Saturday, January 28, 2012

Shabbat Gaming

Tal and I ate lunch at Abraham and Sarah's. While waiting for Tal to arrive, I played my third game of Ticket To Ride (this one with the 1910 Expansion) with Abraham and Sarah. It's soooo light. It's ok and all, but I just don't see it as comparable to The Settlers of Catan. I can see it as a gateway game; I admit that Settlers has a few more rules, which can discourage newer players. But Settlers also has more depth and more involvement.

Maybe it's just a matter of what flavor you go for. Or maybe I haven't played it enough to appreciate its depth.

We only got about a third of the way into the game, and I enjoyed it well enough. Both Abraham and I were planning to complete our three short routes and then spend the rest of the game making random six routes to end the game. Oh yeah: the ability for one player to hasten the end of the game in a way that doesn't have to do with winning is another mechanic I don't care for.

After lunch we played Tichu. Tal and I scored 965 to Abraham and Sarah's 335, but shabbat was over so I decided to call it a draw. I pulled lots of bad hands but managed one tichu. I still don't know how Aaron called and made so many grand tichus against me at BGG.con.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Movie Reviews

The Artist - An "ode to a bygone era" film. At their worst, films like these, while clever and precise, capture too much of the era to which they ode (often an era is bygone because we have progressed to better things since then) and concentrate too much on the technicalities of the capture and not enough on the soul (i.e. weak story, flat acting).

The Artist manages to escape this by about 70%. It recapitulates the story of an actor left by the wayside when the film industry moves to talking pictures. Unlike most movies with this story, this one is done (almost) entirely as a silent picture. The plot is actually closer to A Star is Born, and might be familiar if you know who Greta Garbo and John Gilbert were.

While the story is not earthshaking, it's entertaining. It doesn't capture the exact feel of silent films in several ways: the leading lady is too forward (I think her era regression stopped at about 1975), the acting not as absurdly stylized as it was in silent films, the pacing too modern and smooth, the camerawork too intelligent and diverse. On the one hand, these are good things; on the other, they are a little unsettling.

The film has a few deliberately jarring moments ala Pleasantville and Silent Movie. A nice film, but not an important one.

Fireflies in the Garden - A quiet family drama about a man mixing with his family after the death of his mother. In particular, the man confronts his tyrannical authoritarian father, who appears not to have learned much since the son has been away, except that his son doesn't like the way he was brought up.

The principal actors - Ryan Reynolds is the son, William DaFoe the father, and Julia Roberts the mother - as well as the rest of the cast do a fine job. If you had a father like this one, it may be a bit hard to watch at certain points, but it never gets too graphic. A "slice of life" film.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish) / The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (American) - Yes, I saw them both. Guess what? They're both good. The American version is not a remake of the Swedish version; it's another movie based on the same book. Certain events and characters are left out of one and not the other, sequences of minor events are shifted, etc. The acting, directing, and photography of both are equally good. There's no need to see both of them, and it doesn't really matter which one you see.

The story is about a reporter who faces jail-time for libel. The story he published was (probably) true, but his sources recanted at the last moment. Before going to jail, an oligarch  hires him to find out what happened to his niece who disappeared 40 years earlier; one of his family was probably involved. The oligarch hired a girl to compile a dossier on the reporter before he hired the reporter; this girl has troubles of her own with her state-appointed legal case worker (who controls her money until she is 25). She is eventually hired to help the reporter on the case.

The story is based on a best-selling book, and the movies do a reasonable job of covering its main points.

It's Kind of a Funny Story - Keir Gilchrist stars in another movie adaptation of a book, this one about a boy who feels parental and academic pressure and checks himself into a mental facility for five days. While there, he gains perspective by meeting other people who are sick and he experiences many happy Hollywood moments.

