Monday, January 31, 2011


The basic technologies of the universe include things like fire, tools, agriculture, electricity, and the gaudeamus effect. So what happens when three clowns in a flying saucer steal the gaudeamus device from a secret government lab, and they hire a pseudo-redneck Texan private investigator to find it, and the PI tells the story to his buddy who is a theater professor/science fiction writer? Well, if the professor/writer is John Barnes, you get Gaudeamus. I can't tell you more without giving away plot twists, but it's highly recommended.

Lloyd Allan Trigg

Lloyd Trigg has the distinction of receiving the only Victoria Cross to be awarded because of a recommendation from the enemy.
The citation reads:

2nd November, 1943
THE KING  has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:
Flying Officer Lloyd Allan TRIGG, D.F.C. (N.Z.413515), Royal New Zealand Air Force (missing, believed killed), No. 200 Squadron.
Flying Officer Trigg had rendered outstanding service on convoy escort and antisubmarine duties. He had completed 46 operational sorties and had invariably displayed skill and courage of a very high order.
One day in August 1943, Flying Officer Trigg undertook, as captain and pilot, a patrol in a Liberator although he had not previously made any operational sorties in that type of aircraft. After searching for 8 hours a surfaced U-boat was sighted.
Flying Officer Trigg immediately prepared to attack. During the approach, the aircraft received many hits from the submarine's anti-aircraft guns and burst into flames, which quickly enveloped the tail.
The moment was critical. Flying Officer Trigg could have broken off the engagement and made a forced landing in the sea. But if he continued the attack, the aircraft would present a "no deflection" target to deadly accurate anti-aircraft fire, and every second spent in the air would increase the extent and intensity of the flames and diminish his chances of survival.
There could have been no hesitation or doubt in his mind. He maintained his course in spite of the already precarious condition of his aircraft and executed a masterly attack. Skimming over the U-boat at less than 50 feet with anti-aircraft fire entering his opened bomb doors, Flying Officer Trigg dropped his bombs on and around the U-boat where they exploded with devastating effect. A short distance further on the Liberator dived into the sea with her gallant captain and crew.
The U-boat sank within 20 minutes and some of her crew were picked up later in a rubber dinghy that had broken loose from the Liberator.
The Battle of the Atlantic has yielded many fine stories of air attacks on underwater craft, but Flying Officer Trigg's exploit stands out as an epic of grim determination and high courage. His was the path of duty that leads to glory.

The U boat captain survived, along with six of his crew; it was on his recommendation that Trigg received the Victoria Cross.

Letter from Australia

Here's a letter from a friend of mine who lives in Tasmania:
   Thanks for the thoughts. The first cyclone thankfully hit a spot with few people, but the big one coming is heading for densely populated areas so could be a more close run thing. I'm evacuating my work team - we're here trying to assess what can be done for the reef after the floods - as riding out a major cyclone when you don't have to seems silly.
   [Her husband]'s folks have faired well to thankfully and the eastern seaboard is picking itself up fairly rapidly. There has been a huge out pouring of random acts of kindness (complete strangers turning up to help save shops or clean houses etc). Its been really amazing. Sadly our politicians have seen it as further reason to say why the other side is worse financial manager, they are just so disconnected from reality - that is all but our ex-PM Kev. A roving media team stumbled across him helping evacuate Chinese students, trousers rolled up, wading through water to his hips, rattling off in Chinese (because they spoke about no English and no idea what was happening). When he saw the reporters he tossed them bags to carry too - if you're here, you're helping.
   There have just been so many stories of amazing survival and generosity (holding onto a bike rake for 3 hours while a 7m wall of water destroyed the town around you, a 13yr old sacrificing his life so that his younger brother could be saved, 28000 people turning up to voluntarily help clean up central Brisbane) it has been a very heart lifting if trying time for the county (there is literally a state of emergency somewhere in every state in Australia, due to a mix of floods, cyclones, tsunamis, firestorms, and heat waves). That and the story of the guy who scored a VC last week has reinforced my pride in being an Aussie ;)

Here's a link for the URL in the first comment, showing the size of the storm.


