Friday, January 23, 2015

I Have Three Cats... Well... *I* Don't, But Someone Does

This is a very aptly named blog.

I can't fault the honesty of anyone who has a blog called "I Have Three Cats". It's exactly what it sounds like. I suppose it's not the most honest in the world considering he now has a fourth cat, but this doesn't take away from the blog's inherent cuteness. It adds 33.3% to that cuteness, actually.

Some of the entries get far more specific than is probably necessary, such as this gem from Wednesday's entry"Kola has been experiencing runny poop. I didn’t know it was his until this morning. He is a very clean animal, especially considering his long, airy fur. But this morning, his bum was matted with…unpleasantness." While I love cats, I don't love poop. I feel like a lot of people could say that. That said, the same entry features this beautiful picture of the aforementioned Kola.

In Monday's entry, blogger John Bellen reveals he uses the same type of bowls for his cats' water as I do for serving sauces. As someone who has fed his cat (small scraps of!) filet mignon before, I really have no room to call out anyone for privileging cats.

It's amazing to see just how much we do with what we think of as our spare, leisure or family time. This blog could be all three. It's at least the last one. Besides, people blog about all sorts of things they do.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Brief Guide for Scrabble Players Who Want to Play Word Chums

Lately, I've been playing the loosely Scrabble-based, cartoon-animated, fast and loose Word Chums. My adorable cat character has unleashed some massive words, culminating in a 126-point sextuple word score bingo against a Genius-level (the highest level) Chumbot (computer AI - the Genius ones actually aren't bad). Sextuple word score, you say? Well, that doesn't sound like Scrabble at all!

Some of the key differences I've noticed in my 16 games of Word Chums, as compared to my probably thousands of games of Scrabble:

The board layout is different. In Word Chums, it is quite possible to land two double word scores on the same word, or even a double and a triple. Adding to the craziness is that landing a triple word score isn't the holy grail in Word Chums it often is in Scrabble... precisely because capturing one so often leads to your opponent having a wide-open shot at two concurrent double word scores.

There are also quadruple letter scores located in the four corners of the board. (Triple word scores are now along the edges.) These are located conveniently close to the triple word scores. You can imagine the fireworks that follow.

Awarding of points is different. Bingos aren't 50 points in Word Chums. They're only 40. There are two trade-offs for this. One is that there are mini-bingos of sorts; playing five letters awards an additional 10 points, and playing six letters awards an additional 20. The other is that with bonus squares all over the board like the mines in a ridiculously hard game of Minesweeper, by the time you're playing 5-7 letters you're probably hitting multiple bonuses anyway.

Point values are different. Stock up on Cs (6 points rather than 3) and the X (10 points rather than 8) in Word Chums. Don't bother so much with Ys (3 points rather than 4). Gs (3 points rather than 2), combined with the awarding above, make -ING endings particularly punchy in Word Chums. Some of the 1-point consonants in Scrabble are 2 points in Word Chums, and the U along with them, so watch for those too.

The main takeaway from all this is, in Word Chums, to be prepared for a game high on points and short on defence. The closest comparison would be that Scrabble is the NFL and Word Chums is the CFL. There are so many bonus squares on the board it's tough to keep them all away from a crafty opponent at once. It is common for a player to top 500, 600, or in one game I hit 850 points. I've had two games in which both players topped 500, including one in which both topped 550. (I lost both, naturally. I even got my 126-point word in the higher-scoring one. The lack of the ability to lock up the board wounds me.)

I'd recommend Word Chums to any Scrabble player. I just wouldn't recommend taking it very seriously.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Yahoo: Stephen Curry's mother fines him for turnovers

Heartwarming NBA news is always welcome. How about Warriors point guard Stephen Curry's mother fining him for turnovers?

