Category Archives: Non WoW Related Gaming

How to solve a Rubik’s Cube – For Beginners

So you’ve always wanted to solve a Rubik’s Cube but were never able to? It’s actually not nearly as scary as you think if you know the correct patterns! I’ll walk you through one, of probably many, strategies to solve this puzzle that I guarantee you’ll be able to reproduce. There’s a lot here but I promise you will be able to follow along.

Before we begin let’s go over the few things you need to know in order to tackle the cube.

Whenever you are holding cube or sitting on the table there are five relevant sides and some terminology you need to pay attention to. I will reference these, and abbreviate them, in the strategy section.

Front – the side facing you. If the cube is resting in the palm of your hand this side is looking right at you.

Left – the left side as you face the cube currently

Right – the right side as you face the cube currently

Up – the top surface of the cube as you face it currently

Down – the bottom surface of the cube as you face it currently

I added those disclaimers because we will be changing how we are facing the cube, and because of that “front” “left” etc. will always change accordingly.

Middle Piece – square on the cube with only one color on it. These never move from their surfaces. These are important because they tell you what color that cube side is supposed to be.

Edge Piece – square on the cube with only two colors on them

Corner Piece – square on the cube with three colors on them

So, let’s begin with our Rubik’s Cube

Step 1.) To start we must pick a side to solve first. In this case I have chosen white…mostly because it has the sticker on it. I will refer to surfaces by my colors for the moment but it may be different for you.

Step 2.) We need to create a X, or cross of white on our solving surface. We need each edge piece to also match the color of the adjacent side. Rotate the cube as needed to get all of the edge pieces where they are supposed to be, however they may need additional attention.

This orange/white edge piece is in the right location. The orange matches the orange side adjacent to our solving side but it’s the wrong way!

Move Combinations – the only tricky thing you need to learn

Here is where you will use your first move combination so let’s discuss those. When solving a Rubik’s Cube there are number of move combinations that perform tasks we will need such as rotating a block’s position or orientation. I will spell all of them out to you clearly. The only thing you need to know is how to read them.

I will tell you which sides to rotate and then a direction. The direction is either clockwise, or counter-clockwise as if you were looking straight at it. The front side is self explanatory but what about the others. Right clockwise is a turn away from you and counterclockwise is towards you for example.

If I just write the letter for the side, U (up), F (front), L (left), R (right), or D (down) then it means a clockwise turn.

If I write the letter with ccw after it, then it means counter clockwise.

In this case, the combination is F ccw, U, L ccw, U ccw

The piece is flipped! Simply repeat this for all sides that need it, though not all will and you will get the cross. This is the only somewhat free form step as there is no set pattern to get them cross pieces into position.

Step 3.)  Now we need to get the correct corner pieces into position. This is a little tricky because there are three colors you need to match. First we look at the corner you want to solve and make a note of the three colors we need. In my case white, orange, and green.

Then look at the bottom of the cube and see if you can rotate it so the correct corner piece is directly below where you need to move it to!

To move the corner piece up into position from the bottom, repeat the following combination with the corner piece in the bottom right position of the front face (see above): R ccw, D ccw, R, D. This move combination has the benefit of not disturbing your already established squares.

Helpful reminder: since the bottom surface is tough to visualize direction, D ccw turns the bottom row left as you look at the front of the cube, and D turns the bottom row to the right.

You may have to repeat this move combination as few as 2 or 3 times or as many as 6 since sometimes the corner piece has to cycle through a couple of times to get to the right orientation.

If one of the corner pieces you need is actually already in a spot where another corner piece goes on the top surface don’t fret.

Turn the cube so that offending corner piece is on the front face in the upper right and do that move combination I just showed you. It will swap that piece with a different one. This lets you move it where you need to!

Once you have completed all four corners you will have solved the entire top row of the cube!

Step 4.) Now flip the cube over and take  a look at the side opposite the one you just solved. You’ll see that on the sides of the cube, we’ve solved what look like little T’s, or a certain Tetris piece of you happen to be familiar.

We need to solve edge peices in the second row so we have complete two full rows of the cube. There is a way to take the top middle square on the front side of the cube (whichever side you are looking at) and swap it with the left or right middle cubes on the front face. Basically we’re going to take a cube and move it from 12 o’clock to 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock as we see fit!

Step 5.) Look at the top of the cube and see if any of the edge pieces  do not contain the same color as the middle square on the top. These are pieces that you can move down! If you find one, rotate the top row until the edge piece matches the side it’s on. Confusing but take a look:

See that green and orange piece on the top middle, I turned it so the green matches the green side of the cube.

Step 6.) There are two move combos that we can use. One takes the square we were just talking about and rotates it to the right and one rotates it to the left. Looking at the cube you can see that our edge piece’s second color is orange so it has to rotate to the right. So we do the following:

U, R, U ccw, R ccw, U ccw, F ccw, U, F

It falls right into place! Now what if you have this:

That green and red piece needs to move down and left instead. We do the following combination:

U ccw, L ccw, U, L, U, F, U ccw, F ccw And you get the following:

Sometimes, just like we ran into above, one of the pieces you need is already in the second row somewhere. Simply rotate and swap a piece you don’t care about, in my case one with yellow on it like that yellow/orange piece on the picture above, down into its spot using either the left or right move combo.

Once you finally complete all of those, you have the full first an second rows completely solved!

Step 7.) Now, let’s take a look at the top of your cube, it will have in it one of three possible shapes. An 3-square L, a Line, or a Cross. We want to have the cross. We can get there by using a move combination.

Example of an 3-square L

Example of a Line (despite that extra yellow block there, this doesn’t count as an L)

Combo: F, R, U, R ccw, U ccw, F ccw

If you have an L and do this combination with the L in the top left corner of the upper surface as shown above if gives you a Line. If you have a Line and you do this combination with the line horizontal as shown above you get a cross. So you’ll need to do it either 0, 1, or 2 times depending on your randomization. You will end up with a cross no matter what

We’re almost there!

Step 8.) You should at this point be able to rotate the top row, so that the center column on two sides matches entirely. In this example Red and Green.

There are two possible combinations. The matching sides are next to each other, or across from each other. If they are across from each other, hold the cube so that one of those two matching sides faces you and do the following combination:

R, U, R ccw, U, R, U, U, R ccw

You will now have two sides that match that are adjacent to each other. If you just did this, OR you had two sides adjacent to each other then do the following: hold the cube so that one matching side is the right side, and one is the back and do the following:

R, U, R ccw, U, R, U, U, R ccw

Now all four sides have matching middle columns

Step 9.) Now we need to fix the corner pieces. This can be a little tricky so be patient. Look at all of your corner pieces on the top surface (they’re the only pieces left to fix!). Are any of them the right colors but simply in the wrong orientation? If so, turn the cube so that corner square is the top right of the front face.

If none of them match:

like mine did then it doesn’t matter which corner is where when you begin. No matter which scenario/starting position, repeat the following move combination until all four corners match:

U, R, U ccw, L ccw, U, R ccw, U ccw, L

Stop when all four corner pieces are the right colors. They will likely NOT be in the correct orientation though!

Step 10.) Just like we did in step 3, we have a move combination that can properly re-orient corner pieces. Look at your cube and see if any of your top corner pieces actually ARE correct. If they are then turn the cube to the right until you find a corner that isn’t. In my case all four needed work. Repeat the following move combination until the corner piece is in the proper orientation. It will look like you are messing everything up but I assure you it will work out.

