You can tune into NASA TV using Realplayer or Windows Media. Tonight I tuned in to see the Cassini Probe live flyby of Titan. These kinds of achievements are inspiring, and make me appreciate what humankind is capable of when it gets its act together.
A few weeks ago I posted an entry about RISK, which is a wargame I used to play as a kid. Each player starts with around 20 armies. In the first phase of the game, the players take turns placing an army onto an unoccupied country on a map of the world. In the second phase, these armies are reinforced with the armies that are left over phase 1. In the third and main phase, players take turns attacking from the countries that they own to adjacent enemy territories. There are a few rules which determine how many additional armies a player gains at the start of their turn. The winner is the player who ends up owning every country on the board, so the goal of the game is world domination. Enough people responded to my blog posting that we ended up having a pizza and RISK evening after work, and it was a great success. I narrowly ended up losing to my collegue Shep, and I hope to avenge my loss at the next RISK meeting. For the record, there are a couple of rules that we may modify to improve the game experience. First, the rules only allow one countries armies to be moved at the end of the turn for reinforcement purposes. This seems odd, since multiple countries can be attacked during a turn. So we're considering allow multiple reinforcements at the end of a turn. In addition, we found the number of additional armies gained for forming a set of cards was too great in the later stages of the game, allowing odd scenarios like a player being beaten down to a single country and then suddenly springing back after cashing in a set of cards for 40 additional armies. So we're also considering limiting the number of additional armies per set of cards to 10. Any additional ideas for improving the rules are most welcome!
I love to read, and right now I'm hooked on a series of books written in the Japanese style of Manga, which are adult-level topics presented in the style of a comic. The series I'm reading is called GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka). It's a very entertaining storyline, and each book ends on a cliffhanger which makes you want to read the next book in the series. The problem is that there are 20 books in the series! I got hooked on book 1 which I read in a single day, then bought books 2..5 which I read in a couple of days, then finally bought books 6..20. That's over $200 on a single series of books! Hopefully I can restrain myself from getting started on a new Manga series for at least a couple of months, because otherwise this is going to become an expensive addiction!
I just finished a book that is enthralling, mysterious, and heart-achingly romantic. It's called The Time Traveler's Wife, and tells the story of a couple's romance; the twist is that the male, Henry, periodically slides several years into the past or future, only to return within hours, days or years. The time travel aspect might sound goofy, but it is used to great effect and leads to some of the most poignant moments of the book. A must-read.
While staying in the UK, I woke at around 4am with a throbbing pain in my lower back. Initially I thought it might have been indigestion or a strained muscle, but when the pain became unbearable, I dragged myself out of bed and drove to the hospital. In the car, I started taking heaving breaths to calm myself, wondering whether this was anything like the pain that women feel during childbirth. 15 minutes later, I was at the emergency ward, and after a few endless minutes of check in, a Doctor diagnosed me as having either pancreatitis or a kidney stone. To ease the pain, I was given two shots of Morphine and an IV, at which point I became comfortably numb. The nurses took a couple of blood samples and an X-ray, and then I was taken in a wheelchair into a regular ward bed. Unfortunately, the blood samples got lost so I had to have them taken a few hours later. Finally, I drifted off to sleep, and when I awoke, the pain had completely gone. After a couple more X-rays, this time taken after I was pumped full of a trace chemical, I was diagnosed with having passed a small kidney stone, perhaps 1-2 millimeters around. I've since learnt that a kidney stone is one of the most painful experiences anyone can have, even more so than childbirth or a gunshot wound. I'll certainly attest to that. I thank my lucky stars that I had this incident in the UK with the help of the National Health, rather than on board a plane over the Atlantic. And apparently the most likely reason that I had a stone in the first place is due to my coffee intake. Drats!
I got back a few days ago from a business trip through 6 european cities; Helsinki, Paris, Brussels, Munich, Milan and London. I managed to squeeze in a few extra-curricular activities, such as drinking Vodka in a Finnish Ice bar, winning $100 playing roulette, downing several pints in an Oktoberfest beer garden, and visiting the Grand Place in Brussels. All in all, a fun but exhausting trip. I'm a big fan of international travel, but sometimes there's no place like home.