Where Are The Wise Men?

Mike's Ramblings

Author: Mike Hostetler

The Decktet

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About a month or so ago, I discovered an interesting deck of cards and I've been a bit obsessed with it ever since. It's called The Decktet. It's a little hard to explain what it's like. It has a very unique structure which you can read about the here but I'll give you an overview:

  • There are 36 cards and 6 suits
  • The cards are ranked with Ace (1), 2-9, and Crown.
  • Cards of rank 2-9 have two suits each and suits are not repeated
  • Aces and Crowns only have one suit
  • Each card has a picture and a name (very much like Tarot)
  • There is also an extended deck -- one of those cards has no suit, while the others have three.

The cards themselves are colorful and unique. Just take a look. Click to embiggen.

The icons just below the rank is the suits that card belongs to. Yeah, those aren't the suits you are used to -- instead they are suns, moons, waves, leaves, wyrms, and knots.

Like our standard deck of 52 cards, The Decktet isn't for one game but a system to build other games on. The characteristics of this unique deck leads to some interesting possibilities in games that would be hard or impossible to make in a standard 52-card deck.

All the games I've tried have been solitaire games or solitaire variants of other games. I've been playing some solo games to get a feel for the deck and I've been very happy with it. The games I've tried is:

  • Jacynth -- an area control game, with the areas designated by the suits on the cards. This will probably be the game I'll try first as a multi-player.
  • Adaman -- an interesting take on solitaire. Try to assert influence over people in power. This is very tough to beat.
  • Quincunx -- A really interesting tableau game but with somewhat difficult scoring. But once you get used to the scoring, it's fun and a bit of brain-burner.

So how do you get this crazy deck of cards? Probably the easiest way is The Game Crafter. I actually ordered mine from ArtsCow which may be cheaper if you get on their free shipping deals. That said, I've heard Game Crafter's quality is better. I have also saw them listed at DriveThruCards but I don't know anything about the quality there either.

More to come on the Decktet front.

The Gaming Way

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It's funny to me that I really haven't blogged about boardgames. Because in my spare time, if I'm not playing board games, I'm thinking about them -- and I'd much rather be playing them.

Board Game Geek is my most visited website in my browser history. Yes, it's a horrible looking website and the front page is perhaps the worst. But when you dive in you see a lot of content -- rule explanations for each game, questions, reviews, ratings, etc., etc. You can even find compatriots for any type of game you like. Or people who like to get games at thrift store or people who play games by themselves. Not to mention a forum for every boardgame under the sun, including rules explanations and clarifications. It's also fun when the designer of the game gets involved in the discussion which is the case in one of my favorite games

So I'm going to be blogging more and more about boardgames. Note that I have a widget on the side for my recent boardgame plays so you can always keep up -- if you want.

I have been thinking for a while about why I'm so into boardgames. It's not really all of a sudden -- I've always been interested but haven't been sure how to get started. Then I got started... and, well, I just kept going. What I like about is several things:

  • Board games tend to exercise the mind. As someone who's brain is the main thing in his career, it's a good thing to keep in shape.
  • It's a social thing. You get to see how people thing, so you get to know more about them. You also get to learn new ways to approach the problem.
  • I don't always play with people -- I tend to play a solo game or two over lunch or at home when the TV is on something I don't want to watch. I do it to relax.... and to keep my mind sharper.

Java Java Everywhere

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It seems that everyone needs my Java expertise. The following all happened within a 12 hour period:

  • I'm now a contractor and my current contract is to get a bunch of semi-programmers up to speed on Grails so they can actually support the applications that are tossed over the wall.
  • As soon as I get home from work, my daughter doesn't let me into the house, because she's having problems with Minecraft on our Ubuntu laptop. I used a lot of my Java troubleshooting-fu to figure out what is happening. It comes done to Majong doing something that make Minecraft on Linux janky with Minecraft 1.8 and new servers with mods. Works fine on my Mac (which my daughter does not use).
  • During the day, I get a frantic text from a friend of mine. Her son is on college and not going well in his second semester college programming class and asked if I knew anything about Java and if I could help him. I said I do Java for a living. I got with him that night and found out that the instructer is not explaining things well, giving examples with bad practices, and an extremely superficial and insipid assignment.

