Saturday, 31 December 2011

All the best for the upcoming 2012

Just a quick note to everyone who reads this blog, either regularly or casually - I hope each and every one of you have a safe, joyous and prosperous new year for 2012.

KittyKat and I were going to catch up with Jay at the top of Melbourne, but tickets sold out to that before we got our act into gear, so he'll be kicking on with Az, and we'll be BBQing for dinner, and then most likely be popping into Melbourne city to watch the fireworks.

So where ever you are, what ever you are doing, and whomever you are with, may you have a fun in a safe manner ushering in the new year.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Concord 11s

In the brief history of sneaker collecting, there have been a few shoes that have caused a frenzy in the collecting community. The frenzy is usually achieved by being very limited - in both release and / or colour, and having some significant place in some sports person's career. While this shoe may have been significant, in being the shoe that Michael Jordan wore when he returned to the NBA after his first retirement, it does not meet the criteria of being limited, as it was generally released to the public. The shoe I am talking about is the Air Jordan XI (11) - Concord.

They are similar to another shoe that I have, being the Air Jordan XI (11) - Space Jams. I would think of that pair as being iconic - as they were featured in a film. These Concords I do not consider as special. What I do not understand is that the whole sneaker community went into a shopping frenzy in an attempt to get these. I ended up the night of the release lining up at the Swanston Street (Melbourne) Footlocker shop for their midnight release. I was the third last person in line. Around 40 people were in front of me. I have not seen this type of release in Melbourne yet.

The box is not the same as with other Air Jordans. It comes with its own customized box, in a similar look to the customized box the Space Jams were in. The "2-3" found on the back of the heels of the shoes are embossed on the lid of the box which is now in white, as well as the patent leather upper wave cut being on the side of the box. The box opens like a shelf, not with a lid - again similar to the Space Jams box. Opening it up leads to a plastic cover with the words:
  • "Tinker made them shine."
  • "Mike made them fly."
  • "You made them iconic."
One of the images I did not capture was the inside of the tongue with the words - "Quality Basketball Products Inspired by the Greatest Player Ever". I can say that there has been an improvement made in the manufacturing of the XIs since the Space Jams. On the Space Jams, there were these "pimples" on the midsole. It was like there was additional material poured into the mold that was not cleaned up during the assembly of the shoe. There does not appear to be any such lack of quality from this pair. Here are the images for the shoe:
Air Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - ConcordAir Jordan XI (11) - Concord

Only time will give a proper indication if the quality will last with this shoe, but as you may notice from the image, the problematic yellowing of the soles is still there. The images are of the shoe unworn, and you can already see yellowing where the herringbone pattern section are attached to the clear sole. The only other main difference I have noticed is the darker carbon fiber shank (in comparison to the Space Jams) and the use of an opaque toe. This was actually a differentiating factor when comparing the early release / beta models of the Concords to the proper shop release.

I still do not understand why people went out of their way to get these sneakers as I do not find them more attractive than other Air Jordans that have come out in the past, and the ones that are currently available, but I did find them alluring enough to find a pair for myself, KittyKat, and a little person who may bless us with their presence one day.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Safe and joyous festive period to all for 2011

Just a quick note to all who read this blog - I wish you, your loved ones, and your families a safe and joyous festive period - whether you believe in the story of Christmas, or have some other faith, or you just like spending the time with family and loved ones.

This season for me has been one full of excitement. A few nights ago I decided to go out at 11:15pm to get a pair of shoes. I did end up with a pair of Air Jordan XI Concords for myself in size US 11, and one in size 8k (toddlers) - for the future addition to family. I will post up some images when in the next few weeks. I was lucky. Lucky to get those shoes. I am lucky. Lucky I get to share them with someone one day.

So, where ever you are, who ever you are with, I hope you are as fortunate and as lucky as I am.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Victory broken by Heart

Tonight, KittyKat and I went to our first away game of the Melbourne Victory. Fortunately, it was in Melbourne as the opponent was the Melbourne Heart. The result was not in Victory's favour, ending up with a 3-2 loss against the Heart, but it also provided a glimpse of what football can be and should be in Australia.

Victory scored first, but should have scored sooner from the penalty spot if it was not for the brilliant block from the Heart's keeper. Heart came back with the next 3 goals, and Victory scored one in the 92nd minute.

While it was a loss, with the Heart's second goal being one that could have been caused by a handball (albeit an unintentional one), it was a great match in front of 26000+ spectators. Victory could have defended far better, and their attacks were self-dismantled with poor passing. The scores could have been divided even further with goals going either way. Heart won. Victory (and their fans) need to acknowledge that, and move on.

A lot has been written by people and the media on the rivalry that exists with the Melbourne Derby. I for one do not buy into it at this stage. I did not really notice it in the stands where KittyKat and I were sitting. I am guessing the only people that act this way are the hardcore fans who are looking to cause trouble - something the media loves to vilify. The supporters in the area I was sitting in were all in appreciation of the game in front of them. I appreciated the fact that there is a healthy environment for football in Melbourne, and I hope that all games have high crowd attendance like the one I saw tonight. It was a fantastic atmosphere for football, and one that would have only been made better if Victory had won.

Victory and Heart meet up again on the 4th Feb 2012, and I hope the results go the Victory's way!
GO VICTORY!!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Garruk vs Liliana duel decks

As mentioned in a previous post on Jace vs Chandra duel deck, I also have the Garruk vs Liliana duel deck for the Magic: The Gathering (MTG) game. You may want to look at the previous post for a picture of the box, along side that of the Jace vs Chandra duel deck. The decklist for the Garruk vs Liliana set can be found on Wizard of the Coast's website.

