Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Josh: "Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that people who have more birthdays, live longer."

Monday, May 30, 2011

Settlers of Cataan

Josh, Josh's friend Tom Paul and I played Settlers of Cataan tonight. Josh almost invariably wins, but tonight I managed to get to 10 points and victory just before Josh did. I'm documenting it just because it's unusual, not because I'm bragging in any way. ;-)

Running aground

A boat ran aground in the river behind our house. This was about an hour after low tide, and the boat was perhaps 40 feet long. From the looks of it, they were coming downstream and let the bow go too far to port. The bow stuck in the mud on the west side of the channel; the stern swung round and stuck on the other side;  and there they were, sitting across the channel. Fortunately the tide was making, so in a couple of hours they were off.
With an immobile target like that, I did consider a bit of piracy, but capturing a grounded vessel obviously is a bit problematic as far as the "get away" plan goes.

Inattentive Superheroes

From Oscillatory Thoughts (Thoughts of a Neuroscientist), a post about human sensory capabilities. The superhero he's referring to is Daredevil.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Skirmish at Pass Christian, 1862

   Ryan hosted an Ironclads game today, a recreation of an action at Pass Christian, Mississippi in April 1862. Ryan, Bill and I commanded four Union ships, including one armed troop transport, moving upriver to land the 9th Connecticut at a pier; Josh and Dan commanded three Confederate vessels trying to prevent the invasion. All of these were wooden ships, relatively small guns balanced by light armor.
   The Union plan was that New London, our advance ship, would fall back until our other two fighting ships came down and joined her, whereupon they would advance; our transport, Henry Lewis, would hang behind. The Rebel plan was for one ship to go up the west channel, guarding the landing site, while the other two took the central channel. These plans lasted about one turn.
   I had command of New London and Henry Lewis. I decided to keep Henry close behind Ryan's ship Hatteras instead of staying back; I sent New London on ahead to tangle with Pamlico, the Rebel guarding the piers, since he seemed far enough away from the other Confederates that they couldn't support each other. Let's get it started--I tried to ram, barely missed but got a point blank rake which was nearly as good. Hatteras followed New London into close action but got caught between CSS Pamlico and Josh's CSS Carondelet and set afire. Shortly afterwards Carondelet was set afire.
   CSS Oregon, steaming up the east side of the river, made a navigational error. Turning west would have put her closer to the action, but she'd bounce off a cliff; she turned east and went aground on the mud flats along the eastern riverbank, which kept her out of action for most of the game.
   With Oregon hors de combat and the other two Confederates in the eastern channel, I realized I could send Henry Lewis up the central channel without risk of being intercepted. Carondelet shot at her but Lewis was moving at high speed, and Carondelet's crew was busy putting out their fire; Lewis escaped unscathed.
Pamlico attempted to ram Bill's ship USS J P Jackson. At the last moment, Jackson's guns boomed, hitting Pamlico's magazine and destroying her in one tremendous blast.
   Carondelet, fighting alone now, shot in all directions She set New London ablaze and crippled Jackson, but missed Lewis as she sped by. Carondelet set off in pursuit; New London, with fires burning out of control, moved in to intercept. The two ships collided bow to bow, putting them both dead in the water. Moments later, New London's fires reached her boilers. She exploded and sank as Carondelet backed away from the blast. Ryan's Hatteras staggered off, burned to the waterline and sank.
   Oregon worked her way out of the mud bank and joined Carondelet in trading shots with Jackson and the distant Henry Lewis, which was approaching the landing zone. A lucky long range shot managed to start a small fire on Henry Lewis, but Lewis's crew quickly extinguished the blaze. She came in, anchored, and landed her troops.
   It was a hard fought battle. The Union lost two ships, with a third crippled and facing two to one odds, while the fourth achieved the scenario victory condition. The Confederates lost one, with a second heavily damaged. I'd call it a tactical victory for the South; it was a strategic victory for the North, but could easily have gone the other way.
The historical result was that the Union squadron landed 1200 troops at Pass Christian, where they destroyed a Confederate camp before moving on to Louisiana.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Skates in the Bay

Josh started at Chick's Beach and kayaked upriver (with the tide but against the wind), and reports seeing a school of rays, something like this.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spring storm

Last night we had a brief but severe thunderstorm, with wind gusts up to 78mph. Our power was out from 4pm yesterday until noon today, plus plenty of shingles and tree limbs on the ground.