The mutual funds in my 401k went up 12.9% for the past year; the real benefit is that my my employer matches 50% of what I contribute, so my actual increase is 69.35%.

And I finished our taxes today, except for a couple of minor deductions. We'll be getting more in refund than we paid in, due to mortgage deduction, education credits, and so forth and so on.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Yerba mate

Our church provides coffee, tea, doughnuts and bagels, but what do you do if you want something else? One of the guys brought along a thermos of yerba mate, which is popular in parts of South America--and at least one coffee shop here, which is where he'd discovered it. I'd never had it before, so I gave it a try. It tastes more or less like green tea, maybe with a little more grassy flavor.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tree fall

A tree fell last night on the house that Josh is renting. The tree was a victim of the Snowlocaust, which had trees down and traffic utterly snarled throughout the DC / Northern Virginia area; one of Josh's professors posted that it had taken eight hours to drive ten miles, and the news reported some people took up to thirteen hours trying to get home. The tree did no structural damage, just scraped some siding off, and no one was hurt. However, Josh had been playing a first person shooter at the time, and "Monster front! bang bang bang Monster behind! bang bang Monster front! bang bang", when abruptly supplemented by the BANG of the tree hitting, had his heart rate jump to 200 beats per minute...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Full Thrust Aero

Having recently played a game of Full Thrust (first time in a long time), and having recently listened to Abney Park's Airship Pirate, it occurred to me that FT's cinematic movement rules would be about perfect for steampunk airship battles. Instead of the standard six firing arcs, make it Fore, Aft, Port, Starboard, Ventral and Dorsal. You'd need a few modifications for dive and climb rate, maximum speed, flight ceiling, and perhaps something like "all targets in your Ventral firing arc are treated as if 50% farther away, and all targets in Dorsal are treated as if 50% closer".
Oh, and collisions, of course. Nothing like having two hydrogen-filled zeps, bristling with weapons, running into each other.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


We get name tags at church. This Sunday, I put "Gustavus Adolphus" on my tag, in the hopes that someone would see it and say something like "Oh, you're into European history too?" and go on from there. I determined that the conjunction of sets of "People Who Notice Name Tags" and "People Who Speak Up" consists of one member, who is not also a member of "People Who Recognize Gustavus Adolphus". But I tried.

What we need is a phone app that will let you put in topics that you're interested in, and your photo, and then scan the area around you for people who have that same topic on their list. If you get a hit, you see that person's photo and can go strike up a conversation. (And they see your photo, or whatever photo you've loaded).

I recall reading a science fiction story with an idea for that device, which I believe was called a "pinger", but I can't remember what story. It sounds like a Larry Niven kind of thing to come up with, but for some reason I think it was someone else.

Monday, January 24, 2011


"Now you know, and knowing is half the battle....the other half is violence."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Field of Glory Renaissance

     My Christmas gift to myself was Field of Glory Renaissance, a set of wargame rules for miniatures by Slitherine and Osprey Publishing. The book itself is a professionally laid out hardback, over 200 pages of glossy paper and with lots of photos; this is one of the rare cases where I feel a wargaming book was priced too low. I was a bit worried because one of the authors had also been involved in De Bellis Antiquitas, and that has a famously difficult writing style; however, the writing in this book is pretty clear, and there are plenty of diagrams. I used to play DBA and its sisters De Bellis Multitudinas and Hordes of the Things and they're deservedly popular. The nice thing about DBA was that once you understood it, you could fit everything you needed to play it on a page or two. There are a few things about them that bother me, though, including the rigid formations, the difficulty in having the rear ranks come forward to fill gaps, and the lack of a countercharge ability. I suspect the FoG R quick reference sheet will be longer than DBA's, but I believe it will be more realistic in the areas where DBA fails.
     The book comes with four army lists: French and Imperial from the Italian Wars of the mid 16th Century, and Royalist and New Model Army from the English Civil War. These are fairly simple armies; I expect the army books would add plenty of extra options, allies, and such. The appendix lists point costs for units, qualities and capabilities; it's not very clear how you put the factors together for the final cost, but the Slitherine forum has a downloadable spreadsheet.
     I haven't played a game with it yet, but I'll do that soon and provide an AAR. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Civil Discourse, part 2

