X-Com 2: The Dark Souls of Strategy Games

This weekend I dove into many engrossing and painful hours with X-Com 2, the sequel to the reboot of the venerable turn-based strategy game. This game does not pussyfoot around. It is hard. There’s a lot that one could say about the game and how it differs from its predecessor, but I’m going to stick to the big picture. The tactical game is massively improved from the first outing, adding more options and complications for both your soldiers and the enemies. Read On →

First Impressions: Dragon's Dogma

We live in a world where the Internet has become the primary medium for arguing about things, all sorts of things. Certain topics, among nerds, have always been contentious. Star Wars vs. Star Trek. Mac vs. PC. Nintendo vs. Sega. And, among a certain set, “Western-style computer role-playing games” (usually “CRPG”) vs “Japanese-style computer role-playing games” (usually “JRPG”). Personally, I’ve never had a dog in this hunt: I am omniludorous. Let a thousand flowers bloom; if your game involves simulated fantasy combat in a vividly realized yet oddly constrained world, the chances are good that I will play it. Read On →

TIS-100p

Due to our long hiatus, Tea Leaves has never written about any of the Zachtronics games. Since Zachtronics made these games solely for me, under the direction of the network of orbital mind-control lasers I employ, this is a tragedy. Let’s fix that now, and give a small signal boost to their latest release, TIS-100p, an assembly langauge programming game for iPad. Although they might chafe at my typecasting of them, I’m comfortable waving my hands and saying that Zachtronics makes puzzle games disguised as programming games. Read On →

Opera Club #1.5 - You'd Think That People Would Have Had Enough Of Silly Love Songs

If you’re just joining us, start at the first article in this series. As always, if you have any comments, feel free to share them with me on twitter. Number 4 - Un di, felice, eterea Starting at 13:17 on the Netrebko/Decker production (which as always you can find near the head of the first article of this series.) A brief editorial note before I get started on this bit. It’s really easy to let your mental model of Alfredo in this scene look like this: I advise against this. Read On →

Opera Club #1.4 - La Traviata, The Drinking Song

If you’re just joining us, start at the first article in this series. As always, if you have any comments, feel free to share them with me on twitter. Why You’ve Heard This Opera’s Music Before Number 3 - “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici”, a.k.a. Brindisi (“The Drinking Song”) Let’s get to the drinking song! In the Netrebko YouTube video this goes from 10:10 to to 13:17, but I suggest you don’t watch it right now, because we’re going to hear this song a few times and I want you to avoid fatigue. Read On →

Opera Club #1.3 - La Traviata, Prelude and Opening

If you’re just joining us, start at the first article in this series. The Music One special note here before we begin. The first act of La Traviata has an absolutely astounding velocity, in both dramatic and musical terms. I’m not prepared to call it unique, but it’s certainly unusual in its incredible density of memorable music. You’re going to be exposed to tons of strong emotion and at (at least) three lyrical, hummable, embed-in-your-head tunes in a mere 30 minutes. Read On →

Opera Club #1.2 - La Traviata in 60 Seconds

If you’re just joining us, start at the first article in this series. More Champagne, Please, I’m Dying And now, on a high wire, without the benefit of a net, I will give you a brief summary of the plot of La Traviata. I am not referring to the libretto, and am just giving you my inaccurate internet summary of the plot in what I hope is a mildly entertaining form. Read On →

Opera Club #1.1 - La Traviata - An Introduction

Or, “She Dies, And It Takes A Long Time.” I hereby call the first edition of Opera Club to order. I’ll be watching, listening to, and writing about Verdi’s La Traviata over the next several weeks, breaking it down a number at a time. First, I’ll post some history and introductory notes, and then we’ll launch into the analysis proper tomorrow. I’ll be illustrating each number with links to YouTube videos, and will suggest others not on YouTube for those who really get bitten by the bug. Read On →

