Nostalgia! I found it!

Final Fantasy XIV recently updated, adding a long-awaited area called Eureka. Whether or not this content was worth the wait is under fierce debate however, with many people grumbling that it’s nothing but a monster and FATE grind, with lackluster rewards that aren’t as good as the current armor available by farming Tomestones of Mendacity. The concept is simple and reminiscent of the old MMORPGs before World of Warcraft came and changed everything. In fact, Eureka is designed to be nearly 100% pure Final Fantasy XI nostalgia.

Aeolian Mode in her Scorpion Harness

Unlike the fast and mostly quest-based leveling of Final Fantasy XIV and most modern MMORPGs, Final Fantasy XI was a long slow grind. Sure you could kill monsters by yourself and gain some experience, but it was far more worth your time to form a group of six people and form a camp, killing monsters over and over as a group. I remember it took me a year of playing fairly regularly to reach level 75 on my original Red Mage. In addition, FFXI had “Notorious Monsters”, powerful versions of monsters with unique names and awesome rewards that would spawn very occasionally under certain conditions. It was often a competition (sometimes a very bitter one) to claim the monsters and kill them for whatever they dropped.

Whether you hate it or not, Square-Enix went in with the best intentions. As it seems to have been designed, players are supposed to enter Eureka, set up a camp, and grind monsters to gain experience and crystals that are traded in for new weapons and armour. As you kill regular monsters, there’s a chance for a FATE to spawn with a Notorious Monster to kill. These Notorious Monsters are even named after some of the famous FFXI NMs, and have a chance to drop glamour versions of the old FFXI gear like the Emperor Hairpin and Scorpion Harness!

Of course, the player base immediately found a “better” way of playing. Everyone forms a big mob and runs around the map together, killing monsters and getting no EXP for it, but forcing the Notorious Monster to spawn. The NM is then murdered for TONS of experience points, and the train moves on to the next set of monsters can can trigger a FATE. It’s significantly more efficient, but I don’t think it’s even remotely what Square-Enix had in mind.

Personally, I really enjoy it. It reminds me of FFXI which is still my favorite game, and is a change of pace from running dungeon roulettes every day. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

20 Years of Tori

Tori Amos has recently announced a new album coming out this fall, Native Invader. I’ve taken this as an opportunity to listen through her discography again and see if anything new jumps out at me that I may not have really cared for before. I’ve been a fan of Tori’s music for about 20 years now, but I’ve never kept it a secret that I haven’t cared for her newer albums nearly as much as her older stuff. I thought this might be a good time to rate and list them all. I’ve kept this to studio releases only, not including compilations and remasters like Gold Dust.

14. Strange Little Girls (2002)
This concept album is a collection of covers of songs written by men, supposedly from a woman’s point of view. Tori has done some amazing song covers over the years, and none of them are on this album. My understanding is that this album was released to get Tori out of her contract obligations with Atlantic Records, which is the only thing I feel this album accomplishes. The title track is okay at best, and in my opinion, this album has no other redeeming qualities.

 

13. Night of Hunters (2011)
I can’t get into this album. It’s not a contemporary album like all of her others, and it’s heavily inspired by classical music. I’ve tried time and time again to give this album a go, and I just can’t even stay awake through it. Musically it’s a nice album, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

 

 

12. Midwinter Graces (2009)
I almost didn’t include this album because it has a very specific theme. This is the obligatory “Christmas Album” but with one of Tori’s conceptual twists. None of the tracks are traditional Christmas songs, although some of them are sampled to good effect. Similar to Night of Hunters however, there’s only a couple tracks that I truly enjoy. I still throw it on during the holiday season, but aside from that, I really don’t think about this album.

 

11. Unrepentant Geraldines (2014)
Tori’s most recent album at the time of this writing, Unrepentant Geraldines is a welcome return from that strange classical phase Tori had. Unfortunately, I find it to be the least enjoyable of her contemporary albums. It has some gems like Trouble’s Lament, Promise, and the super quirky Giant’s Rolling Pin, but overall it’s not an album I really enjoy. I think part of it is that her voice seems to have entirely too much reverb and processing on it, which I just don’t like.

