Friday, October 29, 2010

NaNoWriMo Pre-Kick-Off Party

The party was held tonight at Kelly's Tavern, Pembroke Mall. A bit more than thirty people total, possibly more since people kept drifting in.. I met Sam 1.0 (later revised to Sam Beta, which I further revised to Sam With Undocumented Features), Sam 2 and her husband Steven (martial arts instructors), Taylor the chimney sweep, Selena, Beth, Jessica the clown, Robert, Nathaniel, Robin and Alix (the Metro Liaisons), Ellen, Kara, Betsy with a great smile, and several others. Some were shy, some wired, most friendly, a couple flaky.  A few people, including me, attended in costume--we had a jedi, a couple of steampunks, one sort-of-medieval, a gypsy dancer, a Harry Potter student, and a tempest in a corset. And all of them -- us! -- vowing to write 50,000 words in a month.

The photo is from my office party rather than the NaNo party, but the same outfit.  

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The latest Miles Vorkosigan book, Cryoburn, is out. I have it on order from Amazon, but it hasn't arrived yet, so I read the first hundred pages at Borders.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


My grandmother had congestive heart failure. Went to the hospital, where they drained 2 liters of fluid and sent her home. She said she's "perfect", but Mom and Dad are cutting their stay in Africa short--Dad is a physician at a mission hospital in Zambia, and they were supposed to be there until early December.

Jury duty

I've been selected for jury duty every Tuesday in November. I was selected once before, years ago, and had to show up a couple of times, but never had to hear a trial. Hopefully it'll be much the same this time.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Santa Catarina

Played a Close Action game, hosted by Tracy Johnson in Newport News. The scenario was #3 "Santa Catarina Island" from the Monsoon Seas book. In 1777 the Spanish and Portuguese were at war, and the Spanish occupied Santa Catarina, off the southern coast of Brazil. The Portuguese sent as squadron to challenge the Spanish, but historically, the Spanish squadron declined to come out and fight; they just sat there, protected by shore batteries, until the Portuguese sailed away. Today's game presumes that the Spanish took action. I was selected to be the Portuguese commodore.

One of the key factors in this game is that none of my subordinates were experienced players. Aside from my lead ship, nobody did anything drastically wrong; however, there were times when I had to maneuver in ways that weren't ideal, simply because that was the only way I could be sure my teammates wouldn't accidentally run into me. It was a subtle effect, but it had a major influence. I also have to say that I was dismayed when I realized exactly what I had to work with. At one point I sent out the signal "Portugal expects every man will do his duty"--an obvious play on the most famous naval message in history, Nelson's signal at Trafalgar. Not one of my teammates knew what I was talking about.

The Portuguese had five ships, a little smaller than the Spanish but with better crews and better maneuverability. The Spanish had six ships. Both sides started close hauled, with the Spanish downwind of us. My plan was to send our first two ships around the head of their line and attack from both sides; their plan, as I later heard it, was to avoid that by having their lead ships curl around and head back in the direction they came from. As it happens, both plans worked. We kept formation better at first, but both sides broke up when first contacting the enemy. After some confusion, we reformed line and the enemy had two parallel lines. Since you can't fire through friendly ships, normally this would mean that their downwind line wouldn't have anyone to shoot at; however, our lead ship bravely (foolishly, suicidally) sailed into the midst of them. He got pretty thoroughly shot up and set afire, which he entirely deserved. Fortunately the Spanish admiral collided with one of my ships and that distracted the enemy enough that my errant captain could put out his fire and limp off. A few rakes, combined with low Spanish morale, forced their flagship to surrender. Time was called at that point, after 18 turns. It would still have been a pretty even fight if we'd continued, but as it was, we'd captured an enemy ship and that gave us an edge in victory points, 65 to 44.

 Starting position, with five Portuguese under full sail near us, and six Spanish with battle sail in the distance.My ship is the Santo Antonio, in the center of the Portuguese line. Note the wind direction marker at the head of the Portuguese line.

 Halfway through the game. All five Portuguese (white labels) and the leading three Spanish ships (yellow labels) mill around in disorder, trading shots. A fourth Spaniard, lowering sail as he finally gets into gunnery range, comes in from the right. In this picture and the next, the wind is blowing the same direction as we're looking.
We've reformed a line, although I've had to sail farther than I wanted so as to be sure Belem didn't run into me. Ajuda, left of the turn card, was pursuing the Spaniard in the far left but guessed wrong as to when he'd turn. The Portuguese ship on the far side of the Spanish line is about to take fire from three ships; however, the Spanish flagship Poderoso has just collided with Belem.

