The Tyranny of Small Decisions

It's a blog on a board-gaming site. Pretty safe bet it'll be about board games then...

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Gone Away

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Just after 15:15, on the 10th March 2020, I dashed out of the office to catch a train … heading off to a 3-day stint at a trade fair in Manchester. At the time, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be going back to the office for more than a year. Or for that matter… that I wouldn’t really be going back into the office at all.

The new normal has led the company to the conclusion that they don’t really need as much bricks and mortar as they once thought they needed, so our office is now being "let go". We’ll all be predominantly home-working from now on, with a smaller — more modern — set of offices and meeting rooms in a different part of town available when we need to go and do face-to-face things.

Which is a bit weird. When I dashed off to catch my train on that day — exactly one year ago as I start typing this — I had no idea that it was the end of an era for me; it’s a lovely old historic building, which I’ve been working in for 8 (minus 1) years now. I’ll be popping back at some point over the next few weeks, to pick up some personal belongings that I left behind… but everything in there seems to have already changed quite significantly, and most of our stuff has been dumped into a “lost property” room. So it won’t be the same as saying a proper goodbye to the place.

The situation has made me get very nostalgic about the “day in the life” post that I wrote in October of 2019 (which I rediscovered, by complete chance, very recently). At the time, it was just a bit of a jokey response to everybody else posting their Essen diaries during that week. But I look back on it now, and I kind of think… yeah… I’m glad that I documented that day. That commute, and that seat, at that desk — that’s never going to happen again. It’s good to have a reminder. (Maybe I should do a boring day-in-the-life-of-2021 post… just so that future-me can look back and think whatever thoughts are most appropriate to the situation a year or two from now...)

Anyway… about that “lost property” that I need to go and pick up. There’s definitely a copy of The Mind that I left behind. I know that my views on The Mind NOT being a very good game are considered heresy in these parts … but -- despite said opinions -- I found it to be a brilliant warm-up exercise for customer workshops, and my copy ended up living at work. So I need to find that. And I might have left my copy of Illusion in there too, as that was lined up as my next here’s-a-good-excuse-to-play-games-at-work candidate. Hopefully they’re still around — because I don’t think “lost in a property evacuation during a global pandemic” has been added to the ownership categories in the BGG database yet.

So: Tenuous theme of the day: Have you ever been unexpectedly separated from some of your games for a long period?

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Wed Mar 10, 2021 4:17 pm
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Happy Loo Year...

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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I had blogging plans for today... plans to sit back with my laptop, pour myself a nice drink, and have a proper clichéd ramble on about 2020 and the year to come. But then I (accidentally!) hit my hand with a hammer last night. And the resulting bandage and swollen index finger are not particularly conducive to long sessions of typing. Oops! shake

Still, if there's one thing that 2020 has taught us, it's to be prepared to change your plans at short notice!

So, instead -- as we finally look forward to flushing 2020 down the metaphorical toilet of history -- I leave you with this: some emergency betwixtmas toilet paper.

From gallery of MrShep


From gallery of MrShep


This product is presently deployed in the Shepherd family bathroom, where it is delivering top-notch seasonal reading to all participants. Sadly, our visitor numbers have been somewhat limited this festive season... but it seemed too good not to share with a wider audience.

Wherever you are, and whatever you're doing today, have a happy -- and safe -- new year's eve

See you in 2021...

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Thu Dec 31, 2020 11:58 am
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The Biz

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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I spent my working hours yesterday sorting out some major engineering issues on one of the UK’s highest-profile web sites.

And then I spent my leisure hours… sorting out some significantly less-major issues, on one of the UK’s somewhat-more-modestly-trafficked websites. For a friend.

It’s fair to say that, all in all, It was a bit of a webby sort of a day yesterday.

* * * * * * *

A couple of weeks ago, I got a message from my friend Tony. (No, not that Tony … a different Tony. Yeah… I know. Having more than one friend called Tony is a bit confusing, isn’t it?).

Tony used to be in a band.

“Shep… it’s the website.” said Tony. “Can you do a quick update for me? There’s a new box set coming out; commemorative edition of the first album — it would be a shame not to mention it on the site. I know it’s been a while… but can you fix that for me?”

