Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Views of Canada

Photos of Canada, 1858-1935. Hat tip, Marginal Revolution. A current view of Montreal would include snow--lots of snow. Brrrr....

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Definition of Politics

Politics is the business of getting power and prestige without merit. [...] Politicians are always searching for some grave alarm which will cause individuals to abandon their separate concerns and prerogatives and act in concert so that politicians can wield the baton.
--P.J. O'Rourke

Monday, April 26, 2010

Backyard birds

I took these pics this evening, from my back deck.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thomas Edison, on door handles

Last November, My Wife's Dog discovered how to pull open our sliding glass door so she can get onto the deck. She takes the door handle in her teeth and tugs, opening the door and chewing up the wooden handle. She doesn't do this every day, only when she really gets the urge to go out on the deck--which usually is during a storm.
The first handle got too chewed, so I bought a second one and sprayed it liberally with bitter apple, which the people at the pet store swore would prevent The Mutt from gnawing on the handle. They lied. She had the door open the next day.
So Diana got a third handle. Hot chili oil should work, right? So I wiped down the handle and held it out for The Mutt to sample. She tasted it, licked her chops for a minute, investigated a bit of lettuce on the floor. I expected her to suddenly dive for the water bowl or something, but she came back and started licking the handle again. So..."we haven't failed, we've found 586 ways that don't work."

April 25

1859: construction begins on the Suez Canal
1915: Battle of Gallipoli begins; commemorated by Anzac Day
1939: Batman's first appearance
1953: Crick and Watson publish their paper describing DNA

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mystery of Grace

It's been some years since I read anything by Charles de Lint, but I saw one of his books in the library the other day and picked it up. The Mystery of Grace is the story of a young Latina woman in the American Southwest who meets the love of her life; unfortunately, this happens two weeks after her death. It's listed as an urban fantasy but it's not about suburban werewolves or vampires in Seattle. The story tells how she and the people around her deal with life and the afterlife in which she finds herself. It's not epic, or complex, or profound; the premise isn't brilliantly original and the climax isn't earthshaking. It simply clear, refreshing storytelling, with a likable character who struggles to overcome her obstacles. I'll be reading more of de Lint's work.

US becoming Argentina?

Rich Rahn argues that current US policies could lead to our going down the same path that Argentina did between 1982 to 2002, including massive foreign debt, currency crises, and unemployment over 25%. Rahn points out similarities between the US and Argentine situations but doesn't (in this article) examine those same factors in other countries, and whether they necessarily lead to downfall in other countries or are just coincidence. So I'm not convinced just yet, but I think it's a possibility to keep in mind.
In the next couple of weeks I'll review a book by someone who was in Argentina during the collapse.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Criminal sheep

According to the Telegraph, two prisoners in Argentina have evaded capture by disguising themselves as sheep and hiding among local flocks.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The New Space Opera 2