This duel deck set was the second set to come out to include planeswalkers - the first one being the Jace vs Chandra duel deck. Wizards of the Coast do not include a planeswalker with every one of their duel decks, but they are increasing the frequency of sets coming out with them.

As mentioned previously, I enjoy the way you can just buy a set like this, and start playing against an opponent. Unfortunately, all is not balanced with this set.

I have mainly playtested this set with SpecialK - with SpecialK playing the Liliana black deck, and me playing the Garruk green deck. I have yet to win a game playing the green deck - even though I in most cases I am able to play a land every turn. I find the problem is the black deck is very quick in getting creatures out, and once the creatures are out, they have enough evasion to get past the creatures in the green deck. If the black deck looses a creature to the graveyard, then they can cast spells (including Liliana's ultimate planeswalker ability) to retrieve the creature back from the graveyard.

This goes against what most duel deck sets are appear to do. Every set I have purchased so far is balanced against its opponent's deck. Liliana's black deck has an advantage over Garruk's green deck. I am not talking about the occasional lucky win, but the black deck consistently defeats the green deck in reliable manner. This may come down to me not knowing what to keep in my opening hands, and not knowing when to mulligan my starting hand. If anyone has any insight to win more regularly with Garruk's green deck, I would appreciate your comments below.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Jace vs Chandra (english) duel decks

As mentioned previously on this blog, in the Knights vs Dragons duel decks article, I enjoy playing Magic: The Gathering (MTG), and one of the easiest ways I play it is by grabbing preconstructed decks and playing those as they are. This article is about the first of the duel deck series to contain a planeswalker - the Jace vs Chandra duel decks product. This deck was release originally in 2007 or 2008. I was not playing much MTG back then, so I did not get one until recently via the internet. It originally was sold for $20, but I ended up paying slightly more than that. I have heard it was even priced as high as $150 at one stage (and I am lucky enough not to have paid that). The decklist for the Jace vs Chandra decks is available on the internet (as well as visually on the gatherer website), and people wanting to play this set have a few options. They can either:
  1. Buy the set as it is - for around $50 to $150 depending on where they buy it from
  2. Make up the set from single cards - which can be obtained from the internet or from shops that sell MTG single cards and products
  3. Buy the Japanese-only Jace vs Chandra duel deck set in for around $20 to $30 - which is readily available as it was re-released in 2011. I would have selected this option if I could read Japanese, or if I knew the images of all the cards - but unfortunately I do not know either.
The box looks like this:
Jace v Chandra duel deck and Garruk v Liliana duel deckJace v Chandra duel deck and Garruk v Liliana duel deck

The images above show the back and the front of the Jace vs Chandra duel decks, as well as the front of the Garruk vs Liliana duel decks. I will not mention much about the Garruk vs Liliana decks, but I will mention them shortly in the future. People with sharp eyes will notice that the planeswalkers that should be facing the front of the box have been replaced with the deck boxes themselves. In a rush to play this set I did not take the photo of the box as it was when I first received it. I hope you get the idea of what to look for if you are thinking of purchasing the set yourself. The Garruk vs Liliana are as they came.

I have played the Jace vs Chandra set mainly against SpecialK, and moderately against Chewie. Chandra's deck is played how a good mono-red deck should be played. Play a lot of damage early, and keep it up. I did notice the lack of a Lightning Bolt card (or several) in the Chandra deck - something I would have included in almost all mono-red decks I would create. Chandra Nalaar is great, but is more expensive than casting Jace Beleren. If you can get Chandra out, especially before your opponent casts their Jace, you should be able to breeze through and win the game.

Jace's deck is played like a typical mono-blue deck. It is based on controlling the other player and limiting what they are able to do. It also allows for card drawing, but ultimately gets some flying creatures that can strike for the win. I appreciated the inclusion of the Counterspell card, and I look forward to its return to MTG's modern format. Getting Jace out does not guarantee a win, as it does not cause damage to your opponent. It does facilitate card draw, and milling your opponent - which I would consider a plan B strategy - used when you cannot draw enough creature cards to attack an opponent. It would backfire when used against a deck similar to Graveborn, that allows your opponent to retrieve creatures out of their graveyard, or Deathfed, that allows your opponent to fill their graveyard and then play cards from it.

I did have a minor problem with this set, as some of the cards were missing. I contacted Hasbro Australia, who sourced a replacement for me and sent it out to me. Well done to Hasbro, and much of my thanks and appreciations goes to their Australian staff for facilitating a replacement - even though the product has been out of print for some time. I believe I may have received one of the last replacements they have on hand - as there may be a policy in place to not stock products after a certain time.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The USA believes in Internet Censorship

Apparently Australia's good Senator Conroy has some support in his belief that the internet should be censored - at least in Australia. And this time it comes in the form of a covert operation from the entertainment corporations in the USA to regulate what appears on the Internet.

Known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a law is attempting to be passed allowing censorship of the internet to be made in the USA. Time for you to stand up America - go to americancensorship.org - and find out what you can do.

I wonder what Mrs Clinton's opinion is on this. Any form of censorship is unacceptable.

And for Australia - openinternet.com.au. Do something (useful (now))!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Victory rises from the ashes against the Phoenix

It may have been poor form of me, but I could not resist writing the title. In what turned out to be an exciting Sunday afternoon of football, the Melbourne Victory beat the Wellington Phoenix 3 goals to 1.

When it comes to football, I did not want to sit through an entire season of frustrations when the Melbourne Victory played their home games. Their current records is 3 wins, 6 draws, and 2 losses. The more draws they get, the higher the level of frustration, as I have seen on several occasions that they have obtained the lead, only to draw when the final whistle is blown.