Tony’s band was big in the 1980s. Or, At least.. big for a few months (such is the fickle nature of the music industry!). But even though the band’s brush with fame was relatively short-lived, they drew a bit of a cult following. Enough to warrant a web-presence, when the web became a thing. And in my capacity as “mate who knows a bit about the internet”, in latter years the task of building and looking after said web presence fell to me

“A new box set? Nice!… Yeah. Haven’t looked at that old site in years… shouldn’t be a problem. But look … I’m on holiday at the moment. I’ll sort it out when I get home. OK?”

“Yeah, cheers, thanks Shep … really appreciate it!”

And then… of course, I completely forgot all about the whole thing. (What can I say. I was on holiday. And we live in distracting times!).

Or, a t least, I forgot about it until last night, when Tony pinged me again in a “Hey Shep… sorry to be a nuisance, but that record is coming out in a couple of days…” kind of way.

Oops.

* * * * * * *

A decade is a long time in web design. The site is definitely looking a bit dated now. I put it together before the rise of the mobile web and responsive design. It hails from an era of desktop sites made for big-screens-with-awful-resolutions. I didn’t even build it on a CMS platform (…though I guess that has maybe worked in my favour over the years of abandonment — static html is not a good attack surface for hackers!) … and the editing software that I used (for reasons too dull to explain here) is long-deprecated and entirely un-runnable on present-day hardware. The only way I could make the changes that Tony wanted — without pretty much junking the whole thing and starting over — was to manually work through the awful, obfuscated, machine-generated markup underpinning the pages — and to replace existing blocks of text and images with alternative blocks of text and images that were roughly the same size and shape.

But it’s done, and it’s working. There are a couple of elements and bodges that really make me cringe … but Tony was happy, and the day was saved. ‘Phew.

And although I’ve said a bunch of bad things about the site… there’s one particular part of it which — despite its failings in terms of modern web design methodologies — I’m still really proud of. A massive biographical section, full of video clips and magazine-style photo spreads. We spent weeks working on the history of the band; editing and fine-tuning the copy, going through photo archives, putting the video clips together. And it’s been — literally — years since I’ve really had a proper look at all of that. I’d forgotten most of the stories and anecdotes. Forgotten it all to an extent where I can kind of look upon it now like I haven’t seen it before. I spent a few happy hours last night and this morning reading back through it all, playing the videos, and reminiscing.

* * * * * * *

So that’s why you didn’t get a blog post yesterday. I had my head in the past. A time before I was so heavily into all of this board game nonsense. And a time when my creative streak was directed in a very different direction.

But the stories in that biography — the struggle, rise and fall of a band — did make me wonder why nobody has ever had a good stab at a eurogame based on the music industry. I mean, I recall many successful attempts to build computer games on that theme (though again… mostly back in the 1980s. In fact, if you have the patience to deal with clunky emulation software, and vaguely know how a ZX Spectrum works, click here and take a look at The Biz, an old text-based game written by Chris Sievey* … and tell me that playing THAT doesn’t feel a little bit like playing some kind of proto-euro title**).

I guess that maybe the struggles of an up-and-coming band isn’t a thing that the youth of today would relate to. And I suppose that, nowadays, you hope to be spotted as the next big thing on YouTube, or bandcamp, or selected as a finalist on X Factor, or something like that …rather than working your way through the Biz.

Oh well. Different times.

Oh… and my friend Tony’s band? Well, if you lived through the 1980s, you might remember them.

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*Also famous(?) for being the man behind the mask of light entertainment legend, “Frank Sidebottom”.

**and is also a game which amuses me greatly by calling out The Corner House, Newcastle as a significant live venue in the early 80s music scene.

(along with the Tyne Tees Television kids show, Razzmatazz!)
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Thu Oct 8, 2020 10:38 am
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Art becomes a game.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Quote:
A game is a structured form of play, usually undertaken for entertainment or fun […] Games are distinct from work, which is usually carried out for remuneration, and from art, which is more often an expression of aesthetic or ideological elements. However, the distinction is not clear-cut, and many games are also considered to be work or art.
- Wikipedia


Over recent weeks, on a few different occasions, I’ve found myself thinking about the overlap between games and art. Not so much in a “this game is so beautiful/clever/emotionally-resonant that you should really think of it as art” kind of way, but more in a “this art I’m currently looking at here seems a bit… well… game-like, when you think about it” sort of manner.

