Which Scotch is Best? A Macallan Taste Test

Last week at Fincon, I spent some time becoming acquainted with Shannyn Allan, who writes about finance and fashion at Frugal Beautiful. Though we’ve known each other for three years, we’d never spent time getting to know each other until this conference.

Shannyn says that she can be an enigma to some men. She’s a self-confessed nerd. “Plus, most men don’t know what to think of a woman who orders a ten-year-old Scotch.”

If that’s the case, most men are dumb.

On the final night of the conference, a group of us (a horde of us, really) sat around the hotel lobby, chatting and drinking drinks. The subject of whisky came up again. Since I was sitting with Shannyn and Jim Wang (among whose many blogs is Scotch Addict), I decided to have a little fun.

I found Sylvana, the woman who’d been our waitress all week. “Sylvana,” I said, “I want a couple of glasses of your very best Scotch.”

She went behind the bar and looked at the shelf. “We have a Macallan 18,” she said.

“That’ll be just fine,” I said. I’d never tried the Macallan 18 before, but I suspected it would be good. And it was. I took a glass to Shannyn and I kept one for myself. Once Jim discovered what we were drinking, he ordered one too. We sipped the Scotch and marveled at its smooth and silky nature.

“That’s good,” Shannyn said. Jim and I nodded in agreement.

When we’d finished our drinks, I went back to Sylvana. “It’s my last order of the week,” I said, “and I’d like another glass of the Macallan.” She gave me a sly smile. Then, presumably because I’d tipped well for the last five nights, she gave me a whopper of a pour. The three of us gratefully shared the drink.

Fast-forward to last Tuesday. I was driving home from errands when Shannyn sent me a text. “Is the 15-year Macallan as good as the 18-year Macallan?” she asked. Her timing was impeccable. I was just passing the last liquor store before home. I pulled in to the parking lot.

“Don’t buy anything,” I replied. “I’ll do a little test.”

And so I bought a bottle of the 15-year Macallan and a bottle of the 18-year Macallan. Then, for good measure, I bought a bottle of the 12-year Macallan to add to the mix.

Note: Under no circumstances was this a frugal thing to do, I’m well aware. But I’m a whisky drinker. I knew that these bottles would fit nicely with my existing library of Scotches.

Then I drove home and made a little video:

As you can see, I had a lot of fun with this project. (And as you can also see, I forgot to edit the title card at the end of the clip. Haha.) It’s been pleasing to find that the folks who watch this find it as amusing as I do.

This is the second video I’ve posted this week. (It’s actually the third if you count the video of our recent motorcycle trip.) There’ll be more.

Kim and I are embarking on a fun, open-ended project in 2015 that will be very video intensive. As part of that, we’ll be filming interviews with dozens of people.

But while I feel I’m an acceptable amateur photographer, I know next to nothing about videography. I’ve solicited advice from some of my colleagues (David Hobby, Wes Wages, etc.), and their recommendations will help me track down the lighting and sound gear I need. Having good gear is great, of course, but what I need to do most right now is get practice using the gear.

To that end, I’ll be creating lots of short one-off videos. Many of them will be about silly things — like drinking Scotch. I won’t publish all of them here, but I do hope to share the best ones.

Next up? This afternoon, Kim and I are headed to Oregon’s wine country to do a bit of tasting. Who knows? Maybe I’ll put together a short clip about that…


While in Alaska last month, I confided in Kim that I’m terrified of bears. It’s true. All my life, I’ve been ursaphobic.

My fear of bears is a real problem when I go camping. Unless I’m in a large group, I’m always nervous — especially if the camping trip involves a long hike into remote territory. It’s also a problem any time I go to Alaska.

When I visited Alaska in 2010, I had a couple of close encounters with bears. The first time, we saw a group of bald eagles feeding on some grizzly corpses near the shoreline. (Yes, the bears were dead — killed by hunters on another boat — but I knew there were probably more around. And I had no doubt they wanted vengeance!)

Later in the trip, Mac and I took an uphill hike at a bay north of Sitka. The well-worn trail was covered with bear scat and clawed tree trunks. I was terrified the whole time, and very relieved to make it back to the boat in one piece.

