Monday, December 29, 2008


Started off Christmas week sick, not improved by lack of sleep and the different air pressure and humidity in the mountains. Took an antibiotic, had side effects, still no sleep, but drove home safely anyway on Sunday.
Highlight of the trip was lunch at my sister's house, with a crown roast, dressing, scalloped potatoes, something sweet with tomatoes that I'll have to get the recipe for, cranberry salad, sherry cake, and a couple other things I didn't get to. Elizabeth and David outdid themselves.
Well, possibly the highlight of the trip was arriving at Mom and Dad's place after a six hour drive, to find Mom's butterscotch pie waiting for me. Contrary to the scurrilous allegations of my offspring, I did not have five pieces of that pie...unfortunately.
One of the gifts looked, when I first opened the package, like black leather, and I thought "I'm sure Diana didn't actually get...but if she did, I'm going to have an interesting time explaining this...." Nothing too exotic, though, as it turned out to be a black oilcloth duster coat. And as I was trying it on, Dad said "Josh, your uncle James brought a coat like that back from Montana, and he left it here when he got married. I think it's downstairs, go and check." Sure enough, Josh came back up the stairs with a nearly identical coat. He put it on, added sunglasses, and we looked as if we were Matrix fans.

Now Reading

Marvin Minsky's Society of the Mind , which speculates that intelligence is an emergent property of sub-intelligent components he calls agents. The example he starts with is "put together blocks to form a tower", an intelligent behavior formed of parts such as "decide on a starting place", "find a block", "is this block already part of the tower", "pick up the block" and so forth. These behaviors can be broken down into smaller bits--"decide on a starting place" would include things like "is it flat?", "is it solid?", "are there blocks available nearby?", "can I reach it?" and so on.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Recovering from a cold which had me out of action for four days, still have a full day's worth of stuff to do and get before Christmas tomorrow, and we're driving to my folks' place in the mountains starting, hm, 21 minutes ago if we stick to the plan. But after that cold, just being able to eat feels like a privilege. And while the Christ did not overthrow all the powers of the world and immediately set up a paradise on earth--which is what they expected of the Messiah, 2000 years ago--He did manifest the extent to which God loves us and is willing to sacrifice for us.
Lord, help us always to enjoy that which you have actually given us, and not to fret about what we had planned differently.
Godspeed, safe travels, merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Making a Girl Cry

Rather than me and my bothers and sisters picking out Christmas gifts for each other, this year we decided that we'd each bless someone outside the family who needed it. When we get together at Christmas, we'll tell who we gave to and how.
We've given a fair amount to various people over the last couple of years, and sometimes the recipient doesn't say thanks; sometimes, more subtly, the thanks is just for the gift itself, and you feel like saying "Hey, don't you understand? I care about you!" (I'm sure there have been a number of occasions when I've muttered "But why did you get this, I never wear plaid!" or "What ever led you to think I'd read a book like that?", and the giver--frequently my long suffering my wife, mom, or sister--has, with difficulty, restrained herself from swatting me with the closest frying pan). Fortunately this time I was on the giving end and things worked out better.
For our Christmas blessee, Diana and I picked a dear friend, a single mom who runs herself ragged to make sure her kids have everything they need--not just food and clothes but also piano lessons and ball games and transport to and fro. She's perpetually exhausted, but also cheerful, thoughtful, sweet, and has a great heart. We visited her on Monday night to have dinner and exchange gifts. Hers was a travel bag, pink with white polka dots, a girly thing which was perfect for her. And then Diana opened up the bag and behold!, more gifts: spa treatments, gift card, bath salts, another gift card, this and that and so on. Our friend got misty eyed, finally welling up with tears and runny mascara and tissues, and hugs all round. It was a beautiful moment because she understood that we were really saying we love her.
Lord, as we approach Christmas, help me to be grateful for the people and for their giving, regardless of what they give.
Er...but, Lord--no plaid this time, please?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Diana is home from Montreal, Josh is home from college, and Josh's 20th birthday is today. He got Call of Duty 4 and is rapidly progressing.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas decoration

Cold and windy today. After church, I applied weatherstripping, repaired a light, and did similar unseen honeydos. Diana's efforts were a little more visible. Here's the dinner table, tree, and fireplace after she got done.

