Friday, January 28, 2011

Plants vs Zombies - Making Money The Easy Way

Do you have a desire for great wealth? A shining golden house? A personal aquarium? A corn-on-the-cob rocket launcher?

Even as I write this blog, I am earning money to pay off Crazy Dave and get myself these fine accessories. How am I doing it? Well I'm here to tell you.

First of all, let's be clear that I'm talking about Plants vs. Zombies, a PopCap game that was originally released on the PC and then ported to the XBox 360. It's a excellent tower defense game for the casual gamer, where you try to keep zombies from eating your brains with a set of dangerous, possibly alien plants.

I've seen a few cheats that let you make massive amounts of money on the PC, but few for the XBox version of the game. Since some of the Achievements require tons of cash, I thought I'd share my method here.

Step 1: Beat Adventure Mode. You need access to the Zen Garden for this to work.
Step 2: Plant a square of 9 Marigolds in your garden. You'll need to grow these to full size. If you play through the puzzle mode levels, you shouldn't have any trouble getting enough money for this step, even if you spent all of your Adventure Mode loot.
Step 3: Tend to your plants until you've spritzed all nine of them with the Bug Spray. This will keep the plants happy for a full day. (You may have to use the Phonograph instead, but this can be expensive.)
Step 4: Place your cursor over top of the center Marigold in your square of nine.
Step 5: Walk away! The happy Marigolds will generate coins for a full day. Because of the way the XBox version of the cursor works, the coins will be sucked directly into your wallet.

There are many quicker ways to earn money, but few of them allow you to simply walk away from your console while your plants do the work for you. I've already racked up $3,000+ in a few hours today, without having to burn my whole afternoon playing the game.

If anyone has a better strategy for the XBox version, feel free to share in the comments! If I get a really good one, I'll post a picture of myself cosplaying as Crazy Dave. Grabble-abble!

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Little Bit of Luck

Last night I got hit with a nasty case of TMJ. This is a condition where the joints in your jaw are chronically inflamed. Mostly it causes an achy jaw, but sometimes it can result in a nasty headache. Last night, in my case, it gave me a headache and a really nasty neckache. I ended up lying in bed for hours, twisting around and trying to get comfortable when it felt like I had a nest of cobras twisting around in my neck. In the end I didn't get to sleep until 3 in the morning. I'd already been coping with a cough over the weekend, so when I got up this morning (at 6a.m.), I decided I'd be better off calling in sick than trying to play Office Zombie.

Here's the good part (for me, at least). A water main broke near my office this morning and shut the whole place down for the day. So thanks to the worst headache and neckache I've had in my life, I managed to dodge a two-hour commute that would have been a complete fiasco. I didn't have to use sick leave, and I spent the downtime freeing my mom and sister's wireless connection from interloping freeloaders. Overall it was a pretty good day; one that easily could have been a lousy one, and was for a lot of people. Best wishes and safe home to all of them.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Links of Interest

I'm feeling lazy tonight, so instead of generating content I'm going to pass along some awesome stuff from other places. (Well, there will be some content.)

Smellovision is coming to a television near you. The new ScentScape device emits a set of 20 preset scents to accompany video games. Said scents can be programmed into video games using a Scent Editor. Now when you kill a guy in Halo, you can smell the blood! I don't know if blood is a scent.

A superintelligent blimp will be floating above Afghanistan starting this fall. Luckily the "Blue Devil" program will not be arming this latest iteration of SkyNet.

Optogeneticists have developed a means to manipulate minds using a combination of light and genetic engineering. So far the technique is limited to small organisms, such as worms and fruit flies. Henry Pym is preparing a patent lawsuit as we speak.

Soldiers are beta-testing voice translation smart phones. Yes, we will be seeing a universal translator at some point in our lifetimes.

Since this is supposed to be a writing blog... Chris Baty has eight tips for revising a novel. Or if you prefer short fiction, there's a competition open until February 14th you can enter.

