Blog: June 2018

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Making progress on the Pennsic kitchen trailer

It's been a while since I've given an update on our Pennsic project. The exterior is mostly done (just some small touch-ups left), and the interior has insulation, flooring, walls, cabinets, and -- today -- shelves. The electrical panel is complete (lights aren't in yet, but soon) and plumbing is in progress. Things are looking good!

Pictures: Read more…

Origins games rundown

I went to the Origins gaming convention for the first time this year. (Dani's been before and asked me to try it with him.) We chose games we've never played before that sounded interesting from their blurbs and BoardGameGeek pages. Here's a rundown on games we played:

  • Pathfinder Adventure Card Guild: Season of Factions' Favor: cooperative card-based adventure game. We've never played the Pathfinder RPG on which it's based. Solid meh.

  • Lancaster (Queen Games); worker-placement game with competition (your workers can kick others' weaker workers out). Shorter and less complex than Caylus, a game we want to like and usually like when we actually play it but we often resist playing it because of those factors. We bought a copy of Lancaster after playing once.

  • First Class: card-based train game that initially looked simple-minded but has some nuance to it. We enjoyed it and plan to buy it (didn't find it for sale there). The actual running of this game at the con was poor, but the game itself is good.

  • Aventuria Adventure Card Game: another cooperative card-based fantasy game. Ok but not novel; probably would have felt better a few years ago. I don't have strong memories from this now and might edit this entry after I refresh my memory at BoardGameGeek later.

  • Too Many Bones (Undertow): also a cooperative adventure game, futuristic this time and not card-based. You use dice to attack and defend against the monsters, and each character has specific skills which are also dice-based. We played through a scenario where the group had to make decisions along the way to fighting the big boss-monster. We ran out of time before the boss fight but had several others. The GM/teacher here was very active, treating it as more of a demo than an actual game session, which made it hard to evaluate. So dunno, maybe? Not a priority, but I'd play again. Also, the company has a very nice solution to the problem of needing to roll lots of dice without disrupting stuff on the table; this is way better than box lids. They're supposed to have their gizmo available for purchase in a couple weeks.

  • Mare Nostrum: Empires: we played Mare Nostrum once years ago and it didn't work well for us, but it's been redesigned since then so we signed up. Two things then happened: (1) we needed to resolve a scheduling conflict elsewhere, and (2) we saw the dread phrase "all expansions available" in the updated description. Piles of expansions tend to weaken games in both of our opinions, so we punted.

  • True Dungeon Adventures: this is sort of "live RPG" with abstracted mechanics and a lot of scenery and props. This deserves an entry of its own.

  • Sword & Sorcery (Ares Games): yet another cooperative fantasy game, this time with cards, miniatures, and a dungeon layout. They were apparently running a campaign (or at least a series of games) over several sessions, so we played "part 3" but it didn't matter that we didn't have the prior context. The characters (I played a dwarven cleric with a big-ass hammer) were well-balanced and play was not too complex. My character had a couple pieces of equipment and a healing spell, each of which was tracked with a card, which wasn't bad at all. Others were similar. I would play this again.

  • Railways of the World: tile-based train game where you build a network of tracks to move goods around the board. You start with no money and take out bonds as needed to build track and upgrade your engine. You pay interest on those bonds every turn, so you have to balance investment (at 20% interest per turn) against getting left behind while others build the stuff you wanted. Both Dani and I collected more bonds than the experienced player who was teaching us; that player interpreted the style as aggressive (it might have been more of "we don't know what we're doing") and said "I like the way you guys play". He won anyway, but not by a lot. We played on a map of Mexico. This game is more forgiving than Age of Steam and less complex than the 18xx games, which puts it right in our sweet spot. I want to get this.

  • Quest for the Antidote: the king and all of the players have been poisoned, and the goal is to be the first one to collect the ingredients needed for a cure and deliver them to the palace before you expire. The score counts down and is measured in "breaths". This sounded cute but turned out to be overly simplistic; probably good for families but it didn't do much for us.

