Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tech Hopes for 2009

Another 9 hours and we will have survived 2008. As the clock ticks down, here are a few of my tech hopes for 2009.

1. Microsoft gets their act together and releases an operating system for those of us with a clue. Unlike many of my friends I have not abandoned windows altogether, and I won't because I'm a gamer and windows is still the biggest computer platform for gaming. I am however avoiding Vista like the plague. I'm still using XP, and my plan is to stick with it until Microsoft comes out with a viable alternative. My wants are simple: I want a stable OS, which runs quietly in the background. I don't need flashy menus. I don't want my computer to warn me every time I run an executable file. And I certainly don't want the OS to be a resource hog. Rumors are that Microsoft is going to push out the next version of windows sooner rather than later. I'm not convinced that they're going to get it right this time though.

2. We want Wii! More awesome Wii games. More Wii balance board games. Nintendo was struggled with the N64 and the GameCube. They're making a raging comeback with the Wii, and I would love to see them keep up the good work.

3. Do you think maybe it's time to do something about the energy problems? I'm not saying this is an easy problem. I would bet though that there are some great green energy solutions just waiting to be discovered. Something that would let us drive our cars, heat and cool our homes, and run our computers without using up every bit of fossil fuel on our planet. We need to think green energy. We need to think renewable energy.

4. Long Live Geeks! Long Live Geeks! This one's all on me. I want to continue to build a web presence for Long Live Geeks :)

Happy New Years, everybody! :)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Top 5 Geek Moments of 2008

As the year winds down, here are my five most favorite geek moments from 2008. Please feel free to share some of your favorite geek moments in the comments!

5. Playing Hellgate: London. I usually play a lot of "nice girl" games. This is the first time in I don't know how long that I spent all my time with a gun in my virtual hand running around shooting things, and I had a blast! So much fun in fact that it inspired me to get Fallout 3, where I'm once again a tough chick with a gun.

4. Watching Quantum of Solace and realizing that I still know the Bond cliches. I am a huge Bond geek. When I was in grad school TBS did a two week event they called Cyber Bond. They showed the Bond movies on TV, two a night, while running an online trivia game. I can remember rushing through my homework (I was still taking classes at the time) so I would have time for Cyber Bond each night. I was pretty good too! I made it to the high score leader board a few times :) I was not a huge fan of Casino Royale. I did not find the Bond character to be very believable as a hopeless romantic. Quantum of Solace on the other hand was much more the Bond I know and love. I loved the movie for itself, and for all of the Bond cliches.

3. Gaming nights with my friends. Game nights this year were dominated by Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Guitar Hero World Tour. Totally not a problem! All three are great party games. As I've posted before, I always have a lot of fun when I get together for a little video game jamming with my friends :)

2. Going to Dragon*Con for the first time. That was truly an experience I will never forget. Everything from the cosplayers, to the panels, to the dealer rooms, screamed "geek immersion". I got to go with my husband and my two bestest friends ever. I could not have asked for better companions. And Atlanta isn't that far from Pittsburgh, so there's a very real chance we can go back in 2009.

1. Launching Long Live Geeks! longlivegeeks.com was born on October 14, 2008. I added SiteMeter in November, and since then we have had 526 visitors and 896 page views. Long Live Geeks has given me some great moments to be geeky. It has sparked some wonderful discussions with my geek friends IRL. I am excited to continue the blog in 2009 and see what happens next :)

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Twelve Days of Christmas

I promise this is my last Christmas post of 2008 :)

Today is Boxing Day, the second day of Christmas. I need to find some turtle doves! If you don't get the reference, then clearly you have not been listening to enough Christmas music :)

The first place I ever heard of the Twelve Days of Christmas was in the Christmas Carol by that name. When I was younger, I speculated what the 12 days could possibly be. Of course I thought they ended with Christmas Day, after all that was the best day of the season. I was wrong however, Christmas Day is the first day of Christmas. The last day is January 6, the Epiphany.

Notable days during the Twelve Days of Christmas include the aforementioned Boxing Day, St. Stephen's Day, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, and Twelfth Night. In the times of yore, Boxing Day was the day that food was boxed up and passed out to those less fortunate. Some countries also celebrated St. Stephen's Day on December 26. Others note it on December 27. St. Stephen's Day has also made its way into a Christmas Carol. Remember Good King Wencelas? What feast did he look out on again? :)

In modern times it seems as if only Christmas Day and New Year's have survived as celebrated holidays. Boxing day has turned into the day to get after Christmas bargains at the mall. If I mention Twelfth Night, most people assume I'm taking about the Shakespeare play. I think that's a little bit of a shame. Holidays are days to be savored. Instead Christmas day often feels like a day in which people must do as much as possible in a short amount of time, so we can all return to our normal lives as soon as life demands it of us.

If you have the time and the inkling to do so, take a few moments during the remaining twelve days to remember that we are still in a holiday season. Take the opportunity to do something that you just didn't have time for on Christmas Day. Spend some time geeking out with the new toys Santa brought you. Don't let life get a firm grasp on you until well into January, and then we can all say we've kept Christmas well :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Things to do on the Longest Day of the Year

As far as I'm concerned, the summer solstice can't touch Christmas Eve when it comes to being the longest day of the year. After all, we're not sitting around in the middle of June waiting for Santa to come down our chimneys (or heating vents!) to deliver presents. We are not waiting for that magical moment on Christmas morning when all of us locally based Santas get to see the joy on the faces of our friends and family. So what's a geek to do? How about keeping busy with these videos, websites, and games!

My favorite source for Christmas videos online is this list of 101 classic Christmas videos. The list contains everything from classic Christmas cartoons, to Christmas episodes of a number of sitcoms, to Christmas music videos. I think I will watch the Seinfeld Festivus episode later today. If you can't find what you want there, try Hulu. They have 138 full episodes of TV shows which are tagged Christmas. If you missed A Muppets Christmas Special: Letters to Santa last week, Hulu's your chance to watch it.

If gaming is more your thing, check out Christmasville at Big Fish Games. Big Fish's claim to fame is that they release a new game each day. Some are winners, some are not so great. The thing I love about the site is that almost all games offer a 1 hour free trial. So for no money at all you can spend an hour helping private detective Arthur Knight search for Santa. If you do decide to buy the game, be sure to use their coupon code HOLIDAY2008 (good through 2008) for half off the price.

"The Night Before Christmas" is my favorite piece of short Christmas reading. I don't actually have a paper copy of the story. That's no problem at all though, as it is featured on a number of websites. I particularly like this one, as the ending has been preserved. In modern versions of the poem, the last line is often changed from "Happy Christmas to all..." to "Merry Christmas to all...". I like the original one best. This would also be a great time to read more about "The Night Before Christmas" on its Wikipedia page.

Don't forget to keep an eye on the big guy in the red coat on Norad Tracks Santa! As I type this, he is in Wulumunqi, China. It looks like it's going to be quite a while before he gets to my house! Don't forget to check out their "How We Track Santa" page.

As I leave you with these holiday offerings, I would like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas. May all of your Christmases be merry and bright, happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A little web surfing, if you please.

Apparently even in this time of economic cutbacks, more companies are going green with their technology. One of the main motivations is cutting energy costs. Increasing regulations also play a part.

I think it is very cool that green tech is still getting attention in the midst of all of the economic chaos. I suspect some people out there are thinking that companies should have done this a long time ago, before higher energy costs motivated them into it. I agree, however, I'm not at all unhappy to see money as a motivating factor. Money is probably the biggest motivation for any commercial business in this country. If anything is going to start a movement towards greener tech, that will be it. I think we're in a great position to have a motivation that all companies can get behind, before we run the planet into the ground.

Switching gears a little, you may remember from my previous post that searching for deals online is one of my favorite pastimes. I was pleased to see Lifehacker's recent Hive Five, the five best sites for finding deals online. The number one site, Slickdeals.net, is one I had heard of, but not visited regularly.

Slickdeals.net's main feature is its collection of current deals. The main page has a list of coupons and deals, both online and offline. The list is updated daily with new deals. Deals which have expired are marked as expired. Slickdeals also has forums, a blog, and several shopping tools.

