Thursday, November 30, 2006


My brother got a new board game that we played on Thanksgiving. Triopoly.

It's for people who think Monopoly is too short of a game. I think the best way to do this is explain the differences between Monopoly and Triopoly.

Monopoly is played on a square board where a count of ten gets you from corner to corner.
Triopoly is played on three nested square boards with a count of 8, 8, and 6 getting you from corner to corner (outside board to inner board).

Monopoly has Jail where you spend 3 turns or pay money to get out.
Triopoly has a parking garage that slowly drags you to the outermost board with one turn lost for each level you get dragged.

Monopoly has Free Parking where you get money for landing right on it.
Triopoly has Lotto which does the same thing.

Monopoly has a Go To Jail space which send you to jail.
Triopoly has an elevator which allows you to change levels at will.

Monopoly has houses and motels you can build to increase rent on a property. You must own the whole set of properties and them must be developed equally.
Triopoly has gas stations, shopping malls, and sky scrapers. A gas station can be built even if you don't own the whole set of properties. The properties are spread over multiple levels and you can develop one property to the exclusion of others.

Monopoly has Chance and Community Chest cards.
Triopoly has Travel cards which send you to specific properties and is the easiest way to change levels. It also has Stock Market cards which allow you to win or lose large amounts of money in a hurry depending on whether the card says the market is bearish or bullish. It also has casinos where you can bet either 10x the roll or 100x the roll and winning or losing depends on rolling even or odd numbers respectively.

Monopoly has you win $200 for passing Go.
Triopoly has you win $300, $250, or $200 depending on what level you're on. But Travel cards practically make passing Go much rarer since you travel direct instead of passing Go (Now changed to "Start").

The names of properties have changed and the pieces have changed.

It's more difficult in some ways but easier in many ways. 4 or more players is really recommended if you're gonna set up all 3 boards. I'd totally play it again.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Pardon my lack of updates. I've been spending the last few days contemplating one of the great mysteries of all time. A puzzle that has dumfounded some of the greatest thinkers of our age. Namely "WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS STUPID MACHINE!?!"

Please be patient.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Movie Review: Casino Royale

It's been awhile since I've seen the early James Bond movies so I'm not ready to say that "Casino Royale" is the best but it's right up there.

"Casino Royale" is the last of the original Ian Fleming Bond books that hadn't been made into a movie. It's a prequil to the rest of the Bond movies. Being the first it also has less gadgets than the other movies. I'm pretty sure they stayed closer to the original story and original character than the other movies have. This one brings out more of the inner turmoil that the novels cover but the movies skipped.

In short there's a banker for international terrorists that finds himself in a tight spot. Bond managed to foil a plan that would have made the banker a fortune in the stock market. Instead he loses a ton of money that isn't his. Being a mathematical wiz the banker organizes a big card game with $10 million to play and an option for another $5 million if you get cleaned out. He figures his winnings should recoup his stock market losses and keep him from getting slaughtered by the terrorists whose money he lost. James enters the game planning to take all the winning for Queen and Country.

It's pure action for at least the first half hour, pauses briefly, and then lots more action. Not explosions and stuff. Some real amazing stunts by really amazing athletes. It slows down for awhile near the end as James contemplates settling down but then it's back at it in full force.

Full marks. This will be the first Bond movie I get on DVD.

Friday, November 17, 2006


I shall be travelling to the land of dial-up next week so don't expect an update.

Until then... plyboo.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Construction Day

I took the day off work to take delivery of my Plyboo. (

Being home on a Wednesday I finally got to see the street sweeper pass by this morning. It's pretty much worthless. It drooled water on the street but it didn't appear to even push the leaves out of it's path.

Gandolf and I sat out front and read until the guy showed up with the stuff. I'll post a picture soon but for now you can see some here.

Then we went back on the roof to do some more work on the chimney. I used up the last of the mortar getting 6 more bricks in place. It looks a lot better than my earlier efforts. I'm definately getting better at this.
I'll pick up another bag of mortar next time I hit HomeDepot. I may be renting a tablesaw from them, too. You know, making it easier to cut straight lines.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


This is what the mortar that came out of my chimney looks like. It's also what came out of my back wall when they tore it down. I'm rather afraid that'll be what I find when I open up the walls separating me from my neighbors.

The chimney with one row reconstructed.

This is one of the more intact sections of the chimney. This is mortar in good shape.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Game Review: Lego Star Wars

I'm wrapping up the first "Lego Star Wars" game. I'm just playing to get the last of the hidden stuff and unlock all the toys.