One of those occasions this year where a draw was achieved was when the Victory played the Brisbane Roar for a 2-2 draw. The Victory started well, but ended up drawing. What was exceptional about this performance was that the Victory was reduced to 9 men - 2 men short of the full team's roster - due to tough referee decisions. Now to Brisbane Roar appear to be going through a minor slump, after their long streak of no losses, with a 3 game streak of defeats.

Football is a strange game at times. You can be the best team on paper, but not produce the results. You can be awful at times, and still come up with a win, even though the team did not play well or even have the majority of possession in the game.

I look forward to the next game the Victory have against the Melbourne Heart, and I urge all Melbourne Victory supporters to go to the "away" game at AAMI Park this Friday to support the Victory in the Melbourne derby. Fill the stadium with blue. KittyKat and I should be there to cheer the boys on!
GO VICTORY!!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Standard League at Games Laboratory

I have been playing in a Magic: The Gathering (MTG) League at the Games Laboratory, and while I am yet to win any matches (after playing 4 matches), I am enjoying myself.

For me, this game is very much going back to basics. While I can win games amongst my small group of friends that play, I do not win very much when I play against people I do not know. And as I explained to one of my fellow competitors in the MTG League, if I beat one of them, it feels like more of a real victory. Beating one of my friends is nice, but it is not on the same level. They do not have the same passion to try to win.

For those that do not know what a MTG League is, basically a competitor starts off in week 1 by purchasing 6 booster packs, and make a deck of 40 cards from them. The deck can be made up of as many copies of any cards found in the 6 boosters, and additionally as many basic lands as required. Ideally, you should have around 17 creatures, 6 other spells (made up of artifacts, pumps, removals or others), and around another 17 lands. Those are a rough guide line, and should be altered as required. Every week, a competitor is allowed to purchase another booster pack to add to their card pool - and then be able to alter their decks. During matches and outside of matches, competitors are allowed to swap out as many cards from their pool as they desire. Competitors are not allowed to add additional cards outside their pools, or trade cards with other competitors in the League to alter their pools. It is somewhat fair, requiring some luck, but also a lot of knowledge of the game, the cards, and using the individual competitors skill to win. You turn up, ask to see who is available and play them. You play 5 matches every week, and you cannot play the same person twice. You also must leave your deck at the store, to avoid you forgetting it, or modifying it accidentally with additional cards.

Games Laboratory also have a store League deck, so if no one is around, you can just play them.

My weakness is not understanding what I have in hand, and only a basic understanding of how the cards I have in my pool work together. I do listen to what my competitors say, and I do feel like I am getting better over time, but I need to judge myself against them with wins.

Lastly, if you are looking for something to do on New Year's Eve - Games Laboratory will be doing drafts all night. I may pop in, but I doubt it. Wish me luck in League games.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Infinite copies deck

I have been spending some time trying to put together a deck for Magic: The Gathering (MTG) that would make me competitive in the modern format. When I talk about being competitive in a game / tournament, I am implying it will essentially make me sit there not having to think too much on how I play, but just play it as it is - also known as basic piloting. I do not keep track of my game very well, and I need to improve on that aspect of the game to be truly competitive at higher levels.

Stating that, I started to put together a deck based on Samuele Estratti's winning modern Splinter Twin deck. The sole reason I chose this deck over attempting to recreate any other deck is simply the cost. I worked out that the cost of the entire deck would be around the $300 mark. Samuele's deck came in 1st place for the MTG Pro Tour Philadelphia tournament. The deck that came in 2nd had 4 cards that already totalled in excess of $300 - being the Tarmogoyf. My new challenge with this deck was not just to replicate it, but to keep it in a modern legal format. Since Samuele's win, 2 of the main cards he used have become banned - Ponder and Preordain.

This is what I have come up with so far:
Lands:
Creatures:
Other:
I still need to work on what I would include in the sideboard. The deck works well against most decks, and it does have a good chance of getting a win condition by turn 4. I have played a few people with it, and it appears to be successful against most decks with the exception of decks that strongly manipulate the graveyard - and decks that are either vintage or legacy format.

I will post an article in the future about this deck when I decide what should go into the sideboard. Until then, I am open to suggestions.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Zendikar block fatties

Playing Magic: The Gathering (MTG), I am always interested in different products that they come out with. In the case of the Zendikar block, I had just stopped casually playing MTG about the time of the release of the first set of the block. I bought some cards before hand, and even have one of the Zendikar intro decks which KittyKat uses - Kor Armory. Her deck is no longer intact and has been modified somewhat.

The Zendikar block set is made up of 3 sets, being Zendikar (hence the name of the block), Worldwake, and Rise of the Eldrazi. I missed out from some of the most interesting cards by departing from MTG just before they came out - only really playing it for about 2 months with KittyKat and Jarvo.

Fortunately for me, and with the help of ebay and eliza4172, I was able to track down the Fat Packs for the Zendikar blocks, and luckily they were not too much more expensive than were they were released. The Zendikar Fat Pack, the Worldwake Fat Pack, and the Rise of the Eldrazi Fat Pack provide the purchaser with around 8 or 9 boosters, along with a life counter (in the shape of a 20-sided die), a box to house cards, and most importantly, a guide containing images of all the cards as well as some background story. They are similar to the Innistrad Fat Pack I purchased a few months ago.

One interesting side note about these fat packs is that I ended up not opening the boosters immediately. SpecialK came over, and I ended up opening them to supplement a pseudo limited format we had - which started off with Rise of the Eldrazi, but ended up adding some Zendikar boosters. Neither of us has ended with the chase card of the block, being Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but it has been fun opening boosters and attempting to make a deck of 40 cards and then playing each other.