I'm not sure Slickdeals is the best site for finding a deal on an item I need or want to buy right away. It would basically be random luck in terms of if there is a deal available for it or not, where as sites like Fatwallet offer more consistent deals. On the other hand, sometimes I want something and wait to buy it until I do find a great deal. My guess is that will be when Slickdeals comes in the most useful. I'll try it out sometime and find out! :)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wii Wishlist: Winter 2008

Last Wednesday I blogged about how I evaluate Wii games which interest me. Today I'll share my Wii wishlist, along with a few notes about the fun I hope to have with these games.

Animal Crossing: City Folk is a game I've been waiting for ever since the Wii was announced. Metacritic gave it a 73, a pretty good score. The main criticism of the game seems to be that is is mostly a remake of the Game Cube version. That doesn't bother me at all. I was a fan of both that one and the DS Animal Crossings. What makes Animal Crossings so attractive? Well the main premise is that you live in a town and interact with the other townspeople, er, make that towns-animals. There are also opportunities to go fishing, dig for buried treasure, and harvest local fruit. What makes the game special though is that it exists in "real time". That is, the game uses the Wii's internal clock to determine if it is morning, afternoon, or night. Different things happen at different times of day. The game also changes over time. New animals come to the town. If you neglect the game for a few weeks, someone you've made friends with might get tired and leave. The Animal Crossings world is rich with detail, it takes many hours of gameplay to explore it fully. As you can imagine, the game is rather low key. I play a lot of intense games, spending time in Animal Crossings is a welcome change of pace.

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon is the first Wii offering from Square Enix, the makers of the well known Final Fantasy series. (The first disk-based offering. Square Enix released the WiiWare game Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as King in May of 2008.) Metacritic gave Chocobo's Dungeon a respectible 77. While I admit to being a bit of a Final Fantasy junkie, I've had more fun with some of their games than others. After doing a bit of reading, I'm expecting this to be one of the more fun FF games. IGN describes the story as "a mix of intriguing concepts and eye-rolling ridiculousness". That sounds right up my alley! Game play is said to be a combination of strategy and traditional RPG style gaming, and to keep a player on her toes. That sounds good too. Graphics are described as retro. That won't bother me. Particularly if they did a cute job with it. I'm a sucker for cute graphics :)

Mario Kart Wii is the next game I hope to add to our party stash. Metacritic gave it an 82. I almost don't need to read anything else at this point. The Mario Kart series has been a lot of fun since the beginning. It got a good rating, which means there are no glaring problems with the game. I'd love to have it around so I can thrash my husband in go-kart races. (Princess power!)

DeBlob is a great example of the reviews making me want a game. I saw the box in the store and I couldn't really determine what to make of the game. Later when I noticed DeBlob has a score of 81 on Metacritic, I looked deeper into it. The main character is de Blob. His job is to roll through the city and crush any and all Leech Bots. The Leech Bots suck color out of the city. As de Blob crushes them, he absorbs the color, and uses it to paint the city. Reviews state that completing each level requires a mixture of strategy and action, which is how I like em. The controls are natural and highly responsive, another good thing. And the DeBlob has both a single player campaign and multiplayer modes. I'll have to get a hold of a copy of this one and try out some Leech squashing myself :)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wii Games: the Choosing

Today's post is part of a 2 part series on choosing Wii games. Today I'm going to talk about how I pick games I think I would like. On Friday I'll share my Wii wish list.

Game reviews are a gamer's best friend when it comes to choosing games to buy. In the olden days before the Internet, I was a regular reader of GamePro magazine. In more recent times I've turned to Gamespot's reviews, and I enjoy watching X-Play when the opportunity presents itself. My very favorite site for video game reviews however is Metacritic.com. Metacritic earns my top prize by combining ratings from many other sources into a composite ratings score. I regularly visit Metacritic's Wii page and check out the ratings of recent Wii games.

Metacritic uses a 0-100 point ratings scale. Higher scores mean more critics liked the game. Lower scores mean the game did not get favorable reviews. They also color code the scores for quick interpretation. Games getting a score of 75 or better are green, 50 or better is denoted by yellow, and any score under 50 is red. When I'm browsing, I will stick to the yellow and green scored games. I only venture into the red zone when I am curious about a specific game.

Traditionally games are reviewed on elements such as game play, graphics, controls, sound, and story. Your own review experience will be significantly enhanced if you can determine which of those elements are important to you. One way to do that is by reading reviews of some games which you already play and enjoy. Look for things in the reviews that remind you of how much you enjoy the game. That will give you some hints at to what to look for in future reviews. I focus on game play most of all. I love it when a game I'm playing looks spectacular, but I wouldn't play a spectacular looking game if I didn't also enjoy the game play. Controls can also make or break a game playing experience for me. I look for controls which are intuitive and highly responsive.

Another important point is game genre. My first love is RPGs. I grew up devouring every RPG I could get my hands on. I don't have quite as much gaming time now, but I still love a good RPG. I also play action games (Super Mario Galaxy), and keep a party game or two hanging around (Mario Party 8) hanging around for our Wii parties.

Once you have some idea of what kinds of games you like and what kinds of review information to look for, there are two great ways to use Metacritic. The first is to look up specific games you have seen in the store or on TV. I was looking at the game Baroque in a store one day. On the surface it looked like a game I would enjoy, an RPG variant. I decided to wait until I'd checked out Metacritic before pulling the trigger, and I'm very glad that I did. Metacritic gave it a score of 50, pretty low. Reviews suggested that the strength of Baroque is in the story. The game play is repetitive and difficult. Story is never enough to keep me interested in a game. I decided to pass on this one.

The second way to use Metacritic is to go down the list and read reviews of various games. That's how I found out about Zack & Wiki Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure. Zack and Wiki got an 87 on Metacritic. That puts it in the top 10 games today, but it was top 3 at the time I read the review. Reviewers describe it as a puzzle game, which makes excellent use of the Wiimote. At a time when game publishers were struggling to do anything new and inventive with the Wiimote, here comes this little known game which did all sorts of interesting things with it. Most other comments were favorable as well. I was intrigued and got a copy of the game. I have had a blast with it! The puzzles are challenging enough to make the game interesting, but not impossible. The story is cute. And the reviewers were right about the Wiimote usage: it really makes the game! I never would've found that one without Metacritic. It did not get much publicity, and the title/box was not one that made me pick it up in the store.

If reading reviews still leaves you on the fence, then try to rent the game before buying it. Just make sure when you do the rental that you'll have time during the rental period to spend at least a few hours with a game. I always like to get past the "intro" period before I decide if I like a game or not. Intros keep getting longer though, so that could be a couple of hours of game play. If a game is complicated, it could also take me that long to learn the basics and get comfortable with it.

On Friday I'll be back with my Wii game wishlist, the games I'm interested in but haven't gotten to play yet! :)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

King's Bounty Revisited: the Chest of Rage

My King's Bounty: The Legend post is getting the vast majority of my Google search hits. Most of those hits are searching for the chest of rage. So I'm going to write a post on the chest itself which will hopefully answer the questions people might have about it. The remainder of this post contains spoilers about unlocking and using the spirits inside the chest.

First off, what is rage? Rage points are similar to magic points, only you get them by killing monsters and taking damage. Rage points grow during the course of a battle. You can spend them once you have the Chest of Rage to cast spirits of rage spells. (And you need to have unlocked at least one of the spirits to use rage points, but we'll get to that in a minute.) Rage points do not disappear after a fight, but they do fade quickly over time.

Rage spells are what gives the hero (particularly for non-mage heroes) a big advantage over the NPCs in the game. They allow us to cast extra powerful spells. The rage spells do not appear to be related to the hero's intelligence the way normal spells are. Instead the rage spirits grow in level as you use their spells.

The Chest of Rage is obtained by following the main quest line. After you've gone to the king's brother and come back, he will tell you to go fetch something from the Magic Academy. That something is the Chest of Rage. The academy itself is in Verlon Forest. It's not far into the forest. As soon as you zone in, take the right path. At the fork in the road turn left. The academy is just ahead on the left.