R ccw, D ccw, R, D

After some number of repetitions it’ll be correct

The rest of the cube looks kind of wrong now, but don’t worry!

Step 11.) Once the corner is corrected per step 10, turn the top row counterclockwise once

Once rotated, again repeat the combination R ccw, D ccw, R, D

Each time you fix the corner, turn the top row again and repeat that move combination. Once you complete the last corner everything will fall into place

Simply turn the top row to line everything up and you’re done! Congratulations you have solved a Rubik’s Cube

This strategy may not be the most efficient move wise but it is reliable and will always get you there no matter what your initial outcome is. It also doesn’t require an intimate understanding of how you are manipulating the cube itself. If you’d like to learn more, pay attention to what you are doing with each move combination to understand just how you are rearranging everything. It will shed some light on what is really going on!

Ramblings – Saving Throw Vs. Death in MMO’s

It’s been no secret that I have been playing quite a lot of The Secret World lately especially if you’ve been monitoring my twitter feed. It is a game I have grown to appreciate despite that fact that it is decidedly less robust than WoW in terms of content and non-endgame group content available to players. I like the game because I enjoy the flavor and enjoy the combat.

The combat is TSW is extremely customizable and is both complex and not complex at the same time. Mush like playing a CCG you are tasked with building a ‘deck’. Your deck consists of assigning 7 active and 7 passive abilities to your character. The complexity lies in making sure these abilities all synergize well between actives and passives as well as the stats you’ve assigned to your gear (since most gear is entirely customizable for a price). Once assigned though, playing your build is much simpler. Good play however is entirely on you and your ability to stay alive.

What makes the grouping in TSW interesting, and slightly different than wow are the responsibilities:

Tank: Hate, Survivability, Interrupts, Avoid-or-die

DPS: Hate-management, Damage, Self and Group Cleansing, Avoid-or-die

Healer: Hate-management, Healing, Self-Cleansing, Avoid-or-die

Secret World has embraced a rather interesting take on MMO combat. This is a world where people have guns and monsters wield some fairly frightening magic. As such it is almost always going to kill you if you get hit with ANYTHING. You are tasked with avoiding every single aspect of a nightmare encounter that can be dodged in order to stay alive and continue doing your role. DPS are responsible for a bulk of the cleansing and there are a host of abilities tanks must interrupt or they can (or will) kill someone. I like this!

I understand however that this is incredibly daunting to a new player. Secret World tries its best to help you through them by adding ground warning effects for EVERY AoE attack in the game. You will always see where an attack is going to land before it happens if you are expected to avoid it. That part isn’t so bad I don’t think. The mechanics where a tank must impair (their version of interrupt) or DPS must cleanse themselves by way of Sleight of Hand is nebulous at best. Here are three examples of non-raid level nightmare capstone bosses.

Polaris – entry level Nightmare Dungeon

Final Boss – The Ur-Draug

-Cleave – will kill anyone but the tank in a frontal cone

-Ground Slam – warning shown for the cone affected – tank must avoid

-Submerge – when the boss submerges bubbles will appear around the party in the ‘safe’ zone completely immobilizing you. The only way to get out is use a spell to remove the hinder effect or use a ‘jump’ type skill. Failure to do so leads to death

-Blue phase – Boss shifts dimensions and wanders looking for you, part must play hide and seek behind rocks while dealing with adds. If you are seen by the boss you will be killed

-Pillar Explosion – when the boss drops to very low health he shatters all the large rocks in the zone originally hid behind, kills anyone near them other than a tank

That’s 4 ways you can instantly die instantly as a dps or healer on this encounter

Hell Raised – entry level Nightmare Dungeon

Final Boss – Machine Tyrant

-Anima Overcharge – boss puts up a shield after a timer has wound down that persists until dragged over a anima well. Will kill any DPS that hit him with the shield up

-Cleave – will kill anyone but the tank in a frontal cone

-Knockback – will kill or severely damage any melee who do not avoid the warning circle

-Firmament Barrage – moving crosshairs chase players dropping bombs periodically. Will kill anyone they hit

-Wave of Immolation – moves to the center of the room and creates a very large spiral of runes around him that will kill anyone caught in one

There’s 4 ways you can die instantly as a dps or healer on this encounter

Hell Eternal – Tier 2 Nightmare Dungeon

Final Boss – Eblis

Solar Collapse – huge crosshairs of doom and bombs or destruction. Run like hell or die

Drink Deep – tank interrupt or likely someone is killed

Occluding Lense – reflective shield DPS can easily blow themselves up on using finishers

Consummation – reduces a party member to 1 HP (can do tanks). Particularly deadly with the above Occluding Lens

Cast Out – pulls the party into a barred off area with:

-moving death circles on the ground

-Painwheel Overdive – tank must interrupt or we all die

-Vanquish – line attack to the boss’s left and right in the way he’s facing when casting it initially. Kills you

Chains – movement hinder ability that kills you when it expires. Remove it or die.

There are 8 ways a player can instantly die on this fight: 8 of which as a tank, 7 as a dps, and 5 as a healer.

I might be a little bit of a hard-ass but I honestly like this kind of punishing encounter. This might also be a reason why TSW isn’t really doing amazingly because the encounters are extremely difficult if you are not acutely aware of your surroundings and the fight itself. Couple that with it being a heinous gear grind once all story plot has been completed and you have a fairly tough sell.

As a healer in WoW I find it frustrating that some avoidable mechanics are not necessarily death related but simply painful. You will primarily see this in normal and LFR Difficulty as well as 5 man content. I think there needs to be a strong push for players, not just DPS, to be much more self sufficient when it comes to their safety. Having the security blanket of the healers is always a dangerous notion especially when you’re trying harder content and cutting back on the healers present. For our progression group we tend to rarely run more than 5 healers unless we absolutely have to for the encounter to function.

Secret World trains you hard from the very first moment you step into the game. Every mob from the most basic to elite and boss level all telegraph their moves to give you an option to avoid them. You are also given a quick directional dodge ability with a cooldown you can always use to move from place to place quickly. On top of that mobs are fairly lethal in general. Unless you give yourself self-healing or damage mitigation you’ll find yourself getting low just by taking on two or three of them and you might even get yourself killed easily enough if too aggressive. In a game with an extremely harsh environment I think it breeds a level of awareness players need to survive at the endgame level.

Because so much pressure is on players to avoid and dodge mechanic during fights I’ve found almost all players, except for tanks, shed ALL excess +hitpoint stats from their gear and streamline their damage and healing output. When a fight comes around where there is heavy periodic damage that cannot be avoided it is expected the player knows enough to swap in a health item to bring up their max hp. Failure to do so often leads to death.

I’m a weird individual though. When it comes to games like MMO’s I like punishing (but not unfairly so) environments because I think it makes better players. At the same time though I almost refuse to go back and play old retro console games without a save state function. I think for me the line that can’t be crossed is when challenge becomes frustration. A Heroic fight in WoW is challenging. The speeder bike level in Battletoads is frustrating. I think game developers need to be aware that creating a fight with immense amounts of luck required or hidden knowledge it can easily cross into the realm of frustrating. WoW heroic encounters as of late, and most of what I’ve seen in Secret World, are very learnable fights that require people to iterate on previous attempts in a logical manner. Having Save or Die mechanics in your fight are perfectly fair and do not in and of themselves make a fight a poor design.

