Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

30 January, 2012

Mourning the Printed Page

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

A home without books is like a body without a soul.

Cicero said that, with his customary artful understatement. Horace Mann apparently said that “A house without books is like a room without windows,” but I think the points go to Cicero on this one.

I don’t care for e-books. The news inform me that e-books are marching ahead, while the printed page is in decline – the hopelessly old fashioned book stores going out of business while purveyors of e-books grow and grow. Like the music and film industry before it, the publishing world must now adapt to a primarily digital model. That’s just the way the world turns.

I will get an e-book reader when they are physically indistinguishable from regular books.

I am not opposed to e-books on philosophical grounds; I actually think it’s a good thing that more obscure books become more easily available, and I can well see that an e-reader is practical on trips and plane rides. I just find the notion of reading off a screen profoundly unsatisfying. I know that many, if not most, e-readers do not have screens in the way that a laptop or a tablet does, but use e-paper instead. That is indeed nifty technology, and makes reading on them much less of a strain, but it is still a very different thing from actual paper – something I’m sure they’re working on.

A book is more than the text inside it. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the text is the most important part, but a proper book is something more. It is texture and weight and smell and the sound of the pages turning and the immense satisfaction of cracking it open. There is something magical about a room full of books, a big and beautiful library, that a tiny e-reader with all its storage space cannot match. Foolishly sentimental, perhaps, but I embrace that part of my personality wholeheartedly. And yes, paper books are heavy and require storage space, but I consider that a very good bargain. I am currently moving, and lugging boxes of books up and down stairs may be tiresome, but I would not trade satisfaction for a slight increase in convenience. As for storage space, I have no greater ambition than one day owning a house with a room that can properly be called “the library”.

Anyway, there are practical reasons why I don’t want e-books as well. I object to the idea of leasing books, paying for access, and that the access can be revoked again should the seller so decide, as when Amazon pulled back a book without warning. I think they don’t do that too much any more, and maybe the trend is towards my kind of model, where a file, once bought, is yours to do with as you please, but I would rather not jump into any risky sort of situation in this. I have not really gotten into the stream music services for the same reason; if I buy a copy of a song, I want to keep it and use it as I choose. I also scoff at DRM nonsense. I appreciate that piracy is a problem, but I will not meekly subscribe to solutions which only punish the lawful consumer. Paper books, I can read however and whenever I like.

So there. Through hopeless romanticism and stubbornness, I shall cling to my shelves and books, and not get an e-reader. It’s a matter of principle.

And we’ve seen how well I’ve stood on principle in the past.

26 January, 2012

Games of Thrones

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I have been playing the Game of Thrones board game for many years now. I would also describe myself as a big fan of the books, though I have not yet gotten around to reading the most recent one, and I eagerly look forwards to the next season of the TV adaptation, but the board game was my entry point into the franchise. I think it’s fair to call it my favourite board game. Two expansions exist for it, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, though I only have the first one myself. I have tried the second one, but did not really care for it as much.

The game came out in a second edition not too long ago, incorporating several of the expansion features in the core game, and with all new artwork. Before Christmas, I ogled the box in the store, considering purchasing it to replace my trusty old first edition, but decided not to at the time. I recently had the opportunity to play it, and while I did enjoy it, it convinced me that not buying it was the correct decision simply because what is new in it isn’t different enough from what I already have to buy it again.

That sounded very negative; let me try again by looking at the differences instead, and giving my opinion on them. As I am not too familiar with the Storm of Swords expansion, I am not entirely sure which features are taken from that and which are brand new, but I will try to navigate it as best I can.

The most obvious change from the old edition is the new artwork, and mainly the new board. The whole map has been redrawn, and the data tracks along its side have been redesigned. The new map is darker than the old one, and looks slightly more … realistic, I suppose is the word. The labels on the various areas are smaller, and in my opinion each area felt more crowded. While it is a very pretty map, I think I prefer the old one, as I find it clearer – clarity being more important than photorealism during a game. In addition, the new game pieces are not solidly coloured in the new edition, and I found that they could easily end up disappearing on the board, blending too well in with the map.

