Josh Ritter at the Crystal Ballroom


I'm not much for writing concern reviews but I was so moved by the Josh Ritter show last night at the Crystal Ballroom that I planned to write some words. But then I saw this review of a show earlier this week in Minneapolis and saw the words I'd like to write if I could be as expressive.

Jason nails it, especially his comments about the lights going down for Thin Blue Flame:

... when Ritter signaled for the light to be turned totally off -- not dimmed -- so he could perform a solo acoustic version of the longest song off The Animal Years, "Thin Blue Flame." How he remembered all the words, I'm still not sure, but he sang it in complete darkness and silence, and we listened to a tune that novelist Stephen King once called "the most exuberant outburst of imagery since Bob Dylan’s 'A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall' in 1963." That's not hyperbole; that's completely true, and hearing it live in that type of setting had me amazed.

How Google Voice Saved me from AT&T

I first obtained a Google Voice number back on December 18, 2007 - back then it was still GrandCentral Communications but had been acquired by Google earlier in the year. I did it partly for the novelty and partly because I could get email notifications with attached voicemails.

The utility of this number has only grown over time. My house is in an AT&T dead zone and for various reasons (work-related) I've been chained to AT&T on my BlackBerry and then iPhone for 10 years. I can get a bar or two of reception if I go upstairs to the bonus room by the window. No chance that I can take or make calls from my home office. Google Voice solves this issue for me - more on that below.

Here are some ways that I use Google Voice:

  • Voice Memos - I have a special Google Voice rule I setup to short-circuit my usual voicemail greeting so that I can quickly record a memo for myself. It then shows up in my email inbox, perfect for later GTD processing.
  • Compensate for AT&T - I have Google Voice setup to ring my desk phone at the office during normal business hours, and my home phone number at night. For conference calls that I take in my home office I increasingly use the integrated voice chat integrated with Gmail. When I call numbers from voice chat it shows my Google Voice number on caller ID.
  • Do Not Disturb - I can easily send all calls immediately to voicemail, handy when I don't want to be disturbed for a while.
  • Saves me from having another phone line at home - Another benefit of Google Voice plus the integrated voice chat (I could use Skype in the same way) is that I don't tie up our landline at home when I need to make business calls.
  • SMS texting from the desktop - SMS is how I often communicate with Jacob and Matthew, and having these text messages flow to email make it easy to reply quickly. Especially when I'm at home and the texts won't even arrive at my iPhone.

Shooting Birds at Tualatin River Refuge

Julie and I took an early morning walk on Saturday morning at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge to test out my new Canon 300mm f/4 lens with a 1.4x optical extender. My plan is for this to be my primary bird-shooting rig when we go to Galapagos next month. The morning was crisp and clear and I think I came away with some nice photographs .

Audobon's Warbler

This refuge is primarily known for its wetlands and water birds, but in the winter months it is difficult getting close enough to the water fowl for decent shots. Fortunately there were plenty of other birds active - warblers, chickadees, nuthatches, and more.

Black-capped Chickadee Feeding

Woodpeckers are abundant in Oregon - this one was at the top of a tall tree and is about the distance limit with this setup.

Downy Woodpecker

As an aside, I appreciate commentary and corrections to my identifications!

Diving into A Game of Thrones LCG

Martell - Game of Thrones

Given that I'm diving deep into the Game of Thrones Living Card Game (LCG) from Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) I thought others might benefit from a detailed discussion of how I'm ramping up on learning the game and acquiring cards to expand my deck-building options.

Learning and Rules

While the game is relatively easy to play out of the core set box, it took 3-4 games before I felt like I had a handle on the subtleties. I've been playing Magic: the Gathering for over 16 years now and that is the framework I use to learn games like this. As a result I make assumptions about when cards can be played, how characters can be saved, and a wide range of timing considerations. Turns out many of those assumptions turn out to be flat wrong, which is mostly a good thing as the timing framework for GoT is much more constrained and rigid than Magic.

Here are the resources I used to ramp up (roughly in order). Realize that there's no substitute for playing the game and looping back to these resources to check out questions and possible gaps in understanding.