There are my ramblings for today complete with some mild stream of consciousness in there as well. I hope I’ve at least given you a little something to think about

Off Topic – My history of Magic: the Gathering part 1

I’m going to be going a bit off topic today because I’ve had this burning desire to talk about Magic: the gathering.

I’ve been playing the game for a very long time and because there are so many experiences and stories tied to it, it has become a rather important hobby throughout my life. I’ve met friends playing the game and I feel that, strangely enough, it has made me better at playing strategic games in general. Evolving as a magic player has meant learning some critical higher level concepts such as evaluating threat levels, tempo, timing, card advantage, and understanding gains in board position. I certainly haven’t mastered all of these things mind you, but simply trying to understand them all has altered my brain for the better I think. This story though is going to be largely anecdotal but hopefully enjoyable all the same.

Where it all began

I started playing magic with some friends around or just before the revised base set came out while in 8th grade I believe. I had some cards from the unlimited set before that however we at school honestly didn’t know what was good and what was bad which has me kicking myself to this day! Innocently enough, like most other kids my age, it began with a “hey, what’s that game you are playing it looks like fun”. Oh if I had only knew what I was getting into then! I dabble in it a little bit at the time and made some very, very crude decks where the only goal was to make giant monsters and attack my opponent. I had no concept of mana ramp up or casting cost balance in my games. If I could plop Force of Nature down onto the table I was a happy camper. There was a great sense of wonder surrounding the game that drew me in much like multiplayer online games do. I had a small community to play with and we bonded over a new and thrilling hobby.

My closest friends had independently all been starting to play at their respective schools which turned out to be pretty awesome. Over the next few months, with The Dark and Fallen Empires already released, we started playing together. We all had completely different concepts of what a good deck meant and I found it fascinating. This card game that had one unified rule set could foster a myriad of play styles, decks, and card value systems and within each of those permutations you had infinite variations beyond that!

I gravitated towards blue/X control and made it my business to acquire the rarer cards such as Vesuvian Doppleganger, Wrath of God, Skull of Orm, Maze of Ith, Control Magic, Clone, and Dance of Many and put together a clone and control deck. Another friend gravitated towards the chaos that was Red/Blue and managed to get Shivan Dragons, Rock Hydras, Granite Gargoyles, Seasingers, and such. Our other group members went Black/Blue and Green/Black respectively. We had some of the most epic and political games of magic ever for kids that age…at least to us they were. It was always up in the air who would win and we enjoyed the randomness.

We continued to play throughout the next couple of years in high school picking up more and more cards as the sets rolled out (we bought the heck out of Ice Age, Alliances, Mirage, Visions etc). Each of us created new concoctions that expanded our areas of expertise. I made more aggressive decks, the aggressive players made some control decks, and we even had our fair share of combo and land destruction. None of our theory was ever right and sadly multiplayer doesn’t prepare you for a real duel. At the time I honestly didn’t even know there was anything more out there! Our Magic playing tailed off before my senior year and we ended up preferring less insular activities but I never forgot about it.

College

Day 1 freshman year of college during orientation changed EVERYTHING. I was sitting down in a circle with a bunch of other engineers in my group and I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me (who is now a good friend). Somehow we ended up talking about magic because he, a seasoned tournament goer, frequented a little place called Your Move Games. For those that aren’t aware YMG was a pretty big force in the magic community at the time and was frequented by some rather iconic players such as Darwin Kastle, Rob Dougherty, Chad Ellis, David Humphreys, Michelle Bush, Zvi Mowshewitz among many others. This card shop was also literally a stone’s throw from my university. Holy crap!

I was encouraged to take a trip down there and play some sealed deck in order to get back into things. Urza’s Block was the current thing and man was it completely different than I was used to. The power level felt higher (bear in mind I didn’t do old school tournaments which were no joke) and I was trying my best to put up a good fight. (This was also the first time I needed to get a DCI number which completely confused me. My friend’s number was only 4 digits long which shows just how long he had been in the scene.)  After playing a few local tournaments and getting my butt handed to be by excellent players I started to learn quite a bit. I wasn’t making the same mistakes twice and my sealed deck building was improving albeit slowly.

One day my friend asked me to come help him playtest some decks for a tournament that he was interested in going to. I asked “what do you mean playtest?” Again…there are so many dangerous questions I asked back then that I had no idea the significance of! He explained to me that it was common for people to mock up decks, especially ones with expensive cards, in order to test them out against each other. Often times the match ups would be played over and over to understand win percentages and value of adding or subtracting cards. This seemed like a really fun idea to me as it meant I would play lots of games of magic with decks that I had never thought to, or could afford, to build.

That’s when he busted out Tolarian Academy.

For those that don’t know this degenerate competitive deck, that forced restrictions and bans, used cards such as: Tolarian Academy, WindfallMind Over Matter, Lotus Petal, Stroke of Genius,

and many other nasty blue cards to create a combo capable of going off on turn one. The problem was…it was the longest most cerebral turn ever. At one point I went and took a power nap on the couch in the dorm’s common area while he worked through it. Needless to say that I wasn’t having a ton of fun but the delivery we got tasted great.

I mostly did casual magic and limited through the next block (Mercadian Masques) which I didn’t find to be all that great but the people were good and I was learning more and more.

Invasion Block

A big turning point for me was probably Invasion Block. The cards in this set really appealed to me and it sucked me in further than I thought I ever would be. The power level, color interaction, and themes present made for some of the most exciting limited play I had done to date. I liked being able to play 5 color green in limited, or bust out some rather deadly three color guild deck that had tricks up every sleeve. For some reason G/B/R or U/B/W appealed to me but I was certainly not limited to them.

Invasion/Masques standard was the first format I started playing constructed. I cobbled together a mediocre rebels deck while my friend played the dominant deck of the format Fires of Yavimaya. Fires was your iconic R/G beatdown deck that had three all-star cards in it: Blastoderm Blastoderm, Fires of Yavimaya, and Saproling Burst’.

Saproling Burst was particularly mean because on the turn it was played, with Fires present, represented 12 points of creature power with haste. The deck was about as straightforward as you can get but it was deadly.

A favorite moment of the Masques/Invasion tournaments was my friend playing Fires against a Mono-blue deck with creature counters, control, and bounce, and it killed by way of  Ankh of Mishra and Parallax Tide. Fires won game one and he strung out game two to make sure that the blue player had no win condition other than Ankh and Tide but still lost. He knew with the sideboard present there wasn’t any way Fires was going to win this matchup against the rogue deck. So what does he do? He mulligans down to zero cards in hand, says go, and never drops a land. Not one. His opponent was livid and crying over to the judge. He couldn’t win and would certainly be decked eventually as he took a full hand to start. Game, set, and match.

One of the first times I experienced the rock paper scissors aspect of magic was playtesting with him at the tail end of this standard rotation. There was a rumbling through the circuit that people were playing a blue/white control deck using Blinding Angel and Mageta the Lion to create a lockdown control deck. I mocked up the deck, shuffled it and went at him in duels. I won every, single, game. It wasn’t even close. He was a better player than I was and I had NO familiarity with the deck what so ever. It was almost as if the deck played itself. Eerie as it was it just kept spitting up cards to counter everything he did and rarely did it break a sweat. We then modified his sideboard to deal with this deck because any match-up with an auto loss game 1 needed some attention and fast.

