Symposium V: Fitter Happier

Another great Symposium this past Friday. I’d been wanting to schedule something really different from previous Symposiums to give folks an idea of the breadth of topics people could present. So I was really happy when Greg and Neal each came to me with their ideas. It worked out so that they both presented on the same night.

Greg started us off with Qigong exercises, which reminded me a lot of Tai Chi. While he was teaching us the various movements, Greg interwove his own experiences with this practice. I was impressed with the fluidity in which he could demonstrate movements while telling a story. It reminded me of a musician who is very comfortable with their instrument. Whenever it comes to any sort of martial art or something that asks you to perform precise motions, I tend to get in my head, wanting to do it “right.” With the Qigong exercises, I found myself just going with the motions even if I wasn’t doing them perfectly.

After the intermission, Neal gave a presentation (complete with Powerpoint!) on the Science of Happiness. He covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time. I won’t go into everything he talked about here, but I will summarize by saying that he took us through a tour of the concept of happiness and how it can be interfaced with via your mind, body and spirit. We also took a happiness test which assessed our current level of happiness. I fell into the “average” demographic in each of the three categories. Afterwards we played an improv game where everyone was given a small glass stone. The only rules were that the experience lasted ten minutes and you weren’t allowed to speak. It was designed to evoke the playfulness we experienced as children when we could just invent and have fun with no boundaries.

I was pleased with the whole evening and happy to see some new faces. Now I need to book someone for January!


I am thankful for

  • Netflix
  • Games
  • Board game night
  • Surprise 100 Grand candy bars
  • stoic cats
  • tiny dogs
  • Plex
  • Vuze
  • Photoshop
  • the comfort of friends
  • the Alamo Drafthouse
  • merry pranksters
  • my projector
  • my iThings
  • BBQ
  • sushi
  • my Roomba
  • Stephen Moffat
  • Google maps
  • every day with Bess
  • big ideas
  • Symposium
  • warm beds
  • Austin
  • the Cloud
  • Fantasy Flight
  • xkcd
  • podcasts
  • WordPress
  • car bombs
  • wine

BoardGameGeek.Con 2011

Here are some of the games I played at BGG this year.

Last Will – Your eccentric uncle has died, leaving you with a fortune. Thing is, the will stipulates you must spend your inheritance before the rest of the family in order to get the real inheritance. You can accomplish this by making poor real estate decisions, hiring expensive servants, going on expensive cruises and generally surrounding yourself with freeloaders. I liked this game enough to play it three times at the con. There’s lots of strategies to try once you get past the daunting list of special abilities the cards grant you.

Blood Bowl: Team Manager – I had initially blown this off as Fantasy Flight saying “Blood Bowl would be too expensive to re-issue, so here’s a card game knock off instead.” Thankfully, I was wrong. This is a fun game that distills an entire season of Blood Bowl into just the best parts.

Eminent Domain – Sleek, sci-fi deck building game with Puerto Rico-style role selection. Only got to play it once, but eager for another go.

Auf Achse – An older Wolfgang Kramer game about trucking. Think Ticket to Ride but with money and cargo. Only some of the cards had English translations, so I employed the magic of Google Goggles to do on the fly translations.

Panic Station – I really need to give this game another shot as I seem to be the only one who didn’t like it. The game aims to recreate the events of John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” Each player controls a human and an android who are searching through an abandoned science station in search of an alien hive. One of the players is secretly infected with an alien parasite, seeking to infect the other players. I found the game clunky and full of odd design choices.

El Caballero – The love child of Carcassonne and El Grande, two of my favorite Euros. Supposedly Rio Grande is putting this game back in print.

Lost Temple – Citadels Lite in the jungle. Fun, light game for people who have never played Citadels.

Kingdom Builder – Being the designer of Dominion probably gives you carte blanche to make any kind of game you want. This includes very light, Through the Desert-esque games. Pretty but not very fun. Good intro game, though.

I played a lot of other games, mostly short filler games, but these were the ones that stuck in my mind.


Skip Week

I haven’t made time for a new post and there won’t be time before I head out to BoardGameGeek.con.

Rex Commeth

I have not touched my custom Dune board game project in many months. Mostly this is due to my weekends being taken up by Scare for a Cure and the overwhelming success of the Find a Girlfriend project.

This month, Fantasy Flight is releasing Rex: Final Days of an Empire, which is a re-themed version of Dune set in the Twilight Imperium universe. My plan is to play it (maybe at BoardGameGeek.con) and see if Fantasy Flight has any ideas worth stealing. They have an impressive track record for taking old classics and making them better.