The introduction to this anthology says "The true heart of science fiction has always been the space-opera story: the thrilling adventure tale of powerful rocket ships, dashing heroes, and far frontiers", but the editors seem to have forgotten that when it came time to choose the contents. I feel a story needs an interesting (and preferably likable) protagonist who makes tough choices and achieves his goal by virtue of moral courage, skill and/or wit. In addition, a science fiction story needs to be plausible other than in its fictional elements; for instance, inventing a Telepathy Machine might help you with your relationships, but it's not automatically going to get you elected President--the author had better show his protagonist learning to persuade, cajole, make deals and get votes, instead of suddenly changing from Nerd Boy to World Leader merely through putting on a hat with wires and lights. And space opera ought to have space ships, preferably in fleets, with a big special effects battle scene somewhere. What we actually get is:
  • Utriusque Cosmi (Robert Charles Wilson): the protagonist makes essentially one important decision, and the whole tale happens after that; we don't really see her tension over making the choice.
  • The Island (Peter Watts): The protagonist doesn't seem to know why she's working, so why should I care? I skipped the second half of this.
  • Events Preceding the Helvetican Renaissance (John Kessel): A decent story, except built with a completely implausible MacGuffin.
  • To Go Boldly (Cory Doctorow): okay, this was a fun story, although it's a bit of a stretch to call it "space opera".
  • The Lost Princess Man (John Barnes): Another good story, certainly science fiction, but not space opera.
  • Defect (Kristine Kathryn Rusch): This was a "spy comes in from the cold" story, and the protagonist's son had a sudden unexplained change towards the end. It didn't seem complete; it felt more like the introduction to a novel.
  • To Raise a Mutiny Betwixt Yourselves (Jay Lake): Not sure which character was intended to be the protagonist. Didn't bother finishing this.
  • Shell Game (Neal Asher): I imagine the protagonist was going to develop a goal eventually but I gave up before finding out what it was.
  • Punctuality (Garth Nix): This is the nadir of the anthology thus far. There are two characters, neither of whom has a goal, makes a decision or overcomes an obstacle; further, the Big Dumb Object is implausible and the results of using it qualify you to be a traffic controller, not Emperor despite what the author seems to think. I can't call this a story and if I could, I wouldn't call it science fiction.
  • Inevitable (Sean Williams): the author doesn't seem to have made up his mind which of his two characters is the protagonist; however, it was at least interesting enough to finish.
  • Join the Navy and See the Worlds (Bruce Sterling): Interesting although I wouldn't call it "space opera".
  • Fearless Space Pirates of the Outer Rings (Bill Willingham): Finally something that actually belongs in this anthology!
That's as much of this as I can take right now. Elizabeth Moon, John Scalzi and Mike Resnick are among the remaining authors, so hopefully things will improve.

Camera results

We got a new Canon SX120 a couple of weeks ago, with x10 optical zoom, up to x40 with digital. Here's what we get.

Ironclads AAR

Ryan hosted two Ironclads games with eight players today. The original scenario had two Confederate ironclad rams coming downriver two engage two Union monitors; in these games we used four of each. The Yankee ships are somewhat more maneuverable, have better gunners and better fields of fire; the Rebels are a bit faster and their guns are quicker to reload. Each Rebel ship also has a ram bow and a spar torpedo, which is basically a bomb on a pole attached to the bow; usually it's difficult to catch an enemy ship with a ramming attack, but when you do, it can be devastating.
And that's what happened. With twice as many ships as usual and a constricted map, the Union ships couldn't stay spread out enough. In both games, a Rebel caught a Yankee with a ram, leaving both ships immobilized; a nearby Confederate then lowered its spar torpedo and speared the hapless Yankee, sinking it in one blow. In the first game, I intended to put a spar into one Yankee but another one turned the wrong way and we met in a bow to bow mutual ram; the fact that I hadn't expected to hit him didn't keep my torpedo from blowing a fatal hole in his waterline.
A fun scenario and tense for both sides, although with eight ships, it seems to favor the boys in gray. I gather with two ships on each side, the Union tends to win, so perhaps next time we'll try it with six ships.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mickey Furman

Our neighbor Mickey Furman passed away tonight. She had diabetes, having lost one leg at the knee and half her foot on the other side; the complications had led to heart and kidney problems and she'd been in the hospital or rehab center for the last couple of months. Diana has talked with her, driven her places, picked up her medicine and dropped off her movie rentals, for years; Diana said that other than me, Mickey was the only person who really listened to her.


One is responsible for one's own life. Passivity provides no protection.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I've had a couple of people ask me what wargaming is about. Start off with a chessboard: sixty four squares, each side with identical sets of sixteen pieces, set up as mirror images of each other, and taking alternate turns of moving one piece at a time. Now let's make it more of a realistic wargame:
  • Make the board a lot bigger--say, 400 squares instead of 64.
  • Instead of black and white squares, make them different terrain types. Mostly level open ground, but some hills, others woods, rivers, roads, villages. Different types of units will move and fight differently depending on the terrain they're in.
  • Instead of each side having the same units, they may have different numbers, different types, different capabilities. One side might have lots of knights and pawns; the other side might have only a few pieces, but almost all rooks and queens.
  • They may set up differently. A player might put all his knights on his left in one game; in the next game, he might keep them back and start with his pawns halfway to the center of the board.
  • They wouldn't necessarily know what pieces the opponent has or where they start.
  • The players might get to move more than one piece at a time. Or pieces might refuse to move at all! One player may not even know which pieces the other player moves, or where.
  • When one piece attacks another, the outcome isn't certain; the defending piece might turn the tables and capture the attacking piece.
  • And to make it more interesting, instead of using stylized knights and rooks, pawns and bishops, set the piece's movement, moral, attack and defense capabilities so that the battles mimic those of a particular era, whether the Crusades or the Napoleonic Wars or modern battles. Let the player study history just by playing the game.
So, yeah, it's "playing with little soldiers"--but it's a bit more than that as well.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Things to do