 

10. Abnormally Attracted To Sin (2009)
There are several tracks on this album that I really enjoy, including Flavor, Not Dying Today, and Fast Horse. These great songs are balanced by a few of my least favorite Tori songs ever, Strong Black Vine, Police Me, and That Guy. Mary Jane is another strange track, a goofy song about marijuana that just doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the album. It’s almost as if she included it on a dare.

 

9. American Doll Posse (2007)
This album was announced to be a return to the “raw and primal” Tori that was so popular in the 90s. I was pretty excited about that, but found myself underwhelmed by the album when it released. It’s a solid and mostly enjoyable album, with a few tracks that I’d gladly call favorites. However a few songs like Fat Slut and Mr. Bad Man just don’t do it for me. This album does get a fair amount of play though.

 

8. Scarlet’s Walk (2002)
If I had to pick a point where Tori started to lose me, ignoring the disaster of Strange Little Girls, it would probably be with Scarlet’s Walk. Nearly every song on the album seems to end the same exact way, and there isn’t much that really jumps out and catches my attention about it. It’s not a bad album by any means, but it marks a change in Tori’s style that I admittedly don’t like as much.

 

7. Y Kant Tori Read (1988)
Tori’s very first album, one that used to be nearly unknown to all but the most dedicated fans. Y Kant Tori Read is the self-titled album from Tori’s 1980s pop band, which was a pretty immediate failure. I find the album to be quite enjoyable, myself. While it has its share of strangeness, there are some really decent tracks on the album, a couple of which she does actually acknowledge and play live from time to time, especially Cool On Your Island and Etienne.

 

6. To Venus and Back (1999)
Venus is a double-album, which one disc being a live album from her Plugged tour which is awesome. The studio album itself is a solid album with a more electronic vibe than her previous. I really like this album, even the song Datura which is nothing more than her rattling off a list of plants in her garden. Between the studio side and the live side, this is definitely a good one to pick up.

 

5. The Beekeeper (2005)
A lot of fans will disagree with me on this one, but this album is one of my favorites, and had me optimistic that Scarlet’s Walk would just be a fluke. I love nearly every track on this album, and can’t really find much fault with it. It’s certainly happier than her older stuff, but musically it’s great and quirky at times without being too goofy.

 

 

4. Boys For Pele (1996)
This album has a few of my very favorite tracks such as Caught a Lite Sneeze and Talula, but was otherwise very difficult for me to get into due to its quieter nature on many of the songs. A lot of fans claim this is her greatest album and there’s a great case for that. Boys for Pele is by far Tori’s angriest album, and her more furious songs like Professional Widow contrast very nicely with the more relaxed mournful songs such as Hey Jupiter. I wouldn’t say Boys for Pele would be a great album to start somebody out on but it’s a definite requirement for a fan.

 

3. Under The Pink (1994)
In all honesty, this album is a tie with Boys For Pele. It’s a bit more accessible and piano driven, but contains many of her most recognizable songs, including the one she’s arguably most known for, Cornflake Girl. There isn’t a really a lot to stay about this particular album, just that it’s one of her best and a strong album from start to finish.

 

 

2. Little Earthquakes (1992)
Tori’s first solo album, the first Tori album I ever heard, and absolute perfection. It’s very difficult to not put this album right at #1. Everyone should have a copy of this album, even if they’re not a hardcore Tori fan. I’ve convinced a number of people to buy this album and not one has disliked it. I can’t say enough good things about this album.

 

1. From The Choirgirl Hotel (1998)
This album will always hold a special place in my heart as the first brand-new Tori album I bought on the day it was released. A couple tracks took a few listens to get into, but every song on the album is absolutely great. This album kicked off the Plugged ’98 tour which was the first time I got to see Tori live, and was the first album where she was really accompanied by a full band. Anytime I’m asked what my favorite Tori Amos album is, I can answer From The Choirgirl Hotel without a moment’s hesitation.

 

So that’s it. I remain cautiously optimistic about Native Invader, and look forward to its release. I wonder where it’ll fall on this list. Think I was wrong about an album? Tell my why in the comments!