From Blair Ivey's blog...I was going to take an excerpt, but just read the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chevalier de Bayard

Pierre Terrail, lord of Bayard (1473-1524) was a champion of France during the Italian Wars. He impressed pretty much everyone who ever met him, and earned the epithet le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche (the knight without fear and without reproach). One of his exploits was holding a town which was considered indefensible, with a force of 1000 men against a besieging force of 35,000; after six weeks, the attackers gave up.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Aluminum Show

Diana and I went to see the Aluminum Show tonight. Ninety minutes. Two big pieces of aluminum tube meet, and shortly thereafter have a baby, which wanders off and gets lost. Half a dozen energetic dancers, usually with drums, do stuff, and then do different stuff, and then more stuff. They toss fifty or sixty big aluminized mylar balloons into the audience, and the audience bounces them like beach balls, which is fun. The dancers do stuff, and more stuff, and additional stuff. They feed more aluminum tubes out into the audience, which is quite creepy if you've just finished reading anything to do with the Lovecraft mythos (I'll have a review for The Jennifer Morgue coming up soon). Then the dancers do lots more stuff, and the baby tube is reunited with the parents. The end. Some more the end. Yet additional the end. Are we done yet? Curtain calls, yeah, whatever. Finally, finally done.

I think productions should generally tell a story, and each dance routine should have something to do with the story line. This seemed like "work up twenty or thirty separate dance routines mostly involving aluminum tubes, and do them all". It was a spectacle, but I can't say it was worth seeing.

I'm going to tag this as "Movies" because I should have rented one instead.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I do not want civil discourse « Don Surber

I do not want civil discourse « Don Surber

If you let them set the rules, you've already lost. A rant worth reading.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Casino Night

My employer has started doing a Casino Night for the annual awards meeting. After the award presentations, the blackjack tables filled instantly and I wasn't interested in poker, so I was left with craps (put down the chips, roll dice, the stickman picks up your chips, repeat) and roulette (put down your chips, the croupier spins the wheel, the croupier picks up your chips, repeat). Since the winning strategy in both is "be the house", I'm not sure what the attraction is, but I expended a couple of blue chips before I handed the rest over to one of my coworkers.

Also had sushi, specifically makizushi, for the first time; now I see why the Japanese invaded China.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Saving the world

The urge to save humanity is almost always a false-front for the urge to rule it.
--H L Mencken

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On this day

in 1907, Sergei Korolev was born. Despite being denounced and imprisoned by Stalin for six years, Korolev because the leading Russian aerospace engineer and key to the Soviet spaceflight program.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Mom sent me an email asking if Virginia Beach is supposed to get snow again.

No. Virginia Beach is never supposed to get snow, ever.

The forecast, however, is that we're going to get it anyway, tonight and tomorrow, along with sleet, freezing rain, normal rain, ice pellets, and probably a couple of other types of precipitation.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Don Alejo Garza Tamez

From The New American:
On Saturday, November 13, [2010] a group of toughs arrived at Don Alejo’s ranch about 10 miles outside of Ciudad Victoria, the capital city of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Victoria, as it is now called, is about 100 miles due south of Laredo, Texas, and about 80 miles southwest of Brownsville. The ranch sits on a pretty lake where Don Alejo had lived most of his life. He was informed that he had 24 hours to vacate the premises. He responded simply that he would be waiting for them.... 
At 4 a.m. Sunday morning, several motor vehicles pulled up in front of Don Alejo’s home, with the thugs announcing their arrival by firing rounds from their weapons into the air. What happened next caught them totally by surprise...Don Alejo began picking off one after another of the attackers. 

Don Alejo was killed in the attack, but he fell with weapons in both hands; and he took six of the gang members with him. He was 77 years old.

hat tip: Badass of the Week

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Yet more snow again

It stuck to the grass but not the pavement, and it seems mostly gone now, but I'm ready for this "global warming" to kick in.