Task list for today:
  • Make task list
  • Walk on the boardwalk
  • Lunch at the beach: Cajun blackened hamburger with bleu cheese
  • Figure out why girls would put a whole paragraph of text as a tattoo on their back (not complete)
  • Rearrange garden boxes
  • Stain back deck
  • Install webcam on Diana's computer
  • Get Josh to make a video call
  • Locate our outside water valve
  • Replace faucet diverter valve
  • Research building a catamaran from PVC pipe
  • Put in screen to obscure our propane tank
  • Reread rules to With God and Victorious Arms
  • Make blog entry
  • Write fiction (not complete)
  • Slay dragon (not complete)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Coleridge on Truth

A quote Dad used in his eulogy yesterday:

He who begins by loving Christianity better than truth, will proceed by loving his own sect or church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all.
--Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Friday, April 9, 2010


My grandmother Blanche Fields DeBoe passed away Tuesday, age 89. The funeral was today, in Danville. I was one of the pallbearers--first time I've done that.
Points from Dad's eulogy, on what he learned from his mother:
  • Sometimes suffering is appropriate, and you need to be able to accept it.
  • There is more than one "right" way to do things.
  • You're not the center of the universe; consider everyone else as more important than you..
  • The group you belong to is also not the center of the universe, and is not right about everything.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


My blue car was yellow with pollen this morning. Had to turn on the wipers to clear it off the windshield.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Black Company, New Space Opera

The standard default gift for me is a book store gift card. The latest acquisitions from this source were The Chronicles of the Black Company and The New Space Opera 2.
I got TNSO2 in hopes of finding new authors to follow; I didn't much care for the first entry, but there are 18 more stories to go. The ones by Scalzi and Resnick should be good, at least.
As for the Black Company...I was looking through the entries in the Hordes of the Thingsarmy lists again, and there they were: the armies of the Plain of Fear, the Lady, and the Limper. I'd read the first chapter of the first book back in college, but I'd read too much David Drake at the time and the feel was similar. Imagine Hammer's Slammers in a fantasy setting. The Black Company books are just as grim, but they're less gory, and show more imagination evident in the details.

Under the Road

For today's expedition, I dragged the kayak across the marsh to the river, then went north to the point, east to Great Neck Road, under the road, and up to Wolf Snare, where I called Diana to bring the van and pick me up. This is the first time I've been under Great Neck Road; last time I tried it, the water wasn't deep enough, but this time I set off right at high tide.
No spectacular photos, but all the pines are getting ready to drop pollen, and the fiddler crabs make a noise like a rushing wind as you walk through the marsh.
The main thing for today was getting to a place I've never been before. I hadn't looked at the map before I left, so once I got to the east of the road, I looked at the channel heading southeast and thought "I have no idea where that goes." It gave me a new appreciation for early explorers.


Back around Christmastime, we ordered a camera from at $199. Didn't get it for a week or so, called for an update, "out of stock." A couple of weeks later, it's in stock but we owe more money--which we didn't. Then it's out of stock again, no idea when it'll come in (normally I'd have cancelled the order at that point, but we had reasons not to, so we hung in there). Then it's in stock, we can get it to you before Josh leaves for Australia--except they didn't. Then it's out of stock. Then they can ship it now, once we pay the balance.--they're claiming the price is $249, and they don't have any record of what the price was back when I ordered it. Suuuure.

Best Buy had it in the store at $199, so this afternoon we picked up a Canon Powershot SX120.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Diana made pancakes this morning. I pointed out that they were exceptionally fluffy; she told me that was because she had added bacon powder. Mmmmm.....bacon.

