. I like how the game is classless, and your abilities are determined purely through which skill trees you put points into. I haven’t played multiplayer yet, but I’ll try to get a game going soon.

I’ve also been playing Spelunky a lot, since it’s such a fun little game that I can play start to finish (usually a grisly pixellated death) in 10-20 minutes. In that way it’s kind of like N. If you like challenging, reflex-oriented games you should try them out! You fail over and over until it finally clicks and you beat that section (big feeling of accomplishment), then you practice the next part over and over until you beat it too. I like these games because you’re expected to lose a lot, but the sections are short so you don’t lose hours of progress when you die. They give a real measure of how your skills are improving, too;  easily beating earlier stages after progressing past later stages (when those earlier stages were so hard to beat at first) really shows you’ve gotten better at the game. Go try them!

May 1, 2009

Cheese – DaVinci

Posted in Food at 1:15 pm by Transmuter

My experience with DaVinci cheese was interesting. It’s basically Dutch Gouda infused with herbs and spices. The name is certainly attractive, and it looks pretty cool.

So I have to say, this cheese smells heavenly! I almost melted when I first unwrapped it and cut a slice. Seriously, it smells really good. I was majorly disappointed when I found that the taste of the cheese is very mild, even bland (at least compared to the smell). I like the texture – firm and smooth, with nice little crispy bits where the herbs are.

If this cheese tasted like it smells, it’d taste something like Roasted Garlic Triscuit, but maybe with the garlic not as strong. As it is, it’s not even as flavorful as the Garden Herb Triscuit. Still, I did enjoy this cheese. I read that it makes a good omelet, but I didn’t have a chance to try making one.

Rating: 7/10.

April 16, 2009

WoW Patch 3.1

Posted in Games, Role-Playing Games, Video/Computer Games at 2:13 pm by Transmuter

So patch 3.1 just dropped for World of Warcraft, and so far I like it. My favorite thing about the patch so far is that Divine Plea is refreshed on autoattack when talented into Guarded by the Light. The upshot is that my Protection Paladin almost never runs out of mana as long as I’m fighting something. It’s awesome! Also cool is the new Argent Tournament. I just achieved the rank of Valiant today, and I’m enjoying the new daily quests. They’re good money too, and it gives me incentive to do dailies again, since I’m already exalted with the Sons of Hodir, the Kalu’ak, and the Oracles. (I’m not really interested in the Knights of the Ebon Blade dailies.) Anyway, good times!

Play the Distraction Game! See how well you can focus on the game itself, and not the distracting borders.

Next page