The game plays through Star Wars Episodes I, II, and III with everything made of Legos. You run through the game once in story mode playing the characters appropriate for the scene. Being locked into one character means there's lots of stuff you can't do right away. Once you've solved the level once you can go back as any of the characters you've unlocked and cycle through several of the characters as needed to solve different puzzles. Some characters use light sabers and the force, some have guns with grappling hooks, some jump extra high, and the droids have to be used to open certain doors or fly across particularly wide spans. As you move through the levels you pick up bits of Lego. Collect enough and you get a bonus as you end the level. Each level also has 10 pods to collect. Collect all 10 and you get more Lego pieces. Lego pieces can then be cashed in to buy certain characters that you've fought or bonus features.

The target audience for this game is little kids who are just discovering video games. While your character can be destroyed it reforms in the last safe location before it died instead of resetting to the beginning of the level. While you lose Lego bits when you die there's no limit to the number of times you can die. So you can be really bad and still progress through the game but being good is also rewarded.

The biggest downside is that the game is so short. Experienced gamers can enjoy the game but they'll blow through the whole thing once in a couple of afternoons.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Adventures in Masonry: Day 2

Rain is coming. 70% chance this evening and better tonight. Gotta get as much done as early as I can. So I got up at 10:00. Hey, I may have stuff to do, but it's still a Saturday.
On the roof at 10:30, finished another row of brick in an hour. A whole whopping 6 of them. Then I spent about half an hour repointing the big chunk of chimney that's mostly intact. Somewhere in there I took some pictures to post Monday.
Now I'm giving it time to dry before I get back at it.

Gandolf has good instincts. I was sitting in the front yard reading when I heard a bird scream. I looked up to see Gandolf leaping from the roof as a falcon, a big one, dove at her with claws out. I'd left Gandolf on the roof with her leash tied to a bucket of rocks. She wound up dangling like a worm on a hook. But she was dangling so close to the building that the falcon couldn't get her. I ran through the house, over the fence in to the neighbor's yard, up the ladder to the neighbor's roof, pull the ladder up, put the ladder up to my roof, and as I stuck my head over the edge I saw the falcon perched on the edge of the roof trying to figure out how to get that parrot. Once I was there it flew off. I pulled Gandolf up and she clicked her tongue at me a bunch of times.
We sat there on the roof with her on my lap for awhile until we both calmed down.

The mortar is drying slower than I thought. I went ahead and put the big clump of bricks in place. It's a little odd shaped. I'm trying to stack this stuff like Legos and this appears to have been build with little regard for right angles. I would be better off trying to take it apart and rebuilding it but that takes time and I'd probably damage the bricks. If there's any intolerances in construction mortar should fill it in.

I may decide to go back up later today, but probably not. I was looking for an old shower curtain, but found the fabric from a broken umbrella instead. It fit nicely over the chimney and my extra bricks should hold it in place.

Rain and cold expected Sunday and Monday with weather in the 60s on Tuesday. My plyboo will be delivered Tuesday so I'll just make a big home repair day of it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Adventures in Masonry

I've had a leak in the roof for quite some time. I've tried caulking what seemed like holes and tried tarring over potential leaks. Those tactics seemed to work at first, but soon I saw that I was just kidding myself.
The drip seemed to be about where the chimney is. I reached the conclusion that the water was getting between the bricks and trickling down to where it could drip on the first floor ceiling. The obvious solution is to repoint the bricks. I got on the roof just after noon and attacked the mortar with a trowel. It quickly became apparent that there were three generations of repair jobs and I'm the fourth.
There's the original 1890 mortar which has turned into beach sand. By clearing this away I was able to see light clear through the chimney in many places.
In some places there's mortar from another repointing. This is still pretty intact which just makes removing it harder. It's a 1/4" to 1/2" layer sandwiching in the sand.
Then there's the tar over the lower third of my half of the chimney and over most of the neighbor's half. The tar actually comes in handy in taking down multiple bricks at at time.
The top two layers are pretty solid. I wound up starting 4-5 bricks down and started pulling stuff out from there. This gave me an opening to dig out the sand and pop out the newer mortar. With the top undermined some of it came down, but several still refuse to move.
I came down around 2:30 with most of the chimney in pieces.

Now I have to figure out how to approach this next. How tall should I make the chimney? As tall as it was? It's not like I have a fireplace. Close it off three bricks up? Should I wait until I can order a new roof antenna and built it into the chimney? It'll be cold by then. I should do this now.
I'm gonna spend the next half hour or more just cleaning all the dust off the bricks so I can secure them.

