Adventures in Chicago and Prototypes

Netflix is coming through for us really well these days. I like being able to find just about any movie you can think of, as well as keeping a record of what we want to see next. We've managed to get 10 DVDs in the past month. This week, it was some more PBS specials and some popular movies from our list. First up was from the Empires series - Medici: Godfathers of the Rennisance. I'd known about the Medici family briefly through high school history classes and other passing mentions, but Laura was unfamiliar with their power and influence, so it was a good refresher for both of us. It covered the rise of the Medici, their sponsorship of many artists like Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Botticceli and Galileo, and the disasterous Medici popes, another classic tale of power going to their heads, where things seemed to start well with one generation or two, it quickly fell into excess and the continual uprising of enemies. There was also a good portion on the Bonfire of the Vanities with Savonarola, and it was fun to see the history behind Brett's game unfold on the screen, however, one thing about the special I found weird was that the actors never spoke, they just walked around looking menacing or sad, as if in a moving picture. Also from the PBS genre were some more episodes of Blue Planet, first an overview episode of the whole series, covering all the different zones of the ocean, along with the tragic story of a mother grey whale losing her cub to killer whales (we hates them, we do). The second episode focused on the arctic and antarctic seas, from polar bears and whales surviviing through very small holes in the ice up north, to leaping penguins and seals at the south pole. Laura's favorite were the Beluga whales, while I loved seeing the penguins skyrocket out of the water to avoid the waiting leopard seals. On the pop movie front, we watched Sleepy Hollow, a Jonny Depp/Tim Burton movie with way too many beheadings for my taste, and Batman Begins, a thoughtful and sometimes ponderous introduction to the legend of Batman. We both enjoyed the story setup and how things were more believable than your usual comic book movie.

We also tried out a few episodes of Farscape, and while the premise was interesting, of someone from Earth travelling through a wormhole to another far part of the galaxy and joining up with escaped prisoners to fight for freedom, the execution seemed to fall a little flat, there was something missing, more along the lines of a Twilight Zone episode as opposed to Outer Limits. We might pick up the next few episodes in the series, but it's not a huge draw for us. Instead, we're still hooked on Lost and Invasion, both spooky shows with interesting characters. It was very cool to see the history of the other survivors on the last episode of Lost and it's good they're finally moving them all together, looks like there might be some progress toward solving the secrets soon (or so we hope).

Games for game night this week included a few rounds of Coda, a light deduction game, the brain-twisting Amazeing Labyrinth, a round of the Queen's Necklace auctioning off gemstones, and a new game of Goldland. It's a new game of searching for gold and treasure in the west, and has some interesting planning elements for resource development, as well as majority control of certain types of adventures. As usual, I got one or two rules wrong in the explanation, but things went pretty smoothly in spite of this, and we look forward to playing it again.

It was also a good few weeks for playing prototypes. Brett and I made some friends from Protospiel who lived in Chicago, and they had their bi-monthly meeting last weekend, so we road-tripped down to play some games and get some feedback. It was a lot of fun and great to get some new perspectives on the games, there were three election games brought out over the course of the afternoon and evening, all with different core mechanics and ideas, it's still surprizing all the variety there is to be seen even within a narrow field. While we played games, Laura also came along and toured a few local Elmhurst museum. First she saw the Lapidary museum and learned all about carving rocks from ancient to modern times, with some interesting exhibits on how to carve spheres inside spheres. Next she headed to the Graue Mill, for a few lessons on weaving, spinning, and a very impressive demonstration of the mill at work, pushing cornmeal through the grooves of the large imported millstones; this mill had been in operation since the 1800's and was very scenic. There was also a used bookstore in town, which always holds treasures for cooking and hobby delights. A large number of interesting sights to explore, all within a 5 mile radius, and found thanks to

That evening, we also visited the Chicago Medieval Times for dinner and the show. We'd passed the castle every time we drive through Chicago, and finally found a time to go. While the acting was a little corny, the horse-riding was very authentic; Laura was particulary impressed by the Andelusians on display, walking sideways and high-kicking their back legs. It was cool for me to see all the tricks and styles of riding that Laura has been practicing in her horse-ridding lessons. For the meal, we had to eat with our hands in medieval style, and were served a delicious beef stew, half of a chicken, a spare rib, some garlic toast and an apple pastry. We'd love to go back, it might be a fun activity for our nephews.

I received a great email from Germany this week, the Hippodice Game Club has accepted Die Wichtelmanner for testing in their annual Game Design Competition, we're one of 50 games that made it through the initial screening, yay! The prototype is shipped off, and now we wait until mid-March to hear back on the results and get some good playtesting feedback reports. To celebrate, Laura and I went out to eat at our favorite celebratory spot, the Olive Garden, where I had a garlicy chicken breast and she ordered the eggplant parmesean, both very good meals, supplemented by the everlasting breadsticks, salad, and some calamari and toasted ravioli squares for an appetizer. Friday night we saw Mirrormask with Brett, Laura and friends, a very weird dream-like movie with some cool special effects but also some large plot holes, and for Sunday brunch we headed to El Dorado Grill on Willy Street for some tasty blue corn-meal pancakes for me and some ham and potatoes for Laura, so enough celebrating, now it's back to saving money.