Last but not least, Red Letter Media has a lengthy but hilarious review of Revenge of the Sith. I consider this a must-watch piece of web video.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Power Outage

Some people would use that as a metaphor for missing a blog post. Not me, I really had one tonight. It's sleeting outside, which is a great way to screw up power lines and morning commutes; something to look forward to in the morning as I skid my way down a 30 degree incline onto the road out of our neighborhood...

But I digress. The lights went out about half an hour before Sarah went to bed. In that period we hunted for light sources (successfully; Yankee Candle is Sarah's new best friend, and my Kindle reading light is surprisingly useful as a deployable turret), listened to the neighbors chop firewood and yell a bit, and comforted the dog, who took to stuffing herself into corners and trembling like a very scared thing.

I haz The Fear.

Luckily our power company managed to restore service in about an hour and a half, so I'm able to pry Lina off my leg and blog a bit before going to bed at my usual time: Too Damn Late.

I did end up seeing Black Swan this Saturday, and I'll say right now that Natalie Portman earned the Golden Globe for Best Actress, and as far as I'm concerned she's earned herself an Oscar as well. Her performance was inspired and terrifying, in a movie that was also inspired and terrifying. If you're at all engaged in a creative endeavor, go see Black Swan.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Things That Happened This Week

Despite a series of plagues that hit the Earle household this week, it's been pretty busy. Some items of interest:

My three submissions for the forthcoming anthology, Treacheries of the Space Marines, were all rejected this week. This was not entirely unexpected: one pitch was a bit vague on plot and not quite on target for the book's theme; one I was half hoping would get rejected because I've developed other plans for its protagonists; and the one I liked most would have played havoc with a bunch of other Black Library authors if it got published. Lessons learned:
  • Thoroughly polish every submission before you send it in. Yes, the submissions window came up on short notice, but I might have been better off putting some extra work in to my stories and waiting for the next go-round to submit.
  • Think about salability. This doesn't mean writing with sales figures in mind, or trying to piggyback of a trend. If you're writing in somebody else's universe, though, you should do your best not to write anything that breaks the universe, no matter how good a story it makes. I've done this twice, once because I'm a damn fool and once because I couldn't resist. No mas!
  • Always be patient when waiting on a response. Editors celebrate the holidays too. (I was actually good about this one - not even a hint of nervousness.)
And so much for that. This week I also got inspired to restart an older project, my first completed NaNoNovel from 2008. The draft I wrote during NaNoWriMo is probably beyond redemption, but I've been unable to get the basic story ideas out of my head for three years, now. So I'm going to try again, but this I'm going to try plotting the thing, rather than frantically scrambling for words. So far it's going well.

The oven situation in our house has, happily, been resolved. I got to learn how to wire a new heating element into an oven after our old one broke (read: blew a hole in itself, caught on fire and spilled white powder all over the bottom of the oven). This also involved learning other things, such as how to remove an oven door for easy access and how my toolbox doesn't (didn't) have a quarter inch hex wrench in it. We'll have a test cook of something in the next two days, and barring fire I'll mark the project down as a success.

Finally, my wife's sister is visiting and we're all going to see Black Swan tomorrow. I've heard nothing but good things, so I'm looking forward to it. I suspect watching Natalie Portman suffer a nervous breakdown on screen is going to be inspiring.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Modest Rant About Influenza

I can now safely say that the flu sucks.

I don't even know if I have the flu, of course. I may simply have a cold. No chills yet, no chest pain that I can't blame on my averse reactions to orange juice. Just a stuffed nose and crap in my throat that won't stay put and a bit of a headache, now that I think of it.

But if I do have the flu, I know why. The flu shot given out every year immunizes the body against the top three flus that are predicted to plague mankind that year. There are, of course, many more strains of the flu than three. So every year I get a needle in my arm and it's like a trip to Vegas, and let me remind you that the house always wins.

The flu is evil. The flu is the Dark Side. The flu leads to fear, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering, and Natalie Portman is already pregnant so we've got twenty years, tops, to save Alderaan, so let's get on it people.