It’s Dangerous To Go Alone – 2

Match 1 – 19×19 board vs. 24kyu player – won by resignation

The first 8 moves of this game were somewhat strange. Black started at seemingly random points around the board, while I responded with the low chinese opening, and approached the one star point he had claimed. We fought and I made a few mistakes costing myself three stones, but I was able to make what I think would be a safe group over towards the right side of the board.

I built up in the top left corner next. Black attempted to prevent this, but I’m pretty sure I could live in the corner and decided to tenuki to the bottom left. At move 61, black made an empty triangle which I would be able to later exploit. We continued to build up along the left side with my gaining a good amount of territory and black getting some strong influence. I made bad plays at 76 and 78, which would’ve given black a good advantage if he had played F7. However, he played B7 instead, which allowed me to capture his empty triangle group. At this point, black resigned.

 

Match 2 – 19×19 board vs. 21kyu player – lost by 80.5 points… Kinda

I think I started losing this one fairly early in the game. As I opted to open with a low chinese and expand out from the corners, white quickly took the left, top, and bottom star points. This put me at a major disadvantage because he had a much larger moyu. Starting around move 43 I think I made a mistake by playing to solid. I was able to get a strong wall but it didn’t seem to do too much to help me. Around move 79 I made a mistake which allowed white’s group to live.

I was able to get some territory at the bottom, but white wormed its way into my top-right territory. I feel that I was able to kill his invasion for the most part, but lost a bit of territory in the process. Move 143 is where things really started to go downhill. I attempted to invade his massive open area and was unsuccessful in making a living group. I sealed off the top and left to score some territory but by move 197 I had a large dead group in the center, and white had a massive amount of territory in the bottom left. I attempted to invade at the lower left 3-3 point but made a mistake by playing A4 instead of C2 and died.

During scoring, I hit the wrong button and somehow marked my group at O9 as dead, causing me to lose a good amount of points. Fortunately it was still a loss by a big margin so I’m not going to fret over it.

 

I have a tendency to open with the Low Chinese fuseki, which I’m probably not strong enough to use properly since I still get my butt kicked when fighting.  I think it’s time to look at a couple different openings an perhaps find something that better suits my ability.

Go-ing Nowhere Fast: Ladder Anxiety

Go has quickly become my favorite board game, and I’ve spent a lot of time doing puzzles, reading books and articles, and talking about it.  I have my own Go board with three sets of stones and all the accessories to go with it.  Hell, I made my own 9×9 board not too long ago.  It’s easily the most fun and enjoyable game that I’ve ever learned, but I don’t find myself improving nearly as quickly as I think I should be.

The problem?  I very rarely play it.

Zeus looks to kill my group by the corner

My first game of Go was back near the end of July 2016.  Since then, I have played a mere 67 games on OGS, the main server I play on, and the majority of those are correspondence games that can stretch out over a month or more.  When I go to meetings of the Syracuse Go Club I can sit right down and play two games in an evening without blinking an eye, and I’ve played in two American Go Association tournaments without a moment’s hesitation.  When I’m home though, I almost never play a real-time game.  I think about it a lot, especially during the day at work, but when I have the opportunity to sit down and play, I just can’t bring myself to do it.  Simply put, I get too nervous about losing.

I don’t know why I worry about losing to a complete stranger over the internet.  I certainly I don’t have a problem going and getting my butt kicked in front of other actual people, who are often sitting nearby and watching my every mistake.  Fortunately, it doesn’t seem that I’m alone.  Twitch streamer and Go teacher Dwyrin 6D speaks of his own struggles with ladder anxiety in the final video of his 25 Days of Go series.  While I don’t have the ability to become a go video streamer like him, he makes several other good suggestions and I’m glad to see that even high-ranked players experience this.

Back in September, I made a post which detailed games I had played on OGS and their results.  I intend to start doing that again and forcing myself to do it regularly as maybe a way to work past this fear of playing online.  Every single person I’ve spoken to about Go has said that studying pro games, reading books, and listening to lectures is great, but the absolute best way to get better at playing the game is to actually play it.  Even as I write this I find myself nervous about jumping onto a server and starting up a game, but my new goal is to get past this and play the game I enjoy so much.

