Sunday, December 13, 2009

My trip to Spain: Barcelona Part I

Wow, it's taken my two months to get back to writing about my trip to Spain.

The bus ride to Barcelona took most of the day. We got to the bus station by 9, although Michele's suitcase was so heavy we ended up switching who carried it through the metro. We got to the bus station by 9, but couldn't get on the 10 AM bus. We got some breakfast in the station in the bus stop. Spanish OJ is good, it rivals what you can get in Florida.

At the lunch stop, I was tempted to try this exotic looking seafood soup. Not wanting to risk that before getting back on the bus, I got an order of french fries. I took a few pictures of the countryside from the bus, and then some pictures of the Barcelona streets as we drove into the city. Barcelona has a unique look. When the city expanded, the zoning laws were such that buildings could be build to be 4 or 5 stories tall. Not wanting to waste space on the street front, all the buildings were built to the maximum size the law allows. There were no laws specifying how the buildings had to look, so the whole effect is both very uniform and varied at the same time.

When we got out of the bus station, we were looking for any sort of sign that would direct us to the metro. We also had trouble finding the street signs. The next day we figured out that you find them on the side of building, but we kept looking for them on poles or hanging from traffic lights. Who knows how long it would have taken Michele and I to find the Metro if we hadn't run across a couple speaking English. We asked them were the metro was, and of course, we had been going the wrong way.

The trouble with the street signs continued to plague us as we tried to find our hotel. It didn't help that University is a one of a few diagonal street that kind of cut through the rest of the city grid that made navigating around the hotel kind of odd. We finally found our hotel and got checked in. We ate at a German place called Otto's for dinner.

We got a free breakfast buffet with our hotel stay by mentioning the Rick Steeve's book. The breakfast was awesome. Lots of fruit, the ubiquitous thin sliced cured ham, chirizo, pastries, orange and pineapple juice, hot tea. We headed into the Bari Gotic, the Gothic district, to start our sightseeing. The medieval cathedral is quit impressive, and it's not even the main sightseeing attraction in Barcelona as cathedrals go. We happened upon a bookstore in the Bari Gotic, and Michele found the 4th book of the Twilight series there in English. She was reading and rereading the other three so she was glad to pick that up.

We had some trouble making our way to Las Ramblas from the cathedral. I think we would have been fine going straight through the neighborhood to the docks, but Michele was nervous since the travel guide said the area south of the cathedral was seedy. I did have a gypsy try to sell me a rose and dance with me, but we turned our backs on her and left.

Las Ramblas is a very busy crazy place. It's popular with tourists, and I'm sure I heard at least a dozen different languages. It's also really overpriced in my opinion, but more on that later. We walked down to the Columbus monument. The monument is pretty impressive. It's a big ring with metal plaques showing the various stages of Columbus's trip to the new world. I the center of a ring, there is a pillar with a statue of Columbus atop it. I believe the Spanish are more enthusiastic about celebrating Columbus day than Americans are, or at least they get the day off work.

I don't know if it's a fair comparison, but my initial thought of Las Ramblas was that it was kind of like M street in DC on acid. We started heading back up the street after seeing the monument and stopped for lunch. Looking for a place to eat lunch is one reason I decided that the street is way over priced. We stopped at a place more out of exhaustion than anything else. I got calamari and a coke, and the coke cost something like 6 or 7 Euros. It was a bigger coke than most places in Europe served, but you could buy several 2 liters for that much money.

On the way back up the street, we discovered the bird market, which we had bypassed by going through the Gothic district on our way to Las Ramblas. It was more like a giant outdoor pet store, even noisier that the rest of the bustling street. It was really too much for me since neither of us had any intention of picking up a live traveling companion. We stopped by a farmer's market too. I think I've got a photo or two of some of the stuff they had on display there. It was another human zoo, so we headed back to the hotel to rest for a while.

In the afternoon, we took a funicular up to Mount Juic. I actually knew what a funicular was from my trip to the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney. It's a train line with a cable attacked to it because of the steep grade. Mount Juic was very peaceful after the trip to Las Ramblas. The Catalan art museum and magic fountains were on the list of sights to see at Mount Juic. The magic fountain wasn't in operation, and the Catalan art museum was under quite a bit of construction. From what we could see of it, the building would have been really impressive if not under construction. We did get to see the Olympic stadium, used for the 1992 games I believe.

I was correct. This was the Olympics of Shannon Miller and the Dream Team. I list them in that order because I don't think basketball is a good sport for the Olympics. Tatiana Gutsu edged Shannon Miller for the all around gold. During these Olympics, Caroline said of the Russian gymnast: "I like Tatiana better than Gutsu." I love the Olympics, so I enjoyed getting to see the stadium. We finished up the trip to Mount Juic with a trip to a castle overlooking the city. We tried to walk up to the castle, but got turned back by construction after making it somewhere between a third and half way up. We ended up taking the cable cars up to the castle. The view was outstanding. There were modern cannons at the castle which had been used to defend the port. They were huge. A guy from Ireland had us take a picture of him standing next to one of the cannons so his friends would be able to see how large they were.

We ate dinner that night at the hotel restaurant. I got tuna farfalle, which had an unusual tomato based sauce, moussaka, and an ice cream desert which was kind of like an Eskimo pie on steroids. It was very good, and I was happy to eat a big meal after a day that involved a lot of walking. I forget what Michele got, but I think she enjoyed her meal too.

Monday, October 12, 2009

First Two Days in Spain

I've been in Spain for 2 days now. My sisters Michele and Caroline met me at the airport. I didn't manage to sleep on the plane, so I rested a bit. We went out and got lunch at a place called Pan's. It was a fast food kind of place. I got a sandwich with salmon and hard boiled eggs on it. Given the name of the sandwich, I think it was more Norwegian than Spanish, but it was good. I thought I would be getting something Spanish by ordering nuggets as the side order instead of fries, but they turned out to be chicken nuggets, and they weren't very good on top of that. Our hotel is in Plaza Mayor, and we went West from there to see what is on the Map as Palico Real. I forget what function the palace serves today, but it's quite an impressive structure. Despite being October, yesterday was quite warm, and we were all worn out from walking around town.

