Making Bread

Mmmm... Looks so tasty... And I didn't get to have any!
Mmmm… Looks so tasty… And I didn’t get to have any!

Yesterday I went to my wife’s class in the morning and baked bread with her students.

This is apparently a big thing at her school. Last year a parent came in and helped he kids bake bread.

Unfortunately, no parents volunteered to help in my wife’s class this year so I’m doing it!

The actual process for making bread is pretty simple. Throw all the ingredients into the breadmaker, program it according to the recipe, and let it go.

The more exciting part is that the kids get to work their teacher’s husband who is a scientist! My wife told me the kids were excited about that part.

Before school started I came to her classroom and anybody who had arrived early was welcome to help me make bread.

I met a few of the kids. I’d imagined more energy, but they were mostly quite subdued. I was surprised at first, but my wife reminded me that the kids haven’t met me before even though she’s told me lots about them. They were all just shy.

One of the kids volunteered to read the recipe while the rest of the little chefs added one ingredient each.

After we got everything in the breadmaker I let them pick how crunchy they wanted the breadmaker to make the bread. They chose medium.

We quickly cleaned the measuring cups and spoons we’d used before putting everything away as school started.

The picture above is from after my wife cut the bread around lunchtime when it was done. Delicious!

It was really cool to be working with kids again. I haven’t done it since the summer after my Sophmore year when I taught gymnastics at the YMCA with my mother-in-law.

Things I’d change next time:
We forgot hotpads for taking the bread out. There are some towels in the classroom, but hotpads are always better.
There’s no dish soap in the classroom. Hand soap works, but it was a little weird.
I got the butter out of the classroom fridge right as we needed it, but that meant it was quite hard and difficult for the kids to cut into smaller pieces. Next time I’ll bring the butter out earlier.

I’ll do those things for now and hopefully the kids won’t be so shy next time as well. I’m looking forward to the improvement of the whole process next week!

-Mister Ed

Hearthstone Tracker

Hearthstone Tracker Stats
More statistics than you can swing a stick at! That is, if you’re into swinging sticks at statistics…

I got a program called HearthstoneTracker to generate some statistics on my Hearthstone matches.

Do I win more against a certain type of class? Do I win more when I’m playing a certain class? Which matchups are favorable for which class? Which class have I been playing against the most lately? Do I win more often going first or second? Am I making enough money in Arena for it to be worthwhile?

Hearthstone Tracker collects the data that I can then use to answer those questions. It even has graphs!

Hearthstone Tracker Over Time
I lost a lot of games on September 14th.
And here you can see my win/loss rate is good, but not amazing.
And here you can see my win/loss rate is good, but not amazing.

The program is available for free at http://hearthstonetracker.com/

It’s a small download and it runs in a separate window while you play Hearthstone. You can minimize the window or even have the program stored in the tray if taskbar space is precious to you.

The program may collect a lot of statistics but it has a few issues.

Originally the program collected stats through a screen capture system. This is fine if you always keep the game open, but I like to do other things while I play (like writing blog posts).

I created a workaround for that through a little bit of window feng shui.

The program developer has since come up with a way to grab data from the stream going on to the internet or something.

And somehow that method is even worse. I don’t know how it manages to get the length of a game wrong every single time, but it does. There’s an option to manually enter the times along with changing which class you played, which class you played against, how many turns the game took, etc. But who wants to do that manually? That’s why I got the program in the first place!

Other than that it performs fine. It detects who won and who you were playing against. Ultimately that’s all that matters.

The Tracker also has a neat feature after you finish an Arena run. You can manually enter your rewards and it keeps a running total at the bottom of the application.

I’ve tested HearthstoneTracker against other tracking applications out there, Track-o-bot and HearthStats, and I found HearthstoneTracker to be the best one. If you’re interested in something that will keep track for you, I’d definitely recommend the little program!

-Mister Ed

The Giver Movie Review

The Giver Movie Poster

My wife and I went on a date last weekend to see The Giver and we both really liked the movie.

It was a faithful adaption of the book and I felt it was a good movie on its own as well.

There are a few additions to the movie and a few things removed as well. Of course this sort of thing always happens in movie adaptions of books.