In the past, I’ve written several posts referencing my fascination with the work of the French graffiti artist “Invader”, my ongoing quest to track down his work, and how that whole thing has a massively-gamified aspect to it. But I’m also kind of fascinated by other examples of conceptual/modern art which seem to be the consequence of the artist partaking in some kind of rule-based “game” of their own. Or even setting rules that let people be part of a game of sorts; laying down that “structured form of play” mentioned on wikipedia, for other people to engage with. There might be a few posts coming up on this topic.

* * * * * * *

A couple of weeks ago, we visited The Museum of East Anglian Life, in Stowmarket. It’s an outdoor museum — the type that features historic buildings and structures, painstakingly dismantled from their original locations, and reconstructed a part of a large-scale visitor attraction. And — being an outdoor kind of attraction — it's probably one of the safest types of museum to visit, under current circumstances …though of course you can go into the buildings (appropriately-masked!) and have a look around inside. It was a weekday, the school holidays were over, and the museum was pretty quiet … so we spent a very pleasant, sunny afternoon poking around various old buildings and sheds full of the artefacts of rural life, and looking at the various farm animals that live on the site.

From gallery of MrShep
From gallery of MrShep
(potential emergency sheep content)


We ended the afternoon by visiting “Abbots Hall” — the big 16th-century house which owns the land upon which the museum has been built, and discovered that there was an exhibition running in one of the upstairs rooms. This fact, in itself, wasn’t too surprising or notable. You often go to these attractions and find out that there’s an art exhibition of some kind going on. Usually it’s some local artist exhibiting pretty-but-forgettable watercolours of local beauty spots or suchlike. But I found this particular art exhibition to be really fascinating.

The exhibition — called “The Year I went Haywire” — was a series of works by a local artist called Chrissie O’Connor.

From gallery of MrShep


It’s a project that Chrissie began when she noticed little bits of electrical litter, left behind by engineers who had been working on a telecoms cabinet in her village. She collected this debris — offcuts of wire and plastic clips — took it away, and then… noticed more of the same, the next time that she passed the cabinet.

From gallery of MrShep


And over time… this turned into a project. Collecting the crimp connectors, wire strippings, crocodile clips, and other plastic debris that the openreach engineers just tossed into the weeds at the base of the cabinet every time they went there… and then turning the items that she collected, day by day, into art. A project to highlight just how much plastic is casually dropped by the telecoms industry every day… sinking into the soil… changing the environment.

From gallery of MrShep


The main feature of the display is a long stream of bunting (the room was way too small to get it all in shot) comprising over a hundred flags, each one containing a day’s findings … annotated with the date, and occasional notes relating to the circumstances of the find.

From gallery of MrShep


From gallery of MrShep


Or angry comments and observations as the project progressed.

Or moments when the artist questions her own sanity.

From gallery of MrShep


…because even after the project has ended, it seems that O’Connor can’t stop compulsively collecting this stuff. It’s like she started a game which she can’t stop playing.

From gallery of MrShep


So aside from being a completely unexpected feature of our afternoon, the exhibition was a surprisingly impactful thing to see. And almost — dare I say — a work that is viral in nature?

Because now — whenever I pass a street-side telephone cabinet … I can’t help but glance down at the ground to see if I can catch a glimpse of the related telecoms debris.

Is this a game that I really want to start playing?

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Sun Oct 4, 2020 7:10 am
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Mid-week hump.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Sometimes I feel like my content is starting to peter out a bit.

whistle

#shitblogpuns.

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Wed Aug 5, 2020 7:10 am
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An emergency loaf has been deployed.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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This is rapidly turning into not-very-good-week. Changes are afoot at work, some tricky times might lay ahead, and it's difficult to concentrate on games right now.

I don't even have an emergency sheep waiting in the wings for you! So today, in lieu of a proper post... I give you this:

From gallery of MrShep


An Emergency Loaf ... more specifically, the first baked output of A Yeast for Odin. Considering I've never made bread -- of any kind -- before, I'm rather pleased with this achievement.

Back tomorrow!
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Thu May 28, 2020 7:10 am
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Worlds Collide

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Timmy and Tommy finally figure out how to rinse me of all my bells.

