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Archive for February, 2008

From the first time I played Super Mario Bros., I’ve always loved platform games. Unfortunately, the genre has been pretty dead ever since Gex. Fez, from Montreal-based start-up Kokoromi, looks ready to change that. The game is so creative that words just don’t do it justice.

Related: Lead designer, Phil Fish gives an interview on Fez.

Imagine my delight when I heard that there would be a Poker Tournament at Dartmouth! I really used to enjoy playing poker back in the day, before it was cool. For a while, during my senior year at UCBoulder, my friend Matt and I were both writing software to study Texas Hold’em and regularly going to the casinos in the few mountain towns in Colorado were they’re legal. It was a lot of fun.

After graduating and moving abroad, though, I just didn’t have any chances to play for several years. In fact, the only game I can remember playing in my entire time in Taiwan was the “penny” game I set up a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t a huge priority to find a poker game or anything, but I was definitely stoked about hearing of a tournament.

The Setup

It was a zero dollar buy in, with only gift certificates as prizes– a fun tournament. Potato chips and random junk food were at every table. After checking with Sonia to make sure I was allowed to play, I eagerly headed over to the basement room in which it was being held. I showed up about 10 minutes early, and sat down at the one table that already had a few guys seated around it. They seemed oddly tense for being at a fun game, but they were all pretty friendly. Soon, more and more people came streaming into the room, until eventually about dozen tables were full, with eight to ten people seated at each.

It was a no-limit Hold ’em tournament. We started with a “dollar” (i.e. white chip) small blind, and a four dollar big blind. According to the organizers, the blind would double every 20 minutes, so we couldn’t dawdle too much. That wasn’t a problem at my table.

The First Table

On the very first hand, four people at my table went all-in. I couldn’t believe it. Either they had all gotten some remarkably lucky hands, or I was at a table full of maniacs. I sat the madness out, knowing I wasn’t throwing my chips away on a sub-par hand, but also knowing that nearly half my table’s chips would soon be in the hands of whoever won that hand. And so they were. After he had all the chips, he just leaned on the rest of us, threatening to put someone all-in on nearly every hand, bullying us out of the blind bids.

After the deal had gone around four more times, I was down to two-thirds of my initial number of chips. I was starting to think it would be worth it to bluff, which would have been credible at that point, when I got a great pair of hole-cards, AQ suited. I bet 10, and called a raise of 30 to see the flop. There was an ace, a jack and a three. With the high pair, I bet again, and one of my opponents called, and the one with all the money put me all-in. In the end my pair of aces beat his pair of jacks, my pile of chips was about the size of his, and the other guy was knocked out of the game. At this point, only three of us were left at my table. Not even a single person from any of the other tables in the room had been eliminated yet.

In the next hand, I had garbage, and the opponent without many chips went all in and lost. Then the game organizers announced to us that the blinds would be doubled to 2 and 4. Seeing as my entire table’s chips were divided between me and one other guy, this struck me as funny, but we kept going. Within 5 more hands, I had about 80% of the chips. Then Sonia and her friend showed up and said hi to me. I think the were a little surprised to my table mostly empty, and most of the chips in front of me.

The Second Table

About that time, the organizers noticed we were down to two people, and a couple of the other tables had eliminated players, so they sent us to those tables to take their places! It wasn’t even fair. I showed up at the new with about the vast majority of the entire table I’d come from. They were weaker players than my previous opponents, too. They were betting on inside draws. Some of them were trying to bluff on every other hand. They weren’t raising when they had winners. It took me 15 minutes to wipe out the entire table. By that time, more people were getting eliminate around the room, and people were getting consolidated to fewer and fewer tables.

The Final Table

To make a long story short, the competition was weak. Extremely weak. I knocked out a dozen more people and moved on to the final table with dozens of times more chips than we’d each started with. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite the right impression to make. As soon as I sat down, one guy at the table said, “Woah, this guy must be a pro!”

