Getting the Steam version of Omerta – City of Gangsters to run on Win7, Win8, and beyond

tl;dr version: Win7+ doesn’t come with DirectX 9. Install it from here and Omerta should work fine.

long version:

I like Mafia stuff. Movies, games, what have you. I bought “Omerta – City of Gangsters” on a Steam sale a while back for some Mafia-themed sandbox gaming fun but never fired it up… until tonight.

And tonight it wouldn’t start. And so I scratched my head and did what any good techie would do. I tried again. I restarted Steam. I verified the game cache integrity. I deleted the game. I re-installed the game. I rebooted the computer. I tried several of these again, scratched my head, stroked my beard, and went, “Huh.”

I searched the internet. Somebody there said they had the same problem, but used a Torrent to fix it. Um, no thanks. There’s gotta be a way, right?

Then I saw someone else who said, “The game works fine on Windows XP or in WinXP Mode… Try that!”

That got me asking myself: “What’s different about Windows 8 (or 8.1, or 7) and Windows XP from a video game perspective?”

I couldn’t come up with a quick answer, so I did some more digging. I ran into my …\steam\steamapps\common\Omerta folder and found the executable for the game, thinking that Steam might be swallowing whatever error I *should* be seeing. Sure enough, I got my answer in the form of this error dialog:

OmertaSteam.exe error

So back to the question at hand. What’s the difference between XP and Win7+ from a game’s point of view? That’s right! The in-box version of DirectX.

You see, most games need DirectX to talk to the video hardware. And they need a specific version. DirectX 9 games need DirectX 9, not DirectX 10 or 11, etc. As it happens, Windows 7 and Windows 8 don’t ship with DirectX 9 “out of the box”…

This problem is easily remedied. Download this:

And run it. That will scan your system and add any missing DirectX 9 files.

Once that’s done, Omerta should start up just fine.

“Keep the change, you filthy animal!”

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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in Computational Engines, Things Geeky


The Birth of Eilonwy Christine


My dear baby girl was born a year ago, six weeks ahead of schedule. I’ve tried to process and type up the story many times over the past year, but between illness and insomnia I never had the mental energy. But today I am making the time, because it is a story that needs to be told, a story of miracle and grace and serendipity. It is not the birth story that I wanted. But sometimes when everything goes wrong, everything goes just right.

Last March my biggest pregnancy complaint was insomnia. I spent hours in bed trying to sleep, but it was hard to find. We actually went to our childbirth classes on Saturday mornings and I remember sitting on the birthing ball, falling asleep as Jer rubbed my shoulders while we practiced relaxation breathing techniques. I think I had slept about two hours that night. St. Patrick’s Day weekend we went up to Vancouver BC for a little babymoon and to celebrate the third anniversary of the day we met, March 21st. It was a wonderful relaxing time. Our plans for the following weekend included a baby shower that my parents were hosting for our family and friends. But things changed on Thursday when I went in for my regular midwife appointment.

A few weeks earlier at my regular checkup I had elevated blood pressure. I was sent to triage and tests were run and within a few hours I was sent home with a clean bill of health, instructed to drink more water and get more sleep (hah!). I had been perfectly fine since then, but this Thursday I had elevated numbers again. There were a couple of other warning signs that popped up and so my midwife requested that I go to triage again, and she got on the phone to schedule an ultrasound for the next day. Again I experienced the stress of going to the hospital, Jer rushing home from work, and being strapped to monitors. However, this time the blood pressure didn’t come down. After a few hours the midwife on call decided to send me home. Get some rest, she said, and come back before your ultrasound to get checked out again. So home we went, praying that tomorrow things would be okay.

But Friday morning at the midwife’s office my blood pressure was even higher. The staff was starting to get very concerned and began ordering more tests.  We headed to the ultrasound unsure of what we would find. The tech completed the scan and left to take the info to the doctor, who would call the midwife to discuss our next steps. After what seemed like forever (45 minutes) the tech came back and told us that we had to go back and see the midwife. And I felt that horrible sinking feeling, the knowledge that everything wasn’t okay, that something had gone terribly wrong.

Jer and I sat in the midwife’s office, holding hands as she told us that my amniotic fluid was low and that our baby was showing signs of distress. She said that our girl had asymmetric growth-her head was normal size but her body was small-meaning that she was probably not getting enough nutrients. The placenta was breaking down, and so she was not growing correctly, and I was developing preeclampsia. I needed to be admitted immediately and the midwife was turning my care over to the OB team due to my high-risk situation.

I lost it. The moment she said that my baby girl was being hurt by the situation and was in danger I buried my face in Jer’s shoulder and wept. Even now as I type this the memory of the fear and overwhelming love for my daughter gets me choked up. Up until that point all the symptoms and troubles I had only affected me, and she was perfectly healthy. Hearing that she was no longer happily growing without a care broke my heart.

