Shadows of Brimstone
Posted in Reviews
First watch, 7 bells (11:53 pm)

Tonight, for the first time, my wife and I played Shadows of Brimstone City of the Ancients. Since we were only two players, and were playing the introductory adventure A Fistful of Dark Stone, we only faced low threat enemies. Until the end, where it spiraled out of control. We entered the mine, tried to scavenge with little success at first, and as we delved deeper my wife was real good at passing the Holding Back the Darkness rolls for the most part. We found our first clue in the room right past the mine entrance, but didn't find the second (objective room) until we were seven rooms in. We had several encounters, where we lucked out and missed taking damage every time, or got a good result instead. We had one early skirmish with 6 Void Spiders, and Lorien took out four of them by tossing dynamite into their midst. We quickly won that fight, and she received dynamite as a reward!

So the rest of the encounters were lucky as I mentioned, up until we got to the objective room. This is where either the game balance is off or we were extremely unlucky—or both. It appears that no matter how many players are in the game, you draw a red High Threat card to face off against in the objective room. Ours had us draw two Medium Threat cards. One of those cards had us draw two Low Threat cards. Our final fight was the Marshall and the Saloon Girl versus (in descending order of nastiness) three Night Terrors, three Stranglers, and nine Void Spiders. Most of them targeted my wife, who was stuck a bit behind me. The Void Spiders had the highest initiative and attacked first, quickly surrounding us and cutting off any hope of escape. Lorien faced two of them, and I faced four. The Stranglers couldn't reach either of us, so were sitting out the fight watching from the bleachers. Then we attacked, killed a couple of spiders, and then the Night Terrors shoved everyone out of the way and came to attack. Unluckily for her, they all chose to target Lorien first. She almost got KO'd that first round but had some luck dodging damage. The next round I managed to heal her, but they beat her like an old punching bag when their turn came up again.

So we used our one-and-only Revive token and she popped right back up. She threw dynamite again, took out a handful of spiders, wounded a few more, and even wounded two of the Night Terrors. I hit one several times with my shotgun but also had some bad luck rolls. In the end I managed to take two of them down, but not before they beat the lunch money out of Lorien again, KO'd in one round.

There was nothing left for me to do as I was surrounded on my next turn by Void Spiders and the final remaining Night Terror and pounded unconscious after surviving one round on my own.

So like I said, I may have been really unlucky, but it felt like the odds were too stacked against us at the final fight. Especially considering we'd have faced the same enemies if we had six players instead of just two…

All that said, this game kicks serious pigu. Way to go, Flying Frog!

Unfortunately we'd already cleared off the board when I finally took a picture, but here it is anyway.
My first Shadows of Brimstone game

I need a bigger game table!

PS I painted all the miniatures myself. Normally they come as grey plastic, so don't be disappointed if that's what you get.

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Netgear ProSafe GS108
Posted in Advice, Reviews, Tech
Forenoon watch, 3 bells (9:47 am)

My boss bought a Netgear ProSafe GS108 gigabit network switch to use around the house, but had a lot of trouble with it. As it turns out, the device has a firmware bug that does not allow DHCP packets! I'm not sure about other broadcast protocols, but if you need DHCP, don't use this switch.

Update: Well it seems like this was a bit premature. It appeared that there was a DHCP issue, but the real problem turned out to be a Cisco 2960 switch behind the GS108 that had the specific port configured to "Desktop" mode. A change to "Switch" mode fixed the problem, so if you have an issue like this, check your other hardware!

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Pandora’s Succession by Russell Brooks
Posted in Books, Reviews
First watch, 8 bells (12:07 am)

I was invited by the author to read and review his book, Pandora's Succession before it was released. A few weeks ago I received a PDF of the pre-release manuscript and began reading.

If I had to summarize it in one quick phrase it would have to be "Action-packed, Hollywood-style spy novel."

In more depth, this story is about Ridley Fox, a CIA agent with a troubled past of loss and regret who is out for revenge. Ridley is approached by a scientist working for The Arms of Ares, a weapons consortium that plays on the wrong side, who wishes to defect. This drags him deeper and deeper into a crazy-evil-scientist-style plot to wipe out most of the Earth's population with a terrible new bio-weapon called Pandora.