Regardless of any game mechanic changes, I ought to return to making art for the game at some point. Anyhow, that’s all for now.


Storage space is a currency of potential for me. Whenever I move into a new place I look at the drawers and cabinets, thinking “What could I fill these with?” The more compartmentalized a storage array is, the more appealing it is to me. Large storage capacities with inversely sized cosmetic footprints are also coveted. Deep cabinets set into a wall, for example. The workstation I sit at retracts into a closet so I can close the doors and forget it is even there. Delicious!

Digital storage holds a similar appeal. My two terabyte external drive is a tiny black library of universes. Worlds drift inside it. Years are spooled about its cores. Will it ever be full? Time will tell. With the recent popularity of cloud storage I find myself with gigabytes of potential floating out there. Somewhere in the heavens orbits the crystalline webwork which contains my data. Or so I envision it. I have vaults at Google, A2 Hosting, Amazon, DropBox, Apple, and I feel the need to store particular data at particular places. My music is scattered between several locations. My documents as well. Some of these services are backup solutions. Some file sharing. I have a whole DropBox folder dedicated to board game rules! It is time to analyze each service and decide what goes where.

Beyond that, what *could* I be doing with all this space? What clever uses might there be?


Scare for a Cure

Scare for a Cure is an interactive haunted house here in Austin. By interactive, I mean you don’t just walk through dark hallways and have things jump out at you. You have a goal that you are trying to accomplish and actors with whom you interact with. You are part of a story that unfolds as you go deeper into the haunt. Imagine something between a LARP and a “normal” haunted house. Each year there is a different theme. One year it was vampires, last year it was zombies. This year brought the most fearsome of nightmare creatures: clowns. While you can purchase a safe, toned down ticket, most patrons opt for the “red band” ticket. This turns your visit into a full contact affair where the actors can manhandle you and cover you in blood and gore. It is really the only way to fly if you visit the haunt. The “Cure” part refers to the fact that Scare is a nonprofit which donates the proceeds to breast cancer research. As they say, they are “putting the ‘boo’ in ‘boobies.'”

I attended the past two years as a guest, but this year I wanted to experience it from the other side. So, starting in August, I began volunteering for Scare. I wanted to do something outside of my comfort zone and to see what I was capable of. Every weekend I would drive out to the build site which also happens to be the future home of Britannia Manor v 3.0, the new castle Richard Garriott is currently building. Since it isn’t finished yet, he lets Scare use the foundation and grounds for the haunt. The build is basically all the heavy lifting, construction and painting of the haunt. Every year it needs to be torn down and then rebuilt, so we were starting from scratch. Before we could begin on the haunt itself, we had to build the base of operations. This consisted of a central meeting place (“the monkey hut”), a place to store tools, and a place to keep all the props and such.

So most of the work I did was carpentry-related tasks like repairing and building walls, reinforcing structures, sorting lumber and things like that. I’m somewhat handy, but I had never done anything like this. But I’m a fast learner and all the pros there were very helpful and encouraging. All of this was happening out in the blazing Texas sun. Most days we were out there in 90-100 degree heat. We took lots of shade breaks and kept hydrated. It may sound like grueling labor, but I had an amazing time. I would come home sore, tired and dusty, feeling fantastic. It felt like I was building something real, something that mattered.

Something else great came out of my experience at the build: Bess. I didn’t meet her at Scare, but I can say I met her because of it. I came home one day from the build feeling like anything was possible, like life only had good things to offer. I was feeling so happy and optimistic that I decided to go ahead and contact this girl I liked on OKCupid. I was just about ready to throw in the towel on the whole online dating thing. So I wrote her and we met that very day. We have been virtually inseparable ever since. A short while later, Bess started coming out to the build with me so we could work together.

In addition to building the haunt, we are both currently actors for most nights of the haunt. The theme this year is The Carnival of Lost Souls. We both work as carnival barkers on the midway, the staging area for guests while they wait to enter the haunt proper. Here they can spend coins to play the various games. I run a booth called “Connect Four” where you have to toss plastic baseballs up onto a grid so that four of the balls are touching. Bess runs a booth where you have three tries to knock down a stack of cans. So far it has been really fun, but also exhausting. Since the midway is usually understaffed, we are there the whole time, which can be from 7PM to 2AM. Fortunately, last night we had more than enough volunteers and we got to leave at 11PM.

We haven’t had a chance to experience the haunt itself. I know what happens in each area as I’ve read the script. I feel like I have read a Dungeons & Dragons module and I know all the spoilers. But I would still like to see the results of all that work. There are still a few nights left, though, so hopefully we will get a chance to run through it.