It's a feel-good by-the-book formula movie, which annoyed me. It skips over some of the real disgusting, dirty, and depressing things that you will find day-to-day in a real mental facility. However, for what it is, it works, and even a shallow exposure to a mental facility is probably better than none (most people's understanding ends at One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (which they haven't seen, but they imagine)).

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol - This was actually better than it had a right to be. The action sequences were thrilling - I expected to be jaded by such things by now. Cruise actually hung from the Burj Khalifa tower to film his stunts; lord knows why. Oh right: it's Tom Cruise.

The movie manages to keep the series in pace with the Bourne series. In this series, characters make elaborate plans that, one at a time like clockwork, go wrong. Just enough goes right each time that the mission can be fulfilled by a series of last-minute chases, falls, bumps, and dumb luck.

Good summer fun.

Moneyball - The kind of movie you would expect Robert Redford to direct, this is a baseball movie about geek gamer statistics and how they changed major league recruitment. Hiring "all around good players" was the old-school way to make a team; the new way is to focus on players who do exactly what is needed to win: get on base, score runss.

It's a clash between old-school and geek, and there's no surprise who wins, though the story (which is true) doesn't follow the usual formula exactly. A good movie.

The Muppets - I was expecting this to suck badly given all the promotion I saw (usually a lot of promotion means a bad movie). Instead it was pretty good. I'm a little hazy on remembering the details, but I think it was suitable for young kids, which is who it's really aimed at. The plot doesn't quite hold together enough for grownups: things turn around too quickly, too often.

The idea is similar to The Blues Brothers: Muppets have to reunite from their disparate locations and vocations to stage a benefit to raise money to save Muppet theater. Meanwhile, the main characters have be true to themselves.

The comedy, singing, and dancing are nice. If there was still a Muppet show on television, this movie would prove that the Muppets are still relevant. Without one, it's hard to see that the movie will revive the franchise. The YouTube videos aimed at grownups are doing a better job of keeping them alive (for grownups, at least).

One Day - Another movie based on a book, this one is the story of a couple told over the course of several years. Each scene focuses on the same day in the next year, wherever, and with whomever, the two leads happen to be. It all goes well until a major plot point which takes us into cliched romance territory, which was both predictable and disappointing.

Forgettable chick-flick.

The Time Traveler's Wife - Yet another movie based on a book. Like most movies based on books, people who love the book love to hate the movie because they think the movie left out this or changed that. Grow up, people. A movie based on a book is a retelling of a story, not "the book in film format". It must be judged on its own merits.

The movie is lovely. Like most time travel stories, parts of it make no sense, and you have to give them a pass for those parts. The story is about a man whose main life stream is constantly interrupted as he travels suddenly back or forward in time  - and space - but only to a very specific range of time and space, much of it in close proximity to his own past, the past of the girl he ends up marrying, or his future daughter (only as a young girl).

The sci-fi, like all good sci-fi, is used a metaphor for a man who is not always present, or about the course of a relationship. It's artfully done and romantic, but a bit sentimental for those who don't like that kind of thing (definitely a chick-flick). It inspired me to buy the book, so that I can become one of those people.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Puerto Rico Slaughter

Nadine slaughtered me, Bill, and Shirley in Puerto Rico.

Bill and Shirley are newer players. The position order was Nadine, Bill, me, Shirley. Bill's effect on me was to take coffee before my coffee; neither one of us produced coffee until past mid-game. I was already behind Nadine who had an early Factory and then Harbor, and I made the mistake of taking Factory on turn 8 or 9; that gave me lots of useless money by the end of the game but no points. I also made the mistake of not taking a Wharf a few turns before the game ended, instead taking buildings to complete my Guild Hall. I didn't anticipate how often I could have used it by the end of the game. Not that it would have made much difference.

Shirley's effect on Nadine was give her an early trade; this let Nadine get an early Factory and then Harbor. Nadine went on to get Custom's House and Wharf. Shirley also had a Harbor, so it was in her interests to keep taking Captain; this let her ship 4 or 5 points to Nadine's 9 or 10 points and also let Nadine take Craftsman again (instead of having to take Captain and Craftsman on alternate turns). My money-heavy strategy was only sufficient to beat Bill and Shirley.

