Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Magic: The Gathering

Elves vs. Goblins

Elves vs. Goblins art by Zoltan Boros and Gabor Szikszai, © Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
Magic: The Gathering logo and related artwork © Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

There comes a time in your life when you feel you're just not geek enough. You see all your other geek friends talking about interesting geek stuff in the office, stuff you rarely heard about and you feel left out. It's kind of why I started reading Slashdot. Sure, I was reading Lifehacker, but it sure proved not to be enough!

The reason I started playing the Magic: The Gathering card game, though, isn't because of the geekness booster, but becaues I like the whole idea of the game, the game mechanics and I ultimately admire the brilliance of the business idea behind this game. It took a genius mathematician to design this game, and to see it in action now, after nearly 15 years of development, competition and refinement is amazing.

General gameplay

You shuffle your deck, start with a 7-card hand and draw one more card every time your turn begins. Cards can be lands, which give you mana, or spells, which use up mana. (There are 5 types of colored mana, and each color has it's own history and strategy. Lands and spells are cathegorized into the 5 color types by the type of mana they produce or consume.)

Every turn you're allowed to play one land-type card. As the game develops you'll have more and more mana and be able to play more powerful spells. Using the mana from your lands you play your spells and may bring permanent cards into the game. There are various types of permanents, of which some are creatures that can be summoned. The creatures are your army that will crash the opponent. The goal of the game is to reduce your opponent from 20 thoughness points (at the start of the game) to 0, by either using your creatures, or using other sorceries.

Learn to Play Magic: The Gathering

Wizards of the Coast made a short series that explains the basics of the game and help you get started. Check out the Learn to Play Magic: The Gathering playlist on YouTube, or go to www.playmagic.com for even more information and a couple of tutorials.

What's to like

Like other collectible card games, the personal touch of the game comes from the fact that each player builds his or her deck of cards as they wish, from a wide selection of cards that's available, with around 4 new expansions every year being released. Preconstructed theme decks are also released with every expansion, and new players can buy these and start playing right away. Generally, you'll start making your own decks after playing for a while.

The innovation of this game is the tapping feature, but what really makes is successful is that every card can bend the rules. There's a core ruleset that applies through most of the game. However, Magic: The Gathering's first golden rule is that when a card's text contradicts the rules, the card takes precedence. This is the rule that brings up the excitement of the game.

The game can be played head to head (2 players), or in many other multiplayer variations (3 or more players). This counts for a pretty good offline social experience for geek-type creatures.


The game combines fantasy, strategy, chance, tactics and arthimetics. Although overlooked by new players like me, the fantasy part of the game is quite fit. With every expansion of the game there's a story behind, and there are books and more to cover that. Strategy comes off of building your own decks, and in pro matches is seems to be the most important part of the game! Chance has a small role in the game, but not unnoticeable. Apart of the obvious drawing of cards form the normal rules, there are some cards that make you reshuffle your deck, or just the library, and so forth. Tactics is how you play the deck you've built and how you react to what your opponents suprize you. Arthimetics is a part of the game because you have to count lots of things: from your own hitpoints, to the power and toughness of your army every turn.

Something else that's a big part of the game is the card's artwork. Although it doesn't affect gameplay, it affects the game feel. Any game you'd play today is nothing without good graphics, and to bring that into a card game is pretty neat. The artwork is created by various artists hired specifically for this task.

Where to look

You can start reading more about Magic: The Gathering on Wikipedia, or go directly to Wizards of the Coast's official Magic: The Gathering website where you can also find the official database of cards called the Gatherer.

Dan and I found starter packs, theme decks and booster packs in Diverta, so that should be the first place to look if you want to buy Magic: The Gathering cards in Romania. We bought a starter deck and a couple of booster packs each, along with a preconstructed theme deck each, but I'm enjoying the theme deck best. Most probably we'll be buying more cards pretty soon, and I really hope buying even more isn't going to become one of those addictions.

June 26, 2008 update: If you're looking for Magic: The Gathering products in Iaşi then check out Lex Copy Center in Păcurari.

