May 312007
 

Flower - Photo Thursday week #49 challengeThis week’s photo thursday challenge subject is a flower.

My take on the subject is the attached image, an unknown blooming tree from southern California. The tree was covered in these stalkless bright red flowers, a sharp contrast against the blue sky and emerald grass. The tree was visited by two hummingbirds, but their size, speed and darting movements guaranteed that the tiny birds were not successfully captured on a photograph.

(As usual, the full-size photograph is available by clicking the attached image.)

May 312007
 

Played two games of Arkham Horror (supplemented with the first expansion Curse of the Dark Pharaoh) today. And the combined score of the two games was 1-1, a draw.

Originally planned on playing just a single game, but got so readily trounced by Cthulhu in the first game (lost on account of having seven open gates on board without us having sealed a single one), just had to try our hand on a second game.

Indeed sucked big time on the first one – didn’t do anything wrong, but fought against a stacked deck, and ended up losing big time (no investigators lost, just very slow progress on the Arkham streets). The final battle commenced much sooner than expected, and we hardly made a dent in the skin of the R’Lyeh Sleeper.

Used the same characters in the second game, against Yig, and while a handsome victory (six gates sealed), it was far from a clear-cut game. The expansion’s Mythos-cards broke the progress several times, and recomposing forces was twice much more a matter of luck than skill (clever anticipation cannot be claimed to be the cause, since there was hardly any strategy for long stretches).

Next time: a two board game, with Dunwich Horror added for extra rugosity and squamousness.

May 312007
 

Delta Green is back after a long long hiatus.

Back as a properly published game. Dennis Detwiller has worked wonders with the ransom model during the last year, and now the game is back with a one-two punch.

The original book is finally reprinted, though sadly the content has not been updated since the original printing (apart from adding d20-based mechanics), the conspiracy-riddled world contains no details of a post-911 scheme. (This is based on a very brief and cursory look in Compleat Strategist in New York, so the new and improved data might be there, just carefully camouflaged).

The main event of this spring, however, is the long-awaited release of the three Eyes Only books in a much-expanded edition. The trio of books was originally available directly from Pagan Publishing only – and in the days of pretty much nonexistent web stores, really hard to obtain outside the united states. Got the last two books from a friend who visited Gencon back in the day, and have been looking for the first on eBay. Though, with prices regularly crossing the $100 mark, haven’t been sorely tempted. Now, with a reworked edition, with doubled page count from the originals. There’s simply no excuse not to buy this book. Even with the horrible shipping costs. The initial printing is limited to 1000 copies, half of which have now been sold in ten days.

Rather strong a show for conspiracy/cthulhu mix-up, which was judged to be dead in the water years ago.

May 312007
 

No less than two new guitar hero games have been announced.

Sadly, like the Tomb Raider’s tenth year anniversary game, one of the pair will not make it anywhere else but PS2. But hopefully the tracks from the Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s will make it to the xbox 360 as downloadable content. After all, a game that features Dio and Skid Row as the source cannot be all bad. And while there are no utterly unmissable tracks (like the Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight in the second installment), Asia’s Heat of the Moment comes pretty close…

Guitar Hero III will be the first game developed by Neversoft instead of Harmonix. Look and feel is the same, but the list of tracks approaches teh awesom already with the first announcements: Living Color, Alice Cooper (still from the glory years: School’s Out) and Beastie Boys’ Sabotage to top it off.

Haven’t come close to finishing respectably either of the first two installments – the promise of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird as the final encore song in the second game is good goal, though. The last two difficulty ratings seem to be built for people with much much faster fingers and a functional sense of rhythm…

May 292007
 

Watched David Fincher‘s Zodiac today. It’s not a film in the same category as the rollicking masterpieces Seven and Fight Club, but a very good movie nonetheless.

Its attitude is close to documentary, playing out the investigation of Bay Area’s most notorious serial killer from the limited perspectives of the protagonists. This is indeed not an action packed thriller, but a meticulous police procedural lovingly set in the sixties/seventies turn.

Fincher has coached great performances from the three lead actors: from Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. this is pretty much to be expected, but Mark Ruffalo as the obsessed cop puts out the best show I’ve seen from him. The few female roles are pretty much token across the board, acted well, but small enough to fade into the background.

The format is indeed very much of a documentary – on a few occasions (such as Gyllenhaal’s solo investigation towards the end) the director lets out his drive for thrill, but for almost the whole film the pace is slow.

