Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Thick Plastic


Lately the venerable plastic chair mat that we use under the computer desk chair at home has been starting to show its age (about 6 years).

A year or so ago the first crack showed up, and since then they have steadily been getting worse. Lately its been debatable whether the mat was even providing any benefit, because it certainly was an annoyance whenever the chair would get caught in the cracked areas. So last week we got a new one, which isn't quite as nice as the old one, but will likely do the trick.

The problem now is what to do with the old mat. I feel guilty throwing it away because I'm sure it is made of extra-super-non-biodegradable-plastic, and will likely be clogging up a landfill for the next 600 years. But at the same time, the mat is too broken up (especially after I broke off a few of the bigger pieces) to be of any use as a chair mat. Plus even if I wanted to throw the stupid thing away, it is too tall to fit in our garbage can easily and I don't have much interest in trying to rip it fully in half.

So instead the mat sits on the floor of the office, for no particular purpose other then allowing me to avoid deciding what to do with it.


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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Movies: The Illusionist

On Sunday Linzy and I went over to my parent's house for dinner and then afterwards watched The Illusionist with them. I didn't know too much about the movie going in, other then that it had gotten good reviews and starred Edward Norton, whose movies I usually like.

The movie is set at the turn of the century, and is basically a love story between a member of the nobility and a commoner who becomes a magician. It doesn't sound like much, but it is enough of a plot to keep the movie going. The acting was, as expected, quite good. I also liked the look of the film; the sets and coloring were pretty cool.

My main complaint about the movie was that the 'big twist' was ridiculously straight-forward and completely obvious. That made the movie drag a bit more then if they had been more circumspect with things.

Overall I thought the movie was good, although not something I would necessarily want to watch again. In the battle of the 'movies about turn-of-the-century-magicians' The Prestige wins handily.


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Monday, January 29, 2007

It'll Burn Your Eye Out

Last week someone at the YMCA stole Linzy's curling iron.

My initial theory was that it would just turn up in the lost and found, because seriously, who would steal a curling iron? My second theory was that if someone was stupid enough to steal a used curling iron, they would also be stupid enough to keep using it at the YMCA. Unfortunately the curling iron never surfaced, and so Linzy bought a new one today.

When she was showing it to me tonight, the warning label immediately caught my eye:



The specificity of the warning is what was surprising. They don't warn you that the iron will get hot and could burn your hand, arm, or even face, or just a general warning about being careful when using it. Instead they only call out the fact that if you were to jab it in your eye it would, in fact, burn your eye.

Even better is the fact that the iron also has a safety tip on it, which would make it really hard to actually burn an eye with. At least it would take a concerted effort:



I have no doubt that someone's uncoordinated actions necessitated the specific warning label, but I still thought it was amusing.


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Sunday, January 28, 2007

HBO

A week or so ago, just before our 6-month cable deal was set to expire, I called up Charter to see what they could do for me for a new deal.

As has been our experience in the past, as soon as you hit the top-level package they don't offer any discounts anymore. See, the discounts only work if you are 'upgrading' your service level, even though invariably the price for the higher service level will be less then what your current bill is. Then you have to drop down to a lower programming level for a bit and then get the next good deal that comes along.

That's how the game works, and true to past experience, that's exactly what happened this time around: They wouldn't give me a price break. Unfortunately with the new TV, I couldn't do my usual ploy of dropping all the way down to analog cable (from which you can get the best 'upgrade' deals) because in order to keep the HDTV channels you need a digital pacakage.

The timing of all of this is poor, however, because all the shows I watch on HBO are just starting again (Rome), or set to start back up in just a few months (Entourage and Sopranos).

But, you can't have everything I guess, so I'll have to wait for the shows to come out on DVD and Netflix them. Or hope that in a few months I can talk the cable company into giving me a deal again. We do get to keep the DVR, at least.