Fear and Loathing in Politics

There have been reports lately of Tea Party members using calling people names, throwing bricks through windows, engaging in other acts of political incivility. Some of these reports are undocumented (what other people would call "lies") or omit minor details (the "right wing" militia extremist who voted Democrat for eight elections in the last ten years), but some are correct; because of that, we are being told to regard Tea Partiers and other small government as mouth-breathing knuckle-dragging angry ignorant uneducated racist white bigoted redneck Neanderthal psychopaths who are a threat to us all.
However, while we're panicking over Tea Partiers, we must not lose sight of two other groups of even more dangerous rabid crazed killers and extremists--namely, journalists and politicians. According to an alert issued by The Media Violence Project / Center for the Study of Political Sociopathy, large numbers of journalists have been accused of everything from animal cruelty to premeditated murder. Politicians, it need hardly be said, have been accused of even more heinous crimes. Just as a few Tea Party brick-lobbers prove the whole movement is made up of gun-toting rednecks, so too do the examples of journalistic and political depravity prove that every member of either pursuit is criminal to the core. I urge you to read "Journo-politico Violence: Deadly Threat or Menacing Trend?", and then stock up on guns, ammo, and...more ammo, I guess.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Lords of the Sea

Lords of the Sea was written by Alfred Thayer Mahan, the author of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History. I hadn't realized that at first, but the writing style is distinctive; it takes a bit of getting used to, which is why I'm just finishing the book now despite having gotten it for Christmas. Lords covers the careers of six notables of the Royal Navy: Hawke, Rodney, Howe, Jervis, Saumarez, and Pellew. He considers the first four to be notable admirals; he says that Saumarez and Pellew, while excellent captains, didn't have the gift for being in overall command. Oddly, no chapter is devoted to Nelson, although Mahan does say that Nelson wasn't as skilled at ship-handling as, say, Saumarez; you don't have to be able to drive the ship to know where it should go.

Speaking of things which have been unfinished since Christmas, I've finally used the Amazon certificate and ordered The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving Economic Collapse (which was written by someone who was in Argentina during its troubles 2001) and Pike and Shot Tactics (which was written by someone who was never in the Thirty Years War but I hope it will be informative anyway).

Thursday, April 1, 2010


We were looking at fondue recipes for a slow cooker.

Version 1: Greyere, fontini, dry white wine, dry mustard, a tablespoon of flour, cubed focaccia bread.

Version 2: Velveeta, cheddar soup, a bottle of beer, a dash of tabasco and two drops of liquid smoke.


Had my 47th birthday yesterday. Hat tip to Tom for pointing out that next year I'll be 30, in hexadecimal notation.
My co-workers know I play a tauren druid in Warcraft, so my gifts from them included "Tauren Trail Mix" (mixed nuts and dried cranberries) and "Druid Bars" (also known as Payday bars, which have no chocolate and are therefore about the only candy bar I can have). They also had carrot cake, and Diana brought another cake by at lunch, so I got my full supply of carbs for the day.
Several people asked me if I had plans for the evening. My answer was "Not that I know of....but my wife likes to surprise me." Joshua called from Australia to say hello, and helpfully suggested that we go wild, and possibly even mix a little regular coffee with the decaf that evening. Thanks, son. He also said that his girlfriend wanted to pass along her greets, so, "Happy birthday from Us." That "Us" took me aback...I just wasn't quite ready to hear that.
And at six o'clock, as I was finishing work, a man in a suit came to my office door and said, "Mr. DeBoe? I have something outside for you." So, wondering what it was--a huge batch of flowers? A firing squad?--I looked outside, and behold, there was a white stretch limo, with Diana inside, a bottle of wine, and Doobie Brothers hits playing on the sound system. Took me completely by surprise. We went to Vintage Tavern in Suffolk, where Diana had seared tuna on a warm arugula salad with roasted grapes; I had bourbon-molasses glazed baby back ribs; and dessert was Bailey’s ice cream. Then back to work to pick up my car, home again, and a quiet evening.