For example, Two scenes that I really enjoyed were not present in the movie, Jonas tossing an apple and seeing it turn red in the air, and a more direct explanation of precise language that Jonas receives from his parents.

In the book, Jonas says he is starving. His parents correct him and say that he is only hungry, not starving.

The movie skips that scene, but contains plenty of other pieces of dialogue that illustrate the precise use of language the people have developed in The Giver‘s utopia.

My wife was disappointed that the movie did not include the variety of gifts the children receive for each year of advancement. Only the bike at year nine is in the movie.

The special effects and acting in the movie were excellent. I loved that it switched back and forth between black and white and color. Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep were amazing as always and the young actors put forward impressive performances as well.

My wife’s major complaint (and I agree with her) was that the movie was too short. It’s only about an hour and a half long. The movie could’ve easily been lengthened and included all the things that we missed from the book.

I’d definitely recommend the movie for those who enjoyed the book or for people who get as excited about utopia/dystopia stories as I do.

Oh! And fair warning, Taylor Swift is in this movie and it utterly destroys your suspension of disbelief when she shows up.

-Mister Ed

Public Persona

EEEEEEE! Gretchen Rubin emailed me! *faints*
EEEEEEE! Gretchen Rubin emailed me! *faints*

Previously I wrote about my reluctance to go public with my real name.

I ended up emailing Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project. Reading that book was what gave me the idea to start this blog.

And I got a reply! Hurray!

The emails are in the picture above and I’ll repeat them in the text here. First, the email I initially sent to Gretchen.

“Dear Gretchen,

My wife got me The Happiness Project last year and I’ve enjoyed reading it slowly and applying your advice to my own life. One of your happiness projects was starting a blog. I liked the idea so much that I’ve started my own. The blog is called GoCorral and you can find it at gocorral.wordpress.com if you’re interested. Now that I’ve gotten into a rhythm of sorts with the blog I wanted to ask for a little help from you.

So far I’ve been running my blog and associated sites anonymously. I was worried about unwanted attention in my personal life if my blog ever took off to epic proportions like yours has. By maintaining anonymity I’ve kept the option open of disappearing in the future, but I fear I’m also alienating my audience by doing so. All the serious bloggers I’ve heard of use their real names. I get the feeling that personal identification naturally improves a blog because so much of the content is about the author’s personal life, thoughts, and experiences.

I wanted to get your opinion on using your real name and your family’s names in your writing.  I’m interested in the positives and the negatives. Do you ever feel uncomfortable using your real name instead of a pseudonym? How do your children and your husband feel about it? Have there ever been any real problems associated with having a public persona that you’ve encountered or heard of? What are some of the good things about going public with your name?

I’d appreciate anything you can tell me!

-Mister Ed”
And the reply I got back:
“Terrific!
I use my name online, but don’t use my family members’ names (though I do use those in my books).
I didn’t really ponder this, because I wanted my work to be associated with my name. Everything I write is with the expectation that it’s public.
I’ve never experienced a negative with it, nor has my family.
Good luck!”
And then my thank you note:
“Gretchen,

Wow! Thanks for your reply! I think I will go public with my name then. I appreciate your help.
-Isaac Shaker (Mister Ed)”
And now I am public on my blog!
For most of the people reading the blog this will mean almost nothing. My family and friends already know I’m writing this and access my blog through Facebook or Google+.
For everyone else? Still almost nothing. I’m still the same person and I’ll still write the same stuff. I’ll even keep writing Mister Ed at the end of each post.
The About Me section of the site is pretty much the only thing that’ll change.
That’s pretty much it. I’m no longer worried about any negative consequences. I’ve looked for them and they just don’t seem to be there. Steven King’s Misery really is as fictional as it seems.
-Mister Ed

Favorite Books

There’s this thing going around Facebook over the past couple weeks that finally reached me. No, not the Ice Bucket Challenge. I’m talking about a list of your top ten books.

Someone posts on their timeline and tags you in it. The copy and pasted section of the status reads:

“In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be the ‘right’ books or great books of literature, just ones that affected you in some way. Tag 10(ish) friends including me so I can see your list.”

