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."