Friday, March 09, 2007

The bananas are safe...or are they?

A year or two ago, I read an article that talked about how bananas are in danger of extinction from a fungus. That's because the bananas we eat so greedily here in the US are all of one variety, and so are vulnerable to being wiped out en masse. In fact, the bananas we eat are all clones of the same fruit; how weird is that?

I can't find the original article now, but here's one from Popular Science that takes a long look at the issue.

I post today, though, because I found a reference on the wonderful Ask a
site to some hope. In essence, it says that if bananas are wiped out, we'll find a new
variety that we can eat
, and cultivate it....we've done it before.

Now maybe I can stop bugging my wife about how we need to eat bananas while they're still around. But it's hard to be sure we can stop worrying. According to the Popular Science article, we may be able to make a new banana, but it won't likely taste just like Cavendish we're so fond of, and it might not taste much like it at all. Many banana varieties taste more like apples. The soft, creamy fruit we're used to is something of an oddity.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Carcasonne: It's new to me

I had a lovely evening on my birthday: Tanya took me to a casual nearby restaurant, where she unveiled the game Carcassonne, and we played a couple of games on the spot.

Carcassone is one of the set of German boardgames that you see in the comics shops in recent years. I didn't know that it's kind of the icon of these games. The games have beautiful materials and neat abstractions; Carcassone is one of the simpler ones.

You can learn the rules in minutes, and my 7 and 9 year old were able to play. You're building structures (illustrated as cities, roads, and fields), but you do this by pulling a random tile from the face-down set. You place your new tile somewhere so that its sides match existing tiles. Then you can choose to place a marker on the tile, or not. Those are your only choices.

Your tile can have a field, cloister, city, or road on it. If you place a marker, you're claiming the field/cloister/city/road. If the tile has more than one of those, you've got to pick one to claim. When a road or city is complete, you can collect your markers and get the points for the structure. If it's a cloister you've claimed, it has only one tile, but is complete when it is completely surrounded.

If you place a marker in a field, you're placing a farmer, who stays in place until the end of the game, when you claim points based on the cities your farmer's field is contiguous with.

Okay, the farmer thing is a little complicated, but it's the only thing that is, and it's elegant. You want to place farmers near the end game, so that you keep markers available, but you want to claim fields that are open and reach many cities. It's a big part of the strategy.

When you've played a game you end up with a pretty structure of cities and roads and fields. Note that no dice are used, and turns go fast. The game can be played by two or more. It's notable in being a good two-player game.

This game has been around a while, but I'd never played it before. I love it; any game I can play with my kids and all of us enjoy gets points from me.

There's a page about the game at BoardgameGeek, and even a strange site devoted to the wooden people used as markers in the game, called Meeples.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

NYC Mech

I read a review from Graphic Novel Review of a graphic novel called NYC Mech, which makes several interesting points:

  • It's easier to do unusual settings or premises in comic books. "Even non-fans expect a wild ride from a comic book or graphic novel."
  • This book is about a New York where all people/animals are robots...and it doesn't try to explain this weird fact. "In NYC Mech, the robots, like Barks’ ducks, serve as simple stand-ins for humanity (and for other animals - robotic dogs and sharks both make appearances). That said, the surface non-humanity of the characters does provide a bit of distance between the reader and the material - which, ironically, makes the work even more believable."
You can find the book on Amazon.

My son is starting to learn to juggle

Maybe a month or more ago I noticed that Ethan, who is nine now, has gotten a lot better at throwing and catching balls. He also started to say things that indicated he was more interested in juggling. He's always said he wanted to learn, but couldn't stick with it very long, or would lose interest as soon as we started to work on the steps. But this week I've spent just two days in a row where I just told him to get out there on the lawn and practice with me. He listens to my direction, and he does pretty well at the two-ball step. Yesterday I got him to try the
three-ball throw. He laughed when he started to get it. I recognize that laugh; the laugh when something you do surprises you.

I'm pretty excited about this; it's been a long time coming. I guess the next step is to get him started counting catches. I remember when I taught my friend Rich Landry to juggle, and he competed with his kids for numbers of catches. (When you count catches, you start juggling and
see how many consecutive catches you can get.) I can't do that of course, since I can juggle three balls infinitely. Maybe I should try five, which I've never gotten much beyond 25 catches. :) Wow, I bet he'll have 100 catches of 3 before I have 50 of five. :)

When I talk about "step two" or the "three-ball throw", I'm referring to juggling three balls using this method: