Friday, January 30, 2009

Politics, wolf style

Responding to the comment on the Condo Meeting post, let me just say: democracy is not so the people can vote for what they want; democracy is so the people can vote for what I want.

Nashville day one

Flew from Norfolk to Charlotte and managed to catch the Charlotte to Nashville flight, although I was the last person to board except the standbys. Jon took me to a Kurdish place for lunch, House of Kabob on Thompson Lane--highly recommended. I ate twice as much as I should, enjoyed every bite, and made sure we got a box for the remainder. (I did not actually make any threats to my sister in law when she expressed interest in the box; I merely pointed out that touching it would not be in her best interests). Then we toured Fort Negley, and stopped on the way home to get ingredients for the chicken cordon bleu which Jon is making right now.

Thomas Paine

"He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself." -- Thomas Paine

hat tip: Tom Barclay


Going to Nashville for the weekend to visit my brother, his wife, and their kids. My co-worker said "exercise restraint" but then hastily clarified that does not mean I can duct tape any of the kids to the wall. I'd have thought that's what "exercise restraint" means.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Third night in jail

Our friend called tonight, and sounded much better than she did Tuesday. Not "good"--she still sounds timid and uncertain--but "better". They won't let her see her address book so it's a good thing she can remember our phone number; there are other people she'd like to call but when you're used to having contacts in your cell phone, how many numbers do you remember?
They will release her at either 5am or 7pm on the 15th, with no indication which it will be. Given that we're trying to arrange her plane tickets, I 'd have to say that the system is not as user-friendly as it could be. Not that they're going out of their way to make it difficult, but they're also not going out of their way to make it easy either. I think a little more servility on the part of our public servants would be a good thing.
Good news is that she's sounding better. And while the official rule is one book a week, she said she's finished two novels in the past two days, so that's good. We've ordered a couple more for her.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Not here, but at George Mason they got a couple of inches. Josh ambushed his art professor with snowballs, then retreated with the professor in hot (or perhaps cold) pursuit, then ducked around a corner and ambushed him again. There's something of the nomad horseman in that boy.
Josh's typical winter attire is board shorts, a tee shirt and hoodie. We finally prevailed on him to add jeans and a sweater to that mix, but tonight he called to let us know that he was wearing a tee shirt and making a snow angel. "You can take Josh out of the shorts, but you can't take the shorts out of Josh."

Condo Meeting

Our condo association needs to remodel the outside of the buildings, and tonight was the meeting to choose what color the siding was going to be. Out of about 130 owners, twelve showed up.

There were eight different choices, ranging from olive to grey to the beige we have now to a lemon yellow. Since I knew what colors I wanted to avoid, and since at least five people were talking at once, I took the opportunity to use my Jedi mind powers to manipulate the result. "Does anyone want that bright malaria yellow?" As you'd expect from a random distribution, 1.5 people voted for it and everyone else said no. We threw that out. "How about that dark swamp green?" Again, 2.4 in favor, the rest against. I kept whittling down the field--sometimes helped by simply saying in a firm voice "Who wants zombie grey? Okay, you can throw that out, nobody wants grey" and ignoring the fact that 4.25 people did want grey--until we got to two choices. At that point I got outvoted seven to five, but since I'd nudged things to help ensure that both of the final choices were colors I'd be happy with (and were nearly identical), I didn't mind "losing".

First night in jail

Our friend had her first night in jail last night, and called us this evening. Before she turned herself in, she had a drink with schnapps (possibly more than one, there was noise in the background and it was hard to hear her); apparently because of the alcohol, they put her in the holding tank overnight. Bare concrete, urine on the walls and floor, no bed. Put your blanket in the cleanest spot you can find and use your shoes for a pillow. Try to sleep, on the cold concrete with the lights on all night and one of the inmates in another block yelling.
Today she went to a regular cell, which has beds with some padding--"as thick as six layers of toilet paper". It's a lot drier there than here, so she needs chapstick and eye drops and skin lotion. You can order that sort of thing from the commissary, but not till Saturday, and they arrive Thursday, halfway through her sentence. She had taken the things she needed, plus notepaper and pen and such, but she couldn't bring anything in with her.
She sounded exhausted and scared, as if she was having to work at it not to break into tears.
There is some good news, though. The other women who are in with her are mostly in their forties, and don't seem to be troublemakers. She said "Everyone is very nice", although I'm not clear whether she meant the staff or the inmates or both. And she may get out a day or so early for good behavior. Even getting out six or seven hours early would let her catch a plane home that evening.