So within a couple of hours I was admitted, stuck in a hospital bed and hooked up to IVs and fetal monitors, with a blood pressure cuff automatically checking my pressure every ten minutes. We were hoping that with fluids and rest they might keep me pregnant for a little longer, but the OB on call wasn’t convinced that was a possibility. Preeclampsia comes in two kinds, she told us, the gradual kind and the sudden kind, and I seemed to have the sudden kind. The only cure for that is delivering the baby as soon as possible. Friday night she recommended that I be given a dose of steroids that would help the baby’s lung development in case we had to deliver quickly.

As it turns out, that was an excellent prescription, for on Saturday they did another ultrasound and despite the night of IV fluids and rest my amniotic fluid level was even lower. The decision was made to start inducing labor that evening, after the second steroid shot could be given. I was also started on magnesium sulfate to help prevent seizures or stroke due to my high blood pressure, which was now running in the 160/100 range.

I won’t go into all the interesting particulars of the methods of inducing labor they tried on me, but suffice to say that the initial estimate of 12 hours by one OB was woefully ambitious. All told my labor took 48 hours. The first 24 hours of less intense methods led to very little activity, just a lot of discomfort, sleeplessness, and progression to only about 2cm. All day Saturday night and Sunday I stayed in that hospital bed, with Jer beside me, people coming and going-nurses, doctors, my mom, our doula Nancy, our friend and priest Jen. Finally on Sunday night they started the pitocin.

Oh the pitocin. One of the things I had passionately desired to avoid in my labor. I had heard the stories of what it does to your contractions, and despite the OB who insisted there was no difference between pitocin and regular contractions (complete lie), I knew it was the last thing I wanted. But we had to get this labor moving, and so on it came.

And I was right to not want it. The contractions came every two minutes for hours on end, no break, no breather. I could manage the pain just fine-I sat up in my bed and watched Battlestar Galactica on the portable DVD player through the night, swaying and humming as wave after wave rolled over me. After a few hours I had to lie down because my blood pressure was too high again, and I curled up in a fetal position and rocked and hummed through Monday morning. By 11am I was exhausted, and I did something I didn’t ever think I would do-I asked for the epidural. I didn’t need it for the pain, but I was so weary, and hadn’t slept for almost two days, and I knew that if I didn’t get some rest I wouldn’t have the energy to push the baby out. I was only about 4cm, and they wanted to increase the pitocin and get things moving. So I let them stick that needle in my back and as the pain medicine rushed through me I said, “so this is why women get these!”

Four hours of blessed, oh-so-needed sleep followed. When I woke up they broke my water and I quickly progressed to 6cm. Everything started to move very fast. Around 7pm as I was in transition my epidural stopped working. I could feel everything, and while all around me alarms were going off as my IVs ran out and they called the anesthesiologist to come fix my pain medication I descended into myself, focusing on the waves of pain and the pressure building as I started to feel the desire to push. Nancy had sent Jer to the waiting room to get some food, expecting a few more hours of labor and pushing but suddenly the baby and I were ready for her to be born, even if no one else was ready! Doctors and nurses appeared out of nowhere, bringing in NICU equipment, not knowing what shape the baby would be in. Someone went to pull Jer back in the room and I grabbed his hand and got ready to push.

Then they started to lose the baby’s heartbeat. She was so tiny, and down in the birth canal the monitor on my belly couldn’t find her. In my fog of labor I could hear the doctor talking to Jer, asking about putting a intrauterine monitor in, a catheter that attaches to the baby’s head so they can monitor her. I could feel myself getting weaker, and in all the confusion I had a moment of clarity, and all I could think was, I NEED TO GET THIS BABY OUT. Somehow my body communicated to me that I wasn’t well, that I didn’t have much left, and on the strength of all the prayers being said for us I pushed and pushed and there she was.  48 hours of labor, 7 minutes of pushing, and she was born, coming into the world crying, showing us that her lungs were just fine.

She was so tiny, and so perfect, and they let me hold her for a minute before taking her away to the NICU. The moment she was in my arms I knew that the name we had chosen was right, that this was my little Elly. She had her daddy’s blue eyes and my mouth and she looked at me and my heart exploded in love.

Jer went with her to the NICU while my mom stayed with me. I was exhausted and wanted to sleep, but I was having trouble breathing. All of that magnesium to prevent seizures had kept me safe but caused fluid to start pooling in my lungs after days lying in bed. For the next 24 hours I was watched very closely, wearing an oxygen mask and getting pumped full of drugs to bring down my blood pressure and evacuate the fluid in my lungs. (I was on restricted fluids for a couple of days and it took several days for them to discharge me.) But the next evening they let me get out of bed and be taken in a wheelchair to see my little girl, safe and warm in her isolette. They were feeding her the breastmilk that I had pumped (thanks to a great lactation consultant) through a little tube down her throat. I would end up pumping for six weeks until she was strong enough to nurse, but she was healthy and thriving. Two and a half weeks later we were able to bring her home.