Shirley had a tobacco monopoly which she used for trading but only occasionally for shipping.

Scores: Nadine 79 (44 shipping, 11 Custom's House), me 55, Shirley and Bill 52.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jerusalem and Raanana Session Reports

Raanana report by me: Power Grid, Antike, Ticket to Ride Norway, Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix. And by Ellis: Power Grid.

Jerusalem report by Nadine: Nile, Year of the Dragon.

I played Mancala on Friday night with a young girl during dinner. The rules with which we played: 6 bowls on each side, 1 bin on the right for each player. 4 stones per bowl. On your turn, pick up and deliver, skipping opponent's bin. If you land in your bin, go again. If you land in an empty space on your side, take the stone and all stones in the opposing bowl and place them in your bin, but only if opponent has at least 1 stone in the opposing bowl. Keep playing until all stones are in bins.

I won the first game and we tied on the second. I think she was used to winning, which is why she stopped after two games. But she handled herself pretty well.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

You're Fired!

Definition: "Fired", as in "Fired up!" - On fire, hot, doing great, doing great work.

Hey managers! Your task today is to go around your office and randomly tell people "You're Fired!" Tell them loud enough so that their coworkers can overhear. Pump your fist in the air and make the "Woo Hah!" sound, too. It's a great way to increase morale!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Jerusalem and Raanana Session Reports; Hypnotism

Raanana games played: Power Grid.

Jerusalem games played: Jungle Speed, London.


I was in an audience with a practicing stage hypnotist. I don't know what I was expecting, but I was not expecting my reaction: I was disgusted. I walked out.

The subjects were made to forget their names, the number three, etc. When they could not (or would not) count, the audience laughed. The subjects smiled sheepishly. The hypnotist did not use any hypnotic induction; he just passed his hand over their heads and held it in front of their eyes for a moment, and then announced, out loud, what the subjects were going to do incorrectly.

My first thoughts were that, of course, this was bunk. But, then again, not necessarily. Although magic is bunk, some odd things about the human mind and body have some truth to them, even if the stories that surround them are nonsense. E.g. acupuncture apparently does have some real effect on reducing pain.

My second thought was that the performance, whether real or fake, was obscene. It's one thing to laugh at TV people being idiots for fun in a sitcom, or people in power (like politicians) being idiots. It's another thing to laugh at friends who are under the influence of suggestion. Even if they agreed to be hypnotized, they are being made to look like fools while helpless. It's embarrassing, like laughing at the handicapped. If it was a serious demonstration, I would have found it interesting ... scary and creepy, but interesting. But not for entertainment. So I walked out.

I asked the subjects after the fact, and they both denied any sort of collusion or trickery on their part. Neither was embarrassed at what had happened.

The odd part is that Israel is one of the few countries where stage hypnosis is absolutely illegal. I don't know how this guy gets away with doing it in public. He was a good stage magician, so the hypnosis wasn't necessary for his act. I have no problems with magic acts.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Two Near Car Crashes

Friday Morning I went to see a small exhibit of Chinese/Japanese prints in the library of the Japanese embassy in Tel Aviv. The prints were lovely, but the exhibition was small, so I was done looking around quickly. While my friends were talking, I looked through the books until I found the Go section.

Bill and I drove from there to Jerusalem together, while Shirley and the others took the bus. I stopped on the way to do my exchanges in my first Israeli math trade. I traded In the Shadow of the Emperor for Through the Desert, and Aton for both No Thanks and Lucca Citta. This required stops in Petach Tikvah and Maccabim/Reut.

As we were driving from Reut to Maccabim, some guy (talking on a cell phone, natch) entered from my left and swerved into my lane (on the right). He didn't see me until my car tires were screeching as I jerked over to the right to avoid him. He glanced at me and continued on his way.