Aging to Uncertainty

An interesting post by Tom at Ante Aurorum Tenebrae , starting "I've noticed as I get older - unlike most of the older folks I know - I become less sure of myself and of the things I know." As for me, once I found out about confirmation bias, I started--slowly, gradually--becoming less dogmatic and more inclined to think that the other side just might have a point.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rare Scrabble victory

Diana and I play Scrabble whenever the sting of my previous defeat has worn off. Tonight, though, I'm documenting for posterity that I won, 340 to 290. That will console me during the next dozen or so games.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

If you were a Box

If you were a box, what kind of box would you be? What size, material, decoration? What were you designed to hold? What's inside?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Murphy's of Virginia Beach

We went there for brunch after church this morning. The price was reasonable, but that's about all I can say for it. You have to go through the smoking section to get to the non-smoking section or the restrooms; the haze was thick enough that I had to change clothes as soon as I got home. The morning's special was a rubbery ham and cheese quiche, dry biscuits, and lukewarm fried potatoes. I don't need a waitress hovering at my shoulder every minute, but it would have been nice if she'd come back once or twice to see if we needed anything. I eventually asked another waitress for a coffee refill, but I never got it. And they charged us an extra line item for something which was supposed to be included in the breakfast--nothing major and I'm sure it was an honest mistake, but not endearing. Not recommended.

Sherry Cake

Diana has made half a dozen of these over Christmas, and they've been well received.

Sherry Cake
1 box Duncan Hines golden butter cake mix
4 eggs
1 small package vanilla instant pudding
1/2 c cooking oil
1/2 c water
1/2 c pale dry sherry
Mix all ingredients 3 minutes until well blended. Bake in lightly greased Bundt pan at 325 degrees for approx 50 minutes.

1/2 c sugar
1/2 stick margarine (not butter)
2T sherry
2T water
Mix these ingredients, boil for 1 minute, then spoon glaze over hot cake. Let cool for 20 minutes, then serve.

After action report: Fleet Battle off Hango, 1743

Mark Campbell hosted a 24-player Close Action game this weekend, and chose a battle which could have happened in 1743 if the Swedish admiral had been more aggressive. Both fleets start with fourteen ships in line ahead, close hauled, with the wind coming over the starboard bow. The winds are light, the sea is calm. Both fleets are almost exactly the same strength; the Russians have slightly better morale, while the Swedes have the wind gage. It was a very well balanced battle.
I was selected to play the Swedish admiral commanding both the fleet as a whole and the center of our line, with subordinate admirals in charge of our van and rear squadrons. The admiral isn't usually in the lead ship, and the rest of the squadron is usually supposed to follow the lead ship, so that captain also has a lot of influence in determining where the squadron goes. In this game, the leader of our center squadron was Joshua.
As soon as the game started, we turned to get closer to the Russians and I signaled which ship I wanted Josh to attack. The enemy van faded away from us but kept going in the same general direction; my van got a little too far ahead of them but swung around and cut them off. At the same time Josh broke through the enemy line exactly where I had signaled him to, and the rest of the center squadron followed to attack. The Russian rear and part of the center, eight ships in total, were straggling behind, so I ordered the Swedish squadron, with five ships, to break off their attack. This meant that the ships actually in combat were 9 Swedes against 6 Russians, which is about the best that a commander could hope for. The enemy van fell back towards their center, which meant they passed by Josh's ship and pounded on it pretty hard; but our van came along in hot pursuit. Josh's ship was dismasted and immobile but as he put it, "I don't need to move, I have targets right here."
Around turn 9, both van squadrons passed through or just downwind of the action in the center, and the Swedish rear cut across and engaged the Russian rear. I sent a signal to the fleet "Blood for Odin!" and things rapidly devolved into a general melee--which means that ships were headed in every direction, almost everyone had a target at point blank range, and it was a tangled mess. A Swedish ship caught fire and tried to get in among the Russians, but before the fire spread to the enemy, the crew put it out and gave up the fight. Shortly thereafter a Russian--the one Josh originally attacked--hauled down his flag. One of our leeward ships got overeager and fell in among six Russians, but rescuers came in the nick of time and he was able to crawl off with the Swedish flag still flying. To windward, two Russians did the same thing but separated from their squadron, they got trapped among Swedes and couldn't escape. Some of the leeward Russians were starting to edge away from the battle when Mark called the game after twenty turns. I had to leave before the post-game conference but I believe the final tally was that both sides had several ships severely damaged, but the Swedes won the day and captured four Russians. It was a close battle, and very enjoyable.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Now Reading