Another two and a half hours later:
I put the first layer of bricks back in place and repointed the inside of the chimney just as far down as I could reach.
I have a small trough to mix mortar in. It gets about two bricks worth before needing to be refilled. It's amazing how fast that stuff goes from being too thick to too thin.
I'll be back up there tomorrow. About 1/3 of what I took down came off in one big lump. I think I'll repoint that separately and put it back up whole.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Blocked flu(e) season

It's that time of year again when the Earth's rotational axis betrays us all and deprives us of our precious sunlight. I'm told that the Axis of Earth is developing weapons of massive detonation with some shortwave radioactive ochre cake that it's borrowing from Atlantis but promises to return just as soon as it's done with it. Dick Cheney said so.
But while we wait for the Sun to lift it's sanctions against us we need some way to keep warm. Here's how.

Go get the filter out of the furnace. Gently. It's probably caked with dust and stuff. You don't want to jostle it and spread dust all over the house. Carry it outside and beat it against some neighbor kid until all the dust falls out. Put it back in the furnace for another 1 to 3 months and repeat.

Close off any rooms in the house that you're not using much. Shut the vents, close the doors, and leave out some penguin kibble. I know you don't have a penguin, but you need bait to draw food for the polar bear.
I've also put a drape over the foot of the stairs to keep my precious warm air from rising up where I'm not.

Plastic wrap the windows. You can pick up a kit at many hardware stores. It's basically double sided tape and a roll of Saran Wrap they stole from the 50' woman. This serves as an additional air barrier between you and the outside.

Check for drafts. Slowly move your hand around the edges of doors and electrical outlets along exterior walls. You're feeling for cold drafts. If you feel a cold draft find the hole and shove a cat in there. You can then seal the cat in with a can of expanding foam. You probably should have picked that up while at the hardware store.
If you feel a warm draft it means your kids shoved their cigarettes in there when they heard you coming.

If you have a house like mine there's a crawlspace under it. Feel the floor. You can probably feel the cold just by putting your hand near it. This means your science teachers all lied. Cold air rises. You can feel it right now. Get all your neighbors to throw their old science books in a big pile. Then get down in the crawlspace and paste the science books against the underside of the floor for insulation.

Get a programmable thermostat. If you have and old round thermostat, or one of those rectangular ones with paint splatter on it, heck, anything with a needle instead of a digital readout will do. Those are bad. Computers are always better.
Oh, the point is that while you're off at work the programmable thermostat will lower the temperature of the house using less energy. The wife may complain about how you keep the house at 50* while you're gone. You just reply that you thought that the extra layer of fat she put on would keep her warm. The fight that results should keep you both nice and toasty.

Get some dogs. Not only do they make sure the cats remain hiding in the wall but they also demand you take them for walks in the wind, rain, and snow. After that even the vegetable crisper is gonna seem warm. Also, they sleep on your feet and start rock groups or something. Grandpa wasn't real clear on that last bit.

Bake. Use the stove all you can. Cookies, cakes, hams, anything that gives you an extra layer of fat. Also, the heat from the stove, combines with the fact that you sealed off the vents to the kids' bedrooms means they'll have to come to the kitchen to do their homework where you can watch them.

Book Review: Gil's All Fright Diner

The author for "Gil's All Fright Diner" was A. Lee Martinez. I've never heard of him before, but I'll be keeping an eye on him.

Duke and Earl are a werewolf and a vampire, respectively. They roam around the country in a pickup truck doing odd jobs as needed to pay for gas. They stop off at Gil's Diner for some supper and get attacked by zombies. After helping the owner fend off this latest attack they decide to hang around to help her end this supernatural problem she's been having and install a new gas line. While there Earl falls for the local cemetary ghost, and they fend off an invasion by some elder gods from behind the refrigerator.

A fun book but nothing to rave about.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Ok, useful tips for keeping warm this time.

If you have a fireplace or woodburning stove you can take old newspapers and turn them into firewood. We used to have this doohicky where you ran a sheet or two of newspaper between a couple of metal dowels. You wrapped the paper around the dowels a few times and then hold the paper tight while turning the dowels. When one sheet of paper gets near the end you shove another sheet under it. The new sheet gets held in place by the old one and you keep going until you have something log sized. Pull out the dowels and you have firewood. If you sprinkle in some iron and copper filings as you make the log then as it burns you can get colors in the fire.

Cotton is a good fabric for drawing heat away from the body. Good for summer wear. To keep your body heat close to your body you want to start with a base layer of fleece next to your body and then layer other clothes on top of that as needed. I refuse to shop at Old Navy because I hate their commercials. So I have some nice hemp shirts instead.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Book review: Fragile Things

Neil Gaiman's latest short story collection is called "Fragile Things". Mostly this is for Gaiman fans. If you like his other stuff you'll like this. If you haven't read Gaiman before there are better books to start with.