At the academy Master Trigius will (after a lengthy dialogue) hand over the chest. The chest immediately bonds to you. The king won't be too happy about that, but it's great for us! Once you have the chest, look at your character screen. The spirits appear on the bottom left. You can talk to each spirit and get hints about what it takes to unlock the spirit. I got the chest around level 7, and quickly unlocked 2 of the 4 spirits.

Sleem is the first spirit I unlocked. He casts poison damage spells. To unlock this spirit, go to the Menagerie of Stephan Hall in Greenwort and see if he has any royal snakes. If so, buy some and add them to your army. Then talk to Sleem again, and he will eat the snakes. Keep repeating this process until you have sufficiently fed Sleem, and he is free. If the menagerie did not have snakes, you'll have to get them from Marshan Swamp. When you zone into the swamp, take an immediate right into the bog. There are a couple of place in the bog that sell royal snakes. Remember that they have to be royal snakes, not just ordinary snakes.

I unlocked Zerock, the fire spirit, next. To unlock Zerock you have to fight his army. This fight is challenging, but not impossible. Make sure you have a full army and are full of magic points, and you should be okay. If not, well that's why they made save points :)

The third spirit, Lina, speaks of a battery which needs to be recharged. This cannot be done until you reach the dwarf land. I got there at level 13. Just after you get above ground in the dwarf land, you will see a big machine. That can recharge the battery of that spirit. Once you unlock Lina start using her spells immediately. She will level quicker than the others, but you do still need to make an effort to give her some exercise and get those levels.

The last spirit, Reaper, speaks of stopping time. I have not unlocked Reaper yet. I believe I need to get a bit further in the game to unlock him. I can't stay that I'm in a hurry ;)

I use my rage spells as much as possible. I can't think of a good reason not to. I get the immediate benefit of doing extra damage to the mobs, and the spirits level up with use. As the spirits level up they learn new spells (upto 4 per spirit), and their existing spells get more powerful or more efficient. When spells get more powerful they also take more rage points. Be careful not to allow a spell to take more rage points than your maximum rage. I couldn't use one of my rage spells for a while due to making that mistake. When spells get more efficient the spirit needs less rest time between casting spells.

I hope this answers some of the questions people have about the Chest of Rage. If you have additional questions about King's Bounty, leave me a comment and I'll respond accordingly. People are also welcome to leave their own King's Bounty tips and tricks :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Geek-wear

I think the quintessential article of geek clothing is the t-shirt. T-shirts are low maintenance: the ultimate wash and wear garment. They are appropriate for all sorts of geeky activities such as Wii gaming sessions, shopping excursions at Best Buy, and even running Ethernet cable. And most importantly, t-shirts give us a way to express our geekiness!

I myself have a number of geeky t-shirts. Some are from events I attended such as the 2004 Everquest Fan Faire, and Dragon*Con 2008. I have several t-shirts from Think Geek with a variety of geeky themes. My favorites are the binary people shirt and the +20 shirt of smiting. And I have others from concerts, shows, M&M World in Las Vegas, and of course Hershey's Chocolate World. As you can see, t-shirts are one of my favorite souvenirs! :)

Recently though I became dissatisfied with my geeky t-shirt offerings. It seems that Thing Geek and other geeky t-shirt specialists tend to favor the color black. I don't mind wearing black, but I am not particularly a dark sort sort of geek. I'm more of a pink geek! With the occasional red and violet thrown in for good measure. So I sought out additional t-shirt sources, ones with more possibilities. I landed on Zazzle, a site which will let you put virtually anything on a t-shirt.

The first time I used Zazzle I was making t-shirts to give to some of my geek friends. I translated their names into ASCII. Then I translated the ASCII numbers into binary, and put the binary text on a shirt. I surprised my friends with their shirts a couple of years ago at Christmas. Now anyone who knows the "secret code" can address my friends by their names when they are wearing their shirts.

The next shirt I made was for me! It says (appropriately) "got blog?", in black letters on a pink shirt. In the future I plan on skipping the "white text, black shirt" look for more colorful options on Zazzle. It may take a little more work than just ordering the shirts from Think Geek, but they will be more personal as well :)

The best part of wearing geeky t-shirts is when I share a moment of camaraderie with a fellow geek. Someone will read my shirt and smile or laugh, and I get to return the favor when I see someone else wearing a geek shirt. So wear your geek shirts and share your geekiness with the world :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oh Christmas Tree


This evening my husband and I decided to have a pizza and tree trimming party. It was an impromptu occasion, so the guest list was small (just us). We still had a lot of fun, and a beautiful tree to show for our work. Here's a picture of it. What do you think?

Christmas trees are one of my favorite traditions of Christmas. Of course, many people believe that Christmas trees are not originally part of Christian traditions at all. In 16th century Germany, people decorated trees as part of their Yule celebrations. People have argued that they have no place in a true Christmas. Given that Christmas trees are a part of celebrations every where from Rockafeller Center to the White House, it appears the anti-tree proponents are not winning their argument. I personally don't care what started the tradition. I just dig putting a big decorated plant in my living room :)

Christmas trees come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I'm partial to real trees at home. This year we got a Balsam Fir. I have a shiny silver fiber optic tree in my office though (you can see it in this post). Artificial trees tend to look more perfectly Christmas tree shaped. Live trees on the other hand have their own beauty. I don't worry about getting the perfect live tree, I look for one with character. Some years we've gotten smallish "Charlie Brown" trees. Some years we have majestic trees. This years is slender with squirrelly branches. If you do get a live tree, here are a few of my favorite tree tips:

1. Pull gently on the needles. If they fall off, the tree is dried out and won't live long in the house.
2. Look at the trunk at the base of the tree. Trees with crooked or misshapen trunks are harder to get into the stand.
3. Immediately before putting the tree in the stand, cut an inch off of the bottom of the trunk. This will help the tree drink water and make it last longer.

My husband and I got our tree at a local big box home store, but someday I would love to make a trip to a Christmas tree farm. Christmas tree farming got big during the 1950s. Christmas trees must be cared for like any plants. In addition they get pruned yearly to coax them into a desirable shape. I'd be curious to try to grow my own trees, if I lived in place that was suitable for it. (We're renters at the moment.) Maybe it would turn out great. Maybe not so well. But I think it would be an awesome way to use some yard space :)

Monday, December 8, 2008

They're baaaaack

Over the weekend my husband and I got to see Walking with Dinosaurs the Live Experience. I am now convinced that dinosaurs still roam the Earth. Okay, at least totally awesome reproductions of them do :)

The show is based off of the BBC series Walking with Dinosaurs. I had hopes that it would be closer to edutainment than a dinosaur free for all (Which also might be fun!), and that turned out to be the case. The only human participant is a paleontologist, who guided us through a tour of the Mesozoic Era. Along the way we got to meet a variety of dinosaurs in their natural environments, or at least simulations thereof.

My favorite dinosaur was the Brachiosaurus. First we got to meet Brachiosaurus junior. He had become separated from his herd, and was being threatened by an Allosaurus. The situation was looking grim when the mommy Brachiosaurus came to save the day! The Allosaurus was no match for such magnificent creature, and was soon scared away.

I found the dialog of the performance to be easy to understand and clearly spoken. The teacher in me particularly appreciated that the dialog contained proper terminology. I make an effort to do the same thing when I'm teaching. It's often easier to be lazy and use whatever words come to mind. However the learner gets far more benefit by hearing the correct and appropriate terminology as much as possible. It lays down a basis for communication on the subject, and for further study.

Walking with Dinosaurs gets a big thumbs up in my "if I knew what it was going to be like, would I still by the tickets" meter. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. If you like dinosaurs, then this one is a must see experience :)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lunch Recipes, part 1

Continuing my lunch series, in this post I'll describe a few of my favorite lunch recipes. These are also delicious meals for anytime. The thing that makes them particularly good lunch recipes is that they cook well in quantity, and freeze well. Usually I double most of these, divide them up into individual portions, and freeze. Then I can go to my freezer stock and have an easy lunch. Now onto the recipes!