Overall, it has been a life-affirming experience and I would encourage any Austinites to volunteer next year.

For more information on Scare for a Cure, visit the official site:

XBox Lives

On the morning of August 30th I noticed that my IM client was having trouble logging in to Windows Messenger. Seems the login credentials were wrong. So I went to the Windows Live site and tried to log in there. Hmmm. Maybe I had forgotten the password. So I reset it. When I checked my email for the confirmation message, I noticed a ton of receipts from XBox Live. Either I had sleepwalked and ordered up about $260 worth of Microsoft Points or somehow my account had been compromised.

I felt some panic at first, mostly for my XBox Live account. Was someone out there pretending to be me and hassling my online friends? Maybe they were dressing my avatar in sports clothes! I couldn’t log in to my account via my XBox. So I called up tech support and explained the situation. The guy immediately went into triage mode, calm but urgent. The patient had a few bullet holes, but this was nothing he hadn’t seen before.

It took about 15-20 minutes to give all the details. Fortunately the idiot hacker had left his email address behind. Even so, the guy told me that there was a backlog of investigations and it could be a month before I heard anything. During that time I couldn’t use my Xbox Live gamertag or my Windows Live ID. Fine. I had enough to keep me occupied on other consoles.

A month goes by and I don’t hear a word. Not even an automated email telling me that I had a case open with Microsoft. So I call them back up to see what is going on. Turns out my case was “not escalated properly” and nothing had been done at all. My case had just sat in a file, ignored. The tech told me we’d have to start over from the beginning. I tried not to completely lose my shit on this guy, which I managed to do. Although I did make it clear that I was disappointed with their performance. The tech told me he would add a note to fast track my case as it had been neglected for so long.

Fortunately, that worked. About a week later I received a call that I would receive an email within a week detailing the results of the investigation. Another week later I received a series of emails explaining how to get back online with my XBox Live Gamertag. I was also notified that I would receive a full refund for the charges made on my account. Additionally, Microsoft was giving me two free months of XBox Live. I was able to get back online with my original gamertag and found nothing amiss other than all my friends were gone. I’ll have to add them all back again.

So, other than the massive delay in processing the case, Microsoft set things right in a professional manner and I am pleased with the results.

One Last Thing

Steve Jobs was an inspiring figure, but I can’t say that he was a source of personal inspiration. Instead he did something more practical: he made my life possible. Along with Bill Gates, I owe Jobs for providing the very structure which allows me to pursue my current career and hobbies. I learned to program on an Apple II+. I played my first interactive fiction game on the same machine. The spark to use computers to create worlds began there. Who knows what direction my life would have taken without that computer?

Jumping to present day, Apple products have become part of my ecosystem. I have come to take for granted things that were impossible five years ago. The iPhone and iPad are necessities. Sometimes I touch them for no reason other than to confirm they exist.

Steve Jobs made my life easier and more interesting. That’s not a trivial accomplishment. So I took it hard when he died. Part of it was the understanding that the life force that was Steve Jobs had left the planet and he’d never show me something really great again. Part of it was me getting overwhelmed with how much he had impacted the world. For me it is an ideal to live a life that matters in a way that affects other people, in a way that weaves a legacy. Jobs did that on a grand scale. Personal opinions aside, his influence on the world is undeniable.

So aspire to be great in that thing you care about. Go as far as you can with your passions. People will notice. Your fire fans theirs. The memory of others is the only certain immortality.


This past weekend I returned to Ohio to take part in my 20 year high school reunion. My friend Steve and his family graciously allowed me to stay with them while I visited. Steve’s someone who I can talk with as though no time has passed at all. I explain the existence of his five children as the work of a temporal rift, very common in northeastern Ohio. I experienced this temporal dissonance with the rest of my classmates as well. They all felt familiar and it was easy to get along with everyone there. Yet the presence of spouses and children and the accounts of intervening years reminded me that time indeed had passed for all of us. Apparently I have mannerisms that have not changed since high school and my classmates took delight in pointing them out.

I was struck by the compassion shown by my former classmates as though the passage of years had mellowed their disposition, rendering them affable to all, regardless of what social cliques we may have belonged to in the past. Also on display was the joyful weariness and wisdom that accompanied the rearing of children.

It was over too soon. I was surprised by how much I wanted to spend more time with everyone. I was able to have a few deep, probing conversations with a few people. We shut down the bar, in fact, and we still weren’t done talking. Apparently an evening and an afternoon are not adequate to fill in 15-20 year gaps.

I am thankful for the experience. If you get a chance at such a reunion, I encourage you to put aside your trepidation and take the plunge.