Invasion onward

I continued to play casually while at college but I couldn’t go over to YMG as often as I’d like. The people there were still awesome and I continued to have a great time and got in quite a few memorable games. One of my worst limited losses ever was to one Darwin Kastle who proceeded to drop Sapphire Leech  turn two and Sleeper’s Robe  turn three. I never recovered from the card advantage despite throwing up a flier as he poured out a perfect creature curve. After Invasion, Odyssey block came and went for me with little fanfare. Classes were tough and time limited.

Regionals!

When Onslaught block came out I found myself back in the thick of it. We were playing a lot more and I was loving the flavor and of the set. I was so excited that I played in my first Regionals tournament.

A quick moment of clarification: On top of the tournaments that are held for players to gain access to the Pro Tour circuit and local games, there are public tournaments that are held to funnel players into their country’s world teams. These are Regionals, Nationals, and ultimately Worlds.

I had fallen in love with Astral Slide  and Lightning Rift . These cards played on my familiarity with the old Urza Block cycling ability which I enjoyed. The deck was fairly straight forward and the decklist was basically a giant list of mostly 4 ofs…many that were affordable for me which was important. I’m pretty sure my list was something like:

4 Lay Waste
4 Wrath of God
4 Exalted Angel
3 Slice and Dice
4 Astral Slide
4 Renewed Faith
3 Teroh’s Faithful
4 Lightning Rift
3 Starstorm
4 Secluded Steppe
4 Forgotten Cave
9 Mountain
10 Plains

The deck absolutely destroyed creatures. It killed em and it killed them good. The problem was that this deck was in a format with three other very strong control decks: Psychatog, Mirari’s Wake, and Mono Black Control. All of these posed a significant threat if their defenses get built up.

What I did, and I was proud of it at the time (though I discovered later I was far from the only one) was create a unique transitional sideboard that combatted those decks specifically. It was:

2 Boil  3 Earth Rift   4 Pillage  4 Stone Rain  2 Wild Fire

This gave me 19 land destruction spells when you add in the 4 main deck Lay Waste (cycle fodder) which brought control decks to their knees if they didn’t have a strong counter spell heavy opening hand. I piloted this deck through 11 grueling rounds (over 11 hours for reference) and ended up in the top 32 which made me quite happy. My friend who was running Black/Green oversold cemetery ended up making top 8 and Nationals.

As the Onslaught block unfolded and we gained access to Eternal Dragon  and Decree of Justice  the deck went from obscure to very popular in a fairly short period of time. I kept on playing it at local tournaments but when the next regionals rolled around with Mirrodin in the mix I opted for something different.

I have a long standing love for this card for some odd reason. I liked the tool box nature of it and what it can do when resolved. For 9 mana though it should be pretty amazing though right? The deck was bounced around from pro to pro each taking their own spin on it when writing up articles. The core of the deck revolved around using land fetching spells that could get you anything you wanted Sylvan Scrying  and Reap and Sow to put together the Urza Lands. Once you did this you would cast absurdly powerful spells such as Mindslaver, Oblivion Stone , and Fireball as well as the titular spell of the deck.  I loved the simplicity of the deck though: Cast Tooth and Nail, place two Darksteel Colossus  in play or one of your many toolbox creatures that live in your deck or sideboard, Profit! While I did rather well with the deck, and loved every minute of it, I never top 8’d anything. The biggest problem that existed at the time was Skull Clamp . A degenerate card that shaped the metagame and I was stubborn in not making a deck that used it while it was legal.

After Kamigawa was released I opted to play a rogue deck in the next regionals because at the time I didn’t want to just net deck. There were so many interesting deck options at the time so I felt like it was as good a time as any other to try. The deck I was obsessed at running was a variation on a theme originally created by Chad Ellis over at Your Move Games. We were talking about doing goofy and ultimately crazy things using Auriok Salvagers to generate a control deck. Now if you flash forward to today everyone knows how good that card is with Lion’s Eye Diamond and Black Lotus earning itself a spot in a handful of notable combo decks. At the time though it was less powerful but just as fun. Pairing him up with Trinket Mage

The Spellbombs Aether Necrogen Pyrite Sunbeam and Engineered Explosives  . The fun kick in the pants combo that the deck could sneak in very easily was flipping Erayo . The deck basically worked on the backbone of Auriok Salvagers using countermagic, sensei’s divining top, hand destruction, and board sweeping to stay afloat. I came up shy of the top 8 but I ended up faring very well with it

Non-major tournaments

While I have cited some of my more enjoyable tournament decks I was also frequenting FNM at YMG as well as the occasional PTQ and GP. I was trying to earn my chops or at least have fun trying. What I liked about FNM though was that I could pilot odd creations and rogue decks just for the ever loving heck of it!

My favorite rogue deck that I played was, and you’ll probably laugh, the Beacon of Immortality   False Cure  deck. The deck was one of the most basic things you’d ever imagine. It’s goal was to drop Wayfarer’s Bauble turn one in the hopes of ramping to Solemn Similacrum and Wrath of God or Akroma’s Vengeance if creatures were the problem, or Duress and Persecute if they weren’t. As soon as I hit 8 mana the two card combo would straight up kill them regardless of life total. Yes it was bad, and yes it was janky, but the sheer rogue-ishness of the deck allowed me to win the first FNM I played it at.

I dabbled in Mirrodin Block constructed playing both Affinity and Red/Green artifact hating stompy. Both of which were fun but I didn’t get enough experience with the format to excel.

Drafting!

I was around the Mirrodin block going into Kamigawa block that I really came into my own drafting (though I did draft Onslaught quite a bit). While I’m sure I’ve lost all my skill at it, I thoroughly enjoyed getting my hands dirty playing at Your Move Games. Yup I was still going there though the crowd had shifted somewhat. Rob, Chad, and Darwin still came by and I got to play test Darwin’s games a few times but my interactions were more with the other folks. There were a lot of people there that shaped my further game development, one of which is the now well-known Jackie Lee.

I was less interested in the main draft event. I much preferred the independent team drafts that started towards the tail end of the Thursday evening and went into the wee hours of the morning (1 to 4 AM). As you can probably gather I was between jobs and working odds and ends stuff at the time. The team drafts were usually 2 on 2 or 3 on 3 events where the strategy was obviously quite different. Everyone at the table was not your enemy and you had to be aware that the one opponent next to you that you have been feeding all the good cards to has to play every one of your teammates. The winning team took home all the cards so it was also, in some way, like gambling but much, much, more fun. I think I can safely say that I won games much more often than I lost them and my card collection benefited greatly.

This drafting went all the way through Kamigawa block and Ravnica block with the culmination of it, and most fun I’ve had, occurring in Ravnica. While I am sad that I don’t play with them (though I have been meaning to try to sneak over and draft with people in Cambridge sometime) I’ll always remember the times I had there and the wealth of knowledge present. Now people there at the time weren’t all well-known but I can at least say that I got my share of wins…and losses…against Jackie Lee and a few other major players who I’ve come to respect greatly. We were all just kids messing around back then though. A different time for sure.

Since then

Not long after that I started work at my current company and I have been with them since. Time constraints, and ultimately world of warcraft, prevented me from partaking in magic more since then. In fact I think I can safely say that raiding is what killed my time with Magic: the gathering. Without anything to keep me current I drifted farther and farther away from the game and almost lost touch with it entirely. Then something crazy happened.

