A few days in Colorado

There were some things I needed to take care of at Zing, and after some thought I decided it would be best to do it in person. I planned a trip to Colorado, and contacted some friends to see if I could drop in to visit. It’s a long drive– made even longer by stops for charging and meals– but I feel like long road trips aren’t a big deal when I can set the car to steer itself. I left early on Wednesday and drove 17 hours, enjoying the scenery as I rolled down the interstate.

The fun started on Thursday when I dropped in on old friends, and enjoyed some fond memories of my home for seventeen years. I had lunch with part of the Zing crew, which was great. I talked them into Cheba Hut, my favorite sandwich shop on earth, where I savored my Midwest Best:

Then Nick and I headed over to Zing’s office, which we had to clean out prior to ending our lease. It’s been a great office for over a decade, but the team is working from home, so there’s no sense continuing to pay rent. Although the guys took all the equipment they wanted, there was still a lot left in the office. A lot. We nearly filled a dumpster with keyboards, mice, network switches, cables, power strips, old furniture, worn-out chairs, and the like.

It was sad because a lot of this was useful and working, but these days you can’t even donate electronics to schools or libraries. We simply didn’t know what to do with it. Both of us took a lot of things with us, saving them from the dumpster. I ended up with a dozen monitors and bags full of cables and adapters and keyboards that I thought I might be able to put to use or give to people who need them. My car was full of stuff.

As I finished cleaning that evening and turned out the lights for the last time, it was a bittersweet moment. I spent a lot of time in that office, and it’s a really nice space.

But it’s time to move on. The Zing logo remains on the door (although probably not for long).

I’d planned to play ultimate in the Longmont league that evening, revisiting the field and friends after four years. I even had a team who said I could join them! But alas, it rained most of the day and the games were cancelled.

Friday dawned, and I headed down to Boulder for an indoor ultimate game. Along the drive, I was treated to a view of the Flatirons. Boulder is such a pretty city, and even things like driving down the roads there brought back fond memories.

I haven’t played indoor ultimate in four years– in fact, I’ve only played one game of ultimate at all in those four years. To be honest, I wasn’t really in shape for it. Hiking and biking and spending time on the lake is a very different form of exercise than sprinting for 90 minutes! Luckily indoor games involve a lot of on-the-fly substitutions, and I was able to take frequent breaks after a few minutes of hard play. People had heard I was going to be in town, and several of them came out for the game just to school me on the field. We had a good crowd, and a lot of my old friends.

Then it was time to head down to Denver. Although I miss a lot of things about Colorado, traffic on I-25 isn’t one of them.

I spent several hours talking with a couple of friends about starting a company to develop a video game. It’s a cool idea, and something I wouldn’t have considered. We did a lot of planning and brainstorming, and now I’ll need to sit down and figure out how I can contribute.

On the way back to Longmont, I was treated to a nice sunset over Longs Peak.

The next two days were filled with visits and get-togethers. I attended church in my old congregation (which has changed a lot, although many of the families are still around). I played board games with my little group of gamers. I enjoyed a sandwich at Snarf’s, my second-favorite sandwich shop on earth. I made some surprise visits. I looked at all the things in the town that have changed– a lot of new apartments, some new stores (including Costco!), and the loss of Nicolo’s, my favorite pizza place. Despite all the changes, though, the heart of the city is the same and it was fun to see it again.

Monday dawned, and I left before the sun was quite above the horizon. It was another long drive, but I took the opportunity to stop in Billings on my way through to visit another old (as in, 92 years old) friend. It was great. There were many hours of interstate, but the views were grand.

I finally arrived back home after midnight, tired after a long drive but full of happy memories.

To all the people I saw, and even to those I didn’t get a chance to catch up with, thanks for your friendship over the years. Farewell for now…

Yet another game, or actually two

I’m still in the process of refining another game I’ve invented. The original title, Forward Humanity, failed in consumer testing (meaning my friends thought it was kind of a lame title). So now it’s been renamed Onward, and after several play-testing sessions, I feel pretty good about it. My friends– and my boys– have given it high marks and made some great suggestions for improvements.