This time has been a rewarding one. I used to hang out with SpecialK a lot while I was in uni, and we did not catch up with each other for a few years, and now due to MTG, we are seeing each other once or twice a week. KittyKat is yet to complain - which is a good thing. With the extra physical strain on her at the moment, I think she is appreciating me leaving her alone to rest.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Simulated sealed deck games with SpecialK

Since SpecialK and I have been in contact with each other again, we have been playing Magic: The Gathering (MTG) - a card game that simulates us being fantastical spell casters in battle against each other. While it may appear to be a kids card game on the surface, it does lend itself to managing resources (in the way of obtaining mana to "pay" for spells), as well as understanding probability when attempting to build decks to compete against each other.

While it is simple enough for a casual player to walk into a MTG store and buy a deck to start playing, the next level of understanding of the game is when you start creating your own decks. With some simple rules - like no more than 4 copies of any card besides basic lands, you have to construct a deck that attempts to beat your opponent down from 20 life to 0, or gives him 10 poison counters, or fulfils some other win conditions - without your opponent doing the same to you.

SpecialK and I took that concept one step further by having a limited sealed game with just him and I. We opened up 6 Rise of the Eldrazi boosters, added some lands, and made a deck of 40 cards. We would later add some Zendikar booster to the mix as well. We played this over the course of around 3 weeks. Every time we met, we would add one booster to our respective pools, and attempt to come up with a deck to beat each other. SpecialK kept reusing his first deck, and just substituting a few cards from it here and there. I would swap my entire deck in and out. One week I would play one combination, and another week I would be playing a totally different combination of cards. In this format, the 4 card maximum rule does not apply. The only rule that does apply is that you cannot add cards from outside of the packets you have opened.

In a way, this simulated the type of format used in some MTG leagues that are held in the card shops around Melbourne. While I am not doing well at those types of formats, I do enjoy myself when I play this game.

At the end of the simulation with SpecialK, it ended up roughly even, with me possibly edging ahead with an extra win or two. It also gave SpecialK an insight into MTG, a game which he thought was originally dead and no longer being played. I do not know of a time where it has been as popular as it is now.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Victory and Celtics

With much happiness, I am pleased to have attended my first home game of this A-League season (2011-2012) where the Melbourne Victory have actually won the game. In what appeared to be a close game after Melbourne lost a 2-0 lead to the Gold Coast team, Carlos Hernández headed in the winning goal for the Melbourne Victory in the final 10 minutes to win the game 3-2. Hernández also scored the second goal, with the initial goal being scored by Harry Kewell.
GO VICTORY!!

On other news, it appears the NBA is coming back with a shortened season of only 66 games. The first games will be on Christmas day, and it includes the Boston Celtics against the New York Knicks.
GO CELTICS!!

My sports watching is back to normal!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Knights vs Dragons duel deck

I enjoy playing Magic: The Gathering (MTG), and one of the easiest ways I play it is by grabbing preconstructed decks and playing those as they are. Wizards (the company behind MTG), came up with a great concept in duel decks. Within their low cost offering, you have two decks per pack. Each deck has one or two powerful cards, and good mix of complementary cards that two people of any skill level can start playing straight away. The price point works out cheaper to buy duel decks than event decks - the former getting you 120 cards, and the later getting you only 75 (tuned) cards. This article revolves around their Knights v Dragons duel decks (go to the Wizards.com website for the full decklist).

In a rush to start playing these decks, I actually did not take photos of it first. So here is what the decks look like without the cards in them:
Knights vs Dragon duel deckKnights vs Dragon duel deck

When it comes to an even match, I would say that these two decks are quite equal - but it depends on the timing of the game. If you are playing the Knights, you will be playing a lot of small creatures, which will come out quickly. They will be able to give benefits to each other - similar to the way that Humans give benefits to each other in the Innistrad block. If you are playing the Dragons, you will usually play a few goblins, and some quick attacks, but you are just holing off your opponent until you can get a dragon out. Once a dragon does enter the game, it will usually mean the end for your opponent in a few turns.

One aspect of the game I do notice in these decks that I have not noticed in other decks as much is the importance of having a good supply of land to generate mana. While you do not want to have too much mana draw, and hence not be able to draw creatures to dispatch your opponent, you do not want to little, so you cannot keep up with the flow of the game. Each game I play, have noticed it that when one person (playing either the Knights or the Dragons) starts to falter with playing their land cards, it will usually indicate that they will loose the game.

As mentioned before, the decks are evenly matched. I have played against Chewie and with SpecialK, and have mentally noted that the winning decks are not one, but are about even between the two. I have yet to play this with KittyKat.

This product (consisting of the two decks) is currently available in stores, and should provide no challenge in obtaining. I look forward to hear from any other people who do use duel decks willing to share their experiences with me.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Innistrad event decks

Wizards of the Coast have come out with products in an attempt to include more people playing the standard format of Magic: The Gathering (MTG). In the same way they came out with War of Attrition deck that contained the banned card, Stoneforge Mystic, they have also come out with event decks for the current set release of Innistrad. These Innistrad event decks, being Hold the Line deck and Deathfed deck, are designed to be played out of the box - each coming with a 60 card main deck and a 15 card sideboard. All cards in both decks are standard format legal (unlike the Stoneforge Mystic card).

Innistrad event decksInnistrad event decksInnistrad event decksInnistrad event decks

Hold the Line (left in the images above) is a mono-white deck, and it is fast to play. Get out a cheap (low mana cost) creature in the first few rounds, and keep attacking. Use equipment like the Butcher's Cleaver to pump up creatures and attack hard for the win. Use Bonds of Faith as required - whether you need to pump up one of your own creatures, or lock down one of your opponents creatures. It is more flexible than an Oblivion Ring, which you also get in this deck.