I'm not going into the office tomorrow and I don't know about Thursday, which is going to foul up my timecard and annoy my boss, but not too much because he doesn't want to get sick any more than I did. In the meantime I have telework and blank pages and Super Meat Boy and the Angry Birds to keep me company, and a dog who will spend tomorrow playing in the fresh layer of snow on the ground.

I might see Black Swan this weekend, but that assumes I recover enough to do so. Everything I've read says ZOMG see this movie, and it looks like the sort of crazy that I've been wanting to write about for years, so I must get better and I must do it quickly and I must not take any more expired DayQuil because that is just unpleasant.


Weekend Warrior

It's been an interesting weekend around the house. First up, my wife called me at work on Friday, asking if she should go to the doctor. Which, really, is the sort of question that answers itself if you have to ask it. Sarah ended up being diagnosed with honest-to-God influenza, given a week's worth of pills and told not to go back to work until Thursday. If she wasn't being told to stay home I'm sure she'd be thrilled; as it is, I'm trying to talk her out of going back to work two days early while she's still coughing.

I'm also feeling lucky that my doctor slipped me a flu shot the last time I visited. Sarah would call it "smug", but she's not feeling well so I'm willing to forgive her.

Saturday evening saw me visiting the Annapolis Moose lodge to see my boss play with his band. (I would happily recommend them if I knew the band's name - I suppose I should ask him about that.) While I was there I spoke for awhile with the son of one of the band members. He's 16, and working on his first book; he's about 130 pages in so far. My boss had given him a copy of Death & Dishonour for Christmas, and he was wondering if I had any advice for him.

I felt just a bit awkward about that. I am not, as Ariel Gore would say, a lit star, at least not yet. But I did the best I could. I pointed the kid... oh God, I feel old just typing that... I pointed the kid towards Stephen King and Ariel Gore. I recommended the Internet Writing Workshop for critiques, and NaNoWriMo for a challenge. I told him to always listen to his editor (unless he really really really doesn't want to), and that writing every day is the best way to get better at it.

I hope I helped. I'm confident nothing I said will screw him up.

Sunday was rest and relaxation and Angry Birds. I found out that a PC version was available for Windows XP and Windows 7 (but not Vista, because Vista clearly sucks), so I paid my five bucks and downloaded it. Trust me, it's as addictive as everyone's told you.

I showed the game to Sarah on Sunday night, and within ten minutes she was cursing the pigs, and cursing me for handing her the electronic equivalent of a heroin needle. Her refrain since I talked her off the computer (after thirty levels) was "Make sure you leave your computer turned off today so I can work." Also, "I want to throw birds at piggies."

Now it's Monday. I'm back at work and feeling a bit sleep-deprived (as usual). Also our oven has slightly blown up, so dinners may be of the cold or take-out variety for awhile. But it's a four day week followed by a four day weekend, which should include company and a trip to the movie theater, so I intend to remain optimistic.

Update: Well, I did. Then Tuesday morning came along and the flu shot failed...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Review: Amazon Kindle

It's my 100th post! Thanks to everyone who's been reading, and I hope you stick around for the next 100.

I read a lot of books. Even if I don't count graphic novels, I probably break triple digits in a single year. And while I'm not shy about using my local library, there are some books I just plain have to buy if I want to read them. So my bookshelves are, shall we say, well-stocked.

Despite a desperate need to clear some space, I've been resisting the eBook revolution. I had my reasons. The readers are expensive uni-taskers, excepting the iPad, which to me is a really expensive reader that also plays games. The books I like to read weren't necessarily available as eBooks. And while I can always bring a paperback along with me to work for lunch or time on a treadmill, an eReader is trickier to get away with; some rubbish about vulnerabilities and enterprise security...

But, times change. The price of readers like the Kindle have come down in the past year. And Black Library has kicked off a digital publishing venture that means a lot of my must-read books (*cough* Horus Heresy *cough*) are going to be available first in digital print. And, let's face it, I'm running out of bookshelves. So when I got a Kindle for Christmas this year, I was pretty excited to start playing around with it.