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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Privacy

January seems to be the time of year for all the companies I do business with to send me privacy policy updates. These are all usually pretty similar, one or two page letters filled with various ways the company will try to sell me and my information to other companies to make a quick buck (usually in the guise of claiming to provide better service to me).

Take for example the Sprint/Nextel privacy policy, which was pretty typical. Here is a snippet:

...CPNI [Customer Proprietary Network Information] is information like whom, where, when, and for how long you call; what products and services you buy; how these products and services are configured; and what details are contained in your bill....Sprint may share you CPNI with third parties that assist Sprint in promoting or providing these services.


At the other end of the spectrum was a tiny little postcard we got from the company that we bought an extended auto warranty from. Their privacy policy went like this (nearly in its entirety):

We collect personal information about you from the following sources:
* Information we receive from you, from your application or other forms you furnish to us, such as your name, address, telephone number, coverage, fees; and,
* Information about your transactions with us such as: claims made, parties to the repair, repairs performed and benefits paid.

We may only disclose all information we collect, as described above, to companies that perform inspections for us.

We do not disclose any personal information about former customers to anyone, except as permitted by law.

We restrict access to personal information about you to those employees who need to know that information in order to provide products and services to you. We maintain physical, electronic, and procedural safeguards that comply with federal regulations to guard your personal information.


Notice that the extended warranty place doesn't talk about opting out, because there is nothing to opt-out of. They don't give my information to basically anyone except the people who have to have it in order to provide warranty services. Where as most of the rest of the page of Sprint's privacy notice is about what needs to be done to 'opt-out' of them selling your personal information.

Why would I want Sprint disclosing who I call and how often, or how much my phone bills are? What could that possibly be used for, except evil and nefarious purposes? Sprint is also the company who has sales reps call me on my cell phone (which costs me minutes) during the day while I am at work, to ask why I don't subscribe to text messaging service.

As if I wasn't already dissatisfied with their service enough, bothering me to try and squeeze more money out of me is only going to make my disgust with them worse.


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Friday, January 26, 2007

Pie Tins

Today on the bus ride home, two girls who knew each other were sitting in the row behind me, across the aisle from each other. At one point, they spent about 10 minutes carrying on a confused conversation about baking pans.

The first girl was describing her secret cheesecake recipe that she makes for her husband despite the fact that she doesn't like cheesecake, and how it was hard to make because she kept having to stop to watch Grey's Anatomy. The confusion set in when she was trying to explain to girl #2 the type of pan she uses.

She was trying to describe this (a ready-made graham cracker crust already in a tinfoil pan)



Girl #2 was envisioning a spring-form pan, also known for as a cheesecake pan, like this:


She kept describing it as having a "hole in the middle", and so girl #1 was envisioning this (a bunt cake pan):


And they went back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth, each confusing the other more as they kept using virtually the same descriptions over and over to describe something the other was completely misunderstanding.

I wanted to turn around and go "She's talking about a pre-made graham cracker crust like you would buy at Cub, she's talking about a spring-form pan but you are thinking of a bunt cake pan. Now talk about something else!" But instead I quietly suffered through my character being woefully underpowered in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin.


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Thursday, January 25, 2007

In Stock

I ended up on an impromptu survey of next-gen video game consoles stores had in stock yesterday. My friend and I ended up randomly in a game store over lunch after he was claiming they had Wiis in stock. Then that night Linzy and I happened to be at Target and Best Buy so I thought I would check their stock.

The end result?

Playstation 3s in stock: At least 10
Wiis in stock: 0

The dedicated video game store even had flyers up advertising the fact that they had PS3s in stock. That can't possibly be a good sign for the system.

Incidentally, the Wii is an interesting topic for reasons similar to my post yesterday, no one appears to believe that I can resist buying one soon. Every time the topic comes up in conversations with friends they inevitably ask "So, have you bought one yet?".

While I think the Wii looks interesting, I am also somewhat realistic about the amount of free time I have: not much. Certainly not enough to be able to do justice to yet another video game system. I'm also annoyed by the somewhat expensive price for what is effectively a slightly faster Gamecube with a new control scheme, and the outrageous $60 price for a controller and nunchuk attachment.