I have to say that buying a preconstructed theme deck is the way to go if you're a beginner like I am, because the 60 cards just play along each other right out of the box. Constructing a deck isn't very easy, and unless you're an experienced player it usually takes a while until you refine your pack, after a couple or more defeats.

Magic: The Gathering is a good offline fantasy game alternative to the other two I'll be playing this winter in the holidays: Lord of the Rings Online and Lineage II.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A crowded St. Nicholas day


The end of the year has always been a crowded time. It's like every end of the world you see in the movies, where doctors are robbing electronics stores, atheists screw like rabbits, mobs are running throughout the streets killing other people, buildings explode, glass gets shattered, Days of Our Lives Heroes stops airing, cops get killed, projects clutter up, terrible migrene, but in the end nothing happens. They all get to live their lives, ashamed of what happened during the mayhem. You watch these movies and you kinda get the feeling of office work during late November and the beginning of December.

But it's nice to have that dream that someday, hopefully before the 15th, you'll get the chance to kick off your shoes, lay in bed, play all the games your spent your hard earned money on, and watch ripped US TV shows. And then, about a week after, Christmas and the New Year kick in. Wouldn't you just kill for that? I have some clients people in my mind that I would kill even for no purpose at all. But I can't possibly be serious about killing, unless it's the Mayhem we're talking about.

Work is kind of cracking me lately, and just when writing this I'm on the influence of quite some effort aboard. It is wonderful, however, to have good colleagues to share this pain with. Too bad they share pain with you back… One of us had the "wonderful" idea of making secret St. Nicholas presents to each other this year. This naturally became mandatory, as the other couple of projects I had on my shoulders, which rendered secret Nicholas quite a pain in the arse. Especially when, by shopping for other people's gifts, I found something that I like for myself, and the other secret Nicholas didn't get me.

Truthfully, it proved to be quite fun in the end, although it only lasted for a little over half an hour, because not only I'm cluttered up, but the rest of us aswell. I've got a weird noise-maker that I've seen only in mexican related material. Whoever bought it should better shut up about it, because by this time next week the whole company is going to be after him… I promise to make a lot of unwanted noise with it. (See above picture.)

Promise! ;)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

3 tools to compensate for the Windows desktop

Windows Tools

Original photography by SXC member dannystock.

There's a lot of things I could complain about when refering to the Windows Desktop… Over the years I've learned to get over most of the lacks, but there are some annoyances that still drive me crazy sometimes. Here's some tools I've found to help a little. Note I'm still running Windows XP, and that's where I've tried these.

Taskbar Shuffle

Don't you just hate it when the apps you're running crash, or you accidentally close one and when you open it again the button is at the end of the taskbar? And after a few hours of work you're used to seeing it there and instead it's somewhere else!

Well, this nifty little tool sure helps. You can just drag and drop the taskbar buttons to the place you want on the taskbar, it's got nice UI feedback and after a while you won't even notice it. It's there, in the shadows working for you. It's funny it has a 8MB memory usage peak, but I got over it.

Taskbar Shuffle Homepage


You just got that new 22 inch LCD monitor and suddenly feel a lot of space. I mean like a lot. There's so much space, that when you maximize that workspace window you're just wondering if Eclipse got fat. So you start using the space more adequately… Organize windows, resize them to their own new carefully selected area of the screen. Some annoying windows, however, forget their last position and open just random the next time. Or you accidentally drag one off, or something bad just happens to Santa.

With GridMove you can now drag the window in a specific way to activate the Grid. Once you see the Grid, drag the Window to the hot spot you want, and… ta-daaa!
This was originally an AutoHotKey script, but it is now distributed as a compiled, standalone thing. It comes packed with some basic layouts, through which you can dynamically switch at runtime, but I recommend you build your own layouts to fit your exact needs.

