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factotum (fak-toe'-tum) n. an employee or assistant who serves in a wide range of capacities. [from Latin fac: imperative of facere "to do" + totum "everything."]

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Fantastic Four :(

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"ps: To date I have personally gotten over 37 people mercilessly hooked on your games." -- email from nikin

Thursday, January 26th, 2006
by the Writer's Guild of Wunderland

What's New?

Visiting the New NASM

This weekend we finally got around to checking out the new extension of the National Air and Space Museum, located out near Dulles Airport. And I really liked it! But since it's well-known I'm a space history geek, this should hardly be a surprise...

I'm old enough to remember when they built the original National Air and Space Museum (NASM) and I've been there countless times, so I've been following the story of this new annex museum for quite awhile now. (I for one was particularly intrigued by the idea someone had suggested, for building the museum around what's left of the old NY State pavilion in Flushing Meadows.) The only reason it's taken us so long to go see it (it's been open for 2 years now) is that we're just so doggone busy!

To begin with, I really liked the museum's layout. Whereas the original NASM had a decidedly random layout, with space capsules on display right beside early aircraft, the Udvar-Hazy NASM has 2 main zones: a huge, long, hanger-like area for the airplanes, and a VAB-like side room where all the space artifacts are on display. (As one who cares mainly about the latter, I find this highly agreeable.)

Obviously, it was great to see various artifacts, some of which I'd never been close to before (like the space shuttle Enterprise and an SR-71 Blackbird) and some of which were old friends I always enjoy seeing again (like the Vanguard flight spare, which I had previously noticed was no longer on view at the downtown building).

As a game designer, I was particularly intrigued to discover a magnetic Scrabble set on display in this area. According to the plaque, NASA had considered sending this set up to SkyLab, but then decided not to when they realized that astronauts with free time in space would rather spend that time just enjoying weightlessness, looking through the window and such, and not playing a board game. (And I can't say that I blame them.)

But for us, the most exciting artifact to discover on display was the Massively Parallel Processor, the MPP. It's tucked away in the very back corner of the James S. McDonnell Space Hanger (you could see it in the center of the photo at the top if there wasn't a space shuttle blocking the view).

Were it not for this one-of-a-kind mainframe computer, Kristin and I would never have met.

Of course, there are many things you could say that about... NASA as a whole was the instrument of our courtship, after all. If we hadn't both gotten jobs there, we'd never have met. But the MPP played a vital role.

As the plaque says, the MPP was developed by Goodyear Aerospace between 1978 and 1983, and was then installed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). The next year, a noted mathematician, Marv Wunderlich, became part of the team of scientists working on programming this powerful new computer to factor large numbers... and when his daughter (Kristin) came to visit him for Christmas that year, he took her into NASA to show her this cool new computer he couldn't stop talking about. That Saturday afternoon, Kristin met a division chief, who also just happened to be working that weekend. Kristin had no idea who this random person was that she was talking to, but the end result was a summer job, and then a career, at GSFC, far from her hometown of Dekalb Illinois, in a city she can't imagine she'd ever have come to if it hadn't been for the Massively Parallel Processor. And now, that very same computer is on view at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum! Cool, huh?

My week of Space Studies Field Trips was capped off last night by a visit to the good-old original Air and Space Museum, where I had the privilege of attending a preview showing of the new IMAX movie, "Roving Mars." It was extremely great! I liked it even more than the Space Station movie we took in while at the Udvar-Hazy. In fact it might be my favorite IMAX movie ever. Well, OK, in some ways, nothing can ever beat "To Fly!" so we'll call it my second IMAX favorite. (Then again, I haven't yet seen "Magnificent Desolation.")

It was extra fun for me because I got to playtest Treehouse (while waiting for the movie to start) with the son of one of Petra's co-workers (thanks again for sharing those passes with me Petra!) and it tested well. I'm so excited about my newest game!

Also cool to see while at the flagship NASM: the newly arrived Space Ship One, hanging proudly in the air between Glamorous Glennis and the Spirit of St. Louis, overlooking the moonrock and the Apollo-11 capsule. Wow, you can't be in better company than that!

In other news, we are talking seriously about launching a separate commercial enterprise, a different imprint if you will, under which to publish my Amsterdam Coffeeshop playing cards (which has been simmering on the stove for a while now) and under which to reprint Stoner Fluxx. The current print run is about to sell out, and we've decided the next edition will be redesigned to work as a 56 card version, with more color and blister packaging like the new Family Fluxx. Our hope is that the lower price point will make the new version of Stoner Fluxx something that Spencer's will decide to start selling... it will certainly be a better price point for the head shops that have been trying to sell it. Separating the two product lines under different company names will allow us to run two separate rosters of stores, and will make it easier to advertise both lines of products without them getting in each other's way.

But what do we call this new enterprise? We've been brainstorming up a few names but nothing has emerged yet as the right choice. Our favorite candidates at the moment are Dutch Mindset and Fully Baked Ideas. Anybody got any other suggestions? If so, please get yourself onto the Stoner-Fluxx mailing list and join the discussions!

AndyThanks for Playing Our Games! Have a great week!

PS: Thank you to everyone on the Icehouse list for all your feedback on the Treehouse rules!

Thought Residue
Needless to say, as wild-eyed liberals slowly making plans to move to Canada, the results of this week's elections up there were a big disappointment for us. The reigning liberals kept dragging their feet on the marijuana decrim bill they once pledged to pass, and now they've lost their chance. Instead, the new guy has pledged to get tough on drugs, and to challenge Canada's gay marriage laws, support US military adventures, etc. Ugh! Fortunately, the Canadian version of Conservative is less extreme than ours, and they're going to have to share more power than do our current Republicans. And anyway, being a big anti-incumbency guy, I understand the need to throw the bums out when they've proven themselves corrupt, even if they are on your "team," and regardless of what you might think of the alternative. In fact, I wish more people here understood that!

A few weeks ago, I whined about broken-down VCRs and asked for recommendations on getting one fixed. My conclusions from the responses I got to that: forget about repairs, its not cost-effective, instead just look for a hand-me-down replacement. Between TIVO and DVDs, the VCR is rapidly becoming a device which people no longer need at all and are willing to give away (or sell for much less than the cost of repairing a VCR).
"There is a strange parallel between the relationships Canada-US and Holland-Germany: the smaller brother looks at the bigger one and finds fault with much of what he sees, he then desperately tries to do everything better, succeeds remarkably well, but tragically, his efforts are completely ignored by his brother and the rest of the world - he is simply too small and unimportant." -- Axel Boldt, "A Subjective Comparison of Germany and the United States"

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