Kim finds my fear of bears amusing. On the first day of our trip, she sent me the following, which she found on Facebook:


So true. So true.

In Juneau, I paused for a photo op:

I don’t want to live anywhere signs like this are needed.

I had a close call in Skagway. Fortunately, the bear was more interested in getting me to buy jewelry than eating me (or the tasty salmon in my backpack):


That’s enough bear action for me to last several years. Now, of course, I’m in Ecuador, where there are no bears. There are only jaguars. I’m fine with jaguars. I like cats…

My First Motorcycle

When I was a boy, I loved motorcycles. I was fascinated by the exploits of Evil Knievel, and liked watching motorcycle riders on the highway.

I never got a chance to ride when I was young, though. My friend Torey had a dirt bike, and he’d let me ride behind him from time to time, but I never got a chance to ride myself.

In college, Kris had a Honda Spree scooter. That was fun. When we moved to Canby, though, she sold the scooter, and for twenty years, I didn’t ride again. Then, last year in Turkey, I spent an amazing day riding a scooter through Cappadocia. Combine that experience with a girlfriend who loves motorcycles (Kim has ridden them since she was twelve), and suddenly I had a goal. I wanted to get my motorcycle endorsement.

That’s not just a formality here in Oregon. To get your motorcycle permit, you need to pass a written test. (Which I did on a whim last October.) To get the motorcycle endorsement on your license, you need to take an officially-sanctioned three-day motorcycle training program. Kim and I have been talking about doing this together for over a year. In August, we finally made it happen.

I learned to ride on this Yamaha dual-sport bike.

The motorcycle safety course includes eight hours of on-bike training.

It’s official: I passed!

At the end of July, Kim bought her father’s Harley Sportster 883. He rode it from Boise to Portland; we drove him home. While in Boise, we all went shopping at the Harley store. Kim came home with these kick-ass riding boots.

Hot hot hot!

After I finished the motorcycle training program, I looked around for a “starter bike”. It didn’t take long to find a white 2006 Honda Rebel with only 3400 miles on it.

Guess who just rode home on his NEW MOTORCYCLE?!?
Looking very serious with my new bike.

Our friend Cody also wants to learn to ride. The first free Sunday, we took him to an empty parking lot and taught him the basics. The three of us spent a couple of hours going around in circles, weaving between water-bottle cones, and practicing quick stops.

Cody on my Rebel, getting the hang of gentle turns.

Feeling confident, I started riding my bike for errands. Very fun. And so much better to make dumb mistakes (I keep stalling in first gear!) at low speeds and in light traffic.

I was twenty minutes early for an appointment recently, so I decided to ride my motorcycle around the neighborhood. Up hills. Down hills. Around gentle corners. And so on.

I had slowed to take a sharp corner when I laid my bike down for the very first time. I’d turned my head to look into the turn, as I’d been trained to do, but had failed to account for the thing layer of loose gravel on top of the road. At about 12mph, I leaned into the turn — and the bike slid out from under me. It stopped almost immediately, coming to rest on my right leg. Ouch!

Fortunately, all I suffered were skinned knees and elbows and a bruised ego. And I learned a valuable lesson. Even a little gravel is hazardous to a motorcycle in a turn.

I’m actually a very cautious rider. I’ve been an avid bicyclist for over a decade, and I’ve been in one bad car crash. I know the biggest danger on the road is other drivers, so I’m very wary. And having crashed my bicycle several times, I know how important it is to get back out there and ride. If you take time off after a crash, you psych yourself out. You become afraid to ride.

So, naturally, I haven’t let me little motorcycle accident dampen my enthusiasm. As I prepped to leave for Ecuador, I completed all my errands by motorcycle. And I can’t wait to get home. There should be a couple of nice weekends left for me and Kim to take some joyrides through the Willamette Valley. And just wait until next summer! By then, I hope to graduate from my “starter bike” to something with a little more power…

Poems for People Who Don’t Like Poetry?