So many things could have gone wrong with Elly’s delivery and the months following, but she has been the most perfect, healthy little girl. She eats and sleeps so well, avoided all the illnesses we were warned she was at higher risk for, and is developing right on schedule. And while my recovery was long and complicated, the timing of everything that happened and the care we received was nothing short of miraculous. Preeclampsia can cause your liver and kidneys to shut down, and when that happens an emergency c-section is usually the only option. My blood tests were fine all through my long labor, until the last test right before I gave birth. If she had not been born that night I would have started having major trouble, but because I went in that particular Thursday afternoon, and my midwife scheduled that ultrasound and I was admitted on Friday, I was able to deliver my daughter and avoid surgery. It may not have been the beautiful natural birth I wanted, but it was still a birth full of joy, and all I can do is praise God for how He took care of us through it all.

A few pictures of that weekend:












Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Uncategorized


Dr. StrangeOS or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Windows 8

Geeks are often whiners at heart. We like things a certain way, and we are opinionated. The mere existence (let alone popularity) of websites like Slashdot and Reddit reveal the self-evident nature of these truths.

Being opinionated means that when someone upsets our digital apple cart, we are wont to get medieval. We like the interface to our world to look a certain way and to feel a certain way. After almost 20 years of the Windows Operating System (OS) looking and feeling more or less the same way (since the new “Start”-based Windows 95 UI refresh), ousting concepts like the venerated Start Menu, Task Bar, and infinitely resizable application Windows was bound to ruffle a few feathers.

The new UI is dubbed “Metro” and it saw its first commercial expression in the Windows Phone 7 OS reboot. Tiles abound. It is touch-first, touch-friendly, and highly gestural. Swipes and pinches galore. Mobile devices outnumber PCs by a staggering amount (I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to find out by just how much), and an increasing number of these devices are eschewing keyboards for multi-touch displays.

Windows 8 takes the Metro UI to the next level, often at the expense of the relative comfort and safety of the Windows 7 (and prior) Way Of Doing Things(tm). It places the digital world quite literally at your fingertips and does so with post-modern panache. If you’re blessed to be using it with a touch screen (perhaps on a tablet of some sort), it’s easy to intuit the experience the Windows design team was driving for.

But if you’re like me and the millions of other mouse-based PC users bumping off the virtual walls of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, you might be scratching your head and wondering, “What the heck were they thinking?!”

I started there. As a user of Windows since version 3.1, I loathed the new UI. It made no sense. It wasn’t intuitive. It was ugly, and this stupid Start page-screen-thingy flies up over everything I’m trying to do all the time. Gah!!! But as you’ll see in a moment… I’m coming around.

The “Aha! I get it!” moment for me arrived when a friend of mine sent me a message via Facebook. I had just finished associated all of my online identities with the Messaging app, and I was rewarded with a little ‘toast’ that faded in to view on the upper right hand side of my screen, accompanied by a subtle chime from my speakers. Clicking it launched the Messaging app full-screen.

I was web browsing on the Classic Desktop at the time and really wanted to get back to that, so I employed a little trick I’d learned recently. I grabbed the top of the app and “tore” it from the top of the screen and “docked” it to the right hand side of the screen, out of my way. The Messaging app re-arranged itself and presented just our current chat in a little private strip of space (perhaps 25% of my screen real-estate) on the right side of the screen. Blank pixels filled the left.

Clicking in the empty area brought up the Start Page, from which I selected the Desktop. It neatly filled the remainder of the space and resized itself accordingly. All of my full-screen apps (IE, Word, etc.) were still full-screen, but the width of the Desktop had been reduced to accommodate the Messaging app without any overlap. After a few minutes I realized how nice and even intuitive it felt to have the chat window in its own little space, not too big or small, protected from being overlapped by my “classic” desktop and its applications. It really feels like you’re simulating a multi-monitor experience (which I use a lot of at work) with only one physical display. Very snazzy!

Since that day, I’ve stopped grumbling and started dedicating myself to mastering the new Metro User Interface (UI). Since I’m an old-school keyboard junkie, I use “shortcuts” or “accelerators” quite a bit.  Many of the classic combos still work (Win+E for Explorer, Win+R for Run, Win+D to show the Desktop), but there more than a few new ones to add to your repertoire.