Deathfed (right in the images above) is a blue, black, and green deck. It is centred around putting items into your graveyard (discard pile), and then retrieving them, or making them count towards something else that you are about to play. It is not quick to play, and requires some setting up, but once it is established, it is hard to beat. Spider Spawning is one example of a card that will provide results with preparation. Play it late, and again with flash back, for a swarm of 1/2 token spider creatures that all have reach (allowing you to block flyers). You may loose a few to their large bomb creatures, but a few will get through. If enough get through each time, then a win will be sure to follow. One danger I have experienced with this deck is that due to the self-milling effect, you will loose by not having any more cards to draw from your library. It will not happen often, but there is always a risk for it to occur.

At this point in time, I favour playing the mono-white deck. It is quick, simple, and does not require too much planning to get win conditions. Both would make good bases for people who wanted to get into standard format play in MTG.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Social notworking...

Two interesting articles recently came to my attention:
Let me start off this by saying that I do not use Facebook, and I have never seen the need to use it either. Why would I? Every one I would like to speak to, I do. Some people more than others. Some I see on a daily basis. Some I see periodically. Some I only speak to on the phone. Some I speak to via email or SMS. If someone needs to contact me, they will.

I do not need to have hundreds of thousands of friends. I do not need to be liked by people (not that I am). But with the increasing spread of Facebook in people's lives, is this a positive impact? Like all forms of media, you cannot have a simple yes or no answer, but it lies somewhere in the middle. I do believe it can be used innocently to be a form of communication - but I also strongly believe it can be used as a huge time waster, and a way to stalk / cyberbully people. It also is a great way to showcase humans being stupid. This is really waiting for statistics to illustrate that there is a small percentage of people that will do silly acts and publicize it. Apparently the use of Facebook is so addictive that users cannot cancel their accounts, even when they are being stalked or bullied.

I do not object to all methods of social networking. Used in a professional context, it can be a useful tool. Linkedin shows this - but once again, it can be corrupted and abused.

Do we loose the way we communicate to each other when all we do is a shout out post on a virtual wall? Do we even know how to interact with each other? I know this does not apply to everyone on the planet, but it does apply to a lot of technologically savvy people who use a computer on a daily basis.

How does everyone feel about this?

Monday, 7 November 2011

Piracy, copyright, patents, and other corporate tactics

In an interesting recent article, there seems to be a reason (for at least the author) of advocating the use of piracy. I am not going to advocate breaking the law, but in this article, I am hoping to get people to think about the law - and is it just?

Being just and being lawful, while being intertwined - are not always the same. For example, if you look at the slavery code in the USA, they may have been the law of the day, but they are far from being right or just. No man should own another man (or woman). Following a civil war, an amendment to the law was made, prohibiting slavery (unless used as punishment for crime).

Hopefully by now, you may be questioning what the purpose of these laws are. So, is patenting and copyright just? Or does it stifle innovation, and only serve to create more money for the corporations and individuals that hold the patents and copyrights? A Google lawyer may have a vested interest in questioning the laws, as they are currently being held ransom by patents and copyrights from Microsoft over their Android operating system for phones. Even an Australian has registered the patent for the wheel.

Is patents and copyrights fair or just? Or is it a way for the 1% to get richer while the 99% are kept below them. I am happy to hear comments from all sides in this issue.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Chewie got milled!

Chewie came over the other night, and we played some games of Magic: The Gathering (MTG). In this case, we played some games using the Innistrad Intro decks. Chewie played the Carnival of Blood deck and I played the Eldritch Onslaught deck (see the Wizard's site for the full deck lists).

An interesting scenario happened. I "milled" Chewie so that he had no cards in his library, and won the game. The rules stated that if he had no more cards in his library, and was required to draw a card, he lost the game. Stating all that, there was a few earlier opportunities that I could have finished him off - but I chose not to. I wanted to experience what it would be like to mill an actual person. Up until that point, I had only milled a computer competitor (in the Shandalar game).

It was an interesting feeling, and it is one I suggest that every MTG player try to do, at least once. The game hung in the balance from around half way, and there were many opportunities Chewie could have attempted to cause damage to me, but in all those cases, I was lucky enough to have something which could stave off his attack. When the game was finished, I felt exhausted (as it went on for about double the time of a normal game), but highly satisfied in my achievement.

I wonder if he will have the same luck in attempting to mill me. Fortunately for Innistrad players, there is a new card - Laboratory Maniac - that turns the rule around. If you have that card in your control, and you have no more cards in your library, you win the game. Maybe I should try to insert that card into the Eldritch Onslaught deck and see if I can mill myself for the win.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

SpecialK and MTG

SpecialK came around last night for dinner. I have known SpecialK for around 15 years. We first met in university. On that first day, I turned up late to my first class, and the last seat in the room was next to SpecialK. It was a strange friendship that formed, but it did. In the 15 years that has passed, we have been in a situation where we have been in constant contact, and times we have not spoken much to each other. These days we do not see each other regularly, but when we do, it is very much appreciated.

After dinner, SpecialK and I played some Magic: The Gathering (MTG). I knew, from the days in university, that he played a little - so I was curious if he had any of the cards from when he did play. Fortunately he did. He brought them over, but we did not end up using them. SpecialK was more interested in what was currently happening in MTG. From what I have gathered, SpecialK had not played MTG for around 10 years, and was in the belief that MTG was no longer being played. He did not know about the current sets, or the resources on the web.

As the night progressed, we played the Phyrexia and Coalition decks, the Ajani and Nicol Bolas decks, and had a look at some of the other decks I have like the Slivers deck, as well as the Fire and Lightning deck. I showed him some of the cards I put together from the Innistrad set, and he showed me some of the cards he put together. Over the period of around 3 hours, we ended up playing 4 games, along with looking at a lot of the history of MTG in the form of its cards.