Stylewise it’s well-executed as well – Fincher’s liking of San Francisco was established back in the Game, and well-honed shots of the city abound. The music selection ranges from classical music to period pieces (including Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man against the backdrop of the rolling credits).

So, definitely a good movie and heavily recommended – just don’t go in expecting to be thrilled and twisted like in a conventional Fincher movie.

May 282007
 

Saw Placebo in the old Helsinki ice hockey arena today.

Saw them play from the highest nosebleed section of the whole hall – row fourteen in the middle, not very far from the roof at all.

Following a sleepless night, stifled warm air and a wall to lean against I had trouble staying focused. Despite reports to the contrary: I did not fall asleep, was just resting my eyelids a little. Falling asleep might have led to literally falling, as the rows are organized very steep.

My Placebo-fu is not very strong – and not having listened to their newest album I missed quite a few songs (discovering a set list is left as an exercise to the reader). Though they did occasionally play hits from throughout their ten+ year discography.

The hall was not sold out officially, but it was pretty packed. And the lines to the toilets, as mr. Srpnt notes were indeed impressively long.

Missed the warm-up band totally (no idea even who it was), and gave the shirts a wide berth as well – at 25-30€ and not very exciting design, they just didn’t appeal enough to justify the cash outlay.

Figured I’d take a look at the inevitable pirate shirt salesmen following the concert, but the roadies supplementing their income were nowhere to be seen. And the cause for such dereliction of duty was simple: a rainstorm. Or a thunderstorm, to be exact. Quite an impressive one for the first of the season.

The band played on the loud side. Wore plugs as has been the case for the last decade or thereabouts, so didn’t really mind (apart from the lack of clarity). Noted that my right ear was completely locked up after the show. Hasn’t happened before – and time to seek out proper help if the condition doesn’t wear off by itself.

May 272007
 

Seems that my DVR managed to not record a single television show during the last three weeks.

Obviously, there are no logs to explain the omissions, just an utter absence of episodes of Heroes, Shield and 24.

Bugger on the double, obviously – but profuse swearing only helps so much.

Canal+ will likely re-broadcast Heroes and Shield already this summer, and picking up the events of 24 ought to be doable at the show’s dedicated wiki

I’ll cure this with the best of what the britain’s greatest angst-ers have to offer.

May 272007
 

Two weeks in twenty-odd lines (just like the entry on the Aussie trip):

  • Flights: 5.
  • Flight miles: >10000 (though not all of them in Star)
  • Hotels: 3.
  • Biggest moment of awe: “Dude, that’s a hummingbird right there”.
  • Gadgets bought: 0 (though got a memory card reader as a gift).
  • Pandas (proper black/white ones) seen: 0 (missed San Diego Zoo).
  • Utterly scary taxi rides: 1 (in Boston, didn’t understand anything the speeding driver was saying).
  • Cran-apple juice consumed: 1.89 liters.
  • T-shirts bought: 4 (+ 2 received as gifts).
  • New countries visited: 1 (Mexico).
  • New states visited: 1 (New Hampshire).
  • “Song and Lyrics”-movie seen: Twice.
  • Geocaches found: 9.
  • New state quarters picked up: 2 (Florida & North Dakota).
  • New boroughs visited in New York: 2 (Bronx and Brooklyn).
  • Photographs taken: 489 + about two dozen with the phone.
  • Citypass tickets used: Four of five.
  • Damage to credit card: Physical. I so need to call Amex about a replacement.
May 262007
 

Whoah, Microsoft has released a very good version of Klaus Teuber’s classic boardgame Settlers of Catan as a Xbox Live Arcade Game.

The computerized version is indeed well put together, game flows fast, and the potentially problematic user interface in the essential trading presents no extra boundaries.

The articficial intelligence puts up a decent fight, but seems to be no match to a grizzled veteran (at least below Hard). Haven’t yet tested the waters on the multiplayer game.

Great value for money – bring on Carcassonne (slated for a june release) and Alhambra. As well as a long line of adapted expansions for them…

May 242007
 

Got fed up for the umpteenth time with the increasingly malfunctioning 6680 yesterday.

Its skill in missing calls and delivering SMSes very late (occasionally they need to be pulled from the server by sending a bogus message), clearly it’s not worth maintaining such a misbegotten gadget.

So, after noting that the newest phones are available in the internal purchase system, went ahead and ordered a n95. It may not be perfect (especially in its GPS-service), but it can hardly be any worse than what I have now. The color schemes available were rather lame: sand (self-explanatory) and deep plum. Yes, deep plum. Which seems to be nothing more than an euphemism for purple.