That isn't to say I won't get one, I'm sure I will. But at this point I am sticking to my story that it probably won't be until before our next party.


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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Healthy Eating

Sometimes I'm surprised at the offline responses I get to my posts here. For example, take my lament over my pizza-making disaster from over the weekend.

Over the past three days, I had 5 different people ask me how my eating was going with Linzy being out of town. Apparently, public opinion of my self-sufficiency is low. The prevailing theory on what exactly I was eating hovered somewhere between nothing but Macaroni & Cheese and sandwiches.

Just to reassure those worried about my continued health, I managed reasonable meals every day. I even had vegetables and/or fruit with all but one meal. And, no I wasn't eating out all those meals. So there. :)


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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Billboards

Twice in the past four days the StarTribune has had articles about the new digital billboards being put up around the Twin Cities area.

I actually noticed one for the first time last Thursday when I drove in to work expecting to have plans downtown that night. Anyway, the billboard was definitely noticeable even though it wasn't changing the picture every 8 seconds (like apparently the ones in Minnetonka do).

In this case it wasn't the motion that was eye-catching, but rather just the fact that it is so much brighter then a normal billboard. I can only imagine what the thing looks like when it is dark out, you can probably see it for miles.

I could see how it would be distracting to drivers if it was that bright and constantly shifting.


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Monday, January 22, 2007

Half-Sized

While I was in the grocery store the other day, picking up some easier-to-cook meal supplies and I noticed something new. Or at least new to me, as I don't go to the grocery store very often: Half cakes.

They were regular, large double-layer cakes cut perfectly in half (as in, a half-circle), in a form-fitted plastic container, but otherwise normal cakes.

The amusing part was the price: $6.99. An identical full-sized cake: $7.99.

My hat is off to the executive who came up with selling the same amount of cake for a 75% premium, very smart. I have no doubt there are plenty of people out there worried about having 'too much' cake on hand, and so perfectly willing to buy half a cake for virtually the same price. Especially around this time of year.

Brilliant!


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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Survival Skills

On Saturday, Linzy took Pippen and left me to fend for myself until the middle of next week. That would explain why I can waste 3 hours straight working on a puzzle, and also why my meals have gotten rather suspect.

Normally I am a relatively satisfactory cook, although with a very small repertoire. Making matters worse yesterday was the fact that a grocery trip was needed, so we were rather low on food. Linzy had specifically left out for me what I needed to make a homemade pizza, so that is what I attempted to make.

The first mistake was calling my parents when I should have been getting dinner prepared, so next thing you know it was already getting late and the pizza hadn't even been started.

The second mistake was trying to roll the pizza dough on a perforated pizza pan. I'm not sure what the excuse there was; that's just stupid. The crust turned out to be really quite difficult to get to roll out in a semblance of a circle. After 15 minutes I gave up and settled for this:



Eventually I got all the toppings prepared (at least I am good at cooking the sausage) and put the pizza in the oven. Only to realize that I hadn't done anything to get a salad together. Whoops. At that point it was a little late to be chopping all the salad supplies up, so I decided to go without.

My pizza came out looking slightly better then I was expecting, but unfortunately it tasted quite a bit worse. Although in my defense, I think that had more to do with the particular brand of crust (which was a new experiment I found out today).



Despite my dislike for the pizza, I'm still planning on eating the leftover-half later this week. Because, given the choice of making a new meal or eating the leftovers of one that was sub-par but edible, I'll battle through the taste.


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Saturday, January 20, 2007

La Tour Eiffel: Finished

Today I spent a bunch of time and finished the puzzle I started last weekend. The puzzle's main part, some trees with pink flowers, was just as frustratingly difficult as I was expecting.