SpecialK remembered most of the tricks on playing MTG - like when to play cards, and how to generate resources (mana) to maximum efficiency. We also figured out that while introducing a Planeswalker (in this case - Ajani), while usually a game winning tactic, if played at the wrong time, would result it it being it being easily defeated. If you are going to introduce a Planeswalker into the game, you have to have ways of protecting it against an opponents established creatures. When I played these decks with Chewie, him bringing out Ajani would usually result in him being able to lock me out from doing anything else. Additionally, it is hard to bring out Nicol. His casting cost is very restrictive.

I look forward to playing SpecialK again soon, and hopefully I will find a time to play his older brother too.

Monday, 24 October 2011

What is the idea with "brown bag" sessions?

Who ever came up with the idea of "brown bag" sessions was smart. The idea behind them is that it is an informal seminar / session to convey information. The concept is that attendees get a packed lunch either themselves or supplied - comprising of cut sandwiches, and maybe some fruit and a drink. Attendees would then eat while participating in the session. Used correctly, it could be an efficient use of what many would consider a lost hour.

While this is good, I believe it falls down on one key point. People value their own time. And if you are cutting into someone's lunch time, you should give them a benefit. I am not referring to the benefit of gaining more information, but something more tangible.

Something that organizers of these events should consider is providing the lunch to the attendees - not relying on the attendees to bring their own lunch. More people may then be interested in attending, and it would offset the feeling that attendees are loosing an hour of their own time. I guess this would be a different view if people worked in hard labour / sweatshop conditions, and personal lunch time is a rarity.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Occupy Wall Street in Melbourne

It disappointed and upset me that Victorian Police forces moved in today on protestors who were occupying the middle of Melbourne. Based on a decision by Premier of Victoria Ted Baillieu and Lord Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle, the police were told to physically move protestors, who were occupying Melbourne's City Square, out of the area and to "give the square back to the citizens of Melbourne".

As a citizen of Melbourne, I had no problem with these protestors occupying the space. I do not think Mr Baillieu or Mr Doyle agree with me, especially with the upcoming visit of Queen Elizabeth II of England. How embarrassing would it look for Melbourne for the Queen of another country to visit, and find these "awful" protesters (and I say "awful" with a sarcastic tone) in the middle of the city? After all, they are protesting about the huge gap that exists between the haves and the have-nots (the 99%). Mr Baillieu and Mr Doyle are associated with the Liberal Party of Australia - a political movement that is interested in protecting the wealth of the wealthy. The visitor they are attempting to prepare the city for (ie. the Queen of England) is one of the richest persons in the world.

In what is looking like a media nightmare, it really is the 1% dictating the terms to the 99%. The politicians involved have also put the spin on, saying that professional protestors had joined the ranks of the peaceful protestors. How does a person become a professional protestor? Why did the Victorian Police just start physically battering protestors? Why did they not target the professional protestors? What is the criteria that makes someone a professional protestor?

Does anyone else wonder what is truly going on here?

KittyKat asked me, "What can we do?" That is when I told her that if the people in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya did nothing, then they would not have changed in their country (commonly termed as Arab Spring). I do not want to live in a country where politicians give lip service by saying "OK all you protestors, we get the message - move on now!" Mr Baillieu and Mr Doyle were just patronizing in their actions. Do we really want those types of people in charge?

I do not want to live in a country or a state where after I voice my opinion that I am told I am powerless and I have to move on. I would like to engage in a form of communication at a minimum, and invoke change as my eventual goal. The way Mr Baillieu and Mr Doyle managed the situation with the protestors was appalling. The world is watching!

Hopefully this post (or rant) has started you thinking. What can you do? If you are in Melbourne on Saturday 22.10.2011 see the reconvening of the protest for yourself. Bring your video cameras / cameras / mobile phones. Capture and document what you see. You may be witnessing the first steps of something much larger...

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Observation on double-faced cards in Innistrad

With the latest set of Magic: The Gathering (MTG) - Innistrad, one of the new mechanics is "Transform", and this affects Double-Faced cards. Never before has MTG had cards where a playable face has been printed on both sides of the card. The cards that have the "transform" mechanic on it can be found on Wizard's Gatherer website.

I have been using cards with the new mechanic for around a month, and I am pleased to report that they are working well from my observations. I initially thought that would be difficult to use, with either having to flip them in sleeves, or requiring use of the Innistrad double-face checklist card, but it has proven quite easy - as long as I am given the time to set up the method you want.

Although I do use opaque card sleeves, and therefore I am permitted to use the double face cards in the sleeves, I still prefer to put the checklist cards in the opaque sleeves, and the actual card in a clear double sided sleeve. I do not know if that fits with the general consensus on how the majority of people use their cards, but I believe it cuts down on wear and tear of the actual card itself.

The cards themselves are good. If you can transform the card, so the the back of the card is showing, then the majority of them will provide a great benefit. I have charged to victory around 6 times (out of around 10 games) after getting out Ludevic's Test Subject, and within a few turns being able to transform it to victory. In one of those games, I was able to "pump" it up with Spectral Flight resulting in a 15/15 flying lizard with trample. The other good Double-Faced card is the Reckless Waif - a one-cost red human werewolf. Getting him out in your opening play (especially if you go first), will usually result in you transforming it by your second turn as your opponent will usually play a land, but not much else. This is not always the case, but the times I have been able get him out will usually result in me landing a 3 point hit in my second turn. With some good deck planning, I am usually able to get out some more creatures to come in and either defend, or add to the attack.

All I need to do is to figure out how to transform my cards to the more powerful side, and keep them that way. I have been caught out before by accidentally transforming my werewolves back into their human form by casting two or more spells. Anyone have any strategic tips?