The first story alone sells the book. You'll want to have read some Arthur Conan Doyle and HP Lovecraft. Having seen some Sherlock Holmes shows would be nice, but to appreciate it you'll want to have read the stories. I can't tell you any more about the story without giving stuff away, but if you've read Doyle and Lovecraft you'll love this story.

The book ends with a short sequel to "American Gods", one of Gaiman's other books. It's ok if you haven't read the original, but you really should have the background.

In between there's good stuff, weak stuff, and other stuff. I'm delighted with it, but as I said, if you haven't read Gaiman before this isn't the place to start.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Guy Fawkes Day

I don't recall where I used to hear it.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder Treason and Plot,

It had a beat and you could dance to it. It stuck in my head and I'd make up my own rhymes around it. I had no idea what it was about until I saw "V for Vendetta" and did a bit of reading.

Queen Elizabeth was not fond of Catholics. Truth be told they weren't popular with anyone back in the early 1600's. Religious oppression was brutal. When she died and King James (I of England, IV of Scotland) took the throne they hoped he would be more merciful since his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was Catholic.
He wasn't. If anything he was more brutal.
So Guy Fawkes and a team of others decided to blow up Parlament. With the King dead Princess Elizabeth (age 9) would become the Catholic head of state. Alas, one of the members of the conspiracy was bothered by his conscience and ratted Guy out. So there he was in the tunnels under Parlament, barrels of gunpowder everywhere, when the King's guard shows up and arrests him.

You can view him as a religious terrorist or you can view him as someone fighting the inevitable horror when church and state combine.

Here's the whole original poem. The end has been dropped in modern telling because of the Catholic bashing.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,'twas his intent
to blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow:
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip hoorah!

A penny loaf to feed the Pope.
A farthing o' cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.

Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah!

Book Review: Breakfast of Champions

I just finished Kurt Vonnegut's book "Breakfast of Champions". It's an odd sort of book in that it's written entirely in factoids. The book is one big bulleted list with the whole of the bullets making a story. Mostly it focusses on three people converging on an arts festival but it also covers strange habits of earthlings, other people met along the way, and a few characters that were in a previous version of the book but didn't make the cut.
It's a strange little book. While good I didn't feel any real drive to keep reading it other than to reach the end. I have several other books that I started while reading this one. There's other, better, Kurt Vonnegut books to read first.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

New Show Review: Torchwood

"Torchwood" is a new Dr. Who spin-off airing sundays on BBC-HD. It's also an anagram of "Doctor Who".
If you saw season one of the new Dr. Who series then you already know Captain Jack Harkness. Capt Jack is a former time agent who had 2 years of his life taken from him for reasons yet unknown. He went rogue, met up with The Doctor and Rose in 1941 England during The Blitz, and travelled with them for half of season one. He was finally killed by Daleks and resurrected by Rose who had looked into the heart of the TARDIS and absorbed energy from the vortex. Not knowing Capt Jack was alive again The Doctor took Rose back into the TARDIS and left.
Somehow Captain Jack made it back to modern Earth from the distant future and hooked up with Torchwood. If you're watching the latest season of Doctor Who, now airing fridays on SciFi Channel, then you know that Queen Elizabeth founded Torchwood after The Doctor and Rose saved her from a werewolf. It's purpose is to gather alien technology for use against any threat from the stars.
There are 4 Torchwood branches. Captain Jack leads Torchwood 3. Torchwood 4 was misplaced. Torchwood 1... well, I'll leave that a secret for you folks good enough to wait for SciFi Channel to show it legally. Torchwood 3 is located under a big metal monument (Millenium Square) in Cardiff. You've seen it in Doctor Who in season 1. The way in and out is via an elevator that is positioned in a mental blindspot created when that slitheen woman tried taking off using the energy from a rift in space on that point.
Capt Jack has a hand in a jar that he holds in great value. I'm guessing that it would be the hand cut off of The Doctor while duelling with an alien menace in the first episode of the current season (season 2). Some other comments make it clear he's only there to wait for The Doctor.
Torchwood 3 is teamed by 4 people. Jack is one. Another is a new recruit. She's the same actress who played the woman who channeled the Gelf way back in the beginning of season 1. The Gelf tried to come through the same rift that the slitheen woman tried to tap later.
The two others aren't important characters yet.

Is there a connection between the new recruit and the woman who channeled the Gelf?
How did Jack get back from the satellite in the distant future?
Why did the time police take 2 years of Jack's memory?
Is Jack gay or bi or what?
Will this show ever get to the states?
There's another side effect from Rose resurrecting Jack. But I'm not telling you what.