May 242007
 

Dave Mustaine is angry again.

And there was much rejoicing.

Megadeth’s new album has been spinning in my cd player. A lot. And it’s time to give serious consideration whether to go see them in Tampere in two weeks.

May 242007
 

This week’s fiver continues where it left off last week (regarding magazines) and then carries on about green matters.

1. What do you do with your old magazines? Give ‘em away, keep them, take to the cottage to be read in the loo?
Keep them or recycle them.

2. Do you have a bio-garbage can? And if you do, does it get used?
I don’t have one.

3. Do you recycle all that you can? And why?
Not all that I can. But a lot gets recycled. Clothes, paper, cans, glass, …

4. Do green values affect what you buy and do?
Occasionally. But usually they do not get inbetween me and a good deal.

5. Did you watch incovenient truth off the telly last week? And if you did, what’s your opinion? If you didn’t, why not?
Nope. Excused on account of being in the states last week.

May 242007
 

As challenged by Mr. Ylitalo, here’s my take on the oddly topical birthday meme…

Search for your birthday in wikipedia, and pick three events, births and deaths that occurred on that day, and do note whether the day is a holiday anywhere in the world. The challenge two of your buddies to do the very same thing.

23.5.

Events
1618 – The Second Defenestration of Prague precipitates the Thirty Years’ War.
1934 – American bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed by police and killed in Black Lake, Louisiana.
2003 – The euro exceeds its initial trading value as it hits $1.18 for the first time since its introduction in 1999.

Births
1707 – Carolus Linnaeus, Swedish botanist (d. 1778).
1934 – Robert Moog, American inventor (d. 2005).
1972 – Rubens Barrichello, Brazilian formula 1 driver.

Deaths
1701 – Captain Kidd, Scottish pirate (b. 1645).
1945 – Heinrich Himmler, Nazi official (b. 1900).
1992 – Giovanni Falcone, Italian judge (b. 1939).

Holidays
There’s a grand total of three things observed: Declaration of the Báb for the Bahá’í Faith, the World Turtle Day and Day of Disunity for the Discordians.

Four liturgical feast days occur: Saint Desiderius, Saint Euphrosyne of Polotsk, Hegumena of the Monastery of the Holy Saviour (1173), Saint Guibert of Gemblours and Saint Montana.

Challenges
Well, let’s let mr. Srpnt and Mane enlighten us what happens on their birthday (apart from eating way too much cake).

May 242007
 

The One - Photo Thursday week #48 challengehis week’s photo thursday challenge is the One, the first birthday of the challenge.

My take on the subject is the attached image, a view of the Manhattan skyline through the Brooklyn Bridge cabling, with Empire State Building covered in the very middle of the bridge itself. It’s hardly representative of the challenge as a whole, but a nice picture nonetheless (haven’t got any of a birthday cake to spare).

(As usual, the full-size photograph is available by clicking the attached image.)

May 232007
 

Managed to stay awake till midnight yesterday, and enjoyed a very deep sleep.

That’s what 30+ hours flat staying awake with some extra adrenalin thrown in for good measure does.

No crises at work. Had a surprisingly productive day. Productive when compared to similar post-travel days, not in general.

Attaching of photographs to the recent entries won’t happen today, I feel mr. Morpheus starting to blow his pale sands in my direction already…

May 212007
 

Home sweet home.

Didn’t sleep a single wink. Didn’t even catnap.

For many reasons, which combined to make this flight one to remember.

First: the travelling companions. The black-clad folks of a distinctly hebrew extraction indeed turned out to be uncommon company. Nothing bad, just odd. I’ve had much worse company on a plane (drunken bulgarians, hyper-talkative french guys, babies with a surgically inserted air raid siren), but not odder. The guys kept to themselves pretty much (apart from an elderly gentleman seated across from me who almost succeeded in tripping up a stewardess twice).

Second: the weather. Somewhere south of greenland and iceland the plane hit a turbulentious area. Turbulent enough to warrant the captain to call the cabin crew to their seats. The ride was definitely bumpy for some two hours, but not too bad – no flying objects were present in the cabin at any time, and the few dips were shallow. But the progress was bumpy enough to keep most passengers from falling asleep.

Third: sudden onset of airsickness. Not mine, though the Amoeba from Tijuana still seems to persist. Of other passengers. And of the kind that needs attention from stewardesses and application of extra oxygen (and probably doctors being called in to see what’s going on).

Combination of the three above sure made the JFK-FRA leg a much livelier one than usual.