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Innistrad Intro decks

Magic: The Gathering (MTG) has different ways of introducing new players to the game. While some may see it as a (simple) card game, there enough rules to fill out over 200+ pages in their rulebook. One way to learn the game is to turn up at a shop that sells MTG and chat to the person behind the counter. If they cannot show you how to play the game, they would usually be able to suggest local groups or other stores to try. Occasionally you will also have "learn how to play" sessions, much like the one I attended at the Games Laboratory (who hold them every 2 months or so).

This article is centered around another introductory product - that of the Innistrad Intro decks. These decks are designed to be simple and the cards within them are meant to work with each other. A pair (or more) of players would be able to grab a deck each, open them up, and start playing with them. They will be introduced to a mixture of Innistrad cards as well some core M12 cards. The Innistrad Intro decklists are available readily on the Wizards web site.

You also get a booster of Innistrad per Intro deck. This is a good idea which allows the new player to start modifying their deck, but will introduce some cards that they may not have a clear understanding - like the transformable cards. I would have appreciated if they created an intro deck that included the Transform mechanic. Along with the booster pack, you also receive a "How to Play" brochure, as well as guide on how to play all the Innistrad Intro decks.

Eldritch Onslaught
This deck is designed to put cards into the graveyard (discard pile). You can play this one of two ways. You can put your own cards into your own graveyard, and then play them out of there - or you could mill your opponent and try to empty their libraries (card pile) for a win. Cards that would assist this deck would include the Jace cards, and if you want to reverse the scenario to mill yourself, then include the Laboratory Maniac. I find this deck the most enjoyable to play out of all the Intro decks in this set.

Spectral Legions
This deck is full of flying spirit creatures, or creatures that turn into flying spirit creatures. It is very straight forward to play, and there are tribal cards that give benefits to each other the more you have on the battlefield (the main play area). My suggestion to change this deck is to use more blue or white removal spells. This will give the player more time to be able to establish their flying spirits for a big attack.

Deathly Dominion
I considered this deck the hardest of this set to play well. I do not like killing my own creatures (moving it from the battlefield to the graveyard) or timing a death of a creature to obtain a bonus - which is exactly what this deck does. My suggestion to make this deck more playable is to get token generating cards - like Spider Spawning. This will be able to generate a good amount of chump blockers, allowing you to fuel the morbid mechanic.

Carnival of Blood
This deck features the tribal theme of Vampires in MTG. Similar in a way to how the Spectral Legions deck has a flying spirits tribal theme. I find this deck very slow. My suggestions to fix it up would be to include 4 Stromkirk Noble cards, and at least 2 Olivia Voldaren cards. Olivia could be equipped with a Wooden Stake for a very effective creature removal combo. Additionally, to increase the speed, add in some Typhoid Rats and Reckless Waif cards for additional speed.

Repel the Dark
In a similar way to the other tribal theme decks in this set, this one centers around human creature types (careful about that link - it will display the images of 1300+ cards). I found this deck quick, but I also found it flawed in some areas. My suggestion would be to remove Jade Mage, Thraben Purebloods, and Unruly Mob - and replace them with more useful human creature cards. Possibly try a Mayor of Avabruck - although his bonus does not apply when he transforms into a werewolf. On a side note, I think the Mayor should have been slightly more powerful, and been given a legendary supertype. In a strange way, I find it wrong that more than one person claiming to be the Mayor turning up in the same place at the same time.

In conclusion, I intend to keep these decks as they are until the next set of intro decks are released. I will then breakdown all these decks and add them to my general card pool. I am also willing to hear suggestions from anyone else on what to do with them.

Monday, 10 October 2011

MTG Tournament experience on a budget

I do not know if many people that play Magic: The Gathering (MTG) have actually been in an event at their local store, but I am sure most of them have heard about it. I also understand that there is a growing audience of people who play MTG online - I guess that when it is 3am in the morning, and you can't sleep, it's an option to pass the time away.

Back to the real world, there is nothing that can compare to playing a real opponent. Even if you are not super-competitive, the interaction cannot be truly replicated on-line. People will make facial gestures when they get certain cards, allowing their opponents to read them. So, to be competitive, but without spending the full amount, I am suggesting this:
  1. Approach your local MTG hobby store with 5 other friends, and ask him that if you guys buy and crack open the booster packs in a booster box, can you guys casually play with the cards you get.
  2. If the owner agrees with that, ask them if you can use their spare basic lands. Most card stores that have space for casual gaming will have an abundant supply of basic lands. If the shopkeeper does not agree to it, then you can take the booster box to another location, and use one (or many) of the players basic lands - if you have been playing for some time, then most people will have a cache of basic lands.
  3. Divide the price of booster box 6 ways, and buy an additional booster pack - to represent the "grand prize", or isolate all the foiled cards, rares, and mythic rares at the end of the tournament, and run a "pick 'em" where the person who won the most can pick the first card, followed by the next most winning player, all the way down to the last. Repeat until all cards are gone.
  4. With (usually) 36 packs per booster box, allocate each person 6 booster packs.
  5. Each player opens up their booster packs in isolation, and creates a 40 card deck with as many lands as required. This is a form of limited format in MTG tournaments.
  6. After making their cards, each player plays each other opponent in the best of 3 games. Score each match with 3 points for an overall win, and 1 point for a draw. If everyone who plays agrees to no time limits, then the likeness of a draw is lower.
  7. All players are allowed to "sideboard" (ie. swapping cards in and out of the deck) between games and matches. They are not limited to the amount of cards with "sideboarding", but they can only do it from the pool of cards they obtained from opening up all the booster packs.
  8. After 5 matches, the top person gets the additional booster as the prize, or the first pick in the "pick 'em" portion of the tournament. Everyone else keeps what they have opened. If there are two people on the same amount of points for the "grand prize", they can choose any way to resolve this - sudden death match (best of 3 games).
Playing this way is usually more cost effective than going to a DCI-sanctioned tournament, and simulates what event conditions are like. Unfortunately, you do not get Planeswalker points, but you have gotten the pseudo-experience of a tournament for a minor additional cost on top of the booster pack purchased in bulk.

