Monday, December 12, 2016

Game Review - Sid Meier's Civilization VI

I love turn based strategy games on the PC. It's like playing a tabletop wargame, only without all the set up, without worrying about pieces.  And you can save your game!  So much more convenient than just stopping mid game or trying to write down the board state on paper so you can set it up again to continue later.  And yes, my college roommates and I used to do exactly that my Freshman year.  I suppose it indicates how old I am that I even mention that's a reason I like PC strategy games.

Once Becky & I bought our first PC back in, like, 1996, one of the first games I got was a turn based strategy game.  Typical format: settle cities, generate income, buy units, go fight for more cities, more income, more/better units, etc.  Man I wish I could remember what it was called.  I spent so much time playing it.  It was simple, graphic were poor, AI was dumb, but it was still fun.

For a few years I played some PBEM games.  Twilight Emperium, Medeival Wars.  They had the cool updside of actually playing with real people.  I made some good friends playing them.  The processing time of each turn allowed for a depth of diplomatic play that was somewhere between exhilarating and exhausting.

About 2006 I bought Civ IV.  That has been my go to computer strategy game for a decade now.  I loved Civ IV.  There was just something really satisfying about watching a civilization grow from stone age to space age.  Just the grand scope of exploration, scientific and social advancement over millenia ... it captured my imagination.  The game pulled it together really well.

Eventually Civ V was released as an extensive revision of the civ series.  Hex based instead of grid based, single units per tile rather than grand built up armies, introducing a Civics Tree similar to the Tech Tree.  I wasn't sure I'd like the single unit per tile mechanic, but otherwise it seemed intriguing.  I nearly bought it, but then found out it didn't accomodate hot seat play.  That was a deal breaker.  I would sometimes play the game with my kids in hot seat mode, each of us taking turns at the computer to build our empires.  It was a cool thing.  To not be able to?  I'd stick with Civ IV.  I guess they eventually fixed it, but I'd already kind of blown off Civ V, so I didn't go back to look at it again.

So civ VI was released last October.  Apparently very similar to Civ V.  Hot Seat play included at release.  Somewhat modified unit per tile system.  I'm not sure I'm sold on it.  It's different than Civ IV, but that's it.   I can get used to it.  I really love having a Civics tree.  I like how they set up government types with policies you can choose that affect game play.  Cities are built differently in Civ VI.  They expand by district, eventually occupying several tiles within their cultural border.  It makes for a cool sprawl mechanic, some really neat city development play.

Managing diplomacy this first game I've played has been a challenge, especially with a warmongering mechanic that the more you fight, the more hostility other nations have towards you.  The simple answer to manage it is, "well don't pick fights then," right?  Except that your warmongering status increases dramatically even when you're not the aggressor.  I guess the other simple answer is, "I guess I'll just fight everyone."

Managing city happiness and size requires attention.  It is so easy to let a city outgrow the amenities you have that ensure citizen happiness.  As you move up the tech & civ trees, you get access to building that provide those amenities and allow cities to grow even more, but doing so requires some pacing.

I love how they set up trade.  As you develop the tech for it and the buildings to support it, you get trade units who can engage in trade routes between cities, both domestic and foreign.  They build your roads, generate income and affect diplomacy.

Barbarians are super aggressive and everywhere in Civ VI.  Mostly I think that's awesome.  It allows for combat in a game that otherwise tries to encourage peaceful diplomacy between players.  The barbarians allow many opportunities to loot income and gain experience for combat units.

The graphics are fun.  The game is pretty intuitive.  Tabby plays it with me and picked up on it very quickly.

I guess the best indicator of how much I like it, though, is how much time I spend playing it. I've pretty much blown off playing both WoW and Hearthstone entirely to play CIV VI.  And of course I stay up way to late every night playing "just one more turn."

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Rise and Fall of the Bible by Timothy Beal

 Becky checked this one out from the library, then passed it to me thinking I might like it.  And I did.  Timothy Beal manages to write much more eloquently than I could about opinions I also share.  Opinions not so much about the Bible as about the common way it is used.