We went back to the hotel, and I took a nap. We went out at night to get some supplies from a grocery store, then after dropping those off back at the hotel, we went for an early dinner at 8:30 PM. I got a pizza, which is more Italian than Spanish, but I did get a taste of more traditional food from Carloline's sandwich. It was a ham and cheese, but the ham was more like prosciutto, and the cheese reminded me of Grueye. Spain seems to love ham even more than the US loves beef. I haven seen the museum of beef anywhere before, but there is a museum of ham near the hotel.

Today, we went to the Reina Soffia art museum. The first floor was full of odd modern art stuff. The second floor had some wartime art, and a lot of Picasso and Dali. I liked those. There were a few exhibits that were very mathematical from the 1st floor, but most were just strange. The building was huge, there were two more floors of exhibits that we didn't even get to. We had to get Caroline back so that she could eat and back to a metro stop so she could get to work tomorrow. Michele and I have to get up early tomorrow so we can get to Barcelona. We'll probably do a little more sight seeing later in the day, eat dinner, and try to make it an early night.

( I can't spell check this on the browser at the hotel, so I'll have to clean this up later. Yuck, that was a mess, I'm glad I went back to clean it up.)

Friday, October 2, 2009

One Week Until Spain

This will be my first trip to Europe. I've actually crossed the Pacific before, having been to The Land Down Under 10 years ago. That was a blast. I have to admit I'm a bit nervous about my very limited Spanish skills. Going to Sydney, the only reason I would have needed a foreign language would have been if I had wanted to talk to one of the many groups of Japanese tourists visiting Sydney in their own language.

Granted, I did have a a conversation in a bar with an Australian woman about the differences between the word pissed between US English and Aussie English. For those who are curious, in US English, pissed means exactly the same thing as pissed off, or angry. In Aussie English, pissed off still means angry, but pissed means drunk. Also, you will hear the word mate for friend, but not nearly as often as in a Crocodile Dundee movie. You might even hear the phrase, spot you a pot of piss mate? Which means, can I buy you a beer? (OK, if this paragraph doesn't get any comments, nothing will.)

I need to get a list of things to do before the trip ready. I've got my passport and a new digital camera, but I still need to pack and I've got a few things to buy. I'm already mentally preparing to eat everything in my fridge before I got and then stop cooking. I foresee an omelet or two in my future. One reason I want to clear the fridge is that the freezer isn't freezing and cleaning the coils hasn't helped. I'm hoping something critical is frozen up, and will go back to normal if left powered off for a while.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Birthday season

I should more specifically say that it is birthday season for my nieces and nephew. Tomorrow is my niece Regan's 8th birthday. By mid-December, Blake will be 10, Karina will be one, and the twins will be 6. The twins seem older than that for some reason, maybe it's because Lauren has glasses and Taylor is so large for her age.

Speaking of Taylor, I heard that she though wearing uniform shorts to school entitled her to use the boys restroom even to the point of using the urinal.

In non birthday news, the two barbs the Clark kids got me on Labor Day seem to be doing well. They will venture out of their hiding places around the tank, but one of the barbs is noticeably more shy than the other. I think I might try adding another silver dollar or two next.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's been nearly a month since my last post.

In a whirlwind recap:
  • I'm going to Spain in less than a month
  • Me, Mom, Dad, and Blake went to a Riverbats game for Dad's birthday with help from free tickets I got from work.
  • I made the last production turn on a 6 month project that lasted 18 this week.
  • I got two new fish in my aquarium, which seem to be doing well.
  • I tied for first place in a chess tournament after posting my game against an IM to this blog.
  • My nieces and nephew wanted to get me the more fish, which is why I have new ones. Taylor rode with me back to my house holding the fish. On the way, she told me that we needed to come to a decision about where to hold her birthday party. She wanted to do it at my house, but her twin sister Lauren wanted to have it at Chuck E Cheese.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My game against an International Master

Two weeks ago, I went to Indianapolis to play in the US Open Weekend Swiss tournament. For those of you who don't know what a Swiss style tournament is, the best way to think of it is as a no elimination tournament. In theory, if you're 0-4 at the end of the 4th round, you should play another player who is 0-4. Draws complicate this picture somewhat, but you should end up with a clear winner in a 5 round tournament of 32 players.

With my chess rating in the 1500's, I often end up playing either one of the strongest or one of the weakest players in the tournament in the first round. When I saw the pairings two Saturdays ago, I saw that I would be playing the strongest player in the tournament. His name was Emory Tate, and his rating was high in the 2300's. For those of you not familiar with chess ratings, I would be expected to win about 1 game in 10 against someone rated in the 1900's, the hypothetical 1900 ranked player would be expected to win about 1 game in 10 against Mr. Tate. If you want a different measure of my challenge, type Emory Tate into a google search and wait to see what additional terms Google suggests. I was kind if disappointed since I had white in this game, and the difference in our skill was so great I didn't think having the 1st move would really matter. I would have rather had black so I could play white the next round.

Here is the game:
1. e4 c5 2. c3 e6 3. d4 cd 4. cd d5 5. e5 Bd7

At this point, instead of playing the closed version of the Sicilian defense, we are in a French defense. From my experience, only one time in using the closed Sicilian have we not transposed to the French. My reason for doing this is that I believe that most people playing the Sicilian do not want to end up in a position from the French. However, after the game, Mr. Tate said that he finds the closed Sicilian annoying and wanted to switch over to the French. Also, I didn't realize it at the time, but his last move is preparing to trade off his light squared bishop.