To Begin Anew

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I've been wanting to get off my provider for a long time. They were one of the first webhosts that were ultra-cheap. And I could put up a WordPress blog with now problem. It was 2006 . . . what could go wrong? I mean, they didn't have sftp but only clear-text ftp, but they wouldn't have that forever, right?

Well . . . it's 2014. The WordPress site is usually very slow. They still do not have sftp ("it would take too much server power to support sftp"). And the email system only hold 250MB per account. Not address -- 10 addresses would share the 250MB. Crazy. Insane.

The WordPress was so bad that I didn't want to write in it again. . . which is bad for someone who like to write. And I finally have some techincal stull I want to write about again. Like code snippets, which I have never been able to get right in my WordPress blog.

And there are some neat things happening in the static generator world. I've looked (and have used) a few. But since I've been using Groovy lately I decided to eat my own dogfood. So this site is being generated by a Groovy-powered generator called Grain. I honestly grabbed a template that I liked and started writing. It has SASS/Compass support built in and uses Python for Pygments as well inside the page generation. Yeah, seems like a kitchen sink. But I can update the Sass files and I don't have to run a script or anything to process them -- it happens automagically. That's pretty cool.

I plan on writing a bit more about stuff I've discovered in Groovy, my dive back into the Java world, and how I (imperfectly) converted all my old blog content into this Grain blog.

Hoss Dreams of Software

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The other night we watched Jiro Dreams Of Sushi which I highly recommend everyone watch, even if you don’t like sushi. Even if you don’t know anything about sushi. Because it’s not about sushi — it’s about Jiro, an artist who is obsessed about quality, and his craft. And his craft is making sushi.

Jiro Ono is 85 years old and owns a nondescript sushi restaurant in Tokyo. His restaurant only has 10 seats, but it costs $300 per seat and you have to make your reservations at least a month in advance. Oh, and it is a 3-star Michelin rated restaurant. Jiro is, in face, the oldest chef to be awarded a 3-star Michelin award. The restaurant reviewer interviewed in the film said, many times, that Jiro’s sushi is the consistently the best he’s ever had. It’s always the best — never was there a time a bit worse than the other. And that is an astounding review. This all has to do with Jiro, who has committed his entire life to making sushi. Meaning, he’s been at this since he’s been 14 years old. He’s at his restaurant every day, overseeing the preparation of the fish, rice, eggs, etc. He will quickly give a criticism when he sees or tastes something under his exact standards — including his own 50-year old son who works there. Jiro keeps a close eye on his customers, noticing if they are left-handed (he puts the sushi in a different place on the plate if it is) as well as making slightly smaller pieces for females. H also admits when his restaurant is closed on state holidays, he doesn’t know what to with himself.

I’ve been saying for years that cooking is a lot like programming software, and I thought many times about that through this film. Jiro said that, if you want to be the best chef, you can never be satisfied, always strive to be better, and you have to love it. These traits, to me, are the same as what makes a great developer. You have to always been learning, striving to make you things better, and you have to love the work. I think the last item is the most important — writing software is hard and takes a certain kind of dedication, nerves, and brain work that, frankly, not everyone is cut out for.

But if you decide that you like this kind of work, then you dedicate your life to it. And, if you want to dedicate your life to it, then you should be constantly looking for ways to get better. Back to Jiro . . he has been making sushi for 70 years. 70 years! And he is always looking for ways to get better. Not necessarily One Big Thing that will change sushi forever, but little increments, like the kind of rice to use, the temperature of the rice when the the sushi is made and served, massaging the octopus for a longer time to bring that much more flavor out of it, finding the best fish mongers to buy from . . the list goes on and on.

I think most software developers (including myself) want to find the silver bullet, the one thing that will make us all better. But, alas, it doesn’t exist. There is no one methodology to follow, no one language to use, no One True Editor or IDE that solves all the problems. We have to get better, in bits of a time.

Really, what I am talking about comes back to craftsmanship. We want to write great software and, after we do that, we want to do it again, but better this time. Never going back, but always improving. Uncle Bob already wrote a great summary of what this looks like so I will just close with telling you to read that. And get started on your personal improvement.