When I was younger, I wanted to be a poet. In high school, I wrote poetry all the time. Some of it was actually okay — in a sophomoric kind of way. Most of the time, it was about what you’d expect from a nerdy high-school boy. Still, I managed to get some poems published, and even saw a few paychecks because of it.

I haven’t written much poetry since college, though. The impulse vanished. About once every couple of years, I’ll dash something off, but mostly I’m non-poetic. Here’s a little bit that I wrote on September 11, 2001. I like it.

In the twilight
the colors bleed and fade —
what once was red, or blue, or green,
is now black. Or white.

The approaching darkness
casts long shadows, cloaking
all that once danced in light,
consuming warmth, producing fright.

Though I don’t write much myself anymore, I appreciate good poetry. Here are a few of my favorites:

When Death Comes
by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Summer Storm
by Dana Gioia

We stood on the rented patio
While the party went on inside.
You knew the groom from college.
I was a friend of the bride.

We hugged the brownstone wall behind us
To keep our dress clothes dry
And watched the sudden summer storm
Floodlit against the sky.

The rain was like a waterfall
Of brilliant beaded light,
Cool and silent as the stars
The storm hid from the night.

To my surprise, you took my arm —
A gesture you didn’t explain —
And we spoke in whispers, as if we two
Might imitate the rain.

Then suddenly the storm receded
As swiftly as it came.
The doors behind us opened up.
The hostess called your name.

I watched you merge into the group,
Aloof and yet polite.
We didn’t speak another word
Except to say goodnight.

Why does that evening’s memory
Return with this night’s storm —
A party twenty years ago,
Its disappointments warm?

There are so many might have beens,
What ifs that won’t stay buried,
Other cities, other jobs,
Strangers we might have married.

And memory insists on pining
For places it never went,
As if life would be happier
Just by being different.

The Sunlight on the Garden
by Louis MacNeice

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told,
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth comples, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.

I’m particularly impressed by folks who make good use of meter, rhythm, and rhyme. It’s harder to work within these contraints than outside of them. Besides, I don’t find much difference between modern free verse and flowery essays. (I’ll readily admit this could be a shortcoming on my part.)

When Kim and I started dating fifteen months ago, I mentioned my fondness for poetry. “I’m not sure I like poetry,” she said. “A lot of times, I just don’t get it. Plus, I don’t like being told what things mean.”

“Some of it’s good,” I told her.

“You should share it with me,” she said. But I never did.

Last weekend, I found some time to read her a handful of poems. She liked a few, but others simply reinforced her opinion. “I don’t get it,” she said after a couple of opaque poems. From her perspective, it was as if the poets didn’t want to be understood, an observation I find interesting (and, quite possibly, accurate).

So, I’m coming to you for advice. Can you recommend some poems for people who don’t like poetry? Did you used to be a poetry hater? Are you still? What poems changed your mind? What poets do you appreciate? How does somebody who finds poetry frustrating learn to love it?

The Cinnamon Bear: A Classic Old-Time Radio Christmas Show

Because I love The Cinnamon Bear so much, I post this same article every year. This year is no different, except that I’m posting it here instead of at Get Rich Slowly. If you have young children — and even if you don’t — I encourage you to listen to these old radio broadcasts with your family.

When I was a boy, Christmas meant The Cinnamon Bear. During the weeks before Christmas, a Portland radio station (KEX) would broadcast a fifteen minute episode of this story every night.

The Cinnamon Bear chronicles the adventures of Judy and Jimmy, and their fantastic trip through Maybeland as they search for the missing Silver Star that belongs atop their Christmas tree.

I loved the cast of characters and the exotic locales: the Root Beer Ocean and the Inkaboos, the Wintergreen Witch, the Looking Glass Valley, the Crazy Quilt Dragon. And, of course, I loved Santa Claus and the North Pole.

Because of the vagaries of copyright law, most old-time radio broadcasts are now in the Public Domain. The Cinnamon Bear is freely distributable. Some radio stations still broadcast the show every year. But don’t worry about hunting for it: I’ve gathered all of the episodes here for you to download.