Now let me preface the remainder of this review by saying I'm excited about today's publishing technology. Newer, up-and-coming writers that have a tough time "breaking in" to the market due to overloaded publishing houses and plain-old rejection have more options than ever before. And we're starting to see the results of that change. Fiction podcasts, webzines, and other non-traditional methods of publication are available to both new and established writers. But what does this mean to us, the readers?

A lot more choice in our reading pile!

Brooks has done what I have always wanted to do, write a story and, by hook or crook, get it published and available to the masses. Now let me tell you what's great about his writing. Brooks writes action and he writes it well. Pandora's Succession was very well-paced, a difficulty for many writers. There was a definite build of tension as we approach the climax of the story. Brooks, to me, seems like an expert with modern weapons, so he either has a huge gun collection or he did great research. His characters are believable people, too. And he's good at writing dialog, too.

The one thing I think the story could have used would be a good run-through by an editor. Not that there were plot problems or sections that need to be cut, but a few times in the story I was distracted by a repetitive sentence or word that popped up too frequently. That aside, I've read books by recognized authors who've published many books that have more problems than Pandora's Succession. My complaint here is only what kept me from being totally immersed in the story. Be aware though that what I read was an early copy, and is not the verbatim manuscript that will make it to final publishing.

All-in-all, if you like spy novels you should read Pandora's Succession, and keep an eye on Russell Brooks, because he's only going to get better!

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Starcraft 2
Posted in Hobbies, Reviews
First dog watch, 1 bell (4:46 pm)

I started downloading Starcraft 2 yesterday morning around 7am. Given that it was 6.99Gb, I figured it would take most of the day. I was wrong.

The ETA bounced around 30 to 120+ hours. After I got home, I started digging in to the download client settings, and found the peer-to-peer info page, which showed me that I was getting a whopping 6Kb/s from three different peers, each at 2.0Kb/s.

So I figure the Mac version wouldn't be as popular as the Windows version, but seriously—this was horrible! So I shut down the peer-to-peer functionality (not recommended by Blizzard), and immediately jumped to around 600Kb/s download rate. It finished in two hours.

Starcraft 2 is, however, gorgeous.

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Corner Gas
Forenoon watch, 5 bells (10:32 am)

I heard a review of the Canadian show Corner Gas on the Firefly podcast The Signal quite a while ago, and added it to my Netflix queue. It showed up last week. I finally got around to watching it last Friday night, and it was pretty funny. There were some hit-or-miss episodes on the first disk, but overall it was pretty good stuff. I love how the first episode started, even before the credits.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nMXV4NG4gQ

So check it out, you might like it. Eh.

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Hardware: The Drobo FS
Posted in Reviews, Tech
Afternoon watch, 1 bell (12:41 pm)

Today I received the Drobo FS I ordered last Friday, along with three 2Tb drives to make it happy.

First off, can I say that in my years of IT work, this is by far the easiest installation I've ever had. All I did was slide the drives in and plug in the network and power and turned it on. Then I walked away. Sheer brilliance.

I installed their software, the Drobo Dashboard, so I could configure the device (from a Windows machine). A few minutes after power-up, there it was in the window showing drives ready to go:

Drobo Dashboard

The only complaint I have is interoperability with backup software (I use Symantec's BackupExec), which appears to be available only with the Drobo Pro and Drobo Elite models. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure I can pull data off via the share, but a backup client does a better job of streaming data out than Windows SMB.

Overall, I'm excited to have an appliance to store our data without having to maintain an operating system and all its related hardware. Depending on how things go, we may be switching more of our storage over to Drobo later.

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Danger on Tiki Island
Posted in Reviews
Forenoon watch, 5 bells (10:31 am)

Last night my brother Wes and I watched the latest Cinematic Titanic release, Danger on Tiki Island.

Having been a long-time fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, this is an instant classic. While I don't think I enjoy the live versions quite as much as the normal DVD releases, it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the jokes. And I can tell you, there were a lot of them!

The story is (roughly) about a scientist and his wife investigating an island after nearby nuclear testing. Accompanying them is a peace corps guy that wants to improve the quality of life of the native population. But a monster is loose on the island, and the natives have reverted to virgin sacrifices on a near-nightly basis. Exactly how they could sustain this level of commitment I can't say.