This Is What We Talk About When We Talk About Hexagons

Let’s talk about Order of Battle: Pacific. Let’s do it by talking about Panzer General. And let’s talk about Panzer General by talking about the history of computer wargames. In order to do that, let’s talk about the board-based wargames from the 1960s and 1970s. We could, of course, go even further back, but this is going to be long enough as it is. In the 1960s and 1970s, board-based wargames gained some small measure of popularity, spearheaded by two companies, Avalon-Hill and, later, Simulations Publications Inc., or SPI. Read On →

Guest post from Tilt

Long time friend-of-tleaves and master of dungeons Tilt decided to grace us with some of his thoughts on modern computing trends. You can find tilt on Twitter. Fine art commissions undertaken for very reasonable prices.

Crusader Kings II - Way of Life

The archbishop was pretty sure that my fourth daughter, Aelfflaed, was The Devil. It’s kind of a long story - have a seat. The wine’s poor, I apologize - and here in Leinster, it costs a bloody fortune to have it imported from France, the damned merchants are laughing at me as they sail away, thinking how much I paid for it. D’ye take water in your wine? Muadhnait, bring our guest some warm water. Read On →

About Tea Leaves

Tea Leaves was a blog hosting the writings of (mostly) the Two Petes. Currently under reconstruction, the original archived content can be accessed here

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Astro-Physics: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Meridian

I’m about a year into using my astronomical video camera to view deep- sky objects from the city and capture small and simple pictures of what I see. All things considered the experience has been tremendous, but there was an obvious weak link: the mount that I bought does not track well. This is not to say that the mount did not perform up to my expectations. In fact, given the relatively small amount of money that I paid the mount has been excellent. Read On →

Microsoft Flight

There’s a particular cry that goes out on gaming forums whenever any sort of sequel is released. The cry can be reduced to the phrase “They dumbed it down!” Deconstructing this, what it really means is “They changed some difficult or unforgiving aspect of the game such that more people will want to play it.” It’s the gamer version of “Oh, that band was really awesome until they sold out.” In the music context, “sold out” means “has made music that more people want to listen to.” With Flight, Microsoft has made a flight simulator that more people are going to want to play. Read On →

Dark Souls Ate My Brain

Dark Souls ate my brain. I don’t understand how it happened. I started December a normal, older, jaded gamer who has not seen anything worth playing in most of a year. I ended it about half way through this game and already planning a second run to see if “tuning” my character build would make things better. But here is the worst part. If you write down what people say about this video game it reads like a set of requirements for building a game that I will hate. Read On →

Better than Real

Today a trailer for a documentary film about a band I have never heard of reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to write down. Since the thought was too long to fit into twitter. Here we go. First, this band LCD Sound System apparently came into being, published its body of work, and flamed out prematurely before I had even managed to obtain any hint whatsoever of its existence. I think this says more about me than the band, or the music scene, but I found the situation a bit disturbing. Read On →

All I Want for Christmas is a Place to Farm Souls

Dark Souls is the mildly sadistic sequel to the completely sadistic Japanese action RPG Demon’s Souls. I gave up on the latter game a couple of years ago after encountering the second one hit kill boss in the game. The first one hit kill boss in the game was placed at the end of the tutorial, which gives you an idea of what these games are like. You know from the start that Dark Souls will be easier on you because after getting killed by the tutorial boss you will immediately notice that there is a door that you can use the escape the fight. Read On →

Skyrim: "Blackreach"

For the past year or so I have been bitching to my friends about how the free Oblivion mod “Nehrim” was more expansive, more epic, and generally more impressive than any game Bethesda had ever made. In playing Skyrim, it’s been clear that Bethesda has played Nehrim, and shamelessly stole their good ideas, which is something they should be proud of, because it made their game better. Then, today, I reached the section of Skyrim called “Blackreach”. Read On →

Meanwhile, In Skyrim

DEER ELF AMBASSEDOR: SORY ABOUT THE DEAD GARDS AT YOUR PARTY BUT I NEEDED A THING FOR A MISHUN. MY KONTACT SAID TO BE SNEAKY BUT I HAD BIG ARMOR SO I WAS LOUD SO I HAD TO KILL EVERYONE SORRY. LOVE, KRRRNK THE ORC PS: THANKS FOR THE WINE IT WAS REELY YUMI. PPS: SORRY AGAIN ABOUT THE GARDS.