Christmas tree

Christmas fireplace

Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Close Action

At yesterday's game, the story was told of a player who'd said that as he'd played Close Action over the years, not only had he become a better player, but he'd also learned things through the game which helped him become a better section leader at work. Now, improving your life through a game of Napoleonic era warships seems far fetched, but here are twelve lessons you could learn from Close Action:
  • You need to know your objective, and you need to have a plan to achieve it.
  • Be flexible, because things won't go the way you expected.
  • Allow people room for mistakes...lots of room.
  • If you want to avoid getting hurt, be cautious; but if you want to win big, be bold.
  • Life is dangerous and you're going to need help. Stay close to your friends.
  • A "smart idea" is often idiotic over the long term. Use foresight about more than the next ten minutes.
  • Concentrated effort succeeds faster.
  • Learn to read minds. Figure out what people mean, not just what they say.
  • Do what your friends are counting on you to do.
  • The best choice of leader may change with the situation, but you always need one.
  • Avoid giving an enemy a free shot at your stern.
  • If you're going to depend on someone, you should learn their temperament and capabilities.

The Happy Return

On Saturday, we played Close Action , specifically "The Happy Return" from the Monsoon Seas scenario book. This situation pits three French ships vs three British ones, with the Brits being slightly higher quality but less powerful. Mark Campbell, the game designer, took command of the French side, with two inexperienced captains; on the British side, my teammate took the best British ship and I took the other two.
The game started off with a bang, the enemy's first broadside taking down my flagship's mast due to a lucky long range hit. A couple of turns later we returned the favor with a waterline hit on a French ship which forced part of her crew to man the pumps rather than the guns. One of my ships failed three moral checks in a row, an unlikely occurrence which cut her firepower in half. Then one of the French ships caught fire. The game ended with one of my ships hors de combat, fouled with the burning French ship and unable to move. My second ship was crippled and trying to crawl away, with the two remaining French hobbling along in hot pursuit. The third Brit was in comparatively good shape but had gotten separated from the action and couldn't rejoin fast enough to effect a rescue.
The small scenarios are more demanding, in my opinion, than the ones with more ships. Close Action is a game of teamwork (despite limited communication). If you have twenty ships and one of them wanders off to do his own thing, the team is not as strong as it could be but it will probably survive. If you have three ships and one gets separated, you're probably doomed unless your opponent makes a mistake or you get lucky. That's what happened to us.
A fun scenario and a good time. Mark is a great opponent and marvelously knowledgeable about the Age of Sail, and Close Action is a clean, well designed game that I'm always eager to play.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


An excerpt from AE Brain
"Yes, I partook fully of male privilege. I wasn't talked over at meetings; it was assumed I knew what I was doing unless proven otherwise; and there are a thousand and one little things, some of which I'd observed with incredulity and disgust at the way other women were treated, but most of which I was completely unaware of. As unaware as a fish is of water. "

How much does that happen? It's hard for me to tell because I generally assume that a person is competent at what they do. ..or at least I think I assume that. Do I subconsciously discount a woman's opinion just because she's female; if so, how would I recognize that's what I'm doing? I know that it does happen--I have a female friend who knows more about cars than I do, but she tells me that mechanics often don't take her seriously--but do the people who do that realize they're doing it?

Chad the Wall

Josh was home from college for Thanksgiving. He plays sidewalk soccer, usually as goalie, and said, "I don't recall the last time anyone scored on me. That's not always good, though, because they don't come downfield and help on defense. I'll have five attackers on me, and I'm thinking "Guys? Guys?" and my guys are all at the other end of the field, saying "Meh. Chad can handle it."
"They call me Chad the Wall."

Thursday, November 27, 2008


For those of us in the US, today is Thanksgiving. Mostly this involves cooking the feast, setting and decorating the table, cleaning the house, having guests over, cleaning up afterwards, watching the football game and planning the next day's shopping for Christmas presents; but sometimes we might take a moment to think about what we're thankful for.
"Family" is usually the first, reflexive answer. But I know people who would say "I don't have family, I have relatives; and what I'm thankful for is that they're on the other side of the country and don't have my address or phone number." I don't see my brothers and sisters as often as I would like, but it's comforting to know that they're there.
"Health" is another one, although I'd be even more thankful if my joints, back, digestion, waistline, etc, were in the shape they were in when I was 20 years old rather than what I've got a quarter century later. But I don't have arthritis or dementia or lupus or diabetes; I can see, hear and talk; I can pick up the groceries and walk the dog without being in pain with every step.
"Friends" has always been what I'm most thankful for. I am blessed to have friends who are intelligent, decent, compassionate, thoughtful, clever, honest folks--people like Tom Barclay, Barbra Barbour, Adrian Johnson, Zoe Brain, Allan Goodall, Tara Perrone, Mark Greco, Sean Murphy, Mike Kowalski. Friends who are cheerful and courageous despite some tough situations. Friends who are, unfortunately, scattered across three continents, who I don't see often enough. Friends for whom I am, always, thankful.