I got tagged by my sister and here is my list:

Hyperion – Dan Simmons
Game of Thrones – George Martin
Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkein
Shade’s Children – Garth Nix
1984 – George Orwell
Dark Prince – Russell Moon
The Iron Ring – Lloyd Alexander
Nine Princes in Amber – Roger Zelazny
Gates of Fire – Steven Pressfield
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Obviously there are a lot of great books that I can think of that I didn’t include on here. Dune and Harry Potter for example.

I felt the list was supposed to be composed somewhat impulsively, so I stuck with what I first thought of.

So why did I pick these?

Hyperion is possibly one of the best space opera novels ever written. Dan Simmons is an excellent writer in nearly every genre. The story follows seven travelers in a space ship on a pilgrimage to the fictional Hyperion planet where a great monster, the Shrike, awaits them. The Shrike will grant a wish to one of the travelers and kill the other six. The travelers spend their voyage telling stories like in The Canterbury Tales (every story where characters sit around and tell stories now officially based off of Canterbury Tales). The stories focus on the travelers’ past lives and why they are going to get a wish. I put Hyperion on this list because it was the first book that made me realize I love fragmented stories. Like in TV shows where there’s an A plot and a B plot. I love that in books as well. Hyperion has three sequels that I’ve read as well, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and Rise of Endymion.

Game of Thrones is the latest craze. I got into the series right before book 5 came out and consumed them at a rate of about one book per month. They’re good, they’re sexy, and they’re one of my favorite genres, medieval fantasy. Plus, it has a fragmented story line! Perfect!

Lord of the Rings is also a great book. My dad spent years reading me bits and pieces as bedtime stories. We started with The Hobbit when I was six and didn’t finish until I was eleven. The Lord of the Rings also inspired my favorite hobby, Dungeons and Dragons. So this one’s got too amazing things going for it. AND FRAGMENTED ACTION  ONCE AGAIN!

Shade’s Children was my first dystopia book. It’s fairly awful as far as complex themes go. Some robots from an alternate dimension invade Earth and start hunting humans for sport. The humans hide underground, but their society is kept alive by the robots or something? Sounds like a Matrix ripoff. Still, I loved it. Also, I was eight around the time I read it and there is the barest hint of sex in the book. I’m pretty sure it was my first exposure to sex, so it is significant for that reason as well.

1984 is the quintessential dystopian novel. Also, its by Orwell who is an amazing author. I loved this book and I still love it. I love the genre. Putting Shade’s Children on my list reminded me of 1984 so I put it on as well. Like I said, I didn’t think much about the list.

Dark Prince is probably one of the weirder ones on this list. It is the last book in a trilogy. The first book is called Witch Boy. The author, Russell Moon, has only written one other book. I’m not sure why he stopped writing because his stuff is quite good (or at least I remember it being good). The book tells the story of a teenage boy who suddenly discovers he is a witch and accidentally kills his girlfriend with his newfound magical powers. He then discovers that she was part of some weird witch cult which plans to use him in a plot to take over the world or something. My memory of the book is hazy, but I do remember loving it at the time.

The Iron Ring is a story that imitates Indian fairy tales. My dad read Grimm’s Fairy Tales to me when I was a kid and I loved them.  This was a continuation of that, but in an entirely different way. The stories were vaguely familiar because they used the same themes, plot devices, and stock characters, but they were also very different due to the setting for the story. Rajas instead of kings. Rakshasas instead of the Devil. It was really cool!

Nine Princes in Amber is amazing and everyone should read it. The book is the first in a series of ten books split into two halves of five books. The series details a titanic struggle between order and chaos across all dimensions. The center of order is called Amber. The series is extremely well written. One of my favorite parts is how Zelazny handles sexual or crude stuff in the books. He always alludes, but never mentions stuff explicitly. A character curses instead of “He exclaimed, ‘Shit!'” It’s very well done and I’d recommend it to everyone as long as you don’t require female characters. There aren’t very many of them…

Gates of Fire is a historical novel about the Greek defense of the Hot Gates of Thermopylae from the Persians. The story is stunningly realistic. The Spartans fight until their swords, spears, and shields are broken. All that’s left is their hands and they fight on against the Persians. I’ve always loved reading and learning more about the ancient Greeks and Romans. This novel gave me a means to do that in a more mature way.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy always makes me laugh. I loved the books and they are one of the few novels that I have read more than once. A few of the others on this list are also in that exalted category. The book is absurdist humor in a space opera setting, both of which appeal to me greatly. The Hitchhiker’s Guide was originally a radio show which I own a recording of and listen to occasionally in the car. If you like absurdist humor you should check it out!