From gallery of MrShep


GAH. JUST TAKE MY MONEY, DAMMIT!
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Sun May 17, 2020 10:19 am
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Sporeggically Board.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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A couple of weeks ago, I took the “Which Sporadically Board Regular Are You?” quiz, and discovered that I am, apparently, Dan Hughes.

From gallery of MrShep


This doesn’t entirely surprise me. I have met Dan Hughes, and he seems like a man with the right sort of view of the world. The logic is entirely valid.

And it is perhaps due to my deep-set Dan Hughes tendencies that I found the Sporadically Board International Boiled Egg Day 2020 to be a particularly splendid idea.

From gallery of MrShep


Unless you read the Sporadically Bored Facebook Group, then you probably had no idea that this momentous date occurred on Sunday-just-gone.

Triggered by the discovery that Egg Cups are — apparently — not a thing in the USA, Sunday Morning was declared to be: Official SpoBo International Boiled Egg Day. And a vast community of people around the globe — bound only by their mild interest in a podcast which is not really about board games — joined together in an act of eating a soft-boiled egg (with soldiers, obviously) for Sunday morning breakfast.

Admittedly, my enthusiasm may have been slightly spurred on by the fact that Mrs Shep owns a stupidly-large Egg Cup collection, and I could get a board game related gag out of it…

From gallery of MrShep


…but the event was, nevertheless, exactly (eggsactly? LIKE AN EGG!) the sort of thing that made a locked-down Sunday morning just that little bit more interesting, and just a little bit more connected to the world outside.

Plus I was mightily impressed when Mrs Shep also found one of THESE beauties down the back of the kitchen drawer…

From gallery of MrShep


I dread to think what the non-boiled-egg-eating nations might think that these are used for.

From gallery of MrShep


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What? Did you think I’d be doing a lazy post about the Golden Geeks today? Meh. All I can say is that Stonemaier must be absolutely gutted that Wingspan didn’t pick up the award for ‘best podcast’ this year…
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Tue May 5, 2020 8:21 am
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How are we all doing out there?

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Bit of a real-life interlude today; no board-gaming content. Sorry folks!

The UK goes into lockdown today. These are strange times that we live in. Very strange times. For those who are curious, Mrs Shep and I are mostly doing fine. I’ve been working from home for over a week now … in fact, I’ve only left the house once since I returned from Airecon, on a food shopping trip (which was awful!). I’m fortunate enough to work in a job that I can do — if push comes to shove — from pretty much anywhere with an internet connection. And doubly-fortunate to work in a role where the current crisis is causing more work opportunities, rather than fewer. So I’m likely to be busy for a bit. I realise that this puts me in a very, VERY fortunate position compared to the uncertainty that many people now face … but the sheer volume, scope, and consequences of some of the work that we’re landing gets bigger and bigger by the day. If not the hour. And it all feels very, very scary.

The bookshop where Mrs Shep works is now in hibernation. They had been hoping to stay open for internet-only orders for a little while yet — with only one or two staff on the premises, working from different rooms — but that doesn’t seem like a good idea now. In truth, I’m relieved; it seems like a good time to just hole up and hide away from ALL outside contact for a bit. If there’s a riskiest-possible-time to get hit by coronavirus complications, then I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be in the next 3-5 weeks … so the more that we can do to minimise the risk of getting the bad kind of coronavirus for now (no matter how small that chance might be), the better. By VERY timely co-incidence, Mrs S was asked by a publisher if she might be interested in writing a calendar-customs-themed book yesterday… which should keep her busy over the coming weeks, if it comes off. As one door closes, another one opens.

Things I wished I’d done before the apocalypse began: Got a haircut. I almost got a haircut before departing for the Digital City Expo a fortnight ago, but figured that I’d probably manage to last out another week. Ha! … so much for that plan. In anticipation of things getting really bad, I’ve resorted to buying a pair of hair clippers from Amazon. They arrived yesterday. When I ordered them — on Sunday morning — they cost £26. When I checked an hour ago, the same model was now listed for £99.99. And last week, I bought a treadmill (trust me… I’ve worked in extended isolation before, and I know what it does to my level of fitness) … and again, within hours of me buying one, the price crept up. Up by £50 on the same day that I bought it… £100 the day after… and one week later it’s now listed at £140 more than my purchase price. Same shop. Same treadmill. Capitalism loves a crisis! — I only wish I was this good at commodity speculation outside of national emergencies. Or even in board games.