It's a neat little trick to keep Curry's head in the game, and at $100 per turnover is expensive enough to add up over a season ($6,000 for 2013-2014, according to the article), yet is not at all crippling. I like the idea, as someone who enjoys exploring different ideas of incentivizing. It seems to work, according to Curry himself. The money goes toward mother Sonya's tastes in fashion. Unless she's planning on buying a wardrobe of suits and cocktail gowns, that $6,000 should be more than enough.

As someone who is passionate about bargain hunting, even for the mundane items, perhaps I should act as a consultant on these sprees?

Writer Ben Rohrbach's closing salvo is well taken: "Now, if only Josh Smith's mom would fine him a hundred bucks every time he jacked a 3-pointer." The amount of lending Smith would have to do in order to pay off that debt would probably be enough to resurrect Bear Stearns... until/unless Smith defaulted, of course.

(Apologies for the video aspect of the article. It isn't my fault, I swear! The article is still completely readable without it, so feel free to mute/pause.)

Monday, January 19, 2015

January's Book: The Kill Room

The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver
Crime (2013 - 608 pp.)

I don't usually read crime fiction, so this was an interesting read for me. The closest comparison for books I've read in the couple years is probably Heat Wave, although The Kill Room is understandably less kitschy and sensationalized due to The Kill Room not being written by a fictional character. For all of Jeffery Deaver's commercial success and accolades, this was the first time I'd ever actually picked up one of his books. I'm glad I did. That he was a practising lawyer makes the criminal law elements of the book feel more informed, which is a plus for me.

To the limited extent I am familiar with crime fiction tropes, The Kill Room has plenty. There are some huge logical stretches in terms of how Lincoln Rhyme solves problems. I admittedly do not think like a detective, so I tend to avoid making assumptions whenever possible, but some details seem less helpful to what Rhyme makes of them than others. Suspending disbelief, the plot holds together well, although at times I feel like too many conclusions are made from relatively minor points. Giving examples is impossible in this genre, as there is a spoiler on virtually every page.

One of Deaver's largest accomplishments in The Kill Room is omitting facts the reader thought s/he knew so effectively that, upon later revelations of shocking details, the reader flips back to see that his/her competing assumptions were completely wrong. Tied to this is the way, through forshadowing or otherwise, Deaver uses earlier details to affect later situations. An example outside of crime fiction would be making a character be made of wood and thus be super-strong but ultimately killed in a fire.

One thing that jumped out at me was the convention of naming characters. I've been thinking about character names more than ever recently, so I noticed the disparity in how certain characters are named. As a general rule, I've come to like character names that are uncommon while believable, or to put it another way, that you've never heard before but wouldn't be surprised if you saw them. Naming everyone Dave Johnson is a great way to have readers mix characters up with each other, while naming everyone like a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic character makes the story less believable. In The Kill Room's case, I found names like Amelia Sachs, Jacob Swann and Annette Bodel to be exactly the kinds of names I could see people having without ever having met anyone with them. Lincoln Rhyme, conversely, sounds too perfect, too crafted as a character name, as though Deaver really wanted to make the name special rather than human. Nance Laurel's name is slightly guilty of this as well. Then again, some people really do have names that are just that great.

Something that surprised me was the amount of falling action in The Kill Room. There are nearly 70 pages of it. I had always thought of any book with a mystery element to be solved in the last chapter, with nothing else to comment afterward. The Kill Room arguably drags out a little at the end. Once the crime is solved, given how plot-driven the crime fiction genre is, I don't really need to see the characters anymore. They did their job.

This was a fun read that was a nice break from the aggressively didactic, aggressively anti-didactic, or flat-out mind-bending material I read toward the end of 2014. Recommended for long flights.