When I moved to Greensburg, I made it a mission to learn to cook Thai food. Many of those recipes I still struggle with, but two that I've found to be easy, dependable, and delicious are gaeng phed gai (red curry chicken) and tom kha gai (chicken soup with coconut milk). Both are great alone or with jasmine rice. I get the curry paste, fish sauce, and other Thai ingredients from importfood.com. The rest I can get locally. I am not particular about using authentic veggies, so my curry often has carrots and zucchini in it, not peas or eggplant. I just at my last chicken curry today. Time to restock the freezer! :)

Another of my favorites is this crustless quiche recipe. I love quiche. I just don't love pie crusts. I've never been that impressed with store bought pie crusts. I do know how to make them myself, but that takes time. This crustless quiche recipe uses breadcrumbs instead of the pie crust. I make bread on a regular basis, so I pretty much always have the end of a loaf hanging around. It's no big deal for me to toast a couple of pieces, smash them to bits, and throw them into the bottom of the cooking dish. The rest of the quiche assembly is quick and easy.

Quiche is another recipe that's easy to customize. The first time I made this I did ham and cheese, but cheddar instead of Swiss. The second time I did shrimp (cooked), and a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella cheese. Both were delicious. The thing to remember is that all ingredients need to be cooked ahead of time. The 20 minutes the quiche cooks in the oven is not long enough for shrimp to cook, so I sauteed them on the stove first. Veggies can be raw so long as you don't expect them to fully cook. I always cook onions before I put them into quiche because I strongly dislike partially cooked onions. I wouldn't bother with tomatoes or mushrooms though.

A couple of times a year I make Alton Brown's chili recipe. It's very meaty, just how my husband and I like chili. I don't have a pressure cooker, but it turns out just fine on the stove or in the crock pot. It just takes longer that way. I particularly like that he uses salsa for the vegetables. It adds dimension to the taste, as well as being quick and easy. For lunch I can eat this as a meal, or as an awesome salad topping.

I also keep some individual items in the freezer. I'm nearing the end of the the pork carnitas I've got in there. I have some sliced flank steak in individual packets. I didn't do anything exciting to that - just cooked it to medium rare, sliced thinly against the grain, and divided into servings. You can find lots of marinade and sauce recipes online if that floats your boat though. I froze left over mashed potatoes after our Thanksgiving dinner. And just as soon as I get around to cooking the rather large butternut squash that's in the kitchen, I'll be adding that to the freezer.

The best thing about cooking is that it gives us the chance to play around with recipes and tweak them to our individual tastes. I often try out a new recipe in small batches, sticking close to the recipe at first. Each time I repeat a recipe I'll tweak it a little until it's as delicious as I think I can make it. Then when it has become a great recipe I'll add it to the list of things I cook in larger quantities for the freezer.

I'll end this post with one important hint for tweaking recipes: Write down the adjustments you make every time. There's nothing more annoying than finally getting a recipe down perfect and not knowing how the heck it got there! :)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Christmas Reading - Mystery Edition

I should preface this post by saying that the books highlighted here will probably appeal more to the female geeks in the audience than the males. I am not into hard core mysteries. I prefer the ones where the person can both solve mysteries and bake cakes at the same time! :)

If you are drawn more towards the science fiction genre, don't miss my earlier post on holiday sci-fi books!

The Sugar Cookie Murder was my introduction to Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swenson mystery series. The protagonist of these books, Hannah Swenson owns the Cookie Jar bakery, and just happens to run into dead bodies far more often then your average baker. These books are fairly lighthearted, despite the death and mayhem. I particularly enjoy Hannah's interactions with everyone in the town. It turns out fresh cookies go a long way towards loosening tongues. Hannah makes another holiday appearance in the mystery compendium Candy Cane Murder, which is also a fun read.

Keeping in the area of food, I just finished The Chocolate Snowman Murders, by JoAnna Carl. This one's also part of a series, the Chocoholic Mysteries. I have not read any of her other books, but I probably will after this one. I particularly enjoyed how the spunky main character dealt with the situations before her. (Let me say, best way ever of handling the attentions of an unwanted car passenger!) Plus reading all the talk about chocolate was almost as good as eating it!

The next book is by Janet Evanovich, the author of the Stephanie Plum series. If you've never read any of these books, you are missing out! These are by far some of the funniest books I've read. Stephanie gets herself into all sorts of mischief, yet always comes back fighting. The dynamics between the various characters are also quite amusing. The Christmas offering in this series is Visions of Sugar Plums. It is one of a handful of "Between-the-Numbers" novels, which take place amongst the other books. This one falls between the 8th and 9th books in the regular series. If you have not read the others, this one is still by far a great read. However it has a couple of spoilers in it for the from the first eight books. If you're particular about preferring to read books in order, read the first eight over the next year, and save this one for next Christmas.

A somewhat different offering is Kate Kingsbury's novel Ringing In Murder. This is Kingsbury's fourth Christmas offering in her Pennyfoot Hotel mystery series. The setting of these books is the Pennyfoot Hotel, in the Edwardian era (early 1900s). Cecily Sinclair Baxter runs the Pennyfoot Hotel, where an unfortunate number of guests don't survive their stay. These books are not quite as vivacious as the more modern holiday mysteries. They do however have their charm, and I am always excited to see the next Christmas book in the series.

This is only a sampling of the Christmas books I've read. If you want more suggestions, leave me a comment and let me know! I'm also happy to discuss particular books in the comments, both those listed here any any others I might have read. Once again, happy holiday reading! :)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Christmas Reading - Sci-fi/Fantasy Edition


It's beginning to look at lot like Christmas! At least in my office. The shiny silver tree is currently in my office. And yes, those are big Space Invaders on the wall behind it. The tree only lives there during the holidays. The Space Invaders are a permanent attraction. Lucky for me they don't seem to multiply!

I *heart* this time of the year. I tend to treat the month of December as a month-long celebration, with occasional breaks for work in between. One of my favorite holiday activities is reading Christmas themed books. I'll read just about any book if it's got Christmas in the title, but some of my favorites are in the sci-fi/fantasy arena. These also happen to be some of the geekiest :) Here's a few of my favorites.

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories is a collection of short stories by the sci-fi author Connie Willis. This was my introduction to sci-fi holiday stories, and I was immediately enamored of the sub-genre. I love the blend of our current traditions and Christmas cliches, with the science fiction elements. Willis' parting remarks are not to be missed either. Among them she suggests a number of Christmas movies and additional Christmas reading. It was through that list that I discovered the wonders of P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories, and Michael Moorcock's Behold the Man.

The books Christmas Stars and A Yuletide Universe: Sixteen Fantastical Tales are also collections of short stories. This time, by a variety of authors. Christmas Stars contains Christmas stories mostly dating from the 1950s through the 1980s, with a few from more recent times. A Yuletide Universe is more modern, with most of its stories coming from the 1990s and up. Either way both of these contain reprints, so if you read a lot of sci-fi short stories, you may have seen these before.

Wolfsbane and Mistletoe is new this year. This one has a theme, all of the stories combine werewolves with Christmas. Besides being a great read, this book sparked my interest in a number of current authors I was unfamiliar with. When the holiday season is over, I'll look up some of their other reads. As if I need more books... :)

Last but not least, is the comical Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. When I saw this book in the bookstore I was determined to read it by the title alone! This one is the adaptation of an apparently very bad movie by the same name. I can't say if the movie is worth watching or not, but the book is pretty funny.

For the mystery lovers out there, I'll be back on Wednesday with the mystery books edition of Christmas reading. Until then, happy holiday reading! :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Geeks: born or made?

My recent post on WarGames made me wonder something: Are geeks born or made? Certainly when I first saw David Lightman and his computer skills, I thought it must be the former. No way, no how, was I that smart. Now that I've had a bit more experience in life than I did when I was nine, I think it leans in the other direction.

I believe that a fundamental quality of geekiness is curiosity. I have learned far too many things to list by hearing a random line in a movie or on TV and going to look up related topics on the Internet. Add books to the mix and I easily double that. And let's not forget the great conversations I have with my friends and coworkers which spark their own round of net questing. I know other geeks who are not quite as varied in their geekiness, but they all tend to have the quality in common that they are curious about one thing or another. My husband has been a sports geek most of his life. He could care less however about one of my geeky passions: cooking.

