Board games I’ve played lately

I’ve played a bunch of new games lately that are worth sharing.

Race for the Galaxy

Economic euro game in a space card game disguise. Played a few 2 player games today and I really like it, now I just have to work out how to win a game.

Small Worlds

Simple territory building game with some neat mechanics. You conquer territory to get victory points as you cycle through randomly generated races to maximise your points.

San Jaun

Another economic euro game very similar in play to Race for the Galaxy but with a renaissance city building theme.

Dominion: Guilds

The newest of 8 expansions for my favourite board game. The cards centre around little gold pieces you save to spend later.

A CP Solution for XKCD NP Complete Restaurant Order

I’ve been messing around with Constraint Programming (CP) the past week. A few people at work have tried it out on some real world problems lately but it didn’t seem to stand up when given a lot of data and variables. This seemed sad as the declarative nature of CP attracts me and it strikes me there must be a set problems that it could be used for and it deserved a look.

The first CP model I wrote by myself is stupidly simple but since my non techie fiance understood the code I figure it is a good example. The problem is as described by XKCD below, select some appetizers from the menu so that the total cost adds up to $15.05.

NP Complete

I modeled the problem in Minizinc, a declarative language for modeling CP problems. I am just learning so if you know Minizinc and I’ve done something dumb don’t judge me too harshly.

Firstly we declare a bunch of variables that the solver needs to find values for. We provide the solver a domain in which the variables must lie, zero to ten for all variables in this case. Each of these variables represents the number of times as part of a solution we buy an item to add up to $15.05.

var 0..10: fruit;
var 0..10: fries;
var 0..10: salad;
var 0..10: wings;
var 0..10: sticks;
var 0..10: sampler;

Then we declare a constraint, something that the solver must meet to solve the problem. And in this case we say that a sum of the cost of the items (converted to cents) multiplied by the number of items in the solution must equal the required 1505 cents (that English version could be taken a couple of ways, the maths below makes better sense).

constraint fruit*215 + fries*275 + salad*335 + wings*355 + sticks*420 + sampler*580 == 1505;

We tell the solver to solve to satisfy.

solve satisfy;

And provide a format in which to output the solution.

output ["fruit=", show(fruit), "\t fries=", show(fries), 
        "\t salad=", show(salad), "\t wings=", show(wings),
        "\t sticks=", show(sticks), "\t sampler=", show(sampler)];

Running the model gives us:

$ minizinc --all-solutions xkcd.mzn
fruit=7     fries=0     salad=0     wings=0     sticks=0     sampler=0
fruit=1     fries=0     salad=0     wings=2     sticks=0     sampler=1

So there we go, all the possible solutions to the poor waiters problem! We know it is all of the solutions because of the “==========” minizinc cryptically places at the end of its output. Of course this problem is easy to brute force with a couple of for loops, there aren’t that many combinations.

But it is a start along what I hope will be a fruitful path.

Update: as people have noted on HN and Reddit I originally screwed up transcribing the price for salad which produced a couple of extra solutions. Fixed that now.

WTForms and Cherrypy 3.1

I have been trialling WTForms, a HTML form input and validation library for Python with a project I am working on. Much to my irritation however WTForms and Cherrypy don’t play nicely in one small area. Using wtforms.FileField with the validator wtforms.validators.Required will always fail.

Cherrypy in 3.1 (but not 3.2 interestingly) uses the Python built in cgi.FieldStorage to handle file uploads. In Python 2.6 and 2.7 at least this is beause the code for cgi.FieldStorage.__nonzero__ [1] only checks self.list and ignores self.file which is where the data is (at least for Cherrypy 3.1). No idea why this is the case, google gives no love on the why of this issue.

There has been an issue raised with the WTForms guys about the same case with Pylons but the long and the short of it is the developers don’t want to add special cases for the various frameworks. Special cases are the bane of a coder’s existence, they bloat otherwise lean and understandable code and cause maintenance nightmares so I do understand.

So what about me? Moving to Cherrypy 3.2 is an option but I don’t want to deal with the worry of that migration right now. An easy fix on my end is to write a custom validator and use it in place of the built in one. But what about the next project and the dozens of other people on my team who have to remember to use the custom validator for file upload? I might need to continue looking at form libraries, at least there is a lot of them!

[1] line 602

Cardinal Pell


Poor Cardinal Pell you’re right. Your church is unfairly being singled out for criticism and we should take your word that decades of systemic failures by your organisation have been rectified.


EclFinally, after gathering dust on my shelf for a couple of months I played a game of Eclipse. The epic space 4x strategy game is often described as Twilight Imperium (TI) light, which lets face it isn’t fair as almost anything is lighter than TI’s 8+ hour epic sessions.

It is hard to judge based on a single 2 player game but it seems like Eclipse fullfills the epic space strategy need in me without the pain associated with TI. Each person’s turn is quicker, the choices you make are simpler but contain a similar strategic depth.

And it plays through in 1/2 the time (30 mins per player) once you know what you are doing, the length of a TI game means it is always hard to get a session going.

Looking forward to another game soon with more players.

Chin Chin

Wow, so um wow! A week ago we went to eat at a darling of the Melbourne food scene, Chin Chin. I don’t follow the trends and new hot things in the local scene very closely but had still managed to hear it is a great place, though little else beyond that.