The situation at the end. In this picture, the wind is from the left. Poderoso has struck; the Spaniard at the upper right has turned into the wind and is in irons; just below him, the Spanish America has been stern-raked and is leaving the battle. However, two of the Spanish ships, upper left and center right, are just getting into action and are essentially unscathed. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Halloween falls on a Sunday this year, but my office is observing it next Friday. I'm thinking of a steampunk outfit this year. Why be a mere ordinary pirates, when you can be an airship pirate?
Fire up the boilers, there's a good chap! Arm the Galvanic Discharge Cannon Mark III's, old boy, and strap your Professor Gould's Patent Photonic Death Ray at your side! Board that aether flyer and take all their gin!

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I have been volunteered to provide chili, enough for 15 people, at the church Harvest-Festival-in-lieu-of-Halloween. I'm not sure if there is a contest involved or not, but I do want to make it better than just beef and beans and canned Generic Sauce. So, what's your best chili recipe? My ideal is hot, sweet, and Texan; but submit whatever you like. The only rule is that it must not be "vegetarian chili", which is an abomination and a sin against God and man.

Photos from the Deck

A woodpecker on the pine tree behind out house, and sunset as seen from our deck--the pine is on the left in that photo.

Building Believable Characters

The Writer's Digest Sourcebook for Building Believable Characters isn't about building believable characters. Instead, it's a hodgepodge of elements of character description. 

It has one chapter on dialog, written in a Question & Answer format with six authors providing the answers. The second chapter is a questionnaire about your character, his appearance, his likes and dislikes. There's a chapter with some words in various languages in case you want to throw in a "Oui" or "Bitte", but not enough to let you use a complete phrase; another chapter lists given names and surnames by nationality, in case you didn't know that Aleksandr Popov sounds Russian and Wu Ya-chun does not. Most of the rest is a set of descriptors for character traits and appearances--for instance, under "eye color" you get a list of synonyms for "green" and "blue", for "hair style" you get things like "ducktail" and "French braid."

If you want that sort of thing and can't check this out from the library, I suppose it'd be worth the Used $2.73 price. If you want insight into creating a character's psychology and internal conflict, look elsewhere.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Repairing a Door

  Our Delicate Flower selected an inch-thick rug for the bathroom floor, to insulate her tootsies from the stone cold tiles (that she also selected). However, the bathroom door had been cut for a low clearance. Opening it forced the bottom of said door into the same physical space as the top of the rug, violating the Pauli exclusion principle and causing shockwaves in the fabric of spacetime. Something Had To Be Done.

Wielding a twenty pound maul, I struck out the hinge pins with three rapid, precise blows that would make an eighth dan kendo master weep in envy. I tossed the hardwood slab across the room, over the balcony and twenty feet above the deck, where a well-timed gust of wind dropped it perfectly in place on the sawhorses. Pausing only long enough for an anticipatory (not "evil") chuckle, I backflipped off the balcony onto the deck, and stuck the landing right by the Infrastructure of Whirling Death. With a quick pull, I fired up the 675 horsepower V12 circular saw, which is capable of slicing a medium-sized locomotive cleanly in half in less time than it would take you to correctly spell "locomotive". The saw blade was forged of a titanium-awesomium alloy, and its cutting edge moves at a significant fraction of the speed of light. A lesser man could barely have picked up this engine of destruction, but in my hands it effortlessly shaved an exact 0.50000" slice off the bottom of the door. After that, it was merely a matter of doing a little touch up work, setting the door back in place, and slapping the pins in so fast that their steel surfaces glazed and their coefficient of friction dropped to an infinitesimal degree above zero. The door now opens at a thought and there is no longer a concerns of rifts in the continuum. There are a few National Guardsmen poking around, hoping to requisition my saw and integrate it into the East Coast defense network, but those are the risks that must be shouldered by the truly awesome.