6. Nf3 Qb6 7. Be2

According to Mr. Tate, this was my first mistake. He wants to play Bb5 to trade it off for my bishop now sitting on e2. I should have challenged his plan by playing Nc3 now.

7... Bb5 8. Nc3 Bxe2 9. Qxe2

I debated between this and Nxe2. Taking with the knight provides me with extra protection for my central pawns. However, I took back with the queen trying to keep my knights in more of an offensive than a defensive role. Mr. Tate said taking with the Queen looks natural, but isn't as strong as taking with the knight. One reason for that is that he makes use of the knight sitting on c3 to trade it off creating a weak pawn for me to defend in a few moves, and he immediately threatens the my pawn on d4.

9... Nc6 10. Be3

Mr. Tate pointed out that this pawn didn't need immediate defense. If 10. o-o Nxd4 11. Nxd4 Qxd4 12. Qb5+!! black is lost. With his queen out of position from recapturing and no pieces on the kingside developed yet, the white queen inflicts heavy positional and material damage to black. This gives white more time to develop before eventually playing Be3.

10... Bb4 11. o-o Bxc3 12. bxc3 Na5

I was actually pretty happy to get out of the opening against such a strong player. I can see that his knight is trying to head to c4, where it would be a major thorn in my side, but other than that I didn't really see where I had any problems. However, when I didn't castle at move 10, Mr. Tate felt like he had overcome the advantage white has by making the 1st move.

13. Rab1 Qc6 14. Rfc1 Ne7

Given the piece trades which have occurred so far, I missed 15 Qb5 which would have forced a queen trade. It's not the strongest move on the board, but having queens come off the board early increases the odds of getting a draw. I also missed the fact that even though black has two pieces lined up against my pawn on c3, the queen is in the lead, so my pawn can't be taken immediately.

15. Nd2 Rf8 16. Qd3 o-o 17. Nb3 Nc4!

I was wondering if Mr. Tate was just going to trade off lots of pieces and try to squeeze and endgame win out of me, which is why I played Nb3, when he put his knight on it's ideal square, I should have immediately put my knight back on d2. However, at the time I foolishly decided to press on under the assumption that b3 was the better square for my knight.

18. Bd2 b6 19. Be1 f6!

In hindsight, I have to play ef. I didn't like the f file opening up for black, but it's better than what comes next.

20. Nd2 fe 21. Nxc4 dxc4 22. Qe3 Nd5

I didn't understand this move at the time. Black, going back to move 11, has been trying to win one of my central pawns by creating the weak pawn on c3, suddenly, he's giving the pawn back. I should have known there was a method to this madness, but I couldn't find it so I took the pawn back.

23. Qxe5 Nf4!!!

I read on the web that Mr. Tate likes to give moves triple exclamation points when explaining games, so I'll give this move of his three. At first, I only saw that he threatened to fork both my rook and queen with ...Nd3 and my king and rook with Ne2. I was just about to put my queen back on e3 where it is out of the line of fire and continues to guard e2. At the last instant I noticed that black also has a mate threat with Qxg2. The best defense was f3, but I tried Qg5 and got my queen pushed around before black finally take his extra exchange.

24. Qg5 Rf5 25. Qg4 h4 26. Qf3 Qxf3 27. gxf3 Ne2 28. Kg2 Nxc1 29. Rxc1 Rfc8

I'm in seriously bad shape now, I'm down the exchange and I can't guard the pawn on f3. To make matters worse, I can't even try to make something of my bad bishop sitting on e1 because it's tied down defending f2. I try to get my rook to worm it's way into black's queenside, but my opponent will have none of that.

30. Rb1 Rg5+ 31. Kf1 Ra5!

I didn't expect this, but it's very strong. It effectively eliminates any possibilities I had for counterattacking.

32. Rb4 b5 33. a4 ba 34. Rxc4 a3

I can't stop the pawn, so I resigned. I made sure I tracked down my opponent so I could get his thoughts on the game. Mr. Tate might not have been feeling well that weekend, because he seemed like he was trying to get back to his hotel room between rounds, and he didn't have a good weekend tournament. However, he played in the 6 day schedule of the full open and finished 1 point out of 1st. That put him in 25th place in a 450 player tournament.

It was neat being in the big tournament atmosphere, and I didn't have to pay for a hotel room since I stayed with my sister Suzanne in Noblesville, which was only like a 20 minute drive from the tournament site. By playing in the weekend tournament, I didn't have to take a week off of work for it either. For example, when Abby Marshal won the Denker high school tournament of state champions, I had seen her walking around in the halls of the hotel.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I don't know what to title this.

I lost track of one of my good friends from high school after the summer between our freshman and sophomore year. The last I had heard, his family didn't know where he was and had filed a missing persons report on him. I can't remember when I heard that news. I want to say that it was sometime in the mid 90's.

I got a facebook invite, and I accepted it, but I wasn't sure what to make of it since there were no photos on the page. That was probably earlier this year when I had just started using facebook. My brother and one of my friends didn't know what to make of this page either. Their guess was that someone in his family was using it to try to track down people who might have had information on him.

However, last weekend, I got a message from him that he was in town at a hotel by the fair and expo center. I gave the hotel a call and we met up and hung out for a few hours and caught up. It still seems surreal, and it reminded me how much I missed having him around.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Are things spiraling into control?

When I first started at SVS, I was looking for a way to get organized. One night, while working in the data center, I came across an article for implementing a system called Getting Things Done ( using gmail. Since I like gmail, I was interested. What sold me on the system was that things I wanted to do, like read a book or play a video game got to go on the to-do list along with things that needed to be done, like laundry or cutting the grass.

So for a while, all was well. I managed to do things like arrange my schedule to see the Police play Wriggly Field since I was unable to see them play Churchill Downs since that date conflicted with Suzanne's wedding. As I kept coming up with more and more things that needed to be done every week, I discovered that I was mostly just keeping up with day to day activities and (mostly) getting once a week and once a month tasks done.