My childhood friends all came back together and said that they missed playing Magic. We saw it as an opportunity to all spend time together just the guys and socialize all while playing a game that we love. In that sense it was one of the best things that ever happened. Sure I had traded in my competitive one on one edge for a more multiplayer one but it has provided us so much entertainment it was worth it. The hardest thing though was getting my multiplayer deck building chops back up. I started reading The Ferret’s Serious Fun articles on Magicthegathering.com and expanding my horizons. I’ll have more to come in my post about multiplayer and the decks I roll with in my next post!

Teaching – Using geeky tech to educate middle school boys and girls

When I was a bit younger I had the opportunity to be part of a teaching initiative that worked to bring technology and engineering education to young children who might otherwise have become disinterested in the fields due to a lack of understanding. This educational program was full of enrichment activities, hands-on projects, and mathematics that all worked together to elevate the student’s understanding of the world and how their science and math classes could be relevant to everything around them. This initiative actually used the old shop classroom (do you remember the creepy metal shop or wood shop in your middle school?) and transformed it, and many others like it, into a fully functioning hub of technology with an array of older computers and wooden classroom tables for the kids to collaborate around.

The reason this was important to me is that it allowed me to take what I know from my engineering background and fuse it with my love for teaching. It also let me pull from my geeky side when it came to providing references, comments, activities, and technical aids. This brings me to a little side rant:

As someone with “geeky” tendencies I know that we as a whole get a pretty bad rap from just about everyone. Now, I’m not going to go all woe is me here because let’s be honest we do it to ourselves. There are plenty of social awkward folk in the ranks and a lot of geek culture is fairly misogynistic (chain mail bikinis anyone?). The key is, as someone who likes geeky things, to realize the flaws in the system and embrace the good things…and be a good person. This is especially important if you are teaching young children, and doubly so if you are teaching young girls. If you are going to reference something geeky or pop culture related to the kids and there is some questionable stuff there acknowledge that it is questionable and provoke them to think about it. Given how many different types of gamers there are these days I was very clear where my interests lay when talking to the students. I am not some basement dweller not am I a dudebro gamer. I like all sorts of things, specifically technology.

Curriculum

When working with students we delved into many different aspects of engineering building blocks over the course of the three years they took the class (6th 7th and 8th graders). In 6th grade they began learning building blocks like drafting, unit measurements, basic trigonometry, and basic engineering concepts such as moment, force, and acceleration. In 7th grade the students graduated to basic statics, programming and construction, power point, and slightly more advanced math. In 8th grade we tied it all together with some more advanced concepts in each area as well as a full design project complete with building a prototype (to scale if necessary), design doc, and proposal paperwork to an ‘executive’ via power point presentation.

I was pleasantly surprised with what these kids could handle if you presented the information to them in a way they could comfortably work with. Activities, board drawings, real world stories, and demonstrations all served to solidify the concepts in their mind. Board drawings about moments and moment arms was one thing but showing them that something as simple as a miniature teeter totter (plank with fulcrum) could let them see it in action solidified the concept. We also had 6th graders who wanted to come down during lunch or after school to learn more about trigonometry and algebra which was awesome.

Maintaining balanced between boys and girls

One of the major issues that I encountered while teaching was learning to work with the girls in the classroom. This isn’t because I could not relate to them or that I was a man or anything like that. They simply started to lose interest in math and science (most, not all) during 7th grade and it just got worse in 8th grade. When talking to colleagues in other schools they all noticed the same trend and it was disturbing. This is something our program was fighting so hard to combat!

The problem itself is much grander in nature and we were told to read through multiple papers and dissertations on the topic before beginning our teaching. In the real world fields of study like engineering, math, science, and other tech related professions are generally less accepting of women. This isn’t to say there aren’t amazing and brilliant women in their field…they are just more rare. With these fields being so male driven I think young girls and women are almost given the impression that “well, math and science just aren’t for me” or “that’s not what I should be focusing my attention on”. This is of course a terrible frame of mind to get in and all it serves to do is drive them away from these fields of study and further reducing the number of amazingly talented women in the field. This in turn makes the field more male driven and so on. Thankfully there are a number of women and men out there working to combat this and our program strived to work hand in hand with them.

The other problem with teaching these subjects to young girls has to do with the social dynamics of this particular age bracket. Around the 6h through 8th grade levels the boys tended (not all mind you) to be rather rambunctious and outgoing always raising their hand and always wanting to show how much they know to the teacher. A large portion of the female students became quieter when it came to questions to the class, and preferred to do more socializing with each other. I know that this age bracket is pivotal in female social structure and cliques were something we had to fight hard against, often times forcefully splitting people up between tables. If you controlled the attention the boys received (often times letting them sit there waving their arm in the air going ‘ooh ooh I know it’) and call on other students making sure boys and girls received equal attention I found I had a much more balanced classroom with a higher level of attentiveness. Combining this with a large number of hands on activities also served to pull in the students who normally struggled due to attention disorders.

Legos and work ethics

The work ethics of the students were highlighted in one of our major projects the 7th graders worked on which has to do with Legos. Our program worked with the Lego company, and their Mindstorm boxed set, in conjunction with the programming software Robolab. The Mindstorm kit was a large Lego TECHNIC set with the addition of a micro-computer lego brick (pretty hefty), motors, multiple types of sensors, rotating components, gears, cams, and many other awesome parts. The Robolab software allowed students to create programs using a modified LabVIEW interface to control their lego computer and have it complete a myriad of different tasks. I could talk for days about the awesomeness (and geekiness) that is Lego Mindstorm however I should keep this blog post somewhat reasonable in length. The project the students needed to solve, and a brief description of what was required, is the following:

THE VOLCANO!

We had a large plaster volcano complete with surrounding territory and a base of operations set up at ground level. Once set up on the floor of the computer room was also had a wavy and zig zag path from the edge of the model (at the base camp) to some location on the floor a good distance away identified as the ‘supply depot’.

Phase 1 – the students needed to build a vehicle that was capable of locomotion when controlled via a program downloaded to their RCX (LEGO computer brick). The RCX did not have to be mounted on the car as it adds weight but it was allowed if the students preferred it. The catch – Lego motors can spin fairly fast but have extremely low torque. The solution was that students needed to set up gear boxes and downshift the force of the motors to create slower moving but high torque wheels for their vehicles. The awesome – one group of girls actually build a vehicle with rear differential and rack and pinion steering.

Phase 2 – the students needed to program their vehicle to start from the supply depot and following the black line on the floor to the base camp. The catch – the black line was far from straight and changed daily. The solution – The vehicle had to be able to use light sensors to know when it was or was not on the line in order to maintain its course. Some students used a more crude approach while some applied fairly complex logic statements to their program to make their vehicle travel smoothly.

Phase 3 – the students needed to program their vehicle to start up inside the base camp and retrieve a specific supply crate. The supply depot had four docking bays in a line sorted by color and each group was assigned a specific color to stop their vehicle at. The student would load the crate into their  vehicle and it had to return to the base camp which entailed climbing from ground level up onto the model. The catch – Students needed a more complex algorithm for determining which color their light sensor was looking at at any one time. The climb back up onto the model was also not something to be trifled with. Weak vehicles or poorly designed vehicles need to be redesigned to accommodate it. The solution – students learned to test each color in front of their light sensor to get the exact value they needed for their assignment. Once recorded, and their car was modified for the small climb they were good to go. This phase was where most of the students struggled though they eventually got it in the end.

