Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Nostalgia Success

     Today my boys and I finally finished our first game of Revolt on Antares, a TSR minigame from 1982. I bought the game back in the early 80's but owing to my lack of a consistent gaming group, I had never actually played the game against another person. The 'sci-fi-ness" of the game's pieces intrigued me, particularly the artifact known as the "Sonic Imploder."
     I bought it again a few months ago from an online shop mostly for the nostalgia value of having it about. Then after having enjoyed playing some other games, like House Divided and Monopoly with my two boys, I figured, why not try Revolt on Antares
     I am glad to report that the game went pretty well. It is a simple enough game in concept and mechanics, but with some complexity in decision making - who should I attack and with how much?  Should I try to form an alliance?  Should I buy mercenaries or just use my own troops?  How should I employ the Artifacts (very powerful alien tech left over and appropriated by the warring factions), in particular the Devastator, which will destroy everything in a one-hex radius from itself. My younger son was considering using the Big D to break a siege of his fortress by my older son, until I pointed out how much of his own stuff he'd lose in the process. The siege was never lifted, but the older one did not ever take the fortress. He was so distracted by the siege that he did not notice my sneaking up on one of his fortresses until I had snatched it. I almost grabbed one of the younger boy's fortresses as well, but just didn't have quite enough firepower to do it.
     In the end my younger son won, owing in part to having more initial territory by luck of the draw. I think that we'll have to play it a few more times before they really see the tactical possibilities of the multi-player game, where the one holding the most territory at the end wins.
     Both as a game experience and as practice in being a good sport and 'playing by the rules', Revolt on Antares was good fun and a win all around. Some day, I expect them to figure out that they can gang up on their old dad. So far, though, I'm safe.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Off the Cuff Movie Reivew - Hugo

     Last weekend, on our family movie night we watched for the first time, Hugo, the Martin Scorsese film from last year. We all enjoyed it, in our own ways. My boys were very intrigued, which is surprising for the younger one. The movie takes its time setting up the plot and asking the questions which will be answered in the second act. Such slow pacing usually leaves my younger son bored and restless, but Hugo had him in rapt attention all the way through. The movie is certainly a visual treat, both the complex warrens of pipes and clockwork through which Hugo moves, and the cityscape of Paris, where the story takes place. I found Hugo to be an interesting if not greatly sympathetic character; he displays very little emotion throughout the film, even after being subjected to a very cruel trick by an adult. So, it should not surprise that the cruel trick is never mentioned again, and does not impair the development of Hugo's relationship with the adult. Several secondary characters with no relevance to the plot get a decent amount of screen time, and even the titular 'bad guy' gets enough development to be human instead of a card-stock villain. The tone is hard to describe; the film is neither lightly comic nor depressingly serious, although it takes stabs at being both. I also can't tell whether the target audience is children or adults; it may be best to say that it tries to appeal to both, and succeeds very nicely. I never felt much dramatic tension while watching the film, I always was aware that somehow it was going to have a happy ending, which it did. Hugo's appeal may lie in the quiet but skillful acting jobs of the main characters and the slow, tantalizing explanation of the central 'mystery' of the plot. Based on a (largely) picture book by Brian Selznick, descendant of David O. Selznick the famous movie producer, Hugo is a good film, at least on the first watching. Once you know the ending, I think the film may lose a lot of its' ability to keep the viewer engaged.

Charleston Conference Wrap Up

Well the conference is done, and I'm home again. 

     Among the interesting things from the wrap-up sessions on Saturday morning were: Shared Shelf Commons, a site which hosts collections of publicly-accessible media. Check it out at www.sscommons.org
     The other interesting thing was an overview by a team of lawyers on the current state of a number of federal court cases that will have effects on libraries; like the seemingly never-ending Google Books Settlement case. I'll admit I didn't understand a good bit of what they were talking about, as legalese has always made me go a bit cross-eyed. But, I'm glad that people more learned and interested than me are keeping an eye on such things.
     The Charleston Conference is a fun experience. I have learned about new products, gotten some goodies, and have new project ideas to percolate in the brain and hopefully make a reality, and a renewed desire to do my work better. I have no desire or expectation that I'm going to change the world or even change the library I work in. As Dostoyevsky once said, "everyone wants to change the world; no one thinks about changing himself."  If I can manage that, I'll be happy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Charleston Conference Day Three