Did I mention the trees have grabbing tentacles? And the monster suit was ridiculous? Of course I don't need to. Plus, there is a bonus documentary feature.

Don't be afraid to rush out and get the latest installment from Joel, Trace, J. Elvis, Mary Jo, and TV's Frank!

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WordPress Upgrade
Posted in Reviews
Forenoon watch, 6 bells (11:14 am)

I upgraded to WordPress's new 3.0 release. In the first hour, they have over 15,000 downloads!

The upgrade was a piece of cake, as usual. They make it simple and easy. I always back up my database and files before the upgrade, and I've never had to go back. And let me tell you, I've been using WordPress for a very long time, since the early days. I upgraded from bb to WordPress on November 18, 2003.

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Texas Roadhouse
Forenoon watch, 4 bells (10:24 am)

Last night we went to the Texas Roadhouse for dinner. Normally I'd link their website, but due to the gratuitous use of Flash I'll leave that to you if you want. TR just opened up a few weeks ago in Coeur d'Alene.

Even with reservations, it took us over an hour to get a table. Be ye warned. But there are barrels of peanuts from which you may graze. They also encourage you to throw the shells on the floor so the busboys have more work. So even where you sit, there may be a layer of peanut shells crunching underfoot. If you have a nut allergy, this is not the place for you.

The bread is great: fresh, hot, and sweet. And it comes with cinnamon butter. Between that and the peanuts, you could probably order a side salad and leave full. I took half of my dinner home in a box. The pulled pork wasn't pulled so much as largely chunked. And the "fall-off-the-bone" ribs did come apart easily, but I've had better. The service was okay, but nothing stellar. They stop every now and then to dance, too. Some kind of weird, kick-the-peanut-shell and clap-your-hands shuffle.

To top it off, they blast country music into your ears the whole time you're there. Overall, it's not a place I'll be going back to, but if you're a beer swilling, truck driving, country music-loving redneck you'll probably love it. I'm none of those and left with a headache.

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Robin Hood
Posted in Reviews
Forenoon watch, 4 bells (10:06 am)

On Monday my wife, brother, and I went out to see the new Robin Hood movie. I was interested in it because Alan Doyle, the lead singer from Great Big Sea is in it. Turns out he's a friend of Russell Crowe, who got him into the part.

The movie was all right. I went in with certain expectations (it is Robin Hood, after all) that were never met. The Sheriff of Nottingham had a very small part. Think of it more like a Robin Hood prequel and you won't be disappointed.

Keep your eyes out for Alan. He's the archer that sings all the time 🙂

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The Beast of Yucca Flats
Posted in Reviews
Forenoon watch, 4 bells (10:10 am)

I just finished watching The Beast of Yucca Flats which, like Red Zone Cuba and Skydivers, was directed by Coleman Francis.

Coleman Francis almost out-Ed-Woods-es Ed Woods himself. This movie was all over the place. The narrator mentions flags on the moon and flying saucers, which have absolutely nothing to do with this movie, neither its plot nor dialog. In it, Tor Johnson plays a scientist from behind the Iron Curtain that accidentally absorbs radiation at a missile test site and turns in to a fiendish beast that kills people for fun. Wait, that makes it sound exciting, and it really wasn't. Tor ambles around the desert, and a sheriff hunts him down. But the sheriff spots a stranded motorist and mistakes him for the Beast and shoots at him a bunch of times. He gets back to his car and high-tails it out of there, leaving his wife behind to wait for the kids. He never returns, although his kids do. Tor eventually gets killed when the sheriff finally finds him and that's pretty much it.

This movie had two short films to go with it, since it was mercifully brief itself. The first was a short about budgeting money for high school kids, where the silhouette of Benjamin Franklin instructs a boy on the fine art of not blowing all your money. The second was about "Progress Island," a.k.a. Puerto Rico. It almost convinced me that I should think about Puerto Rico.

I give this movie three empty seats, one for each of the Coleman Francis movies I hope I never have to see again.