Things really spiraled out of control when I had strep a few weeks ago. I didn't feel like doing anything useful, and even once I felt better, I still didn't feel like doing anything useful. I was getting frustrated by having a lot of cool stuff on my to-do list that I wasn't getting to. Learing a new ray-tracer, finishing my homemade chess men, learing new programming languages, learning Japaneese, learning how to draw/sketch.

So, I've dedicated a Friday night to getting things back on track. So far so good. I've actually gotten a bit more done tonight (this blog post being one of those things) than would strictly have been necessary according to my plan. And that's even after taking a break to watch a VH1 show on the top 20 one hit wonders of the eighties. (Seriously, 99 Luftballons, Take on Me, Tainted Love, 867-5309/Jenny and She Blinded Me with Science were all better than Come on Eileen)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Weekend Visit

Dan, Michele, and Karina came to town last weekend. I think everyone had a good time. It did highlight the fact that I need to get box springs and a matress for my 2nd spare bed. It doesn't do much good for hosting guests at the moment. My couch however was not put to the test. Dan and Michele had intended to stay with me, but they had already unloaded their stuff at Mom and Dad's.
They decided it would be easier to just stay there than to move their stuff to my house. It's probably just as well, my cleaning in preparation for visitors was not very inspired.

They got to see Nana and Elaine, which was their main purpose in coming down. My hightlight of the weekend was serving as Karina's safety net while she tried climing stairs for the first time. Attempt one only saw her ascend two stairs, but her second try saw her climb all thirteen stairs to my parents second floor. She was so proud of herself!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Things aren't getting much better

After my last post, I started feeling better at the end of the week. However I started feeling worse again the following week. This was explained when the doctor's office called to tell me I had strep. Someone at work said the quick strep tests are 99% accurate, so that was some bad luck with that not showing up right away.

The insurance adjust came out, and decided that it probably was the roof causing my problems. However, I didn't see the estimate the roofing guy left until about a week after the fact. I wouldn't have seen it even then except Michele came by while I was cutting the grass to retrieve Blake's Game Boy. The estimate informed me I needed a new roof. I'm hoping insurance will will at least pay for some portion of the repair.

Bah, now I'm depressed about needing to drop $5K on a new roof. I knew the roof was old when I bought the house, and that was factored into the price, but I was hoping to get a few years out of it, not less than one. Maybe playing Demigod will cheer me up.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rotten Week

Well, I went to the dentist on Monday, and while I was at home that night with sore gums, but thankfully no cavities, I noticed that my throat was getting sore. Sure enough, I was getting sick. I was home from work on Thursday resting when a huge thunderstorm rolled through town. After it had been really pouring for about 15 minutes I started hearing dripping in the spare bedroom. Needless to say, that's a room that's not supposed to have any water in it.

I grabbed the closest thing I could find from the kitchen to catch water, which was unfortunately part of my rice cooker. That's going to need a heavy duty cleaning before it's fit for cooking again. Water started dripping from a second spot, and for that at least I grabbed a small garbage can. I used a knife to poke a hole in the ceiling where the two drips were occuring to keep the water from seeping through somewhere else. It smelled awful, so I'm sure that this has happened before, but that it took a storm of that intensity to bring the problem to my attention. I've got an insurance adjuster coming out tomorrow to look at the damage, so at the moment, I don't even know what repairs are needed.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Kentucky Open

I played in my first "big" chess tournament in ages. Although it's nothing compared to an 800 student nationals, about 45 players is about 3 times bigger than anything I've played recently. Also, the G/90 time control makes a big difference.

In the first round, I played someone rated about 250 points higher than me, and once we reached the end game, he offered a draw. I was hungry, and considered accepting the draw just to make a lunch run easier, but thought I had better chances so I played on. About 3 moves later I realize I was so hungry I was getting a headache, so I offered a draw back, and my opponent accepted. Ironically, we ran into each other at Chick-fil-a down the road.

In the second round, I played a very nervous 5th grader. This was the only player in the tournament I played who was lower rated than I was. I thought I had a good position out of the opening, then all of the sudden, I had no space to move around in. I turned things around with a little combination that at a minimum caused a bishop trade and relieved pressure on my king, however I got a fork out of the deal too and won easily after that. Up until that point though, I was sweating though.

In the third round, I played a high school student who had drawn his game with the kid I played last round earlier in the tournament. Things were going well until I made I move that had consequences I really didn't like. I ended up moving the piece right back to where it started. (Note to self, castle sooner!). I ended up getting my rooks forked, but by using some mate threats, I at least got a piece and a pawn for my rook, as well as getting the opponent's king out in the open. I found a combination in this game as well that won a piece and a pawn for me. Immediately after this exchange finished, I was telling myself to play carefully and not to waste the advantage I had just gained. Then I realized that, probably shocked to have gone from being ahead to down, my opponent had moved his king into a position where I could fork it and his queen.

I was really happy going into the 4th round with 2 wins and a draw. If I had played just a little bit better I might have managed a draw in one of the games on Sunday, and ended up in a 3 way tie for first in my rating section. If I could have managed a win in one of those game, I would have won the section outright. I'm not too upset because my rating got a nice boost, and I felt like I played well.

I also ran into Hank Rothgerber, who played at St. X while I was there. He was a junior when I was a freshman. Eric Cramer from Central was there too. It was the first tournament he had played in a long time. He was in my section too, and he was one of the players tied for first with three points. Ironically, we recognized each other right away, but I had to say something to Hank before he recognized me. He even said it was my voice he recognized and not the way I looked. (To be fair, I have quite a bit less hair than I did in high school.)

Friday, May 29, 2009

An unexpected trip?

Out of the blue, my college roommate, Mike, emailed me to see where I was at.  He's visiting his sister in Nashville.  Robbin from BCBSFL in Jacksonville is also in Nashville, so if I can work out a few details, I may be driving down to Music City tomorrow.  If so, I'll add to this update.