Apparently the storm also killed the power supply unit in my computer. A quick trip to Best Buy and a few minutes with the screwdriver put that to rights, though.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On Stranger Tide

I read Tim Powers' novel On Stranger Tides roughly twenty years ago; I saw Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides tonight. The book was excellent, nominated for a World Fantasy Award as well as a Locus Award. The movie was okay, which means it was better than PotC 2 and 3. I'd hoped the movie would follow the book a little more closely, but the book was a pretty high goal to live up to.

The similarities:

  • people were after the Fountain of Youth
  • Blackbeard had magical abilities
  • pirates and zombies were involved

Good points:

  • Blackbeard was well played
  • The missionary's part was well written
  • The discussions of faith and redemption
  • The mermaids were well done
  • Jack asking the quartermaster
  • Jack's solution to the fountain problem
Points that bothered me:

  • the first escape / chase was a bit lengthy
  • Penelope Cruz is attractive but not a powerful actress
  • Jack and the lighthouse--why did that supposed to work?
  • Why were mermaids in the script in the first place? What do they have to do with the Fountain of Youth?
  • The treetop escape. I can live with movie physics to some extent, but this was ridiculous
  • The ship with the chalices...that just screamed "Disney needs a new ride and this is it"
The movie wasn't something I'd want to see twice but it was a fun couple of hours. The best thing about it might be that it will lead more people to read the book.

Monday, May 23, 2011

On this day

In 1618 the Defenestration of Prague touched off the Thirty Years War. Technically, this was the Second Defenestration of Prague; the first was in 1419, the one-and-a-halfth was in 1483.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why nerds are unpopular

Why nerds are unpopular . The short form is that "being popular" in junior high takes your full attention, and nerds are typically more interested in some other subject than being popular.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Grandfather's funeral

My grandfather's funeral was this afternoon, in Brunswick, Georgia. We were at Josh's graduation, but Mom came back from Africa to attend, and my sister Tabitha and brother James attended, although with about 50 other people.

my mom and grandmother

Tabitha and James

Josh's graduation

Joshua is now a graduate of George Mason University, with a BA in Economics. The ceremony was held at the GMU Patriot Center, with about 1700 students attending.

Cap and gown

Me and the graduate

Next step, world conquest

Thursday, May 19, 2011

CDC on Zombies

An article by the Centers for Disease Control on how to prepare for a zombie apocalypse (or any other pathogen-driven disaster).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Open Office spellcheck fail, again

I noticed Open Office wasn't spellchecking, so I pulled up the Troubleshooting Thread and went through the steps. All on its own, Open Office had decided to change Stylist > Default > Modify > Fonts > Language to "none", and Tools > Options Language Settings > Languages (Western) to German.

Ach du lieber!  

Once I fixed those, it was fine...but I keep feeling that I shouldn't have to...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Betrayer of Worlds

I just finished Betrayer of Worlds, a novel by Larry Niven and Edward Lerner set about 200 years before Ringworld. Nessus the Puppeteer kidnaps a human from Known Space in the hopes that this human is bright enough to prevent a war between Puppeteers and a race of intelligent tube worms. Meanwhile, another Puppeteer schemes for power and will do anything to get it; and some Pak protectors make an appearance.

There were several things that bothered me about the story:

  • The Puppeteer who wanted to attack Pak was nowhere near paranoid enough. Okay, he was insane, else he wouldn't have been there in the first place; that doesn't mean he couldn't have figured out what the Pak would do. 
  • They manage to decipher a text from another species in an implausibly effective manner. Admittedly there's handwaving about "we looked for physics constants", but to get from "we don't even know their alphabet" to "look, here's how to build a fusion suppressor" just isn't something I could swallow.
  • Selective editing of human memory.
  • The villain was flat. "Power-hungry genius" pretty much sums him up. Again, there's a mention of an incident in his childhood to explain how he got that way, but that doesn't keep him from being cardboard.
The main thing that bothered me, though, is that at the end of the story, the protagonist basically hasn't changed. It wasn't quite as bad as "he woke up and realized it had all been a dream", but it was close.

Rating: check out from library

Saturday, May 14, 2011

J. Loron Brown

My grandfather passed away this morning. He'd been in the hospital for a few days, and yesterday they were transferring him to a hospice. That was the reason for yesterday's quote: the prediction was "less than three months" and he didn't seem to recognize anyone, although my grandmother sat with him for hours each day anyway. It was indeed less than three months. This morning his breathing changed for an hour, then stopped. My sister called about fifteen minutes ago to tell me.

Friday, May 13, 2011

All these moments

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser gate. All those moments will be lost in time...like tears in rain. Time...to die.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Photopic Sky Survey

Select the one that says "Zoom In" and...zoom in.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Science Fiction Novels

One of the guys at work wanted recommendations on science fiction novels. I'm not including books that are too bloody, dystopian, or fantasy pretending to be science fiction, and only one entry per author.