Phase 4 (bonus phase) – the volcano was about to erupt again and the scientists have devised a plan to roll a large “volcano cork” device up the mountain and plug the opening to prevent destruction. The students had to move a tennis ball up the side of the volcano and deposit it into the hole at the center. The catch – the vehicle had to be able to “hold” the ball and be strong enough to climb a reasonable and rugged incline. The solution – the only group that solved it was a boy and two girl team who created a super tough vehicle just for the task. Their vehicle had multiple sets of wheels each able to adjust to variations in the surface they traveled over. The car was driven using a 64x torque multiplier from the maximum lego motor setting. It moved real slow (1/64 max speed)but nothing stopped this thing from getting to them top!

The students really loved playing with Legos and we made sure to teach them a lot about the science underneath the hood so to speak. They gained knowledge of moving parts, gears, force, and programming all while having fun. What was really interesting though is watching the students interact with each other. Some of the boys were incredibly brash and wanted to recklessly start cobbling together a solution for each phase with no forethought. Their girl teammates had none of that. They were the careful and logical planners that really kept everyone in check. That isn’t to say everyone adhered to this dynamic but it was great to watch. I liked seeing balanced groups working methodically to solve their problems drawing from the strengths of each team member.

I feel that as a whole we were very successful in bringing technology and engineering education to the classroom in a fun and exciting way. Finding a way to bring geeky tech (legos, programming, oscilloscopes, electronics, and models) in and maintain the interests of the students regardless of age or gender was a huge accomplishment. While it is only the tip of the iceberg and there are much greater issues at stake in regards to some of the obstacles we faced, I think that the program made great strides (and continues to do so to this day) towards improving the educational system.

Dovahkiin, Naal ok zin los vahriin – End of a great journey

My Dovakiim is a powerful Breton woman thrust into the heart of a frozen lands struggle with little she could do about it. She was never intimidated, she was never worried, only determined to live out her destiny as her blood right foretold. She did not let being a woman in a world of fierce Nord men get in her way and she befriended many strong women as allies along her adventure.

In Skyrim, a land of blinding snow, lush green fields, and perilous mountain ranges life is difficult. Bandits and thieves pray on the weak and a civil war rages. In the midst of all of this, dragons terrorize the land leaving its citizens quaking in fear. It is because of this my character was forced to take a stand, make the warring parties form a truce, and banish the evil from the world.

Skyrim is a game where everyone’s story is going to be a little different. It is these differences that makes the game so personal and dear to the player. I know some people have given Skyrim a hard time because it isn’t so obviously narrative driven like Mass Effect, or Final Fantasy etc. While I enjoy games with a heavy story, there is an appeal to a game like Skyrim. A living breathing world with endless things to do and see where you can get lost inside its wonder. I don’t love open world games in the GTA sense, but I make exceptions for Elder Scrolls Games.

I did not spend as much time with the game as others may have. I think in total I racked up roughly 150 to 160 hours of game time. I became a Thane in every major city, became the leader of all the major guilds, developed my Thu’um power to its fullest potential, and mastered many different forms of combat. Despite all of this I know there are things STILL left undone and I may still go back and finish them.

I cannot recommend this game enough to those who love a deep role playing experience especially if you have access to a decent PC. I have been lucky and experienced zero game breaking bugs or glitches of any kind and even if I had, the PC version has access to the console which can fix just about any of them.

And with that, a parting shot of the great warrior Arboria, Dovakiim, slayer of the great evil, and savior to the people of Skyrim.

There are many Dragonborn, but this one is mine. Adorned in heavy dragonbone armor she shows courage in the face of imminent danger. Unafraid she wades into the heart of combat and slices through foes with her deadly Legendary Daedric Longsword. No foe has bested her in battle to date and likely never will.

Combat development for those who asked:

Perk build:  http://skyrimcalculator.com/#94814

I initially thought you stopped getting perks at level 50 but you definitely do not. It let me expand my development and really enjoy my combat. If you are going with melee, the time dilation effect under the Blocking perk tree is a lot of fun and adds a lot of depth to battle.

In order to utilize two fighting styles I crafted two sets of dragonbone armor. One of which was blocking, health, and one-handed damage based along with magic resistance; the other was sneak, bows, and magical resistance. I found renaming each set greatly sped up my gear swapping: Bahamut’s Wargear (one-handed) and Tiamat’s Regalia (archery).

If you are pursuing blacksmithing you can create some amazing weapons and armor. Make sure to craft and enchant (if you can) some armor with +Blacksmithing bonuses on it. I believe there are 4 item slots that can have that enhancement placed on them. This coupled with potions that increase blacksmithing by 50% for 30 seconds lets you temper your weapon, bow, and armor into extremely awesome legendary versions. Worth looking into.

Dealing with T13 Blues – Thoughts on Star Wars: The Old Republic!

World of Warcraft has fallen a bit out of favor with me this current raid tier as of late. I have growing frustrations with both my main and my primary alt. For my druid I’ve just been unhappy with the state of druid healing and while I can put up fairly nice numbers (I don’t rank that often given our strong healing core) and I stay viable I generally have to bust my butt to do so and even then I don’t look stellar when you subtract my tranquility numbers. To the frustration of my guild I’ve sworn off of loot entirely this tier. I will buy VP items and take loot that is going to rot but I haven’t been putting my name in to the loot council for any gear since the staff I picked up. Sure I’m a tad jaded and maybe there was a loot kerfuffle I didn’t like earlier this tier but in the end my logic is that if other classes can scale and benefit more from gear (be it DPS or healing) then why not let them have it. Before you chastise me I understand this is highly flawed and extremely detrimental to my own cause but I have a hard time caring much these days. I keep showing up but I don’t know how much of my heart is in it. I love my class and am in no danger of quitting WoW I am simply disenfranchised for the moment.

My shaman is currently healing in a 10 man alt run which has been a lot of fun. We only have heroic Morchok down and plan on pushing more bosses this coming Sunday now that the holidays are. For normal modes though the healing is so tame that our discipline priest and holy paladin completely dominate me. Perhaps I’m “doing it wrong” and I’ll completely accept that but healing as a shaman for 10 man normal modes doesn’t feel so fun these days with two very strong and better geared other healers in the mix.

What to do then? Well Skyrim had eaten up a huge chunk of my time for a while until the LFR system showed up. That was a colossal time sink with four (I know some of you have many more) active 85’s that I like to get in there. Realizing that I hadn’t touched Skyrim in some time I decided to do something else for a bit besides it and the LFR obsession.

So this long weekend I decided to download Star Wars: The Old Republic

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The game is an MMO sure, but it has an honest to goodness plot. No I know that WoW “technically” has a plot but I’m talking about one that feels personal and directly tied to your character as well as the war as a whole. In WoW the opposite faction sometimes does a few silly things here and there to make you mad but the faction interaction in SW:ToR really gets your blood boiling and I like that very much. Here is my current list of pros and cons for the game so far:

Pros:

Voice Acted Dialogue – the VO really does enhance the quest experience immensely making you really feel like you’re in a quality RPG story doing good deeds for people and advancing the plot. Originally I poo-poo’d this as merely window dressing for “Go kill X guys” quests but it surprised be greatly. The reason for this is if you actually go and think of side quests in games like Dragon Age 2, Witcher 2, etc. they’re actually not that different than the ones in this game. The voice acting makes things feel authentic.