I'm not actually reading all of these right now, I've mostly finished them and have just been remiss in blogging.

The Gripping Hand by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, summarized at the linked Wiki article. This is the sequel to the classic "first contact with an alien race" novel The Mote in God's Eye. This one was enjoyable, and had an interesting space battle; however, it's more about diplomacy and conniving, with less sense of wonder than Mote.

We Few, by John Ringo and David Weber. The cover lists Weber first but I'd bet Ringo did most of it, aside from some of the space battle scenes which bear Weber's usual "millions of missiles" imprint. This is the fourth book in the series that starts with March Upcountry, and you really have to have read the first three to know what's going on--which I have, but not lately. One key point which I'd forgotten is that Prince Roger is not just unreasonably strong and fast because of Authorial Favor; he's actually bioengineered and there's a good reason for it. If you've read the first three, you'll want to read this one.

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs is the story of a skinwalker (and auto mechanic) who's trying to deal with the werewolf and vampire subcultures in Washington State. There were a couple of times when I felt the author gave a character a special power in the midst of things--"it turns out that, in addition to being a shape shifter, you're immune to some forms of magic"--but overall it was enjoyable.

Second to None by Alexander Kent. This is number 24 in the Bolitho series, and is more of a "Now not reading" book. Some of the earlier ones were good--not as good as the Hornblower series, but enjoyable. In this one, however, there's no action for the first couple of chapters; instead, you have pretty much all the major characters from the first 23 books, reminiscing about what happened in previous books. "Alice saw Bob, and remembered how Bob's mistress Charlotte had looked when they had rescued her. But then Charlotte had gotten pregnant by Bob's uncle Daniel, and jumped off a cliff when the baby died. Alice remembered how lovely and sad Elizabeth, Daniel's sister, had looked when they brought in the ...." and so on and on and on. I felt like saying "Okay, okay, everyone knows everyone. Now someone shoot something!"

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Josh and I went bowling tonight, with Diana cheerleading. I scored an unusually high 182 in the first game, a more typical 107 in the second. It was an enjoyable and socially acceptable way to smash things and make loud noises--unlike, say, marching through with claymores, axes and bagpipes, which I might otherwise prefer. And bowling requires just enough concentration to keep your mind off other things. The only problem was that Pinboys is not smoke-free, and the haze was thick enough that I had to change clothes when we got home.

Going to Jail

Not me, but a dear friend of ours. We knew there was a chance of this, but there was a motion to suppress evidence from an illegal search, and the judge had ruled in favor of the defense on a similar case recently. Not this time, though.
Finding out was like a block of ice in the pit of my stomach--and that was just me. I hate to even think about how she felt when her lawyer called: "Next time you come out here, you need to be prepared to stay for 30 to 60 days." Yeah, well, staying isn't the problem. I happened to have been reading a legal novel in which the main character went to jail and was traumatized by the experience. The problem is the body cavity search (which would be "sexual assault" in other contexts), it's not being able to bring books, it's not having any choice about who's sleeping in the cell with you, it's people watching you shower and use the toilet, it's wondering every day whether you will get stabbed or beaten up, it's not having any choice about what you do, or when, or what you wear, or anything else. I know the author of that legal novel researched the Virginia Beach jail; hopefully the one our friend will actually be going to, in a small resort town, is better.
And she's not going to somewhere nearby, where at least we could visit every day; it's in Utah, with none of her friends or family nearby.