Let me know what your ten would be in the comments!

-Mister Ed

My D&D Campaign: Cimmeria

I gave a brief description of my D&D campaign world previously, but have written nothing on it since.

I got involved in the Gurutama posts and I felt that writing about two different D&D worlds might get confusing.

The result is that there’s very little on the blog about what I actually do in my biggest hobby and that frankly seems a little stupid.

There are other reasons why I avoided describing my current D&D sessions besides the confusion between Cimmeria, the campaign world I use now, and Gurutama, the campaign world I’m building.

First, I’m not always the DM for my group. Sometimes my best friend DMs a campaign based in the Aegean where the other players and I oppose an evil conspiracy.

Should I be writing about those sessions here as well? Bringing a third campaign world in? Its already a little difficult for some of the other players to keep track of what’s happening in each campaign. I can’t imagine what it would be like for people who aren’t playing and taking notes on this stuff like we are.

Second, there is an immense amount of existing information for Cimmeria that makes it a little difficult to describe the sessions to a newcomer.

For example, there is an NPC called Astyanax in Cimmeria. He is a prominent member of the Alliance opposing the evil guys.

I say Astyanax and the players all know what I’m talking about because they’ve interacted with him in the past and with his father, Hector.

There’s a mythical parallel to Astyanax as well. The mythical Hector was the greatest hero of Troy who died defending his city. After Troy was conquered, the Greeks killed the mythical Astyanax.

The Hector in my campaign died just like his namesake, but Astyanax lived on. He is now the greatest defender of his city in his father’s place. He might end up dying like his father did as well.

So imagine that level of explanation for not only the people, but the places and objects in my campaign. Everything has a history and I try to DM in a way that makes that history relevant.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want to write stuff here about Cimmeria, but I’ve got explain in a way that anybody can understand the topic.

Not really different than how anything should be written when you think about it.

-Mister Ed

Heroic Kel’Thuzad

 

The ideal situation against the big bad lich boss.
The ideal situation against the big bad lich boss.

Beating Heroic Kel’Thuzad was a pain.

What are Kel’Thuzad’s advantages over you in Heroic? EVERYTHING!

He starts off with 20 armor and 45 health.

If you’ve played against him then you probably already know that he has two hero powers.

His first hero power is used for free very turn. It freezes you and deals you 3 damage.

His second hero power is unlocked when you remove Kel’Thuzad’s armor or when you finish your tenth turn, whichever comes first.

The second hero power costs 8 and allows Kel to steal a random minion from your side of the board. And when his hero power changes he also gets two 5/5 minions with taunt.

Plus he’s got some of the best cards in the game in his deck.

I tried so many decks against him. I tried Paladin, Shaman, and Mage before I landed on Divine Spirit/Inner Fire Priest once again.

The Paladin deck I tried was too slow to build a board presence against Kel’Thuzad. The 3 damage a turn from his hero power brought me down before I could get the buff train rolling on my minions.

My Shaman deck focused around dealing lots of early damage with Dust Devils, but Kel killed the Dust Devils every time with Frostbolt.

The Mage deck I created had some success. It could consistently survive to Kel’Thuzad’s second stage, but it faltered at that point.

The Mage deck was a Secret deck. Mad Scientist and Ethereal Arcanist featured heavily in it.

I usually broke through Kel’s armor with a buffed Arcanist.

Then Kel would transform, drop two huge taunt minions, and steal my Arcanist.

I couldn’t figure out a way to recover from that.