Rebel Yell

When I was in 7th grade, one of my technology classes had a darkroom.  We learned how to take and develop basic black and white photos, as well as experiment with the brand new technology of digitizing photographs onto a computer that had roughly the same processing power as a modern digital watch.  I took an immediate interest in photography.  My dad had given me his old manual-zoom, manual-focus, manual rewind camera, and I spent countless hours after school in that darkroom.

The teacher, Mr. Kaier, had a camera that I absolutely loved.  It was a Canon Rebel G single-lens-reflex (SLR) camera, with automatic everything.  It looked cool and hi-tech, especially compared to my camera which was old even back then (I believe it was an SLR as well, but can’t even recall the brand.*)  I didn’t know how to use the majority of its features, and I wasn’t even developing color pictures, but I knew I wanted needed a Canon Rebel.

Shortly after our city got a brand-new Ames department store, our old Jamesway had a store-closing sale.  They put huge 50% or more discounts on everything in the store, clearly planning to dump their entire inventory.  In the glass cabinet over in their electronics department was a Rebel G camera.  Every few days, the store-wide discount would increase and my father and I decided when it went up to 75% off, we’d go buy the camera.  As my luck would have it, the day we finally went to purchase it, it had already been sold.

That was pretty much it for me.  I continued taking pictures with my manual camera, but eventually I went on to High School and the photography thing was more or less put off to the side as I got more into computers and playing trumpet.  I had a couple 35mm quick-shoot cameras over the next few years that I used during trips and such, but didn’t put any effort into the artistic side of it.

Nearly 10 years after my first visit to the darkroom, photography was changing.  Film was becoming less and less popular as many new cameras were digital.  My friend André was an amazing photographer with a couple of expensive and high-end digital cameras.  My little point-and-shoot was a potato in comparison.  During one of our IRC gatherings back in 2004, he let me use one of his cameras, and I took what I consider is one of the best photos I’ve ever taken with it.  I wouldn’t say it’s a perfect photograph, but I don’t think I did too badly considering my complete lack of experience.

There’s been a lot of times when I’ve found myself wishing I had a good camera.  Cellphone cameras have become very good, better than a lot of simple point-and-shoot cameras, but I haven’t been satisfied.  Audrey has wanted to take artistic landscape photos as well, so we discussed the idea of maybe getting a good camera to take up the hobby with.  This year we finally put aside some money and picked up a new digital SLR camera, a Canon Rebel T6.  It took me about 22 years, but I finally got a Rebel.

* – After racking my brain and a little internet research, I found the old camera I had, it was an Olympus OM-Series camera, probably an OM-20, and it was indeed an SLR.

My Digital SLR Photos

Older (Mostly iPhone) Photos

 

More Minor Updates

Hopefully this will be obvious to anybody reading this, but chainspell.org is back online.  It turns out domain registrars aren’t very forgiving when you fail to pay them for your registration.  It would’ve been back up and running a lot sooner if I’d been willing to pay the ridiculous post-expiration extortion renewal fee that Godaddy wanted.  I just let it completely expire and re-registered it for a fraction of the price.  Personally I think it’s a bit asinine that they can charge an additional $80+ for renewing a domain a few days after its expiration date, but whatever.

I’m still playing Go, although I admittedly haven’t made it up to the Syracuse Go Club nearly as often as I’d like due to personal responsibilities and the weather constantly threatening to make the drive a nightmare.  I have my own board and stones now that I received as Christmas gifts.  I’m hoping to get a 13×13 board too, as Audrey and I like to play fast games when we can.

 

 

 

As I’m sure everyone with the slightest interest in the Final Fantasy franchise has heard, Square-Enix has officially confirmed Red Mage as a job in Final Fantasy XIV’s upcoming expansion, Stormblood.  When I played Final Fantasy XI, my main job was Red Mage and I’d become quite good at it.  I had other jobs that I reached max level with, but I was always a sword-weilding, staff-swapping, mana-monkey at the core.  Needless to say, I’m super excited about the job coming to FF14.  I’m hoping the job will be as awesome and fun as it was in FF11, and if so it will be replacing Scholar as my primary job.  I wonder if it’ll have an ability called Chainspell.

It’s also rumored that Samurai will be another new job in Stormblood, but I can’t say I care too much about that because RED MAGE!

 

 

Minor Updates

In Go news, I received my official rating with the AGA.  I am rated at 23kyu.