In comparison the second leg to Helsinki was just plain boring.

May 212007
 

This probably qualifies as one of the oddest turns for the better.

The Pod Hotel bell captain obviously was onto something this morning when he smugly asked whether I needed a car to get to the airport in the afternoon. In a city fulled with yellow cabs I figured there’d be no need to tie myself to a set pickup time.

Little did I know. Come half past three, and there’s not a cab in sight on the fifty-first.

Figured I’d bide my time with the twin suitcases for a credible while before moving onto the second avenue round the corner (and a bit).

Noted that two women, obviously from the hotel, were stuck with their luggage as well. Idled for a while before asking them for how long they’d been waiting. A while enough for them to address me. In finnish. (Strange thing #1, for those keeping the score at home).

Turns out that there was no black magic involved, they’d just picked my name off a suitcase tag. And their car was late, very late – and naturally, if it’d be big enough I’d be allowed to ride with them to the airport (we turned out to be on the same flight over to Frankfurt). Decided to find out whether the car was indeed large enough to accommodate all three of us. It was. It sure was. It was a stretch limousine, proudly equipped with all kinds of bling inside. But sadly there was no Cristal in the fridge. (Odd event #2).

Road to JFK was bristling with cars, and the limo took its good time using some odd shortcuts to optimize the route. But got to the airport without any incidents, and in very decent time. And the shared ride, ended up being much cheaper than a taxi ride. Pleasant surprise indeed.

Security formalities were on the extensive side, but the lines flowed rather fast, and ended up beyond the checkpoint early enough to have a leisurely dinner before the flight.

After walking to the vicinity of the gate, noted that there’s a lot of very sombre looking lean gentlemen in black suits and hats… It’d appear that a third of the plane will be settled by orthodox jews. All of whom are packing amazing amounts of gear. So it’ll likely be a struggle to get enough room in the overhead bins. (Peculiar coincidence #3).

So yeah, as an executive summary – not bad for two afternoon hours: I ended up hitching a ride in a stretch limo from two countrywomen, and then forced to mingle with people whose idea of a good time is probably geometrically different from mine.

May 212007
 

Back in 2003, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum was almost eniterly shut down because of repairs. And I got a very abbreviated (yet cheap) view of a small subset of the collection.

I had allocated a couple of hours this morning to view the galleries, but to a medium-sized dismay noted that the repairs elves had struck again. This time the exterior of the building was scaffolded up for a total reworking of the surfaces, and a couple of floors inside had been emptied.

Took a tour (the last citypass ticket used on this trip), and quite enjoyed the collection of Kandinskys and other artists works available.

Had quite a bit of time to kill before the flight out, so walked down the fifth avenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Its collections are nothing short of humongous, so just picked a couple of halls to view instead of trying to browse them all. The Greek/Roman gallery was new, and had lots of statuary and columns. The egyptian section had mummies sarcofagi (mummies wouldn’t keep well) and hieroglyphics, lots of them. A visiting exhibit of Catalan art in the first four decades of last century was very interesting – it’s never boring to walk amongst the works of Gaudi, Dali and Miró.

But before long it was time to walk out, the rest of the afternoon wouldn’t probably been sufficient to see it all (felt especially bad about missing most of the arms and armour section).

Annual AIDS Walk Parade filled up the avenue, marching bands and performance artists were slowly moving uptown, giving plenty of photo opportunities of the rapidly warming New York sunday afternoon. Though the folks in central park tossing frisbees and just lounging around clearly couldn’t care less.

May 202007
 

Both of my suitcases got inspected by TSA on the way over from San Diego. Indicated with a jolly document inserted into the lugagge. Not the first time this happened, and probably far from last.

The yellow monster sustained no damage of the event, even though it’s an old piece of luggage and has no (at least no marked one) backdoor in its lock. So, either the TSA guys have a lot of patience or a clever lock spinning device.

So, while the bigger suitcase got off unscathed, the TSA-approved lock on the smaller one got cut and the contents browsed.

Brookstone offers lifetime guarantee on its locks, but as a clever catch-22 requires that you show the lock forced open by the officials to be entitled to a a new one. Based on past experience, such locks are never convenietly inserted into the lugagge, but thrown away.

Picked up a new trio of locks, and discussed the fairness of the policy with a salesgirl. She was obviously unable to comply with the guarantee, since I had no cut lock to produce. A commercial standoff, clearly – one which I intend to resolve by querying the head office about the procedure.

