Archive for June, 2007

My week in Houston

June 20, 2007

In early June, I went to Houston, Texas for a few days of business-related travel. While my business-driven schedule did not allow for much sightseeing, I did have a few nifty experiences:

  • On the flight there and back, I read a really good humor novel called Good Omens. My only regret is not reading it sooner. Judging by my total read time of 8 hours, I couldn’t get enough of it. If you like The Hitchhiker’s Guide books and the film Dogma, then this is the book for you.
  • This was the first time I’ve rented a car before. I had nothing to be worried about; it was much easier than I thought it would be. My proxy vehicle, a Chevy Cobalt (which gets bonus points for being named after an element), lacked power locks and windows, and I admit that after resisting them for so many years I’ve grown attached to those features. It’s a welcome ability to roll down any window in the car for a breeze, not just the one next to you. I missed my Mazda.
  • I couldn’t help but notice that almost every single stoplight I encountered, both on the city outskirts and downtown, are all mounted sideways, with red on the left and green on the right. Weird. (Note for my Houstonian readers: The rest of the country hangs our stoplights vertically, red on top and green on bottom. What’s your excuse?) To be fair, I really dig those U-turn lanes, and wish we had them back East.
  • I killed time in a mall arcade, and tried the one functioning slot machine in the joint using some tokens I found on the floor. Two Jackpots, yippee!! I’ll take my winnings in Tootsie Rolls and Spree, thank you.
  • I trekked to a local game store, Nan’s Games and Comics. They had a large jam-packed store which was fun to browse through for hours. It felt like picking through a crazy uncle’s attic; every aisile revealed some new discovery. If you’re a gamer in the Houston area and need your fix, I recommend this place. I’d super duper recommend them if only they had in store gaming. I asked the clerk about it, and he rolled his eyes, "We… don’t do that anymore."
  • I asked the Nan’s clerk if there was any good eats in the vicinity. "Try Mission Burrito. I like them, they’re nearby and tasty." So I tried that. And that, my friends, is how I ended up eating a burrito and sipping a cool glass of real lemonade while sitting under a large tree at sunset. Tasty indeed.
  • I made it to the museum ship USS Texas… just in time to see it close for the day. I settled for some photos from the park fence, and the same for the Battle of San Jacinto Monument across the street.
  • I wandered around the downtown area, questing to photograph neat art and statuary. This week’s photo above is some anonymous statue I encountered on the way.
  • My flight back was regrettably cancelled by "suspicious equipment activity". So I got my return flight rebooked on the one nonstop flight between Houston and Washington DC. Despite the inconvenience, it felt like an upgrade.
  • I also managed to take the DC Metro bus for a change, something I’ve been meaning to do for years. It was surprisingly clean and orderly, but I won’t be doing that again without a SmartTrip card.

I’ve learned some new games recently, listed in order of preference: The Nacho Incident, Management Material (IT edition), and Democrazy (aka The Voting Game). If you’re in the mood to smuggle Mexican food into Canada, avoid being promoted to management, or want to vote on the scoring method used at endgame, then these are the games you’re looking for, respectively.

Evelyn’s become addicted to Andy Looney’s retro-arcade-esque video game, Icebreaker. Maybe someday I’ll get my PC back. (UPDATE: I must have been able to pry her away from it at some point, as I’ve obviously been able post this article.)

On the Ferrball’s Mansion development front: I’ve replaced Jork with Chuck, a character who can throw followers at other characters, while Jork has been demoted to a follower himself. Since nobody was using it, the Robotic Python has been excised altogether. Ferrball’s original move-negating ability has been replaced by one that allows him to recycle recently-trashed items.

We got some of those new John Adams dollars. Cool!

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been tempted by a handsome devil. I’ve resisted not owning a cell phone for many years, and I keep at it because I’m so stubborn and that I’m proud of evading for so long the ineffable force that is wireless telephony. I still don’t want one, but the necessity has been bearing down on me lately, exhaling it’s heavy high-frequency breath on my neck. Less draconian minutes plans… better reception than ever… cheaper than a landline…. Quick! Tie me to the mast before I surrender to that siren song!

There will come a day when those born since 2000 are going to ask us what phone books, screensavers, and mousepads are for, and what clipping coupons was all about. Mark my words.

Nifty Wikipedia Thing: The Conch Republic

Recent films: Extreme Measures

What I’m Reading:
"The Confederate Navy" by Philip Van Doren Stern
"The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer" by Doron Swade


A Farewell to WilderHaven

June 1, 2007

The month of May was a good one for me, with a crescendo of energy before the heat-beaten days of summer. Good oppurtunities presented themselves and I followed many of the avenues they led me to.