Laura's teaching continues to go well at MATC, and she's picked up three students for tutoring Algebra at UW, as well as a few lost CS 302 students. We both like the new Introduction to Java book they're using now, and as my research progresses, I can't wait to get back to teaching someday and explore my own methods and examples. It was also an adventure for Laura to try and fix our errant printer. For a week or two now, the cartridge carrige has been slamming into the walls and giving us errors and in general not being very happy. She discovered the HP online chat, and had two lengthy conversations with tech people, first cycling the power of the printer, and then being told to replace the print cartridges (since we're using remanufactured cartridges), but neither of these turned out to fix the problem, so after a phone call, we're having another printer shipped to us and this one is going back to the factory. Laura also was able to have lunch with Irene at Lulu's this week, sampling a gyro from their lunch menu, very tasty!

And there are sure signs that winter is approaching. We visited the first Winter Farmer's Market at the Westgate mall on Saturday, it was right there in one of the store fronts (of what used to be a halloween store), and we picked up some cheese, a beef log, fresh brown eggs and a cookie for a treat. We also saw the first snow of the season on Tuesday night and woke up to a wonderful winter scene covered in a slight dusting of snow. It's supposed to get really cold this next week, time to pull out the mittens and warm fuzzy hats.

Posted by Mark @ 12:47 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Halloween and The World of Nova

It has been a fun two weeks exploring food. We started out trying some new pasta dishes from Fine Cooking. The first dish combined shitake, orzo, spinach, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar to make an interesting Chinese-like dish- very yummy warm. The used sun dried tomatoes, wagon wheel pasta, olive oil, basil, feta, and spinach leaves for a flavorful light meal. Our third pasta dish was an attempt to duplicate Whole Foods smoked mozzarella dish; it has cubes of smoked mozzarella (can only get it from the deli section at whole foods), light mayonnaise, smoked bell peppers (the more the better), chiffon spinach, shredded parmesan, wagon wheel pasta, a dash of cayenne- still our favorite. This time I found out it is better to mix the mayonnaise with the pasta before adding any of the ingredients.

We also enjoyed some bean burritos with a bit of Spanish rice (Mark’s fav). But the highlight of our food had to be the quick and delicious Peperonata Shrimp. A recipe from Cuisine that turned out like sweet and sour shrimp. First you coat the 2 lb of shrimp with flour and cook them for 3 minutes in a sate pan with a bit of olive oil. Putting the shrimp aside, put 1.5 cup diced leeks and 2 cloves minced garlic in the pan till brown. Add .5 cup chicken broth, 1/3 c. white vinegar, 2 T sugar, 2T lemon juice to the pan and simmer down for 5 minutes. After adding some salt, add 2 cups of thinly sliced roasted bells and the shrimp- after a quick warm-up you have an amazing meal (we served over rice).

I also learned the benefit of keeping mushrooms in a paper bag in the fridge instead of the original plastic wrap that they come in. This way they stay good for 2+ weeks, just shrinking a bit in size.

On Oct 26 there was a convocation for instructors at MATC. After an introduction by the president of the college and faculty awards (It was wonderful to see the Administrative Assistants from Arts and Sciences win an award- they are always so helpful.), I headed to my first Math faculty meeting. After a brief lunch with my mentor, Pam, I headed to a meeting about how to handle/prevent academic misconduct and then my final meeting of the day about the attempt to add a class about nanotechnology- I just found it odd that the only prerec for the nanotech class was chemistry when it seems that the class would be aimed at engineers. Overall it was an exciting day of discussion and I earned a higher respect for technical colleges.

On Oct 29th we started early with digging up bulbs that won’t over winter from our garden. Then we headed out to pick up pumpkins from a local pumpkin patch with Burr and Natalie. Following them back to their place we met up with Matt Lavine and made some new friends while we sliced and diced our new pumpkin friends.

On the gaming side of things, Mark submitted a game with his prototype partner, Brett, in to Hippodice. The name of the game is in German, but I call it the Elves and Shoemaker game. Mark has brought it out a couple of times for our Tuesday game nights and it plays very well. We will know in 2 weeks if it makes it through the first round of the competition!

We also went through some great movies this week. We watched our first of the Blue planet series- An amazing production by the BBC about the Ocean desert and the Deep- we are hooked. I have always been fascinated by the creatures found in the deep, they are unlike any creature we know and live in such a harsh environment- amazing. We also watched 4400, a current series on TV about abducties coming back years later with “changes” After only watching the first 4 episodes, we can’t wait until the next set come out. Our last show from netflix was a NOVA special “The magnetic storm” I had watched this one ages ago and was again fascinated with the information. I also enjoyed the roll that supercomputers are playing in our ability to see what is happening in the world around us.

On the side I have been updating our scrapbook. I have finished Oct 2003-Aug 2004 and look forward to working my way up to Germany. While scrapbooking is a long process, it is nice to reflect on all of the trips and adventures that we have had- we definitely keep busy.

Lastly we had a wonderful evening on Nov 5th. Initially we headed to the East side of town to attend Nick’s party. When we arrived, we were told that we were actually one week early… To salvage the evening we head to a bowling alley where Mark showed off his impressive bowling skills. After sore fingers and feeling some hunger pains, we headed to Perkins for a nice desert of vanilla shake (for Mark) and mixed berry pie (for me). A very fun and inspirational date night!

Posted by Laura @ 12:46 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]