Great moments in Customer Service

The company I work for sells prefab steel building kits, which come in a variety of sizes ranging from 10ft to 100ft wide, 10ft to 25ft tall, and as long as you care to make them. One customer from New England had ordered a 20ft wide, 12ft high building and called me to find out about delivery. I explained that we'd ship when we were ready, and talked about adding some accessories. In the course of this discussion, I asked him what he was planning to use the building for.
"A place to work on my cars," he replied.
"Auto shop, okay," I said, and a thought struck me. "Are you going to put a vehicle lift in there?"
"Oh yes."
"Can I ask you, how tall is that lift?"
He said, "Fourteen feet."

Go back and look at what he ordered.

I have access to my phone records, including how long each call is. So I can tell you that it took me 59 minutes and 58 seconds to get the idea across to him that you cannot put a 14 foot high lift into a 12 foot high building.

Monday, November 24, 2008


I'd originally thought about getting a Glock 19, so I went to A&P Arms on Lynnhaven to try one. I studied the range safety sheet and got my card for passing it, then looked around a bit. They have quite a few implements for making holes in things--including a Barrett 50 cal rifle available for a mere $8500, just the thing if you expect to hunt irritable posleen, lightly armored vehicles, or rabid elephants.
The 19 turns out to be a little small for my hand, but a 17 fits about right. So, for $36, I rented one, bought a box of ammo and a target, and went to Bay 2 Lane 8. The first thing you notice is the pistol isn't all that heavy--only two pounds unloaded. The second thing you notice, immediately after opening the door to the range, is that they're loud, even with ear protection on. The third thing is that they take a little figuring out, but only a little. The button to drop the clip is just above your thumb. The clip only goes in one way, and a few seconds of looking at it is enough to figure out how to put cartridges in--although that takes a bit of effort, especially with cold fingers, and the last few rounds take a fair amount of pushing. In future, with a fifteen-capacity clip, I'll probably stop at ten rounds. Another button brings the slide forward and chambers a round. After that it's just point, pull, BANG, and wonder where the bullet hit.
I missed the target low on the first couple of rounds, but once I figured out how much to compensate, I got the rest in the black. The slide locks back when you're empty, so no need to wonder "Was that fourteen rounds, or fifteen?", just drop the magazine, reload, and do it again. When you're done, reel the target in, pick up the brass, and turn the weapon in.
I had a good time. I don't know that I'd want to make it a once-a-week event, particularly with the obligatory weapon cleaning afterward, but as a--pardon me--one shot event, I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Now listening to...

...the gentle sound of rain.
Falling from the kitchen ceiling light.

Seems the overflow pipe on the new bathtub upstairs wasn't sealed properly. Fortunately it's an easy problem to avoid--just don't over fill the tub. Plumber will be here Saturday.

Man's Best Friend

We have a Labrador/chow named Zoe, a very pretty dog with a good disposition. She is My Wife's Dog. I came home Friday night while Diana was out, and I heard Zoe moving around upstairs, but she didn't come down to say hello. I fixed dinner...still no dog. I worked on the computer a dog. I walked to the foot of the staircase and she came to the top of the stairs, looked at me, and still didn't deign to come downstairs; she just went went back to the bed. Finally, after midnight, I said "that mutt has got to be needing a walk", so I called her and she ambled down the stairs.
By contrast, when Diana gets home, Zoe does cartwheels and backflips.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lots of wind and rain. I've been hanging my kayak on a hook mounted to the exterior wall; last night the wind pulled the hook out. It also stripped half the leaves from the trees behind our places, and dropped them on our deck. And we got a visitor.

House Tour

Looking across the living room, with your back to the ladder bookcase.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gustav Adolf the Great

With God and Victorious Arms, volume IV of GMT Games' Musket and Pike series. Twenty six pages of rules, with about half of that covering the activation sequence--units with "Charge" orders always go first, for instance, except that an enemy unit can try to interrupt and get its own move in first, and a unit with a good commander may be able to move two or even three times in a turn. The scenario book uses 40 pages to cover five battles and historical notes, with another few pages of tactics and bibliograhy.
Judging by the contents of the local game shops, Thirty Years War is not an overwhelmingly popular era around here, so it's a good thing this series rates high for solitaire play. I'll endeavor to set up the Dirschau 1627 scenario this weekend.