This afternoon, Josh and his buddy The Other Josh trooped upstairs, hauled down Josh's Lego supply, spread them across the living room floor and spent a couple hours building things.

Friday, January 7, 2011

How to Give Good Advice

Sometimes people will come to you for advice because you're an expert, or at least more of an expert than they are. In that case, you can simply tell them "keep a reserve of cavalry back here" or "clean it with mild soap and water first" or "if you get a retroencabulator, make sure it has a malleable logarithmic base"; if you're an expert, there's a reasonably good chance that they'll listen to you.
Sometimes, however, they come to you because you're a sympathetic (or captive) ear, and you see they're doing self destructive and are just too caught up in their situation to see it. Generally if you just come out and bluntly and directly say "You should: stop huffing methane | file bankruptcy | throw out that useless leech of a boyfriend | get at least a GED | not vote for Obama", it doesn't go over too well. What works better is to ask "If your friend or coworker was in that situation and asking for advice, what would you tell her?" They'll pause for a couple seconds, and then come out with the same advice you would have--but since it's them saying it instead of you saying it, they won't be offended at you.
I grant you that having dispensed this good advice for themselves, they still won't follow it--but you can't have everything.

Dog Visitor

Yesterday Josh took the mutt out for a walk, and came back with two mutts--a yellow Lab had followed him home. Since it was already cold and getting dark, we took her in, fed her, put up signs, and waited for someone to call. This afternoon the owner, a young lady, called and then came over...and then burst into tears. She couldn't take care of the dog properly, she was working too much, etc etc. Our neighbor was visiting us when this transpired and talked to the girl, and may end adopting the Lab. Zoe, who is about as spoiled as a dog can be and very jealous, was much relieved.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


For the first time, the Constitution was read aloud by Congress on the House floor. Rep Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) organized it.

Maybe they'll start following it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Spanish Treasure

Josh and I played a quick game of Close Action tonight, the Spanish Treasure scenario from the original scenario book. Four British frigates have intercepted the Spanish treasure shipment, which is also four frigates, and invite them to surrender; the Spanish decline, and the fight is on. The two squadrons start out parallel and at close range. Despite the fact that both sides have four frigates, the British are better quality and much stronger, at about 180 points vs the Spanish 80. On the other hand, the victory conditions favor the Spanish, who can win by inflicting enough damage on the Brits; they can eke out a draw by having a single ship escape. I played the Spanish, Josh played the Brits.
On turn one, my rear two ships attempted to sandwich the rear Brit ship; unfortunately I guessed wrong about his move and my rear ship collided with him and fouled, giving him a point blank bow rake and essentially dooming my rear ship. My lead division moved upwind to open the range from his two leaders.
On turn two, my lead ship narrowly avoided colliding with his leader; if I'd been going any faster, I would have gone crunch. As it was, I merely sailed into a point blank bow rake, but his fire didn't hurt me all that much. His second ship did collide with mine, losing a mast and fouling. I raked him, doing a little damage; his return fire, a half broadside, was a critical hit, setting my ship on fire. The damage from the destroyed a mast and a hull section, and in moments I found that my best ship had gone from a perfect position to having three of her four crew sections either dead, disorganized, or fighting the fire. My third ship took a stern rake from his third, only a half broadside but still enough to take a mast down; and my fourth was still fouled and took a beating from his fourth. My marine sections were deadly marksmen, but that wasn't enough to turn the fight.
On turn three, my #3 ship went back to help #4, although the real intent was not to stop and fight, but to fire one broadside and then run and try to escape. Unfortunately Josh's third ship turned around and gave chase--it was the obvious thing to do, but I'd hoped he might have sent it to reinforce his two lead ships. Not that they needed reinforcing, with my second ship crippled and my lead ship outgunned by two to one (and being on the short end of a 2:1 duel was my best fight in this battle).
I might have been able to get my #3 ship off the board, technically "escaped", although there's no question the British would have been able to catch it; there's also a possibility that with a few lucky shots, I might have been able to do enough damage points for a win. However, given the hour, I decided to call it a night.