     Another good day of library conference presentations. One from this morning was titled "What Provosts want Librarians to know", a panel discussion about how the university administration views the library and it's staff. Rule one: it works better if we do something beyond just showing up once a year asking for money. Who knew? We moved on to University Presses, big fun there, and a project which could be interesting - the Digital Public Library of America. Did not know about this one before today. Bears watching. 
     After lunch (eaten outside in Marion Square - never waste a sunny day when you can sit outside) went back at it with a presentation on integration of electronic book collections in three small college libraries. Interesting bit of anecdote, which I've heard before elsewhere: all other things being equal, students prefer the e-book version of a text when they have to read a chapter or section; a 'chunk' of the book, but ask for the print version if it is a work that has to be read all the way through. I had rather suspected that, but it was helpful to hear someone else make the observation.
     While we're on e-books, I sat in on a report from a library that compared circulation data on print books with usage data on the same titles as e-books. Conclusion?  Well, there really weren't any. The data didn't support any definitive statements, but the presenter did speculate that perhaps what the patrons were really interested in is the content rather than the format in which they got it. It reminds me of what a former library director used to say, "students want the tomatoes, not the can". Make of that what you will.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Charleston Conference Day Two

      A good day of conference meetings. The conference is hosted at the historic Francis Marion Hotel in downtown Charleston, which is a very nice hotel. The morning speakers talked about the evolving world of journal and academic publishing, and the curious place of Google Scholar in the world of academic libraries. Independent and self-publishing was extolled, the current and future state of e-books and e-publishing generally was much mused and discussed. During the lunch hour (after a quick dash to 5 Guys Burgers) I attended a discussion roundtable on "What keeps librarians up at night" - no, it was not about how to deal with noisy college student neighbors, rather about worrisome issues facing collection development librarians. 
Then on to a less-satisfying presentation about finding a middle ground between 'general' and 'special' collections. It might have been more interesting if I worked at a research university, as they talked a lot about research data sets, like census data or other statistical measures. The last session today was a lot more fun - librarians from UTC gave a report on their 3-year long project to identify and remove 35,000+ books from the collection prior to the move into a brand new library building. According to the presenter, one professor (no name given) stood up in a faculty senate meeting and screamed at them his objection to the removal of any books from the collection. The 35K count was about 9% of the whole collection. Lighten up, prof!
      This evening, I'm off to have dinner with my colleagues and reps from Credo Reference. That's the best kind of library swag! Might go to the annual Reception, unless I'm too tired.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Charleston Conference Day One

     I'm in Charleston, SC for the annual Charleston Conference on Acquisitions and Serials, one of the bigger library professional conferences. Over the next three days I'll be commenting on what's been going on in the world of librarianship, new ideas and whatever happens to come to mind. 
     Today was the preconference events, and that means Vendor Showcases, which means Library Swag. I've scored a ceramic mug, a metal mug, loads of pens and pencils, notepads, sticky notes and even a little cloth to clean my glasses. Oh, and I also got some advertising literature from a number of vendors. Maybe I'll talk some about what they've got to offer. Other than that, today was just getting here (seven hour drive - thanks be to God for audiobooks) and settling into the hotel.  Heading out in a bit to grab some dinner at Joe Pasta, a very nice little restaurant near the historic Marion Square.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Napping in the Library

     A colleague recently sent me a link to this article from Library Journal about how some libraries are taking a different approach to the perennial issue of students coming into the library not to read but to sleep. Snoring, unattended ringing phones (esp with annoying ring-tones), long-term occupation of limited seating space and other irritants are of concern for librarians who want the library as inviting, but not become a substitute apartment or lounge. Wesleyan University has installed a number of high-tech barcaloungers called Energy Pods which create a sleep-friendly environment for one person, complete with white noise generator and a vibration wake-up alarm to keep the occupant from missing their next class. Personally, I wouldn't mind being able to take a 20-minute nap in the middle of the afternoon, while at work. 

Now, as is often the case, I'm pondering how I can apply a real-world technology/event to gaming. These sleeping-pods would be more likely to show up in a modern-day or sci-fi setting, but there's no reason why a fantasy/magic based game couldn't have them as well. And in the fictional world of the game, even a humble couch can be an adventure hook. Say there's a minor spell (or Vita-Rays, or some technobabble equivalent) that makes the couch work as a sleeping pod. What if some evil wizard or spy agency or subversive group has tampered with the couch so that it reads the sleeper's thoughts, stealing secrets or implanting subliminal suggestions? Or perhaps the couch keeps its occupant asleep for a long time, allowing the person to be kidnapped or shanghaied? A spy could arrange to leave messages in the sleeping pod, so a contact can pick them up either in hard copy or by the above mentioned spell/tech? In a more mundane vein, if the PC's are supposed to meet someone in the sleeping pod lounge, what complications can develop from popping open the wrong one? At the very least, in any game where the PC's do a lot of travelling, these short-rest stations could be as common as the tavern & the inn.