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:

# 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%"



In the script, change the 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, and then in the directory you saved the file in, type in the following command (without the "$" at the start):

$ chmod u+x

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

$ ./

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!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Setting up cron

Setting up recurring tasks in a Unix-like / Linux environment is done via a program / mechanism called cron. You edit it (usually) using vi, and you put in variables of when you are supposed to run jobs - similar to a scheduler. The order of those fields is something I always seem to forget, so here they are (to remind me to populate the top of the cron files):

# Minute Hour Day of Month Month Day of Week Command
# (0-59) (0-23) (1-31) (1-12 or Jan-Dec) (0-6 or Sun-Sat)

As an example:

0 2 12 * 0,6 /usr/bin/find /stuff

Putting those comments at the top of every cron file should be enough for others to figure out what is being done. To display cron jobs, type (without the "$"):

$ crontab -l

To edit cron jobs, type:

$ crontab -e

Remember to use vi commands when editing. The Gentoo Linux vi page is a really good start, or you can just go directly to the vi "cheat sheet".

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Uptime in MS Windows

I've been looking for a while to find a consistent way of finding uptime in Windows. It appears that Windows does not natively come with an uptime reporting program, even though you can install one (unlike Linux or other Unix-like systems). They do have other system commands, but you have to sift through the output of these programs to find out what information you want. From what I've seen, here is the most consistent commands:

Windows XP Professional:
To get the uptime of a system, start up a command window by clicking on Start -> Programs -> Accessories -> Command Prompt.

In the command prompt window, type in
systeminfo | find "Up Time"
and press Enter. This will isolate the line of information containing the uptime of the system.

Windows XP / 2000 / 2003:
Start up a command window by clicking on Start -> Programs -> Accessories -> Command Prompt.

In the command prompt window, type in
net statistics workstation | find "since"
and press Enter.

Linux / Unix:
It is much easier on a Unix / Linux type system, just to type in command line (without the "$"):
$ uptime

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Don't pick on the geek

This article has some references to Magic: The Gathering (MTG), but it serves only as a basis of a story of initial ridicule, but caught fire on the internet to drive a huge backlash from the internet users. You may have already guessed, but this is around the story of an internet website editor dating a MTG former champion - Alyssa Bereznak and Jon Finkel.

The dust has somewhat settle, and the internet has responded:
The summary was that Alyssa, who herself works for an IT related journalist web site, was labeling someone she had met on an online dating site, as a geek or nerd. On top of that, she was upset that this fact was not disclosed to her in his profile. It appears to be a pot labeling a kettle. And then the internet "had their say"...

There is one thing that Alyssa, and I am guessing a lot of people (regardless of gender) are missing - without geeks or nerds, your world would be different - VERY DIFFERENT INDEED. You would not have:
  • Industries built on Information Technology (IT)
  • The internet (ie. you would not be able to read this blog post) and its websites
  • Computers
  • Mobile Phones (and this would probably extend to regular phones)
  • Television
  • Radio
  • Medicines
  • Electricity
  • Food technology (although some may argue that genetically modified food is harmful)Link
  • Video games
  • Credit cards
  • Cars and most other forms of transport
  • Everything cool that Apple makes (iPhone, iPad, iMac)
  • Countless other items
All these aspects of modern life came about due to involvement of nerds and geeks.

I am not going to put forward the argument that the world is a better place with ALL these items in it, but I will say that it is a very different place. I am not saying that entertainers and sports people do not have their place in society either, but if you seriously think about it, being able to kick a ball does not assist in helping to solve communication issues between countries separated by geography. I do appreciate watching sports, but it is as a distraction. As Chewie said to me recently, "If it wasn't for all the distractions around us, we would get more time trying to solve things and better ourselves."

Next time you want to label something as "too nerdy" or "geeky", take a look around you and at your own life. If you are reading this article, it was because a nerd or a geek thought up the technology to bring it to you. Your mocking (no matter how "playful" or "innocent" it may be) may be having a profound negative impact on someone around you.

Well done to the internet community in raising one voice against people like mean girl Alyssa. And to Alyssa: "Your opinions are not always appreciated!"