"On 12/13 May 1945 at Taungdaw, Burma, Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung [age 27, serving with the 8th Gurkha Rifles] was manning the most forward post of his platoon which bore the brunt of an attack by at least 200 of the Japanese enemy. Twice he hurled back grenades which had fallen on his trench, but the third exploded in his right hand, blowing off his fingers, shattering his arm and severely wounding him in the face, body and right leg. His two comrades were also badly wounded but the rifleman, now alone and disregarding his wounds, loaded and fired his [bolt action] rifle with his left hand for four hours, calmly waiting for each attack which he met with fire at point blank range. Afterwards, when the casualties were counted, it is reported that there were 31 dead Japanese around his position which he had killed, with only one arm.

Lachhiman Gurung received his Victoria Cross from the Viceroy of India, Field Marshal Lord Wavell on 19 December 1945."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Appreciating writing

Over the past few days, Diana spent eight hours to write an 800 word story for class. She said that in the past, she hadn't understood how I could "be writing" and not have much to show for it; now she's a lot more sympathetic.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Economic Misconceptions

What percentage of people would you expect are getting paid the minimum wage (of those who have jobs, that is)? How much has income, adjusted for inflation, gone up in the past sixty years? What's the average net profit as a percentage of sales? See Marginal Revolution

Sunday, October 10, 2010


This morning it was 10/10/10 10:10:10

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Ryan and I played Avalon Hill's Alexander the Great, which is intended to depict the Battle of Gaugamela., with Alexander's high quality Greeks on one side, outnumbered by Darius' hordes of trash on the other. In this case, it turned out that the trash wasn't all that trashy, and quantity has a quality all its own.

In the first battle, I took the Greeks. Ryan's Persians squashed my left, as happened historically; my right pushed back the Persian left but got chewed up in the process. I led my elite phalaxes in a go-for-broke attack to eliminate the King of Kings, and it worked; however, the victory conditions specified that in order to win, you have to kill the enemy king and capture both of his camps. My few remaining forces were surrounded by a sea of Persians; I might conceivably have hacked my way through to one camp, but there was no way I'd get to both. Score a win for the Persians.

For the second battle, we switched sides. Ryan did an excellent job of refusing his left flank; on his right, I managed to break his line and get a few units into the rear. His phalanxes charged, but heavy Persian archery forced two of them to withdraw. Once again, Alexander and Darius went mano-a-mano, but this time Alexander was unsupported and both kings fell. The Greek right and center were surrounded and cut up, and the Persians scored another win.

The Basic Game is obviously unbalanced in favor of the Persians. The designers are aware of that; they mention Persian morale should be lower, and there are also a number of special rules to give the Companions, Hypaspists, etc, extra abilities. 

The game design focuses on morale; you lose a little morale for each of your units destroyed, and you gain a little for each enemy destroyed. It's an interesting idea, although I'm not convinced that it's entirely realistic. Units have one combat factor for the front three hexes, half that for the two flanks, and a quarter if they're attacked from the rear. There are no "zones of control", so if you can find an opening in the enemy line, nothing will stop you from running a cavalry unit through, getting the benefit of a rear attack, and rolling up the enemy line. You're likely to lose that cavalry unit next turn, but if you're the Persians, you have plenty more where that came from.  I can't say that it felt historical, but we both had a good time.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Went down to the beach for a little bit at lunch, and saw five surfers. At least seven dolphins, swimming south parallel to shore, about fifty yards out. And what looked like a frigate, out on the horizon.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Supposedly overheard by  pilot flying from Europe to Dubai:
Iranian Air Defense Site: "Unknown Aircraft, you are in Iranian airspace. Identify yourself."
Aircraft: "This is a United States aircraft. I am in Iraqi airspace."
Air Defense Site: "You are in Iranian airspace. If you do not depart our airspace, we will launch
interceptor aircraft."
Aircraft: "This is a United States Marine Corps FA-18 fighter. Send them up. I'll wait."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Art, Music and Literature

The local events calendar listed a  Great Neck Art and Jazz event ("Great Neck" being the neighborhood, and that's "neck" as in isthmus, not giraffe). We took our neighbor Flo and spent an hour browsing. There were three or four photographers, half a dozen painters, several people with homemade earrings and necklaces, and glassware decorated with silver wire, plus live saxophone from Sam "the Sax Man" Howard.

On the way home, Diana and Flo got groceries while I visited Baxter Books and picked up:

So those plus the sax CD made a good haul.