GridMove Homepage


This one is a weirdo… And I'm a weirdo for using it aswell. Here are the only reasons I use it:

  • it makes the taskbar and taskbar buttons borderless,
  • I can put the day of week on the clock and also make it a slightly smaller font
  • I can see a quick calendar when I triple-click the clock (notice the madness?)
  • the date in my favorite format is copied to the clipboard when double-clicking with the middle button

Well, it can do a lot more things, and it's highly configurable. You're not hardcore if you don't give it a try.

The Unofficial Tclock2 homepage

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I don't celebrate Haloween. It's weird enough I was born on Haloween. Yeah, I know… It's a good day for crazy events… Just try Wikipedia, you'd be amazed.

It's a good thing that I don't feel different. I've survived the operation, it was a success. The doctor has removed the zero, which I will keep as memory, and has replaced it with a 1. Standard procedure, nothing to worry about.

It's just a new age, and this time no dinossaurs died. It can't be that bad.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Shuttle

The Pepsi Shuttle Pack

It bewilders me how marketing works today. I mean you've never seen the end of that thing! Never seen it all, never heard it all and if at one point you think there's nothing they can pull on you, you better watch your back.

I was walking the shop the other evening, looking for the usuals, among which was a bottle Pepsi Twist. (You know, that liquid that runs through my veins, slowly but surely replacing blood. Yeah, that.) I end up at the Pepsi shelf and I see there's a promotion running. Now, for those of you who don't buy fizzy drinks, you should know that in Romania there's a classic promotion where they give 2.5 liters at the (debatable) price of two. But Pepsi got smarter this summer, bundling two bottles of 2 liters at about 75% of the price. I like to call a shuttle package.

So I'm at the shelf see this promotion's running. You can tell by the lovely couples of bottles just staring at you: "Pick us, we're cheaper!" But it was just Tuesday, and I don't pick shuttles on Tuesday… because I drink them. (I'm trying to come to peace with caffeine by not drinking it. No, it doesn't work quite well.) So I'm carefully looking for a lone bottle. Carefully… Looking… Hey, these guys are robbing me! It looks like a promotion has turned into a menace… How do you like that!?

And that just in after this summer's Pepsi campaigns actually grounded the Twist product. Some of the shopkeepers actually told me: "Pepsi told us to keep Twist out of the fridge." What!? Twist Light got a chance in the cooler! I guess Pepsi just went "What the hell, Twist sells anyway, let's help the other fellows…" But Light!? Who even invented Light? What for? It doesn't have any sugar, hello!

Brands with too much equity have the weird tendency to bash around, don't you think? Anyway, I still like Pepsi Twist—It's because of that drop of lemon ju… salt.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Jeff Dunham

Cans on sale

Original image courtesy of JeffDunham.com.

I haven't seen many ventriloquists, not even on TV, because the few I did see in the past weren't that funny. If you can speak without having your lips moving, you'd better have some sense of humor, otherwise it's quite a waste. This guy here, however, really has it! Each of his dolls has a unique character, a different style of humor and he puts quite an act of stage. (Thanks to Jacku for pointing this one out!)

Jeff Dunham - Achmed the Dead Terrorist Walter For President

Jeff Dunham and Peanut Jeff Dunham and Peanut part 2 Jeff Dunham and Peanut part 3


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Web Canneries

Cans on sale

Original photographies by SXC members alaasafei and solomon05.

A couple of friends and I were debating business yesterday and stumbled across a interesting topic: "If you're selling web design, what would be the packages, and what price would you put on each?" I felt from the start this isn't a good approach to the subject and questioned it: "But isn't one actually selling services?" Indeed he is! But what if his target audience doesn't understand "services" and rather looks for "priced packages"?