Graphics – let’s be honest having really nice quality graphics makes your experience enjoyable. I have a decent enough PC to run the game on “high” though I could probably push farther. The cartoon style seems reminiscent of the Clone Wars cartoon but significantly nicer of course. It doesn’t detract from the game and lets it maintain a level of seriousness it needs to achieve its goals. I rate this a major benefit to the games experience if you have a nice enough computer.

Story – as mentioned the stories for each class make the game feel personal. I like that it’s MY story (even if other people are also experiencing the same story). I really wanted to catch Skavak more than any other villain in WoW while questing at lower levels. The excellence of the story in this game is further enhanced by the following feature

Phasing – making solid use of phasing improves the gameplay experience immensely. Having quest zones or areas phase for just you and your party makes experiencing them a lot more fun and realistic. Why would there by 20 other smugglers running around the dock where YOUR ship is parked? Similarly having 2 to 4 person quests that take place in phased areas act as mini impromptu dungeons and some are of fairly decent length. These are not to be confused with Flashpoints which are the full on dungeons complete with bosses and require tank/dps/healing roles. Similarly the game’s ability to phase WHOLE ZONES when they become overpopulated is a magnificent idea. Imagine if, for some reason, Uldum was completely overrun by players leveling that it was unmanageable from mob shortage to server latency. IF the game could spawn a second or even third copy of the Uldum area and distribute the players evenly among them you don’t need to worry about that at all.

Companions – leveling as a healer, despite the fact I can do decent dps, is much easier with a tank/dps companion by my side. This feeling of never being alone really does make the story work as they are often people from your story arc anyway. My companion, Corso “Bugged harpoon of aweful” Riggs, was my buddy from nearly the first moment I stepped into the game he just didn’t fight by my side until level 7.

These are all fairly broad categories and in each one I think the game excels over WoW in some aspects. WoW clearly has better endgame balance in both PvP and PvE and will continue to be my raiding game of choice (given its pedigree) but SW:ToR clearly has a lot going for it. With the positives come negatives though

Cons:

Voice Acted Dialogue – you’re probably thinking “what? He listed that as a Pro” and you’re right I did. The VO however are also sometimes a bit of a downer as well. The alien language gibberish sometimes ends a LONG time before the next string of dialogue is scheduled to begin leaving some really awkward pauses. Sometimes the quest dialogue is way longer than it needs to be for something simple. In those cases I sometimes press escape out of frustration only to be forced to sit through it again. Edit: I want to add you can press spacebar to skip past dialogue rendering this a non issue unless you’re strict about letting it play out. A few people made a good point I should include this note.

Interface – It’s clunky. REAL clunky. I get what they are trying to do but I can’t say I’m a huge fan of how its set up. There’s no level of customization and the party frames are tucked away in the bottom left corner. As someone who is leveling as a healer it is increasingly irritating not having that level of control i’m used to in WoW. I don’t like having my critical buffs as tiny icons with no duration numbers visible to monitor. I don’t like having to look in the lower left corner of the screen to monitor allies and my companion. From a healing perspective (though only level 20) I give the interface a big thumbs down.

Quest Bonus Objectives, the GOTCHA moment – the game avoids quests that are directly “go and kill X dudes” by adding that in as simply a bonus aspect to an existing quest. If you need to recover 8 cannisters in an area you might get a message that pops up after killing a guy there “Bonus objective: Kill X dudes here”. This I think is fine and makes things easier to swallow. The follow up sometimes kicks you in the junk though. After killing those X dudes, sometimes a stage 2 to the bonus pops up with much higher requirements. e.g. stage 1 might have been “kill 10 dudes” and stage 2 is sometimes “kill 40 dudes”. It almost feels like i’m being Rick Rolled at times. This is hardly a critical flaw though.

Running and speed – there is a lot of travelling and running in this game. The zones are huge and you do not move nearly that fast so you can expect a LOT of time spent hoofing it from area to area. At level 14 you get “sprint” which lets you move faster out of combat. Gating a non-mount speed increase in a game this size is a terrible idea and i’m disappointed that it isn’t accessible much earlier in the game. Even with sprint the world is huge and there need to be either a.) more speeder locations available to players or b.) significantly lower cooldown of fast travel (50% perhaps). I understand back in older MMO’s like everquest and its ilk and even vanilla WoW players were forced to spend a lot of time traveling and running to flight points as a way to offer a time sink. In this day and age that level of punishment isn’t required and time is a very precious thing. Do not make me spend any more time running on foot than I have to. (Coruscant is also really really big and I hated every time I had to run into the tower to talk to a senator). Note: thanks to a comment below reminding me to put this gripe in here

Thoughts on the Scoundrel

So I’m playing as the smuggler healer who uses energy to heal which I find fascinating. There is a considerable amount of depth to the gameplay though and I wanted to share a little of that and compare it to WoW somewhat. The scoundrel uses an ability called “Upper Hand”, which is a 10 second buff that stacks to 2, as a secondary critical resource for casting spells in addition to the 100 energy. Your basic direct heal costs 25 energy (quite a bit) and grants one charge of Upper Hand. Your primary HoT, Slow Release Med Pac for 15 energy, has a 30% chance of granting Upper Hand per tick via talents and can stack up to two times on a target. Upper Hand may be used to cast a cheaper and faster direct heal called kolto pack  (1.5s versus 2.0s, and 20 energy versus 25) or an instant and free heal that doesn’t hit as hard called Emergency Med Pac (think of swiftmend to some degree). Scoundrels also get Kolto Cloud which is effectively Wild Growth in its functionality. What makes this system interesting is that your energy has variable regen rates. At 60% or greater you gain, assuming Pugnacity, 6 energy a second however if you dip below 60% you get proportionally less energy returned. If you bottom out your energy bar it gets really rough. Scoundrel’s have an ability on a 2 minute cooldown that restores 50 (66 talented) energy which can be utilized very similar to an arcane mage’s burn rotation followed by Evocation if necessary to get back up out of the red. Managing your resources is extremely important and makes the player feel like they are working hard to maximize throughput. There is a right and a wrong way to heal to be sure.

The scoundrel also does quite a bit of rogue-like duties which is pretty interesting as a healer. Scoundrel’s can stealth and have tranquilizer (sap) for organic targets and can overload (general CC) droids for some time. Having a stun in the form of Dirty Kick (sp?), an interrupt, and an AoE blind effect make for some really excellent in combat decisions. In a raiding scenario I am not usually fond of being tasked with doing all of those things and healing however I think it will work somewhat decently in this model as healing isn’t super spammy.

This isn’t an advertisement for the scoundrel or for SW:TOR in general but it is a little bit of a PSA for the game. It is in fact very good and definitely worth giving it a shot. Try any class you like and take it for a spin. I do want to thank Beruthiel, Tokudama, and a whole slew of the WoW druid blogging community for their recommendations and support via twitter conversations. It helped me stop waffling and take it for a spin.

One last thing of note that I wanted to include here: my girlfriend does NOT like MMO’s. I genuinely respect that as not everyone loves to play with strangers online and deal with the general awfulness that goes along with that. She has played (or watched) just about everything Bioware and loved the KOTOR games. To see her genuinely interested in the game and actually willing to give it a shot speaks volumes I assure you. Sadly SW:ToR does not offer a free trial at this time so she may wait a little while but the fact she is considering it and interested means a lot to me.