House tour

I'll be posting photos of the new house, for the benefit of those of you who cannot bestir yourselves to make it to Virginia Beach. The sitting room is part of the master bedroom, and that corner looks distant because it is--the room is about thirty feet across. Downstairs, we have the living room, with ladder bookcase, fireplace, and the deck beyond.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

From TomB: Lest We Forget

Super microscope

Barbra sent a link to the BBC News article on the Isis neutron scatter imager, and said "at least it helps to satisfy some of the curiosity until CERN is up and running again."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Dark Flow

National Geographic article on "Unknown Structure Tugging at the Universe"

Choosing gifts

A friend or relative is going to give you a gift. Would you prefer:
  • you pick something, the friend buys that specific item
  • you make a wish list, the friend picks something from that list
  • you have no input, the friend buys whatever (s)he thinks you'd like
And looking at it from the other side--if you're the one doing the buying, which would you prefer?

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Diana in the kayak, as seen from our back deck, Nov 2nd.

Rant: US AIR (Update: and their reponse)

We took a trip to Portugal on TAP airline, a partner of USAir; USAir promises to give mileage credit for partner flights. However, when you actually try to get credit, it has to be done by snail mail, and what you get back is:
we require both the original boarding passes and a copy of your partner ticket
receipt. Travel agent itineraries andcredit card statements are not
acceptable. The receipt must contain thepassenger name, flight numbers,
city pairs, dates, class of service and ticket number. Since we are unable
to research yourtravel on partner flights through our system, no further action
can be taken

My reply:

You are being fundamentally dishonest by offering mile credit and then
failing to make good on your offer. I provided a boarding pass stub and the
itinerary which included the ticket number and flights. I do not have a receipt
directly from TAP, because I purchased the tickets through a travel agent. If
you are unable to verify with TAP that the tickets were paid for, then you
should fire whoever is responsible for airline partnerships since they have
clearly not provided for the most basic and obvious required amount of

EDIT: And their reponse, about 1hr 45m later:

We have received your correspondence requesting mileage credit for one of our airline partners. Your request has been submitted to the airline for verification. Airlines usually respond in 7-10 days. Once a response has been received from the partner airline, you will be able toview it online in your account. If the activity is eligible, the applicable miles for the activity will be posted. If for some reason, the airline does not permit credit for specific flight(s), the reason will be documented in your account. We did this as a one time courtesy, we need original boarding passes when traveling on Star Alliance Partners, we have no other way of verifying flights on other airline carriers. For future reference please keep all boarding passes and receipts when traveling on our partners. Thank you.

EDIT: I did get the mileage credit.

I'm annoyed that I had to write a nastygram to get them to take care of it, but at least they are (or say they are) taking care of it, and they responded quickly. When I had an issue with Continental last year, it took Continental six weeks to say (paraphrased) "We won't do anything about the problem. We look forward to your flying with us again!"

Rant: Motorola

Why does Motorola charge $35 for their Phone Tools software? Well, yes, because they want to scrape every dollar out of you that they can; but what I mean is, if you buy an electronic device, wouldn't you expect the software to be included?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I've been tagged by Zoe Brain.

Four jobs I've had
  1. Radio disk jockey
  2. Bookkeeper, which the company owner apparently felt I was qualified for because I had a BA English from a good university.
  3. Sales rep: industrial plastics
  4. Sales rep: translation and localization

Four films I can watch over and over

  1. Princess Bride
  2. Monty Python & The Holy Grail
  3. Fifth Element
  4. The Gods Must Be Crazy

Four places I've lived

  1. Brunswick Georgia
  2. Carroll County Virginia
  3. Charlottesville Virginia
  4. Virginia Beach Virginia

Four TV shows I love. None. I don't watch TV and there's never been anything I couldn't bear to miss. Some of the shows I used to enjoy:

  1. Firefly (which I've seen on DVD, not broadcast)
  2. Stingray
  3. Simon & Simon
  4. Wild Wild West
  • Honorable mention to MacGyver, which I would probably have been fond of if I’d ever seen it.

Four places I've been on holiday

  1. Portugal
  2. Bermuda
  3. Lancaster PA, for the annual Ground Zero Games conventions
  4. Metis sur Mer on the St Lawrence River, Quebec, although that presumes "visiting in-laws" qualifies as "on holiday"

Four of my favourite meals. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack. But I think the intent was "what are your favorite foods", so:

  1. Roast beef and mashed potatoes
  2. Thanksgiving turkey
  3. General Tso chicken
  4. Chicken cordon bleu

Four websites I visit daily

  1. Instapundit
  2. AE Brain
  3. Day by Day

Four places I'd like to be right now

  1. Bridge of a starship
  2. Pink Beach, Bermuda
  3. Castle Eilean Donan, Scotland
  4. Hagia Sofia, Istanbul

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Books just in

A Theory of Justice by John Rawls and Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.