He writes about the origins of the Bible from its roots in Jewish scripture to collections of early Christian leaders' letters to becoming compiled in it's current form.  If you can even claim it has a "form".  One thing Beal emphasizes is that the phenomenon of multiple versions of scripture is not new to modern Christianity.  Even ancient Jewish scriptural scrolls often came with commentary essays, which would in turn sometimes become conflated with the scriptural writing itself.  A tradition that has continued from ancient to modern times.

He does not consider that is necessarily a bad thing.  It requires that we read scripture thoughtfully.  Reading different books of the Bible as personal testimony about holy events can be a thought provoking, enriching experience. It can inspire us to seek our own such experiences.

By contrast, modern evangelical Biblicalism tries to portray the Bible as a single, incontrovertible "voice of God" narrative.  Multiple authors, sure, but all saying the same thing.  The tendency is to reduce the Bible to some sort of Holy Magic 8 Ball. "The Word of God is sufficient for all things." Or, "open it to any passage and you will find God's answer for you."

My observation is that this is how you get otherwise reasonable people to take the Creation Museum seriously.  Or deny that Jupiter has moons.  It drives me absolutely bonkers when people try to use the Bible as a biology text book.  Or physics or history or any other kind of text book. That's not what it is.  It is simply the testimony of Prophets about God and His relation with us and those prophets' teachings about how we ought to treat each other.  As if that were a simple thing.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Two More Book Reports

Wisp of a Thing, by Alex Bledsoe.

Alex Bledsoe is one of my favorite relatively new authors.  His books are well written, smart, easy reads and just a ton of fun.  I've especially like his Eddie LaCrosse novels.  Swords & Sorcery noir.  I recently found his first Tufa novel, The Hum and the Shiver.  A cool take on urban fantasy, only not so much urban as back woods redneck.  He is an author that when I see a book of his at the library that I have not yet read, I will always check it out.

So when I heard Alex Bledsoe would be at the Brown County library, I had to go.  I bought the second Tufa novel, Wisp of a Thing and he signed it for me.  Mr. Bledsoe was a really nice guy.  It was cool to meet him.

He assures me the Tufa novels can be read in any order (like the Eddie LaCrosse novels).  After reading Wisp of a Thing, I'm glad I read The Hum and the Shiver first, just because the tension in Hum & Shiver is built around a mystery of who the Tufa are.  Some of that mystery might have been lost had I read Wisp first.

But I definitely recommend reading Wisp of a Thing.  After a personal tragedy, a young man named Rob Quillen is led by a vision of sorts to Cloud County Tennessee.  There he is swept up into a tragedy precipitated by Rockhouse Hicks, leader of one Tufa clan, upon a poor wisp of a thing.  The story is replete with interesting insights into right and wrong and the nature of fate.  And it's also just a really neat story with rich characters and exciting conflicts that you don't have to think too deeply about to enjoy.

Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett.

It's been a while since I've read a Terry Pratchett novel.  But I found one at the library the other day that I hadn't read yet so I grabbed it.  It reminded me again why I absolutely adore Terry Pratchett so much.  Easy read, thought provoking, well written and incredibly funny.

I have to admit, though, this one is not so overtly hilarious as some of his other books.  It actually tackles a somber topic.  Death.  Death is a somewhat recurrant theme in several of his books.  DEATH being a recurring character, there are plenty of opportunities to see death through a variety of perspectives.  This book differs in that it is actually about the subject.

The Fates (or somebody) decides that DEATH has done a great job, but it's time for him to retire.  They gift him his own gold retirement pocket hourglass and let him go.  So DEATH learns what it means to have time, spend time, waste time, borrow time and ultimately gains a deeper appreciation for what it means when your time is up.

Meanwhile, while the new DEATH anthropomorphizes (or whatever) there is an awful lot of life force hanging around not dying.  It all gets channelled into something preying on the city of Ankh-Morpork, which finds itself quickly running out of time.

