Sunday, October 06, 2013

Dirtfish Rally School

Yesterday, a good friend of mine had his birthday party at Dirtfish Rally School and treated a bunch of his friends to a day on the course. Besides being incredibly thankful for the opportunity, it was an incredible time.  If you are looking for a taste of racing or just want to be better at driving on rough conditions, this is definitely something you should look into.

The start of the day, we covered material concerning steering and controlling your vehicle.  We spent a lot of time on vehicle weight transfer which is a big thing when trying to control the direction of your vehicle.  Once that was all done, it was time to head out on the track where we would spend some time with our instructors and learn the basic principles of lift-turn-wait and lift-turn-brake which is the main way that you can get your car going in the direction you want.  To practice this technique, we hit the slalom.

The way it would work is that the instructors would take us onto the course and show us some of the technique and how it should look.  Then we would swap into the drivers seat and do 3-4 passes before we would trade with the other set of students (8 students, 4 instructors, 4 cars).  Rinse and repeat.  With the Slalom, it was a nice simple course where we were just trying out this stuff for the first time, so it looked pretty rough.  Our motions were definitely exaggerated as we were trying to find feel for the car and our muscle memory for the right way to handle.  Lift-turn-brake was one of the hardest motions to get into your head as most of the time, you as a driver on the road want to break and then start the turn.

Once we finished up, we headed onto the Boneyard, where we would practice our turning techniques with larger turns.  We had a variety of turns from light bends to nearly hairpin turns.  This was definitely a challenge because as you got more comfortable with the course and got faster, it became more difficult to actually make the turns.  Once this was done, we took a break for lunch, some Forza/DiRT video games, and some more instruction on a new technique, Trailbraking.

The rest of the afternoon was working with an extended course which included the Slalom, the Boneyard, and the Link which connects the two.  This was definitely a ton of fun and really educational.  Almost without fail, once you got comfortable out there and felt like you nailed a series of turns, it would fall apart and you would push it too hard and lose control.  The biggest thing to learn from the course is that precision and control are the focus of good driving.

For pictures.... Dirtfish Flickr Album

Sunday, September 08, 2013

2013 Detroit Lions

Time for my yearly prediction and yearly bet with the Lions and the NFL.  Let's start with my record prediction.  It is tough to predict as when I watched the Lions in pre-season their first team offense was terrible.  If I were to use that as my gut prediction, then I could potentially foresee another 0-16 year... but I think they will hit a stride, I just don't know when that will be.

Week 1: vs Minnesota Loss
Week 2: @ Arizona Win
Week 3: @ Washington Loss
Week 4: vs Chicago Win
Week 5: @ Green Bay Loss
Week 6: @ Cleveland Loss
Week 7: vs Cincinnati Win
Week 8: vs Dallas Win
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: @ Chicago Loss
Week 11: @ Pittsburgh Loss
Week 12: vs Tampa Bay Win
Week 13: vs Green Bay Loss
Week 14: @ Philadelphia Loss
Week 15: vs Baltimore Loss
Week 16: vs NY Giants Loss
Week 17: @ Minnesota Loss

Prediction is: 5-11.  Ug.  Makes me a bit sick in a way and while they always find a way to hang close, it really ends up being a shoot out in the end.  Even in the 0-16 season, most games were won by a touchdown or less.  They just manage to come close to winning without actually doing so.  But wins are all that really count, not close losses.

My bargain/bet... I will buy some Lions accessories as chosen by a friend of mine (not a Lions fan).

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

PAX 2013

PAX 2013 is now in the bag and I definitely had a lot of fun.  The transition to four days was a huge move that did well in terms of scheduling panels seemed more spread out.  This brings with it some problems as well.  Part of moving to 4 days was to encourage folks to get the days they want, allowing more people to experience PAX as the size of the convention center is a huge limitation.  In this case though, I think a lot of people travel in so not buying the entire weekend just didn't make much sense.  That said I talked to a lot of folks who just got a single day pass for whatever was available, so maybe it worked better than I thought.

I was able to attend all four days and had Jason, a friend of mine, along for the ride.  He did get sick from his plane ride and therefore missed Sunday and Monday, doing his best to recover.  Four days is a pretty exhausting and intense experience.  It doesn't help that I have been fighting some stomach issues all summer long so I was putting myself to the test on this one.