Armchair Economist mentioned Rawls in an essay concerned with how to decide what is fair for a group of people who may not agree. Simple democratic majority rule is not a sufficient system, because it's entirely possible for the majority to decide to plunder, kill or enslave a minority. For instance, in 406BC the Athenians won a naval battle but were not able to retrieve the bodies of their casualties; the city voted to execute the victorious admirals. Rawls' book is described as providing an alternative system of justice in the social contract tradition.

The Ariely book was on the same library shelf. One of the assumptions of economics is that people rationally pursue their best interest; this book promises to examine where we tend to be irrational, and how we can use that knowledge to make better decisions.


Several people recommended Fireproof to us, and Diana wanted to go, so we went. I enjoyed it more than I expected to; I didn't expect to enjoy it at all, though. Kirk Cameron did a good job playing the main character. The "saving the marriage" plot was handled fairly well; it was refreshing that neither husband nor wife decided to sleep with other people before deciding they really wanted to stay married. The "becoming a Christian" subplot felt forced, in that the character didn't have sufficient motivation to make that change; however, I've seen ideology hammered just as hard, and less justifiably, in secular shows (I'm thinking of a Star Trek episode in which they stood around for an hour, not taking the simple and obvious solution, so they could have some angst and then conclude "War is Bad" or something equally profound). The main thing that bothered me, actually, is that husband's parents never thought of talking to the wife.
Overall, a 4 out of 10. If the preaching had been less in-your-face, it could have been a 7.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Who would you pick?

If you could have a conversation with one person, living or dead, who would you pick?

Sunday, November 2, 2008


I've been mulling over getting a firearm or two to supplement my collection of sharp pointy objects, since it might be a bit more difficult to purchase a gun after the election. And one of our friends is considering moving to a remote area where it would be a good idea for her to keep a shotgun handy. We have a neighbors who's a Blackhawk instructor, so I asked some advice. The recommendations I got were Glock 19 pistol, Remington 870 (20 gauge, #4 buckshot) shotgun, or Armalite 15 if I wanted a rifle.

Now Reading

Just finished The Peshawar Lancers. What would have happened if a comet had hit the Northern Hemisphere in the 1870s? Stirling tells the story of a cavalry officer in the British Raj who gets entangled in a Political Service affair against a Czarist agent, against the backdrop of the Northwest Frontier, the King-Emperor's court in Delhi, airships and a multi-acre Babbage Engine. The writing is good--not great, but good--but what really makes this book notable is the flavor of India and Victorian science fiction. Don't expect soul-searching character development, but if you'd like Kipling's Kim plus an action adventure, this is the book for you.

Today's sermon

Our teaching pastor is also a lawyer so "Thou shalt not bear false witness" was interesting. Apparently in the judicial system of the time, if you accused someone and couldn't prove it to the satisfaction of the judges, they let him go and applied the punishment for his crime to you.

Taking the general principle of "don't lie", he cited a study done at University of Virginia in which people reported their conversations. If I recall the numbers correctly, the study found that people on average tell a significant lie in 30% of all one-on-one interactions, and 50% of conversations which last 10 minutes or longer. Men tend to lie to make themselves look better; women lie to make other people feel better; but they both prevaricate at about the same rate. The type of conversation which had the highest rate? College students talking to their mothers.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Recessional, by Kipling

Here in the last throes of the Presidential campaign, this seems appropriate:
The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

Now reading

The Armchair Economist: Economics & Everyday Life
Not so much a book as a series of essays, with insight to how an economist (at least one economist) approaches things. The arguments he uses are not always convincing but he's not pretending to answer everything, and it's easy to grasp--the sort of thing that you can read late at night, or get a page while you're waiting for a green light.

The Shack
The main character is flat, the writing is weak, you could cut the first couple of chapters without losing anything interesting...I put the book down several times, and kept picking up later whenever I got too curious about why is this on the best sellers list? It's because of the way the writer sees God, and God is not what you expected.

"There is a ninja in this picture"

At least three raccoons live in the tree behind our house. I've seen them wandering across the marsh, walking on our deck, hiding under my car--and now, in their home tree, watching...

First post

First we got a digital camera, then a cell phone, now a blog...My wife is even talking about getting a functional TV sometime soon, although I'm hoping to put that off for a few more years.

A good day for kayaking. Clear sky, still water, herons, gulls and ducks.