I did in fact end up driving to Nashville yesterday.  The drive was going well until 40W split off 65S/40E.  I'm not sure what kind of construction or accident was up ahead, but coming to a virtual standstill actually forced me off the interstate at a very convenient downtown exit for getting to The Flying Saucer.  I met Robbin and Scott Thomas who worked at Blue Cross with me, and we had fun dishing the dirt on some former co-workers and on Blue in general.  Had some excellent beer.  There was Murphy's stout on tap, which is very similar to Guinness, but I actually like it a bit better.  I also had Stone IPA, which was the best IPA I've ever had (sorry Sierra Nevada) and something called Brooklyn Brown ale, which was a very nice nut brown ale.  Robbin and Scott needed to head home to take care of their rabbit, while I stayed downtown to meet Mike and his family.

We met at Jack's BBQ near 4th and Broadway, which was about 6 blocks from where I was.  I just walked, and I have to say, I've never seen so many street corner musicians in all my life.  The food was good, and Mike and Margaret's kids were cute, but pretty tired from a day at the water park and not sure what to make of me.  After the BBQ, we walked down to Mike's ice cream, a coincidence which made the kids smile.  From there we headed to a park that has a replica of the Parthenon, of all things in it.  It's made of concrete and not marble, but still, a replica of the Parthenon was pretty cool.  We were actually close to the campus of Vanderbilt while we were at the park.

From there we headed back to Mike's sister, Meg's house.  She's located near Oprieland, and has a house with a huge deck overlooking the Cumberland river.  It's really nice.  We just hung out and took it easy.  Meg's dog, Cooper, didn't know what to make of me, and if he hadn't heard me talking for a while would start barking at me.  He even barked at me this morning after I changed shirts.  I guess I looked different.  Avery and Naomi had gotten used to me at this point, and would talk to me this morning.  They headed out about 11:30 to see a great aunt who lived in a convent and I headed back home.

It's probably been 9 years of so since I've seen Mike, the last time was when he was in Louisville on a business trip when I still worked at Humana.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Too Many Nobles

Well, my fortress seems to have stabilized from the cave bat deaths.  No one threw a tantrum or went insane in the spring of 205.  I queued up a lot of jobs, and the dwarfs even worked on some of them.  I probably have jammed up workshops or something.

No one showed up in the fall because of the deaths being caused from psychological stress.  However, the message this spring was that immigrants were arriving despite the danger.  With the immigrants I got the Baron, a consort, a tax collector and the Hammerer.  It's probably good that the Hammerer wasn't in the fortress six months ago, he's have probably wacked some of the pouty dwarfs upside the head with his hammer.

Another production problem I had was that I ran out of trees.  I bought a bunch from the elves, I need to see if they are sitting in the trade depot.  I had to tell my woodcutters to do nothing but cut trees.  That seems to have helped, but I used up all my refined coal, so I need to cut trees and put them in the wood furnace to create charcoal.  However, I also need to turn the trees into beds for my new nobles to sleep in.  I don't have doors for setting up their rooms right now either.

All in all, the spring went better.  I still feel like my workers are way out of hand, in that I don't know what anyone is doing or where the work is happening.  I also feel like my farming is completely out of control.  I need to look at my fields this summer.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I want to ride my bicycle

I got a new bike from Dick's last night.  It's a fairly simple hybrid w/ seven speeds.  I'd probably need more than 7 gears for the Tour de France, but for riding around the neighborhood, seven seems to be sufficient.  I still need to attach the watter bottle, and the handlebars might need to be an inch higher.

I rode down to the street I grew up on, and it doesn't look much like it did 20 years ago.  The house I grew up in now has a garage on the lot, and the sapling I ran over when originally learning how to ride a bike has been removed from the front yard.  My lack of understanding about breaks didn't kill the young tree, but it grew with about a dozen small trunks instead of a large single trunk.  There was an old man who had about 4 lots when we were kids that grew a fair amount of food on them.  I believe the whole subdivision was his farm at one point.  That's all been sold off and converted into normal sized lots.  Another thing I'm not sure I'd do these days is cross the railroad tracks behind the house to get to a park on the other side.  The whole area is pretty much overgrown with vegetation now.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Watching the twins

I watched Lauren and Taylor last night.  After the short car ride to my house, they declared that we should have walked.  I agree.  I was teasing them about them cutting the grass at my parents house, but they said they didn't know how to use a lawn mower.  Then I asked if we should get my parents a goat to eat the grass.  They thought that was a great idea since it would eat the grass and it could play with my parents two dogs.

They wanted to watch Princess Mononoke, so I've already instilled them with some good taste in anime.  They also like Inu Yasha.  While they were watching the movie, they said that Blake was a good big brother, but Regan was a bad big sister.  Regan, you'll have to work on being nicer to the twins :)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Back to the Dwarves

Lord this game has a steep learning curve.  I hadn't fired it up recently, and I had completely forgotten what my plans were.  I did get to see something I had never seen before, I found an underground cavern.  Immediately after tunnelling into cavern, a nasty bat flew into my tunnels and killed a dwarf or two.  From there, probably 10-12 dwarves have died directly or indirectly of depression.  Someone would get upset that their friend died, then they would go mad and starve then their friends would get upset.  On the plus side, there are quite a few nodes of gems along the cavern walls, and there is lots of spider silk.

I think the fortress mood has pretty much stabalized.  I had been tempted to abandond the fort, but I think I'll forge on.  Fortress productivity is way down though, hopefully I have enough food and booze to get by until I figure out what I was doing and where my workshops are again.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Beating up on kids and co-workers

I haven't started picking fights with people.  I started playing in chess tournaments again.  I've gone 3-0 the last two Monday's at Meijer's chess tournaments.  Granted, these are small tournaments, but I have just doubled my number of undefeated tournaments.  Again, to be fair, I've been playing grade schoolers and kids, most of whom who are on paper quite a bit less skilled than I am at chess.