Or maybe the book is not so much about death as it is about how the spectre of death helps us (or should help) to appreciate our time in life while we have it.  There are some really touching moments in the book, made all the more poignant given Terry Pratchett's own death just over a year ago.

So there it is.  I've had a lucky streak picking books to read.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Two Book Reports

Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson is a dystopian science fiction which begins in the year 2172. The apocolypse that led to this distopia was the end of oil. The end of the "Efflorescence of Oil" as the novel's history puts it. That led to a collapse of modern food production and transportation. Starvation and disease reduced human population dramatically, technology regressed to late 19th century-ish.

A religious elite grabbed power in the United States, establishing "the Dominion of Jesus Christ on Earth" as a branch of government. Society has stratified itself into an aristocratic class that controls wealth and production, an indentured class owned by the aristocrats and a leasing class of free citizens who don't actually own any property. The Supreme Court was abolished by Constitutional Amendment. The Presidency remains nominally an elected position, but in actuality an inherited one. The borders of the country extend from the Panama Canal (recently taken from the Brazilians) to Northern Canada, except for the Northeastern provinces which control the Northwest passage. The USA has been fighting a decades long war against the "Dutch" (shorthand for German controlled Europe) to retake those territories.

Julian is an aristocrat, 17 year old nephew of President Deklan Comstock. Percieving Julian's father as a threat to his own control of the Presidency, Deklan sent his brother fight the Brazilians for the Panama Canal. Instead of conveniently dying in the conflict, Julian's father is victorious, returns as a hero and is subsequently accused of treason by Deklan and hanged. To protect Julian from Deklan, his mother took him to a remote town called Williams Ford and assigned a very capable man named Sam Godwin to be Julian's protector and mentor.

In Williams Ford, Julian befriends Adam Hazzard, a young man his own age of the leasing class. Adam aspires to become an author and the story is told from his perspective. He writes an account of how he and Julian were swept up into the War, how Julian became a war hero and what the man behind the hero was like.

It's a fascinating story. The characters develop quite naturally from the narrative. They are fun and engaging. The story is thought provoking. There are themes of human nature of the role religion plays for us of love and family. I enjoyed the book immensely and now have to look for more books by Mr. Wilson.

The second book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O'brien is one I read when I was in grade school. Several times because I loved it so much. Tabby & I took a break from reading Redwall novels to read this one.

Mrs. Frisby is a mouse with a problem. Her son, Timothy, is very ill. Old Mr. Ages, a wise mouse, was able to concot a medicine for Timothy. He begins to recover, but can't leave the Frisby's sheltered home until the cool Spring weather turns warm or he risks falling ill again and not being able to recover. But the family must move. Farmer Fitzgibbon will soon plow the field where the family lives, destroying their home and surely killing anyone in it.

Through a series of events, an owl advises Mrs. Frisby to seek the help of the mysterious rats who live under the rosebush near the Fitzgibbon's home. She finds that they can, indeed, help her and they are willing to because of how her own family is tied up in their own fascinating tale.

It has been decades since I last read the book and it is every bit as awesome as I remember it being as a little boy. It is imaginative, thought provoking, a morality tale of what it means to be productive and good. And it is fun to read. It is no wonder it won a Hugo award.

Tabby loved it too.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Another Sad Day

Although this one almost had a happy ending.

It started a week ago Monday when Tabby noticed that her mouse, Springald was having trouble breathing. How serious is that? A cold? Pneumonia? And what do you do for a mouse with a bad cold or something anyway?

I mentioned it to the tech that took my blood at Biolife on Tuesday morning and she just shook her head, "I've owned a bunch of rodents - mice, hamsters, even rabbits and like, half of them before they died had episodes like that."