What the place turned out to be was amazing and well deserving of the buzz it has generated. After waiting an hour to get a table* we ordered the “Feed Me” set menu at $66pp where as we discovered they just keep bringing out dishes of wonderful Thai food until you beg for mercy. We definitely got our money’s worth and tried many dishes we probably wouldn’t have picked otherwise but enjoyed heartily.

I cannot recount all the dishes we ate because of this, it is now one big long beautiful blur. However overall the salads were probably the highlight, so wonderfully flavoured many with a well balanced chilli bite. I will certainly be heading back there, probably taking friends from out of town to show off a shining example of what the food scene in Melbourne has to offer.

* They take your mobile number and SMS you when your table is ready.

Github, Rails and Interface Design

All the excitement over the Rails and Github hack reminded me about Scott Meyers (author of Effective C++ et al.) who has talked about the subject of interface design many times (including in the aforementioned book) and his perspective puts the ball squarely in the Rails team’s court.

Let’s make the reasonable assumption that your clients—the people using your interfaces— are trying to do a good job. They’re smart, they’re motivated, they’re conscientious. They’re willing to read some documentation to help them understand the system they’re using. They want things to behave correctly.

That being the case, if they make a mistake when using your interface, it’s your fault. We’re assuming they’re doing their best—they want to succeed. If they fail, it’s because you let them. So, if somebody uses your interface incorrectly, either they’re working hard at it (less likely) or your interface allowed them to do something easy that was not correct (more likely). This puts the shoe on the foot not used to wearing it: it means that responsibility for interface usage errors belongs to the interface designer, not the interface user.

Source: Scott Meyers: The Most Important Design Guideline?

Izakaya Den

Finally visited Izakaya Den this evening after wanting to go for *ages*. I am a bit of a fan of the genre after being introduced to dining izakaya style in Japan and have often heard that the den it is the best one in Melbourne. The four of us enjoyed: Octopus with pickled kohliabi and wakame (best wakame I’ve ever had), Crispy school prawns, Duck liver parfait (probably my favourite for the evening), BBQ Ox Tongue (garnered some amusement and was delicious), Barramundi Fillet (the skin was especially good), Kurobuta Pork Belly, Pepper Stuffed Mince Duck and two plates of Seasame Stir Fried Mushrooms (which were freaking win). For dessert we shared a Black Sesame Brulee, Warm Tofu Cake (unsurprisingly not so great), Japanese Trifle, and an Apple Millefeuille (made of layers of dehydrated apple and a excellent apple sorbet).

For a laugh read Ed’s review of the place, he gets distracted along the way and provides much amusement.

Cheese 1


Cheese from Richmond Hill Cafe & Larder for Rob’s birthday, Roy de Vallees (Sheep and goat’s milk semi hard cheese, Basque Pyrenees, France) savoury, salty a great table cheese. Le Conquerant (traditional camembert, Normandy, France) a fantastic camembert, the girls went nuts for it. Bleu des Basques (semi firm sheep’s milk blue, Basque Pyrenees, France) the stand out cheese from the bunch, rich and earthy and a bit salty.

Eating the Odd Bits

Odd Bits by Jennifer McLaganAs I told Thanh Do of the excellent Melbourne food blog I Eat Therefore I Am the other day, I had a bit of a boring anglo-Australian upbringing largely devoid of the odd bits of animals. The exception to this was beef/ox tongue, which I am ashamed to say was greeted with great disgust by my sister and myself. Our mother eventually hid the source of the meat when she served it lest we refuse to eat it. So I am afraid so say I have only the faintest of recollections as to its taste, let alone how it was prepared. How did you prepare it mum?

Since then I’ve dined on many so called odd bits, though always in restaurants. Chicken’s feet are a regular favourite at yum cha, dim sum for those of you in America. I also love a good lambs fry, though I rarely see it on the menu in Melbourne.

Thus after hearing about Jennifer McLagan’s new book Odd Bits I thought it was high time I start cooking some of these items at home. Nose to tail eating has a couple of attractions for me, it provides my foodie self more ingredients and flavours to enjoy and cook with, and my eating sustainably self a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

So to the book. It is beautifully presented with wonderful photos throughout, each “odd bit” introduced with a couple of paragraphs then sections on purchasing and preparation. Interspersed through the book are quotes by notable people of the food world lauding the tastes, smells and sights offered by the various pieces of animal under discussion. These quotes strike me as a useful aid for tempting the more recalcitrant diners in your home to trying the recipes contained in its pages.

The recipes themselves are excellent, with a low complexity and many of them taking familiar recipes and adding an “odd bits” twist. There is a surprising number of the “odd bits” which are actually familiar items, lamb ribs and necks for example already appear on my shopping list as do shanks and oxtail. I also love that some of the recipes have a delightful tongue in cheek title such as Headcheese for the Unconvinced of which my girlfriend and sister count themselves members of.

I will blog about it as soon as I cook some of the recipes, probably something in the liver or tongue sections given I’m somewhat familiar with those ingredients and flavours!

Update: I do remember our mother also did liver at one stage which was met with similar incredulity and ox tail braised in tomato sauce which went down pretty well from memory.