Dinner in Half an Hour: Spaghetti Carbonara

This one is so easy it’s almost cheating. But I had to put something here so that we didn’t lead the front page with the stupid Internet people anymore. So here we go. This scheme is based on a recipe I have stolen from Marcella Hazan. Buy her book, it’s in there. But I’ve adjusted the flow a bit to make it easier to follow. For me. First get out 2 six to eight quart pots. Read On →

The Stupidest People on The Entire Internet?

Read the comments on this page. Tell me I’m wrong. For the record, comment 25 was the one that put me over the edge. There is no more foul being in the world than a vegetarian who is also a picky eater.

Grab and Go

One key to enjoying the telescope hobby is to know how to set up and tear down your equipment quickly. This is especially true around Pittsburgh where the weather can change only instantly from perfect to disastrous. Over the past couple of months I have developed a reasonably systematic routine in the deployment of the telescope. With it I can set up my full video rig with automatic pointing and tracking in about 20 minutes. Read On →

Deep Sky Projects

Astronomy is an endeavor that is full of catalogs. And I don’t mean the ones that are on the Internet that are designed to separate you from your hard earned cash. For much of its history, astronomers did little else than catalog what was in the sky. Before the telescope, this meant just what you could see with your eyeballs: the brighter stars, the planets, the moon, sun, and their various activities and relationships. Read On →

Blue Streak

The bike computer that came with the new blue bike in July is reading 385 miles. For some perspective, in the last few years, I doubt I’ve ever had a six month season go by where I rode much more than 400 miles. The six months that I had the Surly, according to the computer on that bike, I rode the thing 322 miles. It’s possible that I have an extra (say) 50 or 60 on that bike because the computer could have been broken or not installed. Read On →

My Secret Hideout

“My secret hideout is a row of intricately ornamented domes hung through a willow copse. A row of beams, engraved with the figures of dancing birds, opens to an uneven core room which is filled with the scent of growing things. Below that is the place where I write; it is decorated here and there with tiny relief carvings, and yellow light radiates from hidden skylights. My desk is in back. Read On →

Dinner in Half an Hour: Flounder and Tomatoes

Here is an expanded version of an idea I have posted before. It’s the perfect summer fish dish and there is almost no way in which I can imagine someone messing it up. Here we go. Start with 4 or 5 or 6 or however many pieces of flounder filet you have. Some will be thicker than others, so make sure at least someone who is eating the fish likes it a bit overdone. Read On →

Tens of Dollars

A guy at the office and I have a running joke about the amateur astronomy business. I will opine that the market is just begging for some great product to solve problem X for every telescope user in the world. And then we both snicker that one could make tens of dollars by building and offering such a product for sale. This is a marketplace where selling thousands of units a year makes you a massive player. Read On →

Some Food Shorts

Haven’t done a short snippet food roundup post in a while. So here we go. Salt of the Earth This place opened recently to a huge amount of hype and buzz, and I avoided it for three reasons: 1. Hard to get in anyway. I have plenty of places to go that are easy to get in to. 2. An overbearingly self-concious twitter feed. 3. I had a friend of a friend who had a poor service experience there. Read On →

Consumer: Know Thyself

I bought a new bicycle yesterday. “But wait! You just bought a bike last year!“, you might be thinking. You probably are not thinking that since you’d have to be an obsessive reader of this web site to remember. But it might happen. Yes, I bought a bike last year. On paper it was the perfect bike for me. Steel frame: check. Nice blend of road bike speed with utilitarian versatility: check. Read On →