This is my Kindle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

The Kindle is held in the hand much like an ordinary book, if a bit thinner. This was a huge concern for me; Staples carries Kindles, but they're so tightly bound to the store display that it's impossible to get a proper feel for the device. Now that I have one, I'm quite pleased with how it sits in the hand. The Kindle's case (bought separately) is a nice black leather-bound thing that improves the illusion of holding a physical book; I strongly recommend picking one up.

There are two buttons on each edge of the device, which are used to turn the "pages". I'm right-handed, but I imagine it would just as well for a left-hander. A physical keyboard and a four-arrow control sit at the bottom of the device. The keyboard works great for typing letters; numbers and symbols are a bit trickier, but once you get used to the controls they work well.

The screen uses eInk technology, which supposedly manipulates actual ink into place to make up the words on the page. However it works, it's easy on the eyes, much easier than the average computer screen. You can read a book for hours on paper and on a Kindle, and have about the same wear and tear done to your eyes. On the downside, you will need a proper light to read - the screen has no backlighting option.

The default font is large enough to read easily, and you can adjust it to whatever size you like. When reading a book, it's pretty easy to skip to whatever chapter you like (depending on the quality of the eBook), and you can bookmark your place or your favorite quotes using without any trouble.

The Kindle's firmware updates surprisingly frequently; I've had at least six updates since I started using it. This can cause you to lose your place in whatever book you're currently reading; just remember to go back to the Home screen when you take a break, and there won't be any trouble.

eBook quality varies, but the rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for. Amazon offers many books in the public domain for free download; their chapters aren't always bookmarked properly, but the typesetting is usually fine. Other, more expensive books generally read better.

I'd recommend the Kindle for anyone looking for an eBook reader at an affordable price. There are others that might work better for your needs (i.e. color screens, other features), so look around; but the Kindle is a solid baseline device that should be on any candidate list of eBook readers.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


My wife is down and out with the flu, so blogging is on hold for a bit. I'll have my Kindle review up this weekend, which coincidentally will be my 100th post, counting this sorry sack of...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Review: Tron: Legacy

Gah! Too many colons. And almost a week late now. Oh well.

Let's get this out of the way: the new Tron movie is not hard science fiction. If you have a background in computer science, you will smile at an open source software debate early on, and you might nod knowingly when you see that the Grid runs on some flavor of *nix. Beyond that, forget about TCP/IP, binary, or even the laws of physics. Tron: Legacy might look like science fiction, but in reality it's pure glow-in-the-dark fantasy.

The movie takes place well after the first Tron. Flynn, the star of the original, has been missing for twenty years. A mysterious page (it's like a primitive text message) draws his son, Sam, to his father's old arcade, where he gets sucked into the computer-generated world of the Grid where his father is trapped. Now Sam will have to rescue Flynn from his own out-of-control program.

Tron: Legacy is a gorgeous movie. The CGI isn't groundbreaking, but it's excellently done. Jeff Bridges is de-aged for a large part of the movie: his eyes aren't quite right, but for the most part you barely notice that it's a special effect. The action scenes are a treat to look at, as is most of the scenery; the costumes vary, but most of them look great.

The story is good. Not excellent, but good. There are plot holes in the movie that you could drive a lightcycle through: nothing that comes about through stupidity, really, but just things that never get explained that ought to be.

All of the characters are fun to watch - there's nobody in the movie you'd really want to punch in the face, except Castor, and he's supposed to be like that. Unfortunately there are two characters who represent horribly wasted opportunities in the film: without spoiling anything, one is played by Cillian Murphy (which means Disney is wasting a great actor as well), and the other is a program named Rinzler. I expect the movie ran afoul of time constraints, and I'm hoping an extended DVD release will do a better job of using these guys.

Overall I'd recommend Tron: Legacy as a good family-friendly popcorn flick. If you're a hardcore geek with standards, you'll probably want to pass it up. Otherwise, enjoy.