If we are born with any part of geekiness, it would be the curiosity. The additional element, the knowledge, is certainly made. I am not a geek just because I own a computer. I am a geek because I have read many books, magazines, and articles on the Internet about computers. I am a geek because I can tell you exactly what parts are inside my computer AND give you reasons that I chose them. I was not born with any of this knowledge. I had to take the time to learn about the things I was curious about. I continue that habit today.

If you are on the outside looking in at geekdom, take heart in that you can come in and be welcome any time you like. All you need to do is cultivate your curiosity, and take the time and effort to learn about the things that interest you. Come to the geek side... we have cookies! :)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Shall we play a game?

Recently I read the article "The 10 movies you shouldn't watch online" and it reminded me of one of my favorite 80s geek flicks, WarGames. If you've never seen the movie, go watch it, online, big screen TV, 13 inch CRT, whatever :) Then come back and read the rest of this post! The remainder of this post may contain movie spoilers... but if you followed my instructions, that should not be a problem ;)

I remember when I was a young geek being totally fascinated by the things David Lightman could do with his computer... things I could only dream about doing. I thought he must be some sort of super genius, disguised a high school student. I couldn't imagine how anyone learned to war dial. On a good day I could make my Apple II Plus play "Math Blaster!", and that was about it. Now I'm a little wiser about the skill level of David's antics, but I still think it's a really fun movie.

The technology in WarGames is of course quite dated. I don't know anyone who still uses a modem, much less an a modem with an acoustic coupler. However some of the fundamental theories still hold today. David breaks into the WOPR by finding the programmer's back door, which was password protected with his son's name. Passwords are still one of the places many systems are vulnerable because many people use words or numbers connected to themselves in their passwords. The address of the house I grew up in would make a poor password. Anyone with decent detective skills could find that out. Later in the movie the WOPR determines what the missile launch code is using a brute force attack. Brute force is too slow for most encryption methods these days. It is however a valid algorithm solving technique in a number of situations.

My favorite line from that movie is still the title of this post. I think WOPR stole the show! :)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lunches part 3 - the packing

This is the last of the general posts in my lunch series. If you have been enjoying this series too much for it to end, do not fret! I will return with a number of posts on specific lunch topics. For today though, the subject is packing.

I would love to have an assortment of cute bento boxes. Every now and then I go surfing the net and debate spending the money to get something like this:

I haven't though, for a couple of reasons. One is that I have more exciting things to spend my money on (video games!). The other is that I would feel like I needed to take extra care if I bought special boxes. I think that would get on my nerves sooner or later. I don't have a problem microwaving or dishwashering a cheap plastic container. If I kill it, I kill it. If I ruined a $20 Hello Kitty box, I would be sad.

So instead I have an assortment of reasonably priced (if boring) plastic containers. Some are Rubbermaid, the rest are Lock & Lock. I have an assortment of sizes, ranging from 1 cup to 2.5 cups. All are watertight. Glass and metal containers are readily available for people who do not want to use plastic.

The Lock & Lock containers are my favorite because they have two sections each. I often pack one of the smaller ones with two different vegetables (potatoes and carrots, for example). For the larger ones, I'll put something like curry one one side and rice on the other. Or pasta on one side and vegetables on the other. The small sections are removable, so I could pack two things that need different microwaving times. If anything is particularly liquidy, it does tend to creep over the barrier unless I use a strategically placed piece of plastic wrap (Basically over the whole container under the top. Just lock the flaps over it.)

I get my cute factor from my lunch boxes. I have two Hello Kitty lunch boxes, and one Kung Fu Panda box. All of them are insulated, so my lunch will stay cold for a few hours. I also have a Hello Kitty water bottle :)

Food safety is one of the most important considerations when packing lunch. In my insulated lunch box, something that comes out of the fridge will stay cold for a few hours. If lunch is going to be late, I take the food out and put it in the fridge in my office. If that were not available, I'd pack reusable ice pack with my lunch. Anything that I'm microwaving is probably being heated for the second time. That means after that reheating I either eat all of the food, or throw away the rest. If I think I only want half my lunch, I only microwave half of it.

I also use zip-loc bags and plastic wrap as needed to pack up lunch. My lunches are not waste-free. I try to find a balance between convenience and not using tons of plastic. One thing I rarely use anymore is aluminum foil. I discovered Press N Seal wrap about a year ago, and never looked back. You can pack moist things in it, without them leaking all over the place. And it works far better than foil in the freezer.

One last thing: learning to pack lunches takes some practice and some experimentation. Be careful about keeping things watertight. (When in doubt, put the container inside a zip-loc bag. If nothing happens, you can always reuse the bag later.) Pack food snugly, so if containers get turned on their sides, your food will stay more or less in place. If something squishes easily, be sure to pack it in a ridged container (not a baggie). Soon you will learn what packing strategies work for you, and if you are careful, you can avoid any lunch disasters in the process! :)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mmmmm, chocolate :-)

I am quite excited this weekend that I get to try out a new chocolate cake recipe. This one is special in that one of its ingredients is sourdough starter. I think that makes it the geekiest cake recipe I've every baked :)

A sourdough starter is a mixture of flour and water, which has yeast growing in it. Back before yeast was available in handy little packets, starters were the standard way to leaven bread. Now most people find packaged yeast much more convenient. However you need a starter to get a traditional sourdough flavor, and that's what drew to them.

Those of you who know what sourdough bread tastes like, and what chocolate cake tastes like, are probably wondering how those two could have anything in common. The answer is in the lactic acid in the starter. Lactic acid grows right along side the yeast in a sourdough starter. They actually have a bit of a symbiotic relationship. The lactic acid metabolizes the maltose in the flour and water mixture. As it's churning through the maltose it produces glucose. The yeast eats other sugars, including the glucose! (The yeast produces alcohol... but trying to drink from your starter is not recommended ;) )

The lactic acid gives sourdough its distinctive flavor. It's also a great way to add acid to a cake. That in itself is not unusual. Many cakes use buttermilk or sour cream as one of the ingredients, not so much for the taste, but for the acid. The acid makes the cake more tender. This recipe uses sourdough starter for the same purpose. Once the sugar, cocoa, and other ingredients are added, the sourness should fade into the background, if not disappear completely. I'll find out which one this weekend! :)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tis a king's bounty I be seeking.

Of late I have been playing King's Bounty: The Legend, which is the 2008 sequel to the original King's Bounty from 1990. To put it succinctly, this game has all of the questing and fighting as in the popular Heroes of Might and Magic series, without the castle building. Heroes is one of my favorite series of games, and playing King's Bounty is ranking high on my geeky fun meter. I would like to share with you some of the fun I am having with the game. This will not be a traditional review. (For that, try metacritic.com.) This will be an introduction to the game told in the voice of the main character. Warning: the next few paragraphs contain spoilers from the first few hours of game play.

My name is Christian Tyler, paladin of the realm. Today is a important occasion. I have just completed the last tests of my skills, and I face my master to find out what position I will be awarded in the King's service. My hope is that I will be given noble and honorable service. Ahh, I must quiet my thoughts now and approach my master.

[Master] You have done well Sr. Christian. I am please to have had you among my students. I know you will serve the King with great honor and success. Is it therefore my recommendation that you receive the position of Treasure Seeker.

Treasure Seeker? Is he serious? I was quite startled by his proclamation. I struggled to pull myself together as I spoke: "Master, I .. I am honored by your words. Do you truly feel that Treasure Seeker is the correct position for me? I long to use my skills in battle."

[Master] You will see plenty of battle as a Treasure Seeker. Not all would give there treasures up willingly. Go now and speak with the King.

And thusly I was sent on my way. The King gave me a sack of gold to hire an army, and charged me with a series of tasks. The tasks ranged from the sensible to the absurd. (Can not some messenger deliver this missive to the King's brother?!?) My initial army was depressingly small, as not many men were willing to follow someone with so little experience. Soon however my leadership abilities were proven and I able to hire a mass which fit the tasks at hand.

All was going well when the King sent me to retrieve a chest from a mage tower in a neighboring land. The journey to the tower was fraught with peril. Sr. Christian does not give up however, and I valiantly fought my way through. Upon reaching the mage tower I spoke with the mage in charge and asked for the Chest of Rage (in the name of the king, of course). He handed it over... and the world stopped. I fear I do not remember anything from that moment. When I was once again myself, the infuriating mage explained that the chest bonded to me. The Spirits of Rage inside the chest are now mine to command, if I can convince them to play along. You see, binding of the chest does not control the contents within.