Handy Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Win+C opens the ‘charm bar’ (same as hovering in either right-side corner of the screen)
  • Win+I is the shortcut to the context-sensitive settings flying (same as Win+C and picking ‘Settings’)
  • Win+W scopes searches to Settings
  • Win+F scopes searches to Files
  • Win+Tab shows all the Modern apps you have running (same as hovering in the upper-left corner of the screen)

Remember, Searching in Windows 8 is easy… if not immediately intuitive. In Windows 7, when you wanted to search you just hit Start and started typing away, since the ‘Search’ box in the Start Menu had focus by default. It’s the exact same way in Windows 8… except there is no Search box visible until you start typing!  Hit the Win key and just start typing as you did before.

Along those lines, I have discovered a few general practices with the UI that may help the new Metro user. The bottom line is, most of the time, you’ve got to “think with your fingers” even if you’re using a Mouse. The new input motif is gestural.

Gestures are Key

  • You can control the fate of any Modern app by grabbing the top of the screen with the mouse pointer and dragging the app around. Want it compact on the left or right side of the screen? Just drag it over there. Want to close it? Just drag it down to the bottom of the screen.
  • If the screen is divided as I described above, you can switch which app is “big” and which is “small” by dragging (or double-clicking) the divider between them. You can also swap their positions by dragging either app over its neighbor). Or you can make one of them go away by dragging the divider off the screen.
  • While holding the Win+Tab menu open (you can release Tab, but keep holding the Win key), you can also choose dock apps selectively close them (all via the right-click context menu).
  • Right-clicking is still all about context. Play with it in various “Modern” apps and see what it does. In most, it will bring up a context-sensitive set of actions from the bottom (and/or top) of the screen. (Swiping ‘up’ from the bottom or down from the top will accomplish the same feat on a slate). The Modern “Immersive” Internet Explorer brings context options from both directions (tabs up top, address bar and other navigation tools below).
  • When using an actual touch input device, you can “flick” with your left thumb or “swipe in” from the left side of the screen to switch (“alt-tab”) between active applications.
  • Swiping in from the right opens the Charm Bar. Swiping down from the top grabs the current app and lets you move it around (dock left, dock right), or close it altogether.

Powerful Tricks

If you’re like me (a power user), you might be wondering where all your favorite toys are (Services control panel? Powershell ISE? etc.). Those are filtered out of search results by default, as most users never need them, and they would just clutter things up for the masses.

To get your power tools back at your fingertips, open the Start Page (Win key) and press Win+I to open the Settings panel. Select ‘Tiles’ and toggle on the ‘Show administrative tools’ slider.

Photos Woes?

While you’re in there, you might see a conspicuous ‘Clear personal info from my tiles’ option. This is for resetting the tile data caches for things like the thumbnails that rotate over your Photos app tile. Don’t like that lolcat that you deleted 3 weeks ago? Hate the pimply self-portrait it picked at random from your Skydrive? Hit the Clear button and it’ll (finally) go away!

Speaking of Skydrive pictures, you can pick where Photos shows pictures from by opening it’s settings (Win+I) from within the Photos app. You can even stop the rotating picture display, should you desire. Lastly, if you really want a single picture to be your Photos tile, you can view that photo full-screen and then open the context bars (right-click) to reveal the ‘Set As’ option. This will let you set it as your Desktop background, or as your App Tile background.

As you can see, since my “Aha!” moment, the Metro UI has been growing on me, and I’ve gone from grumbling and complaining to feeling empowered by it to better organize my work space.

But all is not well in Metropolis!

I do find that the minimalist design of many of the Modern (aka “Windows RT”) apps makes me want for more flexibility in some of the applications. Standouts:

  • The new News application is beautiful. It brings the look and feel of modern, colorized, multi-column print journalism to current events. However, for reasons I can’t fathom, it will not format the contents of a news article for single-column display when the app is in “compact” mode. It will show you a list of articles to read when it is compact, but selecting one merely takes you to the headline with some metadata and a ‘Read article’ button that forces the News app into full-screen mode (or the not-quite-full-screen size, if you’re already running a split view). Seriously lost opportunity there. I’d wager it will probably be corrected by the time Windows General Availability arrives (if not shortly thereafter).
  • File transfers in Messaging. Sometimes you just want to send a picture to a buddy. Messaging doesn’t seem to enable this (currently). It may never, as file transfers are a bit of a niche nowadays. Seems like software designers assume what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, thus all sharing of all media will funnel through Facebook or other broadcast-style social media. What can I say… I break molds for a living. =^)

Phenomenal Cosmic Power!

For all the little quirks and the feeling of being stuck between two input paradigms, Windows 8 may well hit a home run with the Modern “app” experience. After all, all computers and all Operating Systems are all about Applications. Without applications, what’s the point?

