Jamie Thingelstad's personal website

Month: July 2006

Brain Games

We got the Nintendo DS because we liked these brain games. We bought both Brain Age and Big Brain Academy. As if you care , here are my comments on the games.

Brain Age

Brain Age is slow to impress, but opens up a lot as you start to play it more and more. The game feels well grounded in research, and in general the puzzles get plenty hard fast enough. The game does a very good job of introducing random elements into it, and even though multiple people don’t play it at the same time, it brings data from other people playing Brain Age into the sessions. For example, when I finished the math quiz today it told me that Tammy did a better job than I did. This resulted in me doing the quiz over and over until I beat her of course. Great encouragement.

One of the really fun things about Brain Age is it’s use of voice recognition. Some of the puzzles require you to speak to identify things and it does a good job of interpreting you. Last, the included Sudoku game is very well done. All in, this is a lot of fun.

Big Brain Academy

Big Brain Academy is more game-like than Brain Age. The characters are almost goofy looking, and the games seem more like parlour tricks than well researched logic tests. However, it is a lot of fun as well. It allows multiple player profiles, but doesn’t tie them together in anyway to create competition. It doesn’t use handwriting recognition or speech. The puzzles do get very difficult and it is certainly taxing, but not as well executed as Brain Age.

The winner is…

Honestly, if you like puzzles, get both. They are different enough that they are both worth having. However, Brain Age is definitely superior in almost all dimensions — even without the Sudoku game.

Looking for Land

Tammy and I have been talking for a couple years now about getting some land that we could eventually (10+ years) build a house on and maybe live on when Mazie (and any other potential, future kids — settle down Grandma’s, no news here) have moved out, etc. I’ve been thinking that we shouldn’t bother waiting to get the land until then — prices are likely to be higher and we could use it right now as a getaway on weekends.

This Friday we did our first road trip to tour some options and looked at 6 properties in the Red Wing, Zumbrota area of Minnesota and in Wisconsin on the other side of the river. Mazie was with her grandparents so driving 240 miles in the country was actually pretty fun. We are looking at property between 15 and 25 acres. We want something within one to two hours from the Twin Cities. We want something fairly wooded, with a good building site. Electric service is not needed.

It was really good to look at these properties because it helped clarify how we would use the land and what qualities are important for us. There is a lot that we want to do.

First, a small living option is necessary right away. Tammy did a bunch of research and found this great option for us called the miniHome. As soon as you own the land, you need a place to stay on it and the idea of camping every time you visit wasn’t that appealing to either of us.

The miniHome is a near ideal solution for this. It’s rated as a mobile home so it can be brought to a site without any special police escort. It’s designed to be ecologically friendly and self-contained. They have an option that puts solar electric and a wind turbine with it for complete off-grid usage. It has reservoirs for water and waste. In short, this is a one-stop solution to having 350 square feet of comfortable, heated space with all the conveniences you would expect. The only thing lacking is air conditioning, which you could add if you wanted. (Note: it even has an ethernet network!) We would plan on leaving this on the land to be used as a guest option as well.

The other structure that we would need right away would be some sort of utility building. This essentially would be a 2-car garage. This would be where the solar array and wind turbines would come together with a battery bank to store electricity. The utility building would house all of this and also provide storage for a car and other tools. I would probably need an ATV with a trailer that could be parked in there as well.

Obviously we need to identify a good spot for an eventual home. There are a lot of structural issues to consider for this. However, we would add other issues as well since we want it to be efficient and integrated with the location. Correct sun alignment would be important for passive solar heat, for example.

All of these locations would require access by large machinery. Everything else would be fine just being accessible by ATV.

I would want to have a nice, big firepit on the property. Ideally this would allow 10-15 people to enjoy a fire, and include an option for open pit cooking as well. Preferably this would be in an area with a lot of trees.

For the evenings, and since we’d have the dark sky for it, I would want to put up a dome for my telescope with a permanent mount. This would be wonderful and make it so much easier to take in the night sky. This would ideally be in a fairly open area, on the highest point possible to get the best view to the horizon. Electricity is necessary but can be easily provided by a small solar PV module and an isolated battery. I would need to extend the network to it as well, most likely using some sort of wireless option.

It would be a shame to have a bunch of land without a good spot for a garden. Tammy and I are far from green thumbs, but we definitely want this option. And last but not least we want to have a cool walking path that would snake through the land and connect everything up. This would allow for nice, evening strolls or just serve the utility of getting to various places.

We also learned that the approach to the land was important for us. We didn’t like land that was right next to a busy road. We liked it much more when you left the highway, then took a smaller road with may eventually meander to a gravel road for access. Also of importance is what is around you. We really liked one property but didn’t like that there was a big campground a couple of miles down the same road.

There is much more research to do, much to learn about this, and we aren’t in a rush. However, it is pretty exciting to think about the potential!

Nintendo DS Lite

Yesterday we were at Best Buy on my occassional visit to wonder around the store and just check stuff out. Tammy finds these trips annoying since I rarely buy anything, and after 5 minutes decide to leave. Yesterday though I decided to check out the gaming aisles and stumbled on the Nintendo DS. I had read about these “brain games” for the DS in Scientific American Mind magazine and was intrigued. They had one of these on the demo unit so we played it, and it was pretty fun. 10 minutes later we walked out of the store with a DS Lite and three games.

I decided that my ban on ever buying a gaming console again (at least until Mazie is old enough to find it fun) was not applicable since this is a portable unit. So far, it’s a lot of fun and the portability makes a great for flights. The initial set of games we got were Brain Age, Big Brain Academy and Super Mario Bros. Now it’s time to start looking up information on hacking the DS! :-)

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