I returned to the King only to tell him that the chest was safe, but could not become part of his royal treasure. That is, unless he wished me to remain there with it. The King did not appreciate my joke. I of course forgave his royalness's lack of humor when he explained that an evil mage had taken up residence on a far away island. I was to fly there at once and see that the mage was removed. (Fly, you ask? In my journeys I aided a Dwarf in fixing his flying machine. We would be there in no time.) If I'd had more time to think about it, I might have wondered if the kind was merely trying to see the end of my life come sooner rather than later. My death was the only thing that would free the Chest of Rage. Do not shame me for thinking such things of the King. I have learned much in my time in the world.

When we landed on the island I approached the evil mage and demanded that he return with me immediately and face his judgment, or face it at the hands of my army. The mage did not seem perturbed. He raised his hands to the sky and called upon his evil minion to remove us from the premises. Knights do not cower in fear. I admit however my heart did skip a beat when what fell from the sky was a giant...

---
Did Sir Christan ever learn to control the Spirits of Rage? And exactly what did fall from the sky, which made Sr. Christian tremor in fear? To find out those things and many more, my fellow geeks, you will have to play King's Bounty for yourself. Good hunting!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Geeks guide to online discounts

With all of my posts about the economy, my faithful readers may feel that I am against shopping. That is not true! Shopping is one of my favorite recreational activities! Yet it is not something I can do in unlimited quantities, so I attempt to extend my fun by getting the best prices I can on many purchases. This has two benefits:
1. I get a blast out of looking for deals online, and the looking makes my shopping experiences last longer.
2. If I pay less for the things I buy, I have more money to buy other things.

So where do I go to find good deals, you ask? My first universal catch all e-store is amazon.com. I often go there first to get a good idea of what prices something is going for. I also buy a lot of books through their 4-for-3 deal, where if you buy 4 books, the lowest priced one is free. They extend the deal to movies and other items from time to time as well. Regular Amazon shoppers will also recognize that they change their prices regularly on many items. Make a wishlist and track the price of a few things over a month or so. They change prices weekly, sometimes more frequently like that. Websites such as MyListWatcher.com will watch your wishlist for you, and let you know when a price drops below the target price you have set.

In addition to Amazon I shop at a number of online e-tailers. I am also on the emailing lists for most of these places. I often have something in mind that I want, but I'm willing to wait for a good deal before I buy. This lets me keep an eye out for a sale, free shipping, or some other bonus. Contrary to popular opinion, I do not do all my shopping online. E-tailers which have a brick and mortar location will often email coupons which can be used in-store as well. Borders, Barnes and Noble, and Best Buy often do this, as well as a number of other stores that I can think of. To keep my email manageable, I have an address which I use specifically for online shopping and for receiving emails from retailers. Personal emails from my friends and family go elsewhere.

A number of sites also give discounts or list coupons for online and in-person shopping. Fatwallet is my favorite of these. They offer a percentage of cash back on purchases from many e-stores. They also have a lively forum where members post links to all sorts of deals and coupons. Last year I got a great tip that costco.com was selling the GPS I was interested in for $100 less than everywhere else from a Fatwallet forum.

Lastly, it's a great idea to check out major purchases at as many places as possible before pulling the trigger. Last fall my husband and I shopped for a HDTV for 3 months, before finally buying one on black Friday. We looked at TVs in a number of stores. We read about HDTVs online in general. We also searched online for reviews and comparison information about the models we were considering. The work paid off and we got a great TV, for a good price (particularly after we went back and got a further 10% discount through a price matching policy). We are still very happy with it today. And all my friends forgave me for talking about nothing but HDTVs for three months! Okay, I'm joking. My friends are geeks. They ate the HDTV talk up too! :)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Geeky Grocery Shopping, Round 2

Get fed! Feedburner's up and running for Long Live Geeks. Not that you couldn't get fed before, but now it's cooler :)

I just looked at the feed version of this post, and the example spreadsheets did not come through. They look great on the original version though.

Now for a different kind of feeding, we're revisiting the geeky grocery shopping method I discussed in an earlier post. This time with pictures!

As I mentioned before, Cyril (my husband) works in Pittsburgh, and we live about an hour a way. That makes stores that I'd like to shop at, such as Trader Joes and Whole Foods, much more convenient to him than to me on a regular basis. So we worked out a way for me to write effective (re: detailed) grocery lists, without a huge hassle. The result is a Google Docs spreadsheet which stores the master list and can easily be used to generate a current list.

Here's what the master list looks like:

We set up columns for each useful category. The critical column for creating current lists is the Quantity column. A formula in the second page uses that column to generate the current list. Any item with a quantity of 1 or greater automatically appears in the list. The current list also sorts by store1, so the items to purchase are in a big block for each store. I doubt everything would make it home if they were all mixed up :) Here's an example current list, with a list of stuff for Whole Foods:

If you would like to make your own geeky grocery list, you are welcome to start with mine as a template. A viewable copy may be found here. You do not need a Google account to view or export the spreadsheet. Unfortunately Google docs does not have a feature to let people copy a publically viewable spreadsheet to another Google doc, so you'd have to export it, then use the export to make your own Google spreadsheet. Just in case anything goes wrong, the only tricky part is the cell A2 on the current list. That's the one which has the function in it which pulls the items in from the master list. It looks like this:
=sort(filter('Master List'.A2:H100;'Master List'.G2:G100>0);5;TRUE)

If you want to make any changes, keep in mind that A2:H100 is the range in the master list which it will copy to the current list, but only when the cells in column G (of the master list) have a value greater than 0. If you need more than 100 items in your master list, change every "100" in that formula to 200, or something greater.

It is ingenious solutions such as this to common household problems which make me believe that one day geeks will rule the world! :)

Friday, November 14, 2008

What did they expect?

According to this article consumer spending is down by 2.8% for October. This is the biggest decline on record, going back to 1992. (Prior to 92, the Commerce Department used a different methodology, and presumably cannot compare those number to today.) What I really want to ask these people is: Did you think anything different would happen?

I've already stated that I think using consumer spending as a measure of the health of the economy is a foolish thing to do. It seems to me they are measuring the amount of credit people are able to get as much as anything else. So now that credit is tighter, jobs are becoming less secure, and everyone is generally bummed out about the economy, did they really expect people to go out and buy big screen TVs? The answer is probably so. People like to shop when things look bad. It's called retail therapy.

I however think that people choosing to save money in the face of this difficult economic time is a very responsible thing to do. Sure I could go out and blow my emergency fund on new toys, but it would be better for me to let it sit there in case I have a real emergency. And further still, for me to add extra money to it here and there so I'll have even more financial security. If the majority of the companies in America can't survive in an environment where people individually make healthy financial decisions, then there is something wrong with those companies.

We are the little guys at the bottom of the great financial pyramid. We need to keep ourselves healthy or the whole thing topples.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The food!

This is my second post in the lunch series. The topic of the day is: the food! :)

Traditional bento lunches are 1/2 rice, 1/3 veggies, and 1/6 fish or meat. I do not follow such a strict pattern, but I do aim to get all three in most lunches. I also aim for a variety of foods. I don't want to eat the same things day after day, and I don't want a huge amount of one thing in any given day. I should also mention that I have access to a microwave at lunch, which expands my options a little. My first food strategy is variety.

My second lunch strategy in relation to food is to use some preprepared foods, some easy to prepare foods, and some foods from my freezer stash. I don't buy a lot of frozen foods, but there are a few I like. The tamales from Trader Joe's are delicious. I also look for frozen appetizers, like dumplings or spanokopita, which go well as part of a lunch. Most of the food in my freezer I put there myself. Currently I have: chicken and noodles, meat sauce (for pasta), tom kha gai, and one last piece of quiche. I also freeze packets of rice and side items when appropriate. I could easily fill a post with freezing info, and I probably will in the future. But for now here are a few tips:
- Foods which are moist freeze better than foods that are dry. Chicken and noodles in broth, yes. Grilled chicken, not so much.
- When you're cooking something that's a good freezer candidate, cook a few extra servings. It's easy to build up a freezer stock that way.
- Try out freezing by freezing one or two portions of something, before going for big batches. I found out that some things did not freeze so well after freezing 5-6 meals worth, and that was a lot of wasted food.
- Finally, cook and freeze foods you really like! If you didn't like something the first time, there's not much incentive to go back to it later.