I'm surprised to find out that there are still people who chose their web agency by looking at the price. I choose carrots by comparing the price… There's nothing essetially different when comparing fresh carrots. Things are obviously different in web. First and foremost: packages!? In the past four years since I'm in this business I've learned that we're not selling packages. I actually find the package-sales approach wrong and mediocre! Some time ago, when I was in highschool, I knew a few web agencies who had pricing on their website. It was silly back then, but it's even worse now for a web agency to have this on their website:

  • Website with 5 static pages and 20 images - €100
  • Website with 15 static pages, 50 images and a contact form - €200
  • Website with any presentational pages and a forum - €350
  • Corporate website - €1000
  • E-Commerce website - €2000

I mean, ... really? Why don't you add "Carrots – €2 per kilo"? This reminds me of a scene in a movie, I can't remember which, but it was something like this: "Hey, listen, Angie, you're hired to wash the toilets and cleanup the mess 4 hours a day!", "Yeah, but I finished everything in 2 hours, mrs. Franklin! You can check it if you want!", "I don't care! You did 2 hours, I'm paying 2 hours! If you had done it in 4 hours, I would have paid 4 hours!". Now, we all know that if she had spent 8 hours, she would have been paid 4… Now image some guy wants a website for his company… And he pays for the 15 pages package, but you solve his problem in just 10, and also add a cherry on top. And he goes mad, because you robbing him!

A web agency is not a cannery. I feel sorry for the clients of those people who produce 60 websites a month, earning a horde of money for their packages, but when it comes down to it, those websites score under 100 visitors a monthbarely have goals, we're not even talking about them meeting any. That's because nobody cared what's that website supposed to achieve… They just made it. Fast, as much as paid for, and on time—just like an overdose when all you needed is a Valium pill.

Clients come to web agencies because they have problems they want solved. Web agencies are like hospitals… Your business is ill because it has a problem about the online presence. Web agencies are doctors who can fix that, but the pacient must undergo a series of tests, to identify the disease in order to cure it. This process is nowhere near streamline production.

Will people ever be smart enough to think like that? Most people already are. We're living in a world where the Internet has raised the bar on awarness and education. Now we also need web agencies to understand the job they're actually supposed to do. Most web canneries still work for the people who think they know what they need and shop for website like they shop for tuna fish. For the majority of them, there's agencies like Grapefruit, agencies like the ones I like to work for.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Every week, for the rest of the... season

Prison Break, Heroes, 30 Rock

It all breaks down to 3 TV shows this fall. Also, Marius explained to me who the f*** Earl was, and I might give that a shot. If this show gets me, I promise to start feeling bad about my earlier post on it.

Prisons were made to be broken.

First, it's Prison Break. Already a classic to me, airs Mondays, ships Tuesdays, I watch it Tuesday nights. Wonderful. I've seen the first two episodes, and I like the new plot. It's good they've slipped the run away in season 2, because if Sona was right after Fox River, it would have been cliché: Mario and Luigi switch places, and do world 2. However this way, it fits. I like that.

Some people are born to be extraordinary.

Second, it's Heroes. There's something about this show that makes it unique. I just have a gut feeling. Every episode. To me it ranks as good Prison Break, and the fact that it's SciFi—or is it?—gives it a very good aura. I've seen the season premiere this Tuesday and I plunged in! Also, you shouldn't miss out the special featured comics on NBC's Heroe's website. I usually like to read them Friday or Saturday. It eases the pain of waiting for the next episode.

Work can be such a production.

And third—a new entry—, it's 30 Rock! Yeah, I loved the show. I was 15 episodes into it the first evening. Unfortunately, the episodes are 20 minutes long, and I don't know how waiting a week for it to come on is going to work. It comes next Thursday, on October 4th. I've already finished the first season, so I'm a bit restless...

There's so much TV content these days it makes you wonder if one's entire lifetime is enough to see it all. And I'm only talking about the good TV content produced daily!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

30 Rock

30 ROCK - EMMY WINNER BEST COMEDY Here's a show I've been missing out last year! (Oh, and apparently they've won an Emmy.) Every night I watch spots from NBC's Carson Daly, The Tonight Show and Late Night with Conan O'Brian. Last night I jump across of what I hope to be the season preview of 30 Rock's second season.

The good news is there's an entire season to watch! I can hardly wait to get my hands on some torrent or something: I want to watch this! Broadcast that on my retina please! The bad news is they might have had me with Jerry on the show. And the way the little bastards put it, some analysis might reveal he's only in the season premiere!

