Blog-o! Notes from

Sat, 31 Dec 2011

This poor blog has been sorely neglected, and especially the book blog. I feel like I haven't been reading much—I certainly don't get big blocks of time reading time very often—but I've managed to plough through a few books while brushing my teeth or waiting in line or taking the bus. I think these are most of them, although I always manage to forget a few.

(**) Loved
(?) Forgot
(x) Did not care for
(hm) Made me think

Books I Read With Delphine

  • All Creatures Great and Small and All Things Wise and Wonderful by James Herriot (**)
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Kids' and Young Adult Fiction

  • Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg (**)
  • Scars by Cheryl Rainfield (hm)
  • Better Than Weird by Anna Kerz (**) (hm)
  • Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (**)
  • Masked by Norah McClintock
  • Knifepoint by Alex Van Tol
  • Comeback by Vicki Grant (?)
  • Rock Star by Adrian Chamberlain
  • Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Book Club Books

  • The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (?)
  • The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (x)
  • Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
  • The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon (hm)
  • Annabel by Kathleen Winter (**) (hm)

Pulp and Other Fiction

  • Gideon's Sword by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (x)
  • Guilty as Sin by Joseph Teller
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
  • Open Doors by Gloria Goldreich
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Blackout by Connie Willis


  • Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert by John Gottman and Nan Silver
  • Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon (I know, right? Mmm, bacon...) (hm)


  • Too Safe For Ther Own Good: How Risk and Responsibility Help Teens Thrive by Michael Ungar (?)
  • Lapsing into a Comma: A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print—and How to Avoid Them by Bill Walsh
  • The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (hm)
  • Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer) by Stan Cox
  • Wrong About Japan: A Father's Journey with His Son by Peter Carey
  • Ah-choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold by Jennifer Ackerman
  • Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves by Adam Hochschild (**) (hm)
[Posted at 23:01 by Amy Brown] link

Santa was good for family cohesiveness this year — he brought us lots of things to do together. Delphine got a build-your-own-catapult kit, Cordelia got a giant puzzle of Toronto, and we got three board games. We haven't opened the catapult or the puzzle yet, but the games have already seen a lot of use.

Apples to Apples, Jr.

Apples to Apples, Jr. is one of those games that makes you feel slightly stupid for having paid for the game and all the packaging, because there's nothing special about the game parts that you couldn't fabricate yourself. The creator's genius is in coming up with the game and getting it into production. And in this case I don't feel too bad about paying for it, because it's a really fun game.

What you get in the box are two sets of cards: red (nouns) and green (adjectives). Each player gets five nouns, and one player is the judge and selects an adjective. The non-judge players have to select from their hand the noun which most exemplifies the chosen adjective, and submit it without revealing which noun is theirs. Then the judge chooses—using criteria of their own choosing—the winning noun. Players are encouraged to advocate for their cards, and the game is more fun if the judge deliberates out loud.

We've enjoyed this game every time we play it, with every age group. It's best for readers, but even Cordelia can play if she has someone to help her with the words she isn't sure of. There is an adult version of the game which I can only imagine is extremely fun.

Lego Champion

We have Lego Creationary, which I kind of like but I'm not really good at Lego, so I don't love it. I wasn't sure about Lego Champion, but we all like it way more.

The board is a track made (by you) of Lego, and each turn adds another piece to the board. Each turn also involves a challenge, a game the whole team plays to determine who will move forward a bonus amount.

There are five possible challenges which vary wildly in difficulty. In On Target everyone throws a Lego brick and tries to hit a target. Bluffing Bricks is a guessing game where everyone takes three blocks and then players take turns guessing how many of a particular colour there are, or calling the previous player's bluff. In Topple Tower players take turns balancing a successively larger Lego creation to the top of a tower: the first player plays one piece, the second player plays a two-piece object, the third plays a three-piece object, and so on. The trick is that you can't interlock your object to the tower. The last player to add to the tower without toppling it wins the challenge.

In Codebreaker, the challenger (the person whose turn it is) makes a three-brick code, and then other players have to figure it out by asking yes-or-no questions. And finally, in Speed Builder the challenger builds an eight-brick structure in secret, and the rest of the players race to duplicate it exactly.

Our favourite challenges are Topple Tower and Speed Builder. Bluffing Bricks is a little hard to understand, but once you've worked it out it can be a clever and fascinating exercise. I think you have to be quite a big of a game theory nerd, though; last night we played it with some friends and it was so confusing we ended up substituting Lego bowling when Bluffing Bricks came up on the dice. (Lego bowling is surprisingly challenging, it turns out, because the bowling ball (the dice) is cube-shaped and bouncy.)

The game play for Lego Champion is fairly quick and we've played it successfully with ages from six to adult. (Although Cordelia tends to amuse herself between turns by building things with the extra blocks.)

Trivial Pursuit Family Edition

For a long time I've imagined that it would be really nice if there were a trivia game with different questions for kids and adults. I looked here and there (although not on the Internet) for such a game with no luck. At the local games shop (which is admittedly really nerdy, catering mainly to the Chess, Go and D&D crowd and only reluctantly carrying a selection of mainstream board games) they had Nickleodeon and Disney Trivial Pursuits which depressingly advertised, "DVD Included! No reading! No adult participation required!" Well thank goodness for that.

Imagine my surprise when I found Trivial Pursuit Family Edition at Toys! Toys! Toys!, the second tackiest toy store in town. It is exactly as I imagined it, Trivial Pursuit with two sets of cards, one for kids and one for adults. The board is changed slightly to speed up game-play: half of the "roll again" spaces are now shortcuts to pie spaces, but even so Delphine and I have found that our two-person games drag on a little.

The kid questions are pitched perfectly for a well-read eight-year-old, so Delphine really enjoys it and gives me a run for my money. I am not sure how well this game would go over for a kid who doesn't read a lot or watch a lot of education TV. Cordelia basically can't play because there's too much reading and she doesn't know enough yet, although she has a nice time being on someone's team, for a while at least.

My only problem with this game is that it's American and the questions are heavily skewed to American history and geography. I suppose it's too much to ask that there be a Trivial Pursuit Canadian Family Edition...

[Posted at 21:03 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 08 Dec 2011
What the heck am I pushing, anyways?

Much of the new work I’m doing these days is being stored in git repositories. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of git, particularly its UI, but the advantages of GitHub and GitX are hard to ignore. Despite that, I still really missed being able to type hg out to see which patches I would be pushing, so, after a short chat with (and demo from) Ben, I came up with the following:

Somewhere in your path, add a file named git-outgoing which contains the following contents:

# !/bin/sh
# Uh, there shouldn’t be a space between the # and ! in the previous
# line, but the highlighter I’m using seems to require it…
git push --dry-run $1 2>&1 | awk '/^ / {print $1}' | xargs git log

(Make sure it’s executable by whomever needs to use it!)

Then, in your git config, add the following section:

    out = outgoing

And finally, you should be able to type git out, and see something like:

commit 7d4c9b89a4663a07bed030669bae2d3c73ec78dc
Author: Blake Winton <>
Date:   Thu Dec 8 12:22:41 2011 -0500

    Blear 2

commit a4e8c6627bc26d7371fb2614a1c47aaf694957bd
Author: Blake Winton <>
Date:   Thu Dec 8 12:18:04 2011 -0500


So, hopefully some of the rest of you will find this helpful, too, and if you know of a better way to do this, please let me know in the comments!

[Posted at 13:04 by Blake Winton] link