Friday, February 26, 2010

Grand Canyon

On this day in 1919, much of the area around the Grand Canyon was designated as a National Park.


Remember when every liberal was horrified at how the Patriot Act trampled on our civil rights? I told a friend of mine "The Dems are against it now, but if they get in power, they'll suddenly decide it's not all that bad after all." Sure enough, the extension passed today.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Indian History

We don't hear much about Indian history before the Honorable East India Company took over, but I'm starting to read about the rise of the Maratha Empire, Anglo-Mysore wars, and the Anglo-Maratha wars.
Now what I need is a wargame that covers the period.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

AAR: Yazoo River, 1862

Three showed for play of IRONCLADS scenario 5 "First Encounter". This is an 1862 action with the rebel ram Arkansas steaming down the Yazoo river in Mississippi, meeting three Yankee warships: the armored Carondelet, a smallish wooden ram Queen of the West and the tiny tinclad Tyler. It is an intense and bloody action on a very narrow river with lots of shoals and ramming possibilities--some points of the river are only two or three spaces wide. The Confederate goal is to simply get Arkansas off the downriver map edge; the Union goal is stop it. We played the scenario twice.

First play through was with me playing Carondelet, Bob taking the two wooden vessels, and Ryan as the Arkansas. The Union send Queen of the West to lead, letting her heavily armored bow soak up Confederate shot. This worked up to the point where Arkansas rammed and crippled her. Carondelet gave Arkansas a ram in return, doing minor damage but slowing her. The rebel ship pushed through and moved downriver, with Carondelet and Tyler in a stern chase, chipping away at the Confederate armor. Tyler was badly damaged by return fire and was unable to close enough to get a decisive shot. however, through some good gunnery and several stern rams, Carondelet managed to put Arkansas under at the last minute. Hard fought and very close. Ryan said he misplayed his gun ammo type--you want solid shot for attacking the Carondelet and shell for the two wooden ships, but to do that you have to be able to guess which guns are going to be able to fire at which targets.Just a couple of turns of the right ammo type could easily have disabled Carondelet's bow guns, which would likely have let Arkansas get away.

In the second play through, I took the rebel ironclad. I decided not to waste time with fancy maneuvering, but to rely on my heavy ram to just plow through them if need be. The Union again led with Queen of the West, which Ryan maneuvered quite well; he forced me into a bow-to-bow ram, which did a lot of damage to me although it crippled Queen. I sank her with gunfire while Carondelet came around the river bend. Carondelet attempted to ram me, but excellent Confederate gunnery (i.e., really good dice) at point blank range shot off her ram and punched holes her hull, resulting in a boiler explosion; she took on water and grounded herself on a shoal to avoid sinking. At the same time, more excellent gunnery (more good dice) set Tyler ablaze; I followed up with a ram and put her under. Arkansas had taken quite a bit of self-inflicted damage from the rams and was low in the water, but she was still mobile and able to steam safely downriver to victory.

Two great games in about 4 hours of play. I'm not much into US Civil War history, but the maneuvering constraints of a narrow river and fast current make this a really interesting scenario.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Josh departure

Josh is off to Australia.
He had an art project to finish from last semester, and spent a little too much time in December on Call of Duty rather than his actual duty, so he was up till around 4am Thursday morning with paintbrush and charcoal. We got up at 6am, got on the road at 6:40, and made the trip in three hours. With DC traffic, that trip is just as likely to take five hours, as it did for our drive back. Thankfully, we got there in time to meet Josh's professor and turn in his project. Then we packed all the paintings and drawings back in the car, waited while Josh visited with friends--Diana took a nap in the car, I tried to finish reading my new John Ringo book, Live Free or Die--and thence to the airport.
He was booked on a Qantas flight, which would have been operated by American, which had cancelled the flight and re-booked Josh on United, which said that extra bag will be $200, please. We pointed out that our ticket was with Qantas and Qantas had said it would be $135, but the ticket agent said "my plane, my rules". Took Josh to the "ticketed passengers only" point, exchanged hugs, and took a couple of pictures as he headed to the gate. Then Diana and I headed home, quite slowly thanks to the aforementioned DC traffic. I could have, while "driving", read more of Live Free or Die, if I hadn't selflessly given it to Josh.
Josh called a few minutes ago from LAX to say that he'd arrived and found the gate for the trans-Pacific leg. He'll be leaving at 11:45pm on Thursday, Los Angeles time, and arriving at 7:45am Saturday, Brisbane time, so he's missing Friday (although from our point of view, he arrives at 4:45pm Friday).
edit: He called via Skype on Saturday night (our time) to say that he has arrived, gotten unpacked, met people, and had to leave in a minute to go play Australian football.