Don't disappoint, NBC! Don't disappoint! Rule.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Emmy whoat?

Call me ignorant, but I don't find the Emmys a popular thing. Yeah, I dig the VMAs and I've even watched the Oscars once, but the Emmys? And so, being a TV content digger, I decided to have a glimpse at this year's Emmy Awards. Well, I've missed the show, but that's allright... I've jumped right to the lists.

It was quite funny to find out that the shows I watch aren't there. Sure, I'm not living in the USA, but I do visit IMDB every once in a while. Hardly any of the shows I see rated by the public on IMDB are found amongst Emmys winners list. Figures why the show had such limited audience this year.

Sure, Heroes got some nominations and Lost even won a prize, but I didn't hear Prison Break being mentioned... Was it too bad of a show? And who the f*** is Earl?

Family Guy at 2007 Emmys There's this one vid on YT that pushed my buttons about the Emmys. I'm not sure if it was live, or in the after show, but either way it's neat. Check it out.

The prime time shows must go on. This fall. Now.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Guess who comes back home this fall!

I'm delighted with the western TV Industry. If there's anyone who actually progressed in the past decade it matter of television, it's definitely the west. And personally, I hate it when Europeans don't get the luxury. Hey, we built America! I demand some respect! Let's talk a little about the cookies we have packed and ready to ship to your local DC++ hub or Torrent website.

The Round Up

I love it how YouTube has made a round up of the best come backs and come ups of the fall. And I also totally hate the fact that they didn't include NBC's Heroes in the selection. Hello? Big international hit? A little like better than Lost? Oh, and speaking of Lost, that bitch—err, beach—doesn't come back until February! Are you shittin' me ABC? Totally. Anyway, I'll keep digging FOX's Prison Break and NBC's Heroes. And since it has good reviews (from a friend) I'll dig FOX's 24 as well.

On Heroes

Since YouTube had a poor selection of Heroes on the round up, I've decided to search some more for vids about the show. Here's my top 3 selection, in no particular order. (That must have sounded just about right, heh?)

Prime Time Preview Scoops Heroes Unmasked: Episode 1 - A New Dawn

And some ugly

Oh, and since in my last post I features something creepy, I thought I'd share something similar from one of NBC's features in YouTube's round up. Digg this:

Dexter: Season 1 Manic Compression

Ok, so I post a little too much on Entertainment. I'll detour tomorrow, I promise!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

And they're only getting started!

I've come across a series of new series (i.e. a matrix) on YouTube this last week. Some of them are good, some of them suck ass, and some of them are crazy.

The Guild

A series for gamers, about gamers by a gamer. I find the plot of this series very funny: A guild playing an MMORPG, made of people who never met offline is depicted in varios situations of their "offline lives". The show is a mixture of a vlog (the Cyd Sherman's intro), and a reality show (alike BigBrother as of the way the characters interact, and alike The Osbournes as of the ways the scenes in every appartment goes on).

The acting is very good, with nicely selected cast. The show is recorded and edited very well. You should really watch this, whether you're a MMORPG player or not. Here are the first three episodes:

The Guild - Episode 1: Wake-Up Call The Guild - Episode 2: Zaboo'd The Guild - Episode 3: The Macro Problem


WARNING: PARENTAL GUIDANCE SUGGESTED This is one crazy series, I tell ya! Here's a class of retarted kids: one's a hooker, one's a drug dealer, one's an out gay, one's abused by pedophile daddy, etc. And here's an idealist teacher, who has a background in karate and the navy. He wants to teach them kids all their lessons, but in a special way. And they'd better be special! Because the other three teachers before him are dead: commited suicide!

Again, good acting, good script and good editing. If you're going to watch this series, you're in for some weird drama. Here are the first three episodes:

Classroom. Ep 1. The Hilarious Spoof That Started It All! Classroom. Ep 2. (w/ James Adomian GWBush on Craig Ferguson) Classroom. Ep 3. (w/ Ron Pederson of MADtv & Craig Ferguson)

Armoured vans of fun your way!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

YouTube: Can it be more rellevant?