Between the time spent trying to find matching branches (for the trees) and matching cloud wisps (for the sky), the puzzle took me a lot longer to finish then I was expecting before I took a good luck at what I was in for. I'm not exactly sure how long I spent on it, but I would guess between 9-10 hours.

Still it was fun to sit down and work on a puzzle for something different to do. Read on for the last of the pictures.


Where I ended on Wednesday night.


My plans on Thursday night were canceled, so I had time to finish up the sky.


I didn't work on the puzzle at all on Friday, but this morning I started trying to whittle away the tree section.


Notice how I'm still avoiding having to work on the blurry, pink flower section.


Getting closer.


Completed, except for the last piece, which I always let Linzy put in.


Previous days: Day 1 Day 2 Day 3

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

La Tour Eiffel: Day 3

Since I won't be working on the puzzle tonight, here is the update on my progress through Wednesday night.

This update was in danger of not happening at all, as for quite a while I hadn't completed much of anything on the puzzle. Eventually my persistence paid off and the sky pieces started coming together. In the end I got basically all of the cloud sections completed.

Read on for pictures.

Where I left off yesterday.


Soon I might clear out enough space so that I can put the 'pink' pieces back in the bottom box and use the cover picture again.


Hard at work on the sky.


Where I ended on Wednesday night.



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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Things That May Interest Only Me

Today was a good day for seeing random things on the Internet that interested me:

First, the inevitable long-slow-slide into cookie-cutter sequels has begun for Guitar Hero, as the original developer is rumored to have been replaced by Neversoft. A company best known for the Tony Hawk games. Which coincidentally or not, started out really good and then...well...I'm not even sure what number sequel they are on now, but I think it is like #8 or something. The only good side of this is that soon, I won't have to whine about how much harder each new Guitar Hero game has gotten.

Second, straight out of left field, I saw that HBO has picked up an option to turn George R.R. Martin's book series into a TV series. One book a season. Which, while a more reasonable pace for covering the dense books, means they would need 7 or more seasons to cover the whole (projected) series. I don't quite understand how they would handle some of the things, because George loves to kill off characters, and lately he spent 5-6 years churning out what ended up to be only half a book. So, would they actually go an entire season with only half the cast and then another season with the other half of the cast? Still, I enjoy the books, so I would definitely have to watch the series if it actually gets made.

Third, Shawn pointed out that an animated movie for Dragons of Autumn Twilight is coming out, which I had no idea was the case. Since the Dragonlance Chronicles are one of, if not, my favorite book trilogy of all time, that would be awesome. But, I must keep my expectations low.


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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

La Tour Eiffel: Day 2

I didn't make a whole lot of progress on the puzzle today, as I spent most of my time sorting pieces into three piles: deep blue, light blue with branches, and anything with pink on it.

The 'anything with pink on it' pile was not a particularly good idea, as it ended up being nearly half of the remaining pieces. But on the good side the 'light blue with branches' pile was a lot easier to put together. I did manage to complete the edge and get the Eiffel Tower attached to the top of the puzzle. So at least some progress was made.

Read on for pictures.

Where I left off yesterday:


The 'anything with pink' on it pile, after my first pass through the box of pieces.


It felt like I spent forever sorting pieces, and I still didn't get through all of them before giving up and working on putting things together.


In the end, I filled in the bottom a bit, worked on the outline of the trees, and finished up the outside edge. This is where I ended for today.



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Monday, January 15, 2007

La Tour Eiffel

This evening I started the Christmas puzzle my Mom bought of Linzy and I. My Mom always buys us a puzzle for Christmas, and this year's is of the Eiffel Tower and some trees.

The puzzle looks like it is going to be fairly difficult, because about 75% is either miscellaneous tree foliage, or clear blue sky. And the small pieces don't help matters.

It took me about an hour to sort through the puzzle pieces, find the edges and assemble them.


Or at least assemble as much as I could.


Then I spent another ~90 minutes working on the 'easy' part of the puzzle. That was slow going because it is such a relatively small portion of the puzzle that it took forever to hunt through and find all the pieces.