So maybe the internet has advice right? And it did! Get some tetracycline from the fish department of a pet store, make an antiobiotic paste to feed your mouse and watch it recover. To Petco! But they don't sell it anymore. Apparently the product was intended to treat fish and was being used by too many people for other purposes, so the FDA started regulating it. But they guy there recommended a vet we could visit who could give us a prescription for an antibiotic.

to the Vet! We actually had a great time there. A whole bunch of people were there, mostly with dogs. All really nice (both people and dogs). One guy was there with a bird ("meanie bird" according to Tabby, since it had bitten its owner) and there was a girl there with a ferret. Tabby loved the ferret and spent most of her time in line bonding with its owner. The vet, Dr. Wolf, was very nice, very good with Tabby and had good news. She had an antibiotic, give it to Springald twice a day for two weeks and she should be fine.

"Any hints for how to medicate a mouse?" I asked.

"You don't need any. Mice love this stuff."

Ha! Springald definitely did not love the stuff. She fought us feeding it to her every time. Mostly we just smeared it on her whiskers and fur and she got it by grooming. Then after 3 or 4 days, she started to get better. Her breathing returned to normal and she looked much more comfortable. You know how antibiotic regmines are, though, we continued to administer the medicine twice a day.

Then last night as she struggled against getting it, she twisted her left front leg. When I let her down, she couldn't support herself on it. She didn't squeak like she was in pain or anything, she just couldn't use it and she totally freaked out. Like trying to run, jumping to get away from us, flopping around, obviously in a complete panic until she suddenly just stopped moving and died. My guess is something like a panic induced heart attack.

Man, when we agreed to let Tabby get mice, it didn't even occur to us how fragile an animal they are. I mean, obviously, we knew we'd be dealing with the "death of a pet" issue eventually ... but not so soon! Or frequently.

We went to Petco and got yet another mouse. A black one this time that Tabby has named Mini Shadow. She is sooo tiny. Cornflower seemed somewhat distraught that Springald never returned to the mouse cage, running around frantically looking for something or someone. Eventually she and Shadow curled up together, groomed a bit and went to sleep, though.

Tonight we'll have another mousey funeral and bury Springald next to the first Cornflower under the apple tree.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Book Report: The Powder Mage trilogy

The Promise of Blood, The Crimson Campaign, and The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan.

The Powder Mage trilogy is set in a world with two main divisions of magic, Privileged and Powder Mages.  The former is a more traditional type of magic you may find in other fantasy settings ... individuals who control elemental powers to fantastic, often deadly effects.  Powder mages are immune to Privileged magics and have their own unique ability: they can manipulate gun powder - igniting it at a distance, or altering the course of bullets in flight, for example.

A Promise of Blood begins with Tamas, powder mage and commander of the Adran army, overthrowing the brutally corrupt Adran monarchy in a violent, bloody coup, then sending his son to eradicate the Privileged mages who might threaten the newly established republic.  As the story unfolds we get a broader view of more nuanced magics in the world.  That system is as much a setting for the story as the six other nations surrounding Adro which attempt to take advantage of the upheaval through means military, economic or political.  The story itself is about how Tamas, his son Taniel and their friends stabilize the republic in the face of those threats and more. 

They are very exciting books.  Well written.  Fun to read.  The setting is intriguing.  The characters are varied, engaging.  I cared about them and some were just plain fun.  I'm thinking specifically of the Chef Mihali.  He's crazy.  Or maybe he's a god.  Either way, I think it's fair to credit him with saving the world.

And that's the series in a nutshell.  Mages & marksmen reshaping the world through violent conflict that would all work itself out better if we would only just sit down for a nice meal together, wouldn't it?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Rough Week

This week was a rough one for poor Tabby.  Though it started well enough.  Saturday morning was the Magic: the Gathering prerelease events for the new Kaladesh set of cards.  I went to an early morning event and did horribly in my matches.  1-1-2, and I was lucky to eek out the two ties.  But you know, there are worse ways to spend a morning than playing a fun game with good friends, even if you do poorly in the game.

What I was really excited about though is the Two Headed Giant event.  Two players put together decks and play as a team against other 2HG teams.  They do the event every prerlease and I'd like to take Tabby, but they don't start until 6 PM, which means not finishing until nearly 11 PM.  Kinda' late for a nine year old.  This time, however, they had a 2HG event Saturday afternoon at 2 PM.  Perfect! 