(And no, it’s not about the money – locks are cheap, and I’ll expense this set of them anyway. It’s principle – empty promises are so easy to keep…)

May 202007
 

Pigeon and a view from the topVisited the Empire State Building pretty much as it opened to beat the crowds.

I’ve been up once before, but the chilly winter on 2003 (-20C weather and high winds and humidity off the twin rivers) curtailed the visit to a very short length.

So, part of the visit was to really check out the scenery, but another was to seek out my first NY cache. This was a virtual cache out of necessity, as any unexplained boxes would bring out the NYPD bomb squad post haste, I’m sure.

South of the Empire State BuildingAnother sight that got only a partial visit back in ’03 was the American Museum of Natural History, located next to Central Park.

It’s a huge building with impressive contents, so concentrated on bits that were missed on the previous visit to avoid spending the entire day inside. The show on colliding objects in the planetarium got things off to a good start. And the life-size model of the blue whale in the ocean room was quite impressive at 29 meters. Too bad the largest flying animal ever on earth (a mighty pterodactyl species) was featured only with a single wing bone, and not a full-scale assumption what the beast looked like.

Like most american museums, this was packed with giftshops as well. Almost managed to resist the urge to purchase, but succumbed to a book on cryptozoology in the very last shop walked through (they are quite cunningly placed on common routes).

Blue Whale in the Ocean HallMissed the Frogs: a Chorus of Colors for the second time. It will open here the next monday, and I just missed it last year in Philadelphia.

Walked through Central Park, and picked up three easy caches. Virtuals all of them – it had started raining, and the idea of rummaging through soggy undergrowth and wet grass for tupperware was not that appealing.

Proto-amphibian

May 182007
 

Brooklyn BridgeBrooklyn Bridge looks impressive from afar. Even in movies. Especially in the iconic street shot dominated by the bridge in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A time In America.

And even more so, close up. The bridge is not too long, and trivially accessible with the subway. So no visitor is excused from not crossing the East River on the most picturesque bridge of the city.

Heeded weather channel advice (supposed to rain today), and walked across first thing in the morning. No rain, but wind was definitely on the hefty side. Hefty enough to warrant stashing the cap in the backpack out of fear of it being blown away into the flowing waters.

The cablework of the structure is exquisite, and the views were very nice (to quote mr. Sagdiyev). The grey day added to the subdued color scheme (dirt on grey).

I wasn’t alone on the bridge. Far from it. Though the raised center lane, which is reserved for pedestrians and bicyclists, really started filling up as I neared the Brooklyn end, with tourists streaming out of the subway.

Empire State BuildingBrooklyn was in even better shape than Bronx, looking very respectable and gentrified on a brief walk through the area surrounding the Brooklyn end of the bridge.

Took a brief look into Empire State Building (it’s one of the targeted sights of the Citypass), but decided to give it a miss upon seeing the supposedly 45+ minutes lines on milling visitors. Maybe tomorrow morning. Early tomorrow morning.

Macy’s, the world’s largest department store, turned out to be quite a maze. The building is divided on the gender, and obviously I entered from the feminine end, and was puzzled by the utter lack of male clothing in all of the seven floors visited. The store has terrible guides on the walls, and it took a while to discover where the individual departments lie. Got very tempted by a Ralph Lauren hoodie, but fortunately it had such an ugly backprint that it just had to remain on the rack.

The entry’s title is of a classic Arlo Guthrie album, which sadly seems to be unavailable. Even in the giganteoustic Virgin megastore on Times Square. Or ebay. And browsing the wikipedia page on him, it appears that he’s been a guest on Muppet Show (on season four) – yet a further reason for the production company to speed up the release schedule of the show on dvd.

May 182007
 

I have enthused about Dennis Lehane‘s books before, and will continue to do so until he jumps the shark like James Ellroy sadly has done.

Finished Sacred, the last remaining Kenzie & Gennaro-book, and can heartily recommend it to any who are partial to noir-ish modern mysteries.

The plot starts off pretty simple, but twists and turns in moebiusian way towards an expectedly loaded finale. Saying more would be spoiling.

This is vintage Lehane, so the dialogue and plot remain faithful to the series – this is not an experimental book like Shutter Island.

It’s been a while since the last novel, I’ve been considering picking up the newest, Coronado, in hardback form, but have settled on waiting for the inevitable paperback. And besides, the content (not a novel, not a plain collection of short stories) is exactly the kind of book where Ellroy started to go wrong back in the day, though this seems to be devoid of the true crime-stories so loved by my ex-favorite author.