Recovering From One of Life’s Curveballs – The Four Car Pileup

As you may or may not have noticed I’ve been a little quiet as of late and I wanted to fill people in on why just in case they may have missed my frantic tweets.

I was recently involved in a fairly nasty four car accident in which I was the second car in the line of vehicles and subsequently had my car sandwiched nicely in the middle. A rather terrifying and horrific experience that has left me very much in shock and fairly banged up. That being said I am alive and kicking, just a tad slower than I was before.

Story Time

I’m a fairly cautious driver by nature and I don’t often take risks when I’m on my forty minute commute to work as the highway traffic is often hit or miss each day. The morning of the accident I was cruising along the highway following the flow of traffic nicely when I saw up ahead everything was coming to a halt. Rubbernecking is notoriously bad on this highway and it is prone to rather nasty bouts of completely unnecessary traffic in the morning or evening. Given that I have a reverse commute it tends to be the only thing, sans holiday shopping, that tends to ruin my trip. So I slowed down and prepared for a rather long and tedious trip into work.

That’s when I felt the impact and heard the sickening crunch of a car plowing into me from behind. The vehicle clearly didn’t make much of an attempt to stop and if he did it certainly wasn’t soon enough. Perhaps I braked a little late on my own accord but driving too close will get you and this time it got him.

The initial hit wasn’t that bad though it buckled the rear passenger pillar. He ended up not hitting me square while his car then veered to the left out of control and slid into the guard rail. Upon being hit I was thrown forward jamming both of my knees into the console and my left leg driven hard into the footrest. If that wasn’t bad enough watching as your car lurches towards the car in front of it with such force is a really dreadful feeling. In retrospect I don’t know entirely what was going through my mind at the time but there certainly was a lot. I was thinking about my girlfriend, my family, and whatever else flashed in there at that moment. I was thrown forward hard upon impact but thankfully the seat belt held me firmly and the airbag didn’t go off. In any other situation I’d be livid that it didn’t but I actually managed less injury without it deploying strangely enough.

I was informed it didn’t go off due to the angle of my car downward from the rear impact and how that affected the force distributed to the sensors used for the airbag. This is an area of car mechanics that I don’t entirely understand so I won’t try to go any further with that. After the impact I crawled through the car to the passenger side and limped out of the vehicle not sure if my knee was ok. The police and fire department were quick to respond and tended to the fellow that hit me. Once he was loaded into an ambulance our other cars were towed away and we were tended to. The rest of the day was spent calling my loved ones, the insurance company, meeting the adjustor, and heading to the emergency room for a checkup. The emergency room doctor discharged me, despite being banged up, sore, and in pain, as nothing was evidently broken (though I am following up on that separately).

While the scary part is over the following week has been difficult to say the least. Having your car totaled is an ordeal that I was not at all prepared for. While yes they provide you with money to purchase a new vehicle and help to get your on your way it doesn’t make finding a new car in a truncated time frame any easier. That is never a decision you want to rush through. I’ve had lengthy conversations with my insurance agents who have been remarkably understanding and helpful in the process. I looked at a host of cars and evaluated multiple financing options and I think I’ve finally settled on something that works for me. Pretty soon everything will be back to normal in my life…well car wise that is. I’m just hoping that in my visits to the doctors that nothing is really wrong with me but I can’t honestly say that at this time.

Mid-Week Recreation – The Weighing Stone

Hello everyone,

So while I am busy writing a Skyrim love letter post, a Symbiosis post (because that ability requires one almost entirely to itself), and battling a recent medical diagnosis, I’d like to give you something interesting to think about. A math riddle!

I know some of you were told there would be no math but…well if you’re reading my blog you know that I have a penchant for recreational math. As an engineer I generally deal with fairly concrete equations and guidelines so abstract mathematical analysis (which I did once upon a time) has long since left my brain. I will never compete with the likes of those that do the elitist jerks theorycrafting. If you’re comfortably on my level then hopefully you’ll appreciate this fairly straight forward puzzle! If you do come up with an answer please feel free to throw it in the comments but do so at your own risk as others may or may not drop one there. Do not leave explanations behind your answer as I’d like others who submit answers to not know if yours is right or wrong.

STONE RIDDLE

A long time ago there was a farmer who grew wheat to sell at the market. In order to bundle up his grain he would use a rather heavy-duty balance scale to check it against a stone that weighed exactly 40 lbs. Once a 40 lbs. Bushel was weighed it was strapped and thrown on the cart to bring to market.

One day the farmer’s neighbor came over and explained that he had broken his measuring stone and was in a dire situation getting his produce packaged up for the market. The farmer told his neighbor that he could use his 40 lb. stone, the only condition being that he had to take perfect care of it and return it safely. He was reassured this would be the case and off the stone went.

After a few days had gone by the neighbor returned on his wagon however the 40 lb. stone was not on it and intact. Instead the farmer saw four different size pieces of stone. The neighbor sheepishly admitted that the stone had slipped off of his scale and broke into four pieces. It turns out that each piece’s weight was a whole number, and once the farmer was told exactly how much each stone piece weighed he was no longer upset. It turns out that through clever manipulation the four pieces of stone could be used to measure any whole number increment of wheat from 1 to 40 pounds.

Goal:

If each of the four pieces’ weight is a whole number, all four of them add up to 40 pounds, and they can be used to weight any weight between 1 to 40 pounds how much does each stone weigh? The scale the farmer uses is a traditional balance beam scale with room to place items on either side. When wheat is being measured all wheat goes on the same side of the scale.

Translating Portal 2’s beautiful Easter Egg

Good afternoon all!

In my continuing efforts to procrastinate my more important articles I bring you a brief interlude. I’ve been going through some tough times in game these days and I’m struggling to find myself and where my home should be but…that doesn’t stop me from bringing you something special.

For those of you who completed Portal 2 you may have heard the *spoiler* beautiful turret opera sung by none other than Ellen McLain (GLaDOS).  What I didn’t realize when I heard it was just how moving the lyrics actually were on top of being an absolutely fantastic song complete with great throwbacks to the game (animal king turret).

The clip of the video

Here is the translation (taken from that youtube page):

Lyrics:
cara bell, cara mia bella
MY DEAR, BEAUTIFUL DARLING
mia bambina, oh Chell
BEAUTIFUL LITTLE GIRL, OH CHELL (also Oh Heaven, literal of Ciel)
che la stima, che la stima
WHAT A SHAME, WHAT A SHAME
la cara mia
WELL MY DEAR
GOODBYE
mia bambina cara
MY DEAR LITTLE GIRL
perche non passi lontana
WHY NOT WALK AWAY
si’ lontana de scienza?
YES, AWAY FROM SCIENCE?
cara, cara mia bambina
MY DEAR, DEAR LITTLE GIRL
la mia bell
MY LOVELY
la mia cara, la mia cara
MY DEAR, MY DEAR
mia bambina
MY LITTLE GIRL
cara, cara a mi
DEAR, DEAR TO ME

Made me smile, all speculations about plot importance aside. Hope your day is going well and hopefully I can get something significant up soon. The translation isn’t perfect and I’ve seen a few permutations but the meaning is there.

Shiny Toy

So I’m working on my power auras post that I want to put up for my bloggiverssary but i wanted to just say hi to everyone and that I’m still here plugging along. Also, a little snapshot of my computer finally in good shape and running in top form.