In Final Fantasy XIV news, Yoshi-P gave a presentation at FanFest wearing a Scarlet Witch t-shirt, all but confirming Red Mage to be a job in the next expansion.

 

Huzzah.

Tournament!

I decided to go up to Rochester, NY to attend the the Empty Sky Go Club‘s 12th Annual Greg Lefler Memorial Tournament.  Being a new player, I didn’t go with any expectation of winning.  I mostly wanted to meet more players, play some games, and get some experience.  Richard, who runs the Syracuse go club told me about Don, another player in my city who was interested in going, so I got in touch with him and he rode up with me.  Now I know another person in my city who plays go.  Score.

My biggest worry going into the tournament was time management.  My games have traditionally taken 90-120 minutes to play.  At this tournament, the time limit was set to 30 minutes per player, with 5 byo-yomi periods of 30 seconds.  That didn’t sound like much time at all until somebody explained to me how byo-yomi works.  Once you use up your first 30 minutes, you get 5 30 second periods to play.  If you play within the 30 seconds, it resets back to 30 seconds.  If you take longer than 30 seconds to move, you lose a period and it starts counting down from 30 seconds again.  As long as you keep playing in less than 30 seconds, you can technically go a long time just in byo-yomi.

After I arrived and registered, I played a quick 9×9 game with my travel companion on one of the nice boards reserved for the highest-ranked players.  These were 2″-thick boards with slate and shell stones.  I estimated that the set was probably about a thousand dollars, and turned out to be right.  I jokingly told Audrey she would have to let me get one when I reach single-digit kyu rank.  It was my first time playing slate and shell stones and they really are beautiful up close.

I also had the opportunity to meet one of the people responsible for my continuing to play go.  When I’d first posted to reddit about being frustrated with the game, a person named Joe reached out to me, and we’ve been playing a bit.  He’s taught me a lot about the game, and it turned out that he was a member of the club at RIT.  He actually had been the one to suggest I try to go and get some games in.  It was great to get to meet him along with the other players in Rochester.

The 12th Greg Lefler Memorial Tournament is underway. I can’t believe it’s been so many years. #baduk

A photo posted by Steve Colburn (@vash3g) on

The first round of the tournament was my best.  I made a couple silly mistakes of course, but by the end it looked like we were pretty even.  I was honestly surprised when we counted up and I had lost by about 20 points.  The first round was run with 0 or 1 stone handicaps.  If I’d had a full handicap based on our ranks, I probably would’ve won.  I walked away from this game feeling that I played pretty well.

The second round was pretty awful for me.  My opponent played VERY fast, and I got intimidated.  I found myself trying to keep up with him in speed, making a lot of avoidable mistakes.  By the time I slowed myself down, it was too late, and I lost with negative territory.  At this point most of us walked across the RIT campus for lunch.  I was pretty impressed with what I saw of the school on our walk.  After a quick burrito, we were back to playing go.

I don’t remember a lot about round three.  I started off pretty well, but lost again.  I at least had territory this time, but it was still a significant loss.  I do remember my opponent being surprised in the early game at how I played out a joseki (a commonly-played set of moves) intuitively without knowing it.  It didn’t help though!

The final match just sucked.  At this point, I was exhausted and had nearly zero mental capacity left.  I really felt like I was just tossing stones on the board randomly, and lost this game again with a negative amount of territory.  Apparently, six hours of playing go in one day is about all I can handle.

Overall, I had a great time.  I walked away with more experience and knowledge about the game, and should be receiving my official American Go Association rating within the next few days.  My personal guess is that I’ll come in somewhere around 20-21kyu.  I’m looking forward to finding out.

It’s Dangerous To Go Alone – 1

I’ve made a resolution to try to play a full live game every night if possible, in addition to my ongoing correspondence games.  I plan to do a small write-up about each game as sort of a mini-review.  You may click on the image of the completed game to be taken to the game on OGS.

 

Match 1 – 13×13 board vs. 21kyu player – won by resignation

6351656I started this match with 2 handicap stones.  The first 10 moves seemed to be pretty straightforward, with both of us pretty much just putting down stones to outline our areas of territory.  White put in a solid claim to the top left corner, while I got a good hold on the bottom and top right.  A bunch of whites movies were closer to the center on the 5th line which I understand isn’t a great idea for early game.