Monday, January 3, 2011


The amaryllis Barbra gave me is only about nine inches high, but it bloomed over the weekend, three pink and white blossoms with a fourth in the bud..

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Viet Nam Cave

National Geographic has an article on a cave in Viet Nam, called Hang Son Doong, that is big enough to have a jungle, and clouds, inside it. One passage is 300ft wide and 800ft high. If you were ever wondering how a dragon could fit into a cave...

Full Thrust AAR, UN vs IF

Josh and I had a Full Thrust action today, pitting a UN squadron against an Islamic Federation patrol. Both sides had 1900 points; the blue beanies had two Luna Mk II battleships and two Point battlecruisers while the IF brought a pair of Jibrail light dreadnoughts (replacing the torpedo bays with heavy missile bays) and a pair of Saif ed Din battleships. We were using the Vector movement rules, which neither of us have used in quite a while.
Calling direction 12 "north", the IF set up facing north, at a velocity of 8mu in that direction, at a point 60mu east of the UN. The UN forces were heading in direction 2, with velocity 12mu.
Both sides kept their forces together. The UN thrust ahead, building velocity, while the IF turned west and thrust to close range. At the end of the second turn, the IF scored first blood with an improbably lucky beam shot; the UN returned grazer fire but missed. The forces drew closer, their paths crossing each other; however, I realized that the velocities were divergent enough that the Islamic Fed forces were never going to have a good missile shot. That meant that I had four bays of weapons that were useless.
We played a couple more turns and called it. One Luna was halfway through its last hull row and ready to FTL out, and a Point was damaged; on the Islamic side, one Said ed Din was wrecked. Both Jibrails were in good shape as far as systems, but they'd lost their armor and would start taking thresholds shortly; we decided that the UN forces came out ahead.
Grazer fire does a lot of damage when it hits, but it didn't hit very often in this game. Josh said that the UN ships must be crewed with uplifted gorillas, and the uplift process wasn't all that successful; the UN review board advised BuShips to put pictures of bananas on the firing buttons. "And hey, this button says Smite--I wonder what that does?"  From the Islamic side, I now realize that missiles in vector movement are essentially short range weapons.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Goals for 2011

My goals for 2010, as written one year ago:

  • Average 300 words / day. Achieved: I got 50K words in November, and I have around 270 posts, so if I'm averaging 185 words per post, I hit it. I doubt that my average per post is that high, though. 
  • Post daily. Achieved: 268, so 73%
  • Weight 190lb. Achieved: I got down from 220 to 205.
  • Read 1 significant non-fiction work per month. I didn't keep track of that.
  • Take a major trip. Achieved: Australia
  • Mini Adventures. Achieved: Well, I didn't specify anything beyond that. I had three postings on "mini adventures" this year, so I suppose I can say "I had some!", but that's not as extensive as I'd intended. 
So I made progress but didn't achieve all I'd intended. I need to have more specific goals, and I need to track them better. On the other hand, I set some additional goals along the way, and achieved them, such as completing all the Warcraft seasonal events and writing 50,000 words in November.

Goals for 2011:
  • Complete first editing pass on A Knife in the Dark by end of January.
  • Write 110,000 words of fiction this year. That means 50K for NaNoWriMo plus 500 words per 3 days; posts on Ficton count but posts here do not.
  • Weight 190 lb by end of March, and stay there.
  • Put up 7 posts per week, counting both here and Ficton.
  • Take a major trip (Anasazi and Grand Canyon)
  • One mini adventure per two weeks; generally this will be "go to a new place" or "try a new food", although it also includes ultralight flight, taking a martial arts class, and.making an acrylic artwork
  • Read one significant non-fiction work per month. 
  • Get my naval miniatures painted--enough for the Hughes v Suffren campaign
  • Complete one wargame battle per month, even if solo. 
  • Acquire a rapier or similar weapon
  • Others as added through the year