Friday I was able to hit the 13th Age 2 hour demo (which took 3 hours).  This was one of my top priorities for the convention as I really wanted to experience it as a player before I get to running campaigns in the settings.  Overall, I am impressed with its ability to tie the characters into the story and world.  In addition it provides some nice tools such as Icon relations and backgrounds to help kick off the GM improv thought process.  Afterwards, we grabbed some lunch and went to Patrick Rothfuss' panel.  Holy Poo that dude is fun to listen to.  He claims he doesn't have the speaking voice but it was totally engaging and covered a lot of fun questions ("3rd or 4th date" type questions).  Afterwards it was a quick run through of the expo hall and then off to see the WotC booth as I heard they were looking for DMs to help out.  I signed up to help run Confrontation at Candlekeep the next night and decided to play it so that I could be a bit more prepped.  In the end, it was about 6 hours of gaming and a couple of hours in line plus a expo hall run through.

Saturday, Jason abandoned me to stand in line at Cards Against Humanity booth where he scored the Bigger, Blacker Box as well as the core set of cards.  I made a couple passes on the expo hall where I played with the NVIDIA Shield which is just an impressive gaming device and I seriously want it.  In addition it was hooked up to the ScreenBeam by Actiontec to show it off on an HDTV with only 100ms latency.  Afterwards I was able to check out the action in Assassin's Creed: Black Flag in their private theater which was super nice and I have to say that I am excited for this to come out.  Jason and I finished by running through the expo hall and grabbing some food before sitting in line at the Acquisitions, Inc D&D live game.  Fantastic awesome fun.  While standing in line, Jason let me use his NVIDIA Shield which further cemented the fact that  I really want to own one and helped pass the 2 1/2 hours waiting in line.  We hustled out of there and grabbed some sandwiches so that I could scarf down some food before running Confrontation at Candlekeep.  The players had a good time and were really engaging.  We had some old hat players and even a player who had never played a pen and paper RPG before.  Got some hearty thank yous from the players as they left which felt good.  Jason did the intro to D&D Next while I was running that.

Sunday, I was running solo for a while.  I started by hitting the 6th floor of the Expo which I had missed as well as stopping off at the game shop booths where I was able to pick up Fluxx Boardgame, 7 Wonders, and FATE Accelerated. I also picked up a new miniature from Reaper to paint, given that I totally forgot to get a dragon in the Kickstarter.  Got a demo from Fantasy Flight Games for for Cyborg while I waited to run into Lindsey from work and then we ended up playing Flame War, Zombie Dice, Through the Desert, Tsuro, and some other games which was totally fun.  Lindsey and company took off, while I grabbed some food and went to be a player for the Mines of Madness DM Challenge in the Wizards' area.  Unfortunately they ran out of DM, so rather than call it a night (with like 20 folks still wanting to play), I volunteered to run the session cold.  It went fairly well and I think the folks had some fun even through the dungeon had its way with them.

Monday was the day of exhaustion.  I again hit the expo hall early to see if there were things that I had missed.  Talked to the folks at GAEMS about their portable console system which looks nice but is heavy.  The screen on it is gorgeous and the speakers sounded nice.  Watched some folks play Formula D which looks like a fantastically fun board game and grabbed lunch with David from work.  Afterwards we played more Flame War and also Pompeii.  We also checked out WiHD which we found was pronounced Why HD.  This product sends HD signals over 60GHz sort of like wifi but has no lag or problems that I noticed which is impressive in the Expo hall given the amount of wireless stuff going on.  They also claim only 5ms of latency which if true is very impressive.

Overall PAX was fun, and gaming with strangers and friends alike really made the experience.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Green Mars and Blue Mars

I have just finished Green Mars (Mars Trilogy) and Blue Mars (Mars Trilogy) by Kim Stanley Robinson.  I would tack this up to two illnesses starting with Green Mars versus a stomach virus and then Blue Mars versus a head cold.  While I found Red Mars to be super dark and depressing, I did find that Green and Blue were much brighter.  That said, while I have found the interactions of the characters to be fantastic and the ability of the author to really dig into drastically different characters and deal with them in a very personal manner.