Move 11, white invaded my area in the top right and I responded, trapping several of his stones in a ladder.  By move 40 I seemed to have defeated the invasion although I’m not sure how secure my area is, something I really need to work on.

With move 41, white attached to one of my stones in the bottom right and we skirmished again, with my trapping most of the stones he attacked with.  At move 58 I made a serious mistake: I played to keep him from connecting and completely missed an atari that would’ve let him capture two of my stones.  At this point however, white resigned and I won.

 

Match 2 – 19×19 board vs. 20kyu player – lost by resignation

6359787I was originally going to skip writing about this game because it was so terrible I’m embarrassed.   I started with a generous 4 handicap stones which should’ve given me a pretty decent starting advantage, and I proceeded to blow it.  Once again I let myself get sucked into fighting, and gave my opponent two stones at move 27.  That wasn’t enough for me though, so I gave him another seven stones at just 14 moves later.  At move 145, I resigned.

When a player approaches me, my first instinct is always to try to block and/or capture them.  I still don’t entirely understand how to respond properly without getting into an immediate fight that I’m almost guaranteed to lose.  This game is a pretty good example of everything that’s wrong with the way I’ve been playing.

 

Match 3 – 19×19 board vs. 16kyu player – won by resignation

6387707  This is the strangest game I’ve played.  I started with a very large handicap of 8 stones.  White’s first move was to play at tengen (the center of the board) and as I strengthened my claim around the outside, he played a good number of stones in the center of the board.  I feel I played pretty badly, and he seemed to be able to attack and take the corners away from me pretty quickly.

I quickly became discouraged in this game as many of my attempts at living were thwarted, and did what I could to take territory the bottom, right side, and top.  Without warning, my opponent resigned at move 219.  There was no communication during the entire game, and I have no idea why he quit the game.

 

Match 4 – 9×9 board vs. 25kyu player – won by 7.5 points

  I decided to do a quick 9×9 and found myself playing with a brand new 25 kyu player.  I made several really stupid mistakes, move 18 set myself up to be punished pretty severely and almost lost me the game.  I got trapped into losing 2 stones at move 25 and stupidly lost another one immediately by not paying attention to what I was doing.

My opponent’s play at move 35 screwed me over in the corner, my fault for not having strong connections along my wall, so I lost another 4 stones down there, plus another stone up toward the top when I inexplicably made another awful decision.  At that point the game was more or less over; my opponent made a couple plays in my territory but was unable to live.  It ended up being a very close game but I did win with 7.5 points, including a komi of 5.5.

Lets Go Clubbing

Last night I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Syracuse Go Club.  I was a bit (okay, very) nervous since this would be my first time playing against a stranger in person.  Fortunately, everybody was very friendly and welcoming.  The gentleman I had previously emailed to get more information about the club was present, and we sat down and played a 13×13 game for him to get an idea of my strength.  I was nervous and slow to play, and it was clear where some of my weaker areas of play were.

If the game was scored, it’s without my knowing.  Immediately after the game was over, we started talking about living and dead shapes, and I was given a worksheet that would help me learn a bit more of the basics of life and death.  While we were discussing this, a girl arrived and sat down with us.  She apparently joined the club a couple months ago, and was also still learning.  It was decided we’d play against each other next on a 19×19 board.

I never really felt that I was in control of the match, but at times I felt that I was doing pretty decently.  I made a few mistakes which she immediately punished, and vice-versa.  I was able to invade a couple of the sides and take a decent amount of territory from her.  Unfortunately, I failed to create living shapes in a couple of the corners and at the end of the game I had a massive number of dead stones which counted against me.  I ended up with negative territory.

These games reaffirmed what I thought about my playing ability.  When defending or attacking, I tend to get entirely too focused on “winning the battle” and end up with a large group of dead stones.  I see myself doing this in every game, and desperately need to break the habit.  I think once I’m able to take and defend territory without building up clusters of dead stones, my game will improve significantly.

I’m really looking forward to going to club meetings as often as possible.  The only real downside is that they are about a 45 minute drive away.  The amount of fun I had made the trip worth it though.