Now that the easy stuff is out of the way, I'll have to buckle down and work on the trees, or sky.


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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Busy Times

Things have been pretty busy around here lately, and they aren't looking to get much better anytime soon:

Last Friday we went over to Paul & Laura's house, along with Brenden and Allison, for dinner and some hanging out afterwards.

On Saturday I cleaned the house, Linzy went to dinner with some college friends, and I watched the directors cut of Kingdom of Heaven. Which, while ridiculously long, wasn't anywhere near as bad as the critics make it out to be.

Today I spent the day trying to collect all the Christmas stuff around the house and put it away. And then will probably watch a movie tonight.

On Monday I am having lunch with the former co-workers I used to eat lunch with everyday, but who I haven't seen since I changed jobs.

On Tuesday I am having lunch with my Dad.

On Thursday I am meeting some really-former co-workers for happy hour and dinner.

Then on Friday, I'm giving a presentation to a group of VPs at work, which I am kind of nervous about.

Wednesday is apparently the odd-man out, with nothing specific planned. Yet, at least.


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Friday, January 12, 2007

Smelly Feet

Last Saturday evening, Linzy, Dan, Tristan, Aimee and I went to go see Children of Men. It was pretty interesting, though definitely gritty and not a typical action movie. Anyway, at one point about halfway through the movie the lady sitting next to Linzy took her shoes off and put her bare feet up on top of the seat in front of her.

Her feet smelled. Enough that I could smell them a whole person away.

I asked myself, why would you take your shoes off in some place as questionably cleanly as a movie theater. But more specifically, why would you do it if you knew you were prone to having smelly feet?

I don't particularly care if you want to risk acquiring strange diseases passed via sticky pop stains, but spare the rest of us if your feet stink.


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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Resurgence

This evening while mulling over what to post about, I was amused to see the word Chisler (though misspelled) used in a quote in an article on CNN:

In his closing argument Thursday, one of the Broussards' attorneys, William Walker, said State Farm had breached their contract "in a bad way" by denying their claim. State Farm "acted like a chiseler," he said, adding, "The pocketbook is what they listen to."

The article was about some people who won a lawsuit against State Farm for denying their Hurricane Katrina claim. An insurance company trying to weasel out of paying money to people for claims, in-and-of-itself, would hardly be fodder for a blog post but I liked seeing someone work 'chisler' into a regular conversation.

You may or, more likely, may not remember that I posted about chisler way back in 2004. That page still gets a lot of hits from Google, so perhaps the word is experiencing a resurgence.

I'll have to start making a more concerted effort to work it into conversations.


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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Cubis 2

Unfortunately for you faithful readers of Steve's blog, there will be no post this evening from Steve.
I Linzy Eck have discovered the wonders of Yahoo Games online, and Cubis 2.

I believe I love it!

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Lemmings

Twice last Friday I got into crowded elevators, once going up and once going down. In both cases the floor I wanted to get off on was not already selected, so I pushed the button myself. The strange part was that both times, the entire elevator got off with me on whatever floor I was headed to.

Now, I could understand if one or two people got confused about which floor we were stopping on, but all 7 people in the elevator? And maybe the upper floors look somewhat similar, but there is a huge difference between the first and second floors.

What would these people have done if I wasn't there to save the day and push the floor button they intended to use? Would they have ridden the elevator, trapped, for hours hoping someone would get on and by chance decide they wanted to go to floor 6?

I suppose it was just a coincidence that people changed their minds about what floor to go to, but it was still pretty strange.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Faucet Replacement

Our existing kitchen faucet was the original from when the house was built. And though it is not particularly old as faucets go, it had developed a nasty tendency to leak water all over the place if you weren't careful with the relative position of the handle and the spout. The garbage disposal was also problematic, in that it leaked a bit when it was actually used (which is rarely).

So, when we got some joint Christmas money from our grandparents, Linzy and I decided to put some of it towards a new faucet and disposal. Yesterday, fresh off my crushing Risk defeat I decided to try my hand at replacing them.