On the plus side, the map now incorporates the ports from the Clash of Kings expansion, printed right on the map; a big improvement from the port tokens of the old edition. It also uses the expanded south from the same expansion, letting the game support six players from the get-go. These are great advantages, in my opinion. While the borders have been redrawn, I think it is only general shapes which have changed, not which areas border which, so the game balance has not changed. The redesigned data tracks also look good, and the addition of a victory track made it easier to spot who was approaching a win. All these things I liked.

All the tokens have been given a new look as well. I liked the tokens for neutral forces, and the way they incorporated information on when they were to be used on them. I did not so much care for the new Order and Power tokens, which seemed to me both darker in hue and less crisp, and even smaller in size than the old ones. I also prefer the old Messenger Raven token to the new one. The House Start Cards have been done away with entirely, replaced with the new House Screens, which were perhaps my favourite innovation in the new edition – they were much more useful as a reference and useful for hiding your tokens from your opponents. They also looked very nice.

There are some new cards, as well. The House cards have been replaced – or at least, they are not the cards from either the base game or the Clash of Kings expansion. It is possible they are based on cards found in A Storm of Swords. In any case, the mechanic is the same as ever, and the new cards work well enough, though I did not examine all of them. There is a new deck, the Wildling Deck, which I have been told is also a Storm of Swords feature, which alter the outcome of a wildling attack. This adds an element of unpredictability to wildling attacks, which I can appreciate; it makes gambling on the outcome of an attack more risky, and also makes the Raven token more valuable, as its owner can peek ahead at the next card in this deck. The wildlings now attack automatically upon reaching their full strength, rather than waiting for the card that unleashes them, a mechanic than can potentially lead to more frequent attacks. They are also not reduced to zero if they win, but simply lowered one space. All in all, it seems attrition from wildling attacks is much more likely in this edition

An element of unpredictability I did not care as much for were the new Tide of Battle cards, which I believe are a second edition innovation. Drawn at the end of a combat, they add a random number to each side’s combat strength, as well as sword or fortification icons. They also include the possibility of immediately killing one of the opponents forces outright, win or lose. I appreciate that many people enjoy a random element, and as seen above I like it myself on occasion, but the iron clad predictability of the combat mechanic has always been one of the main selling points of Game of Thrones for me. With full knowledge of your opponents forces, and which cards he might potentially hold, it all comes down to the tactics of the situation (no boon for me, really; I am a dreadful tactician), and the support you can persuade neighbouring armies to give you. I understand that the Tide of Battle cards encourage gambits in play, and increase attrition further, but I remain sceptical. I believe they are an optional rule, however, so the game could still be played without them, if you can find a group who agrees.

Finally, a word about some of the rules changes. With the increased attrition, it was nice to be able to muster at will using the starred Consolidate Power order, and it was an order I found myself placing often. I am still a bit ambivalent about it though, the rarity of the mustering card and the potential wait between each appearance of it gave each game a unique flavour – you could end up with every unit on the board within a few rounds, or you could go the whole game eking out existence with the bare minimum of troops. Overall, though, I think this might be a good change. The change of the starred Raid order – no longer capable of two raids, but instead empowered to remove a defence order – did not really come up during our game, so I have no idea how that change plays out.

Some of the Westeros cards have been replaced with cards where the holders of the three great tokens decide the effect – choosing for instance between a mustering, a supply count or no effect at all. This also makes the great tokens more valuable, increasing the reward for bidding high when the opportunity arises, and I have no objection towards that. The garrisons now protecting each of the players home bases are also an interesting and welcome touch.

The final change I can think of is the change in four player games – Tyrell has become a neutral force, while Greyjoy becomes the fourth player. This means that the pressure normally faced between Greyjoy, Lannister and Stark in a five player game is maintained in a four player game, making the riverlands hotly contested from the very beginning. To compensate for the now wide open south, a large number of neutral forces are placed there, but even with the presence of these, it seems to me that Lannister and Baratheon have a fairly free range to mop up a great many castles virtually unopposed unless Greyjoy and Stark work together for much of the game.

I’ve gone on for too long now, so I’ll wrap up. As I said, I do not think I will be purchasing the second edition, simply because the changes made alone are not worth the price of admission, given that I already have the first game. The changes that I liked the most can easily be applied to the old game without too much effort – in the case of the altered star orders, no effort at all! I think I can make my own house screens, and maybe even new neutral force and garrison tokens if I really want some.