Right now it’s sitting at the printing company, waiting to be put onto “real” cards and player boards. I was getting kind of weary of printing two dozen sheets of cardstock and then cutting out all the cards! I’m excited to see the result and tweak it a bit more.

While I’m waiting a few weeks for the printing process, I had an idea for another game. For a few years I’ve been fascinated by the idea of a game in which you build the playing board while you’re playing the game. There are a few examples of this out in the world, but I wanted to make one myself. I came up with Hexteria: New World and played it with a few people in years past. In it, the first half of the game is spent building a map of the land (prairies, mountains, desert, lakes) and scoring points; the second half is spent building towns and cities on the map and scoring different points. I enjoy it and find it to be an interesting “puzzle” sort of game, but it doesn’t really have much dazzle. Reception by friends has been pretty lukewarm.

So, I came up with a new concept this week. It’s a space map-building game where you’re exploring the galaxy and colonizing star systems. Your spaceships move out, and you draw random hexagonal tiles from a deck to create the galactic map. At some point in the game, someone will turn over a tile that begins the end of the game. In physics terms, it’s called “bubble nucleation” and involves a collapse of spacetime into a “true vacuum” state. This bubble of collapsed spacetime spreads outward at the speed of light, absolutely destroying everything in its path… right down to the subatomic level. In fact, the very laws of nature that hold atoms together break down in this event. The point of the game, after exploring the galaxy, is to escape this universe-ending disaster by slipping into a parallel universe via exotic-matter tunnels through black holes.

That sounds like a lot of science mumbo-jumbo, but in truth it’s all based in real physics. I tentatively named the game False Vacuum, in honor of the notion that we’re all living in a false vacuum right now, and could (theoretically) be wiped out in the blink of an eye when our universe simply ceases to exist. How’s that for a really bad day?

Anyway, science aside, as I tested the game by playing it against myself, I found that it lacked dazzle. There wasn’t anything interesting to do, until the universe collapsed and it became a mad dash for the exits. Even then, it felt stiff and mechanical. After a couple of attempts, I decided it wasn’t going anywhere. Not only did I not enjoy the game, I didn’t see a path to make it better. I tossed it.

But I was still contemplating a map-building game, and I struck upon the idea of giving it an ocean-and-island theme. Exploring the ocean, discovering and settling islands, collecting things… there could be some dazzle there! With some further thought, I decided to base it on Polynesian history. I’ve always been fascinated by the amazing navigational skills of ancient sailors, and the ways they traveled thousands of miles between far-flung islands in the Pacific. I spent a few days studying Polynesian history and culture, thinking about how I could incorporate some of it into my game. To be clear, it’s not my intent to make anything that’s historically accurate– I’m just looking for an interesting theme for the mechanics of the game.

Now, a few days later, I have the beginnings of yet another map-builder. I’m calling it Utu for now, which is the Polynesian word for “balance” (actually it has a far deeper meaning, but that’s it in a nutshell). Everyone starts out on a little island, and heads out in boats to explore the wide blue Pacific. Along the way, players will discover islands and reefs and ocean currents. They’ll gather resources to build more boats, construct villages and temples, and maybe even go to war (I’m not sure about that last one; I typically eschew combat in games). And through all of it, everyone will attempt to keep their mana in balance and harmony.

Here’s the result of my first play-through.

The map turned out to be pretty interesting, and surprisingly “realistic”… if a bunch of white hexagonal cardboard pieces with sticky notes on them can be related to the Pacific islands somehow. And it was fun to play, as I scooted little wooden boats and meeples around the board. But I found that there wasn’t really a goal. What are you supposed to do? How does the game end? How do you win?

Nonetheless, it’s not bad for a first run-through, and I’ll be able to dial it in more over the next few weeks.

I think sometimes this hobby of mine could be considered a waste of time. Yet it provides me with a creative outlet– a way for me to “stretch” myself a bit, since I don’t feel like I’m a very creative person– and despite the failures and scrapped ideas, it’s a lot of fun. I figure there are worse things I could be doing with my time.

So I’ll continue on, hoping to find that utu, balance, in this latest creation.