Here you can see the old faucet with its stylish calcium stains.


The amount of tools I bring to work on a project is usually inversely proportional to how much I know about what I am doing. In this case it turned out that I knew exactly what I was doing, and was just trying to avoid having water spraying everywhere while the Right Tool was down in the basement.


The mounting ring from the old garbage disposal. Yuck.


The washer and nut from the underside of one of the faucet posts. Clearly the gasket under the faucet had outlived its usefulness.


My main concern with this whole project was what the area of the sink would look like when I took off the old faucet, since the new one was a different design. Thus parts of the sink that had not seen the light of day in 10 years would be exposed.


A bunch of CLR and 30 minutes of elbow grease got things looking better.


The faucet almost completely installed.


The moment of truth, for the faucet at least. I have to admit I had a towel nearby, just in case something decided to be angry. As it turned out, everything worked perfectly.


The garbage disposal instructions insisted the drain ring required a 3/4 inch rope of plumbers putty. Not so much. By the time everything was in place 99% of that putty had squished out.


Getting the stupid disposal locked onto the mounting bracket was the worst part of the entire job. [ Incidentally, the disposal is much more level then this picture makes it appear. ]


I only really ended up needing screwdrivers, wrenches and sockets to do everything. All the rest of the tools were just there for show.


On the left, the overpriced "Basin Wrench" which I bought specifically for this job. Except that it was more or less useless for loosening calcified nuts or doing much of anything. My improvised deep socket+extension arm was a million times better.


All in all the job turned out to be a lot less troublesome then I expected. The new faucet is great and you can hardly even notice the stain from the previous faucet once all the pieces of the new faucet were installed.

It took a bit longer then I was expecting (about 4 hours start to finish) but it wasn't an unreasonable job for one person on an afternoon. Any plumbing story that doesn't end with buckets being required is a success in my book.


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Sunday, January 07, 2007

World Domination 2007

On Saturday, Dan, Gerard, Wes, Brenden and I got together for our second annual Risk game. It hasn't been quite a year since the last time we all got together for a game, but it has been pretty close.

This years game didn't turn out quite as well for me personally as the previous one, but it was definitely fun to get together with the guys and spend a few hours arguing over strategies and who had the best position.

In the above picture, Dan was foreshadowing his future domination of Asia and path to victory. Read on for more pictures and accounts of the game.


This year we decided to change things up and hand out countries randomly, by dealing out the territory cards. This was the starting position, after we placed the extra reinforcements.


After mine and Brenden's turn. I've taken over South America, while Brenden made his move for North America.


Gerard intently planning his strategy ('Attack!')


After Wes and Dan's turns. Dan has managed to take over all of Asia except for my lone guy in Japan.


After another round of turns. I've started my push into North America, while Brenden tries to hold me off as well as hold Wes off in Europe. Dan took all of Asia, only to have Gerard stymie his collecting armies for it by taking one country back.


Brenden and Wes enjoying the game.


The next round was mostly jockeying for position.


On the subsequent round, I turn in the first set of the game with two bonus armies in a gamble to wipe Brenden out. Unfortunately his forces in Alaska hold me off.


After turning in a set of his own, Brenden takes Alberta back.


Don't wipe Brenden out of the game too quickly, or he'll lose interest.


Now lots of sets have been turned in, and Dan starts taking control of the game.


While I was wiping out Brenden's last remaining troops, we both rolled all sixes.


I own North America, South America as well as Kamchatka. Which should have been a very strong position.


But Dan turned in a set for massive armies, wiped Gerard out, turned in another set, and crushed all who stood in the way of his Australian juggernaut.


It's easy to be all smiles when you own Asia.


Wes turned in a set and rampaged all over the map, with no apparent destination in mind other then to 'wreck havoc'.


Dan's armies wiped me out shortly thereafter and surrounded Wes's last remaining guy in the Eastern US to win the game.



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