AAR: Pourvoyeuse vs East Indiamen

Ater action report for a Close Action game, scenario from Monsoon Seas. In the original action in 1782, the French frigate apparently plinked for two hours and decided the Indiamen were too tough for her. I always thought that the French captain was...perhaps not cowardly, exactly, but certainly not as bold as he could have been. I found out why.
Josh played the four HEIC ships, which start in a straggly line close hauled on the starboard tack. I played Pourvoyeuse, beating upwind on the port tack and headed to intercept the lead Indiaman. The aggressive merchantmen closed on me, moving to envelope my frigate. His first shot caused "leadership casualties" and of course I failed the morale check, dropping from C to D quality. I realized that if I were in the midst of them, they could all shoot at me and I could only shoot at one of them, and probably not the same one all the time. Therefore I ran downwind, trying to get outside of the mob; but one of them accidentally rammed me and fouled, and by the time I got unfouled, the others had boxed me in. I nearly escaped, but Berampore charged over and cut me off. Her gunnery wasn't much of a threat but I had to heave to to avoid a collision, and again the other Indiamen had shots at me with fresh broadsides.We ended the game at turn 14 with Pourvoyeuse at E quality, her Basic Gunnery starting at an 18 factor at range 1, but reduced by -3 for a crew section, -2 fatigue, -2 crew quality, and -4 guns dismounted, for a whopping net 7 gunnery factor. The frigate had lost 1 rigging, 2 hull, and 1 sailor, for a total of 13 points to the English. The HEIC flag had lost 2 masts and a hull, and the Berampore had lost a hull and was on fire, giving a total 5VP to the French. I'm told this scenario is a lot more realistic, and easier for the frigate, with the Indiamen divided among two players. Nonetheless, we had a good time.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Goals for the Year

For 2009:
I'm going to write 5000 words per month, 60,000 words this year.
I'm going to learn about stocks sufficiently to pass the Series 7 exam and begin trading. (I realize you don't have to know anything about stocks to trade).
I'm going to get my weight down to 190lb.

Invisible improvements

This house is a bit colder than our previous place, for several reasons. One reason turned out to be that when the builder put in the stove power outlet, he cut a piece about 9 x 12" out of the wallboard, and didn't bother to cover that space back up. Cold air has been coming out of that opening, which means you can stand on the kitchen tiles and watch frost form on your toenails.
I've just spent an hour pulling the stove away from the wall, getting out the saw, getting out the ply wood, measuring, cutting, nailing the piece in place, then putting everything back. This has made absolutely no visible change at all, but I know it's an improvement.
In many areas, I just need to keep making invisible improvements.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Battle, and Queen Victoria's Little Wars

Battle: a Visual Journey Through 5000 Years of Combat and Queen Victoria's Little Wars.
Battle is fairly graphics heavy, with three or four portraits and illustrations per page. Opening the book at random to page 160-161, it uses those two pages to cover Ramillies, Malplaquet, Dettingen, Fontenoy and Culloden--each one with date, location marked on a map of Europe, plus estimates of forces and casualties for each side, plus a couple hundred words on the course of the battle and its consequences--as well as a brief description of the Duke of Marlborough. That's fairly typical, although occasionally you get a page or two with something like an overview of the Hundred Years War, or Nelson's navy.
Little Wars picks several campaigns and tells their story, with attention to the interesting people who participated. It doesn't tell how many men and guns were on each side, nor give maps of the battlefields; instead of tells about people like the British lady who rode along with a cavalry charge in the Crimea to see what it was like, and a battle in the Indian Mutiny in which the two British commanders both outranked each other.