The third option for foods is things that are easily prepared. Fresh fruits and veggies come into this category for me. Often in the morning I'll cut up a piece of fruit, steam some veggies, or make a small salad. Yogurt cups, cheese and crackers, and leftovers are also easy to pull together. Speaking of leftovers, lunch is a great place to eat leftovers.

My third food strategy is to plan what I'm going to pack for week when I go grocery shopping. I divide a piece of paper into 5 segments, Mon-Fri, and write down what I think I'll eat each day. Okayokay, I'm a geek, I actually made a table in Word, which I print out 3 to a page and cut up. And I annotated the table with notes about what days I eat lunch at noon, and what days I have to eat earlier or later, as that effects what I pack. (If I have to eat early or late I often split my lunch into 2 parts.) I don't stick 100% to the plan, but at least I know I'll have something for each day. We usually grocery stop every weekend, so I do one week at a time. If I knew I was going to go two weeks between grocery trips, I'd plan two weeks of lunches.

The fourth strategy, pick things I really want to eat! If I pack something that's just "okay", I'll drool over the cookies and ice cream at work. While I am a bit of a dessert junkie, the moral of the story for me is that if I bring healthy foods which I really like to eat, then I'm happy with my lunch. If I try to convince myself to eat something not so tasty for one reason or another, lunch will not be satisfying.

One thing I've found after bringing my own lunches for a while is that I have a mental list of meals that I like to eat. As I plan my meals for the week, I typically pull a couple from that list, and try some new combinations. I will feature some of my favorite lunches in future posts. For now I hope this has been food for thought ;)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Wii Fit Anyone?

My Wii is home! It came back to me late last week. I am totally impressed with Nintendo's repair service. The total cost, with shipping, was just over $82. I sent it off on Wednesday and it got back to me on Thursday of the following week. And the best part of all: I did not lose any save files at all! They replaced the drive in my original Wii. I had backed-up the Miis on a remote, and moved as many of the save files as I could to a SD card, but some of the files refused to move. I figured I was going to lose a few things. It didn't happen though :)

I got home today and decided nothing would suit me better than a little Wii Fit. The balance board is by far my favorite Wii accessory. I'm a regular reader of the Balance Board Blog. And I can't wait for more games to come out that make use of it.

The funny thing is, I almost didn't buy Wii Fit. At the time it came out, I'd just gotten a new bicycle. I was riding most afternoons, and I couldn't imagine wanting to do more exercise type stuff. It turns out that Wii Fit has been one of the games I've logged the most time on, on the Wii. At first I focused on the balance games. In particular I *heart* the game in which one must roll the balls (playfully decorated with Miis) into the holes on the table. I smiled every time one of my friends dropped in. I quickly branched out to the other parts of the game and I find many of those to be enjoyable as well.

I found that the Wii Fit addresses most of the barriers in the way of me exercising. I find it far more entertaining than doing workout videos. (Been there, don't want to go back.) I do not feel like I need to get all dressed in workout clothes or have a lot of energy. Many of the activities are just a few minutes long. I can do 1 or 10 of them. If I'm not feeling too energetic, I'll pick a handful of easy ones. If I'm in the mood for a more vigorous workout, I can get that too. Although I will say that if you're currently a gym rat, a Wii Fit workout would probably be trivial.

Like all great pieces of software, it also inspires me to make a wish list for the next version. I would like more activities. Even more versions of the activities this one has. The step aerobics for example could have 10 or more versions instead of 3. I would also like a way to set up a workout with several exercises in a row. Currently after each exercise you have to go back to the menu and choose the next one. I would like to be able to choose several exercises and go from one to another without interruptions. These things would be gravy though, the meat's already there. I continue to enjoy the game I almost didn't buy :)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Celebrating Geekdom

geekdom

Main Entry: geekdom
Pronunciation: \ˈgēk-dəm\
Function: noun
Etymology: I just made it up.
Date: 2008

1: the realm containing all things geeky

You think I can get Webster to add that to its dictionary?

Three weeks, 14 blog posts, and we're off and running. Now I just need readers :)

I started this blog with the idea that I have lots of ideas and not enough people to share them with. Oh don't get me wrong, I have friends, a husband, family, lots of people around me. But they don't want to listen to me talk all the time. And even if they did, I wouldn't want to do all the talking. I have great conversations with my friends, and that takes input from all sides.

What I find myself doing here though is a little bigger than I imagined. I find myself celebrating geekdom. See, the problem with being a geek is that we tend to exist in our own little worlds. (I suppose that's the problem with many groups of people, this is just one in which I have personal experience.) We tend to hang out with our geeky friends, sharing geeky ideas. When asked about our specialty, we may find ourselves sharing ideas with other people. In my case I also teach, so I share much of my geeky knowledge with my students. But we don't often come out and say to the world: I know way too much for my own good, and I have an opinion about everything! Probably in part because the world wouldn't care, but that's besides the point ;) (It also helps to be able to laugh at yourself if you're a geek :) )

As this blog develops and I continue to celebrate my own little geekdom, I invite all of my future readers to come in and say hi. Leave me a comment or seven. Pop in with your own geeky musings. And we'll build this geekdom into something to be reckoned with!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bento love

This is the first post in my lunch series, which I've fondly titled: How a geek likes to eat. Future posts will discuss the process by which I put together lunches. This first post is going to focus on the most important ingredient: inspiration :)

I just love the idea of bento lunches. The idea is to take small amounts of a variety of foods, pack them in a pleasing way, and then have a wonderful meal to go. Bento lunch packing theory discusses everything from nutritional choices, to creative packing, to the pleasure of opening a beautiful bento at lunchtime. If I had someone to do the hard work for me, I would like nothing better to open a one of these artfully made bentos every day. Or at least something with a geek flair such as Darth Vader bento. While I might enjoy eating them, I'm not willing to take too much time away from my other geeky pursuits. I need an everyday lunch solution that I can get together with a minimum amount of prep work.

My inspiration for the speed bento is Lunch in a Box, a blog written by a mom who prepares bentos for her son each morning. Her goal is pack great lunches for her son, while utilizing left overs, quick food fixes, and other speedy techniques. Her lunches still end up looking better than the average sandwich, and yet it seems like something I could emulate.

I also find inspiration in the foods I like to eat. One of my lunch packing goals is to have a lunch I'll enjoy every day. If not, why go through all the trouble? I could could buy lunch, we have a cafeteria at work. Much of the time they offer something suitably healthy. But work lunches have their way of becoming rather mundane after a while. It seems like the same foods were showing up over and over. I really like a handful of things that they serve (love the cabbage rolls!), but much of the rest of the time I was just eating work food because it was there and I was hungry. That does not please my geeky sensibilities. I want to enjoy every bite of food that I put into my mouth. That means bringing my own food, and not relying on the luck of the lunch gods.

So at the beginning of this year (The beginning of the year being the end of August, did I ever mention that I teach at a university?), I embarked on my new lunch journey. My inspiration being the bento, and my desire to feed myself well. And my goals being to accomplish that ... at least most of the time :)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Time Flies

The old adage is true, time flies when you're having fun :)

Friday night I had the opportunity to play Guitar Hero World Tour with my husband (Cyril) and our good friend Geoff. We had a lot of fun! We made a band with chars for all three of us. Geoff already had a character. Cyril and I made ours when we got to his house, and Geoff was nice enough to let us join his band, the Gaussian Elimination.

