Friday, November 30, 2007

Linux computing

Due to the recent failure of my mom's computer, and my role in dealing with it while home for the Thanksgiving holiday, my newest obsession has been cheap computers and Linux. While researching possible replacement computers for her (despite her pleas to not buy anything... I can't help it) I learned about the $200 computer they're selling at Walmart, the Eee PC, and the OLPC (XO). (I had, of course, heard of the OLPC, but this week was the first time I really looked into it to see what it's all about.) These computers all run on Linux-based operating systems. I've never worked in Linux before (though I did do a small amount of work in Unix back in college, but I don't remember much). Fortunately it seems like Linux is pretty accessible for the non-computer-savvy masses these days and I'm really tempted to dip my toes in the open source waters.

Now that my initial urge to buy a new machine has waned somewhat (though I'm still seriously considering the Eee PC sooner or later - it's only 2 lbs so it would be awesome for working in coffee shops and on the plane) I think I'll try installing a Linux OS on one of the older laptops that have been decommissioned and are collecting dust at my parents' house. Maybe one of them will like the fresh install and smoother OS and will be useful to them (or me :P).

My friend over at the Hope for Pandora blog has the Eee PC so I'm waiting to hear about his impressions after several weeks of use. In the meantime, I should probably spend some time cleaning up and backing up my laptop, given the fate of my mom's late desktop...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Heading for sunnier skies

I won't mind getting away from the late fall weather we're having here (it's currently hailing) when I fly to California tomorrow to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bottoms up!

On a walk during a break in the stormy weather on Monday, I noticed some ducks voraciously feeding in the shallow part of Green Lake. They seemed to spend more time upside down than right side up...

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

5-handed pinochle

Several generations ago my family invented a version of pinochle that allows 5 players to play, and is won individually (not as a team). I think it speaks to our competitive nature that this is one of our favorite card games whenever we get at least 5 family members together.

At a family reunion this summer I played it a bit, and decided to write down the rules so I don't forget the next time I play... one time we tried to remember them after a long break, and we got it all wrong.

I still remember very distinctly the summer I learned to play this game. My cousin and great-aunt were visiting from the East Coast. After learning the rules and such, we started getting competitive. I remember being dealt an outstanding hand, outbidding my great-aunt (who was a legendary high bidder) with a bid of 72... and I managed to make it. It was a high point of my adolescence, for sure.

5 players
2 pinochle decks, remove the 9s.
Card hierarchy is A, 10, K, Q, J

All the cards are dealt to the players (often in batches of 3 at a time), leaving 5 cards untouched in the middle of the table (which are supposed to be dealt randomly during dealing, and never the last 5 cards). This is the "widow" and the high bidder gets these cards.

The total number of counters in the deck is 50 (counters = A, 10, K), including 2 points for taking the last trick.

One round of bidding starts at 40. If no one bids, then the dealer is the "bidder", and has effectively bid 40 points.

The highest bidder names one suit to be trump. The next person around the table, to the bidder's left, who has the Ace of trump, is his or her partner. If no one has an Ace, then it's the next person with the 10. The remaining three people then become the "other" team.

The high bidder then picks up the cards in the widow and incorporates them into his or her hand. This ability to get 5 extra cards has often driven people to bid too high and pay later!

At this point everyone lays down their "meld". The points gained here are added to the total number of counters taken during play.

Meld points:
Marriage (K, Q of same suit) = 2
Marriage in trump = 4
Pinochle (J of diamonds + Q of spades) = 4
Jacks in all four suits ("40 Jacks") = 4
Queens in all four suits ("60 Queens") = 6
Kings in all four suits ("80 Kings")= 8
Aces in all four suits ("100 Aces") = 10
A, K, Q, J in all four suits ("Roundhouse") = 28 (?)
Run (A, 10, K, Q, J) - trump only = 15

It should be noted that I learned how to play with "Shore rules" but in other branches of the family, there are "Michigan rules". The main difference (that I can remember) is that for Michigan rules, a double pinochle (i.e. 2 jacks of diamonds and 2 queens of spades) is 20 points, whereas in Shore rules it's 8 (2x 4). This nearly caused an incident this summer, but was thankfully ameliorated by the person with the double pinochle being outbid.

After playing all the meld and counting it up, the high bidder discards 5 cards (and must disclose to the other players if he or she discards any trump cards). If the high bidder has an amazing hand and could meld all their cards without leaving at least 5 out, then he or she has to remove some meld in order to discard. Then the high bidder leads, and must lead in the trump suit.

The play proceeds as standard trick/trump games go. The person who plays the highest card of the suit led takes the trick and leads the card for the next round. Play proceeds in a standard clockwise direction. If someone no longer has any cards of the suit led, they must play trump. If more than one person must trump, the second person must beat the first person's trump card, if they can. In the case of a trumped round, the person who played the highest card in the trump suit takes the trick and leads the next round. If a player is out of the suit led and is out of trump, he or she can play any card of any suit but has no chance of winning that round.

Play continues until all players are out of cards.

Each team then counts the number of "counters" they took during game play. These are A, 10, and K of any suit. The team that took the last trick gets an extra 2 points.

The counters are then added to the meld points. Each person on each team gets the points accrued by their team during that hand.

The bidding team must have beaten their bid (i.e. if they bid 50 points, then their meld + counters must be at least 50). If they do not make their bid, then the bid amount is SUBTRACTED from their overall score (ouch!).

The "other" team, made of the three non-bidders, must take at least one trick during the hand in order to "save their meld". If they do not take at least one trick, they do not get any points for the hand.

The game proceeds until one person reaches 240 points.


The great thing about this game is that your partner is almost never the same person from hand to hand. Bidding can get out of control and then the unlucky person with the Ace of trump can end up being taken down by the high bidder... it's a game full of drama and strategy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Around Town

On the bus last week I spotted this gadget, which is part of the new Puget Sound transit smart card system, called ORCA. I initially assumed it was in the testing phase, but apparently they're already rolling it out everywhere! I wonder if the UW's UPass system will stay the same or if it will get incorporated into this new system.

Also, there's a brand new Starbucks on Westlake between Harrison and Thomas. Wish they'd been there when I worked in that neighborhood!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Another perk of finally graduating...

I happily received this email from United Airlines today:
Congratulations on graduating from college!

Thank you for sending us verification of your degree. We have credited your account with 10,000 bonus miles.

This makes the $6 I spent on an official transcript well worth the money. I wasn't sure they would accept my PhD as a "college degree" - seems so far away from what I consider "college". Those of you who have recently graduated should take advantage of this offer - you can find the details by clicking here.