Hopefully I’ll manage to keep the blog going over the coming weeks. Even if I don’t have much to write about on some days, sticking to the routine is probably good for my sanity — but forgive me if the timing goes a bit off every now and again.

Stay safe everybody!
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Tue Mar 24, 2020 9:15 am
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Clogless / Spot the invader!

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Board Game: Merchants of Amsterdam


In an alternative branch of reality... a reality where the genome of covid-19 got mixed up in a slightly different way, and it didn't pose quite the same threat to the human race as the one in our branch of reality does, I spent this weekend on a 50th-birthday-treat mini-cruise to Amsterdam.

Alternate-existance-me was entertained by performances of some of my very favourite bands on the boat there and back. And -- of course -- alternate-history Amsterdam would still be open to tourists, with many wonderful pleasures to catch the attention of a passing visitor!

One thing that I quite fancied seeing in Amsterdam -- which, I'll admit, probably wouldn't be very high on 99.999% of other people's lists of amsterdam-based indulgences -- was a few of the 26 mosaics placed upon its streets, canals and bridges by my favourite street artist, Invader.

(long-time readers will already be aware of my fascination with the works of invader. If not, find out more in this post).

Invader's art is not always easy to find, but I'd done my homework for this trip. I'd dug up lots of references on the internet. Cross-referenced flickr pictures against google maps. Ticked things off on checklists. And I think ... after several hours of work, I'd managed to plot the location of every still-in-existence invader mosaic to be found in the city. And in doing so... I'd wandered the virtual streets of Amsterdam, courtesy of Google Streetview, for several hours. I really felt like I already knew the place!

And then ... the coronavirus came, and the weekend was cancelled

You might think that all of that prep work was done in vain, and the hours were wasted (because I've got no idea if-and-when I'll next get to Amsterdam)...

But... you know what? Solving that puzzle; figuring out where all the mosaics are ... and confirming the locations via google street view -- that involved some serious internet detective work, and a real sense of victory as each one was tracked down. It was quite a challenge to put all the pieces together, and really satisfying to tick them all off, one by one.

...and so, just for fun, if you're looking for something to pass the time whilst sitting in your social-distancing coronavirus bunker, I thought I'd set up a little game of "spot the invader"!

At the end of this post, there's links to 5 different google streetview scenes. Each of these photospheres contains a Space Invader... somewhere! It probably won't be in direct view when the location loads, so you might have to spin around and zoom in a bit ... but you do NOT have to change location; the invader will be perfectly viewable from the precise spot that your virtual-feet will find themselves standing at once the scene loads.

And although I've just been wittering on about Amsterdam... you'll find that these particular invaders are all located in Newcastle upon Tyne. Because I know these streets the best, and can easily find all of the invaders here from memory!

If you want to be competitive about it... set a timer and see how long it takes you to find all 5!

On your marks... Get Set... Go!

* * * * * * *




An easy one to start with. Invader's works are often placed in the less-salubrious parts of towns. In days of yore, Pink Lane was notorious for housing some very similar industries to those found in Amsterdam. (And no, I'm not talking about tulip sellers and clog makers).

* * * * * * *




Fenwicks Department Store -- a great Newcastle institution! Though you'll find the invader on a different, even-more-widespread Newcastle institution...

* * * * * * *




Getting trickier now. This was one of the very first space invaders that I noticed in my wanders around town, prompting me to ponder... WHY does that thing over there look like a space invader? Is it some kind of optical signal or something? What purpose does it serve?

I had no idea what kind of rabbit hole I was about to fall into!


* * * * * * *




First mentioned in historic records dating from the 1300s, The street of Pudding Chare is thought to be named after Black Pudding ... as once sold in the nearby "Flesh Market"

* * * * * * *




And finally, a scene from Newcastle Quayside ... with the iconic Tyne Bridge in the background. There's actually an invader-created Donkey Kong (Jnr) mosaic on one of the bridge supports -- which seems appropriate, with all the steel girder work involved -- and a Dig Dug around the corner near my office... but I thought I'd keep this challenge strictly space-invader based. So you're still looking for a space invader!

That's it. How did you do?

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Mon Mar 23, 2020 7:10 am
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