  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
  • The Mote in God's Eye
  • Snow Crash
  • Dune
  • Foundation
  • Ender's Game
  • A Fire Upon the Deep
  • The Warrior's Apprentice

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

HIVE vs Captcha

A friend of a friend said:
Today we launched the closed beta for our product: the Human Intelligence Verification Engine.
It's a replacement for CAPTCHAs - those annoying little boxes you find everywhere on the web with the twisty, distorted letters you're supposed to decipher and type in to prove that you're human.  I've always hated the damn things, and now we've created something that's a lot better.  You can try it for yourself at http://www.hive-secure.com .
Please take the time to have a look at our site, and if you like it, please share it:  Tweet it, Facebook it, blog about it, email your friends.  It's important that people learn about this and encourage website operators to make a change. If you have time, I would also appreciate it if you could visit our Facebook page and "like" it.

Science Fiction

  A friend pointed me to a blog post :"Science fiction is a rip off. I want the future I was promised, dammit! Where are the jet packs and teleportation devices?" The post doesn't have anything particularly original, profound, or clever, but it's a complaint I hear every now and again. "It's the 21st century now, so where's all the cool stuff?"
  We launch stuff into orbit so routinely that nobody notices. The Navy is testing battle lasers. Cellphones look like Star Trek communicators but do much more than the show's writers ever imagined. We have discovered planets around other stars. Anyone with a computer and a network connection can video chat with someone on the other side of the world. We're creating nano-machines and genetically modified organisms. Direct neural interface devices are being developed to restore sight to the blind. We have this thing called the Internet. And on and on. The future is all around you!

Sunday, May 8, 2011


For the month of May, the planets Jupiter, Venus, Mercury and Mars will be visible before dawn, low on the eastern horizon, as described in Sky and Telescope. Hat tip to Indy Kochte for the pointer.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Emergency Preparation

News of late has had a spate of tornadoes and flooding up and down the Mississippi. Here's Instapundit's guide to low-budget disaster preparation.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Confusion, doubt and uncertainty

It seems pretty certain the Osama bin Ladin is dead and that SEAL Team Six is the team that had the privilege of bringing that about. One would think our administration could make a simple, straightforward statement and then stand by it. One would also think that the news media could nail down a few facts rather than speculating too wildly; however, that doesn't seem to be the case (any more than it was for Katrina or other events--can't blame Obama for that). Here's the scorecard of what may have happened. I have no doubt that additional possibilities will unfold as the days pass. Meanwhile, remember that a lot of news is fiction.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Happy Star Wars Day

May the Fourth....be with you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fenton, Death Sheep from Hell

If you don't understand Full Metal Attack Sheep--and who could?--you won't understand this.

Monday, May 2, 2011


We got the first strawberry from our garden boxes. Or possibly the second; I suspect a squirrel got the first.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


We took someone to church Sunday, and while at church, her purse may have disappeared from my car. Nothing else went missing, so it's also possible--in my opinion, likely--that the purse is still in her apartment. I nany event, she reported it stolen and an officer came out to try to take fingerprints off my car. This involved using a miniature feather duster to brush black powder onto the window and door handle. No prints were found--evidently they don't last long.
The fingerprint powder stain, however, lasts quite a while.

Arizona planning

Canyon de Chelly

Petrified Forest

Wupatki National Monument, Sunset Crater Volcano, and Walnut Canyon.


I was looking through an old note pad this morning and came across the list below. In 2000 and 2001 my customers included Sun Microsystems and Netscape. One of them gave award plaques to their software teams:
  • Least Intuitive Name for Your Platform
  • Best Rescue of a Doomed Fortune 100 Customer
  • Last To Finish
  • Best Response to a "Make It Work Like Windows" Request
  • Postal Service Award: He Seemed Like a Nice Guy, Kinda Quiet, Kept to Himself...

Return of the Prince

They have cast the Prince from his throne on high
And proclaimed a brave new day
They have named it with Freedom's ancient name
In Caesar's ancient way.

They enjoin our souls to seek new goals
Since released from tyranny
And abjure the Prince and his wicked works
For theirs is mastery.

But hear a dusty bugle rave,
the snarling of the drums,
The whisper from a sunken grave
Where the bones are astir:
"He comes! He comes!"

And see his flag of moonlit clouds advance
Across a waste where the cold winds roam.
The ghosts of old go riding
Through the dark to meet him
So shall the Prince come home.
                            --Poul Anderson

(This is from a novel I read nearly thirty years ago. I don't recall the title or much of the storyline, and I'm not certain my memory of the poem is exact...but I still remember the poem).