Ease of Reading: 9
Educational Content: 2

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Time Zones and NFL Divisional Weekend

This year's NFL Divisional Weekend games were hosted by New England, Seattle, Green Bay and Denver. Those teams are in the Eastern, Pacific, Central and Mountain time zones respectively - the only four time zones to house NFL teams. This may not seem so interesting except that on Wildcard Weekend or Divisional Weekend, when there are only four games all weekend, no time zone can be repeated. That means if, for example, any two of such AFC powerhouses as New England, Baltimore, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh host games, this condition can't be fulfilled. Possibly the most difficult part is fulfilling the Mountain Time Zone condition, as only two teams are located in that time zone - Arizona and Denver. At least they've both been good recently.

The last time all four games on a playoff weekend with four games were hosted in different time zones was the 2008-2009 season, when all four Wildcard Weekend games were hosted in different time zones. Their cities were Arizona (MST), San Diego (PST), Minnesota (CST) and Miami (EST). Oddly, that season, the Divisional Weekend games were all hosted in the Eastern Time Zone (Tennessee, Carolina, Pittsburgh, New York [Giants]).

The last time all four Divisional Weekend games were hosted in different time zones was the 2005-2006 season. Their cities were Seattle (PST), Denver (MST), Chicago (CST) and Indianapolis (EST). Seattle and Denver both hosted Divisional Weekend games that season, just like this one.

Denver's ongoing prowess is probably to thank for why this phenomenon doesn't occur at some crazily infrequent interval like every 27 years. Still, it's interesting. Time-wise, there's a game for everyone!

Friday, January 2, 2015

My Six Favourite Campbell's Soups, In Order

For the past few years, much of the Internet has consisted of useless lists. I've been guilty of this myself. To celebrate the holiday season, here's a list that does the exact sort of thing I like doing - telling people how to do their grocery shopping from the comfort of my home. It may even be useful, for those who do things like comparison shop at every opportunity.

Here's a list of my six favourite Campbell's soups, in order. Think of it as the NFL Power Rankings for things you eat while watching the NFL. As with that glorious league, I've selected six soups to top these rankings, sort of as though Campbell's comprises a conference and these are the six playoff teams. The upcoming Wildcard Weekend only makes this more relevant. Seeing as the Canadian headquarters is in my hometown of Toronto, and I have a history of blogging about soup, I figure it's a fitting thing for me to post. Perhaps most importantly, I've posted the entries in descending order, as I find those countdown lists needlessly annoying.

Oh, and I'm excluding chili or any product marketed as chili. Sorry, Mister "Chili-Style Soup" (should sparkling lemonade be called "pop-style lemonade" now?), this means you, delicious as you are.

The bye-week soups:

1. Chunky Sirloin Burger / BBQ Chipotle Sirloin Burger

Although I've listed two soups, they're really the same soup. One simply has some sweet chipotle tang to it and is therefore more pub-style. Each is the best canned beef stew I've ever had, which is saying something, because I grew up on Puritan. Each is versatile, accommodating pretty well any spice very well. I'm a bit of a spice junkie, so being able to put anything from chili flakes to steak spice to roasted garlic in my stew is a big plus for me. The pieces of beef are also substantial, which is great in the thick broth.

The one qualm I have with this otherwise superior product is that, for all its wonderful stew qualities, it doesn't fit its burger theme. The shepherd's pie soup, which contains mashed potatoes of all things, shows that Campbell's is not above moving away from traditional soup ingredients in order to make its themed soups closer to the real thing. Why, then, would the sirloin burger soup contain peas, carrots, potatoes and green beans? The round shape of the miniature beef patties in the soup clearly indicates it's meant to have a burger theme. If you can find me someone who actually eats stew ingredients like peas, carrots, potatoes and green beans on a burger, I'll buy that person that burger, I suppose. (Not as a unilateral contract offer, though.)