Zoom zoom

Today might be the last 80-degree day until next summer, so we felt like we should take advantage of the warm, sunny weather and head out on the water. As it happened, we needed to test Pepper’s jet ski, Trixie, to make sure she was working okay after swallowing a rock last weekend. We loaded up Trixie and Pepe and went to our usual haunt, Yellow Bay.

We toured the lake for almost two hours, hitting a few islands we hadn’t visited before. We even found a shipwreck!

We also decided to take some cool photos of ourselves zooming across the water. Here’s Pepper shooting past me:

I returned the favor, although she complained because I came much closer to her and managed to drench her with spray as I zipped past.

It was a lot of fun, and as the weather cools we’ll probably do more kayaking and paddleboarding, rather than jet skis. Yay for lake weather!

Rain at last

We’ve had smoky skies for the past few weeks. At times, it was so thick that it smelled like a campfire outside and we couldn’t see the lake. But yesterday and today we’ve had some much-needed rain, and it’s washed the smoke away. It’s a clear view across the lake. More important than our view, however, this rain has greatly helped the firefighting efforts in the area.

Today there’s some mist over the trees. Thank goodness for moisture!

That’s a wrap

It’s been almost two years since I started my Invisalign braces treatment. Today the orthodontist said the work is finished, and now I only need to wear a retainer at night.

Although these have been kind of a hassle at times, generally speaking people didn’t even notice I had them. I don’t have any nice “before and after” photos, but here’s one from just before I started my treatment. Take a look at those bottom teeth. They look like someone put a bunch of ivory pegs in the wrong holes.

Although it’s not really visible in the photo above, my top front incisors were also going awry– one was tilting forward while the other tilted backward. I felt like it was finally time to do something about it.

Now here I am with Ollie (again) and things are much straighter.

As someone who typically has his mouth open during photos, it’s probably a good thing that my teeth don’t look like a jigsaw puzzle gone bad. I’m glad to be finished wearing the aligners all day, and even more glad they worked well

Perseids

Pepper and I spent some time laying in the courtyard tonight, stargazing and watching for meteors. It’s the annual Perseids shower, and we were expecting to see a shooting star roughly every minute. Alas, we were disappointed… we did see several spectacular ones, but they were few and far between.

When she turned in for bed, I pulled out my camera and took a few shots. They didn’t turn out very well, unfortunately.

Although there are a few faint satellite tracks, I failed to capture a meteor in flight. No worries, though– it’s always amazing to lay out under the stars on a cool summer night.

Kids’ visit: random moments

To wrap up my posts about the kids’ visit, I present a few random pictures I took during the week.

Uncle Zack shows Ollie some little puzzle toys he found in the giant bin he (Zack) keeps at our house in storage.

Although Zack and Alex brought swim trunks, they forgot to bring swim shirts. Pepper dug up a few, but they didn’t… quite… fit.

Kyra relaxes on the shore of Flathead Lake. I’m pretty sure the tube belongs in the water, but I shouldn’t judge…

A gentle rain falls on Holland Lake. As usual, we took them to that area for a nice hike on a cooler day.

Here we are at the waterfall:

On some stretch of highway, Zack and I attempted to go fast enough to enter hyperspace.

Kyra, in the back seat, wasn’t impressed.

Speaking of Kyra, one day she made lunch. It consisted of half a piece of ciabatta bread, a little bowl of baked beans, a cup of chocolate mousse, and (for whatever reason) a tiny cube of cheese. I’m not kidding… this was her lunch.

Alex brought some smoke bombs, which Ollie loves to watch. Zack had an idea.

That really made Ollie laugh.

Alex had a sore back– due, he said, to a few too many wipeouts on the tube. Pepper brought out her massage tool, and Ollie wanted a turn.

I completely forgot to take a picture of all of us in a group. Shame on me. But as Julian was leaving, I snapped a fun selfie.

That pretty much sums up our week. Good times with good folks.

Kids’ visit: games

Of course we played games. That’s our family thing. Zack has been playing Magic with friends for a couple years, and really enjoys it, so he brought his decks and convinced me and Alex to play. However, he’s an expert whereas I’ve only played maybe twice in my life a decade ago, so he trounced the two of us while we sat there kind of dumbfounded.