Collected below is every episode, in order. The program is meant to be heard once per day between November 29th (that’s Thursday) and Christmas Eve. It was one of my favorites when I was a kid, and modern parents tell me their children love it, too. Enjoy!

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #1: “Paddy O’ Cinnamon”
[Originally broadcast 29 November 1937 — 2.59mb, 11:18]
Judy and Jimmy write letters to Santa. The Silver Star Christmas ornament is missing and the kids go up to the attic to find it. They meet Paddy O’Cinnamon (The Cinnamon Bear) who tells them the Silver Star was taken to Maybeland by the Crazy Quilt Dragon.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #2: “Weary Willie”
[Originally broadcast 30 November 1937 — 2.59mb, 11:44]
Paddy O’Cinnamon shows Judy and Jimmy how to de-grow so they can follow the Crazy Quilt Dragon to the Lollipop Mountains. They climb into Paddy’s Soda Pop Airplane and fly through the tunnel.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #3: “Crazy Quilt Dragon”
[Originally broadcast 01 December 1937 — 2.71mb, 11:51]
Feeling remorseful for drinking their Soda Pop and stranding them in Looking Glass Valley without fuel, Weary Willie has the Stork fly them out on his back. They catch Crazy Quilt but he drops the Silver Star in the Root Beer Ocean.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #4: “The Inkaboos”
[Originally broadcast 02 December 1937 — 2.70mb, 11:46]
While they try to find the Silver Star, Judy and Jimmy are captured by the Inkaboos. King Blotto is insulted and sentences them to die in the Immense Inkwell.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #5: “Weasley the Wailing Whale”
[Originally broadcast 03 December 1937 — 2.84mb, 12:25]
Crazy Quilt comes to the rescue. The children escape to the Root Beer Ocean, where they see the Silver Star floating on the waves.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #6: “Samuel Seal”
[Originally broadcast 04 December 1937 — 2.91mb, 12:43]
Wesley the Wailing Whale swallows the Silver Star. Samuel Seal recovers the Silver Star from Wesley, only to have Penelope the Pelican carry it off.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #7: “Presto the Magician”
[Originally broadcast 05 December 1937 — 2.85mb, 12:26]
Judy and Jimmy meet Presto the Magician. He pulls Penelope the Pelican from his hat, but she has dropped the Silver Star on the Island of Obi.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #8: “Candy Pirates”
[Originally broadcast 06 December 1937 — 2.73mb, 11:55]
Judy and Jimmy are captured by Captain Taffy and his Pirates. They take the kids to the Magic Island and loan them a rowboat.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #9: “Roly-Poly Policeman”
[Originally broadcast 07 December 1937 — 2.83mb, 12:21]
Judy and Jimmy are on the Magic Island, where the Roly-Poly Policeman has taken their Silver Star for his uniform. But before the kids can get to him, Crazy Quilt Dragon runs off with the Silver Star again!

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #10: “Professor Whiz”
[Originally broadcast 08 December 1937 — 2.79mb, 12:10]
Paddy O’Cinnamon, the Cinnamon Bear has disappeared. Judy and Jimmy are chasing Crazy Quilt Dragon to get their Silver Star. Professor Whiz tells them about the Wintergreen Witch. They follow Crazy Quilt into the Picture Forest, where they meet Fraidy Cat.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #11: “Fee Foe the Gentle Giant”
[Originally broadcast 09 December 1937 — 2.91mb, 12:41]
Fee Foe the Gentle Giant shows Judy and Jimmy the Goody-Goody Grove and invites them for lunch. They start to follow Crazy Quilt when it suddenly gets very, very dark!