A Game of Thrones: The Board Game is an excellent game, and it remains an excellent game in its second edition, and for those who do not have the first edition – or even those who have the first edition but none of the expansions – it would certainly be worth the money.

23 January, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Ever since I first got a mobile phone as a young boy – a giant Motorola monstrosity that in no way fit in my pockets – I have been a curmudgeon when it comes to getting new ones. I scoffed at polyphonic ring tones and coloured screens. “Not for me, this modern nonsense,” I sneered. “I want a good, solid phone I can just call people with!” Operating systems and touch screens? Forget it! Such frivolity would never penetrate my armour of sensibility and austerity!

But when I needed a new mobile over Christmas, I realized that we had now reached the point where I’d basically need to choose between a smartphone and a Jitterbug, so I threw that particular set of principles out the window and ended up getting an Xperia arc S. And dang it all, I love the thing.

It’s just so much fun! There are apps! Games! E-mail, and a good Twitter client and even a good version of Opera! Yeah, yeah, I know, welcome this Luddite to the present day. I acknowledge that I have been pretty silly about the whole thing. I’ll just have to catch up to the rest of the world in a while.

The thing that I have been having the most fun with, strange as it may seem, is the barcode scanner. This probably gives you an insight into the kind of geek I am. Being an avid LibraryThing user, I have already used it to catalogue some new books to great effect. Regular barcodes, though great for numerical codes like ISBNs, aren’t all that fun in the long run, however. Enter QR codes.

QR code

These things.

Yes, I know, Luddite to the present etc. These codes fascinate me. I’m not even sure why. Encoding messages and numbers and URLs and other information to be decoded later – it sings to my inner six year old! I want to find one of those scavenger hunt using these and follow the trail all the way to Narnia.

Deprived of that opportunity, however, I am left casting my mind about for some way to use these things. And I do want to use them. Because they’re cool. I understand they’re widely used in marketing, but I unfortunately don’t really have much of a product to market. Well, there is this blog, I suppose, but I’m not sure it is ready for a media blitz.

QR code

Still, spread the word!

While I was playing with the scanner, I got very excited about using it to mark my books. I could encode tags, collection information, and all sorts of detail right there in the cover! And decode it right there with my phone at any time! I was excited about this plan for at least twenty minutes before I realised that all that information would be much more usefully accessible to me if I just put it on a sticker in plain text.

Having had this otherwise admirable plan shattered by common sense, I’m back at square one. To cheer myself up, I did make some QR codes with some identification codes for my few books that do not have an ISBN, so I could easily look them up in my catalogue with my phone, but it’s not the same. I’ve thought about incorporating a code into some sort of Ex Libris, but I think that runs into the same problem of plain text just being better.

So, I have a marvellously fun new toy, and no earthly idea what to use it for. Googling around for ideas hasn’t been fruitful yet, but I hold out hope. The tech geeks out there have surely cracked this nut many times already. Still, do tell me if you have any ideas, and I’ll give an update somewhere down the line if I figure out a good one.

19 January, 2012

The Smell Doesn’t Really Matter

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Naming things is hard. As I am writing this, I am trying to think of a new name for this site, something to go on the top banner to trumpet the identity of this little blog. I am finding it difficult. By the time this post is published, I suppose I will have chosen one, displayed right at the top of this very page, so the suspense is ruined from the start, but perhaps the process will be interesting even so.

In its previous incarnation, the blog was simply called Obdormio.com, the domain name filling the role of title. That is a common practice, but in this case I think it was more a matter of me giving up on finding a proper title than anything else. As the new site rises from the ashes of the old, the domain name stays the same – it is a good enough name for me; it uses the handle I have employed on the Internet for many years, and the site is still all about whatever I’m thinking of – but I should like a new title for it. And finding one is hard.

I’ve never been good at naming things, I always worry that the name doesn’t say enough or too much – or the wrong thing entirely. The plain fact of the matter is that Juliet was full of crap – there’s a lot of stuff in a name. It sets the tone right away, and I suppose part of the difficulty in choosing one is that I am not entirely certain what the tone will be here yet. The problem is, I want it all. I want it to be humorous, with some silly nonsense to make people chuckle. I want it to be serious, where I can write about issues I am thinking about. I want it to be informal, entertaining, fictional, real and personal. Is there a name that can incorporate all that? Well, yes, “blog” can do it, but it seems a bit generic.