Sooo… Back to the Divine Spirit/Inner Fire Priest! Here’s the deck list:
Circle of Healing x2
Silence x2
Inner Fire x2
Power Word: Shield x2
Northshire Cleric x2
Divine Spirit x2
Lightwell x2
Loot Hoarder x2
Novice Engineer x2
Deathlord x2
Imp Master x2
Stoneskin Gargoyle x2
Shadow Madness x2
Lightspawn x2
Holy Nova x2

Just the usual jazz for Divine Spirit/Inner Fire, but with the addition of a bit more card draw to get the required pieces. The Loot Hoarder and Novice Engineer will hopefully take some of Kel’s removal spells with them as well.

The Silence is added to remove any taunts that Kel might get. Racing him was how I won and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the Silence. Ironbeak Owl might work just as well though.

Getting a big beastie should be fine, but then Kel will transform and get his minion stealing power. What do we do then?

That’s why I put Imp Master in. Kel will steal a 1 attack creature more often than not, so he’ll just avoid using the ability entirely.

Shadow Madness is also quite useful against Kel’Thuzad because he runs Dark Cultist and Sludge Belcher. If they die on your side of the field then you get the deathrattle as well!

While the deck is pretty simple, the boss fight is still quite hard. I beat Kel’Thuzad on my tenth try after going into fatigue and being one turn from losing.

But I unlocked this baby!

Heroic Naxxramas

So good luck taking down the Heroic bosses of Naxxramas. My other Heroic boss guides can be found here: Maexxna, PatchwerkGlobbulus, GluthThaddiusSapphiron, Everyone else.

-Mister Ed

Heroic Gluth

The killing stroke is at hand!
The killing stroke is at hand!

Beating Heroic Gluth was a pain in the butt.

Heroic Gluth has three advantages over you.

First, he starts with a Unstable Ghoul and a Zombie Chow.

Second, his hero power activates every turn for free and reduces the health of all your minions to 1.

Third, his Jaws weapon card is freaking broken and terrifying.

Dealing with Gluth’s first two advantages is easy enough, but the game will be decided by how you overcome the Jaws card.

At first I tried a freeze Mage deck. I was hoping to get a Water Elemental down and just constantly attack Gluth with it. He’d always be frozen and I’d never have to worry about his Jaws.

Turns out its harder to keep a 1 health Water Elemental alive than I originally thought. Let alone survive to get it on the board against Gluth.

So I abandoned the freeze Mage and switched to a funky Priest deck. Here’s the deck list:
Circle of Healing x2
Mind Vision x2
Acidic Swamp Ooze x2
Youthgul Brewmaster x2
Shadow Word: Death x2
Thoughtsteal x2
Coldlight Oracle x2
Shadow Madness x2
Auchenai Soulpriest x2
Dark Iron Dwarf x2
Wailing Soul x2
Holy Nova x2
Holy Fire x2
Argent Commander
Cabal Shadow Priest x2
Alexstrasza

To avoid losing you either need Gluth to not draw his Jaws or you need to draw an Acidic Swamp Ooze.

Coldlight Orcale will help you find what you need faster and Youthful Brewmaster will give you the Ooze back to use again when Gluth plays another Jaws card.

Gluth will probably build a large minion army. I wiped his out with an Auchenai Soulpriest/Circle of Healing combo.

I’d taken a lot of damage from his horde of minions, but most of them were Zombie Chow. I gained 20 life in one turn!

The two best ways to reduce Gluth’s life are Alexstrasza and stealing Gluth’s Jaws with Thoughtsteal or Mindvision.

There are a few derpy things in this deck that I wouldn’t repeat.

Stealing minions with Shadow Madness and Cabal Shadow Priest was occasionally useful, but I think something like Shadow Word: Pain or Magma Rager.

Dark Iron Dwarf was also a bit off. I don’t think I ever played one. Every other card I had in my hand was always a better choice. I wouldn’t include that again.

Finally, Wailing Soul. The intent of this card was to silence Gluth’s health debuff. After the debuff is silenced you can attack with your minions and destroy Gluth’s stuff without trading. On Gluth’s turn he uses his hero power once more and all your minions are back at 1 health without having really lost anything from the earlier trade.

While the Wailing Soul play made sense, I was never in a position to make those trades. I played the Wailing Souls in the deck only when I needed a body on the board.