I said I wasn’t a pro. Nobody believed me. Somehow, they figured that a professional gambler would come to their campus for their zero dollar buy in poker gave, load up on free soda and Doritos, and try to win a small gift certificate instead of going to a casino, getting comped steaks and cocktails, and winning real money.

“What year are you?” asked another.

I answered honestly that I wasn’t a student at all, and that I was playing in place of my girlfriend I was vising. That didn’t go over very well.

“This is a student tournament!”

“You can’t just invade it and take advantage of it!”

They were really competitive about this game. Admittedly, I’ve never been to a tournament before, and some of them might not have realized that this one was open to non-students. Still, I’ve been in casino games with hundreds of dollars on the table and I’ve never seen people get so worked up like this before. It was really eye-opening. If Sonia had been there, I’m sure she could have smoothed things over, especially being a UGA. As it was, though, it just wasn’t worth ticking everyone off to win. I couldn’t really walk away, either. They’d still feel like I’d wreaked the game.

So, I started doing randomized bluffs, but far too loosely. I continued to bet and play good hands, but I also played every single hand with a diamond of 7 or less. Amazingly, people became more and more talkative as my pile of chips dwindled, and soon they were asking me all about living in Taiwan, and what I thought of their school. Within 15 minutes, I had eliminated myself in what I hope looked like a completely natural performance. Then, without the gift certificate, but in a great mood, I headed over to the animation lab to find Sonia, Adelle and Dawn.

Decades long defender of digital rights, Stanford Law School professor, Larry Lessig, has released a presentation in support of Barack Obama.

Last night was awesome. One of the dorm buildings in Dartmouth had an Iron Chef competition, and I was selected as a judge! The required ingredient was peanut butter. The chefs were broken up into teams by floor, and they each made a main dish, a side, and a dessert. All of them were good.

I also got to meet Sonia‘s friends Dawn and her suitemate, Kim. Both were very cool in their ways. It was pretty fun hanging out with everyone, and I hope I can get the pictures of their food from them to put up here.

I’ve been living abroad for a while, and it’s given me a slightly different view of stuff at home than I’d have if I’d stayed. On my way to Boston I had to stop at a gas station. A couple of things leaped out at me. The first was the price of gas. I remember it was hovering around a dollar a gallon when I left, and but now it’s over three.

The other thing was the sheer size of the drinks. The first thing they made me think of was the movie Idiocracy, but I’m not sure if they were this big even in the dystopian future depicted in that movie. I’m used to the large size being 22oz or something like that. Even drinking the second biggest size drink I saw at the gas station left me feeling like I’d just put my pancreas through a strainer. I mean… who drinks half a gallon of soda in one serving? Seriously…

Idiocracy sized drinks

Update: This video is only vaguely related, but I’ve been looking for an excuse to post it.

With my trips to Boston behind me, I was ready to enjoy the weekend with Sonia! But, she had a ton of work to do in the art building. Bummer. Being left to my own devices isn’t usually a problem, but there are a few compounding problems. The biggest two are that I didn’t really have access to anything, including the building where she lives, without a Dartmouth student ID, and that I have no familiarity with the campus. To me, most the buildings pretty much look the same.

So… I decided to help with the Winter Carnival snow sculpture! Right in the middle of “the green”, a bunch of enthusiastic volunteers were busy shoveling snow into huge buckets and putting it onto the mass of snow that will become the sculpture. I walked over, borrowed some gloves and helped them do 20 buckets or so. It was pretty fun and everyone was really friendly when they realized I wasn’t even a student, that I was just some random visitor from Taiwan who decided to pitch in.
Winter Carnival (under construction)

After that, I was freezing. Actually, I was freezing before I started helping. Living in Taiwan has made me a wimp. This was the first snow I’d seen in years, and it must have been at least 10 below outside. With no other ideas of what to do, I headed into Baker Library for the free internet access.

Baker Library

It wasn’t an exciting day, but at least it was a lot less stressful than yesterday was.

After not making it in time yesterday, I had to make another trip from Hanover, NH to Boston today. It was an adventure to say the least.