Now while I have really enjoyed the series, it feels that a lot of the world and how it plays out is driven by these smart, charismatic, slightly dysfunctional characters.  In addition, the antagonist is really played by all that is old in thought and motivation.  It speaks of a viriditas and how the world is shaped by a constant interplay of chaos and order in the galaxy.  Much of the book is fantastic.  I tended to lose interest in the long monologues where it goes into full on soapbox mode.

With all the things that occur in the books, I don't think I could really do justice in them by trying to provide a full on review.  I definitely think this is a book series that people should read, even if at times it can drag on.  There is definitely some moving moments that will be most poignant as I was wrapping up the final book.  It was super moving and done in a very classy way.

The most personal message that I am taking away from this is that our goals in life should leave the world better off than when we started.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Recently Completed Books

Firing up the rarely used blog to put down a few thoughts on a myriad of books I have completed recently...

Cold Days: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher was a fantastic read.  I have liked all the Dresden File books so far and as a writer, Mr. Butcher continues to get better.  The first few were definitely rough around the edges, but still contained interesting characters in tough situations.  With the most recent outing, we pick up at the end of Ghost Story and the return of Harry.  Again we watch as Harry is put into terrible situations where he doesn't have to good sense to end it all and manages to come out the other side, definitely worse for wear and with more burdens.  While all the books in the series follow this same sort of pattern, this one does a fantastic job of really opening up new realms of possibilities in the story line as well as expanding on the depth of his created world.  Just like a piece of candy, I really can't wait for the next one to come out.  Also kudos to Amazon for quickly replacing my first copy which had a printing error within a day of contacting them.

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy) by Kim Stanley Robinson is a book that my friends have been nagging me to read for quite some time.  While this falls under the category of hard science fiction, it also really puts a strong emphasis on the human and social aspects.  Even though this book came out 20 years ago, it still evokes the same fear of large powerful corporations who will exploit all to reaches higher into the monetary stratosphere.  It talks of people who try to work within that system to save humanity.  It talks of people bucking the system to save humanity.  It tells also of the futility of the effort and the mass destruction that people cause wherever they go.  The book's pacing is on the slow side and is definitely not for the faint of heart as this book is fairly massive, but I found it thought provoking and will be starting the next book shortly.

A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson finally completes the Wheel of Time series started in 1990.  The series itself has sort of a love - hate relationship with me as I truly enjoyed the first few books but at some point it began to drag and the number of side characters sort of exploded, only to be made worse that a lot of the side characters were more interesting than some of the main characters.  The final book is sort of a love fest for all the readers that have stuck with the series so far.  Some characters die and some live through the final battle and we really get a chance to have at least a paragraph with all of them.  This book is also massive and the last battle is a large chunk of the book, but most of the book is actually spent on 3 battles leading up to the last battle.  This choice was probably deemed necessary in the tale, but for me was just wasted space.  In the end of it all, I am glad to say that it is over.  I don't regret the love that I have for the first few books, but I can't say I have enjoyed the last half of the series.  What is made worse is that many of the characters in this book just don't feel like the characters that Robert Jordan would have written.  While the female characters finally get some depth, the male characters all go through a change that makes them feel just untrue to their origin as well as the experiences that they have gone through.

Sly Flourish's Dungeon Master Tips and The Lazy Dungeon Master by Mike Shea where some pretty good reads for the DM that wants to spend more time playing with his players than crafting an intricate story line.  I have spent a lot of time in the last 2 years trying to figure out the best to do collaborative storytelling.  I have read a lot of works and also gone about it from the player side.  I don't think I have the right answer, but a lot of the reading has definitely put me on a stronger path.  At some point, I will have to start putting down some of the ideas and approaches I have taken.  That said, I can definitely recommend these books in you are interesting in doing DM work as it works hard to take the work out and put more control back into the hands of the players.

The Human Division #1: The B-Team, The Human Division #2: Walk the Plank, and The Human Division #3: We Only Need the Heads by John Scalzi are part of an episodic experiment in writing where the stories range from short story to novella in length released on a weekly time table.  The stories all take part in the "Old Man's War" universe and are told from the standpoint of a bunch of characters experiencing the universe after John Perry brings Earth to the galactic table.  While the "pilot" book felt a bit rough getting started, I have found that they are addictive and hard to put down (making their shortness all the more painful).  And while they are short stories, you can definitely see the pattern that is forming and the deeper story line emerging from the pieces.