Some good cards would be Sludge Belcher and Mind Control Tech. Both of those give you two good minions on the board for the price of one card.

Anyways, the deck worked, but not on my first try. Took me awhile, but I put a leash on that zombie dog and took him for a walk!

-Mister Ed

First Day of Graduate School

Woo! Yesterday I had my first day of graduate school and it was amazing!

For awhile I’d been worried that I wouldn’t like going back to school once the semester started. All of those worries went away once I stepped out of my car onto campus.

I unfortunately arrived late to my first class. I live in Davis and driving to Sacramento has never taken this long in the past.

I thought I’d budgeted enough for rush hour traffic. I guessed the time accurately except for the time to leave the freeway.

Everyone and their mother wanted to get off the freeway at the Howe Ave exit right by Sacramento State.

Next time I go in the morning I’ll get off at an earlier exit and dodge all that traffic. Hopefully that will get me to school with time to spare.

Anyways! I got approved to be a TA in a lab course which meets Tuesday mornings. This semester I’m in training, but in the future I’ll be paid.

The lab class is a GE fulfilling course, so its filled with students who are not biology majors.

The course is also taught by my graduate adviser, which is a huge plus. We’ll get to know more about each through teaching together which will help a lot later in the graduate school process.

I assisted the students with a simple discussion lab which tried to define what life is.

After the discussion each student took a sterile swabbed and rubbed it on something before rubbing it on a petri dish. Whatever they rubbed onto it will grow over the week and we can take a look at it next Tuesday.

When the lab finished I walked around campus. I found the bookstore, the activities fair (no I don’t want to join a fraternity), the student union, and the library. I at my lunch on the quad and then went to read in the library til my next class.

I have two other classes on Tuesday. The first was about how to be a better TA. I met the other students and the teacher told us a little bit about herself, her teaching style, and some resources we could use to improve ourselves as teachers.

My last class, Molecular Biology, was in the same room as the class on how to be a TA. I was surprised when the teacher walked in because I recognized him!

The teacher for my Molecular Biology class is also the post-doc who works in the same worm lab as me at Davis!

It was a pretty cool coincidence. Apparently he had already known for awhile, but hadn’t told me yet.

I was unfortunately the only person who consistently raised my hand to answer questions in his class. I’m hoping that will change in the future. Maybe everyone else was just shy because they hadn’t met the instructor yet.

At the end of the day the instructor and I discussed carpooling together.

Turns out that won’t work because he lives in Sacramento and I live in Davis. At the end of the day we want to be in different places.

Altogether it was a great day. I loved being back on campus as a student and as a teacher. I love learning and helping other people learn. I’m looking forward to the next two or three years at Sac State!

-Mister Ed

Last Day of Work

No More Work Keys
My keychain has four fewer keys on it now.

On Friday I had my last day of work at my old job in the rice lab.

It was a bit anticlimactic to leave because a lot of the people I wanted to say goodbye to weren’t there on my last day.

Still, my two supervisors were there. We went out for coffee and talked about my future plans.

It was kind of nice to talk to them as friends. I heard about their families and what their lives are like. I’d like to be in their place in a few years, minus the Chinese immigrant status.

I packed up all my stuff from my job: computer, lab pants, old cords, and old notebook.

I had to leave behind a few things as well like my keys, my new notebook, and a few data sheets that are probably irrelevant at this point.

The last few weeks at work have been a little boring.

I was originally hired to sequence the genome of rice leaves, but that project got passed on to other people.

I was then put on a project of organizing the huge database of rice seeds in the storage room (probably over 10,000 varieties of rice all thrown into cardboard boxes).

I finished that project in June.

For the past two months I’ve been keeping an eye on the rice plants in the greenhouse and doing regular maintenance stuff in the lab.

It wasn’t anything fancy, but it wasn’t particularly challenging either.

I started at my Master’s program today and I felt a lot better almost the instant I stepped on campus. I get to learn things again! I’m so excited!

While it was sad to leave my old job and even sadder that I left it with a whisper instead of a party, I’m psyched for what’s coming in the future!

-Mister Ed