I started out on drums, and after the first set switched to the mic. Cyril and Geoff played guitar and bass, using one World Tour guitar and one from the original Wii version of Guitar Hero. The new guitar has some extra features, but the old guitars are still functional with World Tour. The first set I sung was from a backwoods Louisiana bar. Being from the south, I felt right at home! In particular I wanted to play that set for the second song, Willie Nelson's On the Road Again. I've loved that song since I was a little geek. We made it through that set, and unlocked one with began with Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer. Having sung Bon Jovi (Wanted Dead or Alive)in Rock Bandbefore, I thought this song would go rather well. I was wrong. World Tour was quite a bit less forgiving on the vocals, even on easy mode. Lucky for me we got Blondie's One Way or Another shortly thereafter, and that was much more compatible with my voice. I also had good luck with Paramore's Misery Business. I didn't know half the words. I still don't. But I managed to make enough noise in the right notes to fool the game! :)

After that I switched to bass, while first Cyril then Geoff took turns at the vocals. Cyril's shining (re: hysterical) moment was when he sang Freak on a Leash by Korn. I didn't know he was so talented! :) Geoff does not look anything like Pat Benatar, but he did an amazing job with Heartbreaker. Encores are a mystery until the set is over. Some went better than others. We found it particularly amusing when Geoff got Survivor's Eye of the Tiger as we had heard him perform this on Rock Band last time we played. He totally rocked that one :)

All in all we had a great evening. A little before midnight Geoff mentioned that he needed to get up a little early the next day, and I could not believe how long we had been playing. Both Guitar Hero World Tour and Rock Band are great games when you've got a group of people together. Or I should say, a group of people with good spirits about these things :) We all had our moments of joy and those which did not go so well. (I should NOT try to sing Allman Brothers.) But it doesn't really matter when I'm dissolving into fits of giggles half the time :)

I do have one piece of advice for future World Tour players. If your singer has just put a piece of candy in her mouth, do NOT rush to start the next set! I almost got too hysterical at that point to finish chewing at all, much less in time to start singing! :)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I am blogging from my phone!

A week and a couple of days in and I really *heart* my G1. The biggest difference from my old smartphone has to be the browser. It renders web pages just as well as any desktop browser (minus plug-ins of course). I have not gotten an out of memory warning once. Granted I don't have broadband speed, but it's a noticable speed improvement over my old phone. And I've had no trouble following links or filling in forms, which I experienced limited success with on the Wing.

I would not want to write a dissertation on the keyboard, but it's quite comfortable for long text messages or short blog pposts. I also found myself growing accustomed to the mulit-faceted navigation system rather quickly. I was expecting a bigger learning curve there, as it often takes me a while to become comfy with a new interface.

The only place where the G1 was lacking out of the box was in the applications. I downloaded the first list program that showed up in the app store because I was finding that I couldn't live without some place to write things down. Luckily it was free, so I am not out anything when I find an app that better suits my needs. I also jumpes on the first few games that came out. Us geeks should never be without entertainment :-)

I am very much looking forward to experiencing the future of the G1. From what I've seen so far it has a great base. Things can only get better from here! :-)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Family who?

I used to be a closet Family Guy fan. I thought the show was hilarious, but not particularly worthy of a geek such as myself. Too many of the jokes revolved around the bathroom and the size of Lois's boobs. Then my husband surprised me with the Freakin' Party Pack. As I worked my way through the seasons I realized just how geeky that show is. Now I'm proud to say I'm a Family Guy affectionate.

If you have never had the joy of seeing Family Guy, then you are missing out on all sorts of geeky goodness. Some bits are obvious, such as the Blue Harvest two-parter which recreates the original Star Wars movie. Star Wars also makes a variety of other appearances sprinkled throughout the seasons. My personal favorite is in the Mother Trucker episode in which Darth Vader appears as a meter maid. As well as the Blue Harvest episodes, others pay homage to movie greats such as the Road to series. Stewie and Brian go on their own journeys in Road to Rhode Island and Road to Europe. And of course North by North Quahog has many references to Hitchcock's North by Northwest. For the horror fans out there, Family guy turns Poltergeist into Petergeist.

My favorite moments though are not those which are so obvious. They are the little geeky references which seem to show up all over the place. As I've been typing this, the episode Chick Cancer has been on. In the beginning of the episode we have a Star Trek scene, with a Curb Your Enthusiasm moment in at the end of it. Chester Cheetah makes an appearance, high on orange cheese. Stewie reminisces about rooming with Q*Bert. And Stewie and Brian replay the "it's not your fault" scene from Good Will Hunting. I could go on, but I think I'll just enjoy the rest of the show :)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Grocery shopping the geek way

All of my Wii posts are going to be held off for a few weeks. My Wii has quit reading disks. I have to send it off to Nintendo for repairs. That's going to set me back $75, and take about 3 weeks. Let's hope I don't go into withdrawal ;)

So now for something that is working, a geeky grocery system :) My husband and I usually do the shopping together. He works near a couple of stores that are hard for me to get to though (Trader Joe's and Whole Foods), and I've been searching for an effective way to send him to the store with a list. He really needs specifics... name brands, sizes, etc. I don't want to have to write out all of those details each time, so we've been looking for some solution that would involve a master list, with space to enter quantities of each item for a specific shopping trip.

With those goals in mind, we searched the net for a site which organized grocery lists. None of the ones we found worked the way we wanted it to. Being persistent as well as geeky, we worked on our own solution. It came in the form of a Google Docs spreadsheet. The google docs part fulfilled our sharing needs - it's accessible from anywhere we've got net access, and we've shared it among both of our google accounts. The spread sheet part took care of the rest.

We wrote a master grocery list format which has a number of categories for each item: category, name, flavor, size, store, quantity, and notes. We've been adding new items to the master list as we eat them. To make a list we go down the quantity column and add the number we want to buy. The second worksheet in our doc has a query which adds all items which have a quantity of 1 or greater. It then organizes the items by store. When I want my husband to go shopping, all I have to do is add quantities to the items we need, and text him to say a list is up. He goes and prints the shopping list, and takes it to the store.

So far the system is working really well! Of course it's not the same as me being there in person. If something I want isn't there, he may not be able to improvise. It's the next best thing though! The best part is that as the master list grows, the system will be almost effortless. And if I take the time to add the things I buy locally, I can use it for weekly grocery lists as well. With my new G1, I won't even have to print the lists. I can view them on the phone. Step 2 - teaching my dearest to choose produce :-)

Friday, October 24, 2008

At least we're in this togeather

Reading an article like this is both comforting and worrisome at the same time. The article in question discusses global markets, and how they are having just as much trouble as the US market is. The worrisome part of that is easy - the farther this spreads, the longer it seems like it's going to take to get any better. That's not any sort of qualified opinion, just my feeling of the situation. The comforting part is a little harder to explain.

Back in the spring when everyone was filling out tax forms and the government was discussing rebates, everyone was talking about spending. Spending was down, so the government was going to give us money back, to get spending back up. Spending went up briefly after the rebates, but not to what was considered "healthy" levels. It was a sign, they said, that people were still worried about the economy. What I think is totally bogus about this is that saving money was viewed as being a bad thing. Could they have possibly been thinking when they made that assessment? If more people saved money, then they would have money for emergencies, money for retirement, and perhaps most importantly right now, money to pay their mortgages! Saving is a good financial decision for many people. If individual people and families are financially healthy, then broader economies would be healthier as a result.

It really concerned me when all this talk of spending was used to gauge our economy for another reason as well. Spending these days is not a measure of how much money people have available. It's a measure of how much credit they have available. Maybe there's something I don't get about this, but I don't understand how a measure of credit is a good way to gauge the health of the economy. (It also drives me nuts that businesses think it's the consumers' faults when they can't survive. If there are not enough people buying cars to support all nearby car dealerships, then some of those dealerships need to close. It is not the case that more people need to take out loans they can't afford to buy cars.)

So back to the original article. If this mess is affecting much of the world, then it's not just the US who was foolish about their economics. Even if we say that the US has influence over world economies, then that still doesn't mean everything is just us. Just like it's every person's job to look after their own finances as much as possible, it's every government's job as well. As I read about the issues that other companies are having, it makes it seem more like a trend the world is undergoing right now. Sure it still sucks, but it's not like we (the US) totally ran ourselves into the dirt. More like it's the way things went given a very complicated and long going set of circumstances. That doesn't mean we don't have a lot of work to do. That doesn't mean that I don't cringe when I look at my investment portfolio. But somehow it's something I can live with.