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #12: “Rhyming Rabbit”
[Originally broadcast 10 December 1937 — 2.88mb, 12:34]
Judy and Jimmy meet up again with Crazy Quilt, who says the Wintergreen Witch forced him to steal the Silver Star. While trying to find their way back to the Wintergreen Witch’s house, they encounter the Rhyming Rabbit.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #13: “The Wintergreen Witch”
[Originally broadcast 11 December 1937 — 2.85mb, 12:25]
The Wintergreen Witch tries to take Judy and Jimmy’s Silver Star and change the kids into mice, but they get away. After their hurried flight, Crazy Quilt sits on the Silver Star and breaks it.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #14: “Queen Melissa”
[Originally broadcast 12 December 1937 — 2.81mb, 12:16]
Crazy Quilt suggests that they all visit Melissa, the Queen of Maybeland, who can tell them how to fix the Silver Star.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #15: “Snapper Snick”
[Originally broadcast 13 December 1937 — 2.78mb, 12:08]
Judy and Jimmy learn that they can only read Queen Melissa’s magic instructions in total darkness, which only occurs in the Wishing Woods. On the way there, the kids meet Snapper Snick the Crooning Crocodile, who swallows the magic instructions.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #16: “Oliver Ostrich”
[Originally broadcast 14 December 1937 — 2.85mb, 12:26]
Snapper Snick explains that he reads by eating and that’s how he is able to read in the dark. Judy and Jimmy learn that the magic instructions direct them to the the Wishing Well. On the way, they meet Oliver Ostrich who eats alarm clocks. Oliver directs them to the Wishing Well — Paddy O’Cinnamon, the Cinnamon Bear, falls in.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #17: “Muddlers”
[Originally broadcast 15 December 1937 — 2.83mb, 12:22]
Judy and Jimmy use their one wish, given by the Wishing Well, to get rescue Cinnamon Bear, and now they can’t fix their Silver Star with the Wishing Well’s magic. While trying to get out of the Wishing Woods, they encounter the Muddlers and the River of Mud.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #18: “Cocklebur Cowboys”
[Originally broadcast 16 December 1937 — 2.82mb, 12:18]
Slim Pickens and the Cocklebur Cowboys of the Purple Plain come to the rescue of Judy and Jimmy, Cinnamon Bear and Crazy Quilt, pulling them from the mud.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #19: “Wooden Indian”
[Originally broadcast 17 December 1937 — 2.82mb, 12:19]
Judy and Jimmy are being chased by Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, a wooden Indian who wants Crazy Quilt’s pelt for his girlfriend Many Happy Returns. Judy trades her looking glass to him instead. After he leaves, they encounter the Wintergreen Witch again in the Golden Grove.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #20: “Flying Hat”
[Originally broadcast 18 December 1937 — 2.79mb, 12:10]
The Grand Wonky arrives in the nick of time to banish the Wintergreen Witch to Looking Glass Valley. While searching for the Singing Tree, they find the Flying Hat and it has a mysterious note attached.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #21: “Snowman”
[Originally broadcast 19 December 1937 — 2.74mb, 11:59]
The mysterious note invites the crew inside where they find chairs just the right size for all of them. The Flying Hat carries them to the Land of Ice and Snow to get the Silver Star fixed. They ask the Snowman how to find Nicki Froodle, as Queen Melissa told them. Nicki turns out to be an Elf, and he takes them to see Santa Claus.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #22: “Santa Claus”
[Originally broadcast 20 December 1937 — 2.78mb, 12:08]
Santa Claus welcomes Judy and Jimmy and introduces them to Jack Frost who repairs the Silver Star only to have it vanish again.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #23: “The Bad Dolls”
[Originally broadcast 21 December 1937 — 2.90mb, 12:39]
The Bad Dolls have stolen the Silver Star. Santa orders out the Tin Soldiers to capture the Bad Dolls and return the Silver Star.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #24: “The Parade”
[Originally broadcast 22 December 1937 — 2.86mb, 12:30]
The Wintergreen Witch appears again aiding the Bad Dolls in defeating the Tin Soldiers. Santa orders out reinforcements while Judy and Jimmy watch the Christmas Parade. After the Parade, Captain Tintop brings back the Silver Star.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #25: “Captain Tintop”
[Originally broadcast 23 December 1937 — 2.87mb, 12:30]
Captain Tintop tells how they defeated the Wintergreen Witch and then the group goes to a grand banquet hosted by Santa Claus. After the banquet, Crazy Quilt runs off with the Silver Star once again.