Let Them Eat Cake

Several people who know me felt the need to point out that Dozen Bake Shop closed their doors last week. I guess since I have written mean things about Dozen they expected me to gloat or something. But while I will talk trash about anyone, I generally don’t take pleasure in someone else’s loss. Well, except for the Lakers and the Yankees. Those guys can kiss my ass. Anyway, with Dozen gone, you might be asking yourself, “where should I go for cake?” Four places. Read On →

Tinkering with The Stars Part 4: The Back End

Back in part 2 I promised a short piece on all the other fussy details related to using the Mallincam. Instead I got into an extended tangent on the subject of telescope mounts, focal length and image scale and various other things. The final missing piece is what you actually do to see the pictures. After some experimentation, I have a scheme I’m comfortable with. The defining aspect of the Mallincam which makes it different than other astronomical cameras is that its output is an analog video signal. Read On →

Spring To Summer and The Nexus of All Things Dorky

As spring has turned into summer we are up against our last few chances to look at the really faint fuzzies in the spring sky. I refer of course to the mega-clusters of galaxies in Virgo and Coma Berenices. This week in Pittsburgh has been miraculously clear from summer haze, and my telescope mount has been miraculously clear from strange mechanical hiccups, which means I have spent a last few quality hours with the galaxies this week. Read On →

The Walking Dead

Ever since Nikon put out the first usable consumer DSLR camera (the D1x, btw) what people have pined for is something that would shoot pictures that are nearly as good, but in a much smaller form factor. Over the last few years, several cameras like this have finally become available. Most recently this has culminated in the almost comical Pentax “Q” System which combines what everyone has always wanted: small sensor cameras and interchangeable lenses. Read On →

Avadon: The Black Fortress

I have a hate/love relationship with Jeff Vogel’s RPG games. I love them because they’re a somewhat nostalgic throwback to the days of the early Ultima games (I’ve talked about my hate/love relationship with those games in detail before). I hate them largely because the games’ UIs are just clumsy enough that I feel a bit like I’m trying to dice onions while wearing mittens. Mind you, Vogel himself has an ambivalent relationship with the genre – worth a read is his not-so-tongue-in-cheek article Why I Hate Fantasy RPGs, outlining a number of their flaws. Read On →

Fine Tuning in the Virgo Cluster, Plus a Surprise

Somewhat uncharacteristically Pittsburgh has had five reasonably clear nights in the last two weeks. In fact, we’ve had so many nights that I actually skipped one due to fatigue. On the other nights, I have taken the opportunity to try and fine tune setting up my little observational “system” for maximum efficiency. I hesitate to say that I succeeded since the device still regularly confuses me. But with my captured images as evidence, I will say that I’ve managed to improve what I can see by a substantial margin over the last couple of months. Read On →

A Subject for Yet Another Cloudy Night

Pittsburgh is on its way to about the tenth day in a row where the dusk brings a bank of clouds and haze from the west. So I’m going to talk about field of view, image size, focal length and image size and a cool photo-related astronomy service. Anyway, we’ll start with a horribly dry and boring technical discussion having to do with optics. Focal Length and Focal Ratio The _focal length_ of a simple telescope the distance the light must travel before it comes to a single point of focus in the optical system. Read On →

Market Dinner in Half an Hour: Salmon and Asparagus

The Firehouse Farmer’s market opened a couple of weeks ago. This means that we are entering that ten or twelve weeks in Pittsburgh where we get a couple of weeks of every sort of fresh vegetables that you can get practically year ‘round in Berkeley. Anyway, nothing goes with great vegetables like salmon. So here we go. Obtain some nice pieces of salmon filet. I like King because it has the most tasty fat. Read On →

Late Night With The Mallincam

If there is one thing that I have learned in my now medium-long lifetime it’s that in Western Pennsylvania you cannot count on clear skies lasting. So when the clouds parted last Friday night at 11:15pm, I had a short quandry. On the one hand, it was 11:15pm and I should be in bed. On the other hand, it might be the last window of clear sky for another month. April to this point had been nothing but gray skies, cold, and rain. Read On →