  • Power Grid: yeah yeah, I know -- how have we gotten this far without ever having played Power Grid? We keep hearing good things about it but as far as I know nobody in our gaming group owns it. That will change as soon as we can order it (sold out at the con). Players are competing to power cities on a map (we played on a map of Germany). To do this you need power plants (which are auctioned), fuel unless you manage to get wind or hydro plants, and connected cities (which cost money). Each turn you get income based on how many cities you can power. We both enjoyed this game a lot, and I came within a few dollars of winning (which apparently impressed the GM). There are lots of maps available.

  • Evolution: you are playing and developing one or more species of animal. Everybody needs to eat, food is limited, and some species are carnivores which isn't much fun for the prey. Cards each have a numeric value and a trait; traits are things like "long-necked" (gets first shot at food others can't reach), "climbing" (protection from non-climbing carnivores), "body fat" (can store food), and, perhaps most important and fairly elusive, "intelligence" (which lets you get food in other ways). You use these cards either as their traits, as discards to improve your population or body size, as discards to start a new species, or -- one card per turn -- as your contribution to the watering hole (food), which is where the numbers matter. You can replace traits. I liked this game and felt it was what American Megafauna should have been; Dani was more lukewarm on it. This must be played on a table where everybody can easily see everybody ele's cards, which was not true of the large round table we played on.

  • Pulsar 2849: space exploration/colonization game with dice drafting. You have competing needs -- improve your technology, claim new galaxies, claim pulsars and use them to get power. When you choose dice that are either above or below the median roll for that round, you pay (or gain) position on your choice of two tracks, one that helps with technology and one that establishes turn order. This seemed like a well-balanced game; we ran out of time before finishing so we jumped to final scoring but missed some of the late-game stuff. I would play this again.

  • Freedom - the Underground Railroad (Academy Games): cooperative game set in 19th-century America. You are trying to move slaves from the plantations to the north and ultimately to Canada, but (almost) every time you move a slave, one of the slave-catchers moves in that direction. A new ship arrives every turn, and if there aren't enough open spaces in the plantation those slaves are lost. Your goal is to get a certain number to Canada before you lose a threshold number. (Or run out of cards, or some other losing conditions.) To move you need to buy "conductor" tokens, and to get money you need to do fundraising. You also need to pay support costs. There are also event cards. Each player has a (different) special ability. The game felt well-balanced (we barely won a beginner-calibrated game). We both liked it (Dani more so). I felt a little weird about the setting in a way that's hard to explain; it felt wrong to be playing a fantasy-hero game for recent horrific history that still affects people.

  • Flow of History (Grand Gaming Academy): card-based civilization-building game. Fairly light and quick. Acquiring improvements is a two-step process that other players can interrupt, so it's decently interactive. The ending felt rushed.

  • Dungeon Draft: punted so we could sleep in a little on Sunday. I guess it sounded good at the time we signed up, but last night we decided we didn't need yet another card-based dungeon game.

  • Atlantis Rising: the residents of Atlantis have angered the gods, who are responding by flooding the island. The players win if they can build a portal and escape before the whole island is gone. To build it, you need to gather resources from the tiles on the island. If the tile you're on floods, no resource for you (but you don't drown). The rate of flooding increases as the game goes on. Each player has some special ability. We won but not easily. I enjoyed it.

You have got to be kidding me...

The last couple times I've tried to have a Google Hangout from my desktop computer, we have had audio problems. Specifically, the other people could hear me just fine, but I couldn't hear them. The "test" button in the Hangouts settings produced sound just fine, and other applications produced sound. The last time this happened I resorted to joining the call from both my computer (for video and screen-sharing) and my phone (for audio). That felt stupid. I had previously used Hangouts on this computer just fine.

Tonight I got Dani's help (needed another call participant) while I tried to debug it. Same symptoms and no bright ideas. (We tried the phone thing; that worked fine again.) This time my searches led me to this thread, where I saw that somebody else solved the problem by using a different browser. Specifically, Safari.