Title Suggestion: The Blog

And hubristic.

I am somewhat enamoured with big and obscure words, so perhaps I could try to dig up some sort of forgotten word from the Phrontistery with a meaning relating to speaking or writing or rambling.

Title Suggestion: Somniloquence

Possibly even relating cleverly to my chosen handle.

Since I have chosen a visual theme that emulates magazines or newspapers, perhaps I should go with a title that emulated that as well? Content ripped straight from the headlines of my head!

Title Suggestion: The Internal Chronicle

Something like this, but better.

I have toyed with the idea of using a longer phrase, though it does carry the danger of making it hard to remember, or hard to relate to the content. Or worse, just lame.

Title Suggestion: Sufficiently accurate for poetry

"Stealing Babbage's words and making them way more pretentious!"

I just don’t know. Of these, I think I like “Somniloquence” best, but even that doesn’t feel quite right. The perfectionist in me is probably the main barrier to just picking one, I’m afraid. It’s not even as though I can’t change it if I feel like it – the domain name stays the same, after all.

Well, dear future reader, as noted at the start, you already know what I ended up picking. Future people get all the perks. I’ve still got no idea. Naming things is hard.

16 January, 2012

I Am Not a Blogger: A Blank Slate

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I am not a blogger, by nature. This, I have deduced from my previous attempts to keep a blog going. It just doesn’t come naturally to me, keeping a regular schedule, updating again and again. While I do enjoy writing, there is a drive, deeply ingrained in me, not to force something for the sake of production.

It’s not a good thing, I think. Forcing production will, of course, result in some duds, but on the whole I think it would do me good to write something regularly – both from a writing and a time management point of view. Improving prose is a good thing. Managing time enough to do it is also a good thing. I have always disliked the Da Vinci quote about there being sufficient time for those who make use of it, because I always feel that time is not sufficient. Unable to fault the premise of the quote, I am left with the fact that I just plain suck at managing my time, something I should seek to rectify. Apparently, Da Vinci also said, “I have wasted my hours,” a much more heartening quote on one level as it puts me in good company – but a second look brings me down to Earth again as it means Da Vinci managed to waste his hours a lot more productively than I.

But back to the point: I am not a blogger, or rather, not blogger material. I don’t have a specific topic – TV reviews, for instance –  in mind to give this thing a focus. I don’t mingle with famous people, and know very little in the form of gossip. I have no particular qualifications setting me up as someone giving informed opinions on a subject. Or, I suppose a case could be made that I should be able to speak with some authority on the subject of revenge tragedy in comics, but I certainly don’t feel like an expert. The thesis got a middling grade, in any case. Looking back on it now, only half a year on, there are already many things I would do differently in it had I the chance, but I don’t really spend much effort on that line of thought.

This is another deeply ingrained conviction, a healthier one this time. I firmly belive that there is little point in dwelling on things you can’t do anything about, and the past falls firmly into this category. I just do not see the point in worrying about something beyond my own ability to affect. That’s not to say that I never do, of course, but I try not to, and I think I am happier for it. The Serenity Prayer does sum it all up quite nicely, I think: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. What cannot be changed, past mistakes among them, should not unduly disturb the present.

But isn’t this whole post dwelling on past failures, failures of time management, commitment, and writing? Yes, and no. Not allowing the past to disturb you isn’t the same as not learning from it. And that, I suppose, is the point of this whole thing, in addition to forcing production – it is a resolution to change and do better. Is it a New Year’s resolution? Not really, though I suppose the arrival of a new year helps kick start this sort of stock taking. Let’s call that one a maybe.

I’ve cleared away the old nonsense from this site, making room for new things. I am not a blogger, but I am resolving to try to become one. Regular production of text, on a schedule of some sorts. Public shame should I falter. And what is all this blogging going to be about? I have no idea. Probably a lot more stream of conciousness rambling like this, to be honest. Hopefully I’ll find a few actual topics to bite into in between the duds. You have to write a lot of shit to get to the gold, the wisdom goes, so if I keep going long enough, I’m sure something will come of it.

I have wasted my hours. I will probably waste many more. But going forwards, I’ll see if I can’t save a few of them.

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