We played Wingspan, but it’s a five-player game and there were six of us, so I made a custom player mat. It actually worked quite well!

Zack proceeded to win Wingspan with the highest score I’ve ever seen. He had an amazing combination of cards. Even Aron, the biggest Wingspan player I know, was astonished when I told him about it.

Alex and I spent a couple hours playing Terraforming Mars. In the past he’s always beaten me, but I had the upper hand this time. It’s a great (but long) game.

Kyra pulled out the Quest VR headset, and we took turns impressing each other with our Beat Saber skills. Zack has a technique different than the rest of us: he just sort of waves his hands in a smooth, fluid motion. The rest of us fling our arms everywhere. I mean, when you have two lightsabers in hand, you should fling your arms, right?

There was a lot of pool (and Skunk), as well as ping-pong.

Spikeball was a hit; Julian particularly liked it. After he left, he went back to Washington and promptly bought his own spikeball set.

Alex spent some downtime working on his latest Dungeons and Dragons campaign. He has a weekly game (or maybe two?) with friends all over the country, so he often has to put together new maps and adventures.

There were also some exercise workouts, although when I watched Kyra and Zack it wasn’t entirely clear how much of a “workout” they were actually getting by pumping these little five-pound weights.

There were plenty of other games: Sparts, Deuces Wild, Skull King, Splendor, Cover Your Assets, Skull, and on and on. Although I have ample opportunity to play games with local friends throughout the year, there’s something special about doing it with my kids. I particularly enjoy those “proud dad moments” when one of them uses a clever strategy to absolutely demolish me. It reminds me that I’ve taught them well.

Kids’ visit: jet skis

Ahh, the jet skis. They’re invariably the highlight of our friends’ visits here, and our time with the kids was no exception. Alex, Kyra, and Kaitlyn have all been here in previous summers and had their turns with the jet skis, but other than our trip to Cancun, I’m not sure Zack’s been on one. He warmed to it pretty quickly.

Since Flathead Lake is so big, if we want to do more than cruise around Yellow Bay, we need to take the jet skis. The kids and I decided to go cliff-jumping at some rocks across the lake. It’s about seven miles as the crow flies (or the jet ski jets, I guess) so we headed out. Although he was new to driving, Zack did a good job and he and Alex tested some different ways to ride together.

Kyra and I were on the other one:

The cliff jumping was a hoot. It doesn’t look very high from the water, but believe me, when you’re standing at the edge of the rock, fifteen feet feels like fifty. We all did a few “wimpy” jumps and then graduated to some higher spots along the cliff. Here’s Zack about to do twenty feet:

Back at Yellow Bay, we pulled out the tube. By law, if you’re towing someone in a tube behind a boat or jet ski, you’re supposed to have a “spotter” on the back watching whoever’s in the water. Obviously it’s for safety, but our jet skis aren’t very powerful so having two people on them, plus a person being towed, means it’s difficult to maneuver. Smaller kids are fine, but all of us are adults and it just wasn’t very fun. So, we threw safety out the window and went with one driver, one in the tube, and a “chaser” who was on the other jet ski watching for problems. It worked well, and it led to hours upon hours of fun.

Here’s Julian pulling Zack:

And a little while later, here’s Zack getting his revenge on Julian:

After a day on the water, we noticed Trixie (Pepper’s jet ski) was a little sluggish. You’d punch the throttle– as you should always do on these things– but she wouldn’t zip up to speed. On a hunch, back home I peeked at the wear ring and saw that it had been destroyed. At some point we must have sucked up a rock or a twig. Fortunately the wear ring gave way, as it’s designed to do, and didn’t hurt the engine. But it meant some repairs. One morning Julian and I grabbed a socket set and disassembled the jet nozzle area.

We popped a new wear ring into place (always have a spare!) and Trixie was as good as new. We took her out to confirm she worked, and I got a great shot of Julian zipping past:

Time for more tubing! Even Kaitlyn got in on the action, squealing with delight (yes, squealing) as Kyra whipped her across the bay. Julian had his GoPro with him, and managed to capture some awesome footage of the action– including a few glorious wipeouts.

At times I’ve wondered whether jet skis were worth the investment all those years ago, but when we have days like this, I know they were.