I showed the built-in “Store” app (through which you download and install more Modern / Windows RT apps) to Becca to get her thoughts on it. (Bear in mind, she is an avid iOS ecosystem girl — which is entirely my fault. iPhone (birthday gift from me), iPad (just-because gift from me…). Case in point, she “gets” the Apple way of deploying software and doesn’t use a PC (or any desktop/laptop/etc.) very much anymore. It’s just too easy and too convenient to get things done on iOS, until Flash comes into play. I hear the plaintiff’s attorney saying, “Objection. Relevance?” to which I reply, “Credibility, your Honor!” My wife at least moderately ingrained in the iOS culture. Applications are disposable, one-touch-setup and two-touch-delete objects, and the devices that run them are like toasters or any other commodity appliance. They should Just Work(tm).

To gain her perspective, I showed the Windows 8 Store to Becca, installed a few apps from it, then ran them for her like a little demo, showed her the pretty Weather app and the News reader, Mail, and Messaging. Swapped them around, showed off the docking features. As she took it all in, she said things like, “Oh, that’s just like on your (Windows) phone! Oh, that’s cool! Hey, I like that!” (I’m paraphrasing a little, but she was rather taken with the demonstrated capabilities of what is otherwise fairly obtuse and non-intuitive).

Now that we both feel empowered (instead of hindered) by the Modern UI, our stance (well, my stance, at least) has shifted from that of a moderate detractor to that of a moderate apologist. No, the UI is not perfect (and neither was iOS when it launched) but it does provide for some really nice workflows that I find myself gravitating to more and more. Also, the immersive browser is kind of addictive. At first you hate it, but then it grows on you, especially when you use it for things like Netflix, Hulu, and other designed-to-be-full-screen applications.

In short, I’ve learned to stop worrying. I’m starting to love Windows 8. The parts I loathed before are starting to grow on me (and not like a fungus). I get the feeling that once I add touch to my machines, I’ll probably like it even more… as a matter of fact, the forthcoming LeapMotion may be the perfect thing for our home theater. Goodbye, mouse-on-the-armchair! Goodbye tiny-wireless-trackpad-and-novelty-keyboard-that-barely-works-from-10′-away!

Windows 8, for all its little wrinkles, is pretty great. I’m confident that the first few waves of app updates and refinements will only make it better.

What’s your Win8 story? Love it? Hate it? Feel free to comment below.

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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Computational Engines, Things Geeky


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Sun + Washington, WordPress + Windows Phone 7

My buddy Hal wanted to know if you can manage a WordPress Blog from WP7. The app i’m typing in promises just that… of course, the last two times i tries to submit my post with a photo attached over 3G, the app crashed and I lost everything… so lets try posting first and adding the photo later…

The wife and I celebrated sun in Washington with a trip to Fatburger. Nothing like seared meat and a tasty shake to bask with!

Posted from WordPress for Windows Phone

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Posted by on June 5, 2011 in Things Edible, Things Geeky


Kombucha Me Baby


kombucha 001


Last summer I tried all sorts of lacto-fermented treats. I even started making beet kvass and milk kefir. But over this past winter I have discovered my favorite fermented beverage: kombucha.

I never caught on to the kombucha craze a couple of years ago. I thought it was just a hippie fad. But now that I have been making it and drinking it for the past few months, I am officially addicted.

Kombucha has all sorts of health benefits. It is made with a SCOBY-a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeasts. These are the beneficial bugs that keep the harmful bugs-like e.coli and candida albicans-in their rightful place. Kombucha is also chock full of B vitamins as well as several acids that work to strengthen the body, most notably glucuronic acid, which is a natural detoxifier. Our bodies produce glucuronic acid in the liver to help flush toxins out, and it can be depleted by high levels of environmental toxins such as BPA, as well as alcohol consumption, so adding kombucha to your diet is one of the best ways to combat all the toxins in our modern environment.

kombucha 003kombucha 004

Kombucha scobies chillin’ like a villain


In order to brew kombucha, you need a scoby and some sweet tea. We got our scoby from a helpful craigslist poster-they reproduce quite readily, so if you find someone brewing it you can easily buy one off of them. Then make some strong black, green, or oolong tea. It can’t be a kind with essential oils, such as Earl Grey, and it can’t be herbal tea. The natural compounds and acidity of tea is what we want. I use plain black pekoe or a sencha green, or a mix of the two.