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Danger!! Death Ray
Posted in Reviews
Afternoon watch, 8 bells (4:20 pm)

I watched Danger!! Death Ray earlier today. It's a Spanish/Italian film, dubbed into English and efficiently riffed by the MST3K crew. It's a European-style James Bond-ish film with a spy named Bart Fargo. Unfortunately.

The film starts off with a scientist inventing a death ray for world peace. At the demonstration, the scientist is kidnapped and his project hijacked. So Bart Fargo is called in to save the day. He has several adventures, and most of the women get away from him. So in that way, it's not like an old James Bond film. It also has the best miniatures I've ever seen (end sarcasm). Seriously, I could do their special effects in my tub. As Mike and the 'bots put it "Special effects by Billy!"

I give this movie five empty seats, one for each of the Bond films that came out before this one, and had the director paid attention, would have made this a better picture.

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Red Zone Cuba
Posted in Reviews
Forenoon watch, 6 bells (11:19 am)

This morning I watched Red Zone Cuba, also known as Night Train to Mundo Fine. Whatever name it is known under, it universally stinks. This movie starred its director, who I'm pretty sure had no script or real plot idea when he started filming this movie. I'm also pretty sure he didn't have either at the end.

Griffin is an escaped con that joins up with two other ex-cons, they get shanghaied into fighting Castro in Cuba (momentarily, anyway), escape back to the same town they left, throw the father of a blind woman down a mine shaft, then drive up into the mountains and get shot. Yup, that about sums it up.

I could smell the stench of this movie emanating from my TV it was that horrible, but the riffing was funny. I give it three empty seats in honor of the three stooges, one of whom (Curly) the director/actor resembled.

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High School Big Shot
Posted in Reviews
Forenoon watch, 6 bells (11:09 am)

Last night while waiting for Lorien to get home I watched High School Big Shot, a 1950's era movie about a smart kid with a bum father. When a girl comes on to him, the kid is too stupid to realize she's just using him to pass her English class. But he writes her paper, the teacher knows what's going on, and stops the kid's college scholarship chances. Meanwhile, the kids father doesn't work, bums money off the kid, and chugs booze. The kid hears his boss talking about a million dollar drug deal he's doing, so the kid hatches a plan to steal the money from his boss to buy his girl's love. He brings in a couple of guys that can help him crack the safe, and they steal the money, but the quasi-girlfriend tells her real boyfriend about the score so they show up with guns and take the money from the kid and his team. The boyfriend shoots a guy, then shoots the girlfriend for "making him shoot" someone. Then the real drug dealers show up, the kid gets shot, and the cops show up. The father, meanwhile, has hung himself from the chandelier out of shame.

It really wasn't much of a movie, pretty dull as you can probably tell. There was a funny short film at the beginning, though, that was probably better than the movie itself. It was about an angel and a devil betting on the poor habits of a bread delivery man. The angel goes down in disguise to try to influence the man to be a slacker again, but he tells her how much he loves his job and how he does it. Full of minutes of shelf-packing action, this short was too funny.

In all, I give this movie three empty seats, for the asbestos pitchfork ends the devil guy wagered against the angel that the bread guy would go back to being a slacker.

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The Sword and the Dragon
Posted in Reviews
First watch, 1 bell (8:59 pm)

Final review of the night, promise! I watched The Sword and the Dragon a movie full of bearded Russians. Apparently it's folk story, or fairy tale if you wish, about a giant that turns to stone one day and leaves his sword for the next champion to pick up. But that sword is carried around by pilgrims who find a big man that can't use his legs. So the pilgrims give him a magic elixir, and he regains his strength. They give him the sword, and he goes out to fight the evil Mongols that are invading his homeland. He befriends the prince, who later throws him in the dungeon for 20 years or so. Meanwhile, his wife had a baby boy, and was captured by the Mongols, whose King raises the boy as his own.

When the Mongols return some 20 years later, the prince realizes his mistake and lets the hero out of the dungeon. He then fights the Mongols. When he fights his son, he realizes who he is and tells him. The young man immediately believes him, and swears vengeance on the Mongols. They rescue his mother and defeat the Mongols.

I give this movie three empty seats for the number of minutes a dragon was actually in this movie. Yes, I counted.

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