2. Alehouse Shepherd's Pie

2014-2015 is the year of pub-style! It's also apparently the year of beef, which is fitting considering the Dallas Cowboys have had their best season in years. Alehouse shepherd's pie soup is an at first seemingly bizarre idea that takes Campbell's into unfamiliar territory. Whereas past soup launches have gone in relatively safe directions, with none being more adventurous than the I-think-it-sucks Chicken a la King, shepherd's pie isn't even really liquid-y. It's about as high up on the list of pub foods I'd nominate for conversion into soup as, say, chicken wings or pizza. If anything, I'd have expected Campbell's to have released a pub-style curry soup by now. (Please do that, Campbell's.) Shepherd's pie has ended up being a powerhouse, though. It's the most filling Campbell's soup I've ever eaten without it being crazily high in saturated fat.

As an aside, the URL in the soup's title here reads "chunky_shepherd". I couldn't help but smile at the idea of a German shepherd perhaps indulging in a little too much pub food over the holidays.

Wildcard Weekend, in soup form:

3. Herbed Chicken Noodle

The first of today's slate of wildcard chicken soups, herbed chicken noodle occupies a special place in the Campbell's repertoire. It's a bolstered version of the classic chicken noodle, with (mostly) whole-grain rotini and vegetables. It's also one of the healthiest soups Campbell's offers. But for the pub invasion of barely a few months ago, this soup would have the top spot.

4. Chunky Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

For years, this reigned as my favourite Chunky soup. Whether the pub-style soups are truly Chunky is a matter of interpretation. Although Southwestern Chicken has come close to edging it out due to having better chunks of chicken, chicken and sausage is a combination of meats I seek in everything from pasta dishes to rice dishes. I'm also partial to anything remotely Louisianan.

Whether the new Healthy Request version will outstrip any of the top three choices remains to be seen, or, rather, eaten. To the Batcave!

5. Chunky Southwestern Chicken

If you like big chunks of chicken and black beans, this one's your bet. It has potatoes, too, which I generally like more than rice. Its main drawbacks are that its broth is a little on the sweet and viscous side, and that that it isn't as versatile seasoning-wise as numbers 1, 3, 4 and 6 on this list. Still, I've eaten Southwestern Chicken a lot more often than the gumbo recently, and this could be an upset pick if I were actually judging these soups in a tournament.

6. Condensed Chicken Noodle

The one that started them all? Probably, and it certainly is in my own made-up world. It's still a favourite, especially as either part of a larger snack or when I have a salty craving, which is usually. It's best with chili powder, curry powder or sriracha, I find. Hot sauce and unexpected spices are some of my favourite soup additives.

Hilariously, the gold writing on the red background is so faint I didn't notice it for a solid couple years. I'd wondered why my chicken noodle soup was so salty until my girlfriend pointed it out to me. Empirically tested tip: use half a can of water, not a full can like it recommends. A full can makes the soup extremely watery.


I'm picking all four home teams to win and cover this weekend. I feel highly unlikely to go 4-0 but sufficiently likely to go 3-1. If I knew which game I thought I'd lose, I'd change that pick. Go Panthers, etc.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Wacky New Year's Resolution Time!

I hate New Year's resolutions. I've never said that publicly so let this be the announcement. I think people should resolve to do things any time of the year. As a result, I've decided to start making wacky New Year's resolutions each year, preferably that are ridiculously easy to keep. I can make more difficult resolutions on other days, like needlessly detailed ones on March 10 or Iron Man-style culinary ones on September 3. I can also, you know, actually finish my Book a Month entries on time in any given month.

All that said, here's my New Year's resolution for 2015: I'm going to buy at least six (6) new pairs of socks. Seeing as I'm planning on going shopping tomorrow, and I have a Marshalls gift card, I could hypothetically have my 2015's worth of resolutions completed on January 2! Now that's efficiency... or, if you're one of those glass-half-empty types, weaseling out of an obligation. A bunch of my old socks are sprouting holes or going threadbare, so I assure you this will not be frivolous spending. It may be preemptive though.

Drink a Bloody Mary. Watch a football game. Clean your ears. Promise yourself you'll do something in 2015, do it because it's painfully easy, and maybe it'll help you toward a loftier goal you think of on a day other than January 1st.

Happy New Year!