Getting Cards

Get out your credit card! The positive side of the transition away from the randomized collectible format to the fixed "living" format is that you can strategically pick and choose what you want to acquire to expand your deck building options. No need to buy a box of boosters in the hope that you get three copies of a particular rare card (accumulating 15 copies of a common along the way). The flip side of this is that the predictability may in the end contribute to a higher spend for the casual (non-tournament) gamer. I suspect this is what Fantasy Flight is counting on.

There are three different packages of cards provided with the LCG:

  • The Core Set - this is the board-game style packaging that includes smallish starter decks for four of the houses: Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, and Targaryen. It also includes some gratuitous (but well designed) components to support multi-player games. For those that want to dive deep into the game, realize that very few of the cards in these decks have duplicates.
  • The Deluxe Expansions - these expansions generally cover a single (or two different) houses and introduce more depth in house-specific cards along with generic neutral cards that fit with the theme. FFG continues to evolve the structure of these expansions (kudos to them - they are listening to their customers) and the current model is that these contain three copies each of about 55-60 new cards. This change is exactly the reason I do not have a Greyjoy deck yet - FFG is relaunching the Kings of the Sea expansion to include 3 copies of the 60 cards at a retail price point of $29.95. Contrast this to the prior contents of a single 60 card deck and a resin house card. Note- the three copy of each card change is important because that is the maximum count in a deck.
  • Finally, there are Chapter Packs that are roughly released on a monthly cycle. These are bundled as part of a thematic package and have also undergone a format revamp in the past year. Early chapter packs had 10 singletons and 10 triplicates for a total of 40 cards. If you want three copies of any of the singletons you have to buy three copies of the pack (priced at $9.95 retail). The new format has 3 copies each of 20 new cards priced at $14.95 retail. Again, good move FFG. Next on deck is the Secrets of Oldtown series.

So what did I buy to get started? Maybe more than I should have, but here's the list:

  • Two copies of the core set. This gives me two copies of most of the important (and thematic) characters which is just fine for unique characters.
  • The following deluxe expansions: Princes of the Sun (for Martell), Lords of Winter (love Stark and there are some cool agenda cards contained), and Kings of the Storm (enhance Baratheon plus agendas).
  • A few select chapter packs that were recommended on a BGG post: Refugees of War, Sacred Bonds, Ancient Enemies and Mountains of the Moon. Going forward I suspect I'll buy the chapter packs as they are released until I tire of the game.

Deck Building Strategy

Did I mention that I'm still a newbie? My recommendation for getting started is to ready the legacy CCG getting started guide from FFG. It covers some basic principles for deck composition that will help you evolve from using the pre-packaged decks to your own constructs.

That's all I can help with now. Ask me again in a month or two after vie explored more.

Draft Ideas

One of my favorite Magic tournament formats was the booster draft. Given the non-random packaging of the LCG this isn't really a viable structure, but I won't let that stop me. The legacy CCG cards by and large work just fine with the LCG cards (though probably not for tournament play). You can find very inexpensive boxes of boosters online, and I bought a few and will try this format over the weekend.

Similar to how Magic booster drafts often allow players to choose lands from a separate pool, this game used booster draft packs (contents) to ensure that players can build playable decks.

The contents of the supplemented draft pack was:

  • All 6 House Cards
  • 7 Plots: Fortified Position, On Raven's Wings, Wildfire Assault, Counting Coppers, Filthy Accusations, Alliance, Taxation
  • 20 Locations: 1x Fallow Fields, 1x The God's Eye, 3x The Roseroad, 3x The Searoad, 3x Kingsroad Fiefdom, 3x Sunset Sea, 3x Narrow Sea, 3x Summer Sea
  • 6 Characters: 1x House Umber Recruiter, 1x Dissident Crier, 1x Stormlands Peasant, 1x Godly Fisherman, 1x Illyrio's Man, 1x Desert Scavenger

I have a box of these booster draft packs in transit, but I'll be simulating packs for the weekend using existing cards I have. More to come soon after I try this out.