Heading out

Since I had such a hard time finding the Taipei Economic Office yesterday, I made sure to get a print-out of an online map of the relevant part of Boston before heading out this morning. After that, I was off! It was freezing, at least to my wussified-by-life-in-Taiwan point of view, and the roads were snowy, but at least the sun was shining. I got onto the highway at about 10am, and headed out in high spirits. I missed the turnoff from 89 to 93, but with only a slight detour through a “vote Guiliani sign” infested portion of suburbia, I got back on the route and things were going fine… for a while.

The Tailgater

As a rule, I speed on the highway. Pretty much everybody my age does. I try to keep it within about 10 miles per hour of the speed limit, though. At least where I grew up, the penalties for going 9 over were minimal, but they got a lot more serious at 10 over and 15 over. With a posted speed limit of 65, that put my target speed at 73 or 74 MPH. The right lane was at a crawl, and the middle lane was only going at about the speed limit, so I got in the left lane.

I was slowly passing traffic to my right, and enjoying the great scenery when I noticed a white SUV riding right up against my back bumper. I looked to my right, and there was no way of getting over. I can’t stand tailgaters, but out of courtesy, I stepped it up to just under 80 MPH. The tailgater stayed right behind me and started getting all passive-aggressive with the high beams. Not liking that one bit, I slowed back down to 5-10 over the limit and tried to shield my eyes from the high beams, which were amazingly annoying considering it was daytime.

Then a hole opened up in traffic next to me, the SUV behind me changed lanes, it pulled up beside me, and I got a terrible surprise. It wasn’t just some random asshole tailgater who had been behind me. It was an asshole tailgating cop who had been behind me. And at that moment he was holding a badge up against his window and screaming something at me. Yikes.

I pulled over to the shoulder of the highway as quickly as I could, and waited tensely. The cop who came lumbering up to me was dark, heavy-set and seriously pissed of. Before he even got up to the car he was screaming. He was carrying a gun on one hip and a taser on the other. I felt a bit unsettled.

After enduring the initial barrage of cursing, I showed him my driver’s license, and he asked where I was going. He didn’t know what the “Taipei Economic Office” was, but it must have sounded respectable, because he immediately calmed down a bit. Then he asked me why I was driving somebody else’s car, and why I had a Colorado driver’s license. I told him I’d been living in Taiwan for 5 years, and showed him my passport as evidence, and then it was pretty much okay. He wanted to know why I was going so slowly (I replied I had thought the limit was 65), and gave me the whole “I don’t know how the hell they drive out in Taiwan, but around here blah, blah, blah…” speech, and it was fine after that. Five minutes of “yes, officer” this and “yes officer” that, and I was free to go. My pulse didn’t go back down to normal for another ten, though.

Applying for the Visa

Having learned from my experiences yesterday, I parked near the T stop and went into the office on foot. I dropped off an entire stack of documents, including bank statements, and a work permit and applied for a resident visa directly. I must have been the first one to do that at their office in a long time. The assistant seemed like she wasn’t quite sure what to do with me. With everything lined up, though, it was pretty straight forward. She sent me out to get some larger photos of myself taken, since mine were too small, but that was the only issue that came up. Interestingly, the consular officer told me he’d read a book by some guy who’d given up his US passport to become Taiwanese and then served in the army there. The look on his face when I told him I knew the guy and played a bit part as a bodyguard in his movie was priceless.

Heading back

By the time I left Boston, it was starting to rain. After driving 50 miles north, it was snow, not rain that was coming down. The ride home absolutely bit. It got dark earlier than I’ve ever seen before in my life, I was in a borrowed car, the wipers sucked, and I had to fumble around to find the various defrosters. In short, I could barely see where I was going. Worse still, I actually saw a car slide off the road somewhere around the state border. It only took 3 hours to get to Boston, but it took 5 hours to get back. By the time I got to Dartmouth I was exhausted. Fortunately, the people at the economic office offered to mail my passport back to me, thus sparing me the need to make the trip again.