Steep your tea is boiling water for at least ten minutes. You want one tea bag (or one teaspoon loose-leaf tea) for each quart of water. After the tea has steeped, stir in 1/4 c of sugar per quart of water. Allow the tea to cool to body temp before adding the scoby. I have been using larger jars I got from goodwill that are 2-4 quarts each, so I will steep 2-3 tea bags in one quart of boiling water, then add 1/2 c sugar, then combine that with a quart of cold filtered water, which brings it to just the right temp and sweetness.

kombucha 002When you add the scoby, you will also need to add about 1/4 cup of kombucha from a previous batch. If you get a scoby from someone, they should have transported the scoby in some kombucha. If they neglected to do that, or you bought a dehydrated one, you can add raw apple cider vinegar. The important thing is to have the right acidity in the mix.

Now comes the hard part-you have to let the kombucha brew. Cover the jar with a thin towel and set in a warm dark place for 7-10 days. The scoby likes it around 72 degrees, so if you have a colder house, it may take longer to brew, or you might want to wrap the jar in a towel. A new scoby will begin to develop on the top of the kombucha. At first it will just look cloudy, and then a white film will form. This film will get thicker as the days pass, until it is a nice rubbery pancake floating on top of your tea goodness. When the brew is done, you can remove the new scoby and the old scoby (which will likely be stuck together) pour the finished kombucha into glass jars to be put in the fridge, and start the process again.

kombucha 001As you can see in the photo above, I like to put chunks of fruit in the bottom of my jars to flavor the kombucha. Here you see half a mango in a quart jar. I fill it with kombucha and then cap it tightly and allow it to sit out an extra day before moving it to the fridge. This intensifies the flavor and carbonates it slightly. The wait is well worth it. I’ve had fun with flavor combinations: berries, kiwi, mango, pear. You could even try some candied ginger or some fruit juice. Just don’t put more than an inch or so of fruit or juice in the bottom, to keep the ratios right.

Kombucha is refreshing, energizing, and most of all, delicious. It’s a fabulous alternative to all that HFCS-laden pop and juice drinks out there. The scoby eats up the sugar you feed it and gives you a tasty fizzy beverage in its place. I highly recommend adding it to your kitchen!


This post is part of Foodie Link Love


Posted by on March 26, 2011 in Things Edible


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Willows Inn

A few bites into our meal at Willows Inn, Jer said, “Food shouldn’t be allowed to taste that good.” We weren’t even to the first course; the chef started everyone out with a few little ‘bites’ of delectable goodness: a small wooden box with two bites of luscious smoked salmon, tiny plates with fresh potato chips topped with black cod and naturally fermented sauerkraut (I asked the chef who brought it to us, it had been started in October) a piece of herb toast with browned butter and plum blossoms, and best of all, a pickled oyster. It was literally the best oyster I have ever had. And the evening had only begun.

According to the New York Times, the restaurant at Willows Inn is one of “10 Restaurants Worth a Plane Ride”.  We didn’t know this when we found the coupon on an online deal site. I checked out the description and loved the sound of the focus on local, sustainable ingredients, and the description of the Farmhouse Suite, equipped with a full kitchen that included a Wood Stone oven. I knew Jer would love the opportunity to use that oven to make pizza or bread, and I thought it was a great deal for a romantic weekend to celebrate the second anniversary of the day we met. So we booked the trip, packed our sourdough starter, and set out for Lummi Island, only a couple hours away.

We settled in to our suite and wandered around Nettles Farm, where most of the produce for Willows Inn is grown. The chickens were happy to have visitors, and we could see that the greenhouse was in use, and so looked forward to our meal. After a delicious cocktail we were seated and served our complimentary prosecco and starters. The waitress asked if we preferred the juice pairing or the wine pairing, and we decided to go with one of each.  Best decision ever.

First course was simply tender young turnips in a pork jus. Oh, but the jus. It soaked into the breadcrumbs topping the turnips and exploded in your mouth, taking you by complete surprise with its delicate yet complex flavor. The Pinot Gris that accompanied mine was excellent, but the celery juice that Jer had was our first clue that this juice pairing idea was sheer brilliance. Somehow the flavor married perfectly, as did each successive juice-carrot with the scallops and cabbage, green apple with the winter squash and black truffle, lingonberry with the steelhead salmon, and elder flower with the apple sorbet (topped with buttermilk foam and slices of licorice root).

Each course built upon the last while being delicious in its own right. The man certainly knows his seafood-the scallops were perfect, and the steelhead was such a delicate piece of work, you almost forgot it was a salmon. At the end of that course, we thought that there was no way that any dessert could possibly follow up on the parade of dishes, but the intense yet perfectly balanced flavors of apple and licorice with the buttermilk and sprigs of dill was the perfect finish.

It is amazing that someone with such a command of flavor, technique, and presentation could be so young. The chef Blaine Wetzel, a native of Olympia, trained at Noma, named the best restaurant in the world for 2010, but he is completely approachable. We chatted with him afterwards about his technique with the bread served between courses, how much we like sourdough starters and hot ovens, and our mutual struggles using spelt. We even exchanged recipe ideas, with him giving me a technique for spelt rolls in a muffin tin, and me suggesting sourdough cookies, which he had never heard of before.