And Tabby & I kicked butt. I put together two decks for us that were okay individually; good, synergystic cards.  The real strength was how they complemented each other, though.  I mostly had spells that killed our opponents' creatures and Tabby mostly had creatures with a real high power to cost efficiency.  So I killed blockers while Tabby threw out attacker after attacker after attacker and steamrolled our opponents.  We went 3-1.  Two of the games ending just ridiculously quickly.  And the one game we lost was very close.  Like, we could have won if I'd drawn just one of my 8 swamps.  And even that round, we won a door prize.  Literally, we won something every round.  It was a lot of fun.

One hint of problem though.  As Tabby & were chatting between rounds about her mice, she mentioned that poor Cornflower had an injured paw.  Like, having trouble walking.  So she had carefully put her in a soft kleenex bed.  In a kleenex box on her dresser.

Me: "Did you remember to put her back in the cage before we left?"
Tabby: "Yeah, I think so."
Phone call.
Becky: "Jack, there's a problem, Tabby left her mouse cage door open and I don't see the mice anywhere."
Me: "Hm.  Maybe check the kleenex box on her dresser?"
Becky: "What?  Why? Seriously?"
Becky; "Sure enough.  They're back in the cage."

So we got home flying high after the tournament, check on the mice and found a terrible shock.  Cornflower didn't have an injured paw, she'd actually broken her back.  She couldn't move her back legs or tail at all.  She could just scoot around by pulling with her front paws. It was so sad.  Tabby cried and held Cornflower as much as she could all night.

We figured out that Cornflower actually got around okay.  She could reach her food and water and crawl all over the cage.  She could even climb the tubes in the cage.  Getting up the tall tube took a couple tries, but she managed it.

Tabby had planned on making a YouTube video.  She's been doing research about getting a rat as a pet, which involved watching videos, and she found a wonderful content maker called the Rat Guru who has inspired Tabby to create some of her own.  After finding Cornflower with a broken back, though, she changed her plans to make a video tribute to how strong Cornflower was.  It's a short, sweet video taken with a bad camera ... but it's pretty good for a nine year old's first ever video content.

Monday I kind of got the day off work.  The intranet connection between Green Bay and Indianapolis was broken.  All my work is on the Indianapolis server. All of it.  So I went home and did yard work.

When Tabby got home from school she got Cornflower out of her cage and sat down to pet & cuddle her while watching YouTube videos.  I walked downstairs about an hour later or so to see how it was going and found Tabby in tears, "Cornflower passed away, Dad.  She just fell asleep and now she's dead."  Oh man, it was so sad.  I held Tabby while she cried and cried and cried.  I felt awful.  Even Becky, who never really liked the mice, felt awful.  "Gah, why do I feel so sad about a stupid mouse?"  But she did.

So we had a nice mouse funeral Monday evening and buried Cornflower under the apple tree out back.  We also ran to the PetSmart and bought another mouse so that Springald wouldn't be alone.  Another albino, Cornflower 2.

Tuesday morning also started out fun: Daddy/daughter breakfast at Tabby's school!  We were excited about it all morning, had fun with the short clue hunt around the school before we got our food.  Sat down to eat and Tabby said, "I don't feel well."  When it turned out she couldn't even take more than a sip of her juice, I decided I'd take her home.  On the way to retrieve her stuff from her locker she just exploded.  Projectile vomit across the floor.  At least she aimed down and managed to hit a spot where no one was walking next to us.

Poor Tabby.  She gets that way sometimes and we're not sure why.  Stress maybe?  She'll get sick, throw up all morning, take a nap and wake up fine.  By lunchtime she was all better.  could probably even have gone back to school, but we don't quite feel comfortable with, "Our daughter is better now, we're letting her go back to school."

"You mean the girl that threw up all over our floor about three hours ago?"

Hm.  So she got the whole day off.

This weekend we're going to Chicago.  And Ben is taking some SAT specialized subject tests.  Should be exciting.  Hopefully it turns out to be all good instead of the ups and downs of the past week.