At work, people laughed when I said I beat one of my co-workers, an 8th grader, and a 4th grader.  However, the 4th grader was the only player who was basically an even match for me.  My game against him was the one it took the longest to win.  I've got my rating back over 1500 for the first time in ages.  My goal is to get back over 1600 so I have to play in the open section of the tournament.

The games on Monday are short, G30, so I'm planning on playing at Barnes and Noble next weekend.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lacquer the Dög

With Ulrich von Bek (me) on drums and Thunderbolt (my nephew Blake) on Guitar, our band Lacquer the Dög got off to a rocky start. Our first several gigs, we got booed off the stage. The first song we managed to finish was Nirvana's In Bloom. After a brief setback on the Konks 29 Fingers, the virtual band was able to finish two other songs and actually finished a 2 song set.  So far the virtual band has only been playing in a virtual dive, but with 532 virtual fans the Lacquer the Dög can now play in a slightly larger virtual dive.  

The band attributes the slow start to the fact that Thunderbolt had never picked up a guitar before joining Lacquer the Dög. Thunderbolt's skills have improved significantly over the first few gigs he attempted to play.  Thunderbolt stated, "No one has even thrown anything at me the last few times I've been on stage."  

Friday, April 17, 2009

The end is near, an epic battle between light and dark is about to begin!!!

No, I'm not predicting an imminent Apocalypse.  I haven't been reading the Left Behind series or watching the Omega Code either.  

My compound sawed chess set is nearly complete.  I got six pieces cut today, that equals the output of my entire trip up here last month!  Just three pieces left to go, a bishop, rook, and pawn.  Once that it done, I need to get to sanding and staining.  I'll add pictures to this post soon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Killing friends and family in a subterranean dungeon

No, I haven't gone insane. Well, perhaps it is insane to be playing Angband again considering I do have a win over Morgoth with a priest. However I couldn't resist the call once I got my new Linux box up and running. I had forgotten how freakin' hard this rogue-like game is.

I feel bad for Dan and Angela, I did kind of kill them stupidly by reading a scroll of monster summoning. As a result, I decided to give Dan the human priest a second try by reincarnating him as Daniel the Dunadan Paladin.

Currently Helen from the pool league in Jacksonville is atop the leader board of my new install of Angband. She had the bad luck of failing three actions in a row while trying to take down an orc captain from an orc pit. I probably should have left well enough alone after taking down some of the easier orcs in the pit and stayed well clear of the captains, however I got overly ambitions after taking one captain down without too much trouble.

If I haven't already killed you off and you have a request for a rogue-like alter ego, let me know and I'll see what I can do. (If it's any consilation, I killed myself by falling into a spiked pit and bleeding to death.)

Helen - High Elf Mage, killed by an orc captain
Meagan - Human Warior, killed by a kobold archer
Randy - Dunadan Ranger, killed by a giant clear centipede
Chip - Gnome Mage, killed by Bullroarer the hobbit
Angela - Elf Ranger, killed by a blue worm mass
Jason - Human Rogue, killed by a hill orc
Suzanne - Human Paladin, killed by Bullroarer the hobbit (I got wishy-washy about wanting to fight or run, and got my sister's alter ego killed by Bullroarer.)
Dan - Human Priest, killed by a wolf

Friday, April 3, 2009

A week of great inertia

I had been doing good about keeping the house clean and accomplishing useful things, however being sick, spending a weekend in Dayton, and drinking about a gallon of coke at a party then not being able to go to sleep until 5AM pretty much thrashed my sleep schedule. I shall endeavor to cook, go to bed at a reasonable hour, and avoid mega doses of caffeine this weekend.

My parents are out of town this weekend, so I'm taking care of the dogs. Perhaps the need to get up on Saturday morning so they don't pee all over the floor will help get me back on track sleep wise.

I'm excited to be working on something new at work. I've been supporting our franchise program for the last year and a half. This April, I'll be working on cross currency reporting. Exchange rates, here I come.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Random kindness - random oops!

I had a coupon for a free sandwich at Chick-fil-a, so I ate there for lunch today.  When I was leaving, I realized that someone was about to back out of their parking spot with a coke sitting on the roof of their car.  I walked over to tell them, and the young lady driving was confused at first, then she realized what I was pointing at.  She had a couple of young kids in the back seat, so I'm sure she just forgot about it getting them into their car seats.

While I was out running errands, I went to Barnes and Noble to use a coupon I had there to get The Watchmen graphic novel.  When I went to pay, it said my card was declined.  At first I was confused because my credit card company had recently sent me a replacement card with a new number.  Then I saw that I had tried to pay with the new card.  When I activated the new card, I swapped the new and the old putting things back in my wallet.  Unfortunately, I shredded the wrong card just a few days back.  I had to call for yet another replacement card when I got back.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Rub some Tussin on It

I believe that the title of this post comes from a Chris Rock comedy skit.  I'll feel bad if I have the wrong commedian, but not overly bad.  Most of last week was lost to feeling miserable, except Wednesday, which was lost to Kroger brand Nyquil.  I must have looked really rough, because the clerk working the U-Scan lane gave me the senior discount.  The fact that I was using the U-Scan lane should have immediately disqualified me though.  There were a dozen seniors waiting in the express lane, but I was able to walk up to an empty scanner and check out immediately.  I'm mostly better now, but I'm still coughing.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fortress expansion

Well, it's the winter of 203 for my dwarves.  The fortress population nearly doubled in the spring, and with a few births and a few more migrants arriving in the fall, there will probably be nobles showing up in the spring.  I'm not entirely ready for them.  I've also noticed dwarves sleeping in the beds I've laid out to use as hospital beds, so the bedroom situation needs work.

One problem is that even though I've dug out some new bedroom areas, they are still cluttered with stone.  I've hollowed out two otherwise useless areas on the path into the mountain.  One is holding stone, and the other useful garbage.  Even with the extra stone storage, I don't have room to store all my rock.  I'm going to have to work on that.