Surprisingly for me I've tubed quite a lot in the past couple of weeks. I've grown my list of subscriptions from 2 to over 20 channels, mainly in the Comedy section. And even so, I sometimes find myself looking for more content, and not just any content more content relevant to me.

Issue: Irrelevant video responses

Lately there's this ugly trend on YouTube when people with low ratings post their video as a response to a more popular video, without even thinking of whether their video is relevant as a response to the other video. Because of this, I rarely even check the video responses. Usually, I'm just setting with the relevant picks on the sidebar, or, if I feel aventureous on a strager's channel, I pick more from the same channel.

I was watching X Factor 4, ep 2, John for like the hundredth time and greedy for more similar content, I glanced at the video responses. I didn't check them all out, there was just one thumbnail kinda sticking out: Leaked halo3 footage. For such a title, the thumnail was most irrelevant. For such a video, the title was most irrelevant. Anyway, I clicked it and it proved to be as irrelevant as it signaled. (The video is the childish "I-ll-put-a-loud-scream-when-it-s-silence- and-you-re-most-focused" kind of scary video.)

Proposed solution: Ability to rate video responses or mark them as spam, just like comments

Since we now have comment rating, it would be nice to also have video response rating. Video response is an awesome feature as long as it stays relevant, and video response that is irrelevant should be marked so, just like irrelevant or spam comments.

When someone watches a video response to another video, they should be able to rate the response. This has nothing to do with the video rating itself, but rather expresses if the video response is accurate and whether it is in tone with the video it responds to. I made a little sketch of how the interface would be like, you can view it on ImageShack.

With this system in place, you could actually see the response rating before ever going to the video, as in this little sketch.

More improvement ideas to come! Stay tuned!

Friday, August 31, 2007

X Factor 4—Neat UK entertainment

On a YouTube session last Thursday, after catching up with What The Buck's latest episodes, I came across an interesting video of TheXFactorUK's channel. It's the quite old reality show where there's a jury, a handful of auditions, an season long entertainment promise, etc. Kind of like Prima TV's Megastar, but better. Not being so fond of reality shows, after the big insuccess of Big Brother 2 and the first Megastar, I've decided to give that video a bit of credit due to the rating and number of views.

And was I glad! After I watched it, I've seen a couple more, and then I went straight to the official website to watch some more. First of all, I enjoy the jury: their humor, their role-play, and—duh!—their taste. It was Nicky that I've seen first. I was impressed by the emotions involved. Then Emily, then Ryan, then Paris. But the best part was just about to begin: On the main site they features an ugly duckling with a headline that said: "Swear it again". How much of an intrigue is that? So I click it, I read the article, I get amused and then I see there's a link to Rachel's—"the rudest contestant ever"— audition video. Golden! It made me watch the rest of the video in the series. And it made me love the show. Not because of Rachel herself, which I think is a total bitch calling herself better than Madonna, but because the show has the balls to actually show the other side of the cut.

Personally, I recommend you watch them all on TheXFactorUK's channel on YouTube, but the highlights remain Rachel and John, who remind me of Red—the next big thing since Freddy Mercury.

Enjoy entertainment! Enjoy it!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Booming times ahead

I'm not really celebrating my name day today, because no one really acknowledges the plain fact that today is St. Alexander's Day in the Orthodox Calendar. I don't think many people actually acknowledge this day anyways.

I am however opening my blog, a third attempt to write consistently on something. (I had a couple before, not worth mentioning, I didn't keep them up.) I have an annoying habit of writing long comprehensive articles, hence I respect my readers.

Autumn—my favorite season, for some reason—arrives in a couple of days, with a handful of perspectives for me. I'll talk more about that on the go. My main focus lies with Information Technology, so I'll mainly talk about my "Eyes in the future"—aka my head in the clouds—, a little bit about "Giving back to the world", and maybe "Lifehaking". I promise to have at least one relevant article every week.