A brief political statement

Thoughts on Burgers

The trend in Pittsburgh food lately has been restaurants with single word names. Here’s a no-doubt incomplete list: Legume, Toast!, Spoon, Elements, Habitat, Salt, Notion, BRGR and Burgatory. These last two play to another recent trend: fancy burger joints. I see this as a good opportunity to pontificate about about burgers and burger places. To my mind there are three things you want in a burger place. I will list them here in order of importance: 1. Read On →

Fool's Mate

I’ve never been any good at chess. This has always bothered me, on some level, and I dealt with it in what I consider to be a very mature and appropriate way: I’ve pretty much avoided playing chess for 35 years. There are good reasons to avoid chess if you’re not good at it: there’s no randomness, and both sides start evenly, so when you lose, you have no one to blame but yourself. Read On →

Portal 2

Portal 2 had a lot to live up to. Four years ago Portal started as a free short add-in to The Orange Box and turned out to be by far the best game in the entire collection. Now Portal 2 has struck out on its own, in its own box and at nearly full price. DId going solo ruin the magic? Or was Valve able to score again? Well, it turns out that to me it’s a bit of both. Read On →

Tinkering With the Stars 3: The Mount

It clouded over in my yard, so I’m writing this instead of fiddling with my telescope. Aren’t you lucky. Previously in our series we bought a telescope. Then we bought a magic video camera that can seemingly do the impossible. Clearly our dork hero should have been satisfied with this. But all was not quite perfect. First, some background. As I mentioned before, the Mallincam is a device that is something of a hybrid. Read On →

Star Tinkering Part 2: A Mallincam Tutorial

In our previous installment I chronicled, in horrific detail, the steps I took to gently re- enter the world of astronomical observation. At the end of the episode, our dorky hero had become proficient with the modern telescope and its associated tools. Having gained this comfort with the tools, I took the next step and ordered my camera. Having received the camera and used it for a while, I thought I’d try to fill a small hole in the Mallincam literature: the lack of a comprehensive tutorial. Read On →

Tinkering with the Stars

Anybody who knows me knows that I am not a tinkerer. This may sound strange coming from a professional software engineer, but I’ve just never been very good at it. I never took things apart as a kid. I never built my own hardware back when you could still build your own hardware. I was never any good at assembly language. In fact, specifically because I write consumer software for a living, I have fairly high expectations about the required level of polish in the final user experience of such products. Read On →

The Digital Desert Island

The other day I accidentally reset the music that I sync into my iPhone. As I result, I had to wait for a long while for iTunes to copy all the music back into the phone where I had inadvertently deleted it. As it copied track after track it occured to me that the iPod/mp3/iTunes/digital music era has made something that used to be a mainstay of lazy music writing completely irrelevant: the desert island record list. Read On →

The Camera I Want: Available

For a long time on this weblog I have opined for the camera companies to make a digital version of my beloved Konica Hexar. Well, now it’s time to put my money where my mouth is, because Fuji has done it. The new Fuji X100 is available for pre- oder today. It is an APS-C format digital Hexar with a nice small size, a nice fixed F2 lens and the promise of two things that have as yet eluded the smaller-than-huge-DSLR cameras: 1. Read On →

All the Details

A few of weeks ago in a fit of rage I lit into some Internet moron for what I thought were the following offenses: 1. Not being able to follow simple directions from Mark Bittman about how to make a simple stir fry. 2. Drastically overestimating the cost of the endeavor, being unfamiliar with the notion of “amortization”. In retrospect perhaps I was a bit unfair to the poor woman. It became clear to me that Bittman had left out a lot of important details that experienced cooks tend to take for granted. Read On →

Game Over

Uncharted 2 came out for the Playstation 3 a couple of years ago. It is a solid entry in the “large scale, high production quality action and adventure” genre that is popular with the bigger developers these days. The game does many things excellently. In fact, in many ways the game is better at what it does than any title in recent memory. Thus it is all the more confusing why the developers feel the need to prove that they hate you and want you to quit playing their game and just watch the cut scenes on You Tube. Read On →