I've got quite a bit of ore, but I'm low on charcoal to do anything with it.  I'll have to expand my tree cutting and charcoal burning.  One good thing that happened is that I've got an artifact leather shield.  I'm sure that will be useful if I can get someone to wear it.  I did have one dwarf die of melancholy because I didn't have any turtle shell when he wanted to make an artifact.  I've traded for some, so hopefully I won't have to start fishing.  I've got more food than I really need from farming already.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Puttering Around the House

I had a great time last weekend in Dayton.  Chip and I got some useful stuff done around his house, and I got to see my youngest niece Karina.  I'm still quite proud of helping restore Chip's fridge to bachelor status. (see the virtual band post)  However, I'm looking forward to staying at home this weekend.

I'm planning on doing a fair amount of cooking this weekend.  I saw a gumbo recipe on the cooking channel that I have wanted to try for a long time, so I think I'll finally get the ingredients to make that.

I also got a new Linux box up and running recently.  I switched desks between the Linux box and my windows box recently too.  Now that those things are done, I want to get my computer room all cleaned up and organized.  There was no good way to make progress on that while the room was full of boxes of computer parts.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Many fortress milestones

I played a little DF last week, but didn't get my blog entry in.  It is now early winter of the year 202.  The dwarves of Darkbrew the Eyes of Elders have accomplished quite a bit since last I wrote about them.

They constructed a waterwheel, and used it to power gears underground which will eventually power a series of millstones.  They also finished construction of a well, which in addition to providing water to the dwarves, not that they would drink any of it unless they were out of booze or wounded, it makes a much better meeting hall than a tiny dining room.

New migrants arrived in the fall of 202 to push the fortress population to 35.  I appointed a dwarf to serve as sheriff of the growing community.  She's is currently cranky about not having furnished quarters or an office, but she'll get over it.

Finally, the fortress has it's first artifact and legendary crafter.  I've got an artifact quality rock idol, and a legendary stone crafter.  However, not having enough crafters to fully specialize yet, my legendary stone worker is currently weaving thread into cloth.

Virtual band has virtual dvd debacle - looses thousand of virtual fans

While I was in Dayton this weekend, Men without Comma, the Band Chip and I created in Rock Band, experienced a severe setback.  We decided to record a DVD in the game rock band, which gave us the opportunity to gain extra fans if we had 5 star performances for every song we played at a certain venue.  We did well, scoring 21 stars on 5 songs, but that cost us over 100,000 fans.  We lost the right to play in many venues, and had to rebuild our fan base.  We were able to do that, and got our band over 700 stars for all shows performed.  Chip and I were also able to get though some of the easiest songs in the game on expert mode, which felt like an accomplishment.

In other events in Dayton, Chip and I managed to get his fridge back to bachelor status.  It now contains pickles, beer, and condiments.  I also visited with Dan, Michele, and Karina.  I got her laughing at one point by making a do-do-doo sound for her.  On the 3rd syllable, she got really amused.  However, after a nap that sound was no longer funny.  Despite having her laughing (or as close as a 3-month-old gets to laughing) I couldn't get any good pictures of her smiling.  The one above is as good as I did.

I had a good time on my trip, but this weekend I'm looking forward to a nice relaxing time of doing nothing but puttering around my house.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

I'm addicted to this ASCII game

Well, after a winter of brewing and digging, I'm playing one more season to try to get some migrants to arrive.  At least the digging has given me enough room to clean up some of the loose stone cluttering up the place.  The goal for the spring is to get some pig tails growing and set up a loom for weaving the pig tail thread into cloth.  Ack!  Pig tails grow in the spring.  Maybe some elves will show up to trade and I can get some booze off of them, otherwise my dwarves are going to have to live with drinking fermented mushrooms.  

One of the things I did in the winter was to set up a row of traps leading into the fortress.  They caught an intruder, a "vicious" dear.  Yes, my traps killed bambi.  I built a butcher's shop and a tanning shop too.  My dwarves are making some bambi leather.

Dear lord.  I got my immigrants, 19 of them.  I've got to figure out what to do with them now.  I've got them smelting iron and burning coal, turning trees into crossbow bolts.  I made plenty of crafts, but no elven traders showed up.  I also cut a few gems.  At least I'll be able to brew some pig tails come summer, which has now hit.  I'm going to stop the game then post this.

Dwarf Fortress - The Gilded Axe

I learned about this game in a list of free games from PC Gamer magazine.  It's the most ambitious city builder type game I've ever seen, and the graphics are all ASCII art.  I decided that I would start blogging about my world for two reasons.

Without the blog, I tend to play for way too long in a single sitting.  Also, without the blog, you have nothing to show for you efforts.

I generated a world called The Gilded Axe, and I'm going to build my first fort at a river coming out of the mountains into a forest.  That should give me a good mixtrue of stone and wood to start with.  I selected a dwarven society called The Treaty of Obeisance as my home civilization because I liked the name.  And I gave a dwarf named Zulban some social skills so the game should make her the leader of my expidition.  

One of my goals for this game is not to build aboveground structures and keep everything below the surface.  I was going to customize my group name, but the randomly assigned one fits perfectly.  My dwarves will be know as The Banner of Depths.  Their fortress will be known as Darkbrew, the Eyes of Elders.

So I'm going to embark and see what I can get done in a single season.  The basic goals are to get a spot for the trade depot dug out, underground farming started, and a baracks built.  When I get a look at my map, I have an immediate decision to make on where to the entrance to my underground fortress.  There is a stream at the north end of the map, and a large plateau at the southern end.  I would really like to dig down into the rock plateau, but because trees and water are useful, I decite to start at the northern end of the map.