The Cinnamon Bear, episode #26: “North Pole”
[Originally broadcast 24 December 1937 — 2.78mb, 12:09]
Crazy Quilt heads for the North Pole with Santa Claus, Judy, Jimmy, and Nicki Froodle in pursuit. They catch Crazy Quilt and tackle him to recover the Silver Star. Then they wake up in the attic just in time to decorate the Christmas Tree.

When I was a boy, my brothers and I huddled around the wood stove and listened to the show on AM radio. Now, through the magic of technology, you can download these mp3s, curl up under your electric blanket, and listen on your iPod. Better yet, tuck your children into bed and listen to the story with them. This is a wonderful no-cost holiday tradition.


Cute Airline Safety Videos

My friend Jen (well, one of my friends Jen — I have three…or more) sent me this video, which you’ve probably already seen. It’s a New Zealand Airline safety briefing with hobbits and elves and orcs. And Gollum.

Cute. (And, in one place, with double entendre!)

But I’ll tell you what. Nothing beats the safety video I saw on Pegasus Airlines in Turkey. It was filmed using children of Pegasus employees and is so flippin’ cute!!. Here’s a short version from Pegasus itself:

The whole thing lasts four or five minutes and is cuteness overload. So much better than the dull instructions on American airlines.

Gangnam Style — Acoustic!

When I returned from Turkey, I came home to find that the song “Gangnam Style” was everywhere. (600 million views on YouTube!) I’m okay with that. I love it too. Here, though, is an acoustic version of “Gangnam Style” that may be my favorite version yet:

I’m a sucker for pop music.

Bonus: Here’s a Halloween light show set to the song. Crazy!

Bonus Bonus: Haha! In the days since I wrote this, Andy linked to infinite Gangnam style. Also crazy!

Bonus Bonus Bonus: This song will be the end of us all…

Gencon Indy 2011

A sea of dice at GenCon
At GenCon, there were many vendors with many dice. This vendor’s dice were awesome.

As a life-long geek, I’ve always wanted to attend GenCon, one of the world’s most prominent gaming conventions. I remember reading about it as a boy and wishing I could go play Dungeons and Dragons with all of the older geeks. So, when Adam Baker (Man vs. Debt) invited me to visit Indianapolis to attend GenCon 2011 with him, I jumped at the chance.

For four days starting last Thursday, Adam and his wife (Courtney) allowed me to tag along with them as we joined tens of thousands of other nerds to play (and purchase) games.

We split a lot of our time among two rooms: the Mayfair room and the Rio Grande room. Mayfair produces games like Tigris & Euphrates, Empire Builder, and The Settlers of Catan. Rio Grande’s games include Dominion, Power Grid, and Carcassonne.

We played some of our old favorites (I actually won at Settlers, a game I normally loathe), but mostly we tried new games. Here, Adam is picking up the rules to Rio Grande’s Navegador, an exploration and economics game that won rave reviews from our group. (We all ended up purchasing it.)

Adam, learning a new game at GenCon
Adam Baker, learning to play Navegador at GenCon

Because GenCon is so huge — my guess is there were roughly 30,000 people present over the course of the weekend, so probably 15,000 or more at a time on site — it plays host to a variety of game tournaments and championships. The North American championship for The Settlers of Catan is played at GenCon, for instance. Here are folks playing Settlers at a custom-designed table:

Hundreds (thousands?) of games of Settlers were played at GenCon
Hundreds (thousands?) of games of Settlers were played at GenCon

These custom-built Settlers tables sold at a reasonable price, actually. I think a fold-up version cost something like $150 and a full table maybe twice as much.

There were lots of expensive games and accessories that tempted me, including a $120 version of Automobile and a $150 version of Settlers. Though I bought a lot of stuff, I did my best to steer clear of the deluxe editions.