The next day, while eating a delicious sandwich at Taproot Café, the other excellent eatery at the inn, we overheard the proprietor explaining to another diner that while he “serves dinner, Blaine serves an experience.” Yes indeed-an amazing culinary experience that I will not soon forget.


Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Things Edible


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Get DragonAge Origins Toolset on 64-bit Windows 7, Steam, and SQL Express 2008

With the latest installment of the DragonAge series shipping soon (only 4 days from now… *wibble*), a resurgence of interest in Origins has gripped me. I’ve bee whiling away the odd hour here or there playing through the campaign again, with little hope that I’ll finish it this time either. There’s just so much to do and that’s without all the weight downloadable content (DLC) of the epic Awakenings or the character-specific adventures that have rolled out since then. But I digress…
I wanted to mess around with the Toolset again (which allows you to craft your own adventures if you’re willing to invest a lot of time, or to just poke around under the hood and see how BioWare crafted Origins) but as I was running the installer I realized that it wanted to install SQL Express 2005. 2005? That’s a bit out-dated, don’t you think? After all, I’ve already got a SQL Express engine running on my box to support my independent development initiatives with Microsoft Visual Studio 2010. Why on earth should I install another copy of SQL Server?
I knew from my own professional experience that SQL 2008 and 2005 are largely compatible for most databases (and 2008 even has a 2005-compatibility mode you can set should things go awry…), I thought “why not see if we can make this work with what i’ve got already?” So, I ran a few web queries to make sure I wasn’t setting out on a fool’s errand, and I ran across this wonderful blog post by a bloke named Evan. Evan probably saved me and others hours of time with those steps, but they didn’t quite work for me. Why, you ask? Well, it comes down to the fact that once again, he wants me to use SQL Express 2005. I figured “meh, skip that step, i’ve got 2008 installed…” and just tried to install the 64-bit SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) Express package. No luck. For reasons unclear to me, it rolls itself back 75% of the way through the install claiming that it was “interrupted.” After trying twice in a row, I gave up on that and decided to use ply my sqlcmd-fu (that’s the special variant of kung fu SQL Server db admins are taught by the wisened sages of their art) and bend things to my will.
Sadly, his proffered advice about using SQL scripts he linked to was rather full of fail. While it gave me some (most? all?) of the DB schema, it didn’t give me nearly enough of the data. I kept getting errors about missing IDs and and other inaccessible data from the toolkit after running his scripts.  But a comment on the latter gave me exactly what I needed: the fact that BioWare shipped a full backup of the database with the toolkit. Well, of course they did. How much easier can installing a database get than to use restore a database backup (.bak) and call it a day?
The path to success for Win7 amd64, Steam, and SQL 2008 Express is as follows:
  1. SQL Server is installed, running, and responding to your queries. E.g: running:  sqlcmd -S .\SQLEXPRESS -q “select @@version” from a command/powershell prompt will yield:
    Microsoft SQL Server 2008 (SP2) – 10.0.4000.0 (X64)
    Sep 16 2010 19:43:16
    Copyright (c) 1988-2008 Microsoft Corporation
    Express Edition (64-bit) on Windows NT 6.1 <X64> (Build 7600: )
  2. You’ve got Dragon Age: Origins installed and you know where it lives. For example, my copy lives in ‘D:\Games\Steam\steamapps\common\dragon age origins\
  3. You’ve installed the Dragon Age Origins Toolset, but opted NOT to install the included 32-bit version of SQL Server 2005 Express.
SQLCMD to the rescue!
    1. Once you install the toolkit, you’ll find they’ve included the aforementioned SQL database backup file (bw_dragonage_content.bak) for you. For steam users, it resides in the tools\dbbak subfolder of your dragon age installation. Go search your computer for it and get a hold of the full path to that file. You’ll need it shortly.
    2. We’ll need to issue several commands to SQL Server, and we’ll use a console application called SQLCMD to do it. So open up an elevated command prompt or powershell prompt and execute the following command to connect to your local copy of SQL Server Express:
    1. Now, every database backup has a designated place in the file system where its data (files that usually end in .mdf) and possibly logs (files that end in .ldf) are stored. Most database restores assume that the files you’re restoring from the .bak should go back to where they were found originally, so we’re going to roll with that assumption. First, we need to see where those files are expected to be, without actually restoring anything. To do this, we’ll use a mode of the SQL “RESTORE” command called “FILELISTONLY” to get the logical and physical names of the mdf and ldf in the backup file:
RESTORE FILELISTONLY FROM DISK = ‘D:\Games\Steam\steamapps\common\dragon age origins\tools\dbbak\bw_dragonage_content.bak’
    1. You should see near the end the logical and physical filenames of the .mdf and .ldf in the file (after of a bunch of staggered “—–” characters … this is the pretty-printing that would make the data look like a table were your console window wide enough, or were you to output the query results to a text file), e.g.:
bw_dragonage_content C:\Program Files\DAODB\Data\bw_dragonage_content.mdf
bw_dragonage_content_log C:\Program Files\DAODB\Data\bw_dragonage_content.ldf
    1. The name without the path is the “logical” name. The fully-pathed file is… you guessed it, the filename. Once you are armed with these, you need to make sure the physical path this .bak file will expect actually exists. Since we’re running a 64-bit version of windows, chances are high that the Toolset installer created the “\DAODB\Data” folder in your Program Files (x86) folder (where all good little 32-bit programs go), not your Program Files folder (which houses the 64-bit ones). Fixing this is a simple matter of cutting and pasting the “DAODB” folder from your Program Files (x86) folder and pasting it in the Program Files folder. Once the folder C:\Program Files\DAODB\Data exists in your local filesystem, you’re golden. Use Windows Explorer to do this — far simpler and faster than aborting your SQLCMD session and then re-starting it later.
    2. Now we have to create the database so the backup will have a place to be restored to! Run these commands in your SQLCMD session (the color-coding is provided so you can visually map the values you got from FILELISTONLY above. If for some odd reason these have changed, you’ll know where to put the new values):
USE master;
CREATE DATABASE bw_dragonage_content
( NAME = bw_dragonage_content, FILENAME = ‘C:\Program Files\DAODB\Data\bw_dragonage_content.mdf‘)
( NAME = bw_dragonage_content_log, FILENAME = ‘C:\Program Files\DAODB\Data\bw_dragonage_content.ldf);
    1. You probably won’t get anything by way of a success message, but if you don’t get an error, you should be good to go.
    2. Now all we have to do is restore their database backup! Tweak the paths to match your system and then run this in your SQLCMD session:
RESTORE DATABASE bw_dragonage_content FROM DISK = ‘D:\Games\Steam\steamapps\common\dragon age origins\tools\dbbak\bw_dragonage_content.bak’ WITH REPLACE,RECOVERY
    1. This will take some time and you’ll see some output, and probably a few ‘upgrade schema’ comments, but at the end of it all you will have successfully created the database!
    2. That’s it for DB creation! Exit SQLCMD by typing:


    1. All that remains is to tell the Dragon Age Toolset how to find the database. (If you don’t, you’ll get an error that says it can’t connect. If you’re wondering why, it’s because when the Toolset installs itself, it installs a “named instance” of SQLEXPRESS that isn’t “SQLEXPRESS”that is To do this, run the “ConfigureToolset.exe” that is located in the tools directory (the parent folder of the ‘dbbak’ folder that houses the .bak file).
    2. It will open to the ‘Game Builds’ menu. That’s not what we want. Click [Next] to find the ‘Databases’ window. Once there, uncheck ‘Use the default database’ and then click the […] button. This will open the standard ‘Data Link Properties’ window that every Windows database admin knows and loves. Here, you will want to specify “.\SQLEXPRESS” for your server in #1, leave #2 alone (it should default to ‘Use Windows NT Integrated security’), and for #3, select the bw_dragonage_content database we just restored. Lastly, click [Test Connection] at the bottom and assuming all went well, you’re done!

What your settings should look like when you're done...

  1. Click [OK], then click [Next] in the ConfigureToolset UI, and lastly click [Finish].
  2. Now you should be able to use the Toolset to your heart’s content on Windows 7 64-bit with SQL Server 2008. Yay!
Caveat: I haven’t done extensive testing so I can’t vouch that running the Toolset on 2008 won’t cause some problems down the line. I’m a total n00b when it comes to the Toolset itself… I just happen to know a thing or two about Windows and SQL. 😉
Afterthought: More advanced / picky users might want to relocate the files from the DAODB directory to somewhere else. in that case you’ll want to create the DB with different filename specifications, and then restore with the MOVE directive as such:
RESTORE DATABASE bw_dragonage_content FROM DISK = ‘D:\Games\Steam\steamapps\common\dragon age origins\tools\dbbak\bw_dragonage_content.bak’ WITH REPLACE,RECOVERY,MOVE ‘bw_dragonage_content’ TO ‘[preffered path]\bw_dragonage_content.mdf’ , MOVE ‘bw_dragonage_content_log’ TO ‘[preferred_path]\bw_dragonage_content_log.ldf’
Happy modding!

Posted by on March 4, 2011 in Computational Engines, Things Geeky


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