Absolute zero

Among other things, this article answers "where is the coldest place in the Solar System?", and the answer is not what you probably think.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Country Clubs

Why is it called a "country club" when the most country-like aspect is the golf course? Why not add steeplechase and polo and skeet shooting or pheasant hunting--ideally, all at the same time? "Fore!" blam! "I say, Carruthers, good shot...what's that? One must play each fragment of the golf ball separately?" I can see the fox hunters in a melee with the polo riders, with occasional golf balls taking a toll of both sides.

And then it hit me

Josh said he doesn't recall the train of thought that led him to this, but while he was in church this morning it hit him that "In four days I'll be on a plane, for twenty one hours, going eleven thousand miles, to a place where I won't understand what anyone's saying."

Saturday, February 13, 2010


What is this, the fourth time this year? Granted, it's not much, just enough to cover the decks and the grass and none on the road, but still....snow?

Well, we're bundling (or, in my case, pundling) up with parkas and mukluks and heading to Palmyra Va; Mom and Dad are at my sister's place and this is our first chance to see them since they went to Africa last April. We'll try to avoid the glaciers.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"No expectation of privacy"

The Federal government is trying to claim that it has the right to find out where we've been, based on cellphone information. The theory is that because the cellular company has to know where we are, that we have no expectation of privacy and the government should be able to know as well. In a word, no. I entered into a contract with the company with the expectation that they would keep my information private; furthermore, the government is restrained, in ways that a company would not be, by the Fourth Amendment. It's a little thing called the Constitution--ever heard of it?

The Mongols in Baghdad

On January 29, 1258, the Mongols began a siege of Baghdad. The Abbasid caliph had refused the Mongol call to surrender and insulted Hulagu Khan, who determined to make an example of him. On February 10, the city surrendered; the Mongols spent the next week massacring the citizens and destroying the city. They slew at least 90,000 people--men, women, children--and piled the heads in four pyramids around the city; the Caliph himself was rolled in a carpet and trampled to death. The Mongols also destroyed the irrigation canals that supported the farms around the city. Baghdad was depopulated and took centuries to recover.


Few posts this week because we've been busy getting Josh ready to go to Australia. Dealing with things like:
  • can an LG Dare phone work in Oz? No, it's CDMA, no SIM card.
  • How can I make sure Josh has money? Wachovia has some quirks but I called yesterday and this morning FedEx delivered a check drawn on a Sidney bank; and tomorrow I'll get some currency as well.
  • What current, and will he need a transformer? 220-240, and probably just an adapter.
  • Can he take his laptop without paying customs duty? This one had us banging our heads on the wall because the information on the Australian embassy site is unclear, but eventually the answer turned out to be "yes".
  • Are you actually registered for classes? Yes. Well, no. Maybe. No. Yes. Okay, really yes now.
  • What size and weight of luggage can he take? Take the width, length and depth. Does that add up to 62? Wait, this get 50 kilograms. No, 23 kilos. Maybe 28kg. No, it's 108 inches total between two suitcases. Wait, there are different rules for "overseas" versus "to or from the US." How about the scuba gear? You can check in extra stuff as long as you do after the preceding full moon and before two hours before checking in unless you check in electronically, as long as it's measured in cubits and pre-Revolutionary French units of weight. Grrr.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl

It's been ages since I've watched a Super Bowl, but our pastor was having a party at his house and Josh invited me to go along. I may have been there to contrast with Josh--he had a fleur de lis painted on his face and was the most gung ho fan there. It was a good game, and it was nice to see the Saints pull off the onside kick and come back from behind. We noticed both quarterbacks were well-protected--the Saints never got through to Manning at all; Brees got dragged down once but it wasn't a solid hit.
Most amusing comment, from one of the college guys there, to Josh and me: "Are you two roommates?"
Best comment on a commercial--the Budweiser one where the Clydesdale and the cow are friends: "Budweiser Milk!"
Best commercial: Tim, the Dorito Samurai.