My favorite part of the entire show was the exhibit from Geek Chic. Geek Chic produces amazing high-quality furniture designed specifically for nerds. They make fancy filing cabinets for comic book collectors, display cases for folks who paint miniatures or collect action figures, and jaw-dropping tables for gamers. Their gaming tables (which range from the size of a coffee table to simply ginormous) are gorgeous. Best of all, they’re thoughtfully designed for gamers, with all sorts of great features and options, like dice towers, recessed play areas, and shelves for each player. This furniture is expensive, but probably worth it for someone who games a lot.

These gaming tables at GenCon were amazing
These gaming tables at GenCon were amazing.

I’m not willing to spend $16,000 on the massive Sultan, a ten-player table for miniatures and role-playing games. But I might consider budgeting $1300 for the Hoplite, a coffe-table sized game station. And there’s no question I covet the comic book filing cabinets!

Most of the stuff in the exhibit hall was much less expensive. In fact, most of the things for sale were games.

You could buy nearly any game you wanted at GenCon
You could buy nearly any game you wanted at GenCon

On the final day of GenCon, Adam and I both took some time to browse for our favorite games. We’re both big fans of the games from Rio Grande: Dominion, Power Grid, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and — my favorite game of all time — Carcassonne. Both of us bought a copy of a new Rio Grande game called Navegador. I look forward to teaching it to my friends.

Other points of note:

  • The game auction lasted all weekend (about 30 hours of non-stop live auctions!). We sat in for a couple of hours Sunday morning as the board games were auctioned. It was far more entertaining than it ought to have been. I was sorely tempted to bid on a copy of the Bionic Woman game I remember owning when I was a boy. But I resisted the urge.
GenCon board game auction
The GenCon board game auction. Adam bought the copy of Tigris & Euphrates you see here.

  • There were also plenty of people in elaborate costumes. These ranged from generic fantasy adventurers (elves! barbarians! wizards! zombies!) to characters from popular comic books (especially anime) and films. (Tons of of Star Wars characters, for instance.) There were actually many, many shops in the exhibition hall that catered directly to the costumed crowd. I generally disdain costumes, but I’ll admit that by the end of this convention, even I could envision myself dressing up for something like this.
Costumed nerds at GenCon
Lots of nerds came in costume. By the end of the con, even I was tempted by the costumes.

  • Companies preview their new games at GenCon. One game that caught my eye was X-Wing from Fantasy Flight Games. This game, which was just announced (and won’t be available until early 2012), is a tactical space combat simulation using miniatures. I’m hoping the gameplay lives up to the aesthetics of the thing.
Companies previewed new games at GenCon.
Companies previewed new games at GenCon, such as the X-Wing miniatures game.

I also stopped by to see my friend Nicole (on whose couch I slept two weeks ago) at her booth at the back of the exhibit hall. Nicole owns Green Ronin, a game publisher in Seattle. She was patient enough to answer some of my questions about her competitors’ game systems, and she even pointed me toward one that was best suited for gaming needs. (Okay, I’ll confess: I want to lead my friends on a role-playing game in which they play anthropomorphic mice. Think Watership Down but with mice instead of rabbits.)

I had a great time at GenCon, and I’d be happy to return in the future.

Footnote: I was supposed to fly to London immediately after the conference to begin a month-long stay in England (and possibly France and/or The Netherlands). But because of my mother’s health problems, I decided to cancel the trip. This makes me sad, but it means I can focus on preparing for my October trip to Latin America instead.

Sushi Cam

Here’s a fun video I discovered a couple of months ago. I’m not sure why I didn’t share it before. At a sushi bar in Japan, the dishes are served on a conveyer belt. Patrons take the food they want as it comes to them. Here, a young woman has placed her digital video camera on the conveyer to let it make its 7-1/2 minute trip through the restaurant. The result is strangely mesmerizing:

As I say, I watched this a few months ago, but dismissed it as a novelty. But I’ve thought about the video many times since. I love the way it captures so many small moments.

It’s enthralling.

Saturday Morning

On the way to book group last month, Kris and I stopped to pick up pastries at Marsee Bakery in Westmoreland. I found the following scene amusing:

Bakery Men

Five old men, all seated at the back of the store, each with a newspaper. (And you can see Kris reflected in the mirror…)