Its Alive!

I’m proud to say that a little ECMA script code I wrote is helping Ubergizmo with their liveblog!

Using my code!

The version they’re using is about two versions ahead of what’s in the public repository at github. I’ve been lazy about merging code changes back into the main branch, but the tweaks are mostly fixes for browser issues (those are live on the gh-pages branch) and a buggy assumption I made about ids always existing for every post. Somehow a post was made without an id, and the logic kept repeating that post every time Ubergizmo made a new posting (so you’d get the new post and the repeated post sequentially). I patched it live while they were blogging at E3, and as soon as they had network connectivity again, everyone got the right updates (just one time each).

Tens of thousands of people used this liveblog, so that was a pretty exciting day!

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BattleHex: Ideal Tabletop Dice Rolling

Look at it! Just look at it! Its practically invisible! I spec’d out the size and shape and angles, but the craftsmen at Tap Plastics did a great job filling in the details. They talked me into bending the walls instead of cutting each side individually, and it turned out perfect. The one seam they cut and polished and glued precisely, and the base exactly fits the rounded (and one pointed) corners. After I’d left, I worried that they would just slap on the legs, but no, they look fantastic, glued on without a smudge and even rotated to the exact angle I would have chosen if I’d remembered to specify it on the blueprints.

Some friends and I have been avidly playing Risk Legacy, a new tabletop version of the old favorite. They’ve got a great setup for 5 players at their home — a huge square table almost exactly two arm-lengths wide, with room enough for the big map, all the pieces, and the requisite snacks and drinks.

The only problem is rolling dice during the game. You can’t roll them on the board or you would smash a zillion armies out of their countries. So we usually use a “battle box”, a moderately-sized wooden box that either gets passed to the corner of the table closest to the two battling players (if they are adjacent to each other) or the box must be held by a third player over the middle of the table where the two (literally) opposing players can reach it. It works great — the armies are preserved and it makes for a dramatic clattering in the box. But you can’t see the dice half the time because the walls of the box shield them!

Enter the BattleHex. I designed it and briefly thought about making it myself. But then I realized I didn’t have the saws to cut the plastic straight or the special flames to polish the edges. By the time I added up those costs, it was cheaper to ask Tap Plastics to fabricate it for me.

There are two weaknesses to this design that I already know:

  1. The legs are spindly. They could easily snap if handled roughly or set down sharply. But I wanted thin legs to set down among the armies on the board easier.
  2. The inside surfaces are likely to get scratched as we throw dice in, over and over (and with more and more wine behind the throws).

My solution to problem #1 is to trust my friends. After 7+ games we’ve only broken one wine glass, so they’re pretty coordinated, even under the influence and the heat of the game. My solution for problem #2 is to line the inside with an acetate insert: a hex cut to fit the bottom and a strip cut to press against the sides. I didn’t include it in the photos, but it looks fine. The dice are still clearly visible through the sides and the playing pieces are easily seen through the bottom.

It was expensive to have someone else do the work, but it turned out great! I can hardly wait to show it off to the gang at this week’s game!

Posted in BattleHex, Finished, Hardware, Plastic | 1 Comment

After reviewing comments on my articles for the past year or so, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have enough real readers to justify moderating the comments. So far the score stands at 1111 Spam, 0 reader comments.

So if you would like to comment on something I’ve written here, please do it on Google+ and I’ll be happy to reply there.

Posted on by Andy | Leave a comment

Tiramisu for Caesars

I’ve started playing Risk Legacy with a bunch of like-minded nerdy, competitive, and slightly obsessive friends on weekends. Somehow the hosts get suckered into cooking dinner for everyone every week, and so the rest of us pitch in with some of the side dishes.

Last week the main course was Stromboli, filled with home-made pesto and even home-made sausage! Originally I volunteered to bring the salad, but then I remembered I have a nice Venetian recipe for tiramisu from one of my college art teachers, Sally Spector. That would go nicely with the Stromboli, and I had a fun idea for how to make it appeal especially to we five would-be Caesars!

This version of tiramisu builds on a sponge cake rather than ladyfinger cookies and I tend to like it better than the cookie version. I like my cookies crisp, not soggy: cake should be cake. Besides, it reminds me of my time in Venice, where the restaurants almost all served the cake version, probably because you can slice it thin and still have your customers think it is rich and satisfying.

Let me know if you’d like the actual sponge cake recipe.

If you’d like to make a similar pattern on your cocoa-dusted cake, then you’re in luck. It is pretty easy. Frost your cake like normal — I couldn’t find any real marscapone cheese, so I just mixed powdered sugar into spreadable cream cheese. Put the cake back in the fridge to help stiffen the frosting.

While the frosting is firming, print the image you’d like to have on your cake. Make sure to scale it up or down to fit! Then take some waxed paper and lay it over your image. Trace the outlines of the shapes with a pencil — it is not too important to actually “write” on the waxed paper because the pencil itself will scratch the wax enough to see the outline. You’re going to cut along this edge, so don’t make it too detailed. Smooth edges will separate from the frosting easier too.

Once you’re done tracing, cut along the line with scissors or an Exacto knife to get the shapes, in my case, each continent. If you have a lot of shapes or they are small, you might want to put one or more toothpicks through the shapes at this point. Later these will help you find the paper under the cocoa dust.

Take the cake back out of the fridge and lay the shapes onto the frosting, gently pressing it into the frosting like scotch tape on paper, just touching enough to stick to the frosting. If you used toothpicks, push them gently into the cake too so that they stick straight up.

Now dust with cocoa powder. I sprinkled spoon-fulls gently through a wire strainer to help distribute it evenly. Once your cake is completely covered to the density of cocoa you desire, gently lift off the waxed paper objects, leaving the nice white frosting behind.

Ok, it never works that perfectly, but hopefully you can smooth down the frosting pulled-up by the removal of the waxed paper. I only had a few big shapes, so I didn’t use the toothpick trick this time, though I kind of wish I had.

In any case, there it is, a dessert fit for Nerd Caesar.

Posted in Cooking | Leave a comment

Hardware Enbugging

Sound and Light circuit board

Its been a while since I’ve tried soldering anything, but tonight I gave it a whirl — a simple sound-to-light LED kit. I just wanted to warm up my mad skillz on a $6 kit before I tackle a Speak-and-Spell circuit-bending project my brother Matt put together for me. Did it work? No, of course not. Today I put the bugs in. Tomorrow I take them out.

Today I relearned the importance of workplace lighting. With shiny traces on the circuit board and reflective solder, bad lighting made it impossible to quickly tell when I was dribbling solder between pins and when there was supposed to be a trace there. Its time to move some table lamps around!

Also, there’s no substitute for a good pair of wire-cutters. I thought my needle-nose pliers would work, but the wire-cutter part was waaaaay to far back to allow for close trimming.

Oh, and third, its not flat, so I should have made a jig right away. I ended up improvising something out of a bit of scrap, but I should have bolted it onto something.

So, tomorrow, fun with the multimeter and figure out which solders are bad.

Posted in Hardware, Musings | Leave a comment