I was using Chrome, figuring that Google's browser and Google's conferencing application ought to play well together. But nooooo, that was a mistake. I don't know whether the fault lies with Google or Apple, but sheesh! (No, there was nothing relevant in my Chrome settings. Chrome offers to prevent sites from using your input devices, like your camera or microphone, but this was output.) Switching to Safari worked, after I installed and enabled a plugin.

I suspect that, the last time it worked, I was using Firefox instead of Chrome and that made the difference. But once I found a solution I stopped taking up Dani's time with experiments, so I haven't tested.

WTF is wrong with Chrome + Hangouts + Mac? I found lots of other people who had this problem; it's not just me.

Responsive design: do pixels even mean anything?

I don't know a lot about the nuts and bolts of responsive design (the "how", I mean), but Stack Exchange is moving toward it so I'm starting to pay attention.

Meanwhile, my ancient tablet seems to be in its death throes, so I've started to look around at what's out there these days, and I realized something. I'm looking at some 10" tablets with resolutions like 2048x1536. My 30-inch monitor at work is something like 2500px wide. These are, of course, not even remotely the same size pixels. Pixels have always varied with the size of the monitor, of course, but a ~10" tablet used to be in the range of 1024 or 1280 wide (landscape), not twice that.

I've seen discussions of SE's upcoming responsive design that say things like "and at widths under 900px it does this" and "the max width for the content area is (some number of pixels)".

How does this work? How can I see reasonable "real-world" sizing of things on both my big monitor and my tablet when designers are measuring things in pixels and tablets are doing crazy-dense things with pixels these days? I guess the same can be said of 4k displays (which I don't have). Do these ultra-dense devices somehow tell the browser "no, really, treat me as half that for layout purposes"? On a tablet will I need to have tons of zoom -- but still struggle to see the actual application's controls, because those don't zoom when you make content bigger?

I must be missing something obvious. Anybody want to enlighten me?

Lots of helpful information in the comments about viewports, media queries, and CSS.

Recipe: dal (red lentils)

I took advantage of Dani being out of town to cook food he doesn't like but I do. There are lots of kinds of dal. I based what I did on this recipe. Read more…

Driving UX

When driving to work I pass a couple of those digital highway signs that tend to say things like "est. travel time to downtown: N miles, M minutes" or "stadium parking use exit X" or "accident slow traffic ahead". When they have nothing better to say, they dispense pithy advice.

This morning's message was "click it or ticket". Setting aside the cries of linguistic outrage from unbalanced conjunctive operands, I found myself thinking about why, these days, anybody doesn't use a seat belt. I've lived through the progression from "not always present" to lap belts to those two-part (front-seat) belts where you clicked a lap belt and the shoulder piece slid into place when you turned the car on to today's norm of a single belt with two parts (lap and harness). The current ones are easy to use. I always use a seat belt and expect drivers to wait for me to fasten it when I'm a passenger. And yet, there's a problem.

An article in Consumer Reports not long ago noted that while people say they don't wear them because they're uncomfortable, their testers were able to find comfortable positions "so long as you're not a short woman with a large bust".

Um, yeah.

So how do you address that? I always fasten my seat belt, and a part of me wonders, were I to get into an accident that wouldn't have been fatal, if my seat belt is going to snap my neck or something. The height of the anchor point for that upper part is adjustable -- and there is no setting that gets it low enough to sit on my shoulder rather than alongside my neck. I don't have this problem when I'm a passenger; the seat is usually pushed back farther. (Which you would think would make it worse because the belt goes up, but it's hard to inspect while using it.) But when I'm driving I've got to be able to reach the pedals, so the seat is fairly far forward.

Is there some safe way I can hack this aspect of my car? I wondered about sitting higher (I don't think I can raise the seat, but maybe a cushion?), but if my legs are higher the seat needs to be even farther forward, and we're also trying to not be right on top of the airbag.

Answer: There exist clips that you can attach to the buckle end of the belt to pull the two pieces closer together, which changes the angle of attack on the upper part.