From Reut to Jerusalem, I was in the left lane trying to work up speed on an incline. A car a few hundred meters in front of me in the center lane suddenly started screeching and stopped. I reacted a little slowly, but finally slammed on my brakes when I saw that the car had halted right in front of a couch stretched across the middle lane and some of the left lane.

Although I stomped on the brakes, my car continued to slide forward, screeching the whole time. I was headed straight for the car in the center lane, but I couldn't turn my car; I had absolutely no control over the direction; stopping was taking a heck of a long time.

I saw we were not going to stop in time and I braced for impact; it looked like we were going to hit the side of the car. No one was going to get hurt, assuming that the guy didn't decide to open his car door or something. However, in the end, my car screeched past the other car, missing it by a few inches and stopping just shy of the couch.

A flatbed was ahead on the side of the road, obviously the one off of which the couch had fallen. I pulled over to the same side and took a few breaths to steady my nerves before continuing on. I said bircat Hagomel in shul the next day.

I saw Eitan, Emily, Bill, and Shirley after dinner on Friday night, and Bill and Shirley went out to a movie on Sat night. Two more weeks and they go back to the US.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Raanana and Jerusalem Session Reports

Raanana: Ellis' report here, and my report here. Games played: Gobblet Junior, Sushizock im Gockelwok, Power Grid, Ticket to Ride Europe, Ticket to Ride Scandinavia

Jerusalem: Nadine's report here. Games played: Notre Dame, Microscope (RPG), Puerto Rico, London, Lo Ra.

New and returning people at both events.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Ten Weird and Wonderful Song Transformations

Here are ten weird and wonderful cover songs on Youtube in no particular order, covering but utterly transforming an original smash pop hit. Most of the original songs are Hip Hop. Most of the transformations are soul or folk.

1. Tori Amos covers Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit

Tori Amos does a lot of soulsy covers of odd source material, including heavy metal and death metal originals (e.g. Raining Blood by Slayer).

2. Einat & Hakim cover The Black Eyed Peas' I Got a Feeling

These guys are pretty funky Israelis.

3. Alanis Morissette covers The Black Eyed Peas' My Humps

A joke, but shows that Alanis can't help sounding good even when she's not trying.

4. Jonathan Coulton covers Sir Mix-a-Lot's Baby Got Back

Also a joke, I suppose, but it's hard to listen to this and think that he's not singing something profound.

5. Pomplamoose covers Beyonce's Single Ladies

Pomplamoose has a number of odd, weird, funky covers, including an awesome cover of Lady Gaga's Telephone (which itself has an entire bevy of weird covers, from country rock to classical).

6. Sarah Bareilles covers Beyonce's Single Ladies

Another cover of Single Ladies, this demonstrates Sarah's talents, which go far beyond simple pop and ballad numbers.

7. Karmin covers Chris Brown's Look at Me Now

The most viewed cover on Youtube (56 million views and counting), the cover is funny, sweet, and silly; the original song is none of these. It's dumb, racist, sexist, stupid, and talentless. Karmin does a number of other interesting covers.

8. Mat Weddle covers Outkast's Hey Ya

Mat is aka Obadiah Parker.

9. Butch Walker covers Taylor Swift's You Belong With Me

Taylor twitted about how much she liked this cover and invited Butch to integrate his sound into one of her performances. Skip to about 2:40 if you don't want to see Butch peeing.

10. Greyson Chance covers Lady Gaga's Paparazzi

There are lots of kids and amateur wannabees covering pop songs on Youtube, but few can transform a recognizable smash pop hit and - astoundingly - make it better. And he's only 13, for crying out loud.


Birdy covers Bon Iver's Skinny Love

Bon Ivers is relatively unknown, and the original song is folk music. But it's still amazing. And she's only 15 years old.