Currently the average booster box can cost around AUD$150 (for the new Innistrad release). A new booster pack is AUD$6. So for AUD$156, or around AUD$26 per person, you have simulated conditions, as well as the cards to keep. If every match drags out to 3 full games, you may be looking at around 5 hours to complete the event. In comparison, for a simlar style event, you would be looking at around AUD$40 per person, totaling AUD$240 - an additional AUD$84. Greater savings can be made by buying cheaper booster boxes, and the "grand prize" booster does not need to be in the same set. Additionally, you may also get promo cards thrown in, which may be used as the prize for the ultimate winner.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Checking disk space on a UNIX / Linux machine

I have been looking for an all in one script that I can use to check on disk space on a UNIX / Linux machine, and if it past a certain percentage, email out a message to an email address informing about the result. I searched the web, and found a page called "Monitor UNIX / Linux Server Disk Space with Shell Script".

The code from that page looked good, but did not work properly on the Solaris machine I was trying it on - possibly due to some weird configurations in the command line shell. I made some modifications to the script, and hopefully have made it generically enough so it can be run on any UNIX / Linux system. The code is:

#!/usr/bin/sh
############################################################
# disk_test.sh
############################################################
# http://riconthego.blogspot.com/
############################################################
# This script is check disk space on a machine, and email
# out to a list
of people if any file systems are on 90+% ############################################################
df -k|awk '{ print $5 " " $6 }' | while read output; do
  usedPercentage=`echo $output | awk '{ print $1}' | cut -d'%' -f1 `

  driveMount=`echo $output | awk '{ print $2 }' `

  if [ $usedPercentage -gt 89 ]; then

    echo "Running out of disk space \"$driveMount ($usedPercentage%)\" on `hostname` as of `date`" | mailx -s "Alert: Partition on `hostname` is at $usedPercentage%" someone@somewhere.com

  fi

done


In the script, change the someone@somewhere.com argument passed into the mailx command to the email address that is the recipient of the information. Copy and paste the above code into a file called disk_test.sh, and then in the directory you saved the file in, type in the following command (without the "$" at the start):

$ chmod u+x disk_test.sh

This will change the permissions of the file allowing it to be executed as a script. Execute the script by typing the following command:

$ ./disk_test.sh

If everything has worked, you should not see any returned strings or characters to the console. If any of the partitions on the system meet the criteria in the test, a separate email should be sent for each mount that exceeds the threshold. Lastly, you should set up a periodic cron job, to automatically run the job on the filesystem. Depending on your requirements, you may want to run this script anywhere from once a week to once an hour.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Finally learning how to draft MTG properly

In my fourth event of playing Magic: The Gathering (MTG), I have finally won more than a single game in a match. I won a match. Actually, I won two matches. It was an elated feeling to win two matches, altogether made sweeter with getting a reward for my efforts of an additional booster pack. The final score after 3 matches was 2-1, 2-0, and 0-2 - ending up 4th in a field of 12 players.

Chewie, who accompanied me to the event last night, made a great assessment of my situation. When you beat your friends, it is one level of satisfaction. At the end of the day, they are your friends, and most of mine play MTG due to fact I have introduced (or encouraged) them to play. When you go to an event, you are playing against people who are enthusiastic in playing the game. Which means they will have read up on how to play the game, studied the strategies, and played in a larger network of people that do play. Beating them feels better. Strangely, loosing to people who are enthusiastic of the MTG game is not that bad - I equate it to loosing a game of one-on-one basketball to Michael Jordan (seeing how he is the one of the greatest basketball players of all time and I can not even dunk). You can easily tell yourself you were outmatched and mentally move on.

My current network of people I play with is made up of Chewie, Captain Powderpuff, TanMan, with the occasional Jarvo, KittyKat playing, and I am hoping to get SpecialK back into it. I chatted to SpecialK a few days ago, and he has some old sets, but has not played in a while. He actually thought the game had died off. Happy to play anyone, but I am too busy / lazy to make my way to MTG stores to play on the weekends.

Going back to MTG events, in particular the events that has a 40 card deck minimum, there seems to be 2 main types of cards you want when playing MTG (on top of your mana-producing cards):
  1. Creature cards
  2. Creature removal cards
Every other card is either going to hinder you, slow you down, or give you minimal advantage. Strategically, when it comes to creatures, those with evasion keywords (like Flying or Intimidate) fare better than those without. Having cards that can pump up cards is also somewhat advantageous, but you need to be able to have the creatures in the first place to play them. Other things to keep in mind is the cost of each card (CMC). You do not want just expensive cards, and you do not want expensive cards that have little benefit. Lastly, you want to see what synergies you can exploit.

It is a different style of mentality from 60 card deck minimums, whether it be played socially, or in standard play. I will eventually build up enough understanding of how those work, try them, and attempt to document what I have figured out. I am also sure it is a different style of play in comparison to a game of EDH / Commander.

Playing at the Games Laboratory, the usual players I would like to thank are AT and LS - firstly for beating me (down hard) when I played them, but then by taking the time of going through my deck and my additional cards in an attempt to figure out new cards to try. In that, they also explained some of the concepts of MTG when played with a 40 card deck minimum. All help is greatly appreciated!