I got my spring goals accomplished, plus I got a baracks built.  I'm going to go ahead and play another season since this first one goes quickly.  I want to get my initial set of bedrooms built, and get my initial set of workshops laid out in a good pattern.  I want A Carpenter, mason, mechanic and wood burner on the industry side.   I also want to get all my storage underground.

Well, I didn't get a wood burnder built in the summer.  I should probably produce a few rock crafts as trade goods this fall.  Hopefully I get a few imigrants.  If I don't, I probably need to put a miner onto farming duty.  The bedrooms are dug out, but not fully furnished, so I want to get that done this fall.  I need to get my bookkeeper an office too.

Well, I didn't get any imigrants, so that limits my options for expanding things.  I went on into winter, where I think my goals are to burn a little wood into charcoal, harvest more trees to make up for what I've been using, and dig out my metal ores.  This game is so addicting.  I'm going to let it run while I'm not doing anything fancy and cook some dinner.


Well, I helped hang drywall and Michele and Robert's yesterday, and I'm sore today.  We made a lot of progress though, the walls are looking pretty good.  After we were done working, Michele, Blake, Taylor and I had a good time watching The Princess Bride.  Blake is quite a bit like Fred Savage's character who doesn't like all the kissy stuff.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Snow, power, and fish

Well, we had a big snow and ice storm here in Louisville about 10 days ago.  I worked from home on Tuesday, but I lost power that night.  My power came back on just before the superbowl.  Fortunately we had a warm weekend.  It was 38 degrees in my house when I woke up on Saturday morning.

So now that I've covered snow and power, you may wonder why fish are in the title of this update.  Well, my poor fish didn't survive the chilly conditions in my house.  They hung in there for a while, and if someone had mentioned this technique to me sooner I might have been able to save them by putting sealed containers of hot water in the tank to keep the water warm.  Fish have survived for hundreds of millions of years without electricity, but my fish seem to be pretty reliant on it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Spirit

Now I loved Sin City and 300, so I was really looking forward to this movie when I first saw the previews for it. In fact, I thought it was a trailer for Sin City II when I first saw the styalized black and white images on the screen.

I saw this movie a few days ago at The Village 8, a cheap theater in Louisville. I should have known bad things were going on when a movie that opened on Christmas day was already in the cheap theater on Jan 19th. However, I was already there, and Village 8 gives you free refills on a large soda.

The good: Scarlett Johansson is absolutely drool inducingly gorgeous as Silken Floss. Her acting may have even been the best in the movie, or it could have just been that when everyone else is overacting and saying ridiculous things, playing a deadpan straight faced character makes you look good in comparison. Also, all the Sin City style is there. That's it, end of the good list.

I suppose Eva Mendez is hot too, but her character is so annoying you probably won't care. Another thing about her character is that the name is apparently Sand Serif from the printed material, but sometimes the other characters call her San Serif and other times Sand. Couldn't the director have at least made them say her name consistently one way or the other?

There is too much wrong with the movie to make an exhaustive listing, but despite all that, I was entertained. The problem was that it was in a MST3K or USA Up All Night kind of way. When the movie made me laugh, I was definately laughing at it, not with it.


Well, I'm down to a half day of vacation for my 2nd year at SVS, and I have to say that this has been a good relaxing one. I've caught up some on my movie and DVD watching. I need to do more, but if I can watch the Dark Knight today I'll be able to check one more off my list. I also got some stuff done around my house that I had been meaning to do for a while. I'm probably going to head back to Louisville sometime tomorrow so I can get a little more done on my last day before heading back to work.

I drove up to Dayton and saw my niece Karina on Wednesday this week. She looks a lot bigger than when I saw her just a few weeks ago at Christmas. She's also a lot more interactive. She reacts to music and rhythms by smiling. She also smiled when I recited the alphabet rhyme from Edward Gory's The Gashly Crumb Tinies. I'm trying to be a good gothic influence on my youngest niece. I wonder if she would like Poe's The Raven as well? Maybe I shouldn't point this blog out to Dan and Michele, they might not want a young goth on their hands. On the other hand, a gothic influence can't be any worse than metaphysics for an infant, can it?

Chip and I played some Rock Band for the first time in a long time as well. We got our band, Men without Comma, up over 500 stars for the gigs we've played, but we lost some fans on a punk song with brutal fast drumming. To add insult to injury, you can't even practice the song in the practice settings!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sookie Stackhouse Novels

If anyone watched the HBO series True Blood, these are the novels that series was based on. There are enough differences that reading ahead in the books isn't going to spoil the next season of the show, even if you do pick up a few spoilers along the way.

Dead Until Dark - The first book, introduces the main characters of Sookie and Bill. Sookie is a telepathic bar tender and Bill is a vampire. Ironically, they're the perfect couple because Sookie can't read the minds of Vampires. Probably the biggest difference from the show to the book is that the show (probably wisely) excluded a vampire Elvis, who now goes by the name of Bubba. Could you blame a vampire working in the morgue from trying to save his hero? Too bad all the drugs in Elvis' system turned him into a dimwit who prefers cat blood to other forms of nourishment.

Living Dead in Dallas & Club Dead - Books two and three respectively. These books start to bring in many of the side characters who were immediatly presented in the HBO series. These were some of my Christmas presants, and I read through them in a hurry. Maybe I'm a sucker for vampire stories, but I enjoyed both of these a great deal and plan on picking up more of these books when I go spend the borders card I got for my birthday.

For the curious, this link leads to the books:

And this to the HBO series:

I apparantly am lousy at blogging regullarly

I could blame it on the holidays I suppose, or working a lot. However, I haven't been doing anything else on a regular weekly basis either. I could also blame it on my hot water heater being out for a week before christmas, not having hot water is certainly style cramping. I had a good holliday and good birthday, hosted my Dad's side of the family Christmas party almost two weeks ago, and have read all the books I got for Christmas. I must get into a better pattern with my weekly routine and monthly cleaning.

Since this was a rather lame update, I'm going to get a book review up.