Before the weather gets too hot, Evelyn and I made an effort to do a long bicycle ride, ‘long’ being relative to Evelyn’s ability. We set out early in the month intending to at least tie our 15.5 mile record for longest ride. Not only did we break our distance record by one mile, but we made it all the way to Teddy Roosevelt Island! Bicycling to this National Park in the Potomac River has been a goal of mine since I moved to the area three years ago, and I had thought it would take Evelyn a season of riding to prepare for this endeavor. But we made it! Together we explored the hiking trails and boardwalk that traverse the perimeter of the isle (on foot, becausewheels are verboten there). The monument to T.R. was stirring, the inscribed stone monoliths standing amidst the cool green forest like an intact holy site from an extinct civilization, surrounded by the eternal energy of nature. It was then that I was disappointed that I had left my camera at home! At least we have a good reason to go back. (Note to self: have Natl. Parks passbook stamped for T.R. Island dated May 6, ’07).

The following weekend, we made a hasty road trip out to my boyhood home in northern Indiana, pictured above. My father intends to move soon, and I wanted to show Evelyn the place where I had spent my boyhood years, a place we Hackels call WilderHaven. Evelynhad been there before, but not during pleasant weather, and this seemed like our last chance. Once Dad sells WilderHaven, it’s either destined for ever-encroaching suburban housing or a farmer’s plow. Either fate will destroy one of my most special and endearing places on Earth.

My father purchased WilderHaven in 1987, which was a farm field at the time, presumably full of soybeans. We moved our house there, and started to piece together the country homestead my parents had always wanted. (Yeah, I grew up in a trailer. Laugh while you can, cityfolk.) Mom and Dad, both being Wildlife Management majors, spent the next twenty years crafting the six acre plot into a mini-arboretum, a personal refuge of nature. Mom’s garden gave us fresh tomatoes, sunflowers, cucumbers, green beans, Brussells sprouts and carrots year after year. Dad set us all to to the task of turning the weedy fields into our own personal forest. Elms invaded from the east, Maples from the west, and Sumacs and Mulberrys from the north. Ornamental trees stood in an arboreal courtyard around the house: Red Maple, many Oaks, Sassafras, Sweetgum, Hickory, Douglas Fir, and my Dad’s cherished Yellowwood. Others took root as planted saplings: Tulip, Black Locust, River Birch, Willow, Flowering Dogwood, Catalpa, Paw-Paw, Kentucky Coffeetree, and Persimmon. Forming the northwest wind and snow barrier were Red Pine, White Pine, Cedar, and Norway Spruce. Prarie grasses thrived in the southwest corner, gently waving in the wind. I grew up with these trees, my childhood friends, and I remember looking out over the nascent tops of them. Now they tower thirty feet over me, swaying in the wind.

Over the years my family added a birdfeeder, a wading pool, a tetherball court, a campfire pit, and a playground. Trails through the trees let us tour our engineered grove. My dog Alex was buried there, along with our numerous other pets, a long tradition of animal companions. So many animals came through our house that I now refer to it a the WilderHaven Zoological Society. I erected bluebird nesting boxes, did carpentry projects with Dad like such as the above-mentioned playground, and spent hours each summer mowing the natural green carpets of our lawn, a wide frolicing space. After twenty years of effort, turning a soybean field into a private park, Dad is now selling it. His winds of fortune have changed, and I wish him godspeed wherever his dreams may lead him. WilderHaven was, and will always will be, one of my favorite places on Earth. This visit may have been my last chance to say goodbye to this verdant sanctuary.

A few weeks later, Ian asks me if I’m going to Balticon A sci-fi con? Meh. I like sci-fi, grew up with the stuff. Dad would stay up late with me, and when the rest of the world folded into sleep, he would pull his timeworn paperbacks off the shelf. The imagination of Ray Bradbury would mingle in the air along with the dust of the yellowed paper. As I got older, I went through a three-year Star Trek phase, then bounced from franchise to franchise. I’m not a sci-fi fanboy, I’ve just hit many of the obvious stops along the way through.

But Balticon was a great place to demo Ferrball’s Mansion, my three-year-old card game prototype. The reaction from four sleep deprived gamers was positive, and they were definitely up for more if only it weren’t 4:00 a.m.. That session gave me many ideas on how to improve the game. On a more productive note, I also attended a helpful panel about publishing games, starring Kory ‘Zendo’ Heath, Gavin ‘Robot Martini’ Schmitt, and Jake ‘Play Again Games’ Davenport. Thanks for the info guys! I also got to play several games of EcoFluxx, Chrononauts, and some other designer’s prototype called Dazzle (which reminded me of Dominoes, only with 12-sided tiles).

The coolest thing I saw at Balticon? The Mace. Nice wooden handle, heavy stainless steel chain, and fist-sized D20s in place of spiked balls. Yeah, that’s right… really big dice on a stick.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Houston!

Nifty Wikipedia Thing: the Darian Calendar of Mars

Movies I’ve Seen:
The Battle of Algiers
Twelve O’Clock High
Big Jake

What I’m Reading:
"Jack London: Sailor on Horseback" by Irving Stone
"The Confederate Navy" by Philip van Doren Stern