He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8

Saturday, February 6, 2010


When you play a wargame, you want to win--but you don't want to win too quickly. When you wipe out the enemy in less time than it takes to set the game up, it makes for a good story, but it's a bit disconcerting.
In this case, we're talking about Wellington, a card-driven game dealing with the Peninsular War. The 1812 scenario starts with Wellington himself--along with 5 British units, an allied Spanish general and one Spanish unit--besieging the French-held fortress at Ciudad Rodrigo. In the first turn, first segment, the British announce an assault on the fortress. The French play the Cavalry Raid card; the British count their units in the space, roll that many d6s, and lose a unit for every roll of 6. There are two leaders and six troops, so the Brits roll eight dice, and turn up four 6s--half the army is wiped out before the first siege gun fires! The Brits remove the one Spanish unit and three Redcoats, leaving the Iron Duke and two British units to conduct the siege. They roll eight dice against the French fortress and score zero hits. The French roll three dice in return....three hits! That destroys the rest of the British force, including Wellington; only the Spanish general is left. There are British and Spanish forces elsewhere on the map, but the shock of losing the main field force, in what should have been an easy win, demoralizes the Allied player.
The game does look like a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to a more complete playing of it.

More snow

Most of last weekend's snow melted during the weekend; however, the rain this morning gradually became snow showers, and now it's snow. It doesn't seem to be sticking to the roads, but the grass and cars are covered.
Barbra's son flew from here to Philadelphia yesterday, but his second flight was cancelled, and then the airline said that Saturday's flights were also cancelled and Sunday wasn't looking all that promising either. It was looking like he might have to camp at the airport--no flights home, and Greyhound and Amtrak shut down as well--but he eventually managed to rent a car and drive through the night.
Some of Josh's friends have reported 24 to 30 inches around Washington DC, and over a thousand weather-related traffic accidents.

Breaking two squares

On July 23, 1812, two Anglo-German cavalry brigades, total 1800 men, attacked 4000 French infantry at Garcia Hernandez in Spain. The French formed battalion squares, which usually was sufficient to defend against enemy horsemen. In this battle, however, the King's German Legion dragoons pressed their attack so closely that when the French fired, a mortally wounded horse caromed into the square, knocking men over and opening a gap. A German captain rode into the opening, his troopers followed, and the square broke. A second battalion saw this disaster, faltered under the KGL's attack, and also broke. Anglo-German losses were about 55 killed and 65 wounded; French losses were 200 killed and wounded, 1400 captured.

Living in the future

I was driving to work the other day when a pair of Raptors passed overhead, and thought "Those are one step away from being space fighters."
Just to add to that feeling, I saw reports of ultra hard diamonds, liquid glass coatings, and metal foam. And these are not being treated as front-page, earth shaking news--they're "just" material science results, not something to go crazy over. "Did you hear we discovered ultra hard diamonds?" "Really? Cool. Who do you like for the Super Bowl?"
We are living our lives in a science fiction story.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Quantum Sheep Haiku

Or at least that's what the poet is calling it. The idea is, you spray paint sheep with words for a haiku--one word per sheep--and let the sheep wander around while you take notes on the arrangements. It doesn't actually have anything to do with quantum mechanics, but saying "randomly arranged words " probably wouldn't have gotten her the GBP2000 grant that "quantum sheep haiku" did. Hat tip Marginal Revolution.

More books

Not only did Josh outdo me this weekend in the categories "Frigid Temperatures Endured", "Snowball Battles Won" and "Snowshoe Travel", he also trounced me in "Books Acquired". Diana's aunt is moving and Josh got to rummage through her late husband's library, and came back with eight cases of books. He was only able to smuggle a few volumes back on the plane with him, including:
  • Oliver Warner's Great Sea Battles (which includes a chapter on Suffren v Hughes)
  • History of the Regiments and Uniforms of the British Army
  • The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico
  • Even the Brave Falter (a subaltern's experience with the 7th Ghurkas in WW2)
  • The Empire and the Army (both British, of course)
  • Fair Dinkum (forty years of an Australian's world travels)
  • British Military Uniforms
  • Heraldry in War
  • Australia: the Fifth Continent.
By contrast, I picked up three Terry Pratchett books and Saberhagen's An Old Friend of the Family.